Date of Trip: July 2002
Once again, I’m heading off to New Zealand with two of my plywood compatriots to gather additional data on our New Zealand project. I left Greensboro at 2:49pm, Saturday, July 13th on United commuter flight to Washington-Dulles, changed to a United flight direct to Los Angeles and connected with Air Zealand Flight 1 to Auckland. Then I caught a 7:15am flight from Auckland and ended up in Dunedin, NZ at 9:30am Monday morning.
Air New Zealand did their normal good job on the way over. The food was much better than average and the attitude and service of the cabin attendants was superior. Their equipment is slightly dated 747’s but the way they take care of you, more than makes up for it. I got about seven hours sleep on the 12-hour hop from Los Angeles to Auckland.
When I was in New Zealand in February it was the height of their summer. Now I am back in July and it is the middle of winter. When we arrived in Dunedin, which is on the lower part of the Southern Island, it was about 40 degrees, gray, windy and raining. This is very typical for this area during the winter period. Bear in mind, the further South you go in New Zealand, the colder it gets. In the Southern hemisphere everything is just the opposite, including the direction in which the water goes down the drain.
We checked in to the Southern Cross Hotel in Dunedin, an older hotel that has just been totally renovated. At $75 a night, including breakfast, it was a super bargain. The rooms were bright and cheerful and they had a desk area set up for your computer along with an Internet connection, phone jacks and extra plugs.
We spent most the day with the CEO’s of two timberland’s companies discussing the timber situation on the South Island. In the afternoon we went to the docks at Port Chalmers, a very large port that services a good percentage of the export traffic from the South Island. Here we spent a couple of hours out in the wind and rain looking at various different grades and types of logs. New Zealand does not have enough processing plants to utilize the annual growth of their plantation radiata pine so they export a significant amount to Korea, Japan and China.
By the time we finished up at the port we were all chilled right through to the marrow of our bones. When I got back to the hotel, it took ten minutes in a hot shower to defrost so I was in a condition to be able to have dinner. We dined at Rooster’s, a small unassuming neighborhood restaurant with great food and a nice wine list at decent prices. I had filet of sole and scampi in a tomato-cumin sauce over oriental noodles complemented by a couple of glasses of excellent New Zealand sauvignon blanc. A lot of places talk about fusion cooking (the blending of Eastern and Western foods) but I think New Zealand does it better than any place else. I suppose it has to do with the proximity of the Asian countries as well as the number of Asian residents and visitors in New Zealand.
The next day we drove down to Invercargill, which is at the Southern tip of the South Island. When we left Dunedin it was so foggy that we couldn’t see the livestock in the fields that bordered the highway. Actually, it was not a highway. It was a two-lane or a four-lane road depending on where you were. New Zealand is a small country with approximately four million people. They have such things as a national airline and a good university system but they do not have highways like our interstate system. The roads that connect various towns, cities and other sections of the country are basic roads. In some areas there are two lanes and some areas have four lanes. In most cases, they do not bypass the towns and cities, but go straight through them. It is tough to make good time on their roads, but on the other hand, you get to see the country. When you ride our sterile interstate system, you have no idea of the culture, architecture or landscape beyond the tollbooth or the landscaped median and shoulders. In New Zealand, driving through the small towns at 25 or 30 miles an hour, you are able to view the stores, the people, the local advertisements, etc. This gives you a much better overview of the area.
As we continued our way South, the sun began to burn the fog from the countryside and we were able to look at the rich green hills, fields and pastures of the New Zealand countryside. The South Island has a population of around 600,000 humans and about 6,000,000 sheep and cows so the landscape was extremely pastoral. New Zealand is the most efficient producer of dairy products in the world due to the fact that they do not have to put their animals in barns and they can graze in pastures supplemented with a little hay and corn, year round. The further south we went, the clearer it became and by the time we got to Invercargill, we had sun and clear blue skies and the light wind and temperature were in the high 40’s/low 50’s.
The gentleman who ran the operation we visited was a very aristocratic Danish gentleman who had spent over 35 years in the timber trading business. He doesn’t get many visitors in the small city of Invercargill. He took us to lunch at a very nice restaurant named HMS Kings, right on the main street in downtown Invercargill. The others in the group had the Bluff oysters, which they raved about. I opted for the seafood chowder, which was thick and creamy and filled with various shrimp, mussels, fish, etc., and had a very tangy taste, which I couldn’t quite identify. All I can tell you is that it was excellent. I had a platter of lightly battered fried Blue cod, which is as good as any fish I’ve dined on. The four of us split a bottle of good New Zealand sauvignon blanc while conducting business and telling old “wood” stories.
That afternoon we drove about halfway back to Dunedin to visit another mill and timber operation. It was located on the Mataura River, which just happens to be one of the finest trout fishing streams in the world. Right in the middle of town they have a huge, larger-than-life-size statue of a brown trout, which gives you an idea of how esteemed this magnificent fish is held in this area. I’m sure it brings in a lot of tourist greenbacks.
We finished our business about 6:30pm and our host asked us to join her for dinner. We drove about ten miles North to the thriving metropolis of Gore, New Zealand. We dined at the Howling Wolf Pub, which is a combination of a sports bar, local tavern, pub and restaurant. The food was excellent. I had roasted tenderloin of pork in an orange saffron sauce accompanied by hand-cut, homemade crispy French fries with roasted beets. We opted for a bottle of New Zealand pinot noir.
