New Zealand – March 11, 2016

The plan is to meet Martha at nine o’clock. Joss and I scurry, leaving the Berry Farm in a bit of a rush. There she is, sitting at the coffee shop, an impossible surprise. She’s traveling with a guy named Bill, doing some horseback riding and fishing for two weeks in Wanaka.

The A&P show, a New Zealand version of a county fair, spreads over a couple grassy acres. We pass along long rows of booths with all manner of item to promote or sell, some corporate, some purely homemade. Here, let your preschooler handle a miniature front-end loader! Big, shiny ag equipment looms above the lowly exhibitors, as this is predominantly a farming community. The hipster and retiree contingents are also very much in evidence. No retired hipsters, however.

There’s a ring where equestrian events are taking place. “Next up is Obama, ridden by Chelsea McIntosh.” At the far end is a shed where the flowers and vegetables are judged. The walls are covered with classrooms’ worth of kids’ artwork, which lends the room a bright and antic feeling. Sculptures made of vegetables by schoolchildren, mostly wilting zucchini monsters, sport awards. The blue ribbon for the most mutant vegetable goes to two intertwined miniature carrots. Both of us are dazzled by the abundance and the good humor at the fair, but after a couple strategic purchases we take our leave. The second leg of the journey to Milford Sound lies ahead.

Martha and Bill have told us about the oldest hotel in New Zealand, the Cardrona Hotel, that’s on our way to Te Anau. It serves a lunch to reckoned with. The hotel, from the 1860s, is a one-story building of tan clapboard outlined in brown with HOTEL CARDRONA in big block letter above the windows. Out back is a beautiful, well-tended garden with picnic tables in the shade. We order the Ploughman’s Platter, a two-person meat-and-cheese board that satisfies completely. Ginger beer straight from the tap completes. Prince Harry stopped there for bangers and mash in 2015.

We push on. The drive is wearying, another twisty, zigzag trip under unassailable skies. Our destination is the Dock Bay Lodge, an elaborate B&B beautifully sited in the late afternoon sun. It’s quite a grand home with the staircase to prove it; kind of nouveau on the outside, but inside has thick wood details and spectacular views. Dawn, the omnicapable hostess, sits us down and organizes our next couple days. We have dinner reservations both nights. Life is good.



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