New Zealand 2014: Dunedin

Ocean view from our room at the Hotel St. Clair.

Over breakfast, Jen, Bruce, David, and I continued our conversation of the night before as though it had never ended. And again we remained at our table talking long after the other guests had departed from the dining room. To avoid having the waitstaff work around us, we moved to the living room to say our goodbyes, and we promised to keep in touch via email. It was time for them to leave for Queenstown and for us to drive to Dunedin.

Along our way, we stopped in the town of Mandeville where David wanted to tour Croydon Aviation, an airplane museum, while I took photos of the countryside and basked in the sunny day. 

Late in the afternoon, we arrived in Dunedin and checked into the Hotel St. Clair, which is on the esplanade. Our room had an ocean view. The fading day had turned a bit chilly, so we slipped into hoodies to walk the beach and the town until we worked up an appetite. I could have stayed an extra day in Dunedin to photograph more of the Edwardian and Victorian architecture, but time didn’t permit.

Having done enough driving for one day, we chose a restaurant close to the hotel—Spirit House. The food was good, the service slow. The next day we had a full travel schedule—Dunedin to Auckland and on to Melbourne, Australia—so we retired early.

After the drive from Dunedin to Auckland, a layover in Auckland, and a three-and-a-half-hour flight to Melbourne, we checked into the Hilton Melbourne South Wharf and recharged with a short nap.

We had dinner reservations at Vue de Monde, view of the world, and the restaurant’s bar did indeed have a panoramic view of Melbourne. The bar and restaurant are on the top floor of a downtown office building. Only diners and drinkers are allowed on the elevator to the top floor. The waitstaff escorted us to the bar, as we had arrived early—five minutes early, the greeter informed us. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Fifteen. Twenty. Because we were uncomfortable seated at the bar with a growing, noisy crowd gathering behind us, David told the bartender we were moving to more comfortable seats near the windows to enjoy our drinks and the views. The bartender summoned a server, who tried to talk us out of moving. He had to know where we would be in order to seat us for dinner, and he had no idea exactly when that might be, despite our having reservations. We moved anyway. Forty-five minutes later, our server showed us to our table in the dining room.

The prix fixe meal began with a selection of appetizers: oysters, wallaby, and salmon pearls to start, followed by lamb heart, duck tongue, and smoked eel, and finishing with steamed pork and duck dumplings. The entrées were Wagyu beef and rack of lamb. The dessert was tonka bean chocolate soufflé. To end the meal, a cheese platter.


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New Zealand 2014: Christchurch and Aoraki Mount Cook


Christ’s College was built in 1925 in the Gothic and Tudor perpendicular style. The structure was reenforce against earthquakes in 1987 and only suffered minor damage during the 2011 earthquake.

As I’ve mentioned in several blog posts, I am not a fan of long flights. After three hours, I’ve hit my limit for sitting in one place. But the flight from Brisbane to Auckland was quite pleasant—the seats roomy, the service excellent, and the food tasty. For once, I was a tad disappointed when we landed three and a half hours later.

And what I dislike even more than a long flight is riding in a puddle jumper plane. David tries to appease me by saying, “It’s a regional jet.” Regional jet or puddle jumper, being sandwiched in a seat on a small plane for more than an hour is murder. Thankfully, the “regional jet” from Auckland to Christchurch landed just twenty-five minutes over the one-hour limit. But who was counting?

With back-to-back flights and a layover in Auckland, we arrived in Christchurch at 8:00 p.m. and drove straight to our hotel—the George. Tired and hungry, we wanted to dump our luggage in the room and grab something to eat. The hotel has a fine dining restaurant, Pescatore, but we wanted light fare, so we ate at 50 Bistro—tomato bisque followed by grilled scallops. We finally climbed into bed at midnight and I snuggled up to George, the keepsake teddy bear left on our bed during the first-night turndown. A nice touch. I still have George and he is such a good traveling companion, always well-behaved and welcomed at lodgings worldwide. You can follow him on Facebook  http://www.facebook.com/TheGeorgeBear.

Christ’s College

We woke to a chilly, overcast day and walked into downtown Christchurch. There were still some signs of the 6.3 earthquake that hit the town in 2011, and I thought about the two thousand people killed in the quake. One shop owner shared her story and the deadly details hit home, as I’d had my share of earthquakes over the years—Mexico, South Africa, and a number in Southern California. We spent the morning exploring Christchurch and wished we had allowed more time for sightseeing. But a reliable source (David) told me we will return soon to explore some more.

In the afternoon, with David behind the wheel of our rental, we motored onto State Highway 8, the Inland Scenic Route to Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village, about a four-and-a-half hour drive. Before we set out, the receptionist at the George said, “This is New Zealand. The journey is as exciting as the destination. Take your time and enjoy.”  And indeed we did, driving past acre upon acre of farmland, pasture upon pasture of countless sheep, cattle, and deer farmed for domestic sales. I fell in love and wanted to take home a lamb.  

David will be the first to admit that he does not have the “farming gene,” so he surprised me when he said, “I could live here and I’d farm.” What? I asked him to repeat that statement, and he has, many times in the past three years. In fact, he liked New Zealand so much that we plan to return in 2018. And I can’t wait to head Down Under again.

For one, I missed out on visiting Lake Tekapo, an alpine spot at the foot of Mount John. I was captivated by the deep turquoise of the lake’s water, which is created by rock flour from the surrounding glaciers that is suspended in the water. The glaciers in the headwaters grind the rock into a fine dust as they make their journey down toward the lake. Lake Tekapo is set against a backdrop of snowcapped mountain peaks—a magnificent blend of white and turquoise. I also wanted to see the Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo, so both the lake and the church are on my must-see list for trip two.

Nestled in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, the Hermitage Hotel was the perfect base camp for our hiking and ATV adventures, which is why we chose it. The building is not the typical log or timber lodge you’d see in the US or Canada. The commercial looking, blue-gray steel structure rises from the valley floor like a metal giant, and not everyone thought the modern architecture was appealing. “Military barracks,” I overheard one visitor say. Personally, I found the style intriguing, and we had a wonderful stay.

The first night, we ate in the Panorama Room. The porcini mushroom appetizer was good, but the entrées stole the show. I had smoked salmon with a potato mousse and baby peas. David ordered the venison with blueberry and juniper sauce and grilled vegetables—both meals cooked to perfection. For dessert, a sampler of homemade ice creams.

Damage to Christchurch Cathedral after the earthquake.



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