Saturday, 30 October 2010


Well it is nearly 2 months since that fateful morning in September...and how are we doing?

Probably better than expected and there wouldn't be a person in Christchurch and the surrounding areas without an experience to share.

Our hearts go out to those who have really suffered property-wise - although we have the EQC (Earthquake Commission) which is a Government body controlling an insurance scheme for this sort of event - they only insure each property (residential only) for $100,000 + gst.The balance of the insurance must be paid for by the owner to bring it upto replacement value.Not everyone has done this and many couldn't afford to ... this is heartbreaking for those concerned.There is a fund to assist but Kiwis are proud and unwilling to ask for handouts.The commission is thorough but slow and one has to become the 'squeaky hinge in need of oil' plus have a list of phone numbers where you can reach real people other than  relying on the help line!

To those visiting the City of Christchurch - little has changed.A few buildings are missing and there are a few cracks to be seen but the infrastructure appears to be pretty smooth and organized. Living here is a different matter - an earthquake or national disaster is a breeding ground for bureaucracy and departments that don't communicate... but I will not go there - I would hate to see our own path through the maze slowed by any indiscretion of mine!

We are progressing ...but slowly.The guest accommodation is back to normal.The slate roof repairs are hampered by a lack of slate suitable for The Weston House, which because of its Historic Places Trust  and Council Heritage listings (as high as they get for a residential building) has to match existing slate - so it has to be Welsh ... not Chinese or sparkly Spanish ( yes, there is 'sparkly' Spanish slate!.)

This wonderful house has stood staunchly through it all.

Even the aftershakes (2,400 to date)  are slowing ...we are all experts now and pretty good at judging the size and whereabouts.Some are a bit nerve-wracking - especially the 5's - nothing extra has broken (which is good) - the odd extra plaster crack has appeared (which is annoying). There have been media reports of people running screaming from shopping malls - which is true - but this is group panic and quite infectious - and these people have been through a lot and are stressed. Extra damage has occurred in some places but nothing compared to the
main event of 7.1  .

The media , as always , are only interested in bad news....and boy, are we aware of that - being stuck in Europe those first days after the quake - we relied on the Internet for news and it was all bad.I really believed that we would be returning to a war zone - flattened city, troops on the streets , no water or sewage , no electricity . Reports about The Weston House were bad ...but when we arrived - expecting the worst - I was amazed at how little damage we had sustained. Chimneys were all down and subsequently a lot of broken slate - but few breakages , some interior plaster damage but structurally we were A1.We were truly lucky and blessed.

So we are pretty much on target ...but the chimneys won't reappear for at least 6 months... looking identical but 70% lighter and strengthened to a very high rating.

Everyone is well, the grandchildren are gorgeous, the roses are early and the weather is fine.
...and gosh, I nearly forgot...the 2010 Sav.Blanc is the best could I forget that?...
Oh and something else... remember in our Guest Info I said that having sold my 1951 MGTD I was going to buy a Mini Cooper S? Well I have....and it's 100% pure magic ...and it's all black like my favourite Rugby Team.

Let's drink a toast to growing old disgracefully...... in the company of good friends and family....

Sunday, 12 September 2010



(to start earlier!! ) 


Initial reports , from a competitor no less- no names mentioned , were of Peterborough Street covered in our bricks – but they were from the chimneys which aren’t structural but are very prone to earthquake damage.
A lot of roofing slate is damaged but we are getting priority from our slater in return for prompt payment for previous work.
Did I panic ....hell, yes! Len kept saying don't waste a good panic...but that wasn't going to work...He got very deep and meaningful regarding his racing car though... unscathed -  just dusty.
And where exactly were we when we heard , one of ‘those’ moments , we were sipping wine in Portofino  , Italy. Not particularly good (the wine) and far too expensive (everything) - gorgeous place though.
Having established that our family were safe- including our new granddaughter Jola (and they are far more important than anything else)

.......our thoughts immediately turned to our beloved home.

Of course, we cut short our holiday by a month, as you do…and were amazed that after such a huge trauma very little damage was sustained by either the building or the contents!

