The day started like many, running slightly late and in dire need of coffee, but the beauty of a private guide means there’s no such thing as having to work to a timetable. So once the coffees were procured thanks to Franks Eatery, we set off with our private guide, Lee from Alpine Luxury Tours. After a quick stop to pick up his guiding partner, history extraordinaire and gold panning expert Paul, we started our adventure into Skippers Canyon.
A drive to remember
Skippers Canyon is regarded as one of the most breathtaking roads in the world. I’m not entirely sure when Mercedes designed their Sprinters they thought the luxury vans would traverse such a road. Yet, the transport was perfect, sitting high to maximize the views through the mountains, canyons, and down to the turquoise rivers below. The 360 degree visual smorgasbord enhanced by Paul’s stories of ‘bus scratch’ corner, and the ‘retirement home’ one of the pioneers built in the late 1800’s to be closer to town (still would have been an overnight by horse into town), and the last remains of the Halfway Hotel, that gold miners would overnight before heading further into the remote Skippers Canyon. Skippers Canyon is certainly one for the senses – the scenery like no other and the sound – utter peace.
Lunch was at the old school house, lovingly restored with artifacts and photos to understand the life of the families that lived in some of the most remote parts of the greater Queenstown basin.
A golden day for everyone
On the way home we stopped midway at Deep Creek, where Paul taught us how to pan for gold. The children loved it and the adults too! Everyone but me was successful at discovering gold with each pan. I tried to reason that my pans of river shingle didn’t have any gold in them, yet statistics would suggest given everyone else was successful multiple times it might in fact be my lack of: a) technique b) deft touch and c) patience. While our loot would struggle to earn a six pence, the little jar of gold that my god daughter took as a keep sake (and didn’t let it go the rest of the weekend), the memories and experience – all priceless.
Given we had no time constraints, we basked in the sunshine with a rather competitive stone skimming competition across the Shotover River, everyone involved, including Lee and Paul. At times it turned into straight out rock throwing to watch and hear the plop of the rocks in the pristine water to the delighted giggles of the kids.
An end to the day that was as sweet as honey
As with any perfect private guide as we headed back into Queenstown the discussions turned to what next. We finished the day at Buzzstop to sampling the honey and experiencing honey spinning. I had a bee nibble honey from my finger while also learning that bees have five eyes. Who knew? Thanks to Nick and Rosie for showcasing a great experience and a perfect way to finish a fantastic day for young and old.
Last weekend the Touch of Spice team were lucky enough to head out on the Fiordland Jewel – the luxury yacht built by Fiordland Discovery specifically designed to offer guests the opportunity to explore Milford Sound in the comfort of high-end accommodation.
Our driver Hal picked us up in Queenstown to start the beautiful drive down through southland and into the Fiordland National Park. Upon arriving at the boat were greeted by the happy, smiling crew ready to welcome us on board.
A wonderful welcome
After a short welcome we were invited to tuck into a delicious platter of snacks as the boat headed out towards the west coast. We were underway for around five minutes when we decided to brave the elements and head up to the top deck (complete with heli pad) where we were greeted by a stunning view of a rainbow.
The onboard accommodation was better than any boat we have been on. With a mixed group of couples and friends between us we were able to test out the Endeavour Cabin (2 x king singles), Captain Cook suites (Queen bed) and last but certainly not least we were lucky enough to stay in the Governors Suite that occupies the full top deck of the boat. All cabins had ensuite facilities and brilliant showers – perfect for warming up after our dip in the fiord later that afternoon!
As we meandered our way along the side of the fiord we were wowed by the scale of the mountains that surrounded us as the skipper pointed out a waterfall three times’ the height of Niagra Falls! We got up close and personal with a few and went out on to the bow of the boat from where you could really appreciate the full scale and feel the spray as the glacial cascades hit the waiting water – quite the spectacle to behold!
Water sports and swimming
Having been out to sea and felt the swell of the Southern Ocean it was time to head back into our home for the night – a private mooring in Deep Water Bay. Here the team got out the kayaks and encouraged us to go exploring. This was probably our favourite part of the day as the sun decided to poke it’s head through the clouds and beam down on us as we paddled our way along the fiord. After this a few of us decided it was time for a dip – the sun was our after all! A number of the team jumped straight off the helipad on the top of the boat – a heady mix of adrenaline and glacial water meant they resurfaced gasping but with a huge sent of achievement and smiles from ear to ear.
