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New Zealand February 2002

Author: WFDoran
Date of Trip: February 2002

On Sunday, February 17th, I once again set off for the Southern Hemisphere. This time it was New Zealand, not Chile like last year. Actually, if you waded into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Valdivia, Chile and followed the 45th parallel across the Pacific Ocean, you would bump right into Dunedin, New Zealand. Both countries are long and narrow and have a wealth of radiata pine trees. The climate and weather are pretty much the same except that New Zealand does not have the desert like the one that begins North of Santiago, Chile.

I left my house in Greensboro about 11:00am on Sunday, February 17th. I flew Delta from Greensboro to Atlanta and Atlanta to Los Angeles where I then connected with an Air New Zealand 747 to Auckland. In Auckland, I connected with a domestic Air New Zealand flight to Dunedin, my first stop on my tour of the Island country. The plane was almost completely full. There were no empty seats in first and business and about 20 empty seats in coach.

Air New Zealand did a nice job. The food was outstanding and the service and attitude of the flight attendants was even more outstanding. They could not do enough to help you or make you more comfortable. For a dinner appetizer, we had crab cakes with a spicy Asian sauce followed by a great tossed salad and thin filets of John Dory done in an egg batter accompanied by steamed potatoes and vegetables. The New Zealand wines were very nice. I think they make the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world and their cabernet is quite good. Flight time from L.A. to Auckland was 12 1/2 hours and we were right on schedule. The only complaint I have is that the 747 is a little bit dated and their seats are not quite as comfortable for sleeping as some of the other long-haul airlines. However, I did manage to get a halfway decent night’s sleep on the transpacific journey.

About two hours before arrival, they served a full breakfast of fruit, cereal and I chose and Egg Beater’s omelet with sauteed California vegetables. Their coffee was served in a French press, which you activated right at your seat.

We arrived in Auckland at 5:40am. As my trip was set up by Investment New Zealand, a government agency aimed at business development for the country, I was met at the gate by an airport representative. I was escorted through immigration and customs. A representative of Investment New Zealand met me at the baggage claim and shepherded me over to the domestic terminal to catch my 7:15 flight to Dunedin. If I so desired, I could have had a full breakfast including fruit, cereal, eggs and sausages on the hour and a 45-minute flight to the South island.

Upon arrival at Dunedin I was met by the Managing Director of City Forests of Dunedin, a timber growing and harvesting company. Dunedin is one of the oldest towns in New Zealand and at the turn of the century was the commercial center of the country. It is now an education center with the University of Otago being the lynch pin. In addition, they have an excellent port that ships a lot of logs, processed timber, dried dairy products and refrigerated produce. The weather here, besides being very similar to Southern Chile, is very similar to Northern California/Oregon coastal weather.

Investment New Zealand had set me up at the Mahara Boutique Bed & Breakfast (2 Fifield Street, Roslyn Tel.: 64+3+467+5811 or Fax: 64+3+467+5587). The Mahara is a four-bedroom B & B in a restored Victorian home that overlooks the harbor.

New Zealand, like Australia, is sports crazy, however virtually no soccer is played there. Rugby is its major sport, followed by cricket, field hockey and netball, which is a version of basketball for women. I saw people running and biking all over the town and there were plenty of tennis courts, rowing and sailing clubs, etc. They had a 30-court indoor tennis center as well as many outdoor clubs. They have the largest indoor aquatic center in Australasia. We had lunch at a pub that overlooked the beach and there were lots of young people in wet suits surfing the waves. Fleece, denim, Gortex and high-performance sandals seemed to be the uniform of the day.

All of the timber is from plantation-managed forests. It is harvested on a 30-year cycle. I visited two logging sites and they did produce a very high quality log.

That evening when I got back to the Mahara B & B, my hostess asked me if I would like a glass of wine. I answered in the affirmative. I heard her bustling around in the kitchen for a couple of minutes and she came in with a lovely tray of Australian cheeses, fruits and crackers as well as the wine. She sat and talked with me for an hour while I sipped the wine and nibbled on the appetizers. She was an absolutely delightful hostess.

That evening I dined at Rooster’s (315 Highgate Road, Dunedin NZ), which is within walking distance from the Mahara B & B. This is an unpretentious local restaurant that serves excellent food and wine. I started with a crisp New Zealand Chardonnay and a Caesar salad. For the main course I switched to Sauvignon Blanc which went perfectly with the roasted codfish in a sweet passion fruit sauce speckled with hot chilies and served with bok choy and roasted new potatoes. For dessert I had a steamed ginger-bourbon pudding and a glass of Pinot Noir. The meal was superb and the price was excellent. The meal was superb especially considering that it only cost about 25 NZ dollars.

