New Zealand

After cancelling several trips to New Zealand over the past few years, Linda finally got her chance to visit on a cruise aboard the Regent Seven Seas Explorer. I had been to New Zealand on a Tauck tour about ten years before with Dani, and I was hoping the cruise would be an easy way to visit some of the highlights. As it turned out, as with Hawaii, it wasn’t a good way to experience the land. But the ship was beautiful.

We connected through LA to New Zealand. The new Delta One suites make 16 hour flights no problem.

We spent a couple of days in Auckland to get on schedule. I had a chance to meet for lunch at Le Garde-Manger with Steve Graham, and author writing a book about Linn Electronics, where I was COO in the 1980s. And we had a lovely dinner at The Grove.

The Regent Seven Seas Explorer bills itself as the most beautiful cruise ship ever built, and it’s hard to argue with that. All of the materials are phenomenal, the interior design is stunning, and the accommodations are great, even in the normal suites like we had. Service was also perfect. Everything is included, from dinks to shore excursions; our favorite benefit was the free daily laundry service!

Surprisingly, we didn’t think the food was as good as on its somewhat less fancy sister line, Oceania, which is still our favorite. Oceania has several ships the same size as the Explorer—about 750 passengers—but they also have some 1000 passenger ships, and we find the slightly larger size provides, ironically, an assortment of more intimate spaces.

Whereas the Tauck Tour had taken us on some very interesting excursions, the shore excursions on this trip were pretty much a bust. In particular, the “Journey into Middle Earth” was a pointless 8-hour slog on a bus to literally nowhere—a site where they built a set for a movie twenty years ago and then dismantled it ten weeks later.

Cruising Milford Sounds was very beautiful, though.

We had better luck with the shore excursion in Tasmania, with a visit to a very nice cave (165 feet deep—than goodness for handrails!) and an animal park.

Obligatory Kangaroo and Tasmanian Devil photos.

Overall impression was that the ship was great, but the itinerary not so much.

In Sydney we checked into our lovely room at the Four Seasons Hotel and had lunch at one of our favorite sushi spots, Sake.

Linda had been bothered by a cold for much of the cruise, which wasn’t surprising since it seemed like at least 15% of the passengers were sick from the start. That night I started feeling like I was getting it, and by the next day I was pretty sure it wasn’t a cold. Sure enough, she picked up some Covid tests, and we were both positive.

We had planned to spend the week dining around Sydney and visiting our dear friend Pamela, but that turned into a week of isolation in the room. We had also planned on visiting friends in Los Angeles for a week on our way back, but we canceled those plans and flew straight through to Orlando. So kind of an anticlimactic end to our trip. Glad we’ve both had six Covid shots, so it was just unpleasant but nothing worse.

And the view flying out of LA was very pretty:


Although it was an early morning, our plane flight from Aukland to Sydney was otherwise painless, and, taking advantage of the two hour time shift, we were in Coogee by 11am. this is the town where Pamela grew up, so I had a strong impression of it from reading her book, but of course it has changed a bit since then,, and we are staying at a beach front resort, the Crowne Plaza. We walked down along the beach enjoying the dramatic waves breaking on the rocks and also the topless bathers, out for one of the first really sunny beach days of the year. At the end of the beach we climbed the rocks and looked down on the next cove, but decided against making the long trek father north to famous Bondi Beach.

Back at the beach we walked up Coogee Bay Road looking for lunch. There were many cafes, but all seemed to fall into two camps: crammed or empty. Figuring there was a reason for both, but not wanting to squeeze into one of the popular ones, we instead ate in the outdoor patio of the Coogee Bay Hotel, where we shared a good Caesar Salad and a fairly awful Cheeseburger.

Then we walked down to the beach, took off our shoes and socks and (having been warned by Bill Bryson’s book, watching carefully for box jelly fish, great white sharks and poisonous cone shells) stepped into the water so that we could say we’d been in the Tasman Sea (or whatever it is here).

That was enough outdoor adventure for one day, and we retreated to our room for a quiet afternoon fiddling with photos and blogs.

For dinner we walked across the street and had Trout and Barramundi on the balcony at Ceviche, overlooking Coogee Beach.

We ended our trip watching the moon rise over the bay.

The next morning we had quite a view from the plane window as we began the 24-hour trek back home.