Delicious three-course dinner
After showers and warming up it was time for our well-earned (or so we felt) three course dinner. We sipped on Wet Jacket rose to accompany our fresh Crayfish served with a curry crayfish bisque. This was followed by incredible blue cod and a delectable gluten free brownie. For the entire duration our dietary requirements (and we had a few) were accommodated with ease.
Unrivalled knowledge & sustainability
After dinner we were treated to a talk and a show about what the Fiordland Discovery do when they don’t have guests on board. This is a lot of exploration, diving, exploring and discovering of new species living in Milford Sound that aren’t known anywhere else in the world! The team had endless knowledge that kept us enthralled.
Winding down on the top deck
After this it was time to wind the evening down in the hot tub on the top deck. As we sat, sipping local bubbles from Quartz Reef, chatting to our shipmates (a multi-generational family all the way from Sydney, and the Grandparents Portugal) we all agreed there would be no better way to explore Milford Sound. The next morning we were treated to a brilliant breakfast on the way back to the dock, ready to start our unwelcome journey home!
Thank you, Fiordland Discovery team, for having us on board! If you have any questions about heading out on the Fiordland Discovery overnight cruise, or even one of their longer excursions down to Stuart Island, get in touch with one of our team who are now experts!
An unusual and exciting or daring experience.
Last weekend, myself and five others from the Touch of Spice team embarked on an adventure of a life time – a River Journey with the amazing team from New Zeal. Usually a team focussed on glitz and glamour, we were more than sold on a new kind of luxury – getting away from it all!
With weeks of planning gone by - all from Paul, our lovely guide from New Zeal (our only worry was packing warm socks!) we were an office of giddy children eagerly awaiting our trip into the wild by late Friday afternoon.
By the time Paul arrived at our Queenstown office we were amped to go. Rolling through the door with what looked like giant Santa sacks, we were given a very quick lesson in packing only the essentials – some struggled with limiting her glamourous wardrobe but Paul clearly knows when to pick his battles! After packing, it was time for our first team briefing and Pauls energy oozed into the room and you could feel the buzz in the air. We had a run through the plan of the weekend – jetboats, rafting, DOC huts and native bush were all on the agenda.
‘Adventure is out there!’ – Charles F Muntz (Up)
We were greeted by our second guide for the weekend Dan who helped up pack up the two Land Cruisers, split the team in two and hit the road heading south. With Queenstown in the rear-view mirror, car snacks at the ready and (sometimes questionable) music lined up, our adventure was underway.
After a three-hour drive and a quick pit-stop in Mossburn for dinner we arrived at Lake Hauroko – in complete and utter darkness! We were met by the amazing Roffy from Wairaurahiri Wilderness Jet who was ready to throw us into the deep end (although we’re glad this wasn’t literally) with a jet boat ride across the lake. If you’ve ever been Jet boating before, you know the thrills – but have you ever jet boated in complete darkness, on New Zealand’s deepest lake (1km deep) with only the moon and milk way to guide the way? No? We have! A once-in-a lifetime experience where I think my solid laughter and fit of the giggles kept everyone entertained.
30 minutes later and with a great level of skill Roffy docked the boat and we began to unload all our gear. Base for the night was a quintessential DOC hut – being from Scotland, I was excited to experience my first ever hut! Paul already had the fire roaring and drams of whisky poured as we got to the hut with our bags – it felt like a touch of Scotland in the New Zealand wilderness! We relaxed, chatted and enjoyed some nibbles before bunking down for the night.
‘Rolling down the river’ – Tina Turner
What’s the best thing about arriving in the dark? Waking up in the morning in absolute awe of the mountains around you. I’ve never seen snow capped peaks beside lush tropical forests and just to make it even more mesmerizing, a rainbow stretched across the lake with nature being the pot of gold at the end.
Paul cooked up a feast for breakfast, we prepped lunch, packed the rafts and got ready to rock and roll. We paddled across the lake to the mouth of the Wairaurahiri River learning the tips and tricks of rafting - Paul got a little too excited and before we knew it had managed to tip Pete and himself overboard. Within seconds they were back in the raft and managed to stay in for the rest of the journey – I think Pete was glad about that!
Being one of only a handful of groups to ever raft this river, it was an experience I’m sure none of us will ever forget. The bumpy rapids kept us on our toes but in between we got lost in the tranquillity, silence and depths of the native bush lining the river. It’s not very often in todays world that your head can feel completely empty - turns out my place of Zen is on a raft in the wild.
