Is it worth it to pay $200 or more for a hotel night?

Maybe your headline would say $100 or maybe your threshold is $300 or $400 a night. I thought about this a lot on my most recent trip to New Zealand because I splurged on a few nights at special venues.

When my Aunt and I travelled to Iowa we stayed at a Hampton Inn in West Des Moines. The staff was super friendly and provided great service. The room and beds were comfortable. The bathroom was extra clean and toiletries were provided. There was a mini fridge where we could store our leftovers from dinner and then forget them. All for a bargain price (thanks AARP and AAA) of about $100 a night. What more do you need? And is it worth paying for?

Sorry. You have to decide for yourself. Is it worth spending an additional $200 a night to have more space (a small apartment) at The Rees overlooking Lake Wakitipu? For my Mom and her friends. Hella yes!

When I was planning my most recent New Zealand trip I had Friday to Friday to plan on South Island. I started with a super ambitious agenda that included Christchurch. My Kiwi friends helped me get some perspective, yet I still bit off a little too much. (I will share what I will do next time at the end).

Wilderness LodgeI finally landed in Queenstown, which is the closest airport to Haast and yet it is still a 3-3.5 hour drive to the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki. As you can tell by my Christmas post on the Fiordland Crested Penguins, I do not begrudge any of the time invested. It was a fantastic experience. It was (gulp) $499 NZ ($387 US) a night for a room that included dinner and breakfast. My room was very comfortable and had a super view of the river. The was the most expensive room I had ever booked and I only stayed one night in part because I had a hard time justifying the expense–even for penguins. Now I realize part of the room rate is because Gerry and Anne McSweeney invest so much in the habitat surrounding the lodge and in providing lodging in as sustainable a way as possible. If I had that trip to do over I would stay at least 2 nights.

I left about 1:00 p.m. to drive about 6 hours to Invercargill in the hopes of visiting Stewart Island. Then I turned around the next day, disappointed and tired without getting to the Island. My neck was torked from driving. I decided to return to Queenstown as quick as I could to enjoy my next splurge: The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel. In February a taxi driver pointed out the hotel and said it was consistently ranked number 1 on Trip Advisor. I was intrigued. The proprietors have taken an old “Dairy” or corner market and several other buildings and converted it to a first class hotel. I called ahead and asked Matt if he could arrange a massage for me in town. It was a Sunday so I thought it might not be possible. He made an appointment for me at the Body Sanctum spa just a few blocks into town from the hotel with Juliana. After the ill-fated massage in the Pyrenees I was hesitant. Wow–best massage I have had since my favorite masseuse Jackie moved away.

The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel is in the heart of Queenstown.

The Dairy Private Luxury Hotel is in the heart of Queenstown.

I arrived at the Dairy Hotel in time for afternoon tea. It was a very proper and delicious tea with cream scones and fruit (all prepared in their kitchen). The public rooms in the hotel are so comfortable I actually did make use of them. Other guests also read in front of the fire in the evening. My bed was super comfortable. The bathroom was well appointed except that I could not figure out the bath fixtures which made for a bit of contortion washing my hair. When I mentioned it to Paul he explained that I needed to push the button to start the shower before I turned the water on. Oh well. I only wish I could have stayed longer. Even at $465.00 NZ a night. Just to have Matt’s exquisite omelette again at breakfast. And to be referred to as Madame.

Larnach Castle, Dunedin, New Zealand

Larnach Castle, Dunedin, New Zealand

The thing about spending more on a hotel night is that it then makes the $290 NZ spent on Larnach Castle accommodation seem like a bargain. Again I justified it with the proximity to penguins. It is only 20-30 minutes from the Royal Albatross Centre–depending on your nerves driving on a windy road where one moment of daydreaming will have you swimming in the bay. The rooms are not in the Castle, which is a historic restored mansion open for tours. The hotel rooms are in specially built buildings and in the retrofitted stables. This price includes full breakfast the next morning but not dinner in the Castle. I pulled out my wallet for the $65 NZ for a 3 course meal with other guests. It includes ghost stories.

My view was impeccable. The windows run the length of the room including the bathroom. There is a short deck too. I could have stayed on the deck and enjoyed the view of Dunedin longer but the gardens were calling. I wandered around the various “rooms” of the garden until it was time to change for dinner. You do not have to dress for dinner. They said “come as you are.” I had packed some nicer clothes and I wanted to mark the occasion of the last night of a very special visit to New Zealand.

View from Room 18 at Larnach Castle lodging.

View from Room 18 at Larnach Castle lodging.

I still want to visit Stewart Island. And I have heard enough about the Catlins that I want to explore there as well. So driving from Dunedin to Invercargill is probably the best strategy. I do not recommend trying to squeeze Invercargill in as it takes some time to get there and then some flexibility needs to be built in on account of weather.

