My family and I just returned from two weeks in New Zealand. Short version: a fun, magical tour, with highlights of Belgian food and a man who made copied a medieval tapestry out of metal bits and masking tape. Long version follows.
We landed in Auckland, and spent a day and a night there on the seafront, adjusting to the warm summer weather, and discovering the typical coffee drink down there called a “flat white.” It’s just espresso with steamed milk, but boy, is it ever addictive. The regular catch phrase every three hours became, “Time for another flat white?”
The next day we flew to Christchurch, which has now become one of my very favorite cities. It reminded me a bit of Oxford, in terms of an overall vibe, but without the 39 colleges cluttering up the works. It’s a fun and quaint city, with ample public gardens, a public tram, a little river (yes, called “the Thames”), punting boats, and a Belgian pub (more anon).
We also discovered a shop called “Whisky Galore,” which had to be explored further, as it shares a name with the emblematic film of Logan’s Scottish Film Society.
The shop is run by two very pleasant Scots, who displayed to me an original movie poster of the film, and also introduced me to a NZ single malt, distilled just down the road in Oamaru. We stayed with an exceptionally charismatic and generous family, toured the city, beach, and countryside, and left only with great reluctance.
We had rented a car, which afforded the kids great amusement each time I sat down on the wrong side to drive. We drove south to Dunedin, and stopped more for a break than for anything else at a little town called Geraldine. It was there that we met Michael Linton, a man who by profession is in the textile industry, and who by avocation is a genius of several surprising dimensions. It was he who has made a complete replica — nay, more than that! — of the Bayeux Tapestry out of bits of steel, masking tape, shoe polish, paint, and a tiny brush. I have too much to say about him for this post; more in the next, or you can read more here.
We also stopped along the way in Oamaru for — you guessed it! — a tour of the distillery and a whisky tasting.
(Thank God, or whatever, for my indulgent family). Dunedin itself didn’t do much for us — it has a beautiful old train station and a very effective museum — but we left soon for Christchurch once again and ate at a Belgian beer cafe. It was so wonderful that I begged the waitress to let me live there forever, and daughter Hanna helped by suggesting that I’m a good cook, but son Ben spoiled everything by telling her that I snore. (It’s a lie!) Anyhow, now listen carefully: if ever you get the chance, proceed directly to Christchurch, and to the Belgian beer cafe on the river Thames, and instruct the post office to have all mail forwarded to you there. You will thank me for the rest of your blessed life.
We traveled on to some small towns along the east coast of the south island, ended up in Picton to take the ferry ride to the north island, and spent a couple days in Wellington. Wellington is also very charming, though more commercially oriented, and we enjoyed the cable car to the city gardens, the cafes of Cuba street, and the massive museum. We had lunch at a sushi bar where you seized the little plates as they traveled past on a conveyor belt.
Then on to the east coast of the north island, and some of NZ’s finest wine country. We did a fair amount of driving over our trip, and so saw a fair deal of NZ countryside, which is somehow always beautiful and always changing. There are always hills or stark mountains; there is always greenery, and sheep; and always little roadside cafes with flat whites. But every 30km or so brings on a new arrangement. The landscape is in a pleasant struggle between tropical Pacific and British countryside, which really works.
The little town along the coast were a little too touristy for us, but in each place we found something interesting to do, whether it was mini-golf or wine-tasting. We spent Christmas eve and day in Rotorua, renown for its therapeutic hot springs.
We ended with a return to Auckland, a flight to LA, a night, and then the flight home, where it’s now a sunny winter day. I plan to have a few more postings soon focusing on particular episodes in the trip.