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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Queenstown Liquor Ban Is Lazy Law, Lazier Policing

Just writing about Queenstown food choices in my (Not Quite) Complete Guide to New Zealand Travel and I suggested that a great meal - and a cheap one at that - is to get a seafood basket from Aggys Shack on the lake front, grab a bottle of local wine and a couple of plastic glasses and sit down at the lake edge to enjoy fine dining with a million dollar view.

Then the hand of the Dark Lords at Lakes District Council cast a shadow over the idea.

There's a 24-hour liquor ban in downtown Queenstown between Dec 27 and Jan 6 and during festival week. So dining al fresco con vino is a no-no during these most popular dates.


This sounds for all the world like a classic autocratic authority response to a problem that doesn't, or at the very least, shouldn't, exist.

The usual approach by authorities in this situation is to take a rock-breaker to a problem the size of a pebble.

First question: Does the problem really exist? Are visitors to the town so drunk and disorderly during the daylight and early evening hours that the local constabulary can't deal with them? I have no problem with a ban between 10pm and 6am at certain times of the year (does it really need to be year-round) but, really, is there widespread, uncontrollable agro on the streets during the day??

Second Question: If there is hooliganism abroad on the streets, why not deal with that problem directly instead of punishing everybody?

Catch and release. Round up the drunks, leave them to contemplate the grim bare walls of a jail cell over night and release them in the morning, thus leaving the law-abiding citizenry free to enjoy the finest fruits of ocean and vine amid the splendour of the Wakatipu landscape.

The present rules are lazy law and even lazier policing.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Queenstown Is A Bargain

HOT DEAL: Right now Queenstown is a red-hot raving bargain.  You can get return flights ex-Auckland with either carrier for around $330.  A more-than-reasonable motel - Colonial Village - can he had for $90 a night or Rydges Lakeland Hotel, a 3-Star Plus property, for the same money. The Millenium, a 4-Star Plus hotel, is $105 a night. And this is Winter Festival week.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Southland's Wild, Bootleg Past

The Golden Guitar awards have just finished in Gore, New Zealand, but the town has another claim to fame. Sly grog!

The hill country near Gore is called the Hokonui Hills and while many NZers may not know of their existence or their location, nevertheless they've heard of Hokonui.  It is the name for moonshine, bootleg hooch . . illicit whisky that used to be brewed in them thar hills.

In 1903 the area around the region voted to "go dry" - in other words prohibition of the sale of alcohol. That no-licence prohibition continued until 1954. But the the stills in the hills of Hokonui passed into the nation's folklore as they turned out a whisky to quench the thirst of a waiting and welcoming market.

Along with other facets of the Highland heritage the early settlers brought with them a knowledge of whisky distilling. Though they were otherwise upright, god-fearing, law-abiding men, the prohibition against the distilling and selling of whisky was something they just could not, in all conscience, see as applicable to their particular situation. It was a curse visited upon them by a bunch of holier-than-thou, misguided sassenachs.

The original Hokonui is said to have been of the highest quality, but later brews were made more with an eye for a fast buck than a pride in producing a fine wee dram.

The distillers went to inordinate lengths to hide the location of the stills. These were heated by burning manuka, a scrubby tree with wood that burns with a hot, aromatic flame. To hide the tell-tale columns of smoke literally miles of pipes were laid underground through the bush to duct the smoke away from the still site. Often when the authorities found the suspicious smoke

As early as 1924 the aeroplane was being used to hunt the stills - reminiscent of the use of aerial hunts today for marijuana growers. Planes were used to overcome the sophisticated lookout systems used by the distillers which enabled them to escape - sometimes just in the nick of time, leaving behind still warm fire-beds for the police to find.
There is a genuine Hokonui still preserved in the museum. It took quite a scrap with the authorities to get it there.  The police claimed it was required for tuition purposes at the Police Training School. Finally the government agreed that it all sounded like bureaucratic humbug and it was handed over to the Southland Museum.
Editorialising on the occasion, the local paper, the Mataura Ensign, said "This noble symbol testifying to the initiative and enterprise of our forefathers, with implications of freedom and good cheer, has finally come home.
It is now on loan to the Hokonui Moonshine Museum where you can catch up with some of Southland's rollicking past,. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Overdue Overhaul for the Overlander

Kiwirail has announced that it is going to give the Auckland/Wellington Overlander train service a complete makeover. Not before time.

In theory this train journey should be one of the world's great train trips, if for no other reason that the engineering marvels needed to build it. 

The massive viaducts necessary to bridge the central North Island's hill country for example. And the famous Raurimu Spiral . . .  it was a world first in railway engineering, creating a track layout that literally crossed its own tracks.

The service has suffered from dodgy old carriages, some of them over 60 years old that have been given once -over-lightly refurbishment - and that some years ago,.

The new carriages are being poached from the Coastal Pacific  route between Picton and Christchurch. They have large viewing windows for a better customer experience. The onboard crew will have new uniforms, there'll be a new menu and the journey will be faster because they have reduced the number of stops.

Let's face it with air fares AKL/WLG as cheap as $39 nobody is going to use the train as a way of getting from A to B.  It's only future is as a tourist attraction and that means ramping up the whole experience package.

Got to say, on past performance, I don't hold out much hope, but, hey, these are new days, new management, and hopefully a more creative approach to creating great new product.

It starts a three-time a week run in each direction from June 25.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Christchurch Eateries Decimated

I can not believe how many restaurants and cafes Christchurch has lost.  I knew it was bad but until today I had no idea just how bad. 

