Category Archives: New Zealand

All about the journey; Aotearoa New Zealand’s Tranzalpine Railway

This Aotearoa New Zealand tourist experience is all about the journey.

The Tranzalpine Railway takes you across the South Island from Christchurch, over the Southern Alps, to Greymouth on the West Coast. It passes by plains of cultivated paddocks, beside braided rivers in beds of grey shale; along viaducts curving across steep gorges; through tunnels plunging into the dark heart of the mountains; past stands of ancient podocarps, alongside clear streams, waterfalls and pristine mountain lakes; through swamp forests teeming with native wildlife; and past lonely little settlements with empty streets and abandoned houses.

Plug yourself into the Tranzalpine audio commentary and listen to the stories; of how the land was formed mai rano (in the time before time); of Rotomanu, the lake of birds and Waimakaririri, the cold river; of the Pakeha who first farmed the plains and crossed the alps; of the workers who built the railway; of the people who gave their names to the towns along the way; and of the swagman’s ghost that still lingers in the Otira tunnel.

If you can tear yourself away from your window or the open-air viewing carriage, you can add to the Tranzalpine experience with refreshments from the Scenic Café.        

Learn to Ski At Cardrona Queenstown

It’s a case of now or never. If I don’t start skiing now, I never will.

The beginner’s slope at Cardrona

Helpful Emily, at the I-Site bureau in Queenstown recommends an Easy-Ski beginners’ family package at Cardrona, “the easiest place in Queenstown for beginners”. I’ve heard this “easiest place” pitch before and I’m sceptical. Ski-ing from any viewpoint across my considerable span of years, always looked hard and that’s why I’ve never tried it before. But as I said, it’s now or never. So, with vouchers in hand we head to over to Quest on Shotover Street for waterproof jackets, pants, gloves, goggles and helmets. Oh the blessings of being average. Everything I try, fits.

Next morning, 7.45 sees us garbed in ski-gear, waiting in the dark at the bus-stop on Frankton Road. Our orange easy ski bus arrives and on we hop. Our driver, Sean is a cheery chap, with a repertoire of self-deprecating witty banter, interspersed with advice for the wise and well-behaved skier. During Sean’s silences, the radio pumps out current hits and two cherubs in matching blue helmets, goggles and overalls engage in a deep and lengthy battle of knowledge. The journey is long (45 minutes) but this background soundtrack helps to pass the time as we coast around the lake and wind up through the snow-dusted tussock and into the perfect white world on the mountain.

We descend from the bus into the aftermath of a pillow fight, or so it seems. Little white feathery flakes fill the air. “It’s snowing!” the cherubic know-alls announce. We hurry towards the sanctuary of a low, dark wooden building and in through a door marked rentals. I find myself at a screen, scanning in my mi-ski pass and then filling in onscreen details of weight (average) height (ditto) and age (a glance around the room tells me this is well above average) At the other end of the room room, I’m swiftly bundled into boots, and with skis and poles under my arm and voucher in hand, I clump out to class.

I’m relieved to find that while most of my classmates are children, there is one older couple. Our “classroom” is gentle 6-foot incline. Monika, our instructor is Swiss and from the easy way she lopes around in her skis, it’s clear she’s spent a lifetime on them. As soon as attach mine, I begin a backwards slide but, in a flash, Monika stops me. Step 1, she explains as she spins me sideways, is standing still on skis. From there, she marches me in crab-walk up the side of the slope – Step 2!

Once we’ve mastered standing, walking and stopping, we graduate to the beginner’s slope. This is serious stuff, with a “carpet” to carry you to a ledge at the top. Up here, we learn to turn and slow down. I suffer some spectacular falls, my skis fall off, I battle to snap my boots back into them, I drop my poles and whizz down the slope without them. But, by the end of the morning I can follow Monika in a cautious crocodile. By the end of the day, I can zig-zag down the slope and weave my way through a line of poles. I’m having such fun that I can’t believe I’ve never skied before.   

The Four Barrels Wine walk

The Four Barrels Wine Walk around Cromwell in Central Otago, is the day out with everything. First of all, it’s a good walk. Then, with the Pisa ranges on one side and Lake Dunstan on the other, the setting is magnificent. Finally, it takes in four of Central Otago’s best wineries which not only offer the opportunity to taste some wonderful wines but also bring you face to face with some interesting people with fascinating stories. If you weren’t a complete lover of wine before then you probably will be after this.

When we set off on the Four Barrels Wine Walk, the countryside was shrouded in mist. It seemed much earlier than mid-morning. Perhaps it was a little early for wine-tasting?

