This week’s dream
Driving New Zealand from tip to tip
There’s no better way to see New Zealand than on a long, easygoing road trip, said Carrie Miller in National Geographic Traveler. “There is a feeling throughout this land—a warmth, a welcoming, a sense of being looked after—that is difficult to put your finger on,” yet it defines the experience. Not long ago, I drove the length of the country, from the bottom of the South Island to the top of the North Island, and I let the gracious people I met along the way decide my itinerary. And of course it all worked out—beginning with a wrong turn that led me to a remote oceanfront hamlet, Bluff, and an invitation to join a small birthday party.
Over beers at a restaurant looking south over the ocean, a fisherman, his wife, and I dined on spiny rock lobster and muttonbird, as I listened to stories of the sea and promised to seek out a local character when I passed through the quiet village of Jackson Bay. Before long, I was hiking the island’s rugged west coast, a landscape so wild, “I was expecting to cross paths with a T. rex.” When I found Merv Velenski, the stone carver and fisherman greeted me politely, offering “a handshake that could crush bricks.” He was the very embodiment of manaakitanga—a Maori word for hospitality—and after he’d shared his fascinating life story and a phone number for one of his army buddies, he sent me on my way with a crayfish lunch wrapped in newsprint.
I’ve lived for 15 years in New Zealand and still marvel at how everyone seems to know everyone else. While paddling with a kayaking guide toward Hahei’s Cathedral Cove—another destination recommended to me by a stranger—my guide and I shared a laugh when we realized we’d both once lived in the same distant tiny town. Days later, I stood on Cape Reinga, roughly New Zealand’s northernmost point. An ancient pohutukawa tree, “enduring and beautiful,” marks this sacred spot, said to be the place from which a Maori person’s spirit departs on its way to the next world. To me, the tree speaks of manaakitanga, the reason I’m glad that I’ve made New Zealand my home.
At Bluff’s Lands End Hotel (landsendhotel.co.nz), sea-view doubles start at $295. ■