Posted by: JLG | 11 March 2015

All Abuzz

One of the things we had thought we would do when we moved to NZ was to raise chickens so we’d have lodge-grown eggs o the table and set up a bee hive so we could offer our own honey. Unfortunately, the land information memorandum (LIM) that governs what we can do at the property prohibits both activities, so for the past five years we have made do with free range eggs and honey from local farmers. Shocking, I know.

I have never really minded not having my own chickens, since frankly I have no great desire to look after them or deal with them getting sick, or eaten, or old, or otherwise creating some sort of thing that needs dealing with. There’s also no shortage of chickens and people willing to sell us eggs. Bees, on the other hand, are under threat, and people are always being told to do what we can to support the bee population, so we have both thought about setting up a hive somewhere to help chip in.

The only thing that has really stood in our way is the fact that we know nothing about beekeeping, and there seemed to be a lot more to turning bees into honey than just setting up a hive and letting the honey flow out. But the other day I saw a friend nearby, whose husband happens to keep bees, share a link on her Facebook page to a Kickstarter campaign for a newbie-friendly beehive that not only allows you to see into the hive, but also has a special mechanism that allows you to remove the honey without having to disturb the bees at all. You can see it here:

So while that may have solved our lack-of-experience problem, it didn’t solve our LIM problem. So I wrote on my Facebook page that I was looking for someone to house a hive for us, and before long got several offers of help. But among the responses was one from the mayor himself, telling me to just put up the beehive on our own property and not worry about the LIM. Well, if the mayor says to just do it, then who am I to say “no”?

So I have backed the project and expect to receive a hive toward the end of the year. Once it’s here, we can order a queen bee and a number of workers to kickstart the hive, and get a bee suit so we look the part when we go to check the hive. I’m very excited at the prospect of having our own honey, and at being able to make lots of nougat.

Posted by: JLG | 10 March 2015

Autumn is Here

According to the rather odd way that NZ calculates the start of seasons, autumn arrived on 1 March. No amount of explaining that the season should start with the autumnal equinox around the 21st of the month will convince Kiwis that their easier-to-remember system has no astronomical validity, and much as I would prefer to think that we have three more weeks of summer, I have given up trying to do so. But the fact remains that it really is still summer, and the weatherman seems to concur, since the weather remains rather warm.

In years past, March has signalled the end of our “season”, meaning the number of visitors to the lodge starts to peter off, but this year is a bit different. We have started the month with a very busy schedule, including a number of full-house nights. We also reached a significant milestone, with our first repeat overseas guests checking in the other day. They last stayed with us for two nights in September 2013, and they are already back, all the way from Germany. They were meant to stay just one night, but after dinner they asked if they might stay one more. As things stood at that point, we were only anticipating one room occupied the following night, so we readily agreed. But then by the next afternoon we managed to fill two more rooms.

One of those rooms went to a couple who phoned in the mid-afternoon asking for a room. The lady had a strong Scottish accent, and she asked for a room without asking the rate, which made me worry that she would balk at the price when they arrived. I needn’t have worried, however, since they tooled up the driveway in a classic Rolls-Royce that they had just collected from a restoration garage in Christchurch, and were driving it back to their place in Queenstown. The other unexpected couple also did not ask the rate when they rang, but when they revealed on arrival that they are sheep farmers, I knew that the price would be no issue (but the wife turned out to be a vegetarian, which I did not expect at all). These two couples hit it off very quickly, which worked out great, since they ended up having to entertain themselves to a large degree, owing to the late arrival back from a fishing outing of the fourth couple staying that night (who were with us a total of four nights, more on them later).

Speaking of unexpected guests, last Thursday we had no one due in so J2 arranged for the builder to come so that the two of them could inspect the building that we plan to expand this winter. Meantime, I went out with Ashley (my sous chef) to pick blackberries near her place, 20 minutes away. Not too long after I got there I got a frantic call from J2, saying that guests had arrived, complete with a travel agent voucher. I couldn’t understand how they didn’t show up on the schedule, and J2 could not communicate with them since they spoke nothing but French. I rushed back to find that they had headed out to check out the town, which gave me a chance to look up their booking–it turned out that the reservation got entered into our system with the wrong year! Luckily, the guests were very nice and understanding when they returned to the lodge, and they had a nice stay with us.

