Wellington also has a new convention
center on deck.
At yet another evening gala — this
time at Shed 10, a refurbished cargo
warehouse on an Auckland wharf — we
downed crab legs and gazpacho shooters in a dramatically lit space where
some attendees danced till midnight.
ADVENTURES ON THE SOUTH ISLAND
With the “business” portion of the trip
behind us, we did what many Kiwis
do weekly: board a plane. Flying can
be the fastest (and cheapest) way to
get around this many-islanded nation,
especially if you’re headed from the top
of the North Island (Auckland) to the
bottom of the South Island, as we were.
Ringed by mountain ranges,
Queens-town is New Zealand’s skiing
and adventure-sports capital — but it’s
such a tricky place to land a plane that
pilots are specially trained for the job.
After we were back on the ground, we
visited the Hilton Queenstown Resort
& Spa, an elegantly cozy compound of
apartments and suites, and one of the
most unique properties in the hotel
chain’s portfolio, with both indoor and
outdoor meeting spaces. After cocktails and tea around the Hilton’s firepit,
we made our way to the Sofitel Queenstown Hotel and Spa, smack in the
center of “downtown” Queenstown.
If any of us had doubts about more
than half of our visit taking place in
tiny Queenstown, they were wiped away
by the next two action- and food-packed
days. This gold-rush-era city may be
tiny, but it’s also dense with charm, from
the gracefully refurbished spaces inside
turn-of-the-century Eichardt’s Private
Hotel to the firelit Botswana Butchery,
where we feasted on Bluff oysters and
every conceivable type of meat.
The town was abuzz with skiers
arriving for the start of the season, but
skiing wasn’t part of our plan. Instead,
we rode gondolas to the top of the
Skyline complex — a mountaintop
restaurant and event venue — and then
took luges part of the way back down.
Some of us leapt over the turquoise
waters of Kawarau Gorge at AJ Hackett
Bungy, the first commercial bungee-
jumping center in the world, before
barrel-tasting wines (after lunch, of
course) at Gibbston Valley Wines. Day
four’s wakeup sequence consisted of
a hair-raising Kjet boat ride on Lake
Wakatipu, and we splashed through
rivers aboard Land Rovers with Nomad
Safaris before panning for gold.
And if we hadn’t been clobbered by
Kiwi hospitality by the last day of the
fam, we were given another generous
dose during a private concert and wine/
food tasting inside a Queenstown villa,
courtesy of Touch of Spice, a company
that curates “experiences.” “I feel like
I’ve been here for a month,” one incen-
tive professional sighed during our last,
luxurious night (and meal) at the five-
star Millbrook Resort Hotel in Arrow-
town. “And I don’t want to leave.”
We had been seduced into a Kiwi
time warp of vistas, feasts, wine, and
friendliness. In Maori, there is a parting
phrase, kia pai te haere, which means
“bon voyage,” but also implies “When
are you coming back?” Soon, I hope. .
— Corin Hirsch
Faraway, So Close
Kiwis are quite clear that the rest of the
world thinks they’re more or less on
another planet — as is Air New Zealand.
With cabin staff wearing Maori-influenced
uniforms and booming Kia ora! (“
Welcome!”) to flyers, the airline is practically
synonymous with the country itself, and
it makes smart, strategic decisions when
it comes to its products. Air New Zealand
runs 17 weekly nonstop flights between
Los Angeles and Auckland (flight time: 13
hours), daily flights from San Francisco,
and later this year will begin nonstop
service from Houston.
While Air New
makes flying time scream by, the airline
is proactive and imaginative when it
comes to diversifying travel options, from
Skycouches — three seats that can be combined into flexible space — to Premium
Economy seats with all of the amenities
of business class, sans the flat beds. The
airline has a stated goal to increase its
North American business 30 percent by
2024 — so travelers should expect evolving
classes and routes.
Grapes for Miles New Zealand’s many
wineries — such as Mudbrick Vineyard on
Waiheke Island — offer unique settings for
events, to say nothing of the killer views.