There is no structural damage whatsoever.

No, I am not about to become a minimalist and repairs are mostly minor but will be irritatingly fiddly and time consuming …in fact it would take less than 2 days to make the small repairs necessary in the guest suites.I hate cleaning up after tradesmen - although our plumber is a gem - even offered to make me coffee once!!! I was so stunned I said 'no thankyou' ...but then I figured he had worked that out for himself!
I had previously ascertained that wine,perfume and shoes were all ok - the wine wasn't really a problem as we had depleted most of it before we left for the UK and Europe!
We envisage being open again for business by the beginning of November ….why so long?…well, we insist on the best of tradesmen- after all our Historic Places Trust Category 1 Listing means that a very high standard, having been attained must be maintained – the Travel Tradeand our discerning guests throughout the world expect no less from The Weston House and we will be working very hard to keep our reputation intact.

I am so grateful that we are all okay and even more grateful we weren't here on the day.. but would I leave Christchurch ...not likely.

I would rather have shakes than snakes...and today was beautiful and sunny and in spite of all the Media hype the damage to the city is not too bad.We have not been flattened ...a few buildings are missing but we still have plenty left....and the locals have become even nicer...

PS ...have you any idea what comes down the chimney when you have an earthquake?
Well it isn't Father Christmas -that's for sure!! ...and to think I cleaned before we went on holiday!

Sunday, 18 July 2010


Well only a few more entries for this trip and then we are back in Christchurch.
I find that my enthusiasm for NZ has grown and our desire to spend more spare time (what's that?) travelling within the islands is at the very top of our 'bucket' list.Amazing how many miles we have to travel before we discover our own backyard.
The Coromandel Peninsula has the most amazing view around every corner ...and believe me there are many of them.The road is good and stopping points plentiful - thank God for digital photography - Kodak must have made a fortune out of this area.
It is quite a drive but we managed it in one day and that included exploration stops and photo stops around 300k and upto 5 hours driving.

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We left Whitianga mid morning and arrived in Rotorua late afternoon - having meandered through farmland and towns servicing every sector of our agricultural economy.
Around Cambridge (which is a gem of a town - gorgeous autumn colour),  we are in horse breeding country - doubt there are many poor farmers here.Bloodstock sales here are legendary and success of the animals in every aspect of horse sport  has been well covered - google can match my information with millions of hits so I will leave it to them.

The drive between Cambridge and Rotorua is leisurely and by this stage you may be getting bored by superlatives and beauty but it is all true.This coupled with the fact that the population is sparse makes the country a joy to travel through - even at the height of the tourist season.
But one little surprise on the journey into Rotorua is Fitzgerald Glade - out of the blue you journey through this small glade of  lush greenery sweeping down to the road - do  not blink or you will miss it - but all my life and many trips to Rotorua I have been stunned by this gem of nature - I'm sure you will too.
No .... I am not going to include a photo - it is best experienced first hand.
And so on to Rotorua - the heart and soul of NZ's thermal wonderland ...where the earth bubbles up to meet the sky.Once again I will leave the numerous websites to 'sell' the destination - I can add nothing - a visit here is a unique experience and it is worth a day or two to explore the delight....we were there for 3 days ...mainly at a conference ...but it was great to catch up with the people  and the city ...Len is very familiar with it as he completed his High School years some questions may go unanswered!
Where did we stay in Rotorua - well at the Regent of Rotorua - more motel than hotel but newly refurbished, good facilities and wifi.
Our accommodation of choice though would have been Nicara Lodge Lakeside Lodge , a little way from the center of town and on the shores of Lake Rotorua. I am familiar with this fabulous B&B - the founder member of 5 Star Accommodation - a marketing group of Qualmark 5 star properties throughout NZ. We also consider Heather and Mike to be friends as well as collegues and the service they offer would make Rotorua  so much more than a destination - staying at Nicara would make the destination shine.
Next stop... New Plymouth

Thursday, 3 June 2010


Well, I remember it as a lovely day when we started but  as we headed over the Taraweras  - not truely mountainous like the Southern Alps but a good road through very scenic country - we glimpsed the sights through rain , fog and sunshine.Somehow the weather did not detract from the rugged beauty and added to the experience.The Napier-Taupo Highway (SH 5) is part of the themed 'Thermal Explorer Highway' from the site ( much quoted as is the Best resource for NZ trip planning and I link frequently to specific areas mentioned in our trip.)We also travel along parts of this route as we continue our trip to Rotorua ( next bit )

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The other interesting area on this highway to Taupo is the Kaingaroa Forest  -
the largest man- made forest in the southern hemisphere.