But at Misha’s Vineyard, overlooking Lake Dunstan and the snow-dusted mountains, the open sign was out and the tasting room was warm and welcoming. Established in 2004 by Misha and Andy Wilkinson on steep slopes overrun by rabbits and rocks, where Chinese gold miners once chased their dreams, the vineyard now produces some of the world’s best Pinot Noir. Misha is the daughter of an Australian opera singer and the influence of her stage side early years is reflected in the names of the vineyard’s wines. The list is a mouth-watering read – Cantata (focused palate of concentrated sweet berries and spice) High Note (sophisticated nose of violets and blackberry). Limelight Riesling (aromas of lemon lime sorbet with notes of apple and cinnamon) Before leaving we redeemed our $10 tasting fee against a case of this.

The mist lifted on bright sunshine and a cloudless sky, as we followed the lakeside path, across the stony river terraces, through vineyards and farmyards to Aurum wines.         

Aurum Wines

Aurum Wines Tasting Room

Aurum is a family affair. It was started in 1997 by Tony and Joan Lawrence. In 2004, their son Brook and his French wife Lucie joined the team and in 2006, Aurum produced its first vintage.

Lucie, a third-generation winemaker, trained as oenologist at Dijon University. She met Brook when they were trainees at Domaine d’Arlot in Nuit St Georges in Burgundy. Now she’s Aurum’s principal wine maker while Brook looks after the viticultural management of the estate. Aurum’s reserve wines are named after the couple’s daughters, Mathilde and Madeleine.

The Aurum tasting room is located in quaint little cottage in a country garden, shaded by an old-man walnut tree and bordered with natives. It overlooks a grove of Tuscan olives. We began our tasting with the famous Aurum Amber wine. This was a new discovery for me and a delicious one. I followed with the Mathilde Pinot Noir and finished with the Madeleine Pinot Noir.

It would have been easy to while away the afternoon on the sunny verandah, but we had two more wineries to visit and more tasting to do.

Across State Highway 6, high on a steep hill, Scott Base commands a spectacular view of Cromwell, the lake, the vineyards and the Pisa Range.   

Established in 1994 as Mt Michael Vineyards, it was acquired by Allan Scott Family winemakers in 2007 and re-named Scott Base. The family donates a percentage of Scott Base wine sales to the Antarctic Heritage Trust which curates Scott Base, Antarctica. They also provide wines to Trust events and activities.

Space at the Base is a cosy and relaxed tasting room, nestled into the lee of the hill. The views are mesmerising. Space at the Base offers a delicious platter of local cheeses, bread, olives and grapes, to accompany wines from the Scott Bass as well as the Alan Scott vineyards. They also offer a selection of craft beers from Moa Beer which was founded by Allan Scott’s son, Josh.   

The shadows were lengthening as we re-crossed Highway six and wound around the vineyards to

Wooing Tree Winery.

Wooing Tree Winery takes it named from a famous Cromwell landmark, where since the very early days, sweethearts have sat, whispering sweet nothings and watching the sun go down. It is a popular place for proposals and now for weddings.  

Wooing Tree Winery is a family owned and run business. Stephen and Thea Farquharson along with Stephen’s sister and brother-in-law, Jane and Geoff Bews are all committed to producing top quality grapes and wine.

Originally from Central Otago farming families, they did their O.E. in the UK and Switzerland from1998 to 2004. While there, Steve studied viticulture, winemaking, the wine trade and WSET Diploma in Wine at Plumpton College. He then set up a wine import company, Extreme Wines, selling wine in the UK from 2003 to 2004. Jane also studied viticulture at Plumpton College. They all came back to Cromwell to run the vineyard at the end of 2004 in time for their first vintage in 2005.

The Wooing Tree, tasting room is light and spacious, again, it overlooks a beautiful garden setting with views over the vineyards. A taste of 2018, Beetlejuice Pinot Noir followed by a 2017 Pinot Gris, while listening Jane Bews tell the Wooing Tree’s story made the perfect finale to the Four Barrels Wine Walk.

Historic Akaroa

Akaroa, on Banks peninsula, in Aotearoa New Zealand’s South Island, has a superb setting, a fascinating bi-cultural history, quaint colonial architecture, a great ambiance and a small, artistic, welcoming population that seems dedicated to preserving and sharing all four.

Akaroa from above

The township sits at the edge of a long, deep harbour, in the shelter of steep, gold and dark green hills.  Against them the sea is luminescent turquoise. The long view from the summit road overlooking the town is one of the country’s best and most memorable.