My final Australia album ended up with 160 favorite photos out of 1400 that we took.

A couple of other trip-related notes:

I signed up for data plans on the iPad and iPhones, The iPhone plan gave us 275MB per month, so we had about 200 for the trip. Neither of us used close to this, but that was because we were really careful. It would have been easy to go over if we’d made more use of maps or the web. I also signed up for 800MB on the iPad. That trend out to be way too much, because I didn’t end up using it for maps, web or blogging. It wouldn’t had been enough for blogging my photos, and its WordPress App is cumbersome, so I ended up buying Internet at most hotels. Hotel internet is expensive, slow, and often data limited, but there’s not much you can do, as free wifi is very rare here.

Dani made a list of “best of” on her blog, and I completely agree, so I’m stealing it to post here, too:


  • Lunch with Janis and Adriaan on their veranda
  • Lunch with Pamela’s family
  • Jenolan Caves
  • Feeding Kangaroos
  • Lunch at Kerry’s dairy farm
  • Ozzy’s mussel boat in Marlborough Sound
  • The drive into Milford Sound
  • The Kiwi Bird Park
  • T.S.S. Earnslaw’s engine room


  • Best Breakfast: The Langham
  • Best Included Meal: toss up between the dairy farm and Kiwi Bird Park
  • Best Hotel Dinner: The Langham’s 8 buffet stations
  • Best Asian: Chat Thai
  • Best High-Brow Dinner: Tetsuya’s
  • Best Low-Brow Dinner: Fergburger
  • Best Chai-Tea Latte: Relax Cafe!!!!!!!!!


  • Best Hotel: The Four Seasons in Sydney
  • Best Hotel Room: The Copthorn in Wellington
  • Best View: Queenstown

Rainy Days in Auckland

The rain caught up to us today, but that was okay, as it gave us an excuse to relax. At noon we walked down Queen Street and found a ma and pa Korean restaurant for a tasty lunch. After lunch we visited the used CD store again, where we challenged each other to find the best CD of an artist we’d never heard of. My choices sucked, but Dani discovered a new singer from Norway named Silje Nergaard who is fantastic. She has 11 albums out, and I ordered a few used from Amazon.

For dinner we walked about 100 feet out the hotel’s back door to an Italian restaurant called Davinci, where we shared a salad, pizza and tiramisu.

On Tuesday, our final day in Auckland, blustery winds blew away the rain for most of the day, and we walked to the art museum. The museum has an awful lot of modern art (or is that a lot of awful modern art?) as well as a gainsborough and a Reynolds, but they also have a newly acquired donation of Picassos, Matisses, Mondrians, Dalis, and others. Most of these were also too modern for our tastes, but we did enjoy some of the paintings in the Victorian gallery.

Of course we had to stop by the University so Dani could get another of those wonderful Chai Lattes. And we had our personal New Zealand Farewell Dinner back at the hotel’s Eight restaurant, where our New Zealand stay began.


Back to Auckland

On the final day of our Tauck Tour we headed back to Auckland. We’ve had almost perfect weather on the trip, particularly considering that winter is just ending in New Zealand. It seemed that we’ve been ahead of rain almost everywhere, so it was appropriate that it began to rain in Queenstown as we headed out, snapping a last aerial view from the private jet as we flew over.

The flight to Auckland was less than two hours, and then we spent a relaxing afternoon back at the Langham before joining our group for a farewell dinner in the revolving restaurant on top of the 1000 foot SkyTower.

The casino gift shop at the base of the tower had some interesting Hollywood-inspired (but probably not authorized) decorations.

We’ll spend the next two days on our own in Auckland before heading back to Australia.

TSS Earnslaw & Walter Peak Sheep Station

Today we got to sleep in, because our excursion to the sheep farm didn’t start until almost noon, when we walked across the street to the dock and boarded the TSS (Twin Screw Steamship) Earnslaw, for the 45 minute trip to Walter Peak.

The Earnslaw is a month away from its centennial celebration, but is in perfect shape. In fact, it’s better than new, judging from the old photos we saw of sheep filling what is now a cafe.

The most interesting part of the trip was the engine room, which features a catwalk where you can watch the two steam engines and the stokers shoveling coal into the boilers.

