It’s all about the image

We’ve all seen them – photographs of fierce Maori warriors, with tongues extended and taiaha (weapons made from whale bone) ready to strike.

But the tourism industry is learning that too much of a good thing can have the wrong effect.

“What is beautiful to Maori, can sometimes leave potential and first time visitors, who haven’t engaged or interacted with Maori before, intimidated,” says the head of Maori tourism.

NZ Maori Tourism Chief Executive Pania Tyson-Nathan told a tourism industry summit in Wellington that a wider range of images were now being used.

“We have found that it is not the moko (facial tattoo) that is confronting or intimidating to visitors.

“NZ Maori Tourism has embarked on a programme to expand the images that are used overseas for tourism promotions, rather than what has historically been used –images of Maori warriors.

“As a result, we have started to see images used that portray all aspects of Maori – and that has increased visitor numbers and interactions with Maori tourism operators.”

In recent years, there’s been controversy about some versions of the Maori haka used by our international sportsmen.

Rugby and league versions of the haka that end in a symbolic throat-cutting action have sometimes prompted criticism  from those who argue it gives people the wrong impression about New Zealand.


The haka

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Pride in where you live

If believe in the maxim that the locals always know best, take note of a recent survey of New Zealanders who live in the four main centres.

When asked it they were proud of where they lived, 90% of Wellingtonians said they were.

In contrast, only 63% of Aucklanders felt the same way – and just 36% of Christchurch residents felt pride in where they lived.

Dunedin was closest to Wellington’s level of civic pride with 67%, but that’s still a gap and a half.

The 2014 Quality of Life survey, conducted biennually by by research company Nielsen, found 89% of capital dwellers reported a good or extremely good quality of life, ahead of Dunedin (84%), Auckland (80%) and Christchurch (80%).

We all know the saying about statistics, statistics and damned lies … but I reckon the results of this survey say much about the big cities.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if they widened the research to take in smaller places?


Wellington – things to do

Best pub and grub in Wellington

Wellington tops visitor poll

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5 stops between Auckland and the Bay of Islands

Many visitors to New Zealand head north from Auckland to tour the picturesque Bay of Islands.

The drive takes between three and four hours, depending on how much of a hurry you’re in. But in their haste, many travellers miss some excellent places to stop.

Here are five suggested diversions:

Stop 1: Ignore the toll road on State Highway 1 and take the scenic route along the coast. It’s only an extra 20 minutes of driving (and if you stop to pay the toll at a coin-operated booth you could waste half of that in a queue!), and there’s plenty to see.

Turn off at Silverdale and you’ll come into Orewa, a pleasant township favoured by retired Aucklanders. It has a magnificent beach and a strip of cafes. Or call into the local surf club on the beach (they welcome visitors) for a drink.

Stop 2: Continuing the coastal route, turn off at Waiwera if you fancy a dip at the local pools and spa. You won’t find a public pool in more scenic surroundings, and there’s a pleasant beach at the end of the road.

Stop 3: Visit New Zealand’s first marine reserve at Goat Island. Turn off SH1 at Warkworth and follow the signs, and you’ll find the reserve at the end of Goat Island Rd, five minutes past the town centre of Leigh.

If you want to get into the water, you’ll see an amazing range of sea life; but if you just want to wander, you’ll still find plenty to see (some fish are so people friendly, they’ll take food from your hands).

Stop 4: It’s tempting to save time by driving around Whangarei (a city of 50,000+ population), but if you fancy lunch or a stretch of the legs, follow the signs to the Quay area.

There you’ll find an interesting collection of tourist shops and cafes, and the local information centre which has everything you need to know about what’s happening in the city and surrounding area.

Whangarei is often omitted from the “must see” itineraries in tourism guides but the city can surprise – and it’s an excellent base for those who want to explore the hundreds of nearby beaches and islands.

Stop 5: The entrance to the Bay of Islands is a small town called Kawakawa. It’s worth pulling over for a toilet stop – whether your bladder needs it or not.