Taupo itself is a great place to stay and the lake is the result of one of the biggest volcanic eruptions in the world - pick up some pumice (for free ) from the lakeshore to rub out those rough spots on your feet - that pumice may have landed there 26,500 years ago!
We lunched at the Replete Food Company - great food and even better prices - well recommended by us at least and great for a bite on route.
After lunch we departed north - destination Whitianga - through some of the nicest farmland in the country - through the prosperous country towns Tokaroa , Putaruru,  Matamata, Te Aroha. Every type of farming abounds here - timber, sheep and dairy. It is also a great horse breeding area  around the Cambridge - Matamata areas. The annual yearling sales are major earners for the breeders and NZ as a whole.Just a generic Google search under  'Cambridge Yearling Sales ' will give you an indication of the depth of quality in the thoroughbred bloodstock industry here.
We arrived in Whitianga late afternoon - the roads on the Coromandel are challenging but safe and the road into Whitianga would be wonderful on the world hillclimb circuit - if all the traffic was one-way and there were no speed cameras.But that is pure fantasy, so a sedate trip ensued to take in the equally spectacular views and thus we arrived at Villa Toscana .
The owners Giorgio and Margherita are amazing and have transported a slice of their wonderful country to the most magic location in the world - all exaggeration justified.
We stayed 3 nights - it should have been forever.This is a 'chill out' destination- great food area and , if you fancy some deep sea fishing then Giorgio is your man - he also is Mamma Mia Game Fishing and Scenic Charters - so you just have to enjoy yourself - you can't help it!

Not to be forgotten while visiting Whitianga was a visit to the home and business of New Zealand Encounters - a fabulous boutique NZ travel company - totally unique - totally committed to service  and your wishes. No standard plan for this firm - each of their itineraries is designed for you, the customer- totally tailored. I love small, owner operated travel companies - they are user friendly from the point of view of both the customer and the provider. Satisfied clients produce happy guests and memorable journeys . Win -  win - win situation.

Well that is all for now - my catch-up blogs are progressing - you ask for more and that surprises me - but it is not hard to enthuse about NZ as a destination - as I have said before - all this and no snakes.
All we could wish for is a win in the Rugby World Cup next year and paradise will be complete!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


You may be surprised to hear that there are a few regions left in NZ that don't grow grapes and make wine.I suspect that these regions actually brew great beer.But regardless we drink both and on a hot day spent gardening there is nothing quite like an ice cold beer - Gardener's Champagne - you can tell I'm partial....
The Hawke's Bay Region is famous for some of our finest reds Merlots, Cab Savs, Syrah to name a few.The Gimlett Gravels region of Hawke's Bay has more accolades for its reds (plus Reisling,Chardonnay and Sav. Blanc) than you could count on a rainy afternoon. Gisborne,  further north on the same coast , is one of the largest wine growing regions in the country, with over half of its grapes going into the production of Chardonnay - yes, there are still people that drink it and a fine drop it is too.
But we didn't go to  Gisborne this trip - we meandered north to our destination of Hastings and Havelock North through quaint towns called Eketahuna and Pahiatua.Past the wind farms on the foothills of the Tararua  and Ruahine mountain ranges just west of Woodville.An amazing site this is the location of the biggest wind farm in NZ  started back in the 1990's and continuing to expand.Onward to Dannevirke through more beautiful country to Hastings and our destination - Endsleigh Cottages in Havelock North.