If a Roman legion failed to perform in battle the officers would execute every tenth man . . . thus the term decimated.  That's at least what has happened to a city that used to have an excellent dining environment. In the central city I would guess that nine out of ten eateries have closed permanently.

Right now I'm writing the Christchurch page of my extended Travelguide to New Zealand and I'm slogging through all the restaurant options to select the best. 

Time after time when I look up an entry I'm told that the building has been condemned and the restaurant will not re-open.  There seem to be literally dozens and dozens of eateries - including some of the city's best - that have disappeared never to return. 

Sadly some of my favourite watering holes now lie in ruins in the red zone and the promenade of eateries fronting the river along Oxford St are similarly momentarily unavailable, but there are still some posh nosh spots to be savoured. Spagalimis, 50 On The Park at the George Hotel,  Cathays at Hornby for cheap Chinese, Chinwag Eathai Victoria, Cook.n With Gas,  Corianders for Indian, Edesia out at Addington, JC’s Place Chinese restaurant at Riccarton, JDV  at Merivale, and if you’re out that way and prefer Thai try Merry Thai, Nobanno in Colombo St, Pescatore another highly rated George Hotel option, Rotherhams of Riccarton Servantis in Burnside.  

Read more about Christchurch at A New Zealand Travel Guide

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not All Motels Are Suffering The Honesty Attack

Some motels are so blatant it borders on dishonesty. Strathern Motor Lodge is one. On the AA website they list their prices as from $90 - $280. On their home page, however, they show studios at "From" $79. '

Yeah, right. Do these guys write Tui billboards in their spare time?

When you click on Book Now and get taken to the reservations site they list those same units as having a "Full Price" of $140 which they then generously discount to $115 for a three night stay.

Click through to dates in June and the rate is, sure enough, $140.

$140 minus $79 . . . is there a discrepancy here? Let me think?

Hello Commerce Commission - here I come.

Friday, April 13, 2012

New Zealand motels having and attack of honesty?

Are me beady old eyes deceiving me . . . or has the New Zealand motel industry had an attack of honesty?

In the course of checking out motel prices in Blenheim and Kaikoura as I write the State Highway 1 material for my Travel Guide I have noticed a phenomenon not previously seen: Motels actually offering rates below their advertised rate on the AA Travel website.

I have been a trenchant critic of the motel industry using bait advertising. Rates shown on widely used sites such as Jasons and AA often have no relation to reality.

But in these two towns things have changed - or maybe it's just that things are tough and there's a bit of discounting. Either way, in Kaikoura, for instance, 12 out of 20 motels surveyed were showing low season rates that were equal to or below their AA rate and another couple were only $2 a night dearer than advertised.

One, however, Beachcomber Motel, was a full $20 above their advertised rate. That's dishonesty by any measure.

In Blenhein four out of 13 were offering units at the promoted rate.

It may be that the now widespread availability of online booking engines means that the punters can check out rates instantly . . . thus removing the incentive to use bait advertising. It's not a good look to be caught lying about tariffs. Might lead to instant use of the back button.

For more on New Zealand accommodation go to

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hobbit Movie Filmset A Big Attraction

The Hobiton movie set near Matamata has seen a huge boost in tourism numbers this year as a result of filming the latest Peter Jackson trilogy.

Must say I wonder how they are going to stretch a fairly slim book intro two full-length movies . . . Lord of the Rings, yes, because it was three full-length books. But I read The Hobbit to my kids in the course of about a week of bedtime stories.

Never mind, I'm sure we will just love what the Jackson-Weta team do with the story.

In the meantime the rebuilt Hobbiton is pulling in the crowds. Over the past 12 months it has attracted 266,000 visitors, a 60% increase on the previous year. The Matamata business community must be happiness-filled.

When it was originally constructed for Lord Of The Rings in 1999 it was temporary and was to be bulldozed when filming finished. Problem was that more and more Ringies kept turning up at the gate of farmer Russell Alexander and asking to wander over his paddocks to see it. Initially his deal with the film company was that no commercial use was to be made of the abandoned set, but the sheer numbers of fans arriving caused a change of game plan and a formal tour was set up.

This time the 44 hobbit holes have been built of permanent materials with the intention of making it a major tourist attraction. Can you hear the ker-chang of the cash registers?

You can learn more about Hobbiton Tours at

And learn more about attractions in the Waikato region at

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ride The Rails 21st Century Style Near Rotorua

Fancy taking a ride in your own railcar? Mamaku Express will put you in the cab and on the rails.

They have taken a lease on a chunk of the old Putaruru - Rotorua railway line, the 20km bit between Mamaku and Turekenga, and developed a world-first hybrid petrol / electric rail-car to ride the rails.

The 4-seater cars are fully automated - you just sit back and enjoy the view as you rumble along at 20kmh.

In so doing you ride the North Island's steepest gradient at 3.5:1 through the rain forest in the Dansey Scenic Reserve and enjoy 360 degree views over rolling hills and Lake Rotorua.

It carries with it the heritage of past generations who built and lived their lives on the commerce of the rail: tourist operators; loggers; haulers; millers and foresters of all sorts. The railway was the heart of a forestry industry that thrived in Mamaku for many years around the 1940's. It is this heritage and stunning scenery in addition to its reach into the local tourist centre of Rotorua that made the Rotorua Railway the perfect place to offer a new and entirely unique rail experience.

You'll find Mamaku Express at the Mamaku Railway Station on the top of the Mamaku Ranges just off State Highway 5 between Tirau and Rotorua.

Mamaku Express: 11 Kaponga St Ph 0800-724-574 (0800-RAILRIDERS) Email

You can read more about Rotorua's attractions Rotorua page of my New Zealand Travel Guide