So back to the four-night stay guests. They were booked by a travel agency that only started using us this year, despite our making appeals to them for the past four years. They are a very high-end agency (or think they are, anyway) and their clientele tend to stay at all the über-luxe lodges in the country. After they booked this American couple for a three-night stay, they started to inundate us with emails about what the guests like to do, and asking us to arrange all these activities for them, including fishing, musical events, hikes, and wildlife encounters. To say the least, they made the guests sound very high-maintenance. Then, two days before they were due to arrive, the agent rang to say that they did not like the place they were booked into for that night and the next, and wanted to add a night to their stay with us. This raised a lot of red flags in our heads (though, having stayed at the place they were at, we could understand the sentiment), so we were pretty anxious when they finally arrived.

Happily for us, they turned out to be easily our favourite guests this year, and perhaps since we opened. They are from the Boston area, not much older than us, but the husband has recently retired from his finance-related job and clearly did very well in it. We managed to send him off fly fishing one day while his wife went on a hike and wine tasting in the Waitaki Valley, and they also went fishing together one day, and of course they visited the penguins. One night while sitting after dinner they told us that while our place may not be the fanciest place they’ve stayed at, ours was by far the nicest place and with vastly superior food. What a lovely compliment! And last night, their last with us, they had us sit with them while they eat (resulting in the other guests, who had finished dinner by the time they returned from fishing, entertaining themselves in the drawing room) and invited me to stay with them in Boston during my upcoming US trip, so that they can organise a cocktail party to introduce me to their friends and to the travel agents that they work with in the area. They seem to think that we have a goldmine on our hands, if only we could get the word out to the travel industry and to the travelling public.

Today is a legitimate no-guest night, so I headed back to the blackberry grove to get the berries I didn’t have time to get last week. This spot is absolutely beautiful, with a little river running through it, and absolutely silent, but for the birds and the running water. In fact, I thought I’d share it with you:

Posted by: JLG | 23 February 2015

Big Plans Afoot

Last year, J2 and I met with an architect to talk about possibly expanding three of our guest rooms (the Park, Nest and Garden Rooms, which are in our annex building at the rear of the property). The architect drew up some plans, and we took those with us to our meetings with travel agents last year, eliciting a great deal of interest, since those rooms will go from being our smallest and most challenging to sell, to being our largest, and most desirable. In the ensuing months the architect has made a few changes to the design, both due to his own insights and due to input we have received from people we have consulted about the project.

A few weeks ago, we met with a local builder (who is also a friend of ours whom I met initially through the Rotary Club), and he has expressed interest in handling the build. On Sunday he came by to discuss some of his thoughts on how to improve the design, which would result in turning our currently smallest room, the Garden Room, into by far our largest. (I like the idea of this, since it’s like an architectural evocation of the adage that “the last shall be first”.) Today the architect came by to move things forward a bit, and we had him meet with the builder so that they can get on the same page. We also walked through the building to point out those elements that we will retain (doors, shower fittings, sinks, etc) and those we’ll replace (the bare minimum).

The next step is to ensure that Heritage NZ has no objection to our changing the building. Having spoken on the weekend with the people who first rebuilt that structure in the 1990s, I have learned that they encountered no heritage issues with their build, so I suspect that should not have changed (fingers crossed). Then we will need local Council approval (should not be too hard to get) and we’ll need to get the money for the build from the bank (that may be the big stumbling block).

If all goes well, we’ll start the project in early June, just in time for me to leave on my marketing trip, where I’ll be able to show off the new big rooms, and the rooms should be ready by October, when our travel season picks up speed. No longer will we have to dread the frequent questions from travel agents about the square meterage of our rooms, and no longer will we have to feel apologetic when guests are assigned to our annex rooms.