The next morning, we had a 6:50am flight from Dunedin to Rotorua, which is centrally located in the North Island. New Zealanders are nowhere as uptight about airport security as we are. We got there about a half hour before flight time and there were no problems with luggage or going through security. In fact, we had ten minutes or so to kill in Air New Zealand’s lounge. We stopped and changed planes in Wellington, which is the capital and located at the southern tip of the Northern Island. The weather was quite clear. We were able to get a good view of the country on flights. In addition to the mountains and fjords of the Southern Island, we saw some gorgeous beaches and of course, plenty of trees and grazing land. New Zealand appears and is very clean and pristine. They go to great lengths to keep it that way and agricultural and customs inspections on the way in are very rigorous. Do not even attempt to bring in food or plants from another country.
We spent the day with members of the District Councils of two different areas as well as a forestry consultant. We spent a lot of time in a helicopter flying over forestland and observing potential project sites. Flying in a chopper for about 200-300 yards off the ground gave us a good feel for the topography and we were able to observe rural life very closely. It is really neat to drop out of the sky into a vacant field or pasture and meet with district council members or inspect real estate and then zoom away to the next appointment. That certainly is the way to travel. We finished up and got a 5:15pm flight to Auckland to meet some consulting engineers for dinner.
We dined in Merlot on O’Donnell Street, a restaurant I stumbled into on my last visit. Merlot is tucked away on a little side street in the central part of downtown Auckland. The menu is limited but they have an exceptional wine list. The restaurant is like many you experience in New York or San Francisco and has a real “hip feeling to it” but is not overpriced or pretentious. It was heavily patronized by Auckland’s successful young business people. I had filet of sole sauteed with butter and lemon, spaghetti with lemon peel, pine nuts and parmesan cheese accompanied by roasted asparagus. We tasted both red and white New Zealand’s wines which were excellent.
The weather in Auckland was considerably warmer than on the Southern Island. I got up Thursday morning and was able to take a nice long run along the Auckland waterfront with just shorts and a long sleeve, lightweight thermal T-shirt. There were not very many other runners but there were a huge amount of bicycle commuters racing through their streets with flashing lights and reflective clothing. I ran through the Viaduct area, where which contains slips for expensive yachts, fancy restaurants and some high-priced apartments and condos. This quickly morphed into the area that is headquarters for all of the America’s Cup Challenger syndicates. Each of them has a large building for offices and workshops for the 12-meter yachts. The other side of the street is a real working area with a couple of neighborhood bars, restaurants and wholesale fish companies, ship chandlers, etc. I was able to run out on the wharf at the end of the street just as the fishing boats were docking and unloading. On the way back, I stopped at Starbucks just behind our hotel to get a coffee, juice and scone for breakfast.
We spent the rest of the day, in guess what? You won! We were in meetings with other forestry companies. We also spent time with some governmental officials who explained to us the official government timber and timber processing policies and initiatives. The New Zealand government does not grant subsidies or tax abatements for companies that move in but they have pledged to keep on improving the infrastructure such as roads, ports, etc., and help you and guide you through the consent process. In other words, they make setting up and doing business in New Zealand, as easy and painless as possible without giving away the store. I think their idea is absolutely correct. A government agency called Investment New Zealand assigns a case officer to any company that is interested in opening up an operation in New Zealand. They work with you the whole time you are there as well as do a lot of pre-visit planning and handle the logistics of moving from meeting to meeting while you were there. This certainly does make life easier and I have not seen any other country do anything like this.
That evening, we dined with our case office and the Director of Investment New Zealand at Otto’s, a real chi-chi restaurant that was located in our hotel, the Ascott Metropolis. I ate in this restaurant in February and I thought the food was contrived and imaginative. They must have changed chefs. The menu this time was true solid food. I had a roasted chicken leg topped with a chorizo sauce served with polenta studded with fresh basil leaves and steamed vegetables. For dessert, we had a strawberry rhubarb creme brulee. The food and service were outstanding. Some local rock star, or something like that, was having a small intimate birthday party in the restaurant while we were there. Needless to say, the beautiful people were all in attendance. Those of the female persuasion took great pains to showcase their charms and pulchritude. Those of us of a certain age lingered over coffee and took in the scene and finally remembered days gone by.
A word about the Ascott Metropolis Hotel in Auckland: This is a five-star hotel located in downtown Auckland within walking distance to everything. Investment New Zealand got us their corporate rate of $75 a night, which is a real bargain. Even at the rack rate of NZ$224 (US$112) it is a steal. The only thing wrong with the hotel and in fact, in all of New Zealand, is that they pour a lousy drink. You have vodka on the rocks for an aperitif and they measure it out with an eyedropper and you need to take a second mortgage on your house to pay for it. I guess they are pushing local wine and beer.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. I was able to sleep in, as we did not have to leave the hotel until about 9:30am for our first appointment. The weather was the same, clear blue skies and the temperature in the mid-60’s with little or no wind. We finished up our meetings and headed to the airport to begin the long march home. Our flight was supposed to leave at 4:00pm but just as we checked in, Air New Zealand informed us that it would be three hours late leaving Auckland, which of course, fouled up all our connections in Los Angeles. Luckily I was able to leave voicemails for my assistant who pulled rabbits out of a hat and got us all transportation home. I didn’t get home until about 11:30pm Friday night. It is amazing how, going over, we left here Saturday afternoon and didn’t get there until Monday morning but coming home, we left Friday late afternoon and got home Friday night. The tailwinds must be a lot stronger coming from New Zealand than going to New Zealand.