December 22 - Singapore to Auckland

P1020342 copy 2.jpg

Leaving Singapore is always a pleasure.  Hmmm, that doesn't sound right.  Leaving Singapore's Changi airport is always a pleasure.  It is far and away the best, fastest and easiest airport in the world.  Check-in is lightening quick and security is even better.  Each gate does their own security check-in and they are to open the 132 gates of their new Terminal 3 this week.  A giant glass space that has been tested for the last 6 months.  I just read that Changi people are looking to buy 15 airports around the world.  Pray one of them is yours.

It's 7 hours overnight to Sydney but great in-flight entertainment on Qantas shortens it considerably.  Led Zepplin digitally re-mastered more than overcomes the wailing babies.  Another 3 hours to Auckland made interesting by the pilot coming on to say not to worry about that funny smell, that slightly acrid electrical burning smell that wafts through the plane on our landing approach.  Being a bit dazed we don't worry much until we hit hard and see all the fire trucks on the runway.  No explanation but the bags are nearly 2 hours late coming out.  Our opinion of Qantas slips a bit.

We pick up our brand new rented Audi TT Cabrio from NZ Smart Cars.  A little gem in silver with a black top and a paddle shift transmission. Ellen busies herself loading CD's as I try to learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road again.  It is Sunday noon, so I make it easily through light traffic onto HWY 1 South to Hawkes Bay. 

Wow!  Where are we? 

Light industrial for the first half hour.  We've missed Auckland completely as it's 23 km's from the airport.  The first 100km are disappointing and then...wow...where are we ?

P1020421 copy.jpg

It looks for a minute like Ireland, all green and fresh; then a little like Northern California and then; finally a little Lord of the Rings.  A few hours into the 5+ hour drive we get a text message from Charlotte in Havelock reminding us that despite temperatures in the low 70's you will burn quickly.  We pull off and, sure enough, my arms are fried and my ever creeping hairline is bright red.  NZ has no air pollution at all and very thin ozone.  The UV rating is never less than 11 and that, I seem to recall, is the highest Toronto ever gets.  As a result, the highest rates of melanoma in the world.  Trouble in paradise.

Seven hours to Sydney, 3 hours to Auckland, 2 hrs wait for the luggage and a 6 hour drive takes its toll.  At one point both Ellen and I fall asleep at the wheel waking up on the opposite shoulder.  That seems to sharpen us up considerably.  Thankfully, no trees on this stretch or you would be reading this in a back obituary column of the Globe and Mail.

We make the Mangapapa Lodge at around 7:00pm.  Despite the rather lame name it is lovely.  All gardens and flowers, circular driveways and carriage lamps.  No wonder.  We discover it, and a vineyard down the road, is owned by the fourth richest man in Japan.  It is a little hobby for him and he has an owners cottage where he hangs out when in town.  The original 1885 home was the residence of Sir James Wattie, the Heinz ketchup king of New Zealand.  Our hosts, Andrew and Sarah, whip up a little rack of lamb with a bottle of MatarikiCab Syrah and we barely make it to the room at 11:00pm.  See the hotel at www.mangapapa.co.nz

At Craggy Range with Charlotte, Rachel & Phillip

At Craggy Range with Charlotte, Rachel & Phillip

Monday, December 24 - Craggy Range

We spend the day touring Hawkes Bay and a few of its 30 or so wineries.  Most impressive is Craggy Range, www.craggyrange.com  Gorgeous property on the river, ultra chic winery with a restaurant named 'Terroir'. 

We ask everywhere for signature wines, and at Craggy it is 'Sophia’, their 2004 Cab Franc/Merlot blend.  We buy a few for Christmas dinner with some Pinot Noirs that are almost as good.  From there we drive up to Te Mata Peak; a high cliff that overlooks the vineyard.  Great, super twisty drive and from the top you see miles of beaches on one side, miles of vineyards on the other.

After meeting parents Ant and Win at their house, we meet up with Charlotte, Rachel and Phillip at 'Terroir' for dinner.  Nice dinner, nothing memorable except the amazing deserts.  All are a bit jet lagged it seems, as Charlotte has just flown in from her temporary posting in Stockholm.  Not so jet-lagged as not to notice they mark up their own wines 100%. Ugh

Tuesday December 25th Christmas Day.