I am considering changing the names of the rooms when this all happens so that it will be obvious that there has been a change. My thought is to rename the Garden Room (remember, it’ll be our biggest) to “The Bulleid Room” in honour of the family who built the lodge, and the Park Room (our second-largest) to the “McDiarmid Room” to honour the next family to live here, from 1923 to 1994. That leaves the Nest Room to be renamed. One thought is to call it the “Wilson Room” after the third family here, the ones who converted it into a lodge, but their time here was limited, so another thought is to call it the Whitestone Room (for the local stone, out of which the building is constructed), or the “Waitaki Room” (our District) or even the “Oamaru Room”. Any thoughts?

Posted by: JLG | 16 February 2015

Photos from Chinese Guests

Forgot to attach these to my post just now!

Posted by: JLG | 16 February 2015

Frantic February is Upon Us!

When it comes to travel to New Zealand, February is the big month when it seems everyone wants to be here. We have had more sold-out days so far this month than ever before, and a week straight of not a single empty room. All that’s very good, of course, but it leads to two very tired boys (us) and two very upset boys (the dogs, who clearly miss spending time with us). So far this month we have had a few memorable guests, some for good reasons, and some for not so good reasons.

One of the good ones was our first celebrity rock-and-roller. To be honest, I had never heard of him prior to his booking, but I looked him up and he was the real deal, and I had definitely heard of his band. I confess that I had some preconceived notions about what a rocker would be like as a guest, but he turned out to be extremely gracious, and an interesting conversationalist and he turned out to be a real oenophile and turophile (look it up!). He and his wife are also avid wildlife lovers, so the penguins were on their agenda, and did not disappoint.

We have also had a good string of Chinese guests, most of whom have been guilty of the age-old habit of “forgetting” to mention that they would be checking in with a child. Fortunately, when this has happened we have been able to organise a rollaway bed for them, but what would we do if we did not have the bed available, or if the room they were checking into was one that cannot accommodate a bed? One of these groups arrived just the other day, saying how much they loved the house and how they had been reading our website ever since they made the booking, and looked forward to their stay. They also said that they had wished they could have stayed a second night, but we were full their hoped-for second night. I told them that in fact we were not full the second night, so they asked if I could help them cancel their other booking. Surprisingly, the other place (a motel in Dunedin where their room would cost a whopping $185) agreed to cancel without a penalty, so we got them for a second night, with dinner added in. They were really pleased with their meal, which was Chinese but not Sichuan (for the most part, anyway, since while the grandma is from Chongqing and likes her food spicy, grandpa is Shanghainese and cannot take chillies), and even asked to take some of the leftovers with them to take to their next destination. They even gave me a big hug on departing (not a common thing for Chinese to do) and took lots of photos with me.

We also had a string of Americans, and some of them have been not so lovely. One couple included a wife with a string of allergies (that somehow were not an issue when it involved a dish that looked enticing and tasted good) who not only made my life a bit of a pain, but she even managed to annoy our friend Toni, since she visited Toni’s café for a bite to eat one day and pronounced that the roll she was served would “kill me if I ate it” since it bore seeds on the surface and she is allergic to nuts. Toni tried to explain that seeds are not nuts, but the guest just said “take it away, and replace it with a croissant”, which Toni dutifully did, not even charging her for the more expensive item. But bad as the wife was, the husband turned out to be worse. He arrived with a sore knee from a long hike, and asked if we could arrange a massage for him. Since it was Valentine’s weekend, it was a bit hard to schedule, but we managed it, and he went off on Saturday for his massage at a new facility not too far away. Today, the facility rang me to ask if he was still checked in with us (they left yesterday), and to let me know that the masseuse had complained to the owner that the guest had requested “additional services” at the end of his massage (!!). I had no words to apologise for his behaviour, and tried to assure her that this was not typical of our guests (I hope…), and I’m not sure why she told me (what, was I supposed to confront him about it??) but it made me dislike this pair even more than I had.