The ship is still completely controlled by those old fashioned levers and bells that relay “full ahead” or “half astern” to the two men manning the controls in the engine room, one set for each side.

In 45 minutes we arrived at the other end of Lake Wakpitu, for a delicious barbecue lunch at Walter Peak Station. New Zealand barbecue is a lot more like US barbecue than Australian barbecue.

After lunch we got to feed various animals, and even held a one-week old lamb.

We also saw an impressive demonstration of a sheep dog rounding up a flock. But the funniest thing was the sheep shearing demonstration. It turns out that when you turn a sheep on its back, its like a turtle, they can turn over. They don’t even flail, just sit their sort of stunned while they’re shorn.

After our return trip we relaxed for a while, and then had a burger at Fergburger, reputed to be the best hamburger place in the world. The long line and crowded tiny interior certainly attested to its popularity, and Dani gave her burger–bun, meat, lettuce, cheese, bacon, aioli, onion, tomato relish, and a slice of pineapple–two thumbs up.


We arrived at the Queenstown airport (actually in Frankton) about 6pm, and as predicted no one was there except security and the janitor. Since our luggage had magically preceded us, we were in Queenstown within minutes.

The Crowne Plaza Queenstown has a great location on the harbor, and our room offers a dramatic view. Full from lunch and tired from a busy day, we did some blogging and hit the sack without dinner. The morning in Queenstown dawned with scattered rain, making for a dramatic panorama from our balcony.

At breakfast I discovered that our arrival in Manapouri had, indeed, made the newspaper.

First stop for the day was at the jet boat ride, but because it was billed as very rough, and there was a cold drizzle, only three of the group wanted to try it. The gorge on the river was a beautiful spot, but it seemed tasteless to me to spoil it with a stupid thrill ride. I’d much rather have simply enjoyed the view, which is what most of the group opted for. Dani shot some good video of the boat’s gyrations, though, which she posted to youtube.

Next stop was Kiwi Bird Park. This is a family run operation that has been dedicated to conservation for twenty-five years. They breed Kiwi birds and other endangered birds for release into the wild.

Owner Paul and zoologist (also) Paul gave us a tour and showed off many of their animals, including a Tuatara, which looks like a lizard, but is apparently its own dinosaur-like branch.

After our tour they prepared a delicious lunch, with home baked bread and grilled, grass-fed rib eye steaks from a producer a couple of hours to the South.

Then owner Paul gave us a preview of his new city tour, a 45-minute drive around Queenstown with an interesting history presentation. We were the first guests to take the tour, but no reporters showed up for this event!

After thanking Paul for his hospitality, we boarded the gondola next door for a ride to the top of Bob’s Peak, 1000 feet above the city.

At the top you can eat in a restaurant, bungee jump, drive a “luge” down one of two courses (and take a ski lift back up to do it again), or shop. We did the latter.

And the view was pretty good, too.

Milford Sound

In the morning we caught our same private jet for the flight from Wellington at the tip of the North Island to Manapouri Airport, about two thirds of the way down the South Island. Flight time was less than 90 minutes, and along the way we had a spectacular view of the Southern Alps that divide the West and East sides of the South Island.

Our arrival at Manapouri was fun and funny. We were on the first jet ever to land their (in the past Tauck has used Convair prop planes). So the entire town seemed to be out to greet us! Even the kindergarten got the day off.

Fire engines sprayed water over the plane, and a reception line headed by the mayor and other officials greeted us on the runway.

A bagpiper (!) played, photos and video were taken, gift bags and flowers were distributed, and we were apparently on the 6pm news and in the South Island newspaper. I need to practice my royal wave.

After that exciting reception, we boarded a coach and headed for Fiordland National Park, New Zealand’s largest, which comprises most of the Southwest corner of the country.

The trip was one of transition. We started in pine forest and sandy river beds.

Soon we were in alpine territory, with frequent avalanche warning signs and snow everywhere.

Then we crested the “continental divide” and were almost immediately in a temperate rainforest as lush as any tropical rainforest. What an astonishingly sudden change!

