Eagles Nest shatters my vision, however, and makes my aforementioned fantasy seem less than average when compared to this award-winning retreat of five unique villas set across 75 acres. In our villa, Eagle Spirit, it is difficult to determine where the outdoors ends and the interior begins. Graeme makes the colossal mistake of taking a picture from our deck and sending it to his wife in Australia. Our ruse of roughing it while sailing around is fully exposed.
The next morning I wake at dawn to savor as much time as I can in this self-contained capsule of tranquility. After lunch I drop Graeme off at the ferry and make my way to Kauri Cliffs Lodge and Golf Course on the Karikari peninsula north of Doubtless Bay. Although my stateroom on the Moorings 4600 was extremely comfortable, the serenity and luxury of Kauri Cliffs make me consider that I may have been slumming it for the previous week. After walking the property, it’s easy to see why the David Harman-designed course won numerous awards. A golf and yacht charter combination trip would be an obvious part of the perfect New Zealand adventure.
Later, as I am flying over the sand in a dune buggy driven by Andrew Kendall as if we’re leading the Baja 500, I almost forget that I woke in the plush luxury of Kauri Cliffs only a few hours before. Now I’m exploring the Hokianga sand dunes with Kendall, the entrepreneurial and energetic owner of Hokianga Sand Trails. And yet again, I’m presented with another face of New Zealand. Kendall is of Maori descent, and beams with pride when speaking about his culture. Having a scone and cup of tea with him and his wife in their house in the waterfront village of Mitimiti, I take note when he tells me that some homes are offered for short-term rental in this remote and stunningly beautiful Maori village. I’m so there!
When I arrive on Great Barrier Island, off the North Island’s east coast in the Hauraki Gulf, I’m even more confused, and finally decide that the perfect New Zealand adventure will have to either be a month-long affair, or consist of multiple trips. Trevor Rendle, who with his wife, Carol, owns and operates Earthsong Lodge, meets me at the airport. Trevor possesses a contagious laugh and a razor sharp wit. On our way to Earthsong he points out a memorial that a local resident built to honor herself while she was still living. “Yeah, I guess you have to get the timing correct on that one. Not too early, not too optimistic.” Indeed. The dinner prepared by Trevor is the perfect ending to a long day.
Great Barrier Island is home to about 800 people, down from it’s maximum of 1,500. Named by Captain Cook because of the protection it offers the Gulf and Auckland to the west, the island remains largely undeveloped. Residents are a hearty bunch, generating their own electricity and operating largely self-sufficiently.
In the morning I meet Chris Ollivier on board his charter boat Sundancer. He reminds me of most of the New Zealanders I meet on this trip. On the one hand they’re welcoming, eager to share the charm and beauty of their country like proud parents. Yet on the other hand, my note taking and constant photography seem to make them uneasy. I expect somebody to finally blurt out “If you tell too many people about this place we’ll kill you. Seriously, we’ll kill you. You want another beer, mate?”
During the Christmas holiday, nearly a 1,000 boats pack into Port Fitzroy and nearby coves. Miles of white sand beaches and a serious swell attract beachcombers and surfers from around the world.
As I suck down grilled lobster and a cold Heineken on board Sundancer, I’m amazed at how tranquil the area is and by the lack of development. Trying to compare New Zealand to anywhere else I’ve been in the world is futile. It’s a land overflowing with contrasts, succulent beauty, unique characters, and incredible cruising grounds. Now, if I could just figure out a way to move here for good.