Akaroa’s human history begins some 800 years ago, with the arrival of the great fleet from Hawaiki.  The first Iwi, or tribe, to settle here were Waitaha, followed later by Ngati Mamoe and later still, in the 17th century, by Ngai Tahu. The hilltops are still traced with the terraces of ancient pas. Modern settlements, Marae and churches now stand on the sites of ancient villages and the descendants of those first Iwi still live, meet and worship there.  

By the 1830s, Akaroa had become a European whaling centre. Then, in 1838, with a view to establishing a French colony, Captain Jean Langlois negotiated a land deal with the local Iwi and set sail for France to seek funds and to recruit settlers. By the time he returned, the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed, the Union Jack was flying from the hilltop and the land deal was declared invalid. Nonetheless, the French stayed and Akaroa village became Aotearoa New Zealand’s little patch of France. It still is and many of the descendants of those first French settlers still live in the district. French family, and first names, are common here.

 To learn more about the history of the area, visit the Akaroa Museum.  Both the displays and the film, shown in the Courthouse theatre next door, give an excellent overview.  Be sure too, to take a drive to the Maori and Colonial Museum at historic Okains Bay.

Akaroa signage.

To steep yourself in the ambiance of Akaroa, take a stroll through the streets – or rather, rues and chemins – past charming colonial houses with tall, narrow windows and tiny front gardens, blooming with the daisies, hydrangeas and roses typical of the south of France. Study the French signage! Browse in the shops, check out the local produce, the antiques, the crafts and the art. Stop for a coffee or a meal in one of the town’s cafes and restaurants français. Explore the old French Cemetery. Light a candle at historic St Patrick’s Church. Head out to the wharf for a magnificent harbour view and with a bit of luck you’ll see a cruise ship sail in or out.

To experience truly outstanding and unforgettable Akaroa hospitality, stay at beautiful Beaufort House. 

Beautiful Beaufort House

More of this in Travelstripe’s next post. 



Wonder at Oamaru’s Home Gallery Fine Arts and Living

Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct is full of wonderful surprises. Every time I visit I discover another. My most recent and, to date, my most wonderful find was Home Gallery Fine Arts and Living on the top floor of a former grain store, overlooking the old harbour.

Home Gallery – the old grain store

I have some beautiful memories of Art Galleries. They’re memories not just of treasures but of amazing spaces and extra-ordinary vistas. I remember the Tate Modern as much for the view of the Thames, the millennium bridge that spans it, and the dome of Old St Paul’s against the sky behind it, as I do for Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles. I remember the azure sea framed in the deep, white stone windows of the Picasso museum at Antibes as well as the great works it houses.

Persian Rugs and pictures

Like the Picasso Museum in Antibes, Oamaru’s Home Gallery is a memorable space. Just like the Picasso House, it’s not a purpose-built space, but a space that has been re-purposed. Just as Picasso’s sea-side villa became a showcase for the master’s works, so this old grain store has become a showcase for New Zealand artists. In the Picasso Museum works of art are scattered through living rooms and courtyards. In Home Gallery paintings hang on the limestone walls where once sacks of grain leaned. A display of Persian rugs lies scattered across a work-worn wooden floor. Like the Picasso Museum, Home Gallery has spectacular windows with unforgettable views. They’re tall, broad and arched at the top like church windows and set in aged limestone walls. They look out across the Pacific Ocean , Te Moana Nui a Kiwa, with its warm, turquoise light.

The view from Home Gallery’s windows

Home Gallery is clearly still an old grain store.  Light streams in from skylights and through the cracks in the double loading doors at the far end of the room. The ceiling is crisscrossed with heavy beams. The old conveyer that once hauled heavy sacks through the building sits still in the centre of the room. There’s a lingering smell of wheat and hessian. It isn’t hard to picture people at work here – the thud of grain-sacks and the creak of pulleys.  It must have taken imagination and vision to see it as showcase for art – imagination, vision and a great deal of hard work.

Home Gallery of fine arts was established by artist/ photographer Lucy Gardner in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes. The devastation of the city had left artists without spaces to show their works and the local community without places to engage with art. Home Gallery was a new beginning ‘inspired and driven to help create places to deliver art for local community to engage with and provide audiences for investing in artists’ work’.

This inspiration and drive no doubt sustained Lucy Gardner, through the mammoth task of transforming the old grain store into a gallery. For weeks, she says, she spent all day, every day, scrubbing the beams and freeing the skylights of dust and cobwebs, cleaning the windows and walls of dirt and grime and sweeping debris from the floor.

