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Ricci Harbuck takes her family on a 10-day discovery tour of Marrakesh, the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara regions of Morocco.

The cab ride from Marrakesh’s Menara Airport to our riad seemed unremarkable at first. Then, with one right turn through the arches of the ancient medina wall, we began our ride into organised chaos. Donkey carts, delivery trucks, scooters, street vendors and tourists all competed for any open patch of the road.

With eyes seemingly in the back of his head, our driver, Ibrahim, took it all in his stride; weaving through narrow alleyways and finally parking near our Airbnb. He walked us through the ancient and narrow cobblestoned alleys; four left turns and then two rights. Upon arriving, we were greeted by our housekeeper Naima and the aroma of her lamb and apricot tagine.

The next day, wanting to stretch our legs and craving some adventure, we booked a full day’s dune buggy ride with Dunes and Desert through the Agafey Stone Desert and up into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Driving up the steep foothills transformed my partner into a little boy and tested my comfort levels once or twice. Having managed to climb to a high point, we were rewarded with stunning 360-degree views of villages, abandoned ancient casbahs, and shepherds tending flocks of sheep and goats. A lunch of chicken tagine and Moroccan mint tea was served under a Berber tent against the backdrop of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.

Anxious to taste the local specialities, our food tour through Tours by Locals also proved a great way to get familiar with the souks (markets). Over the next three hours, Amie guided us through the busy commercial quarter, filling us up with olives, dates, almond pastries, stories and history. The final bite was of tangia; beef that had been slow-cooked over hot coals inside a clay urn.

The next morning our private driver/guide, Abdul from Marrakech Specialists, arrived in his SUV for the start of our five-day/four-night private tour of the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara. We set off into the mountains, stopping to explore the Ait Benhaddou Kasbah (known as the Moroccan Hollywood) and spent the night in Skoura.

A traditional Moroccan breakfast kick-started day two, through which we visited a range of kasbahs and ventured off the beaten path. Memorable was the Kasbah Amridil, rich with history and beautiful architecture, which was all brought to life by our hysterically funny guide. Dades and Todgha Gorges delighted us with views of towering canyon walls, small villages nestled in strips of lush vegetation along the riverbanks and winding, desolate roads.

Then, Abdul changed our itinerary. Heading off-road for an hour, we stopped in the middle of nowhere and found a family of Berber nomads living in two caves with their livestock and 12 children. One little boy shyly gave me his hard, calloused hand and led us into the main cave for a cup of Moroccan tea. In stark contrast, the night’s accommodation was inside a luxury cave at the Auberage du Festival in Tamtatoucht.

Most of our third day was spent driving through to the Merzouga Dunes, just 15km from the Algerian border. Our camels were ready for the hour trek to camp. Abdul had joked that after three hours on a camel one is ready for the hospital and, after barely an hour, we wondered if that was true.

Arriving at camp, we were just in time for a spectacular view of the dunes bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun. Sunlight and shadows created mosaics all around us as we watched the sun set. Red Berber carpets were spread across the camp like ribbons over caramel-covered sand. After dinner the local boy band played drums in front of a roaring bonfire.

The tent did little to shield us from the freezing temperatures that night, but the blankets kept the edge off. We caught the sunrise the following day by hiking up the dunes, fuelling up on breakfast before climbing on our camels to head back to Erg Chebbi.

After returning to Marrakesh, Abdul recommended a traditional hammam – Turkish bath. TripAdvisor highly rated Alphais Spa, so we promptly booked their massage/hammam package in a bid to ease away the last impressions of our camel transportation. We entered the steamy cave-like room and lay down on a marble slab. We were quietly enjoying the zen-like calm, when suddenly, without warning, a large bucket of hot water drenched us. Black henna-soap was applied head to toe before attendants donned a scrubbing mitt and proceeded to scour us – essentially rubbing raw every square inch of our exposed bodies. Another rinse followed and a ghassoul (a clay mask) was applied and allowed to dry. We were rinsed again with bucket after bucket of hot water. The treatment ended with a fragrant rose moisturiser and a shampoo. An authentic Moroccan experience not to be missed.

To celebrate our last evening in Morocco, we made our way through the souks to Jemaa el-Fna Square for dinner at Nomad. The crowds that night were crushing, and we made slow progress moving forward. Dinner on the roof-top terrace gave us a safe bird’s eye view of snake charmers, belly dancers and Berber dancers mixed with juice stands, fake Nike shoes and iPhones.

