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An Intimate Tour of New Zealand

 A view of the harbor on the way to Akaroa, 
a former French settlement on 
New Zealand’s South Island.

Photo: Mark Roper

One of Simon’s partners in the Antipodes water venture is his old mate, Kim Thorp, an advertising man who started a winery and villa-rental complex in the Hawke’s Bay wine region called Black Barn Vineyards.

Simon finds Kim on his mobile to make the introduction. We’re in luck: there’s one house available for the night.

“Rush Cottage, my favorite,” says Simon. “You’re going to love it.”

And so we do. We fall rather helplessly and immediately in love with the very English-feeling two-bedroom shepherd’s cottage beside a towering fan palm. And we fall for Kim and his wife, Bronwynne, who is making a fragrant pot of fig chutney from Digby Law’s Pickle & Chutney Cookbook: A New Zealand Classic when we arrive at their contemporary art– and sculpture-filled house for a visit. And all this love brings us to the second tricky issue with this exercise in constant motion: the stubborn desire to never leave a place.

Black Barn is many things: winery, summer concert venue, modern Kiwi art gallery, restaurant, local farmers’ market, and lodging. What makes it all work is that it feels like a personal project, a kind of curated lifestyle, tastefully conceived and stylishly executed by Kim and Bronwynne and their partners. “We honestly just based things on what we like,” Kim says. The people are the brand—a slogan you might apply, without too much of a stretch, to New Zealand as a whole.

Leaving Hawke’s Bay and heading south through the North Island to Wellington, we stop for lunch at Elephant Hill Estate & Winery on the coast. “It’s the newest thing on the horizon,” Kim tells us. “It’s sort of outrageous: a bright blue-green copper shoe box owned by a German couple who have no history of wine.” The view alone is worth the detour: outdoor tables overlook a glassy pool, down past the rows of grapevines, and out to a thin ribbon of blue sea. It feels like a colorful hybrid of Thailand and Provence. Fearing we’d be left without anyone to recommend a place to stay, in the rush to make Wellington by dark, we had taken Kim’s suggestion and booked a room online at Ohtel, a self-consciously designy boutique around the corner from Martin Bosley’s Restaurant. “Go see Martin,” Kim directed us. “His food’s exquisite. Be sure to say you’re a vegetarian and don’t like fish.”

“Did Kim tell you to say that?” Martin asks when we deliver the fake bad news about our eating habits. “Well, the answer to your next question—‘What do you do for people like us?’—is, ‘Drown you to put you out of your misery.’”

Martin has a goatee and a winking, genial gruffness. His restaurant occupies the glass-walled dining room of a 126-year-old yacht club. The room is tidy but unpretentious, dominated by views of swaying sailboats and old sheds once used by the American navy. The focus, however, is on what’s on the plate, which mostly comes out of the waters around New Zealand.

“So personal recommendations—just don’t screw it up?” Martin says to clarify.

Amazing how pawning off decision-making responsibilities on someone else can reduce your stress. I switch from Antipodes water to a Seresin Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough and look out at the clear sky.

“Okay, I’ll go make some calls and see if we can get something happening. In the meantime, you guys need some oysters.”

Bluff oysters are not like other oysters. Available only for a brief season and only from the wild, cold, violent waters around Bluff, at the very bottom of the South Island, they are gritless, pure-tasting, intensely briny. The shells look like ragged fossils, with orange and pink and gray deposits. There is, it seems, something alive on one of my shells. I poke it with my finger. The something bites back. “Hey, you’ve got clams living on your oyster!” Martin says, walking by to observe the action.

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