After winding down a torturous, snow-banked and boulder strewn road and through an impressive (10% grade) 1km long tunnel, we emerged at Milford sound. It’s not really a sound (sea-filled river valley) but rather a fjord (glacier-carved valley with a moraine at the end). Our 90 minute boat ride included a nice buffet lunch in a private area of the ship, and some great views, although there weren’t a lot of the waterfalls the sound is known for, because they turn on and off with the rain. It’s the only time I’ve been on vacation and wished for rain!

We spotted seven seals sleeping on Seal Rock (of course) and a large pod of perhaps a dozen dolphins frolicked around the boat for some time. Then we retraced our path to Manapouri airport for a fifteen minute hop to Queenstown.

Martin Bosley’s

While Dani had dinner with her friend Laura, I went across the street from our hotel and had a solo dinner at Martin Bosley’s, which has been voted New Zealand’s best restaurant. The emphasis here is on fish, which is appropriate, given their singular location on the harbor.

My meal was as good as any on this trip, including the Michelin three-stars in Sydney. In fact, it was in my top ten ever. I had the Menu Degustation with matching wines. Nearly all the course were a home run, especially. When there were several elements on one plate. And the wine pairings were perfect, the best wines I’ve had on this trip, and all perfect matches. Service was professional but friendly, and the owner came by to say hello at the end of the evening.

Although I didn’t get a copy of the menu (in fact, there wasn’t one for the Menu Degustation), here are my recollections:

Amuse bouche of salmon with salmon foam and candied rosemary
Roderer Brut

Blue nose sashimi (tartare) with mandarin orange oil and purée, and dehydrated (freeze dried) mandarin orange wedge

Porcini Mushroom and cinnamon meringue with duck pate and apple cube. Wow!

Crab & cocoanut risotto with salmon eggs! And I hate risotto, but not this.
Pinot Gris

Duck! caramelized onions, garlic compote
Pinot Noir

Valrhona chocolate
Graham’s 10 year Tawny

Baba calvados lemon curd yoghurt
Chapoutier muscat


Wellington certainly deserves its nickname as the windy capital. As the world’s southernmost capital city, it was surprisingly warm today–mid fifties–but a constant breeze made a good jacket a requirement.

The day dawned with scattered drizzles, a contrast to last night’s ultra-clear weather, but by mid morning it began to clear off.

We spent our morning touring the city by bus, with a stop for a viewpoint atop a western ridge. Along the road up was one of the spots where a forest chase scene was filmed for Lord of the Rings, and the dense trees looked familiar.

Our second stop was New Zealand’s parliament building, a complex of three radically different buildings (two and a half, really, as the middle one was never fully built out).

Then we took the cable car to the top of the eastern ridge, and the botanical garden. But rather than enter the garden here, we drove back down to the other side, where we spent our time in the warm greenhouse building and visited the peace flame, where a waterfall and pool of green algae made fascinating patterns.

In the late morning we rode to the Quay and had a beer tasting of two local brews, a pilsner that was light and lemony, and a somewhat more complex bitter. They were both okay, but I bought a glass of stout that we shared around the table, and it was better than either of the two free offerings.

Next door to the brew pub was Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand. This is probably the best cultural museum I’ve been to. The displays were extremely sophisticated, and the place was busy with school kids who were thoroughly engaged.

We had a private tour by a Maori guide named “T.” He was excellent. My favorite display was an interactive floor with an arial photo of New zealand. When you stepped on places, a zig zag line lit up on the floor, leading to a backlit projection on the wall from that place. In addition to video, these pictures included photos emailed to them by guests, and geotagged with that location. Neat!

In the room next door was an image capture station that allowed you to snap you picture and then manipulate it–and everyone else’s–on a giant wall display using a flashlight-like wand. You could resize, tilt and move the photos, or even send them careening around the room for others to play with.

There were also extensive displays of New Zealand’s flora and fauna, both current and historic, and Maori and immigrant cultures and history. Dani’s friend Laura met her during the tour and they went off to spend the day together.

After the tour I walked up to Cuba Street and had lunch in a French Cafe name Le Metropolitain. It was quite authentic; I had pork rillet on sour dough with cornichons and a mesclun salad with chicken livers.

For dinner I dined alone right across the street at Martin Bosley, voted New Zealand’s top restaurant. I’ll put that in a separate post.

Marlborough Sound

At the Rotorua airport we caught our private charter jet for the 45 minute flight to the South Island. This is the way to travel!

