New Zealand is striking for many reasons, however, it is the topographic diversity that will leave a lasting impression. We relaxed by a roaring river (Huka Lodge), fished for Rainbow Trout (Lake Taupo), hiked to a birds-eye (Gannets) view of the Ocean from a cliff (Cape Kidnappers), helicoptered onto a volcano (White Island) and glacier, drank at vineyards (Hawkes Bay), adventured to my heart's content (Queenstown), boated on a fjord (Milford Sound), golfed on a sand dune (Tara Iti), and lounged at a pink sand (shell) beach (Kauri Cliffs). New Zealand offers endless activities in a variety of topographies. To be candid, New Zealand is very expensive (small lodges and peak time) and there are fewer Kiwis than I would expect/hope. Nonetheless, soaring above and hiking through this country allows one to really unwind and appreciate the natural beauty and raw strength of nature. If you want to see the specific places and things I did in New Zealand, please download the app as they are posted there.
Hiking to where?
No matter where in the world I am, I love a great hike. This takes the place of going to the gym, which is nearly impossible (for me) on vacation. To dial in on the perfect hike for you, get the Alltrails app!
No matter where you are located, this app can find trails where you are. You will be surprised by the number, quality, and breadth of the hikes that are near your current location, and you can quickly sort by proximity, difficulty, and/or length. We hiked everywhere we were in New Zealand. The app will present you with a description, directions, and user-generated content including reviews and recorded tracks. You can upgrade to Pro for $29.99 if you want the ability to download maps to your mobile device in the event you are out of cellular range (and directionally challenged, like me). Get out there, hike, and explore! The world is your oyster ...
This is a must hike (if you like to hike) when you get to Queenstown. It is an excellent workout with the most impressive vistas. The trailhead can be reached near the center of town, close to the gondola. There doesn't seem to be any switchbacks, as this hike is an ascent the entire way. Following the Mauri tradition of respecting one's ancestry, the artworks and signs are reminders of what is essential in life. Don’t miss the Basket of Dreams artwork!
Vineyards in New Zeland?
I was pleasantly surprised by the expanse of wines in New Zealand. I was peripherally aware, but now have been thoroughly introduced to the various grapes and vineyards. The Kiwis are doing great things, particularly with Syrah, and the tastings and vineyard dining options are very cool. By the third tasting, and certainly after the 5th dinner, you need a way to keep everything straight ... Vivino!
How do you avoid ordering or buying wine that is not great and/or bad value without being an expert? How do you bypass ordering the large production wines you already know? Vivino is the answer! This app has a simple goal of helping you to find the best wine on the wine list or in the wine store. It’s simple — snap a photo of the wine label, or of the wine list, and immediately get ratings, feedback from experts, and the typical retail price. It will even make suggestions based on at which restaurant you are dining. And, it will store your past purchases, so you too can remember and sound like an expert when ordering your next bottle. This app allows me to be my own sommelier and have the confidence of a genuine oenophile. Fancy that!
There were lots of wonderful wines in the Hawkes Bay region, but the Tom Syrah stood out. Church Road is one of the oldest wineries in New Zealand, dating back to 1897. The name Tom comes from Tom McDonald whom the winery was turned over to by the founder in the 1920's. It is produced in a tiny area in the vineyard, resulting in very small production (only 1,800 bottles in the recently released 2015 vintage). According to the winemakers, while this is very drinkable now it should last 20-30 years! The venerable French spirits house Pernod Ricard recently purchased this vineyard and have given them the resources to be extravagant. I am the proud owner of 1% of the production, get yours before it is gone!
How do you remember a beautiful place or share it with someone who isn't there? There are some places where a picture won't do; not even a panorama will cut. For those unique spots, you need 360 virtual reality ... thank you, Ricoh Theta!
Ricoh Theta S
Typical cameras provide a very limited perspective. Often times you want to capture everything in every direction. The Ricoh Theta S changes everything. This small and light weight device captures a 360 degree still shot, or even video, of where you are and what you are doing. Why focus on the things in front of you when you can see everything? Imagine having a picture at your wedding of not just the kiss, but also everyone's reaction to it...I wish the technology was around then! This device easily syncs with your iPhone and seamlessly films in every direction. No more need to use a special app and slowly pan around your location to capture a 360 image, now you can just press the shutter button. This does work much better during the day, and especially outdoors, as it has no flash. Instead of being on the outside looking in, this device will allow you to be on the inside looking out!
There are lots of activities (views) that benefit from a 360 degree, but the most amazing ones were from Paragliding. This sport requires the piloting skills of a total stranger to guide you safely down from the top of the mountain to a small field below. I was fortunate (unlucky!) to have to risk fate twice as one of my daughter's pilot refused to go on the first day. That second jump was higher, longer, and much clearer view of Queenstown and the surrounding area. And, with my Ricoh, you can experience it without any risk of personal injury!
In closing, New Zealand is damn far away! I loved the trip, despite my return taking 72 hours from start to finish and spanning three continents. Instead of Auckland to LA to New York, we were delayed in Auckland (chance to see the city) and routed through Santiago, Chile. There was a disruptive family thrown off the flight and two lost bags for safe measure. Nonetheless, the trip was epic, and my tools of the trade proved indispensable --- Consider New Zealand Found!
Best, Bryan V