Morocco is a country where African, Arab and European cultures are intertwined to create a most delightful and unique travel destination. You can ski, mountain bike, surf, or ride camels if you are prepared to travel. You can enjoy luxury resorts, ancient riads, golf courses and spas. But the best part of Morocco, without a doubt, is its gracious people.

Tips

Ricci Harbuck is Managing Director and Dry Feet Specialist for Wet Feet Dry Feet Travel, a travel design firm in Canterbury. A self-professed travel junkie, you can find her travelling several times a year. Always up for a challenge, she is next off to Fiji to dive with hammerhead sharks.

Words: Gaynor Stanley

If our Morocco feature has you daydreaming about which kaftans you’ll be packing, here are some mighty uprisings in neighbouring Arabian destinations to work into a stopover.

Kapow!

The United Arab Emirates revolves around all things bigger, better, blingier so it’s no surprise to learn its newest indoor theme park made it on to Time magazine’s World’s Greatest Places 2018 within a month of opening.

Costing a cool $1 billion, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi presents all the characters and stories from DC Comics, Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera in 29 attractions across six ‘lands’. Step through the iconic Warner Bros. shield to enter a hedonistic world where Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman fight for justice, the Flinstones and Jetsons flit by and Bugs Bunny and Scooby-Doo come to life in awe-inspiring ways.

Wandering 15 air-conditioned hectares from ride to ride must feel a bit Truman Show-esque, yet with temperature highs that average well over 30°C and into the 40s for eight months of the year, trust me, you’re going to want to be inside.

Ultimate meets unique

You’ll find the aforementioned world’s largest cartoon strip on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island – along with another indoor themed park, Ferrari World, which boasts the world’s fastest rollercoaster Formula Rossa (240kmh at full throttle), and Yas Marina Circuit - home of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 

Warner Bros. World’s October 2018 launch was heralded as another milestone in Abu Dhabi’s journey to become one of the world’s leading tourist destinations; and, don’t mind if we do, nab some visitor share from its overshadowing next door emirate, Dubai.

One of the other jewels in its casket is the Louvre Abu Dhabi (also on the Time Greatest Places list), which has welcomed more than a million visitors since opening just over a year ago. International visitors accounted for 60% of them, attracted by the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s remarkable architecture and buying clout with France’s finest institutions that see it hosting exhibitions like Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces of the Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre (until May 18). Inspired by traditional Islamic architecture, the Jean Nouvel-designed building features a monumental perforated dome of star shapes that create a ‘rain of light’ effect within the museum.

If you plan to self-drive between the emirates you can enjoy the Louvre’s Highway Gallery, the world’s first roadside gallery, spanning 100km of the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway. Let the locals pass by in their Bentleys and Maseratis as you tune in to local radio stations and listen to a curator’s presentation on each billboard-displayed work.

Anything you can do

Meanwhile the one-up-sheik-ship continues next door, where the USD1.4 billion Royal Atlantis Resort Dubai is due to open later this year along the beach from the original Atlantis - the resort which redefined tourism in Dubai when it opened on revolutionary manmade island The Palm, in 2008. Unlike its older sister, resplendent in Arabian pink and minarets, the Royal Atlantis Resort will be a contemporary design by New York firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates that stacks curvy boxes housing 231 residences and 795 guest rooms in Jenga-like prevarication above the Arabian Sea. Among the host of planned amenities is an infinity pool situated 90m above the ground, reminiscent of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands icon.

Not to be outshone, Atlantis The Palm – where a night in the Royal Bridge Suite averages $33,000 - continues to evolve its opulence meets entertainment niche. Last month it opened Wavehouse, which it claims is another first-of-its-kind for Dubai. Overlooking the resort’s Aquaventure Waterpark (famous for the Leap of Faith slide dropping riders at an 86-degree angle from the top of a replica Mayan temple through a clear acrylic tunnel to emerge in a shark-filled lagoon), Wavehouse now brings guests the rush of surfing in a beach bar meets gastropub setting, complete with artificial wave outdoor pool and indoor bowling arcade.

Heights of fancy

Elsewhere in the Gulf States, Oman also has many superlative attractions and places to stay – including one of the world’s highest luxury hotels Anantara’s al Jabal at Akhdar Resort. Crowning the fabled Green Mountain, two hours inland from Muscat, the 82 canyon view guest rooms, 33 private pool villas and modern Omani architecture elevate luxury to new heights.