But if you want a little detour before you get to Hastings - head to the small town of Porangahau  ( south east of Waipukarau  and can be seen on the map below ) and visit the hill called "Tetaumatawhakatangihangakoauaotamateaurehaeaturipukapiki-
maungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu" all up 92 letters, and has been entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the longest officially recognized place name in an English-speaking country.What does it mean? I just knew you would ask ‘The hilltop where Tamatea, with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, traveller over land and sea, played his koauau (flute) to his beloved . I thought it was obvious - the ultimate conversation stopper - spell it, say it and explain it!

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Back now to  Endsleigh Cottages - three ( two original and one replica - I bet you can't tell! ) wonderful properties all close to each other. Set in rolling country  is on the edge of Havelock North (which is minutes from Hastings) . I can't say enough about the dedication and energy of this Hastings couple, Margie and Denis Hardy , in the restoration and building of these wonderful early style colonial cottages.They are furnished beautifully in the style of their era and equipped with everything you could possibly require.I could have moved in and stayed for ever - it was so relaxing and comfortable.
The gardens are great too - check their website - you will not be disappointed - the reality outshines the description.

Of course I couldn't possibly leave this blog without mentioning Napier - our very own Art Deco Capital.
This all came about because the town was virtually obliterated by an earthquake in 1931 and the subsequent rebuilding has given us some architectural gems.Their Annual Festival has officianados of Art Deco traveling there from the world over - all in period costume and driving classic cars of the era.
All these wonderful places are easily reached in short drives from Endsleigh Cottages - so treat yourself to a short break you deserve it.


There are some wonderful images on this Wairarapa Website with picture of the Rail link showing barriers to stop the trains blowing off the track on the Rimutaka line !
This region is the darling of the Wellington weekenders and a great wine growing region Martinborough.

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The distances aren't great but the area is well worth exploring - to say it is vibrant would be to undersell its charms. Like Marlborough in the South Island this is a foodies' paradise and there are two properties worth staying at here . One is Briarwood in Greytown  - if I say WOW again - would you think I was overdoing
it ? Well not actually - wow is an all-encompassing word that inadequately describes NZ -  its scenery and its charms. Briarwood is a self-contained property in a lovingly restored NZ Heritage Building and I have a soft spot for history - it abounds in this region. Liz Kennedy is a very talented lady and it shows in the interior of this Gem.
North of Carterton , in a wee place called Gladstone, is a fabulous new property Summit Lodge , a purpose built retreat with charming owners Jim & Tracey.
I haven't stayed there yet but I know they must be good as they are Members of 5 star and Heritage Inns and you have to be good to be invited to join these groups.
We would have liked to spend more time in this region - it is very picturesque - and a great region for R and R - especially when you are on a whistlestop tour of NZ .You now know you should have factored in more time for you visit here but don't worry, you can do what so many of the guests of  The Weston House  do ( that's our B and B by the way - just in case you had forgotten) and come back to NZ again and again.

The next blog will have us heading north again - this time to Hawke's Bay - oh dear more wine and food. 
But hey- someone has to do it!

...and on to the North Island of New Zealand - Wellington,our capital City

If you wish to take the scenic route ..then you cross the Cook Strait by Ferry.( see previous posts on South Island Tour).If time is an issue then you fly but you miss so much - the cruise up the Sounds is worth millions in WOW factor - all untouched and unspoiled and differing little from the days of our forebears arrival in these fair isles.
Wellington, our capital city, ofter referred to as 'windy Wellington' - because when it blows it can be so strong they put rope barriers up at the corners of intersections so the pedestrians don't get blown away.I kid you not - forget hairstyles and buy bulk hair lacquer.It's what life in the 'roaring forties' is all about and makes Kiwis great in sail boats!
But take Wellington on a calm and sunny day and it is a stunner.Lovely hills, quaint suburbs,gorgeous homes and around every corner a little cafe serving coffee to die for and scrumptious food.Worth researching before you go and for accommodation you can't beat Mt Victoria a magic little Band B in the centre of Wellington.Bill and Coral Aitchison will treat you like royalty and give you a carpark - and this is pure gold in the city centre.
We have stayed in hotels too in Wellington ...but they are very generic...loo always just inside the door, two conditioners and no shampoo ....and pay for everything! The add- ons cost as much as the accommodation - at least with a B and B the price is all inclusive and no nasty surprises!
There is a huge amount to do in Wellington and well worth setting aside a couple of days to explore its delights.The 'Absolutely Positively Wellington' website says it all with the true humility indicated by its name- no shrinking violets here - it's where the politicians practice their black arts - just kidding - their mothers still love them!

