NZ a very accommodating place
It had been 11 years since my last visit to New Zealand when I saw a Qantas
ad for a bargain airfare at an unbelievable price of $888. Unfortunately, they
were fully booked for the dates I wanted, so I called South Pacific Travel
Shop (800/894-7722) and was booked on Air New Zealand at the same price plus
the appropriate taxes.
On Feb. 9, '00, I took the Air New Zealand flight from Los Angeles. It was on time, and food and service were very good because the plane was only half full. The seats were very comfortable. The return flight, on March 1, was packed due to a one-day strike the day before, and the service was poor and the food terrible.
In Auckland I stayed overnight at Flag's Pointe Motor Inn (US$58). The following morning I contacted Apex Car Rentals (phone 03-379-6897, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.nzrentalcar.co.nz). Rentals started at NZ$39 (near US$16). I rented a mid-size with automatic transmission at NZ$49. The price covered roadside assistance through the local AA club and collision insurance except for NZ$750 deductible.
I was on my way within the hour.
First, a farmstay
My first stop was at Top of the Hill Country Homestay and Farmstay (183 Fitzpatrick Rd., Brookby RD1, Manurewa, N.Z.; phone  530-8576, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nzhomestay.co.nz/simpson.htm). Price Was NZ$110 double or NZ$75 single with en-suite shower, toilet and sink as well as a TV and full breakfast.
Hosted by Pat and Trevor Simpson, the home is located about 20 minutes south of Auckland airport and 10 minutes from Highway 1. High on a hill, as its name implies, it boasts a panoramic window in the guests' sitting room. Each well-furnished bedroom had a bay window some six feet wide and ten feet tall. In addition to the included breakfast and daily tea, Pat also serves a delicious dinner (NZ$30) upon request.
Trevor showed me his evening routine of "herding" cows from one meadow to the other. He also offered a walk to the "glowworms" area on his farm.
Using the home as a starting point, I took day trips to the coastal area, Manukau City and Auckland. Along the coast there are beautiful, clean beaches along the roadway where one can picnic or just enjoy the sun and the sand.
In Manukau City (located about five miles south), I enjoyed roaming the large mall shops and had a light dinner at one of the fast-food restaurants. At Auckland, I visited the wharf area where America's Cup festivities were ongoing and rode the free bus up the hill to the Sky Tower (NZ$15).
On the fourth day, I departed for Rotorua, which is about a 2 1/2-hour drive. The road goes through several picturesque towns.
I stayed at Country Villa Homestay (351 Dalbeth Rd., RD2, Ngongotaha, N.Z.; phone  357-5893, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.beds-n-leisure.com/countryvilla). Price was NZ$100-$135 double or NZ$100-115 single, most with en-suite bathroom.
It is an old, Victorian-style, 2-story home located about 10 minutes from Rotorua and hosted by Anneke and John Van Der Maat, who rebuilt it from the inside out. They added a patio which faces the hills where you can sit, relax and enjoy the scenery. The rooms are very nicely furnished.
John drove me into Rotorua where I boarded the Lakeland Queen (NZ$28) for a one-hour luncheon cruise. The food was well prepared and the desserts were exceptionally good. John picked me up after the cruise and took me to the Rotorua Museum (NZ$7) where he became my personal guide. He explained local history regarding the baths, land formations before and after the big earthquakes, and arts of Rotorua.
After returning home, John took me up the hill to a dairy farm where we watched them milk cows and chatted with the owner.
Later that evening, the three of us went to a "mai ora" dinner show, which is not your typical "native-type Polynesian" show. Walking up the pathway, you can watch many bubbling springs of hot mud, etc. After Maori formalities, you walk into the stage area and the "show" begins. Some of the food had the taste of sulfur because it was cooked in the hot sulfur springs in the ground. However, the desserts were plentiful and exceptionally delicious!
Napier and south
I drove on to Napier, a 3-hour trip through rolling hills and countryside. Napier is known for its Art Deco buildings and wineries.
There I stayed at the Snug Harbour Homestay (147 Harold Holt Ave., Napier, N.Z.; phone 843-2521, fax 2520, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nzhomestay.co.nz/mcleod.html). Price was NZ$80 for a studio or NZ$45 for a single; guests share the bath/shower.
Hosted by Don and Ruth McLeod, it's a pleasant older home located on the outskirts of Napier and within 10 minutes by car of many of the local attractions. Don and Ruth are retired from teaching and love to converse with their guests.
Breakfast each morning included local fruits plus bacon and eggs with coffee. On the last night of my stay I opted for dinner (NZ$25). Don prepared a delicious local fish, together with fresh vegetables from their garden and local wine.
Don was very helpful with local information and especially helpful booking my Cook Strait crossing. (An advance reservation is strongly suggested in high season and can save you several dollars.) Prices vary from NZ$59 for the fast boat to NZ$42 for the slow boat. My price was NZ$32 for the slow boat because I booked in advance.
While in Napier, I took the one-hour history walk (NZ$7). A local volunteer described a brief history of the buildings and their construction before and after a devastating 1931 earthquake. I booked a wine tour at the Information Centre (NZ$30) with Vince's Tours. Vince is very knowledgeable, interesting and amusing. We enjoyed a trip to four wineries and the tour was well worth it.