Emiratis don’t shy from taking something extraordinary and trouncing it so in Saudi Arabia, the world’s first kilometre high building is due for completion in 2020. The Jeddah Tower will surpass the current tallest skyscraper, Burj Khalifa, in (no surprise here) Dubai by a heart pounding 180m. Those who thrill to new heights will be poised to make their reservation for the Four Seasons hotel or ride the elevators to the observation deck that will cling like a spaceship landing disc to the 652m point. Inspired by a bundle of leaves shooting up from the ground, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture designed Jeddah’s higest rise to emanate the growth, prosperity, and regional emergence of its homeland on the global stage. Indeed.

The Christchurch Town Hall is once again the place that commands attention, not just for the performances that resound within, but the commanding architecture throughout.

Words Richard Dalman

Christchurch has lost many great buildings as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes. The Lyttelton Tunnel building by Peter Beaven, The Press building by Armson, Collins and Harman, and the Catholic Cathedral by Francis Petre are a few that come to mind, although the latter still has a chance to be repaired.

For a long time, the Christchurch Town Hall was at risk due to the considerable structural damage incurred, and the high cost to strengthen and reinstate.

I remember quite a debate at the time as to whether the cost was going to be worth it. I can tell you now that it has opened, it is! I was a strong supporter of repairing the Town Hall and, when I visited before the opening last month, I am so glad I was.

If you are a regular reader of this column you will know that I am a fan. The unashamedly modernist architecture makes no apologies. Raw concrete, stone aggregate-faced concrete panels, copper and glass form the exterior palette.

The form of the building is derived from the internal floor plans of the individual spaces and the volume of space required for each of them, such that the three main wings extending out from the main entrance area create their own individual architecture. The oval-shaped auditorium breaks out above its octagonal concrete base with its paired columns that feature around the building, the James Hay Theatre’s fly tower extends to the sky promoting its theatre function, and the glazed restaurant and Limes Room extend out over the Avon and open up to Victoria Square and the community.

On my recent visit I was delighted to see how much attention to conserving the original architecture there had been. All of the timber work, the Pat Hanly mural, and even the spikey ceiling mouldings in the foyer that project towards you from above were removed, refurbished off-site and reinstated.

There has been considerable strengthening, including the replacement of most of the structural columns, with their new concrete finish exactly replicating the originals.

Where new exposed steel was required it has been generally well integrated into the building. For instance, just look at how the new steel supports sit comfortably with the original structure in the Limes Room.

As well as the restoration and rebuild, the Town Hall has benefited from many modern enhancements, such as the latest integrated technologies, extensive heating and cooling systems, improved accessibility, retractable theatre seating, a full commercial kitchen, and reconfigured backstage facilities.

The acoustics have always been one of the Town Hall’s key attributes. The lateral reflection of sound in the auditorium was a key concept new to any auditorium around the world. I recall the acoustic engineer, Sir Harold Marshall, in a lecture at architecture school telling us how on opening night he asked the audience to be quiet while he dropped a pin on the stage, then he asked for a show of hands for who heard it. To his delight, just about everyone put their hand up!

The original Town Hall design was by Warren and Mahoney, who won the commission in a nationwide architectural competition. It is quite fitting that the same company has led this project over the last three years. Architect Peter Marshall says:

“The re-strengthening and restoration of the Town Hall is a significant moment in the rebuild of Christchurch. Completed nearly 50 years ago, it has been host to a vast array of events, occasions, and performances, and frequently referred to as Christchurch’s ‘living room’.

“As well as being regarded as an architectural icon within the city, it also continues to feature in the top 10 auditorium spaces in the world due to its acoustic performance.

“Completion of the building is testament to the vision of the council, the commitment of the design team, and the efforts of countless contractors who have undertaken this complex project.”

For me, the newly opened Christchurch Town Hall is one of the post-earthquake’s success stories. It is both a pleasure and privilege to have the old lady up and running again – to experience the variety of well-crafted spaces, to see shows and attend events, to remember the good times had in the building, and to now create a new series of personal and community collective memories.

