My first experience in New Zealand was on a fabulous May afternoon. We started out in the Bay of Islands, a subtropical area known as the Northland, famous for its spectacular coastlines, marine reserves, and Kauri Forests. We stayed at Kauri Cliffs in a luxury lodge, overlooking the ocean with amazing views, set on huge acreage with an enormous golf course and picturesque farm.
Tickled Pink in the Bay
We had just arrived, when they took our group on an outing for lunch. Each of us rode in an off-road 4-wheeler, and they led us down a hillside pathway. We turned around the corner and all of a sudden we could see a pink hued beach in the distance!
There was a picnic table set up with linens and glassware for an intimate 5 person lunch. The delicious smell of food cooking on barbecue was hanging in the air. As the seafood sizzled on the grill, I just had to touch and feel the sand. I walked on it, and it was a bit rocky, full of little fine pink shells, which is the cause of the pink hue.
I returned to the table and was handed a glass of the famously delicious white wine from the region. I started talking to the chef who was French, and he told me all about the meal he was preparing for us – scallops, shrimp, lamb, steak, and salmon. There was also a beautiful salad and display of desserts at the table. Thank goodness, we hadn’t had a meal in a while, so we were hungry. I sampled it all, literally fresh off the barbecue, in this amazing private setting overlooking the water.
The culinary delight set the bar for the rest the trip. I knew there would be more delicious food experiences ahead, and I wasn’t disappointed. Every single meal there was over the top!
The Colossal Kauri
While traveling in New Zealand, you’re bound to come across the old Kauri Trees. They are some of the world’s biggest trees, and can get very old. Some of them are so old that have been there longer than people in New Zealand, living up to over 2000 years. Their trunks are huge, with smooth bark and leaves that, surprisingly, aren’t super big.
The locals make some beautiful bowls and wood carvings out of the tree that are seen all over the islands. They’re also a significant part of the history there, as the timber is ideal for building boats and masts. On my trip there, I got to see Tane Mahuta, the largest and oldest Kauri living today.
A Foodie’s Farm
As a foodie, I was pleased to find that the cuisine throughout New Zealand is absolutely incredible. Later in the trip, we stayed at Helena Bay Lodge, which is 45 minutes by helicopter from Auckland, set on 750 acres along the spectacular coastline. As we entered the grounds, in the hills above the entrance, was a statue of King Kong. This was an introduction to the fabulous display of eclectic art that was strategically placed all over the property. This property was built by a Russian Steel Magnate and you can see the Russian influence. There was a large pool, four private beaches, and an outdoor fire pit. There are 4WD carts and bicycles available to tour around on the many trails and roads on the estate. Activities available are kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, tennis, and spa. It’s also a working farm, complete with cute Alpacas.
Helena Bay is known for its “Estate to Plate” culinary experience. We met the chef, Michele, who was originally trained at the Don Alfonso in Naples in Southern Italy. He took us on a private garden tour and gave us all baskets to pick the produce and vegetables of our choice for our lunch. Back at the lodge, we had a cooking lesson on how to prepare pasta, Italian style.
This simple, but truly classic preparation was a highlight of our stay there. All of the food at the lodge is locally sourced from the farm. The baked goods were also on hand each day to tempt us as we went around the lodge for activities. Our favorite was Michele’s “melting moments”, little bites of lemon heaven. As we bid goodbye to the amazing staff and chef, we were surprised with individually wrapped bags of “melting moments” for each of us to take.
Peeks at the Peaks
We were fortunate to be able to go by helicopter from down the beautiful coastline to Auckland. The view from that vantage point of beach after beach was amazing, as we made our way down the coast. In no time at all, we were at the Auckland airport, ready to board our commercial flight to Queenstown.
Upon arrival in Queenstown, we could see the vast difference between the North and South Island. We were now treated to magnificent views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Wakatipu. This is truly the adventure capital of New Zealand, where you can go bungee jumping, wine tasting, and skiing, all in the same day.
Another helicopter adventure awaited us and whisked us up the sides of the Remarkable Mountains and over Milford Sound. It felt like you could reach out and touch them as we went up the face and up on over to the other side. We landed on a glacier with the most magnificent views. That afternoon, were treated to a jet boat ride on the Dart River. It was such a complementing conclusion to our day’s adventure, to see the same mountain range from a completely different perspective!
Everything in New Zealand was amazing, but especially the people. They are the friendliest nicest people! They’ll do anything for you, and it’s so easy to start conversations with such friendly welcoming warm people. It is a beautiful country, beautiful food, and best of all, beautiful people.