As we came around a bend in the river Paul decided it was lunch time. We pulled the rafts to the side to the river, to the bottom of a steep cliff face. Bit of a random place to stop I thought but before we knew it we were clambering up the rock face following a rope tied around a tree. When we finally made it to the top, we found a slightly creepy hut – that was out lunch spot! After warming up around the hut fire, a cup of soup and some delicious wraps (good job Stephanie!) we were ready to get back to the boats. As we wandered through the bush to get back to the river I was in awe of our surroundings – silver ferns (which I’d never seen before), glowing moss and everything you could imagine for a tropical forest – luckily no creepy crawly’s (that we spotted anyway).
We continued down the river challenging each other with our most mind-boggling riddles, dodging and diving under tree branches, bird watching and smelling the fresh ocean air coming up the river. By the time we reached our second DOC hut we had been on the river for nearly 5 hours. We unloaded the rafts and just as we finished pulling them onto the side of the bank we were greeted with a glass of mulled wine and a delicious gourmet cheese platter – with Touch of Spice there’s a slice of luxury even in the wild.
‘Adventure is not outside of man, it is within’ George Eliot
After drying off, warming up and unpacking we set off on a walk through the bush. First challenge – an insanely thin, patch worked, swinging wire bridge over a fast-moving river – “just don’t look down” became the moto. Once over the river we discovered all the native plants as we wandered towards the southern coast. Living in Queenstown but being the biggest beach lover, I couldn’t wait to see the ocean and wow was the journey worth it. We walked along the coast, found the perfect spot and took a moment to revel in the adventure gone by and the beauty in front of us. In the sound of the waves and fresh ocean air I think we all felt a feeling of achievement, team spirit and all-round happiness – simple luxuries!
Back at camp we settled in for the night, enjoyed some beautiful Central Otago Wine that Paul and Dan had carried along the way that was paired beautifully with a delicious home cooked dinner. With freshly hunted venison on the menu (caught and prepared before leaving Queenstown), fresh seasonal vegetables and chocolate filled bananas for dessert, it was a feast I think we all deserved! We spent the evening chatting, saying multiple cheers and most importantly, laughing. As the night slipped away we bunked down for our final night in the wild.
We woke up to clear blue skies and I took the chance to enjoy my morning coffee by the river – a moment of calm to really take it all in. After another delicious breakfast, we packed up our bags and took one last walk to the beach. The sun was on our faces and as we stood on the beach in the far south of New Zealand, we could spot Stewart Island off in the distance – wow did we come far!
From the beach front we once again met with our jetboat driver Roffy. He had come down the river just for us as it’s the only way to get out of the area – that’s how remote we really were. After packing up the boat and strapping everything down we set off upstream. It was amazing to see everything we’d seen the day before from a different perspective and speed. We bumped our way up the rapids like we were in a James Bond movie, ducking under a few tree branches and taking it all in for one last time.
As we blasted our way around the last bend in the river to the opening of Lake Hauroko, the snow-capped mountains were back in view and our adventure was nearing an end. The trip across the lake was bumpy to say the least – you know to prepare to get wet when even the driver stops to don his industrial waterproofs! We rolled with the waves on the choppy lake, everyone thankfully staying aboard, and appreciated the mountains around us.
Once at the jetty where our adventure began, we unloaded the boat and had our final team debrief before the drive home. Our adventure had started with excitement, laughter and a want for adventure and I think we can all say we got that and so much more. It was team building, relationship building and character building to an extreme. It was adventurous, empowering and inspiring but most of all, it was a once-in-a lifetime experience that will stay with every single one of us forever – a weekend of true happiness, ultimate smashing of bucket list goals and really, a weekend of the simple true luxury of getting away from it all!
Thank you again to Paul, Dan and New Zeal – I can’t wait for another adventure into the wild!
Last weekend the Touch of Spice team were lucky enough to experience a brand-new concept dinner tour brought to life by Lee and Emma from Alpine Wine Tours. These unique dinner tours aim to take in some of the top eating and imbibing experiences from Queenstown through to Arrowtown and the Gibbston Valley in one brilliant evening of food and paired wine.