I walked back to the B & B and immediately drifted off to sleep in the king-size bed in the oversized room after a wee drop of Port from the complementary decanter on my night table.

I got up the next morning to take my daily run through the streets of Dunedin. It was cold and windy. As it was still dark, I couldn’t see much but I did notice that flowers, both annuals and perennials, were planted in abundance at every house I passed. The residential architecture was unlike that used in the United States and more like what is seen in Ireland or Great Britain. The older houses have a more Victorian look and do resemble older homes in the United States. Dunedin was once the commercial capital of New Zealand and the major port. However, early in the 19th Century, the emphasis changed to Auckland.

I passed numerous other people on my early morning run, many more than I have encountered in any other city. In fact, just as I got back to the B & B, there was a group of teenage boys gathering up for a run. I have never seen a group of teenage boys do that at 6:30am.

My hostess had a lovely breakfast prepared. However, I just partook of the fresh fruit and cereal. Two other guests were dining with me and they had full English breakfast of sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs, toast with various jams and jellies as well as fruit.

That day we drove down to the Southern tip of the South island to visit a veneer mill just outside of a city called Invercargill. New Zealand is extremely pastoral and I was able to get a good feel of the landscape on our 2.5-hour drive South. The land is rolling and very green. Sheep and cows grazed the fields in abundance. I saw quite a bit of corn growing. I assume it was for cattle feed. We passed over the Mataura River, which is alleged to be the greatest trout-fishing river in the world. Unfortunately, I did not have time to stop and check it out.

New Zealand is a large exporter of dairy products and meat. I’m sure their livestock far outnumbers the 3.3 million human inhabitants of the country, of which a million of them live in the Auckland area. I’m told they have a bit of a problem with a hole in the Ozone layer caused by the high concentrations of methane gas emitted by the animals.

After visiting the veneer mill, we had lunch at a nearby hotel/conference center. I ordered spicy pork skewers thinking they would be done like satay. Boy, was I surprised when they came out as grilled ground pork shaped like sausages. They must have a Bulgarian cook because that is just the way they serve them in Bulgaria.

That evening we drove back to Dunedin and visited their port off the peninsula named Port Chalmers. I was very impressed with the port. It was modern and could handle a variety of cargo including refrigerated fruit and frozen meat. They have plenty of warehousing at the port and off the container in break bulk shipments to both the East and West coasts in the United States.

Once again, when I got back to the Mahara B & B, my hostess sat out a glass of wine and some snacks and sat down to chat for a while. When my contacts came to pick me up, she poured them a glass of wine. She is a very friendly, genuine lady. I would recommend staying at her place if you go to Dunedin.

We drove around the Dunedin peninsula over a winding road atop tall hills that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. It reminded me somewhat of driving down the California coast from San Francisco to Monterrey. You had unobstructed views as the road had no guardrails.

We finally arrived at our destination at a small town that looks like a lot of towns you would see on the Mendocino coast in the 1970’s. The architecture is mainly Victorian and the houses were painted some wild colors including purple. Bicycles, dilapidated dune buggies and surf boards seemed to be the preferred method of transportation for the locals.

We ate in a restaurant named the 1898 House, which had fantastic views and forgettable food.

We drove back on the low road, which is on the bayside of the peninsula and enjoyed the views without fear of going over the side. Dangerous roads are bad enough but when you are driving on the wrong side of the road, it really heightens the excitement.

The next morning we headed up to Auckland. I must say that Air New Zealand does a wonderful job even on their domestic flights. Our flight was about 1 1/2 hours and they served a complete breakfast including fresh fruit, cereal and a main hot entree. For those of you who don’t fly, all of our domestic airlines have no stopped serving food except on coast-to-coast flights.

Auckland is by far the largest city in the country. It sits at the center of the North Island on a narrow strip of land that has protective harbors on each side. I checked in to the Ascott Metropolis Hotel (1 Courthouse Lane, Auckland, NZ, Tel.: 64+9+300+8800 or Fax: 64+9+300+8899). This hotel is a rather new 35-story hotel right across the street from Albert Park and adjacent to the downtown business center. The hotel is very modern, lots of light-colored marble floors and walls in the public areas. My room on the 30th floor was very nice. It had a bedroom plus a separate kitchen and sitting area with views of the city and the harbor. I got all of this for about $80 a night.

