Recently I took a summer vacation in winter. No, I’m not turning into a Snowbird, but there is definitely something to be said for traveling below the equator to sun and warmth while everything up north is gray and snowy.
I had a very hectic summer and fall, a big move and was in desperate need to recharge. The best way for me to do this is with family, so I headed to Auckland, New Zealand, my daughter’s new home. 8,814 miles, three weeks and hundreds of new memories later, New Zealand wound itself all the way around my heart.
Each week had its own personality and texture. We spent the first week on Waiheke Island. Only 30 minutes by ferry from busy Auckland, lies this breathtaking island. Think Martha’s Vineyard or Ibiza, then think even more beautiful. Within a day I knew this was a wonderful place to let the jet lag dissipate. The island was pristine and magical, just as one imagines New Zealand to be. I fell in love with Waiheke Island! This coming from someone who really knows his islands, from St. Barts to Mikonos. Waiheke was teeming with art, wine, good food, and genuine hospitality. It set the tone for the whole vacation—perfect.
Our second week was spent in Mount Maunganui, or Mauao. This extinct volcano is sacred in Maori mythology, so it attracts many tourists. The views, from more than 760 feet above sea level, were breathtaking. The city below reminded me of Miami--brightly lit shops, sculpted surfers riding waves and relaxed golfers on verdant greens.
Saving the best for last, the third week ended up being the most treasured time in New Zealand. I stayed with the Nabbs family who enveloped me in love and hospitality. Their tree-lined property overflowed with blooming flowers; there was even a bountiful vegetable garden. I lived like an honest to goodness Kiwi for the week!
Evenings brought on the Dueling Chefs. Each of us preparing homemade dishes for dinner, laughing together, course after course while keeping everyone’s wine glass filled with the lovely local wine. As I look back on those evenings, I smile. I smell the mint, hear the whisk wildly hitting the stainless steel bowl and feel the warm breeze coming through the windows.
Due to various scheduling logistics, I spent my last 48 hours in Auckland on my own. Another gift presented itself; I had another opportunity to discover a little more of New Zealand before returning home.
After having no success in finding a hotel room, I decided to check out AirBnB. In the end this was one of the best decisions of my trip.
I found a studio in the inner-city suburbs of Auckland. As I approached the address on foot, the host Kaisla, welcomed me at the gate with a warm Scandinavian smile. The studio was on a hilltop facing the gorgeous Hobson Bay. It felt like a neighborhood I could settle into and call home.
As she led me to the studio, I felt like I was on a Hollywood set! The backyard, impeccably groomed. The pool, sublime. Even the dogs and the children were well behaved and gorgeous! While the main house was located to the right of the pool, to the left of the pool was the studio built on top of the garage. As we climbed the stairs to the studio, I became drunk from the scent of gardenias framing the stairway.
The space was bright and decorated with beiges and grays with a little pop of aqua. The furniture’s lines were modern-minimalist, and the bathroom was stocked with Nellie Tier products and Missoni towels. I had found a spa!
After Kaisla left, I opened the window and the warm breeze from the bay came through the screens, bringing gardenia and lavender scents with it. I looked around at this impeccably appointed studio--300 square feet, yet not a single detail overlooked. Wi-Fi, a Nespresso machine (I have one at home, a very prized possession), a bathrobe, slippers, a mini refrigerator, bottled water, local cider, novels, a plasma TV, DVD-movies, a hairdryer and a bottle of New Zealand white wine. Kaisla designed this space to be an experience; her attention to the potential whims of the guest was more like a 50 room 5-star hotel instead of an AirBnB studio. This woman had an eye for design and a true sense of hospitality. I was falling in love with what she had created. Yet what made me fall in love with my hostess happened later that afternoon.
I decided to lie down and enjoy the bay breeze; the bed was deliciously comfortable and the linens top-notch. I must have dozed off for an afternoon nap, as it seems I do more and more since I’ve entered my 50’s. Here’s a small confession. When I fall into these unplanned siestas, I wake up with an intense craving for JAVA and something sweet.
Obviously the espresso was right there, and for that I was delighted, but nothing sweet in sight. While the Nespresso machine whirred and clunked, filling the cup, I noticed three matching ceramic jars. One had Nespresso capsules and the other tea bags. The largest jar had an inscription that read, “There is a Chance This is Vodka.” I smiled and lifted the cork stopper, loving this unexpected mystery. My heart squealed! Six Danish butter cookies!!!!! OMG! OMFG!
Most everyone reading this knows I believe in details. I’ve made a career of it. But I am still so impressed by people who make the extra effort to create a moment, a memory, an experience. And as I’ve written before, it is the experience as a whole that people remember. The gardenias, the towels, the Danish cookies came together and created a feeling that I will never forget.
As I hugged Kaisla goodbye 48 hours later, I made sure to tell her how special she made me feel and how impressed I was with her attention to details. As I headed to the gate, I said, “And by the way, I was very glad it wasn’t vodka!”
PS: This is how to reach Kaisla if you ever want to experience a special piece of Auckland.