The town boasts the most photographed toilets in New Zealand.

Designed by famed Austrian architect Frederick Hundertwasser, the toilets are a piece of art and it may be a while before you get another chance to buy a postcard celebrating the existence of a public loo.


20 Top Things to Do in the North Island

8 Reasons to visit the Bay of Islands

Blog: Meditating at the Kawakawa toilets

Blog: A loo with a view

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Whangarei – the city that’s come of age

For many years, I considered Whangarei to be the city you drove past when travelling between Auckland and the Bay of Islands.

To stop for anything more than a toilet break was unthinkable.

There seemed to be nothing to do. And I’m confident my perception of Northland’s only city wasn’t unusual – I’d suggest it was a common view held by Kiwis, particularly those from Auckland.

But over the past 20 years, much has changed – in fact, my perception has completely changed.

This city of 50,000+ seems to be getting better all the time.

It’s attracting new residents (many from Auckland) who find the cheaper cost of living a boon, and employment is growing in white collar industries such as call centres and corporate service centres.

And the new residents are finding plenty to do.

The Quay area might not be on the scale of Auckland’s Viaduct precinct but it has a cluster of bars and eateries and offers a pleasant escape beside the city’s fleet of moored yachts.

The city has got used to staging biggish sports and cultural events, and there’s plenty of good value accommodation to turn an event into a weekend away.

If you’re into the outdoors, you can use Whangarei as the base to explore hundreds – yes, hundreds – of beaches within easy reach, enjoying some of the best spots for diving or fishing. The Tutukaka Coast is only half an hour away and has much to offer.

Whangarei has come of age and it’s certainly now worthy of at least an overnight stop, if not a longer visit.


20 Top Things to Do in the North Island

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5 top spots between Auckland and Rotorua

Many visitors to New Zealand typically spend a night or two in Auckland before heading south to visit Rotorua, arguably the country’s centre of Maori culture.

It’s an easy drive south (less than three hours) but provides a range of interesting stops along the way.

Here are five suggested stops:

Stop 1: If it’s summer and you fancy an ice cream, turn off at Pokeno (about 45 minutes south of central Auckland). This village has a couple of ice cream stores and a reputation that attracts tourist buses, sports teams and regular passers-by who can’t resist a lick.

You’re sure to be impressed by the range of flavours on offer and the variety of often-challenging cone variations (dare you to try the 21-scoop special!)

Come to think of it, don’t worry if it’s not summer – the ice cream parlours do a roaring trade in winter too.

Stop 2: Cambridge is a picturesque town of 18,000, less than two hours from central Auckland, and is the idea spot to pull over for a wander and something to eat. The town has an interesting range of small shops and cafes.

Stretch your legs with a walk beside the country’s longest river (the mighty Waikato) or beside the lake (complete with ducks) at the Te Ko Utu Domain, minutes from the centre of town.

On the Hamilton-side boundary of Cambridge you’ll find the Avantidrome, the national home of cycling. Call in and watch some of the world’s top cyclists whizz around the track at top speed, or take the kids to the adjacent cycle education park.

Stop 3: An 18-minute drive from Cambridge will take you to Hobbiton, the farm that was used as a set in the making of Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning film trilogy, the Lord of the Rings.

Hobbiton gives you the chance to experience Tolien’s Middle Earth and see Hobbit Holes, The Green Dragon Inn, The Mill, the double arched bridge and other structures and gardens built for the films.

Stop 4: About 15 minutes south of Cambridge, on State Highway 1, is Lake Karapiro, a man-made lake that helps provide hydro power through its dam, and is the national home for rowing, canoing and kayaking.

It regularly turns into the arena for watersports events (everything from hydroplane racing to waka ama, an annual contest for Maori paddle boats).

And it’s got plenty of picnic options (many signposted), though I’d recommend following the signs to Mighty River Domain, the park beside the lake.

Stop 5: Halfway between Cambridge and Rotorua you’ll drive through Tirau, a small township notable for its creative use of corrugated metal sculptures.