The only problem with the hotel was the bar. It was too austere and did not invite conviviality. The interior decorations divided the room into many discrete areas, which helped to give a sense of isolation. The food and service were mediocre.

That evening I dined with a few contacts at Investment New Zealand at the O’Connell Street Bistro (3 O’Connell Street, Tel.: 64+9+377+1884), which was within walking distance from the hotel. The restaurant was a hip-modern bistro with better than average food. I started with a curried pumpkin soup and moved on to veal medallions, cracked black pepper polenta and sauteed Chinese cabbage. For dessert I had a New Zealand flat white coffee. Flat white coffee is a double shot of espresso combined with frothed milk.

Friday morning we left the hotel at 7:00am to get an 8:00am flight to the capital city of Wellington, located at the Southern tip of the Northern Island. New Zealand does not have very much security for their domestic flights and in fact, they just instituted it after the events after September 11th.

By coincidence I was arriving in Wellington 45 minutes ahead of the Queen who was starting a State visit. As we landed at the airport, I could see the military honor guard formed up waiting to greet her. I thought they might come over and give me a bit of ruffles and flourishes but no such luck. I had meetings with our U.S. Ambassador, who is a personal friend of our CEO. The security to get into the U.S. Embassy was quite a bit stronger than to get on a domestic New Zealand flight. I then slipped over to the Parliament building where meetings were scheduled with the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Deputy Prime Minister. There was virtually no security to get in to the Parliament building or the offices of the New Zealand cabinet members. In the afternoon, I met with a member of the Forestry Board who brought me up to date on the present and future timber situation in New Zealand. It is very good. Their available timber for cutting will double in the next five years.

Wellington is known as the “Windy City.” It sits on the southern tip of the Northern Island and the 22 miles of open water between there and the Northern end of the Southern island form a natural wind tunnel. Wellington is a combination between the old and the new. A lot of the office and government buildings downtown are modern in architecture. A good percentage of the houses are older, wooden and Victorian in style. The newer homes of course are more contemporary in architecture. It is a rather compact city jammed in a bit of coastal plain backing up to large hills or small mountains that guard the interior of the island.

Our plane landed in Auckland about 5:00pm. The traffic, getting back to the hotel, was slow and crowded. There are virtually no freeways in the Auckland area so you must move everywhere on basic city and neighborhood streets.

After getting back to the hotel and changing into some casual clothes, I wondered down to the Viaduct. This is the inner harbor boat basin where all of the sail-racing teams have their headquarters and boathouses as they prepare for the 2003 America’s Cup races in the waters off of Auckland. In addition there is quite a bit of public wharf space where many luxurious and many not so luxurious are moored. The area is ringed by trendy bars and restaurants and is a genuine “happening” place in Auckland.

One of the goings on at the viaduct that night was an event in the corporate Dragon Boat Challenge Racing Series. Dragon boats are of Chinese origin and are a type of long sea-going canoe that is paddled by a crew of 10-12 people. These events are very popular in Hong Kong and in fact they have even spread to the United States in cities like Portland and Seattle.

You could see the outlines of the America’s Cup racing boats put up for the day in their dry land boathouses. The keels were draped with cover so you couldn’t see the exact shape or technology of them. A couple of the boats were almost completely covered. They all try and use a different technology or some other adjustment within the rules and the 12-meter design to get a competitive edge.

I ended up in Tommy Doolin’s Irish bar. It was opening night of professional rugby season and I sat at the bar watching that while eating an excellent hamburger and better than excellent French fries. There was a group of three young men about my son’s ages sitting at the bar next to me. About halfway through the game I turned to one of them and said, “This game is so rough that I’m sure none of our NFL players could come down and play it.” As a result, they took me under their wing and for the rest of the game, explained to me (or tried to explain to me) the finer points of rugby. All I can tell you is that it is tough, non-stop action and they don’t wear any protective padding.

Saturday morning I took a long run through the city and picked up a Starbucks coffee on the way back to the hotel. One of my hosts at Investment New Zealand arranged to take me to a wine fest on the other side of the harbor. We took the ferry over there and sampled many of the fine New Zealand wines. New Zealand makes some outstanding white wines and great Pinot Noir. Their cabernet and merlot are acceptable but not the quality of their whites. Along with the wines, we had some great satay, shrimp in a fiery chile sauce and outstanding New Zealand cheeses. We had intermittent showers during the day so it kind of forced the crowd to come close together as they huddled under wine and/or food tents or umbrellas. It did not however, deter the musicians who kept on playing through the downpours.

