Familiar Territory

My job is very special and I get to meet and work with people from all over New Zealand and it’s especially so when I get to show off my own home city of Dunedin . Since my blog last year I have co-produced a little black book with Michelle Chalklin- Sinclair called the ‘Dunedin Fonebook’.  It’s full of photographs, local recipes and food shots all taken on Michelle’s i phone. We are very proud of Dunedin and of our book and each year I love introducing a tour group  to the culture of our small city, full of galleries, cafes with excellent coffee, iconic restaurants and providing my own insiders view.

The Dunedin Fashion iD events over a week each year in March  showcase our proud, diverse and strong connection with the New Zealand fashion scene. Highlighted by the sophisticated Emerging designer competition, which brings in designers from all over the world and the now famous Railway Station Cat walk (longest in the world) which is the picture perfect platform to view the many famous southern labels.

The weather once again was amazing, clear blue skies and warm sunny days. This tour is about getting under the skin of Dunedin and Central Otago and after the first night dinner in the fine dining Octagon restaurant ‘Bacchus’  – it set the standard for many fabulous dining experiences to come in unique and beautiful settings.

Day 1. City Walk with my friend Betty from Tourism Dunedin. It is a surprise when you first hear Betty speak in a southern American accent but, she is an expert on Dunedin and our friendship goes back over 30 years. No tour is complete without a trip north of Dunedin to the sleepy hamlet of Moeraki and lunch at the iconic Fleurs place and to be served the freshest seafood by the famous lady herself. Fleur is totally amazing and I don’t know anyone that works like she does at her age. I love her and I love taking people to eat her simple classic dishes. After  a slice of the best pizza in town at the Esplanade in St Clair, our night was chilly and inspiring at the Emerging designer show.

Day 2. A visit to Larnach’s castle is another must and a chance to see the work of another famous Dunedin lady -Margaret Barker. She has developed an extraordinary garden on the top of the peninsula surrounding her own castle – built originally for William Larnach in 1871. Since 1967 the Barker family have pulled the badly decayed castle into one of New Zealand’s largest tourist attractions and developed  a garden of National Significance. A quick bowl of soup and walk around our St Clair garden meant everyone had time to visit the shops, galleries and Dunedin tourist sites for the afternoon. The Octagon is full of eateries and bars but my favourite is Vault 21 where Greg Piner provides interesting and casual food ideal for a quick bite before our night in front row seats at the Railway Station Fashion Parade.

Day 3. A slick get away is always helpful on a longer drive day. Heading to Mt Difficulty winery in Bannockburn we travel via Middlemarch, Ranfurly, (where we found the original law offices of Helens grandfather) morning tea at my friends Susie and William Cockerills ever-changing inspirational property in Ophir and a drive through the old main street of Clyde – past Olivers which Fleur originally made famous. The view at Mt Difficulty is hard to beat and sadly today was overcast and cooler so it wasn’t outside this year under sun umbrellas. Our accommodation at Lakeside Apartments is always a ‘WOW’  – the view down the lake, the huge apartments and their proximity to town makes this a very nice stay. As is dinner at Bistro Gentil. We arrived in time to sit in the sun and watch it fade on the lake in the early evening, all the while enjoying  food  from the superb menu and a choice of wines from their tasting selection.

Day 4. This year we have an extra day in Wanaka (and another night at the Lakeside apartments). I wanted it to be a more restful day and it gave me time to show everyone the Wanaka surrounds and the extensive building going on here. Our planned picnic lunch at the Hawea Camping ground at a big table over looking the lake turned out to be lunch in the apartment. Philip and I had a dilemma ….Our family gave us tickets to Adele for Christmas . So….my friend Judy spent the afternoon and an evening eating Italian at Francesca’s with everyone while Philip and I flew from Queenstown at 3.40 pm, and had a glass of wine with Hannah, James and Richard. We thoroughly enjoyed Adele’s fabulous concert,  (although got totally drenched) caught the 7am flight back to Queenstown and met up with my group and Judy in Arrowtown at 10.30am.

Day 5. Coffees all round in Arrowtown and a quick look at the shops before one of my favourite visits to Janet Blairs impeccable garden by Lake Hayes. Starting with bare land  the cutest cottage, Janet’s skill and foresight has created a masterpiece full of mature beautiful trees, immaculately trimmed box hedges and simple planting in stunning borders. This is an insight into passion and dedication and Janet’s love of her property. Two minutes down the road is Amisfield winery and as always I chose the “trust the chef” menu. Oh my! what a wonderful long lunch and I still can’t get over the starter of beetroot meringues, that were not sweet but dissolved in your mouth. Our lovely day finished booking in at the Hilton for the next 2 nights, a water taxi ride into Queentown which is a stunning arrival by water and a very small entree at the new Eicharts  Grille  – which is so lovely but hard to do justice after our massive lunch.


Day 6. Self driving means we can go where we want and this morning going through the countryside of Dalefield past many beautiful homes and properties we dropped in on Helens Cousin at the Lavender Farm by the base of the Coronet road. It was a nice unexpected visit and really interesting to learn more about lavender production for oils. A special afternoon was planned and it filled all my expectations.  Hosted and driven by tour guide Matt we headed up the side of lake Waikitapu to Glenorchy, listening to Matt stories of his ‘extra’ roles in Lord of the Rings and other movies. He knows the lake and its history so well but like us he had his first visit to ‘Aroha”  – a luxury private retreat overlooking the lake. My architect friend Hamish Muir helped arrange our visit which was very exciting, since this is not your average holiday stay. Beautiful simplicity,yoga,walking, specially prepared meals using produce grown on the property by the clever Heather and a sense of all round calm was the feeling we all felt. I thank Paula for enabling us to see an insight into the beautiful sustainable property. Glenorchy is now also the home of a new astonishingly sustainable project in the form of a camping ground.Camp Glenorchy is being designed, built and operated in line with the philosophy and principles of the Living Building Challenge.  www.theheadwaters.co.nz/sustainability/   Check this out. I just want to go and stay there and thanks to Steve Hewland who gave us a special tour of the still uncompleted project we now have some understanding of the complexities and features of what will be a ‘must visit and stay’ . Every tour has to have a final night and those sad farewells after a very wonderful week together.  Once again I had a the perfect group and we had so much fun. It was my first visit to Rata and I wasn’t dissppointed  – again a “trust the chef” menu with a delicious array of starters followed by monkfish, chicken and another delectable lamb shoulder – all served in their own creativeness  (is that a word?).

Day 7 . All I can say is thank you to Jan, Helen, Raewyn, Florence and our only special man Russell. I am so happy to have met you all and to show you my backyard which is about to change colour for Autumn and hopefully you will make is down here again soon.