A Trio of Entrees at Canyon Brewery
We began our evening with a cocktail at Sundeck Rooftop Bar where we met with Lee for a brief catch up before the tour began. From here we met our wonderful guide for the evening Rob who swiftly got us off to our first stop - Canyon Brewery. Sitting by the fire we sat down and were immediately greeted by the drinks that we had pre-ordered. Being a brewery for this stop we could choose from either paired wines or beers to accompany our delicious first course (a trio of goats cheese Bellini, mystery wonton and crispy pork banh bao bun). I opted for the wine which included some of the areas finest tipples from Quartz Reef bubbles to begin, through to Mount Difficulty’s famous Roaring Meg Pinot Noir.
Main Course & paired wine at Kinross Winery
The next stop saw us touring through the valley behind Arrowton through to the Gibbston Valley and our next stop at Kinross Winery. As well as producing their own wine Kinross works with local wineries that don’t have their own cellar door to offer tastings of their wine to visitors. Tucked up in the alpine chalet style dining room we sat and chatted whilst our wonderful host poured us a selection of wine from these wineries. Valli Pinot Noir was a favourite, as well as Kinross’ own ‘Liquid Gold’ Pinot Gris. All but two of the group had opted for the pork belly which went down extremely well. A new seasonal addition to the menu was the blue cod which I will certainly be trying on our next visit!
Delectable dessert at Aosta
Last, but certainly not least on our terrific tour was the newest addition to Arrowtown’s buzzing food scene – Aosta. Marrying local produce with cooking techniques from the 45th Parallel in the northern hemisphere (which happily happens to be northern Italy) Aosta has created a truly unique dining experience.
We were thrilled when we found that the tiramisu many of us had opted for was going to be made at the table. In a truly theatrical fashion we watched, mesmerized as our host carefully wrapped the base and scoop of ice cream in a cream as the dessert span on a spinning plate. The dessert was then hollowed out as real espresso was poured to soaked in. The worst part was watching and waiting before we got dig in – but we certainly weren’t complaining as we sat, watching, waiting with bated breath to see if it tasted as brilliant as it looked.
After Aosta it was back into Queenstown we went! What a brilliant night.
What did we think, and would we do it again?
This is a truly brilliant concept that means if (like many) you only have a short time in Queenstown you can squeeze three completely different dining experiences into one evening. Usually this would be too much and involve all sorts of logistical challenges you wouldn’t want to think about on holiday. Happily, Lee and the team make it incredibly easy, with simple pickups, convenient drop offs and pre-ordering that means the whole evening flows without a hitch.
It’s not very often you can say you started with beers and wines by the fire at a brewery, before dinner with three paired wines from three different vineyards, before finally being treated to a theatrical show and one of (what must be…we suspect) the best desserts in town. It is certainly something we would consider doing again, even as locals for a birthday, celebration or get together with friends. It would also be a brilliant option if you have friends visiting and want to showcase the regions food and wine all in one evening without having to lift a finger yourself!
Thank you to Rob and Lee for a brilliant evening and showing us what it is all about. Thank you to Canyon Brewery, Kinross Winery and Aosta for putting on a brilliant evening. It is safe to say the Touch of Spice team may certainly be back!
Leaving Auckland I head North towards Warkworth heading to Te Arai Lodge, a stunning eco-friendly oasis only 1hour 15 min from Auckland central. Surrounded by over 20 acres of ancient podocarp forest and native bush and birdlife, the lodge had an easy and welcoming atmosphere.
I was greeted by the lovely owners and operators Vince and Kathy who oozed passion for everything in Te Arai. Having spent 10 years traveling the world on adventures and explorations in over 100 countries, the couple along with their adult children settled here on this piece of paradise overlooking the Mangawhai heads and coast. This sustainable lodge has embarked on a long-term pest eradication initiative - trapping possums, stoats and rats, which has resulted in a regeneration of native bird life that now thrives in the region (keep up the good work!).
I enjoyed a tour of the Lodge - the garden was simply delightful with many private dining options for breakfast and dinner overlooking a gorgeous sunset. A 20-metre-long heated pool sits directly below the terrace, and a cedar hot tub set into the edge of the bush. The rooms offer intimate gas fireplaces, air conditioning, complimentary minibar and hot drinks, panama hats and soft bathrobes.
It was a true please to meet Vince and Kathy and imagine the beautifully quaint experience that would follow a weekend getaway to Te Arai Lodge.
Next, I drove further north to the Tututaka Coast where I visited Makoha Retreat, a private villa and oasis of peace and tranquility.