Next I visited friends in Waikanae Beach, a pleasant, small community about an hour north of Wellington. If you plan a trip to Wellington, it is worth the side trip. It has a very nice beach area with miles of clean sand and surf. My friends took me to an excellent auto museum nearby called Southward Museum Trust (NZ$5). It also has a large collection of motorcycles.
Across to South Island
After two days I departed for Wellington and the Cook Strait crossing. I dropped off my car and was taken to the ferry for the 3-hour trip across the strait -- a pleasant ride with breathtaking scenery.
Upon arrival at Picton, I picked up my rental and continued to Christchurch. It's a 6-hour drive through the hills and past beautiful seashore. The road is very narrow and dangerous in spots and caution is advised
The Rawhiti House (88 Wairarapa Ter., Fendalton, Christchurch, N.Z., phone  355-6737 or e-mail email@example.com) had rates of NZ$90 double and NZ$60 single. It is hosted by Peter and Suzanne Coster.
Rooms each have their own bath and toilet facilities. There is a solarium in the front of the home facing a nicely landscaped patio/parking area. Just across the street is a small stream surrounded by grass and trees. The area surrounding the home has been landscaped for shade and beauty.
It's a 2-minute walk to the bus stop, which leads directly to downtown Christchurch.
Peter is retired from New Zealand law enforcement. He and Suzanne are very pleasant and very knowledgeable about local sites and activities. Should you wish to hunt or fish, Peter knows the right person to contact. (Fishermen, take note: I was advised not to bring my own "flies", for fishing. They would be confiscated if known to authorities. Daily licenses are sold by sports shops.)
A guest from Switzerland went fishing and caught 40 flounder and shared some of his fish for dinner that night. Peter cooked them on the BBQ.
While in Christchurch, I Visited the. downtown area, which has changed from the sleepy village it was 11 years ago to a very busy and active place. The streets are now crowded with visitors and, unfortunately, buses foul the air with diesel fumes.
Very old trams have been revitalized and circle the city center every 12 minutes. Cost is NZ$7 for an all-day-pass, but it's not really a bargain unless you wish to stop at the various sites on the way. Otherwise, pay the lesser fare and take the 12-minute ride around the center. You can walk the same route in less than. two hours. There is also a Tramway Restaurant that serves lunch or dinner as you circle the town.
I visited the Canterbury Museum and Cathedral Square, which is very impressive with the ancient cathedral spiraling above. The Information Centre is but a block or two away where you can book almost anything. Within the square, there are several gift shops and small take-out restaurants.
Victoria Square is a few blocks from Cathedral Square and is beautifully landscaped. "Punting in the park" is a pleasant ride in a boat similar to the gondolas of Venice (NZ$7). From the Information Centre there is a free bus every two hours that takes you to the sky car known as the gondola (NZ$12). At the top is a nice restaurant where you can sit and enjoy the view on a pleasant day.
After three days in Christchurch, I drove to Wanaka through more beautiful countryside to Harper's Home-stay (95 McDougall St., Wanaka, N.Z.; phone  443-8894, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nzhomestay.co.nz/harper.html). Price was NZ$85 double or NZ$50 single; guests share bathrooms.
Hosted by Jo and Ian Harper, it is a fairly new home which sits on a hill overlooking Lake Wanaka. Upon my arrival I was met by Jo, who served me wonderful homemade muffins with tea.
The home boasts a beautifully landscaped garden with a natural running stream under the house. Ian, Jo's husband, built the home specifically as a B&B. Still active in construction, he is an avid sportsman and likes to take guests fishing, hunting or hiking whenever he can.
I enjoyed pleasant dinners at Barrows Bistro (20 Ardmore St., Wanaka) and at Edgewater Resort's Bar (Sargood Drive, Wanaka).
On a day trip, I drove to Haast Village, which, I was told, has a pleasant beach. There is absolutely nothing there except the beach and a motel or' two! However, I found the countryside even more beautiful than some other areas I had seen in my earlier travels. Here, again, the road is very twisty with many sharp turns and narrow sections. Unless you love scenery and love to drive, avoid the trip.
About six miles outside of Wanaka, on Highway 8, there is an excellent microbrewery. You can sample several varieties and enjoy a nice cold brew.
Queenstown, Dunedin and home
It was on to Queenstown the next day to visit a friend. Take the alternate road through Arrowtown. You will avoid a very, very narrow and winding section into Queenstown.
Queenstown is a backpacker's paradise. Many tours are offered to the young and adventure-seeking -- bungee jumping, mountain hiking or white-water rafting. Lake cruises also are offered:
My final destination was a 3/2-hour trip to East Taieri near Dunedin where I met some old friends with whom I stayed some 11 years before. It was fortunate that my return trip was delayed to the year 2000; New Zealand was a real bargain with the U.S. dollar worth twice the N.Z. dollar. I used my ATM once for "change" and used my credit card for all other charges, including B&Bs and other incidentals.
I returned to Christchurch via Highway 1 and Rawhiti House to complete my visit to New Zealand.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay. The country is beautiful and the people wonderful. I visited with old acquaintances and, most of all, renewed my faith in people. Everywhere there was a pleasant smile and a helpful person. My one regret is that I should have stayed longer in each area and traveled less. I will on my next visit.
Anyone wishing to contact me regarding my stay can e-mail me at email@example.com.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Martin Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group
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