As a registered dietician to the stars, Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Ashley Koff, RD, has made a name for herself in the nutrition world. Her ability to communicate the importance of healthy choices has elevated her to becoming one of the best in her field. The Washington, D.C.-based dietician and author appears regularly on several shows, such as Dr. Oz and The Doctors.
Gain a day back and likely some years after a trip to the qualitarian paradise that are these oft-overlooked island neighbors to Australia and Bali. New Zealand may just be the fountain of youth — from food to wine to fashion — and here’s a hit list of the musts that will make your trip one for the books.
Explore South Island
While most flights take you into Auckland on the North Island, it’s worth heading south immediately to wine taste, hike and bike, then return north for your true R&R (and don’t worry, that will include wines that rival those from the Russian River and Rhône valleys).
Down South does luxury in its own distinctly delicious way: You can bike your way through vineyards or be driven in a limo while sampling organic wines, honey, fish, greens and cheese that exceed all expectations. So much so that it stole the hearts of the highly successful Swiss winemakers Hans Herzog and his wife, Therese, leading them to close their Zurich eatery and winery Taggenberg and make the Marlborough region their home. Herzog Winery & Restaurant offers an intimate cellar door (that’s NZ for “tasting room”) experience a few feet from the organic vineyards. Choosing between a meal in the dining room or the garden feels like deciding between dining in a château or alfresco in a Mediterranean garden. The kitchen, which requires all working staff to have prior experience in a top-rated restaurant, delivers a multisensory celebration of organic food — from grass-fed beef to organic vegetable bread soup and risotto that celebrate the simplicity of outstanding ingredients.
Speaking of outstanding — if you don’t know Te Whare Ra wines, make that introduction immediately. Anna and Jason Flowerday are fifth-generation winemakers (she’s from South Australia and he’s from Marlborough) who have built this vineyard from the oldest grapes in Marlborough to the newest consistent hit of the region. They treat the grapes as their children (which is no small feat with two sets of gorgeous twin girls under the age of 10), with the greatest detail paid to what they are fed (some of the best smelling compost I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve encountered plenty to judge), what goes on them (no toxins sprayed near or on these grapes), how they are made into wine (they set alarms throughout the night to plunge their reds) and how the wine is packaged.
Anna explained to me, “Screw caps are what I call a winemaker’s insurance. I know, years from now, you are tasting the wine that we made for you.” And we are so lucky for that. I went through Anna’s “Riesling Rehab” and am again a believer — in TWR Riesling, that is — as well as marveled (then purchased my two-bottle max for the trip) at their white wine blend, Toru. I later couldn’t hide my excitement when I discovered it for purchase by the bottle in a famed restaurant on the North Island, where the sommelier shared my delight, “Isn’t it absolutely the best? We can’t stock enough of it. It’s the perfect blend.” I couldn’t agree more. The secret may be in the decision to let the grapes ferment together, but credit also goes to Anna for her visionary decision to challenge herself to create a white blend of the same caliber of the great red blends others are creating.
From the Queen Charlotte Track (with exceptionally high-quality lodges and water taxis to transport your luggage or you, should a day of rigorous trekking not be doable or desirable) to casual biking through Marlborough, or more daredevil activities (NZ is where bungee jumping originated, after all), the South Island will allow you to work out your body as much as your palate. And once you’re spent, head north for the real R&R.
Escape to Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island is like Sonoma/Mendocino/Paso Robles meets the Hamptons; it’s where New Zealanders summer and weekend — some to see and be seen, others to hide away at their bach. (Though it’s NZ for “small” holiday home, many of those with a Waiheke bach take liberty with that definition as it’s home to some of the largest and most envied residences in the country.) While the island residents number 9,000, it can exceed 30,000 at its heights. But you wouldn’t know it — especially at the unadvertised, not-choosing-to-participate-on-social-media, secret-hideaway-of-the-lucky-few-that-get-a-room at The Boatshed. Learning of this spot happens by word of mouth — and a mouth that gets to eat, drink and sleep here has much to say, although it may save it for worthy friends and family.
Few want to share (other than taunt and torment with photos of every bite, seat and view) “their spot.” The Boatshed has a strict for-guests-only kitchen that serves the best garden-to-table (which is all of 50 feet as the hotel has its own organic garden where most food comes from for guests and staff) fare all day and night. From casually exceptional breakfasts that included ginger-vanilla rhubarb, island-made breads and honey, local coffee, and mouthwatering hot meals such as salmon eggs Benedict (the eggs have that perfect orange color that say that the chickens are fed what they are meant to eat) with fresh herbs and greens to several courses of the most stunning and equally impressive tastes. Oh and lest I forget the fresh fruit and herbal tea on arrival, the cheese plate with wine pairings in your guest room, or the cucumber-infused water for your water bottle that comes in handy on a coastal walk.
Prefer dinner in the garden, a picnic or a meal in bed? The proprietor, Jonathan Scott, delivers on your request, literally. While the staff is fantastic and the chef knows his stuff, it’s Jonathan who answers your email inquiries when you’re trying to make a reservation and from there, he begins his efforts to make sure your trip exceeds your expectations. “I know if someone is coming to celebrate, to recuperate or to hide, and I make sure that, from myself to my staff, we engage with them in a way that will support exactly what they need,” Scott says.
And exceed he did. He sent us on a coastal walk; he sent us to the right vineyards and made sure we tasted the wines of the ones we couldn’t get to; and he sent us to the exact right spot in town — The Oyster Inn — where the owner, Andrew Glenn, repeatedly delighted us with mouthwatering snack morsels to go with equally fine vino and cocktails, as well as his versions of favorites from his time spent living and traveling globally. From Ino’s egg truffle toast to the “a very green salad,” and deck that overlooks the water, there’s something for everyone at any time.
Back on the mainland, Auckland offers some of the most exciting quality cuisine, coffee and clothing. Ponsonby Road and its food court will remind you of San Francisco’s Ferry Building, thanks to the group of eateries, coffee and specialty shopping. But we suggest you head to the Britomart for exceptional boutiques from NZ designers using NZ textiles such as Taylor and Kate Sylvester, as well as the Australian favorite Sass & Bide. It’s also home to more phenomenal farm-to-table restaurants such as the outstanding Ortolana and the happening Ostro. The coffee wars also rival the U.S. West Coast — but I think I found a winner in Supreme Seafarers, a little spot below Ostro.
Photo Courtesy of Acp