In the 1980s, the town was struggling as jobs with local manufacturers declined. The locals decided their future would depend on encouraging travellers to stop – and they hit on the idea of using the wavy metal to attract attention.

The main street has two huge buildings in the shape of a corrugated sheep, beside a corrugated dog; the church has a corrugated sign; many of the shops and cafes have signs that maintain the theme.

It’s certainly worth a few photographs and a stroll up the main street.


20 Top Things to Do in the North Island

8 Reasons to visit the Bay of Islands 



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Driving on the “wrong” side of the road

About a third of the world’s countries insist their motorists drive on the left – usually countries that are former British colonies, including New Zealand.

So driving in New Zealand can be confusing and even scary at first for visitors from nations who always drive on the right – including those from North and South America, China, Central and Eastern Europe and North Africa.

Most years, there are highly-publicised road accidents involving tourists, some of whom veer to the “wrong” side of the road.

But something that must add to the confusion is the New Zealand motorist’s use of undertaking on multi-lane highways. That’s the practice of going past slower vehicles on their left, when the more common method is to overtake via the faster, outside lane of traffic.

In Australia and New Zealand, undertaking is legal. So too in the United States.

In many countries – such as Germany, France and Holland – undertaking is expressly prohibited while the United Kingdom discourages it.

Car rental firms usually provide their customers with a summary document of New Zealand road rules before handing over the keys, but nothing prepares a driver for that initial feeling of unease if they have to adapt to driving on the “wrong” side.

Worse, when a local shoots past on the inside lane, it can be most unnerving. 

There is no easy answer – other than to be careful out there.


Holiday driving in New Zealand

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The point about pints

Those of us who enjoy a glass of beer are often confounded by the size of the glass it’s served in … and nowhere is it more confusing than in New Zealand.

British visitors to our shores often wonder  if they are being short-changed when they order a pint at a Kiwi pub and are served something that is … well, less than the pint they might expect at home.

North American tourists must also suspect something’s amiss when they are served varying sized glasses, all purporting to be a pint.

And don’t expect any simple explanations from New Zealand pub-goers – they can be just as confused as anyone.

The problem is the definition of a pint.

Long ago, New Zealand beer drinkers got into the habit of ordering “a handle” of beer at the pub. Sometimes they referred to it as a “pint” but as long as it was cold and full of gas, few complained.

Meanwhile, the British had adopted the Imperial pint in 1824 as their standard beer measure. The pint was 568mls in today’s metric measure.

The United States, however, had settled their own version of the pint at 400mls in the late 18th century – roughly the same size as the Kiwi “handle”.

Confusion over the size of the Kiwi pint grew with the emergence of the craft beer industry over the past decade. As drinkers became more aware of different beer types, and the influences from British and American brewers, they also weaned themselves off the “handle”.

Many bars started offering patrons a pint – sometimes a 400ml pint, and in other bars it would be the 568ml version.

Some pubs have resolved the issue by offering drinkers “large” and “regular” glasses.

If in doubt, ask the barperson – it won’t be the first time a visitor has asked them about the size of the glass.

And at least you can reassure yourself that these days, the range and quality of beer in New Zealand is considerably better than when it was served freezing cold and full of gas.


Best beers in New Zealand

Popular New Zealand beers

Beer consumption in New Zealand

Famous pubs

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How penny pinching can spoil your stay

You know you’ve checked into the wrong motel when:

  • the knobs have been removed from the heaters so you can’t turn them up.
  • the soap in the bathroom is a pink liquid in a plastic wall container with a “push” dispenser (that doesn’t work).
  • the sign outside boasts “Sky TV” but the sign in your room tells you it’s available in the games room or bar downstairs.
  • another sign asks you to re-use towels and leave only really dirty ones in the bath for laundering (let’s face it, we don’t believe the line about saving dolphins and the planet).
  • the instant coffee in your room is budget brand from the supermarket.

I know. I stayed there last week …

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The State Highway less travelled

Every year, my partner and I take a one-week roadtrip between Auckland and Wellington. These days, we treat it as a break – not just an exercise in getting between the two cities in the shortest possible time.

