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SUMMER 2008 |2008 Road Trips Part Three: Aukland to Wellington

SUMMER 2008 |2008 Road Trips Part Three: Aukland to Wellington

NEW ZEALAND
AUKLAND TO WELLINGTON

Starting from the easy-living gay mecca of Auckland (coincidentally nicknamed “Queen City”) and finishing in the charming boho capital city of Wellington, you’ll be smitten with the contrasts of New Zealand’s North Island. This classic driving tour takes you to vineyards amid gently rolling pastures, past the relaxing hot-mud pools of Rotorua, through huge mountain ravines lifted up by earthquakes, and then on to the beautiful little art deco city of Napier and the cute carpenter-Gothic gay-friendly village of Greytown (a.k.a. Gaytown).

1. Auckland
Head straight to the leafy, gay-buzzy inner-city suburb of Ponsonby and check into the Moana Vista (+64-9-376-5028), a gay Victorian guesthouse, a stroll away from the harbor and a cruisy tidal beach. Visit gay eateries on Ponsonby Road like SPQR (+64-9-360-1710) for people watching, excellent paella, and flamboyant waiters. The city?s Civic Theatre is an Arabian carpet ride of a building where iconic local lesbian Freda Stark nakedly danced her way to fame in the 1930s. Take a private tour with former ballet dancer Eric Kearney (civictheatre@xtra.co.nz). Hop on a 45-minute ferry ride to vineyard- and mansion-filled Waiheke Island and its gay-popular, clothing-optional Little Palm Beach.

2. Ngaruawahia
This was the traditional seat of the Maori monarchy and the residence of the late Maori queen Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu. The decor in the Royal Palace is a winning combo of a 1940s-vintage cocktail lounge and brilliant local tribal carvings. In March, watch magnificent ornately etched canoes race in the century-old Ngaruawahia Regatta, in which well-built shirtless Maori men ply the paddles down the river.

3. Hamilton
An easy 90-minute drive south of Auckland, this is the town where Rocky Horror Picture Show creator Richard O?Brien spent part of his youth?hence the statue in honor of his psycho butler Riff Raff on Victoria Street, the town?s main thoroughfare. Opposite the statue, sip excellent coffee and watch the beefy cow-town ?brads? stroll by at the narrow and elegant Scotts Epicurean Caf? (+64-7-839-6680).

4. Rotorua
Amid the pastureland of the Geyser Highway, this sulphur- and mud-springs city has been an international center of tourism for over 150 years. Stop by the upscale Polynesian Spa (+64-7-348-1328). It?s a great spot for hot springs bathing, hydro spa therapies, and warm-mud facials in a tranquil outdoor setting overlooking Lake Rotorua. The Rotorua Museum of Art and History (+64-7-349-4350) is housed in the Tudor-style castle of an old hydrotherapy spa that dates back to 1908. It?s an Edwardian hallucination amid the boiling mud with a show providing an earthquake experience. See the faintly seedy remains of the all-male mud baths where guys hung out nude all day as part of their ?treatment.?

5. Waiotapu
This lunar-like landscape of geysers includes the Lady Knox Geyser, which spectacularly ejaculates 20 meters daily around 10:15 a.m., and lesser-known thermal pools like Kerosene Creek, which is clothing-optional one Saturday each month?and where the water and men are all hot.

6. Napier
After a dramatic drive through mountainous hills and valleys, you?ll sight magnificent Hawke?s Bay and the art deco town of Napier. Drop by the Hawke?s Bay Museum and Art Gallery (+64-6-835-9240), run by gay curator Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, who happens to be the top writer on New Zealand design history. View a film about the town?s devastating 1931 earthquake as well as funky exhibits like cyberpunk London men?s dresses. For an utterly restful and beautifully designed stay, check into the men-only Ngatahi Lodge (+64-6-877-1525). Set amid 12 acres of orchards (including a garden with penises made out of native plants), Ngatahi radiates a lovely, clothing-optional peacefulness. Your gay host, John, takes you on walking tours of the Spanish Mission architecture of nearby Hastings. The bistro at Black Barn Vineyards (+64-6-877-7985) combines excellent food, wine, and views with a contemporary art gallery. Its grassy amphitheater has hosted concerts by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Rod Stewart.

7. Greytown
Called ?Gaytown? by the locals because so many queers reside there, this charming little hamlet set among the vineyards of the Martinborough area is filled with antique shops, wooden villas, pretty gardens, and French caf?s. At The Village Caf? (+64-6-306-8814) proprietors Chris and Bruce cure their own bacon and make their own preserves. The Grape and Olive (+64-6-306-9043) is a carpenter-Gothic cottage villa that comes with a fully stocked kitchen, Egyptian cotton linens, an outdoor courtyard, and a roaring hearth in the library. Your hosts, Kevin and David, can direct you to excellent river swimming holes in the local forest parks.

8. Wellington
New Zealand?s small capital (the world?s southernmost) is an artsy Seattle-style city with a gorgeous seafront lined with sculptures celebrating local artists. Wellington was put on the world?s map by local director Peter Jackson (the Lord of the Rings trilogy), and nowadays you may spot the likes of Sigourney Weaver or Sir Ian McKellen. As in most capitals, the gay scene tends to be a bit closeted, especially when compared with Auckland, but it?s active under the surface. An interestingly odd place to stay is Koromiko Homestay (+64-4-938-6539), perched on a steep cliff at the end of a winding, narrow road. Run by a cheeky trio of guys in a relationship, the multilevel ?70s architectural masterpiece has two Yellow Submarine?like guest suites overlooking the harbor. Be sure to make a pilgrimage to the Victorian birthplace of Katherine Mansfield (+64-4-473-7268), New Zealand?s famous bisexual writer and the only author Virginia Woolf envied. Marvel at the claustrophobic interiors that produced the fiery writer, and check out the clothes that made her a consummate style vixen. Finish with a meal and a drink at Nikau Gallery Caf? (+64-4-801-4168) inside the elegant City Gallery Wellington. Its Anglo-Indian kedgeree dish is superb, and in a city that?s often windy and cold, the caf?s sunny atmosphere is a true treasure.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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