That evening I dined at a small, casual restaurant called Merlot at 23 O’Connell Street. A Caesar salad, mustard-coated lamb chops and roasted vegetables washed down with good New Zealand wine sustained me for the evening. After dinner I took a long walk through the downtown area and noticed that all the bars and restaurants were well patronized.

After a long run the next morning I met my host for a trip to the outskirts of the city to witness the Haka Paka. The New Zealand indigenous people are known as the Maori. I believe they are of Samoan heritage. Each year they gather for a musical contest. Each band or tribe sends a team that performs various war chants and other types of native songs. There are both women and men on the team and are dressed in traditional native garb. The whole show was very impressive and gave one a good insight of the Maori culture. We spent the morning there and then went back to town for a quick lunch at the Viaduct. We ate at a place called Soul. We had an appetizer of grape leaves stuffed with chicken, and then I had a crab and pasta dish that was dusted with chopped green chilies. Excellent!

The afternoon’s event was a sail on New Zealand 12-meter yacht that was a Challenge boat in the 1995 America’s Cup series. A crew of four young men who knew what they were doing took a group of twenty or so tourists out for an afternoon sail on this aquatic hotrod. The boat is completely stripped, no cabin, no cover, not anything but winches, sails and double-steering helm. We went off into the Auckland harbor and cruised over the general area where the America’s Cup races will be held. Later on in the afternoon, the wind picked up to close to 30 knots and they had the boat screaming along at close to 20 knots with one rail in the water and the other side high and dry. It was a beautiful day for sailing, smart wind and plenty of sunshine. There were all sorts of boats in the harbor just screaming along and enjoying the day. The real adventuresome folk were hung off the sides of their boats in trapezes using their body as a counterweight so they could squeeze the maximum amount of speed from their craft.

That evening I had roasted pork, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes at a Belgian bar called the Occidental. They had a Sunday evening jazz band that brought in a rather eclectic crowd.

We left at 6:00 the next morning to drive down to the Central part of the Northern Island. We visited a plywood mill owned by Carter Holt Harvey and had lunch with the manager after touring the operation. We were then picked up by the Rotorua Economic Development Commissioner and given a tour of the area by helicopter. The delightful sunny day showed off the New Zealand landscape in its best light. We choppered over beautiful lakes and large plantations of radiata pine. Cows and sheep were all over the rolling hills. We stopped off at the New Zealand Forest Research Center for some conversations and ended up in a town of Rotorua on the shores of Lake Rotorua.

After a swim and a hot tub in the geothermal waters of the area, the Economic Development Commission hosted a dinner for us at the Novatel that evening. I met the mayor, the head of the city council and a local forestry consultant. They presented me with a native war weapon and made it very clear they would love us to put some sort of a wood-processing plant in the area.

The next morning we drove up to the Port of Tauranga. This is another well-developed port with excellent facilities for all types of cargo from raw logs and chips to frozen meat. New Zealand is a country that relies heavily on exports so it is no surprise that they have well-developed ports. This town is also a resort town and we drove past a beautiful beach. A day and a half trip into the central North Island gave me a good overview of the area. Like the rest of New Zealand, it is not heavily populated. The land is rolling, lush and green. There are lots of lakes and rivers. Farms are prosperous and well attended and the small towns and cities are clean and attractive. Everyone is friendly.

That afternoon we flew back to Auckland and had meetings with Fletcher Challenge, one of the largest timber holders in New Zealand. They also do some secondary processing of saw and lumber and some moldings. That evening Fletcher Challenge hosted a dinner for us at Oscar’s, the restaurant at the hotel Metropolis. It was touted as the best restaurant in Auckland. The service and ambiance were great but I felt the food was contrived and overly fancy. I ordered the Caesar salad and seafood lasagna and believe me; none of the dishes I was served came close to meeting that description.

On Wednesday, we met with two more large timber holders and then it was off to the airport for a 6:00pm departure on Air New Zealand back to L.A. connecting with Delta to Cincinnati and Greensboro. On the way home, the time change helps. It only took me two hours to get home. I left at 6:00pm Wednesday and got home at 8:07pm on Wednesday. If my calculations are right that was little over 22 hours lapsed time from airport to airport. The flight back was on another Air New Zealand 747 that had much nicer seats than the one I went over on. They lay flat out like a bed so you could get some proper sleep on the plane. Again, the food and service and attitude of the cabin crew were outstanding.

I would highly recommend to anyone a visit to New Zealand. The people are friendly. The scenery is great and with the NZ dollar at 43 cents, the price is right.

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