Q. – What happened to California in the early 1920’s?
A. – It relocated to New Zealand.
The South Island of New Zealand is a remarkably varied landscape of spectacular vistas, unique fowl and flora, and disarmingly friendly people (even for a curmudgeon like me).
Lisa and I were reunited like rescued puppies in Auckland (Vancouver’s “city double”) and had a farewell dinner with our Japanese colleagues –heartfelt “thank yous” and authentic NZ fare..
And while we’re on the subject of food….not surprisingly I’ve had the best lamb of my young life (actually it was the lamb’s young life), flavorful venison (antelope farming abounds), rich seafood chowders, hearty breads, very fresh eggs, bacon, and mushrooms, and the best Indian food in all of the Occident. And everyone is justifiably very proud of the quality of local coffees.
A couple of pub meals (the “only show in town” in our last port o’ call) were noteworthy for the character of the establishment, rather than culinary memories, although the volume of the food was something to behold. Hungry ‘ol sheep ranchers washed down the “pork bellies with pumpkin mash” with pitchers of the local amber brew.
Lisa, with the aid of TripAdvisor’s cognoscenti, organized a serpentine tour of interesting B&B’s in the South Island. It is winter here (45-60F, overcast days, and long nights) so the design specifications were to avoid the stormy West Coast and find charming communities that offer sights and outdoors delights fitting the season.
Our flight from Auckland into Queenstown was breathtaking (not to mention being almost cancelled due to the hundred-year awaking of the Tongariro volcano). The approach into Queenstown Airport, between snowy mountain ranges and alpine valleys, deserves an aviation merit badge.
Similar to Aspen, Queenstown is a prosperous and energetic ski/mountain resort situated along a beautiful lake and rimmed by dramatic icy slopes. We instantly settled in for lunch of scrambled eggs and the thickest slice of buttered whole grain toast at a cozy coffee house. We knew we were in good hands when our expressed appreciation to the server was met with a melodious “no worries”.
After a stroll around town, we were off for a 90-minute drive to Lake Wanaka. We did allow one quick, look-see at the World Home of Bungee jumping. Not to worry – I would rather be par-boiled than attempt that internal-organ-crushing leap.
Our accommodation at The Aspiring Lofts, run by Don and Lorraine, was a comfy surprise with modern and tasteful finishes (heated floors, recessed lighting, good wi-fi, and perfect feng shui (they spent 6 years teaching in Hong Kong). Our hosts cooked fabulous breakfasts (fresh golden kiwis, creamy eggs with cheese, mushrooms, homemade muesli and yogurt), recommended good restaurants, and gave us a valuable orientation to the high country – fruit orchards, former Gold Rush digs, running and biking trails.
The highpoint of our stay, even whilst (using local grammar) a wee bit wet, was three hours of mountain biking around the lake on well-groomed gravel trails.
After 2 cozy nights, wonderful dinners, and our biological reset, we set off across high mountain plains populated by few people and countess freshly shorn sheep. We stopped for a picnic lunch in the town of Ranfurly, frozen in 1920. It consisted of about 3 square blocks which we circled repeatedly, hypnotized by the unassuming charm of the tiny houses, honest stores, and art deco civic buildings (imagine: The Last Picture Show).
Our destination was the tiny bayside hamlet of Portobello on the Otago Peninsula just outside of the college town of Dunedin. Our nesting spot this time was the Yellow House B&B, hosted by Jan and Mike.
This is the classic Maine or Puget Sound setting for a murder mystery, where any one of the 20 or so townspeople (pub tender, provisions shop keeper, lambing station rancher) could be active suspects despite their warm and friendly appearance. Misty clouds, exotic sea birds (black swans, cormorants, yellow-eyed penguins) completed the heightened sense of Hitchcock déjà-vu. Day One, we’re visitors from a long way off; Day Two, we’re natives – now that’s worth investigating!
We broke out our God-sent hiking poles and Gore-Tex boots and embarked on spectacular hikes to entirely secluded and alive destinations: yesterday to Allen’s Beach where we encountered sleeping sea lions who were camouflaged in the dunes (one gave Lisa a nasty fright with a hissy-fit when she unwittingly walked past them); today we marched to the heights of The Chasm and Lover’s Leap where we snaked through sheep stations to the top of insane mountain precipices that glared out over the cold Pacific waters.
Pushing north along the Coast today to our next retreat…”no worries.”
Click on pix to ENLARGE