If you have not already heard, I have booked my trip to the US (and Canada) for this June and July, and expect to be visiting DC, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Connecticut and New York, with a possible side trip to Denver and/or Houston, and then finally LA. I hope to be able to see as many of my friends in those places as possible, so if you’ll be around in any of those, let’s talk!

Posted by: JLG | 24 January 2015

Summer is Here!

It’s the height of summer here in Oamaru, and in contrast with the past couple of years (last year especially) this one actually feels like summer. In fact, the weather has been so summery, and dry, that some of the area’s farmers are experiencing a bit of a drought. Happily, the dry, warm, conditions have been a boon for local stone fruit orchards, whose fruit has been benefiting enormously. Our garden has been benefitting too, with a record-breaking harvest of blackcurrants, raspberries, fava beans and peas coming out of our little vegetable patch. I’ve managed to harvest a huge number of cucumbers at the point when they’re still good for pickling, and have already churned out a couple of batches of pickles worthy of Gus’s on Hester Street. Ashley has been making great use of our patch on our dinner plates, especially with baby vegetables that have delighted our guests (nothing is as cute as a baby striped beet or a baby purple carrot on the plate), which in turn has kept J2 busy starting seeds and tending to the garden even while keeping up with his other responsibilities around the lodge.

Speaking of the lodge, we have been keeping very busy with guests ever since Christmas, and thanks to our good relations with a number of high-end travel agents that focus on some more ‘exotic’ parts of the world, we have seen guests come from places as exotic as Azerbaijan. In fact, with the Azerbaijan guests, I was a bit apprehensive about them, since I wondered what Azeris wealthy enough to afford a trip to NZ and a stay at a lodge like ours would be like. I anticipated a corrupt oil industry official or something along those lines, and girded myself for a challenging stay. Imagine my surprise, then, when the guests turned out to be an absolutely lovely group comprising a young Azeri man working for one of the big accounting firms, his wife, his sister and his brother-in-law! In fact, they wound up being some of our favourite guests in a while. In contrast, we had a set of guests coming from Belgium whom we very much looked forward to arriving, since our gingerbread house this year was based on a building in Belgium. We even kept the gingerbread house up longer than usual so they’d be able to see it. Unfortunately, they turned out to be a rather dour group who barely even acknowledged the gingerbread, and even impressed another (lovely) group staying at the same time as them with their apparent lack of taking any pleasure in being on holiday. Oh, well, their loss.

Seems we are not the only ones working on promoting Oamaru and the Waitaki District to outsiders (ref. our new website for the Waitaki Tourism Association and associated app). In recent days a group of young and dynamic local business people have formed a group they’re calling Grow North Otago, aimed at promoting the area as a place for other young and dynamic types to migrate to and set up their own businesses. They have produced a video that highlights the area’s attractions and appeal for young business owners who have moved here to set up their operations. (I was a bit miffed at first that we were not interviewed, but then it hit me that I’m not exactly a “young” business owner. Sob.) Take a look at their video below:

Not much else to report just now. I have to get back to the kitchen and put another batch of pickles up…

Posted by: JLG | 23 December 2014

Fifth Anniversary

Under normal circumstances, the arrival of an email message would not be the sort of thing that would be especially memorable. Who remembers when any particular message arrives, and who would even bother to commemorate such a mundane occurrence? But when the email in question is one that changes your life, it takes on a bit more meaning, and the date of its arrival becomes one imbued with extra meaning.

And thus the arrival of an otherwise unremarkable email on 23 December 2009 in J2’s inbox, and its subsequent forwarding to mine, is one that I tend to commemorate. That email, from a real estate agent in Christchurch, set the ball rolling that led us to where we are today. The subject line was “Here’s the place for you…” and it started with this prophetic sentence: “I’ve attached a place I think could be suitable for you. It’s in Oamaru.” We had never heard of Oamaru, and in fact didn’t even know how to pronounce it (I initially thought it would be pronounced like “Wamaru” for some reason), but through the power of Google Maps’ street view function we were soon familiar with the layout of the town, the range of its shops, and decided it was worth a look. You of course know the rest of the story if you have been reading this blog.