Pictures on limestone walls

Now Home Gallery is a clean, light, quiet and restful place – a perfect backdrop for some beautiful works of art. They include pieces by significant New Zealand artists, from Beatrix Dobie to Charles Worsley as well as photographs by Lucy Gardner herself. Standouts for me were; Blair Grieg’s moody, misty oils which capture Aotearoa’s unique landscapes and singular light; Brian Strong’s Profiles of the West and The Summer Front with their glimpses of bush, waterfalls, tranquil bays and brooding skies; Lisa Wisse’s clair/obsur A Timeless Land where the light traces a path across the sea between dark hills and islands to the sky; and Lucy Gardner’s band and club life photos.

I have just finished reading Ariana Huffington’s Thrive. Among the “pillars” she sees as essential to thriving is a sense of wonder – the kind of feeling inspired by works of art, views and nature.

Home Gallery offers many wonders – the windows in those limestone walls, framing the Pacific ocean; the old grain-store – a piece of Oamaru’s past;  and most of all, those wonderful works of art with their insights into Aotearoa New Zealand and the way we see it.

If you can’t drop into Home Gallery Fine Arts and Living to enjoy its  wonders (but it’s worthwhile making the effort to do so) then visit




WOW, Wellington’s festival of wearable art

It’s WOW, or World of Wearable Art, time in Wellington.

WOW Treasure Box
WOW Treasure Box

Every year in September, in Wellington, New Zealand’s cool little capital, designers from all over the world unleash their creativity in this extraordinary competition where art, in every expression and material meets fashion in all its forms. Competitors vie for over 150,00 dollars worth of prizes. The most coveted reward of all though is an internship in creative Nirvana, Weta Workshop.

A WOW pink cube
A WOW pink cube

WOW draws international costume designers and their creations (some of Madonna’s unforgettable garments are on display this year) as well as established locals and their works. It also  brings complete unknowns and absolute design novices of all ages and from all walks of life, into the spotlight. The competition’s history is rich with heart-warming stories of the “little people” who have taken to the WOW stage – like the middle-aged commercial cleaner who dreamed up a stunning plastic frock worthy of a Disney Cinderella.

A glimpse through the peephole
A glimpse through the peephole

Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Wellington for the main event but I was there for the build up. Wellington is a place accustomed to thinking the outside the square. It has carved serpentine roads into vertical hillsides, planted elaborate houses on slivers of cliff, underpinned precious public buildings with rubber foundations to withstand earthquakes, built a hive for MPs then called it the Beehive and created an edgy, layered fashion look to defend against gale-force winds and sideways rain. So I wasn’t surprised to find that Wellington had come with an innovative way to advertise and preview the wonderful WOW experience.

Pink cubes, called treasure boxes, with multi-level and multi-sized peepholes, all around the city, provided glimpses of wearable art from WOW festivals past. I spent my day in Wellington, running like a Pokemon gamester, defying traffic hazards, short-cutting through shops and offices, hot on the treasure box trail. Fixing my eye, then my camera, to the average-level peephole, I enjoyed my very own WOW experience and brought away WOW memories to share.

New Zealand Noir

It’s July in the Mackenzie Country, at the foot of the Southern Alps, in the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. Winter has drained the colour from the land and left it in shades of grey and white.

Winter in the Mackenzie Country
Winter in the Mackenzie Country

The distant mountains are lost in the mist. It’s a strange, surreal and eerie landscape, like a scene from a Nordic Noir film.

It’s late morning and the road, closed because of heavy ice, has just opened. We have it all to ourselves, until our headlights pick out a hazy shape looming, like a ghost, in the mist ahead. It’s a motorbike rider in billowing overalls. We keep a safe distance. The roads are still slippery. The rider raises a hand to wave us past. We dare not. Beyond him is obscurity. He half turns his head. We drop back, leaving him to his lonely ride and wondering what pressing business, what unavoidable mission brought him out on a morning like this.

Time Unlimited Tours wins National Geographic World Legacy Award

The Auckland based tour company TIME Unlimited has just won the prestigious National Geographic World Legacy Award in the “Sense of place Category”.

Time Unlimited's guided walks on Auckland's wild west coast
Time Unlimited’s guided walks on Auckland’s wild west coast

It’s no surprise to those who know Time Unlimited. For 11 years now they’ve been welcoming visitors to “their place” showing them its unbelievably beautiful landscapes and sharing its unique experiences with them. Having a unique and wonderful experience whilst visiting another part of the world can really impact the person going, just like with Immanuel-Tours who take vacationers to Israel to soak in the history and cultural landscape, it is important to see outside of your own four walls.