Bright and sunny after a morning shower.  Over to Ant and Wins in Havelock North.  Lovely people, big spread of turkey and ham, champagne and fine wine followed by Christmas pudding.  Very gracious hosts and, along with us was Uncle Perry, a retired artist, and friend Greg.  We bought Charlotte’s 2 year old a bear bubble blowing machine that exhausted all of us including her.

We ended early and turkey sleep took over.  I snuck downstairs at 9:00 p.m. and had the hotel make us turkey sandwiches, they brought some chocolate mousse up later and we loved them for it.  Boxing Day we move to Cape Kidnappers.  We are speechless.  Once through the private gate it is a stunning 8 KM's up to the hotel and golf course

View from our room at Cape Kidnappers

View from our room at Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers

It sits on a bluff overlooking the ocean, all 6,000 acres of it plus their 5,000 sheep.  The drive is like California, more Big Sur than NZOur room is a cottage on the ridge line.  Nicer than our house in Toronto it has everything.  Balcony overlooking the property, fireplace, big soaker tub, ceiling fans, luggage room, killer stereo system, hidden flat screen TV, IPOD dock, kitchen stocked with wine from their vineyard, Frette sheets, sheepskin throws; everything.  While all our group are down at the beach, we can't bring ourselves to leave.  The main building is stunning; lots of private rooms, giant windows, stunning views and furnished...well... a little Pottery Barn but more on that later.  See it at www.capekidnappers.com.  Seriously, just look at this place.  Rachel and Phillip drop by on their way to Wellington to deliver more ‘Sophia’ and we then nap pre dinner (which is fantastic on the covered terrace by the giant fireplace).

The next morning we pack up and drive south half an hour to Napier.  A town made famous for falling down.  It really did.  A 7.8 earthquake in 1931 leveled the place and they rebuilt it in the style of the time; Art Deco.  So it exists today, a quaint, waterside, low rise, art deco town.  We lunch at Rosie O'Grady's and have our first 'Speights’.  This is a local beer, an amber ale as fresh as a lager.  Best beer we've ever tasted and our staple with every meal (pre wine) for the next four days. 

From Napier we continue the vineyard tour with a visit to Black Barn Vineyards.  This time, their signature wine is a 2004 Cab Franc/Merlot/Malbec/Cab Sauvignon blend.  Stunningly good.

Lovely winery with a garden restaurant among the vines.  They also have an amphitheater with grass tiered seating that plays classic movies with wine and cheese through the summer.  We wanted to go and see Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade, but it was scheduled for the day we left.

Our Favourite - Unison

From there we drove just down the hill to the Te Mata vineyard.  This one I've heard of and again, a rich Cab Franc/Merlot blend was their signature wine.  Last on the list (and one everybody said to go to) was Unison Vineyards.  The polar opposite of the ultra chic Craggy Range.  This one has a little wine store in their cellars.  Not fancy, but their signature wine is delicious and the one we drank in the hotel and didn't bring home.  Too bad, it was the best.  

On the way home we got lost and missed our golf lesson.  We did, as a consequence, find a twisty scenic route over the hills to Ocean Beach.  A road we would search out several times more in the next few days.

Back at the hotel we had Ant, Win, Charlotte and her friend from Auckland up for a dinner.  I arranged to be in front of the biggest fireplace on the terrace.  Since the place just opened November 7th , they had never been.  Nice dinner with lovely wines and lots of great story telling around the table.  Win was the designated driver as you have to avoid the 5,000 wooly obstacles driving down the mountain at night.   Go to www.blackbarn.com  www.temata.hb.co.nz  www.unisonvineyard.co.nz

Touring Day

This was a touring day.  Sunny, blue sky and top down all day (with lots of sunscreen).  We found a road to the beach on the map called Tuki Tuki.  A little back lane twisting and turning on the other side of the river from Craggy Range.  A river we discover is called, Tuki Tuki.  I guess it came first.  We pass thousands of sheep, a field full of bulls, another field full of deer of all things.