As this fifth year ends and we look forward to the impending fifth anniversary of our arrival in our new hometown, it is interesting to see how much has changed here in the time since we arrived in Oamaru. When we arrived, the Lonely Planet guidebook dedicated a scant two pages or so to Oamaru and the surrounding area; today we merit a full nine pages, and in the edition just released a few months ago they even state that Oamaru is “quite simply, New Zealand’s coolest town”. A NZ television show held a contest to choose the country’s “sharpest town” and Oamaru ran away with it. New shops and restaurants open regularly, and their calibre continuously improves.

When we arrived we knew that we wanted to get involved in local affairs beyond the confines of our own little business, but I don’t think we ever thought that it would happen so quickly. I am now on no fewer than four local boards: the local farmers’ market (which I helped set up); the trust that oversees the maintenance and restoration of the town’s historic buildings; a voluntary association of tourism businesses; and the local council-owned tourism authority cum economic development board. Even J2–normally somewhat more shy about getting involved in things–has joined in, designing a smartphone app for the tourism association to help visitors find their way among the district’s tourist sites, while also promoting the association’s members’ businesses (you can download it at or and check it out, though the iPhone version is still awaiting approval at the App Store). This has had the unexpected effect of luring more local businesses to join the association, and spurring more of them to become a bit more internet-friendly and tech-savvy. The development of the app has, in turn, prodded the group to embrace the creation of a website, which I took on, and which you can visit at

In addition to all these things that we’ve had a hand in, other Oamaruvians have also been pushing in the same direction, with a bevy of creative types firming up the town’s reputation as the Steampunk capital of NZ, if not the world, and sporty outdoorsy types have pushed for the creation of the country’s longest cycle trail that terminates at the Oamaru harbour. The national tourism agency just released a video of this trail, which you can view below (it’ll start right before a certain lodge that we all hold dearly makes its entrance, but please do watch the whole thing):

In addition, enterprising young people have made Oamaru into the home of not one, but two of the country’s best craft brewers, several new food businesses, and quirky shops. A critical mass has yet to be achieved, but the days when Oamaru was known as the place where your grandparents retired to are coming to an end.

We certainly thought we saw some unrealised potential when we first arrived in Oamaru for a look at the house that we now call our own, but we never thought that so much of it would be realised quite so quickly. We feel that, for once in our life, we have managed to be on the cutting edge of an emerging trend. Though perhaps that email from five years ago today was right when the sender wrote “…there’s lot’s of potential [and] enthusiastic people would do well here.” Well, we certainly don’t lack for enthusiasm!

Posted by: JLG | 24 October 2014

My New Job(s)

A few weeks ago there was a resignation on the board of the local council-owned business that runs our regional tourism board. The person who resigned was the chairman of the business, and previously had been the general manager of the tourism board until she resigned from that position to have her first baby (in the intervening time–which is no more than three years–she has gone on to have two other babies, which is what prompted this latest resignation). I contacted the mayor to see if it would be reasonable for me to submit an application to join the board, given the fact that I’m also on a few other boards, including the one that looks after our farmers’ market and the one responsible for managing the historic buildings in the centre of town, as well as a local tourism business association and of course the luxury lodge association. He saw no problem, and in fact rather encouraged me to apply, since he thought my background would be of use, and that he would also like me to get on a board that pays a stipend, since all my other work is uncompensated.

I submitted an application and soon got word that I was one of four people short-listed who would be brought in for an interview. I had the interview, which I thought went pretty well, but as I left I saw that the next person going in was the husband of the outgoing member of the board. I pretty much figured that it was an inside job, and that I’d be passed over, but as it turns out, I was wrong and I was told that very evening that I had blown the other candidates out of the water and would be confirmed at an upcoming meeting of council. Before long I was called in for an induction meeting with the GM of the tourism board (someone I know pretty well already), and to turn in my tax forms, and in a few weeks I’ll attend my first meeting.