The 100-seat British Aerospace BAe 146-200 was pretty spacious with only 17 of us! The four person flight crew (pilot, co-pilot, steward and stewardess) will be with us throughout the week.

In half an hour we had traversed the remaining length of the North Island and passed over Cook Sound. I’m used to things looking closer on the map than in real life, so I was surprised to discover we could see both the North and South Islands out of the same airplane window; they’re quite close. In a few more minutes we touched down at Blenheim Airport in the midst of New Zealand’s Marlborough region. Our coach for the day was waiting for us five steps from the base of the jet’s stairs.

This is the country’s main wine-growing region, and we were surrounded by vineyards, mostly planted to Sauvignon Blanc. There were also sheep (sometimes in the vineyards), cattle, and deer farms. A half hour’s drive brought us to the marina where we boarded a ship for our Marlborough Sound excursion.

The water was quite placid, and the three person crew (Coach Driver/First Mate Ryan, Captain Aussie and Chef Hamish) kept us amused for an hour or so as we made our way to a mussel field.

There we learned how the mussels are cultivated and harvested.

It’s a complex process that involves recovering the mussels three different times, to spread them out and seed them onto ropes that hang down thirty feet into the water.

Then we had a chance to eat our fill of freshly steamed ones in delicious dipping sauces. (Dani says “yuck.”)

Lunch followed, great salad, salmon and ham. The salmon was cooked on an on-deck grill, atop a sheet of Teflon. I hadn’t seen this before, but it’s really practical, as there’s no cleanup.

Excellent wines were poured from Framingham Vineyards. The Sauvignon Blanc was great with the mussels, and the Chardonnay with the salmon. I also tried a red from them made from an Italian varietal I hadn’t seen in New Zealand before.

On the way back we sat next to Captain Aussie and enjoyed chatting with him about the business, and how he came from Oz to NZ for a month trip 25 years ago and has never gone back. It’s clear they all love the area and their jobs.

The return plane trip was just as effortless, and even shorter, within 20 minutes we were in Wellington. The Capthorne Hotel on Oriental Bay is much nicer than the previous two NZ hotels. The two beds are in separate areas on opposite sides of the bathroom, which is quite practical. And the view from the balcony is great.

The weather has been delightful. I zipped the liner into my leather jacket this morning, then never even put the jacket on all day. Apparently we’ve been very lucky, as Wellington doesn’t have the greatest reputation for weather.

While Dani worked on her blog, I went out for a walk around the area, and did one of my favorite activities in a foreign country: visiting the supermarket.

Dinner tonight was in the hotel’s dining room, One 80, on the seventh floor, one above our room. It was pretty good, but not quite as good as our previous hotel meals.

For more details of our day, see Dani’s blog.


We departed from Auckland this morning for our drive across half of the northern island that comprises New Zealand. After a rest stop for some honeycomb and vanilla ice cream (who says 9:30 is too early for ice cream?) we stopped in Matamata for a photo op at the sign declaring it Hobbiton. This is near where they filmed The Lord of the Rings, but the demolished the Hobbiton sets after that movie was made. Now they’ve rebuilt them for the filming of The Hobbit, and not surprisingly they will leave them intact this time as a tourist attraction.

Lunch was at Longlands farm, where we had an interesting tour of the dairy facility and a delicious lunch of lamb. The owner was a delightful host, who described how the 180 acre farm with 240 cows is operated by just three people: him, his wife, and a hired hand. The cows are rotated through 40 separate fields every 2o days, and unlike other country’s dairy farms, require almost no feed other than the grass, and no barn, due to the favorable climate. They’re milked twice a day, and find their own way to and from each field, according to the way the gates are set. Very impressive.

Our next stop was at Whakarewarewa (pronounced fuck-a-roo-a-roo-a) for a Maori cultural presentation and a tour of the property which comprised an exhibit of two kiwi birds (they’re the size of bowling balls), the boiling mud pools, and a geyser (dubbed “old unfaithful”).

New Zealanders’ relationship with their indigenous people is different than everywhere else I’ve been. Their culture is a valued part of society, and rather than being treated as a minority, they seem to be valued as an important part of New Zealand life.

We stopped in front of the Victorian looking Rotorua Baths to take a group photos.

