Sun streamed through the coach windows as we reached the summit on the Remutaka Hill Road and as we wound down the side of this southern most range of the North Island into Wellington there was no hesitation in singing from the song sheets. Our sheer joy found the high notes of the familiar tunes of old favourites and it did not matter if we were off key.
After all we were friends now with an adventure etched into our memories and treasured forever. It had been two magical weeks together experiencing the skilful itinerary created by Susan Williamson and John Percy of New Zealand Luxury Travel who are renowned for designing personalised tours for discerning travellers to Italy.
We had all thought that this year would bring the opportunity for us to travel out of New Zealand again as we usually did. But 2020 was to be a year of change and instead we were encouraged to explore and support, to discover and connect with our own country as it shuddered under the impact of a deadly virus. And how lucky were we to embrace the nooks and crannies of the North Island itinerary with Tour Manager, Sylvia Sandford with her enthusiasm passion and extensive knowledge of everything New Zealand.
The iconic Hotel de Brett, an architectural marvel, was where we first met. A discerning group of travellers from throughout the country excited to embark on a well-designed itinerary in a luxury coach with professional driver, Roger. We were about to meet the most extraordinary New Zealanders and share in the stories that needed to be told, view the architecture and landscapes of our beautiful country, capture the history and indulge in the best of food , wine and boutique beverages.
That night at The Sugar Club midst the swirling cloud of the Sky Tower in Auckland was where the culinary journey of our tour began. Peter Gordon is acclaimed internationally as a chef and as an author and he shared his new direction with us. During the troubling times of Covid-19 and Lockdown he had decided to do things differently and was now about to establish ‘Homeland’ a cooking school and a food embassy with a focus on the community and support for the local food sector. This concept was echoed by the chefs we met on our journey who focussed on the best of New Zealand sourced foods and products.
As an example, the historic Ormond home of Wallingford in Central Hawkes Bay where we were to trudge the muddy terrain to the French Oaks of the ‘truffia’. Jimmy, the English Springer Spaniel was trained to search for truffles. Chris, the chef was then to show us how the truffle is a taste treat to savour. It was grated on the pasta in his spectacular Flour and Stone Workshop, served finely sliced in the stunning fish consommé for dinner and there was luscious truffle ice cream.
Our Waiheke Island food experiences at both The Boatshed Hotel overlooking the beautiful bay of Oneroa and at the glorious Poderi Crisci Restaurant and Vineyard in Awawaaroa Bay were highlighted as we walked with the proud Antoinio in his gardens, where the kitchen source their fresh organic produce. Antoinio explained the complexity of growing the right grapes on his land ……… my goodness we never realised the work involved as we tasted the delicious variety of wines with each lunch course.
Houses and gardens featured. Warm welcomes at the house that Hugh and Celia built. Seated for a lazy lunch overlooking the inner harbour of the Bay of Plenty. The roaring outdoor fire.
Celebrated artists with studios bathed in talent. Inspirational locations! By appointment only.
Sipping sherry in an old fibrolite bach on a beautiful estuary surrounded by a stunning Mid –Century collection. A living history prodding childhood memory and the telling of stories. A book full of memorabilia, personally signed by the writer, to purchase.
The Andrew Patterson award winning Manor and Villas. An exclusive visit. Exotically furnished with superb views over Lake Taupo to a snow-capped Mt Ruapehu.
Our travel swept us to the top of the North Island and Cape Reinga. A crystal-clear day and the breath-taking moment of witnessing the surge of the Tasman crashing against the Pacific. No one could resist a photo beside the lighthouse before it was a picnic lunch on golden sands at the bottom of a windy manuka clad metal road. Then the stream beds and sand of 90 Mile Beach. We had travelled there as children but had missed the sheer magnificence.
Staying at the historic Duke of Marlborough and the picturesque ferry trip from Russell to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. A cultural performance followed by the visit to Te Rau Aroha guided by the curator …… wow. This stunning new museum proudly commemorates the service and sacrifice of Maori in the NZ Armed Forces. The sense of pride overwhelming.
Day after day we embraced unforgettable experiences and there was always time to reflect. Overlooking Lake Tarawera we recounted the adventure to the north. We invited a NZ Winter Olympian to transport us to icy slopes as we sipped predinner drinks in the comfort of the luxury lodge. The next morning the coach nudged its way through the bush punctuated with tuis and woodpigeons to cross the Central Plateau to the Art Deco capital and beautiful Hawkes Bay.
On the Firth of Thames, we had heard about the godwits and their journey across the world. But we too had been on a journey. It was within our own country!
Meeting amazing New Zealanders who Susan and John knew and approached to open their gardens, homes, and private studios. These delightful people embraced us with warmth and enthusiasm wanting to share their life stories and passion for their creations. These opportunities are not possible when ‘doing it on your own’. The North Island 14-day itinerary was detailed to perfection by New Zealand Luxury Travel ……… look out for the next one …….
We had so much to sing about.
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