So that was pretty exciting, but then earlier in the week I was approached to take on another new job, that of kitchen hand at a new cafe in town. Now, to be fair, it was relatively informal, and the approach was made by my sous chef, Ashley, who was leaving her day job to become the chef at this new cafe. The new place is owned by a young couple with great ideas about providing Oamaru with a hip new place to have some interesting food that no one else is doing, such as Turkish eggs, steamed Chinese dumplings, and gourmet sandwiches, many of which I actually recommended to them (and some of which use my recipes). So as the opening day approached, Ashley was getting more and more nervous, and in the end she asked if I would help out on opening day. Thus I found myself at the cafe this morning at 8am, a full two-and-a-half hours after Ashley and a kitchen hand arrived to bake their sourdough bread (using my starter, btw), and I spent the next six hours as a short-order cook, helping to poach and scramble eggs, steam dumplings, assemble sandwiches, fry Thai-style squid strips, prep condiments etc. It was tremendously fun, and pretty busy from start to finish, and I managed to convince Ashley that my way of poaching eggs was better than hers, and to persuade her to switch from a North Island bacon supplier to a local one, who even came by to see what it was we wanted him to prepare for them. I plan to go back in tomorrow and help them find their feet, and then will leave it to them to manage on their own for the rest of this long weekend.

October has been a very slow month for us, with only a handful of guests, but it all picks up quickly next month, so I’m not too sure when my next post will be.

Posted by: JLG | 7 September 2014

Visiting Sydney

IMG_7083It has long surprised our friends and neighbours here in NZ that, with all the travelling we’ve done over the years, and especially given that we now live in NZ, we have never visited Australia. There are a couple of reasons for this, and the one that I’ve always told our Australian guests is that I was traumatised by being taken by my father to see Nicolas Roeg’s film Walkabout as a young child (it was on a double-bill with one of the Planet of the Apes movies) and I begged him never to take me to the horrible, terrifying country where it took place. (If you never saw the film–and it seems very few people have–it’s about a pair of spoiled kids from Sydney whose unhinged father strands them in the outback, leaving them to fend for themselves as they struggle to get back to the city, with only their meagre possessions and an Aborigine boy on his ritual walkabout, to help them.) But probably the main reason was lack of interest, since prior to moving here the country seemed too far away, and too similar to the US, to be worth travelling to when there were more exotic places we had yet to visit.


So why did I go now? It was purely to attend a luxury trade show that our lodge association had negotiated a good deal for, and since it was coming so soon after our return from our big trip, J2 decided that he would stay behind and take care of the house (and the dogs) while I made the trip on my own. 

The trade show lasted three days, but I decided to spend six days to give me a chance to spend a bit of time actually enjoying the city. Flying in early on Friday, and with the first trade show events only on Sunday, I had two full days to explore before having to get down to work. I fully expected Sydney, with its reputation for sun and warmth, to be, well, sunny and warm, so I was a bit disappointed to find that it was in fact grey, rainy and actually pretty chilly. As a result, my first impressions of the city were decidedly mixed, since it seemed like just an antipodean version of Vancouver. Happily for me, and the future of my relationship with our big neighbour, the weather improved markedly on Sunday (naturally, the day that I started having to spend most of my time indoors) and I developed a much greater fondness for the city.

jg-20140831-8594I found Sydney to be extremely easy to navigate, something that became a bit of a joke since my lodge-owner colleagues kept coming to me for help getting around the place even though all of them had been before and it was my first time. Perhaps it’s due to my having been raised in NYC and being used to public transportation, or perhaps it’s because I am good at using Google Maps, but I certainly became very familiar with Sydney’s numerous ferries, buses and trains very quickly. It didn’t hurt that Sydney offers some very visitor-friendly public transport fares, including a Sunday deal where you can ride as much as you like and spend just AUS$2.50. 