Time Unlimited was established in 2005 by bicultural couple Ceillhe and Neill Sperath. Ceillhe is Maori, a direct descendant of the Ngapuhi chief, Patuone. Neill is tauiwi, of Irish and German origin, and a New Zealander by choice. Both are passionate about their country. Both are equally passionate about how its unique culture and environment should be shared. TIME Unlimited reflects this.

TIME Unlimited says Ceillhe Sperath, is founded on three essential pou, or pillars, of Maoritanga, or Maori culture; manaakitanga or hospitality, whanaungatanga, or relationships and kaitiakitanga, or guardianship. On their tours, the Speraths explain, manaakitanga translates into welcoming, respectful, caring, reliable and punctual service; whanaungatanga means sharing experiences, finding common ground, forging links, making friends and becoming like family; kaitiakitanga means responsibility, respect, care and protection for the environment – the streets, parks and institutions, the land, sea and bush that they pass through.

This highly contested, coveted National Geographic World Legacy Award is a fitting tribute to a company that has a true sense of place, that cherishes Aotearoa New Zealand and is dedicated to safeguarding it for future generations.

He mihi nui ki a koutou katoa!


Devonport, on Auckland’s north shore is a quiet,  picturesque marine village.

An after school swim in Devonport
An after school swim in Devonport

Despite a shopping strip with upmarket boutiques and trendy restaurants, cafes and bars offering cuisine from all around the world, Devonport is a haven of a timeless, relaxed, New Zealand lifestyle.

Kids drop in for a swim after school at the wharf at Stanley Point, the ferry chugs in and out as it has for over a century, taking commuters over to the city to work, houses, grand and modest look out over the same million dollar harbour views and watch the cruise ships sail up Auckland Harbour.

Devonport’s Mount Victoria, another of Auckland’s extinct volcanoes, is the resting place of the great Ngapuhi chief Patuone. Known as the peacemaker because of the role he played in persuading the Tangata Whenua to accept a partnership with the British Crown rather than to attempt to resist it (against overwhelming odds, it must be said) he laid the foundations for modern bi-cultural Aotearoa New Zealand.

Devonport is also home to Auckland’s Naval Base.

Two good reasons to drop into Moeraki

Moeraki is a tiny seaside village with a huddle of beach houses, a pub, a community centre, a small sheltered harbour where a dozen weather beaten boats bob at anchor, a couple of beautiful sheltered bays with golden sand and rippling blue waves. It’s set right at the ocean’s edge, well off the track beaten by State Highway through the last quarter of Aotearoa New Zealand’s South Island.

Fleur's Place
Fleur’s Place

Moeraki is not the kind of place that you might blink and miss. It’s the kind of place you might miss completely because you wouldn’t know that it was there, across the paddocks, hidden in the lee of the cliffs. There are, however two compelling reasons to slow at the Moeraki turn-off, leave State Highway 1 and cruise slowly towards the sea.

The first reason is the mysterious Moeraki boulders. Round and perfect, they sit like giant cannon balls on the sand. Maori legend has it that the boulders are the remains of calabashes, eel baskets and kumara, washed up after the wreck of the waka, or canoe Arai-te-uru. The nearby rocky arms that reach out into the sea are said to be the waka’s hull and the promontory nearby is the body of the captain. Science explains them as rocks pulled from their mudstone bed by the sea, caked with thousands of layers of mud and sand and slat by the wind and water, then worn smooth and round by the constant wash of the waves.

The second reason to take that detour off State Highway One and meander down to Moeraki, is Fleur’s Place, one of the region’s if not the South Island’s, if not even Aotearoa NZ’s most popular seafood restaurants. Set at the edge of the little harbour, overlooking the boats on one side and the vast Pacific horizon on the other, Fleur’s Place is housed in a weather worn corrugated iron and stone building. Inside its walls are busy with memorabilia of Moeraki’s seafaring history. On the day we dropped into Fleur’s, without a booking, all the tables were taken and only the last three seats at the bar remained. We took them and then watched a stream of disappointed, also unbooked punters turned away. The seafood with thick slices of rustic bread and the fish of the day with salad and chips explained why it is always absolutely imperative to book at Fleurs. Everything was fresh, perfectly cooked and exquisitely presented. Furthermore, Fleur’s is a place with a wonderful atmosphere, a superb outlook and interesting, helpful and cheerful staff.

Don’t miss Moeraki, make the turn, ponder the mysterious boulders, enjoy a fresh from the ocean seafood lunch at Fleurs, but to guarantee your place even at the bar, book.