A little north of Wellington - try the  Villa Margarita - a Member of both 5 Star Accommodation Group and Heritage and Character Inns of NZ.This is a stunner of a modern, purpose built property - brilliant hosting ( a requirement to belonging to these marketing groups). Mark and Margarita will make you feel so at home you may never want to leave.
A little further north ( about an hour from Wellington ) is Te Horo Lodge we have sampled the wonderful hospitality of Craig Garner.The location is wonderful and there is a great little restaurant a short distance away The Red House Cafe . Craig is an accomplished cook and a wealth of advice to his guests.
...and so we traveled north over the Rimutakas ... an interesting drive and amazing road.....

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

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Friday, 12 March 2010


There you stand, in the heart of one of New Zealand’s most cherished cities, Christchurch. With its perfectly crafted historic cathedral and university buildings, you are surrounded by architecture that tells the tale and draws you deeply into the heart of this remarkable nation’s foundations. Strolling about the many attractions you might find yourself in the prestigious Hagley park and ask: ‘Isn’t it a shame to be just an observer of such history and elegance, when what one really wants is to experience the history from the inside.’ Turning from the beautiful Hagley park into the private garden of the five star, Weston House, you find your chance has arrived. 

As a category One NZ Historic Places Trust building, Weston House is Christchurch’s most significant historic homestead. Former guest Douglas Rouse describes the moment: “As soon as we saw the property from the outside we were really impressed ... but when the door opened Wow! The interior is exquisitely furnished ... the hosts: Len and Stephanie, charming. We felt at home immediately.” And so your experience begins. If your timing is right you will have arrived for an early evening aperitif ‘Wine o’clock’, or 6pm for the uninitiated. Here Len’s pride in service begins to reveal itself. He has made no small effort to have searched for only the very best of New Zealand’s fine wines, which he enjoys sharing generously with his guests – be prepared to enjoy yourself. Feeling all aglow with your warm welcome you may then delight in exploring this magnificent Georgian Mansion. There is an exacting attention to detail in the whole property, which serves to take you in time to an era of elegance and civility, and for your own private accommodation Weston House offers the choice of two luxury suites – each tastefully redecorated in keeping with the Georgian style and appointed with its own modern bathrooms. 

As will be obvious by now, your hosts’ aim is to meet your needs and exceed your expectations. The accolades reflect they have achieved this and more. Shona Stilwell (journalist and travel writer) said: “ ... an outstanding stay – thank you! Thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the meticulous attention to details and all the wonderful additional touches.” And Tomomi Shimamura (travel writer, Air New Zealand) said: “I cannot forget the wonderful breakfast of warm apricot crumble and egges benedict ... Stephanie is a great chef and knows everything about restaurants in CHC. Also the conversation with Len and Stephanie with fine NZ wine was so enjoyable. Thank you so much for everything that you did to make my stay there so special.”  Beyond the doors of Weston House is a short, level stroll to central city restaurants, cafes, galleries and attractions, and only 15 minutes’ drive from the airport. On top of all the activities and experience Christchurch has to offer, the ski-fields and scenery of the Southern Alps, whale-watching in Kaikoura, and a plethora of vineyards are all easy day trips by car. Enjoy a night for a romantic treat; or stay a week or more to truly unwind and experience all Canterbury has to offer. Many guests return again and again.

How would you sum this all up? The Weston House offers stunning food and wine, relaxed luxury, vibrant conversation and truly personal service – all wrapped in history, grace and charm. With endorsements from Frommers, Fodors and Greenwood Guide among others, Weston House has been rated “among the best in New Zealand”. Visit them here to find out more:

Visit: The New Zealand Week here