On my first day I really didn’t do anything much other than wander more or less aimlessly through the centre of town, visiting bookstores, clothing shops etc but buying nothing. The guy I was staying with through AirBNB took me out for a drink in the evening at a very happening place in a converted old department store before I met up with Malcolm, a fellow lodge owner, for dinner at Tetsuya’s. Tetsuya’s is probably Sydney’s first real world-class restaurant, set up 25 years ago and always winning top awards in annual restaurant rankings. I had wanted to visit ever since I first heard of it, so when Malcolm suggested it, since he once worked with Tetsuya himself a number of years ago, I leapt at the chance, even though it promised to be a very expensive evening. In the end, the food was exceptional but the service left me a bit cold, as did the plating, which was kind of boring, but Malcolm and I had a great time enjoying the experience and a chance to spend a bit of time together for a change.


Exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art

On Saturday I got a bit touristy, starting off my morning with a short visit to The Rocks market (a weekend event in the neighbourhood where Sydney was first established) and a  lengthy stop at the impressive Museum of Contemporary Art. Even though the day continued to be rainy and chilly, I decided to venture out a bit further from the centre, riding the ferry to Manly for lunch. As the ferry proceeded across the bay, an unintelligible announcement came over the loudspeakers. I had no idea what they were telling us until suddenly the boat began rocking and rolling as we hit a stretch of open water where the weather had more of an impact on the waves. Once in Manly, I found a little place for lunch where I had my first taste of barramundi, a fish that I see prepared a lot on Masterchef Australia. It’s a delicious fish, and the place’s chef managed to turn it into the best fish and chips I have ever had. In the evening, in contrast with the previous night’s blow-out dinner at Testuya’s, I decided to try Japanese food at the other extreme of the price spectrum, having an ethereal bowl of ramen noodles at a stall in a food court. Even though it cost 1/20 what I paid at Tetsuya’s, I imagine I’ll remember those noodles much longer!

My booth at the show

My booth at the show

These trade shows inevitably include a lot of socialising, and with a luxury travel show you’d think they’d take you to the crème de la crème of the host city. So I was a bit surprised that the opening reception was to be held at Luna Park, an amusement park on the other side of the harbour from the central business district. One advantage of this location was that it afforded me a chance to ride the ferry over in the evening, giving me a chance to get some nice shots of the city. And in fact the reception was in a fairly nondescript building that could have been anywhere, though the food and drinks they served were pretty good (and no, there was no cotton candy or popcorn). On the second night the organisers invited high-end consumers to the trade show and had a leading Sydney restaurant, Quay, cater a cocktail party for them. Unfortunately, the servers were under orders not to let any exhibitors near the food (even though we were the ones paying to be there), so a bunch of us decided to leave and fend for ourselves for dinner. When we got to our chosen restaurant, Mr Wong’s, which had been recommended to me by many former guests of ours and is even owned by a former guest, we were surprised to find that a huge contingent of NZ lodge owners and managers had made the same choice! Happily for all of us, the food was excellent.

The trade show was held in a converted wharf on the inside of the harbour, just under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Like most of these events, the days of the show were filled with 15-minute meetings with agents from around the world, some of whom were aware of us but most of whom were not (I purposely chose to meet more with new agents, since that seemed to me to have the most potential impact on our business). Even though I started the show with a bit of nervousness (“what am I doing here, alongside all these super-lodges and Ritz-Carltons?”) after a couple of very positive meetings that dissipated and I got into a bit of a groove. All together I had about 50 meetings, and only one or two were duds, or seemed to be, and I ended the show feeling very glad that I went. Now I’ll have to plan to return some day for a proper visit, and perhaps even bring J2 along.


