May 31, 2016

Trekking Through Wineries and Dramatic Scenery in New Zealand

Kenneth A. Latimer

My wife Carole and I have been fortunate enough to have traveled extensively both in the United States and across the world, but had never been to New Zealand. After two wonderful weeks exploring both the conveniently named North Island and South Island, we found New Zealand to be a veritable paradise combining the best of South Pacific culture with world-wide cuisine, friendly population, spectacular beauty and a casual and serene atmosphere.

New Zealand is a small country with the North and South Islands combined to be about the size of Great Britain. The population is just a little over 4 million which makes New Zealand gloriously uncrowded. We arrived in Auckland after an overnight flight from the U.S. on Air New Zealand. Many travelers to New Zealand rent cars but we elected to have drivers and avoid the left-side driving experience, while enjoying the beautiful scenery and not worrying about directions. Even if you have driven in other parts of the world, the winding and hilly and sometimes narrow roads along with weather extremes and different road rules can make driving yourself a challenge.

After being met in Auckland by our friendly Kiwi (New Zealanders are called Kiwis), we were driven about three hours to our first destination, which was Rotorua. We stayed at a wonderful lodge about twenty minutes from Rotorua called Solitaire Lodge overlooking beautiful Lake Tarawera. The lake is home to record sized rainbow trout, which makes the lake a fisherman’s paradise. If possible try to access the hot springs off the lake for a warm dip. Go early in the day to avoid the crowds. Also, make sure to spend some time in the town of Rotorua, and the Rotorua Museum is a must to learn about the volcanic history of the region and get an introduction to the Maori culture and history. Stop by Rainbow Springs for an up-close view of the elusive Kiwi and other birds native to New Zealand. Also, leave time to visit the many active geysers and bubbling mud pools. The best spot for viewing are the grounds of Te Puia.

We also did some hiking in the area. The Kiwis called it trekking. There are many opportunities throughout New Zealand for hiking from a few hours to several days. Trails are well marked and range in difficulty so be sure to ask before you venture out.

We headed next to Napier City. The town of Napier was partially destroyed in the 1930s by an earthquake but has been restored and is famous for its art deco buildings, which now house many shops, galleries and restaurants. We again stayed out of town at a fabulous bed and breakfast called Breckenridge Lodge, which overlooks beautiful vineyards and made us think of Napa and Sonoma valleys in Northern California and Tuscany in Italy. New Zealand has many small lodges and one should try and stay at some. Most serve terrific foods with great wines. This is also a way to meet other travelers and the kiwis who operate and own the lodges. As an example, Breckenridge Lodge is operated by Malcolm Redmond, a very well-known New Zealand chef, who is truly passionate about food and wine. Meeting Malcom and his American-born wife, Ellie, is what travel is all about.

This area is filled with wineries producing some great chardonnays, sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs. A good guide was helpful in going to many out-of-the-way galleries and other spots one could probably never find driving themselves. Try and have lunch at one of the lovely wineries in the area.

After several days in the Napier area we flew to the South Island and the Hawkes Bay area. The center of activity here is the town of Nelson. The Hawkes Bay area is filled with artists working in clay, textiles, painting and wood. Again, the wine in this region was outstanding.

Kaikora was our next stop, which is on the Pacific Ocean below the Kaikora mountain range that offers breathtaking beauty. We spent two nights at Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses, which is a contemporary lodge located outside of Kaikora. The lodge here was designed and built by its owner and many of the rooms are situated in trees offering a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding vineyards and mountains. We spent some time here learning about Maori culture and tradition, including a home visit for tea and treats and a great experience.

After we left Kaikora we were driven to Christchurch to catch a flight from its airport; however, we did spend several hours in Christchurch. Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island and is the third most populous area behind Auckland and Wellington. Christchurch was struck by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake in September 2010, which was followed by a much closer magnitude 6.3 earthquake in February 2011 that killed 185 people. The city was extensively damaged, including the city’s iconic Christchurch Cathedral, which lost its spire. Over 1,000 buildings in the central business district were demolished following the earthquakes and the central city is only now being rebuilt. The Christchurch Cathedral remains in ruins. We then flew from Christchurch to Queenstown.

Queenstown is a must for any visitor to New Zealand. Queenstown is situated on beautiful Lake Wakatpu set against the Southern Alps. Activities are endless and scenery dramatic. One can engage in various activities ranging from hiking to speed boating on the Dart River to sightseeing by helicopter to Milford Sound and the glaciers located there to name a few. The restaurants in town are very diverse. You must try the crayfish (our version of lobster) and the mussels.

We spent four nights in the area at two separate and very different and spectacular lodges. The lodges are on different sides of the Lake. One lodge is called Azur and the other is called Matakauri and both are distinct but share wonderful accommodations with outstanding and friendly staffs.

Our last stop was Auckland, known as the City of Sails. There is much to do in Auckland but I suggest at least one day on Waiheke Island, which is a lovely 35-minute ferry ride from the Auckland main harbor. The island is often called the Island of Wines because of the number of wineries, but like the rest of the country, there are numerous galleries and beautiful scenery. Again a good guide is crucial for maximum enjoyment.

New Zealand is a very special place and although it is a long journey, it is truly worth it and you will leave with many wonderful memories and a desire to return.

Kenneth A. Latimer

Kenneth A. Latimer ( is a partner in the Chicago office of Duane Morris LLP and specializes in commercial finance, real estate lending, and loan workouts.