With the beach only a short 5 min stroll directly from the villa, you can paddle in the kayaks, SUP and marvel at the Waka Ama fleet (dragon boats) slicing through the idyllic waters of Tutukaka Harbour.
The master bedroom is situated on the upper level amongst the native Pohutukawa trees and views over the bay with another two bedrooms downstairs with a large lounge area. The main living, kitchen and dining area is also upstairs with beautiful views of the bays and garden.
From there I took the short drive and a quick stop at Whale Bay. The villa is perfect for a summer vacation with family/friends and has amazing views of Whale Bay itself.
Helena Bay Lodge was the next stop, where uber luxury and pristine coastline meet.
The styling ideas were taken from the early European buildings with the use of modern materials. The Main House is decorated with its eclectic artwork and treasures, which have been collected by the owners during their travels around the globe. The spa is simply divine and a true place or relaxation and tranquility. Service is impeccable and onsite activities endless – you will never be bored.
The final stop and overnight for day one was at a little slice of paradise in Opua – Marina Cove
Wendy and Mike have created two beautifully appointed apartments with breath-taking ocean and harbour views. Do allow yourself plenty of deck time to sip a glass of complimentary wine and enjoy the spectacular sunset.
After waking up to a glorious sunrise I was delivered locally sourced breakfast provisions - delicious toasted muesli, seasonal fruit, yogurt (lemon curd is my favourite) , delicious honey, jams, condiments and freshly baked croissants – what a way to start the day!
I set off on a walk to Paihia (40 min) where I stopped by Charlotte’s kitchen which is still a great local favourite for lunch and dinner. I enjoyed a lovely eggplant ravioli with season greens – delicious!
For day two’s visits I started by stopping somewhere on Inlet Road - a newly added home to our exclusive Residence Collection portfolio.
The owners, Georgie and Mark have had the property in their family for many years and now wish to have everyone else experience this slice of heaven that’s only 10 mins from Kerikeri town centre. The interiors are done impeccability and the house can sleep up to 14 which makes this a favourite for multi gens celebrations, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and family holidays. With direct beach access, a jetty, spa pool and pool it allows you to stay onsite, relax and simply enjoy.
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs was my next destination and overnight accommodation at the end of day two.
It’s here that I discovered the beauty of panoramic views across the untouched coastline and deep blue ocean. With so many onsite property choices like farm tours, heritage tours, nature walks, land based fishing, picnics at pink beach, surfing – you will be spoiled for choice. The spa is nestled at the edge of a Totara forest, overlooking a verdant fern glen and winding stream and here I enjoyed a very relaxing massage by the lovely Spa Manager, Monika.
Dinner was hosted by our dear friend and assistance lodge manager, Tatsio. With an emphasis on local produce and providers, Frith and his brigade of chefs maintain relatively low food miles with fish often caught and cooked on the same day.
On day 3 I visited the lovely villa, Otaha Beachfront Lodge
A combination of exceptionally well curated and presented contemporary New Zealand design complemented by calming views of the ocean perched in the centre of New Zealand's most historically rich environment. The villa has 5 beautifully appointed bedrooms all with ocean views and may I add that the views are simply stunning. Enjoy a day on a secluded beach with a family picnic or you may like to do a short on property hike through the valleys.
My next stop was at Donkey Bay Inn in Russell which is everything which you never expected.
The rooms are exotically styled with wide views of the bay from your balcony or terrace. Enjoy a glass of the owner’s acclaimed wine, or a Donkey Bay gin while soaking on the two hot water outdoor baths overlooking the bay. This is the ultimate honeymoon getaway, romantic and private.
My last stop and overnight was at Eagles Nest, which has been a favourite for years now in New Zealand.
Eagles Nest is also a multi-award winning New Zealand luxury hotel & retreat is set within a 75 acre estate atop its own private ridge line offering spectacular views of the Bay of Islands.
Four of the five world class villas offers its own private heated horizon edged lap pool, all offering private Jacuzzis, air conditioning, original artworks, home theater system, Eco-store amenities and fully equipped gourmet kitchen. I had the pleasure of a private in villa chef which prepared a delicious tuna tar tar followed by beautifully pan fried Hapuku.
For only a three day getaway, I saw and experienced some of the finest accommodation and luxury lodges in the North Island. With all the amazing onsite experiences, eco-qualities and welcoming hosts, a stay in any of these stunning stops will make for memories to last a lifetime.