In order to achieve the kind of freedom we needed to saunter from top to bottom of the North Island, as well as to keep the costs down, we opted for a self drive through New Zealand, a recommendation I’ve given to most of my clients (and, despite what you’re about to read, I will continue giving it).
There had been no prior conversation about who would be driving our rental car. The last time I drove in a foreign country was in St. Barth’s, where I visited with my friend Laura and she made me pull over on the side of the road after I began having a small panic attack at the driving conditions (fast and hilly. too fast and too hilly). Plus, Jeremy has this astounding confidence when it comes to operating vehicles of any kind in any kind of conditions, whether he has any prior experience or not.
Snow storm? It’s cool, he can do it.
Wrong side of the road? He’s got this.
Need someone to fly your plane? I wouldn’t take it that far.
Thus, Jeremy would be our driver and I would be our navigator slash nap-taker, who would continuously try to get in on the wrong side of the car. Definitely not capable of being conditioned to drive on the wrong side of the road.
These look like the faces of confidence, right?
We picked our car up from Auckland and followed the great advice of everyone: “Just follow the car in front of you.”
We did so for the first portion of our trip down to Lake Taupo, until we turned off of the highway and onto the winding back roads through what can only be described as a magical hill cow country. I don’t know how else to tell you that these are the prettiest fields and hills you could imagine. We are talking about cow pastures that are literally more beautiful than the lawn of our Governor’s mansion in Georgia. Probably even the White House, but I still haven’t been to DC.
Our GPS, which was crafted in the early 1900s, had the voice of a female Hannibal Lecter. For the first thirty minutes of the trip it would make enthusiastic chirps that sounded a little like when you earn points in Mario Kart, so we took that to mean that Jeremy was doing great as an American driver and earning star points or whatever. It really meant we were going over the speed limit.
It took us two hours to realize that the GPS had been preset to choose directions based on the “easiest” route. Unlike fastest or shortest, the easy setting is completely subjective. It took us approximately 434 turns and 1,084 cow pastures to reach out halfway point.
Along the way, Jeremy successfully made his first two right turns. He unsuccessfully made his third one. I point that out as he was celebrating while driving in the wrong lane.
As if on cue, since the only radio stations we found were playing either tertiary 80s hits or 2000s pop, Beyoncé’s song “irreplaceable” came on the radio. We determined that the chorus of “to the left, to the left” was actually a sign from God. Jeremy got to the left and stayed there.
By the time we reached Taupo, I understood that this particular GPS was the map equivalent of my father, who absolutely loves his shortcuts, even though my mother and I swear that they’re never actually shorter.
Just because something is an alternate route doesn’t make it a shortcut.
We arrived at Kinloch Club shortly before dinner. This new property for the area was such an unexpected surprise for us. We loved the feel, the service, the rooms – everything!. The hotel was modeled to feel like a “modern Scottish castle” and it hits the nail on the head. The hotel is situated on the only Jack Nicklaus golf course in New Zealand and features stunning, floor-to ceiling views of Lake Taupo. The 10 villas showcase a cozier feel, scattered about through the fields that are so often covered with the early morning fog from the lake. It’s otherworldly.
Not only is the setting out of this world, the meal we had here was by far our favorite of the trip: perfectly prepared lamb and the most divine brownie, finished off with truffle cheese that apparently goes for about $3,000 per slice. This is how full I was: I could not eat a bite of the truffle cheese.
It is my single greatest regret of the trip.
From Kinloch, we ventured twenty minutes down the road to stay in Huka Lodge, a property fit for a Queen (literally, she has rented it out at least 4 times). The difference between the two properties is so vast that I truly could not call them competitors, it comes right down to your preferred style and decor, which is a large part of the reason you would use a skilled travel agency (I happen to know one) to match you to the right place.
Huka Lodge, which is situated on an extremely peaceful river bend, is just a short walk to Huka Falls, an easy trek with a great payoff to see the gorgeous, bright blue waters. The scenery in New Zealand is like the beauty that I once saw in the Canadian Rockies – on steroids.
Our planned activity for the Taupo area was a half day fly fishing experience. Jeremy was beside himself with excitement. Absolutely beside himself.
I, on the other hand, had taken a little more convincing. Our fabulous contacts at Seasonz, who helped plan every aspect of this getaway, asked me to trust them – that they had guides here who turned even the most unenthused outdoorsmen into believers.
They were not wrong.
We spent the morning with Chris, the owner of the fishing company, and shared the best conversation (mostly about the fabulous ups and downs of entrepreneur life), as well as the opportunity to catch two huge trout. One of which we brought back to Huka for lunch: one half they served as sashimi, the other was pan fried with lemon butter.
There is something that just makes you beam with pride knowing that we were (with the help of Chris, and the chef at Huka) responsible for that meal.
I guess there’s hope for me yet.