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New Zealand offers diverse geographical landscape

At just a bit over one-and-a-half times the size of the state of Oklahoma, it is blessed with such variety of scenery that it has become one of the world's favorite go-to spots for movie locations
BY ELAINE WARNER Modified: April 18, 2013 at 10:55 pm •  Published: April 21, 2013

Coney Wines offers a tasty lunch — served in the vineyard in nice weather. Wine names here have a musical twist — Pizzicato Pinot, Rallentando Riesling — and owner Tim Coney swears the grapes respond well to '70s music. Ata Rangi Wines is owned by a family partnership and makes a variety of wines including pinot noir, pinto gris, chardonnay, Riesling and sauvignon blanc.

We ended our tour not with wine but olive oil. Olivo is the oldest commercial grove in Wairarapa. Owners Helen and John Meehan specialize in extra virgin oils, which they frequently infuse with different herbs or spices — the bottle I bought was infused with smoked paprika.

John taught us how to taste olive oil. “First slurp it and coat your tongue,” he said. “Hold it, then suck air twice. Hold again and swallow. You'll get a peppery feel at the back of your throat. With really intense flavor, you may even cough.” Who knew?

By plane we went from the southern tip of the North Island to the southern part of the South Island and Queenstown. On the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is headquarters for travelers looking for great outdoor adventures. Thrill-seekers will find opportunities to bungy jump, paraglide, hang glide, sky dive, zip line or white-water raft.

Jack and I, not having a death wish, passed on these choices, choosing instead a jet boat trip up the lake into the Dart River and Mount Aspiring National Park.

The Dart is a braided river — shallow streams splitting and winding over a gravel bed. The boat operators have to know the river intimately to determine the changing channels as they zip over inches-deep water at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. High mountains, quiet coves and tumbling waterfalls present spectacular photo-ops.

Nomad Safaris have a number of touring options, taking you into the backcountry most tourists never see. Or you can do as we did and focus on Lord of the Rings film sites, which included having tea in a beautiful beech forest, the movies' Forest of Lothlorien. Lunch was served al fresco at Kinloch Lodge, a hostelry and restaurant overlooking the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. Our spread included several local specialties — Whitestone cheese, Kinloch applesauce, home-baked bread, and New Zealand green-lipped mussels.

In our far too short seven day trip, we discovered just a few of New Zealand's many delights. The greatest one, however, was the Kiwis themselves. Self-effacing, unfailingly polite and with a cheeky sense of humor, New Zealanders can make the best of a miserable situation — the 13-hour flight from the West Coast to New Zealand.

The library wallpaper in the Air New Zealand airplane bathroom featured titles like Porcelain Polisher's Guide and Uncovered: A Brief History of Underwear. On an in-country flight, attendants wore print vests decorated with quirky drawings and humorous quotes. They even served tea and candies before we left the ground. And Hobbits presented the in-flight safety video.

Before our flight home, we toasted one another with a glass of wine and said goodbye to New Zealand with a traditional Maori phrase, “kia ora.” Used for hellos and farewells, the words mean “be well.” And we added, “We'll be back.”