I have seen so much of New Zealand. Just when I think I have seen everything I learn about something else. Plus I have not done a Great Walk yet. I am looking forward to my next visit already. It helps to keep the “I’m not In New Zealand blues” away.

Dining New Zealand Style

This lamb burger with bacon and avocado inspired much photography.

This lamb burger with bacon and avocado inspired much photography.

There is a lot to love about dining in New Zealand. Fresh, local food is easy to find. Gluten free is catered to, although the regular breads are phenomenal so I am happy I am not sensitive to gluten. The eggs are all free range and some of the yolks are so yellow as to be neon orange from a diet of greens. The dairy products are among the best in the world. (I ran the gauntlet of US customs to bring home Edam cheese.) The beef and lamb are yummy because they are grass-fed. The wine, the bacon, the honey… obviously I could go on and on.

This lamb dish was delicious and beautiful.

This lamb dish was delicious and beautiful.

The food in New Zealand is not cheap. Even when you factor in the exchange rate (lowers price to Americans and Brits), and tax is included in your bill, and tipping is not customary, food is more expensive than in the United States. There are no 99 cent deals on any menus. Step out of the mindset of quantity over quality, “value” equals mass, and embrace the idea of high quality, tasty food served in just enough quantities.

Cafe Kohi on Tamaki Drive on a summer day.

Cafe Kohi on Tamaki Drive on a summer day.

Then enjoy dining outdoors whenever possible. And treat yourself to dessert.

The coffee is also an art form. Is it the milk that makes the flat white so special? Or the coffee? I could write a whole post just on coffee, however a young American living in Auckland has done such a good job I am going to refer you to Sedona Wilson’s blog post. Good on you Sedona for capturing the magic of a coffee in New Zealand.

P.S. Hokey Pokey is a Kiwi specialty and means it contains honeycomb.

Chocolate and Hokey Pokey ice cream tastes great at top of gondola in Queenstown

Chocolate and Hokey Pokey ice cream tastes great at top of gondola in Queenstown

Travel While You Can

Three of the Crazy Eights: friends for 60 years since Aviation Club at Santa Rosa Junior College

Three of the Crazy Eights: friends for 60 years since Aviation Club at Santa Rosa Junior College

I am traveling for 10 days in New Zealand with my mom, Karen, and her two friends Lisa and Nancy. They have been friends for 60 years (since Junior College), so you do the math. It has been fun and challenging.  It is like traveling with teenagers (and I am the parent). We all agreed to meet at the ferry building at 4:00 p.m. and at 4:25 they were still not there and I was very concerned. Unwilling to take my phone I had no way of tracking them or for them to call me if they needed help. I had already called the hotel to check if there were any SOS calls. They show up laughing and enjoying themselves. When I say they had me worried they each tell a different story from “I didn’t remember that we agreed to 4:00” to “I knew we were to meet at 4:00 but I thought the ferry was faster.” I do not want to cramp their style, but I do want them to be safe.

I was telling my friend Steve this story and he looked at me incredulously. “Didn’t you think of taking them for a test drive? Like to the mall.” I couldn’t stop laughing. No, it never occurred to me. Nor did it occur to me that a hotel room on the third floor without a lift is not such a great idea. Or that getting a wheelchair at the airport is actually much more difficult and time consuming than it looks. Or that none of them realize how deaf they really are!  “What do you think those insects are making that racket? (roar of Cicadas in background) “What noise?”  Nevermind.

It is hugely satisfying to give them the opportunity to see this beautiful country. They love meeting my friends and seeing my favorite places in Auckland. And now we are in Queenstown staying at the Rees Hotel thanks to Lisa’s experience as a travel agent. Today is my day for writing and they are off on a lake cruise and BBQ at a sheep station. Tomorrow we all go to Milford Sound.

But some of the best memories have been unplanned. Like listening to my Mom and Lisa cutting up whilst trying to answer the trivia questions on the Air New Zealand flight to Queenstown. The Boxer Rebellion occurred in which country? “South Africa!” they cry in unison with confidence. “China” I mumble looking up from my book. They just laugh.  Then they joke that the airline could give them the same questions on the return trip to Auckland and they won’t necessarily do any better!

Or laughing hysterically at a silly car racing competition inside a supermarket on the show Top Gear. Mom and I were watching in our bedroom at the Rees Hotel and laughing so hard that Lisa and Nancy came in to see what they were missing.

Mom, Lisa and Nancy are taking joy from a motto one of the parishioners offered as we were leaving St Philips Anglican Church on Sunday:

Travel before your medicine bottles outweigh your luggage.