After a short drive we arrived at Amora Resort on the smaller of the two lakes at Rotorua, for a one night stay. The hotel is a two story building, and our room opens out onto the lawn that slopes down to the lake.

After a pleasant dinner in the dining room we retired for a rest after our busy day.

For more details, see Dani’s blog.

Waiheke Island

For our first day on the Tauck tour we met our group at the bus at 8:15 and headed to the ferry dock for the 40 minute trip to Waiheke Island. The island is a beautifully unspoiled place, with 8500 residents who live on the lush hills overlooking more than 50 coves, each with its own sandy beach, and separated by dramatic headlands. Across the bay Auckland sparkled in the intermittent sunshine. Some of the hills are planted to vineyards, and others to olive trees, but much of the vegetation is indigenous, replanted when the island was converted from farming to tourism in the 80s and 90s.

A local coach driver picked us up at the dock and gave us a guided tour. Our first stop was at Rangihoua Estate, an olive grower. There was an interesting tour of how the olives are harvested, crushed, and the oil centrifugally extracted. This was followed by an olive oil tasting. It was interesting to compare the four different kinds, made identically from different olives.

Next we visited Mudbrick Winery for a delightful lunch, accompanied by a tasting of four of their wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, a Merlot/Cab blend, and a Shiraz. I was impressed that Dani correctly identified all four by smell alone, while I had two reversed. Pretty impressive considering we weren’t even told what they might be.

Our touring companions are a sociable bunch, if not exactly gourmands, and we enjoyed the lunch conversation.

After lunch I tried the reserve tasting in the cellar door (as they call the tasting rooms here) and ordered some wine shipped to the US. These were, on the whole, better wines than we had in the Hunter Valley, and it will be fun to have something you can’t get in the US.

Then we returned to the dock for the ferry trip back Auckland. Our driver, Andy, dropped the two of us on Parnell Street where we did a bit of shopping, waited out a light drizzle (mostly) in one of about a hundred coffee shops (Esquire, a Starbucks-like chain) and then walked about a mile back to the hotel through a large park and recreation area called the Domain.

For more details, see Dani’s blog.


Today I had breakfast while Dani slept in, enjoying her last completely unscheduled day before we join our tour. We walked a mile or so down Queen street to the Quay, stopping on the way to buy ten used CDs in a funky music and clothing store, while we waited out a morning shower. After the rain stopped the weather was beautiful.

We walked back a different way that took us through the University of Aukland where Dani spoke at length with someone in their International Studies office. It’s a nice campus.

One of the many places to eat on campus was the Relax Lounge, where we shared a scone and Dani had a chai tea that she really, really, really liked.

We had a pleasant dinner in the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Barolo, where we met our tour director, Renee, who is from New Orleans and seems nice. There are 17 people of this leg of the tour, five couples and seven women.

Sydney to Auckland

After breakfast at the Four Seasons, where Dani got one last Crumpet, a new favorite, we headed to the airport and out flight to Auckland, New Zealand.

New Zealand is really into rugby, and the rugby World Cup is going to be on in Auckland while we’re in New Zealand, so I expect things to get a little crazy. Actually, they’re already a little crazy. The passenger safety video on Air New Zealand was a hilarious skit involving the New Zealand rugby team and a naked grandmother running up and down the aisle of the plane! No problem getting people to watch this safety presentation.

Our hotel, The Langham, is a five star, but in an older building. It’s quite nice. It certainly has the most impressive assortment of “room condiments” I’ve seen. Nestled in a box in the bathroom were smaller boxes of almost anything you can imagine needing:

It will be a severe test of Dani’s room condiment kleptomania.

The Langham has two restaurants, a fancy Italian one called Barolo and the more casual Eight. We chose Eight, and really enjoyed the concept.

There are eight station in the kitchen, each preparing a different type of food: sushi, salads, Indian, grilled skewers, French breads and cheeses, desserts, and so on. The stations are quite elaborate. For example, we asked for garlic naan bread at the Indian one, and he pounded the bread and cooked it in a tandoor right in front of us. Needless to say, it was fantastic.

The sushi was also quite good, as was anything involving raw or smoked fish. We didn’t try the grill.

If this restaurant were in Orlando, it would be Linda’s favorite because of this simple fact: There are stacks of papadums within ten feet of an assortment of twenty elaborate sushi rolls.