On this route are the grand properties.  Fabulous hillside retreats that look better suited to hills above Malibu than rural NZ.  They are miles apart and must sit on hundreds of acres.  After an hour, the road joins into the Ocean Beach drive we are familiar with, so, we take another turn to a more distant beach called Waimarama.  Another spectacular driving road up through fields and across a peak down to the ocean side.  Now, we might as well be on the California coastThis is a surfers village with little beach houses and ATV's running up and down with surfboards hung all over them.  The beach is miles long, white sand and , by any normal standard, pretty empty.  

Hungry, we head back along the river to Black Barn hoping for a late lunch.  Too late, they are closed and send us down the hill to the Te Mata Cheese Company.  Thinking it just sells cheese, we find a little garden café that sell cheese, wine and lunch.  What a lunch; giant plates of cheese, bread and meats with every wine in the region.  Enough to take home to the hotel and miss dinner, which we did.

P1020371 copy.jpg

OPM (Other People’s Money) 

Cape Kidnappers is owned by an American, Julian Robertson.  Thus, I guess, the Pottery Barn look.  You finance types may remember him as one of the first hedge fund guys.  He ran Tiger Asset Management out of New York.  At one point Tiger had 24 billion dollars of assets under management until it tanked in 2000.  His funds fell in value to 8 billion and he sold out.  According to Forbes.com, he walked with over 2 billion in OPM (Other Peoples Money) and resettled in NZ for its lower tax rates (maximum 38%).  When his business sank his detractors (and shareholders) wanted him to have a mental examination.  Probably because he explained away the failure by saying "I don't know what's going on, I don't understand this business anymore”.  He is a bear of a man, tall and well built, even if he is in his late seventies.  He has a thick South Carolina accent and has all the enthusiasm of a five year old.  He describes the coming U.S. recession as, a "doozy", and when he saw me taking the top down in the Audi, he ran up and yelled "Yippeekiyay” and wanted to drive down the hill.  Great fun!.  He also owns Kauri Cliffs, the 48th best golf course in the world, north of Auckland.  Cape Kidnappers is the 27th best in the world.  Still, I think the mental exam might have been a good idea. 

And so, it came time to play.  First we needed a lesson from Jeremy, the club pro.  He was great; fixed my slice and had Ellen knocking them out straight and true.  Off we go on the back nine where every hole is on the ocean and the cliffs are over 250 feet over the water.  

The course is supposed to be the widest in NZ, but it undulates and you can't tell what is over the next rise. Really a links course at the top of a cliff.  There are aiming trees I was told, but I never found them.  Perhaps it was the famous Kidnappers wind that appeared from nowhere and started to howl diagonally across the course.  We soldiered on until I found Ellen hiding behind the cart and the wind blew my glasses right off my face.  Time to retire to the clubhouse fireplace and teach the bartender how to make Blueberry Tea.  Not our greatest golf experience, but, it was one afternoon of bad weather in a gorgeous week.  Just our luck.

The next morning was our last.  We left for one last run down the road saying goodbye to all the livestock we had come to know up and down the hill.  We were a bit late leaving for Auckland, so top down, I pushed it a bit though the Lord of the Rings landscape.  That's when the Highway Patrol, hidden in a five car group coming the other way, hit his lights.  He headed around after me.  No doubt about it; 135 in a 100 zone.  I spent the next minute looking for a nice, shady place to turn in.  When he walked up to my window I lowered my sunglasses, smiled and said: "this never happened to Frodo and Sam".  He only smiled when he handed me the ticket for $350 bucks.

Lord of the Rings Country.  See it.  Wear a hat.

P1020460 copy.jpg

Update 2013:  We haven't been back. Not because it wasn't one of our greatest trips, it was. But, it's a long way and bloody expensive even for our 5 star tastes.  Cape Kidnappers was the biggest bill I have ever had at a hotel, by far. But, Julian Robertson's prediction that the 2007-2008 economic meltdown was going to be a " doozy " was spot on. If we were fortunate enough to go again, we will do the South Island this time.