One of the more interesting things we did when visiting New Zealand was go to Stewart Island. south of the South Island. All through our trip we'd tell locals "We're going to Stewart Island" and they'd say "really? I've never been there". It's a tiny place, about 400 permanent residents.

Stewart Island has retained most of its unique endogenous life. Ulva Island was outstanding, a small nature refuge with lush forests and odd birds. There are hiking trails all over the island, too, seemed like a great place for a ten day trek.

We particularly enjoyed our tour with Sam and Billy the Bus. Sam's what they call "a character", an old timer who enjoys taking the tourists around in his van and spinning yarns about the people on the island. Definitely worth the experience.

I love remote places like this. There's something very comforting about the quiet, the odd collection of people, the knowledge that there's not much to do. I enjoy being in places like this, and I enjoy knowing I'll be leaving again in a couple of days.

PS: if you're thinking of visiting, do yourself a favour and take the plane. Even the locals say the ferry crossing is awfully rough.

  2005-08-10 15:46 Z
Seeing Goldman is in New Zealand prompted me to review my notes from my trip there. I really loved that trip.

One thing that fascinates me is the role of the Maori culture in modern New Zealand. NZ is one of the very few places where native peoples were able to survive the invading Europeans and preserve their culture. For tourists, the easiest place to see that culture is in Rotorua, in the heart of the volcanos of the North Island. The town itself is kind of frumpy, and some of the tourist kitsch is a bit much, but overall it's a good place.

The highlight of Rotorua was Te Puia, a one-stop spot for your New Zealand tourist checklist. In one place you get Maori arts and crafts (including a beautiful marae), Maori feasting and dance, a geothermal valley, even kiwi birds. The center of the place is a serious school for traditional carving, so it's got some depth.

We stayed at the Millenium hotel. It was OK, not great, undergoing a badly needed renovation. Dinner was at Herbs Restaurant, in the middle of the little restaurant row near the end of Tutanekai street. I wouldn't go back. I regret now we didn't do go to a traditional hangi feast. I'm told it's quite nice.

  2005-05-08 17:24 Z
Looking back on my trip to New Zealand, Queenstown was my favourite place to tourist. That's easy to say, since Queenstown is the tourist center of NZ. But it's a lovely spot in the middle of the Southern Alps and the tourist infrastructure is welcome. Lots to do.
Queenstown is the center for "adventure tourism". Bungee jumping was invented there, paragliding, etc. Not for me, but I did enjoy the jet boats, rafts that draw only three inches of water and go 50 miles an hour. Kind of like a roller coaster on an alluvial river. And Ken and I enjoyed the luge on the hill above town. Nice view and goofy fun.

We also took a great helicopter tour to Milford Sound on the west coast: beats the 10 hour bus ride, and the views of the glaciers from the air are amazing. And we enjoyed a leisurely boat cruise on the Earnslaw, a steamboat that was improbably built, disassembled, carried by train, then reassembled to be trapped forever in the lake. And there are a lot of wineries to visit south of Queenstown in Central Otago, an up and coming pinot noir area. Akarua was my favourite.

Queenstown also has the best restaurant concentration we found in New Zealand. We had a fantastic tasting menu at Wai, a great seafood place. We were somewhat disappointed by The Bathhouse; eccentric service, OK but not great food. But the best dinner we had was at The Bunker, a tiny little hidden place with amazing preparation. I ate a lot of lamb in NZ, this was by far the most succulent and with the best flavour.

We found most of these things thanks to the help of Lavinia, our host at the Evergreen Lodge. A wonderful little four room hotel about two miles out of town, up on the hill with a great view of the lake. Great hospitality, the kind of place where you enjoy talking to the host and the other guests. It was good to be out of Queenstown itself, much quieter, but still a quick cab ride into town for dinner. Well recommended.

  2005-01-18 16:43 Z
Ken and I are food tourists, and so one of our goals in New Zealand was to go to the best restaurants we could find. We did quite well, too. The bigger cities have a surprisingly sophisticated cuisine, borrowing heavily from European traditions but adapting it a bit, in particular highlighting seafood in simple preparation. We had excellent dinners in Wellington and Queenstown. Particularly Queenstown, where the tourist industry supports world class restaurants like Wai and The Bunker.

I complained earlier about restaurants in New Zealand. That's not really fair; we had a lot of great dinners. Alas, NZ lacks a long tradition of upscale dining, so sometimes you find good food with poor service, or mediocre food masquerading as a fine restaurant.

I love ordinary food, too, just eating at fine restaurants would be tiresome. The Kiwi take on the hamburger is good. A serious sandwich where the meat is secondary to the stacks of crisp tomatoes, lettuce, salad dressing, and a surprisingly good addition: beets. I also really appreciated the humble meat pie, a simple snack turned into something special with good pastry and flavourful gravy. And NZ has my new favourite coffee drink, the flat white, sort of like a cappucino but with rich cream instead of milk foam.

Finally, New Zealand's serious farm business means that local ingredients are excellent. Terrific fish, of course, although not a lot of variety. Nice tiny Nelson bay scallops, served with the roe. Local specialties like golden kumara, a mild flavourful sweet potato; feijoa, a funky fruit; manuka honey, tasty as well as medicinal; and muttonbird (titi), an oily fishy bird no one seems to actually eat. But the most impressive foodstuff was the best lamb I've ever had. Tasty juicy baby sheep.

  2004-12-13 16:52 Z
Arrived home safe and sound after 24 hours of travel starting in Dunedin. Coming back into Fortress America gets more unpleasant each trip; this time a thirty minute secondary security screening for all US bound flights that made our flight fifteen minutes late. But at least SFO immigration, customs, and agriculture inspection was swift and polite.

Lots to say about the trip. New Zealand is very pleasant, and comfortable, and relaxing. And beautiful. Restaurants aren't so terrific but the quality of the local wine and the friendliness of the people more than makes up for it.

  2004-11-28 20:22 Z
Hello from Nelson! It's beautiful here, as it is through almost all of New Zealand. We had a rough start of it in Auckland - kind of a dreary town. But Wellington, Nelson, and Queenstown are all great.

Driving on the left is surprisingly easy to get used to. The tricky part is the turn signal, on the opposite side of the wheel. You can tell the Americans because they run their windshield wipers everytime they try to turn in an intersection.

  2004-11-21 20:36 Z