This is a love story. It is passionate, romantic and sexy.
If you are one of my in-laws (Kate and Amnon, you know who you are) proceed at your own risk.
Armon and I have decided to ditch France and move the family to New Zealand. Residency is relatively easy and everyone already speaks English. Easy-peasy…
Our heartstrings were already primed after our visit to Waiheke. As you know from my last post, we thought Waiheke Island was adorable (Stephanie and Jim don’t lie; it’s worth a visit and is eminently livable). With that in mind, if we were in serious “like” with Waiheke, we fell head-over-heels in love with Hawkes Bay (also on the North Island). It has everything we want in a location…save proximity to any living loved one. But more on this later.
First I want to tell you about our arrival which wasn’t quite as prodigious.
The start of the day was fine save us leaving behind a few Apple accessories in Auckland, including my iPhone. We departed and landed without much fanfare. And then we picked up our rental car – a snazzy, fire-engine red Corolla. It was Armon’s dream ride (much better than the forest green minivan we now sport in Queenstown). And we installed our makeshift GPS device (Judah’s iPod Touch plus TomTom accessory).
Once installed we drove around the corner from the airport and had lunch at a lovely water-side restaurant in a tony part of Napier. Our landlord for the week, Greg, recommended we go there before heading on to our “hotel”, Millar Road. We stopped and found the Napier sunshine surprisingly intense. It was only the 73-74 degree side of warm, but the sun pounded on us as though we were sitting a mile above sea-level during a Colorado July. It turns out that the New Zealand sun is stronger than most places on Earth. This is true in part because of the lack of ozone and pollution which serves to “protect” the rest of the world and in part because we are further south.
Napier is beautiful. It was one of the towns virtually destroyed in the 1931 earthquake and was rebuilt with an art deco aesthetic. Divine. But the best part of lunch was watching local teenagers jump, dive and belly flop off the street into the waterway below. It was a 15+ foot drop and reminiscent of makeshift watering holes of yesteryear. Talia and Judah were enthralled. I was jealous. It looked like great fun to jump in and I was starting to gain that travel film which encases your body after packing, carrying, lugging, flying, pushing and hauling luggage, kids and self for the day.
Lunch was lovely and we were off – ready to find our next “house for the week”. Napier suburbia. I feared to say a word, but rather looked about in a quiet disbelief. I was afraid to look at Armon for too long so I merely stole the occasional glance. His hands were firmly planted at 10 and 2, he sat upright and his eyes anxiously flickered between the road ahead of us, the GPS device and the advertising plastic that engulfed us. McDonald’s. Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Used car lots. Dry cleaners. The primary colors of “fast-everything-convenience” made the hot pavement that surrounded us smoldering hot. My head was spinning.
This couldn’t be it. We didn’t fly half way around the world to stay a week in what could have been an upper-class Newark, New Jersey. Did we? But GPS devices don’t lie and this one was telling us “you have arrived”.
I was speechless. The kids were growing increasingly impatient and cranky and Armon sat in the driver’s seat, quietly stoic and presumably in disbelief.
I blacked out after that… I seriously don’t remember a thing. I think shock and dismay must have overwhelmed my senses because I don’t recall anything that happened next. That’s okay. Armon tells me that in his infinite male-oriented navigation-savvy wisdom he figured out that Millar Road, Napier was different from Millar Road, Hawkes Bay.
Thank God for male-oriented, navigation-savvy wisdom.
Because of his determination and focus, we finally found paradise on Earth. Yes, we finally did find the “right” Millar Road and it was then that I fell in love. Perhaps this Millar Road’s compares were just easy and after being made to think I’d be staying in my own personal version of hell I was an easy target. Like dating a jerk, breaking up and falling for the next guy who asks you out. I was ready to be smitten. But I don’t think so.
Hawkes Bay and Millar Road are exquisite. Seriously.
We both fell in love and we both went so far as to look at real estate in the area. As luck would have it, the house that we rented while in HB is well, for sale. I am a willing buyer.
I love the glass, the concrete, the size of the stone, the metal, the pool, the yard, the vineyard. Heck, I even love the driveway and hill up to the place. It makes for a great run and even better lunges (the neighbors probably think I am insane – doing lunges up the mile long driveway – but wouldn’t be the first time).
Oh and the place has 2 extra cottages – so despite being on the other side of this planet Earth – it also offers an extra bed or two. So unless you are glued to NYC or the US, come visit. Hawkes Bay is just a plane ride or two away and it is fabulous. Like us, you will want to stay.
More on Hawkes Bay and the region. It reminds me of Napa, Boulder, Santa Barbara and Amagansett all rolled up into one. Add in a first-class educational and medical system and you have an extremely livable place to settle.
Sure, sure… I know what you are thinking. “Love at first sight, how quaint. It won’t last”…. But I have to counter. As an Air Force brat and Wall Street globetrotter, I’ve traveled my fair share. Hawkes Bay is awesome in the truest sense of the word.
Julian Robertson (hedge fund legend) has a resort here; so I am not alone in my thinking. Yet the place remains largely unspoilt. I was content to just ride about in the car and take in the dramatic landscape. Even sitting in our yard and peering out over the valley toward the ocean made for terrific sport. We had a wonderful time at the children’s “zoo” petting everything from lambs to peacocks. We also visited many local vineyards, beaches and parks. On Saturdays there is a farmers’ market that rivals any we’ve been to in NYC or elsewhere. The locally grown food and wine are set in a park-like setting with music playing, kids romping and a lovely grass field to lounge in.
One afternoon we set off to Cape Kidnappers and a woman named Jo gave us a tour of the Gannet colonies. She was a lovely woman with a waist the size of my left thigh and skin to prove she’s spent a lifetime in the New Zealand sun. She’s been on the Cape Kidnappers’ farm for decades and knew the place from before Robertson built his golf course and resort. She’s driven and walked the farm for years and could probably navigate the thousands of acres blindfolded. She was a terrific guide and loved the fact that our NYC-bred kids fought over who got to help with the gates as we drove from one section to the next. She also loved that Talia and Judah were as taken with sheep and cows as they were. For her and her (grown) kids, these NZ novelties have long-lost their thrill.
Beaches – beautiful. Try Ocean Beach. Desolate, but of the most pristine and spectacular beaches we’ve ever visited.
Wine – yum. No one will accuse me and Armon of not liking wine. We were gainfully entertained and surprisingly enthralled by the vineyards and quality of the wine.
Food – almost too yummy (but morning runs and lunges partially compensate). The wineries (similar to Waiheke) often sport restaurants that take their food seriously. The combination of inspired menus, fresh ingredients and wine gets me every time. Pipi’s Cafe isn’t a winery, but a pink pizzeria that is fun, delightful and yummy. Want a soda? Grab one out of mid-century white fridge. Want a beer? They are in the similarly dated pink fridge.
People – genuine, open and available. They made this introvert want to stay. A heartfelt thanks to Greg, Gabi, Greg’s mom, Freddy and Otto (their puppies) for helping to make the week even more special. We had a terrific dinner out and very much enjoyed meeting each of you.
So, without further ado, here are our pictures from the region. I kid you not – this is one of my favorite places on Earth in terms of places to both live and visit. If you can’t enjoy yourself here, get a life.