Judging from Linda Peterson’s first experience with Butterfield & Robinson, journeying to the forever charming outpost of New Zealand has given her a taste for great Pinot Noir and B&R-style travel. After all, when you pair this beautiful nation and its stunning reputation for welcoming visitors alongside the exclusive B&R treatment, you’re in store for the unforgettable. As she recounts here, the images and experiences have inspired her to start planning her next adventure with us.
“I saw an ad for a Butterfield & Robinson bike tour of the Loire Valley in France 15 years ago, and it has been on my list to do a B&R trip ever since. Biking and wine, how wrong could you go? Life’s challenges got in the way and I finally got the chance to try a B&R trip this year. My husband Mark and I travel almost weekly for work yet our vacations almost always involve a plane ride, this time to Australia and New Zealand for the first time in our lives, just after his retirement. We spent 5 days in Sydney over Christmas and joined the B&R trip in Christchurch, New Zealand for what turned out to truly be the trip of a lifetime. Valerie Rooney, our favorite agent with Camelback Travel in Phoenix was instrumental in making our trip a success; she did a superb job in coordinating our various flights and booking extra nights before and after the B&R trip. Working with her made our lives so much easier!
We had heard about the beauty of New Zealand from others but it’s one of those places where you “just have to be there” to fully appreciate it. Tim, our B&R guide and Garry, our coach driver are both residents of New Zealand and offered insights into this country that only the locals would know.
Our trip began in Christchurch, New Zealand. After a quick bike ride to get familiar with our steeds and our group, we had a guided walking tour of downtown Christchurch. Our local guide that day was certainly informative about her city, but what struck us most about her was the passion and pride she and others we met had for Christchurch and its people. One of the sites we saw was a church that had lost one of its steeples in a recent earthquake. It was clear that these people took the loss of this and several other damaged buildings very much to heart. I took a picture of this damaged church as I appreciated its age and architectural detail, not knowing at the time that this same church would be featured in pictures all over the world, now missing both of its steeples, after the more ferocious 6.3 (Ml) earthquake that struck the Canterbury Region on February 22, 2011. I truly mourned for the people of Christchurch, as I knew how devastating this loss was to them. We couldn’t get into many of the buildings due to the structural damage, but learned some great history, met some wonderful people, had a delicious lunch and some great New Zealand Pinot Noirs. And yes, we still went for a bike ride afterwards. (B&R stands for bike rides, great food, intimate lodging, fine people, wine, and service. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!)
For the rest of the week we travelled through the Southern Island of New Zealand, just 11 of us on this trip, 6 from Canada and 5 from the United States.
Garry, our coach driver, grew up in the Terrace Downs area, and knew the sheep farm owner from their school days! Anybody can tour a sheep farm (sheep outnumber humans in New Zealand by 10 to 1!) but how many people get invited to dine in the owner’s home at their dining room table? It was truly a treat to be welcomed into someone’s home when ours was so many miles away. This couple manages over 20,000 acres of land and sheep with help only during the shearing season. While on our tour we noticed a very old automobile in his garage, inquired about it about it and he offered us a ride!
The sheep farm experience was just one of many truly magical experiences of our week with B&R. It was evident from the start that these people have done this more than a few times! I prefer to use the word “choreographed” vs. planned when describing how truly seamless and stress-free the trip was. There were schedules to keep, places to meet up for lunch or dinner, inns to move in and out of along the way, but we never felt rushed or really part of any “tour group”. Our wish truly was their command, providing everything from a detour of golf that was not anywhere on the itinerary, to finding me a massage therapist for some strained muscles, waiting for me at our next hotel. Without asking, there was another one waiting after our ride the next day as well!
Surprises were the theme of this B&R adventure. After a day of biking we surprisingly drove past our next hotel to find ourselves at a small airport, plane waiting, propellers running, flying us to the incredible sites of Aori Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain at 3754 Meters, and an arial view of the spectacular turquoise blue Lake Tekapo.
That evening, again a surprise, we were treated to some down jackets (in the summer mind you!) and a 15 minute drive to Mount John University Observatory, with the most spectacular southern night skies, clear vision of the southern cross, the Magellan Clouds, and some very expensive ($2M plus) telescopes from all over the world. Our tour guide was from Phoenix, so once again, we felt very much at home.
Our last night in the southern island of New Zealand, Queenstown, was truly a night we will cherish for years to come. All that we knew was we were going to taste wines at Amisfield winery. We tasted some precious Pinot Noirs and delectable appetizers, bought a bottle to enjoy in our room, and loaded back into the bus for dinner, and… [Ed. Note: We’ve censored this part. Gotta save some things for the trip…] I knew there would be surprises on our trip, but this was above and beyond my wildest expectations. Magical. Truly magical!
We have been on some glorious vacations over the years to many parts of the world, but this trip, the friendly people and the breathtaking beauty of the country of New Zealand literally makes me cry with joy when sharing it with other people. It was that incredible.
We had people on our trip who had been on up to seven trips with B&R—we will certainly be taking our second! Maybe France? More wine?