For many years, we just headed down State Highway 1, as most do, using Taupo as a stopping point and hoping the Desert Road is open.

If pushed, it’s a nine-hour journey; tiring but most of the roads are okay.

Problem is, that direct trip is relatively boring.

In recent years, we’ve experimented with three alternate routes.

This year we took State Highway 3 down the west coast. From Hamilton, we cut across to Te Awamutu and then through Otorohanga (the home of Kiwiana) and Te Kuiti (the shearing capital), and onto New Plymouth (the energy capital).

Plenty of interesting things to check out on that route.

The route takes you alongside the surf beaches of Taranaki and you’ll have plenty of rolling green pastures to admire. As long as the weather is clear, you’ll also have views of snow-capped Mt Taranaki.

We stayed overnight in Wanganui, scoring a discounted room at The Grand Hotel (tip: always stay at a hotel with the word ‘grand’ in its name – you’ll either land a bargain or have tales to tell of a place with memories grander than the reality).

This Grand was a bit run down but clean, with a friendly manager and some semblance of its old world character.

By comparison, we travelled via State Highway 2 the previous year with stops at Taupo and Napier.

There’s plenty to see and do in and around Taupo, with its lake, the nearby thermal attractions and its visitor-friendly cafes, pubs and restaurants.

Napier is a favourite of our’s. It’s the perfect overnight stay on a trip south – with time to wander around the business district (the art deco capital), along the waterfront and a visit to a nearby winery.

We’ve stayed several times as the renovated Masonic Hotel, a well-situated hotel that’s kept all the best aspects of its 1930s design while modernising its rooms, bar and restaurant. Ask about the rooftop suite – it’s self-contained and perfect for a family or group of adults.

SH2 also allows plenty of stops at a string of small towns, most of which have second hand or antique shops – we’ve picked up bargains on every trip!

Masterton is worth a stop too and opens up side trips to nearby towns in the Wairarapa.

The most used route is, of course, State Highway 1 but I’d recommend a detour around the western side of Mt Ruapehu and an overnight stay at the charming 1920s style Chateau Tongariro Hotel. It’s like walking into the past with high ceilings, décor from almost a century ago and plenty of peace and quiet.

On our last trip, we wanted the quickest way home so set off from Wellington, determined to make the best time possible.

That usually presents the problem of how far to drive before stopping for a meal (in our case, dinner).

This time we stopped at Taihape, a place not known in the past for its range of dining.

But we stumbled upon Le Café Telephonique (8 Huia St) which took us by surprise.

It had a European menu with much variety, live entertainment (a couple who interacted with the diners without being intrusive) and a decent wine list.

Happy travels. 



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Hands off, instant coffee belongs to us!

When it comes to coffee, New Zealanders can show the same amount of passion usually reserved for rugby, the great outdoors or travelling the world.

Just about any Kiwi can immediately name their favourite café – with the next half dozen named in order – and they won’t hesitate to explain the difference between a double-shot flat white and a trim latte.

But multinational food conglomerate Nestle has stirred more than the pot by claiming it launched the world’s first instant coffee, Nescafe, in 1938.

Excuse me?

Haven’t Nestle heard of David Strang, of Invercargill?

Maybe not.

Mr Strang appears to have had the leap on Nestle by almost half a century, having registered patent 3518, under the trading name Strang’s Coffee, describing a ‘hot air process’ to produce soluble coffee powder.

The patent was dated 1890 and its discovery was made recently when a heritage adviser for the New Zealand Historic Places Trust was registering the home of David Strang’s son James.

Apart from coffee and rugby, another thing New Zealanders enjoy is laying claim to world firsts. It’s kept us going for years – Kiwi Richard Pearce beat the Wright Brothers to fly the first aircraft and we’ll defend claims the Aussies invented the pavlova till our dying breath.

As for coffee, we’re no mugs …


More Kiwi inventions

Kiwi firsts

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