A Breath of Fresh Air
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Air New Zealand makes the trip even more appealing with three non-stop flights each week between Vancouver and Auckland. The travel time is a little over 14 hours, whereas previously the flight from Vancouver to New Zealand totalled an average of around 20 hours via LA. Now business class passengers are treated to a luxurious direct flight aboard Air New Zealand's fleet of Boeing 777-200ERs that feature lie-flat beds, vast entertainment options and award-winning food and wine. Star Alliance partner Air Canada will also be code sharing on this service.
Also this service provides a convenient one-stop route for Canadians travelling to many Australian destinations and minimizes the requirement of transiting through the U.S.
Checking into the Hilton Auckland is a great way to start too as it is positioned at the end of Princes Wharf on the Auckland waterfront, offering a great view across Auckland's inner harbour. The development is a transformation of six utilitarian Second World War vintage cargo sheds.
A ferry ride followed to Waiheke Island, home to an eclectic mix of winemakers, olive growers and white-collar executives who commit to the weekly commute to downtown Auckland. What a beautiful day visiting the likes of the Mudbrick vineyard and restaurant, and Stonyridge, whose owner and winemaker Stephen White is the pioneer behind winemaking on the island. The former Round the World yachtsman is also the maker of the country's most expensive wine, the Stonyridge Larose, which is one of the world's top cabernet blends.
An island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, New Zealand comprises two main land masses – the North Island, known for its beaches and the South Island and its magnificent mountains – and numerous smaller islands, most notably Stewart Island/Rakiura and the Chatham Islands. The indigenous Maori named New Zealand Aotearoa, commonly translated as The Land of the Long White Cloud. The Realm of New Zealand also includes the Cook Islands and Niue, Tokelau and the Ross Dependency.
New Zealand is notable for its geographic isolation, situated about 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) southeast of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and its closest neighbours to the north are New Caledonia, Fiji and Tonga. New Zealand is situated the same distance eastwards from Australia as London is to Moscow, so if someone tells you it's right next to Australia, you had better set them straight.
Tiny, yes, yet New Zealand packs a heavyweight punch with its vibrant scenery, fabulous festivals, superb food and wine, and magical outdoor experiences. Equally impressive is the country's mainstream Maori culture, as New Zealand recognizes and celebrates its indigenous people. The New Zealand tourism industry is embracing all things eco … and a stroll along the nine Great Walks brings this point home nicely. It's paying dividends too, with more than 2.3 million overseas visitors last year alone.
Any visit to New Zealand requires some time in Hawke's Bay Wine Country, the area's leading food and wine region with more than 2,200 hours of sunshine each year on the east coast of the North Island. It's really a region of contrasts with a diverse collection of activities. Families enjoy the sun and golden sand beaches, water parks, crystal clear rivers and the National Aquarium. Hawke's Bay is home to a world-class concentration of Art Deco architecture, fresh local produces and artisan food producers, complemented by a vibrant arts scene and a rich Maori culture.
Some memorable stops here included the Mission Estate Winery and Church Road Winery, both established in the 1800s, and the Mangapapa Petit Hotel. Built more than a century ago, I enjoyed a superb five-course meal that may take 100 years to forget!
Off to Wairarapa for a couple of days, which the nearby Wellington locals see as a trendy weekend rural escape. No wonder since it's a nice respite from city life thanks to its quaint townships, a thriving café scene, arts and culture as well as many nature walks. The Martinborough Square lists some 36 boutique wineries within its walking distance, and the Peppers Martinborough Hotel has not forgotten its past with a sense of history that will charm one and all as soon as you step in the front door.
A one-hour drive to Wellington – New Zealand's capital – allows us first-hand to walk the compact city while savouring its cosmopolitan flavour. Making your way through inner city Wellington means a stop at Lambton Quay to catch the iconic Wellington Cable Car to the very top for a breathtaking view of the city. And then it's off to City Gallery Wellington, where I stood in awe of the work of Laurence Aberhart, the country's most eminent photographer and his collection of 200 key works from the last four decades. And it was all done with a 100-year-old view camera!
About 15 per cent of New Zealand's population of 4 million are of Maori descent and are affiliated to a recognized tribe. Maori trace their families back through their whakapapa (genealogy) to the waka (canoe) that their ancestors sailed across the vast Pacific Ocean. Maori have a rich and dynamic culture, which captures their age-old connection with the spiritual and natural worlds. Through their whakapapa, they continue to identify with this connection by way of their mihi (greeting). They will name their maunga (mountain), their awa (river), their marae (meeting place), their waka, their iwi (tribe) and their tipuna (special ancestors) within the mihi.
Te reo Maori is a living language spoken by about a quarter of the Maori population in New Zealand. Approximately half of those speakers are under 25. It is a Polynesian language similar to other Pacific languages, such as Hawaiian and Tahitian, which possesses a unique poetry and musicality. Maori is one of the two official languages in New Zealand.
Much of contemporary New Zealand culture is derived from British roots. It also includes significant influences from American, Australian and Maori cultures, along with those of other European cultures and, more recently, Polynesian and Asian cultures. The music and cuisine of New Zealand are similar to that of Britain and the United States, although both have some distinct New Zealand and Pacific qualities.
The locals certainly love their country but are friends of Canada as well. They tell me that our country is just as breathtaking, from Vancouver to Newfoundland and everything in between. Ten days trekking across New Zealand's North Island has convinced me that a return engagement is a necessity.

For more information on New Zealand: 
Bart Card  bartcard@rogers.com


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