Posted by: JLG | 20 August 2014

Election Fever

As I am sure all my readers around the world are only too painfully aware, New Zealand will be going to the polls in a few short weeks to select the people who will run the country for the next three years. (What, NZ’s election is not front-page news around the world? How can that be??) Well, be that as it may, this is the first time that we are eligible to vote in a national election, so I have been paying more attention this time around than I did in 2011, when after all, all the candidates, parties, positions and issues were completely opaque to me. Back in those early days of our time in the country, I had only ever really encountered two NZ politicians–the Prime Minister, John Key, and our local MP, Jacqui Dean, both of whom are from the right-of-centre National Party, affectionately known to some as “the Nats”. When I met Mr Key in Shanghai at a business roundtable not long before our  move, he struck me as an intelligent guy, who clearly was listening to what the business people were saying, and able to distill those comments into coherent thoughts. I would therefore have had no reason not to support him in the 2011 election, as indeed most of the country did, since he won the election by a large margin.

This time around, I am not quite so sure about Mr Key and the National Party. In recent months there have been a number of reports of misgovernment by the ruling party, and even some allegations of inappropriate snooping by the party into the activities of some of the opposition parties, especially the Labour Party, which is the main opposition party (if you are at all familiar with NZ politics, you may have heard of Helen Clark, who was the PM before Mr Key took over in 2008; she was from the Labour Party). But there are many other parties in the country, including the Maori Party, which is left-wing; the Greens (left-wing); the Conservative Party (right-wing); ACT (don’t ask me what that stands for, but they are right-wing); NZ First (right-wing); and the Mana Party (an off-shoot of the Maori Party, and also left-wing). To add further colour to this mix, there is also a new Internet Party (left-wing), set up by the very colourful German-Finnish immigrant Kim Dotcom. Mr Dotcom moved to NZ not too long before we did, achieving residency despite the fact that he was a convicted criminal in not one but two jurisdictions (he was convicted of internet piracy and violating copyrights, I believe). In 2011 or so the FBI tried to get him extradited to the US to stand trial there, but the raid on his mansion was so incredibly bungled, and so badly handled by the NZ counterpart of the FBI that Mr Dotcom has not only managed to avoid deportation, but he has even become a cause célèbre for all sorts of people who feel that the current government is too much of a lapdog of the Americans (this view is bolstered by Mr Key’s frequent photo-ops with President Obama at golf outings and the like when Mr Key visits his getaway home in Hawaii). So Kim Dotcom set up the Internet Party basically as a tool to oust John Key from power, and he even managed to orchestrate the merging of that new party with Mana, which already has seats in Parliament, so he’s very likely to get at least a few candidates elected.

NZ Electoral Districts

You  might wonder, how would such a marginal party get into Parliament? Well, NZ has the most bizarre electoral system I have ever seen (and yes, I know that this sounds hard to believe when you consider the American system, with its Electoral College and its weird conventions and all that stuff, but just wait a second). In NZ they have a system called MMP (I think it stands for “Many, Many Politicians”) in which each voter votes not just for the preferred candidate for the parliamentary seat in his or her district, but also for a preferred party. So, as an example, I might vote for the Labour Party candidate for our district, since I think he or she is the best person for that job, but I may have a preference for, say, the Green Party, so I’d give them my party vote. At the end of the voting, they count up the party votes and depending on how many votes each party gets, they get to put a certain number of “list candidates” into Parliament. As a result of this, as long as a party gets at least 1% of the party votes, it will get at least one candidate into Parliament. (There’s yet another vote that goes on, but only for people who register as Maori voters; they get to vote also for a candidate in the country’s Maori districts, which are distinct from the regular districts and overlap with them.)

So as we enter into the final weeks of the campaign, I have to confess I have no idea who will get my vote. My sympathies are with the Labour Party in general, but their leadership are just too unimpressive to support (and the candidate for our district has made very little effort to sway voters, since this is a strongly National district). I like a lot of what the Green Party stands for, but I think they are a bit too crunchy to run an actual country. And the other parties are just not my style at all. Regardless, it seems a sure thing that National will win the election, so we can look forward to three more years of the same old thing, only more so.

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