Words Gaynor Stanley
Photography Charlie Rose Creative

This quietly elegant family haven has turned the heads of some of the world’s most discerning interiors critics. Lounging gracefully on an Avon stream flowing by to Mona Vale, the home’s blend of equal parts refinement, equal parts vibrancy has earned it international plaudits.
Melissa and Mark Prosser moved into the warm and welcoming home they built two years ago, after working for about 18 months with interior designer Ben Lewis of Trenzseater to achieve interiors that were new, exciting and unexpected. Correspondingly, Ben’s brief was to create a space that was useable, not precious, and could easily be lived in by a family. The result was a triumph that saw the interiors shortlisted for London’s International Design & Architectural Awards 2018 and the SBID International Design Awards 2018.

The couple, particularly Melissa, had firm ideas on style having built two prior homes for themselves and many more for clients of Mark Prosser Builders. The home demonstrates an appreciable balance of both designer wants and client needs. Well, the yin and yang of Melissa and Ben, that is. “Mark doesn’t factor in at all,” laughs Melissa. His favourite spot is the garage, home to his prized Toyota Landcruiser BJ40, back-up beer fridge and beloved 40th birthday gift, chocolate labrador Mac, so named for Mark’s initials Mark Alexander Cook. Their 20-year-old son, Alex, also lives here, as did his 22-year-old sister Jessica until recently (she’s now moved
out to her first home). Alex then took the opportunity to nab the guest bedroom downstairs. “Not sure why as both his rooms enjoyed the same view over the Wairarapa Stream. Maybe to do with coming and going easier,” muses Melissa.

Working in the family business, Melissa had boundless inspiration to draw on, from fabulous homes she’d encountered and admired. “But it was information overload, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I moved past the point of wanting to do it myself, so that’s why I got Ben in.

“One of the reasons I chose Ben is he likes to push the boundaries. However, we don’t like modern. We wanted enduring and classic.”
Ben then had the challenge of delivering a classic style that was sophisticated yet inventive. The task was perhaps made easier by virtually every item of furniture – bar a chaise lounge in the hallway that was Mark’s grandfather’s and some pieces from Furnishscene (now Design Supply Co) – being sourced new or especially made locally by Trenzseater. Their previous home’s furniture either went to Jessica’s new house or to the family holiday house in the Marlborough Sounds being renovated at the time. “The design was intentionally designed to be timeless,” says Ben. “We used a neutral colour palette accented with strong natural browns and blacks as well as classic camel accents. We also popped various areas with fresh emerald green to add visual vibrancy.”

Ben’s brief was for a full interior design package that also included some architectural elements, kitchen and bathroom design consultation, door hardware, lighting, flooring, window furnishings, and wallcoverings.
An inspired architectural contribution was his suggestion of ‘bookmatched’ Neolith Calacatta Gold marble, from CDK Stone, to meet the Prossers’ wish to upgrade the gibboard wall in the stairwell specified in the original Sheppard & Rout plans they’d bought with the section. This magnificent feature wall – a feat of engineering – forms the spine of the house and extends outside to the entrance porch. The softly veined, greytoned marble recurs in the kitchen and two of the four bathrooms.

The marble’s lustre is about the extent of the sheen though. While Ben loves gloss, Melissa restrained its presence to the occasional black Miyaki sideboard and side table. “We’re not glossy people,” she says. Similarly, she curbed his trademark green, which initially she declared “she was over seeing everywhere”, to a resplendent dollop of vivid emerald here and there. “Ben needs to be seen to be evolving and he has great ideas,” Melissa says. Happy to consider them all, Ben, in turn, gladly accepted her just saying “yes” or “no” to his suggestions. Melissa’s affectionate touch is evident in every room, but her favourite feature of the 424m² home on its 1954m² rear section, is its privacy from the road and the huge amount of space.

The Prossers also negotiated to buy the section in front to build and sell a single-storey home that protects their secluded aspect. “We love it. It’s just perfect. We come from the country and like our space.” Not that the home feels cavernous. Despite being spacious and contemporary, that palpable starkness of many modern dwellings is absent thanks to the classic furnishings and natural textures in relatable interiors. “I like snug,” says Melissa, who also channelled that architecturally by changing the original plans for a walk-in pantry and media room into the downstairs bedroom and plans for an indoor pool into an outdoor room with a fireplace.

Some have queried the lack of a walk-in pantry in such a prestigious home, but Melissa says this was planned from the outset of the kitchen she designed with long-time collaborator Richard Hill of Joinery Scene. She had a massive pantry in her Ohoka home off the kitchen and “found I was constantly tidying away and cleaning up after the family”. Here the pantry runs the full width of the kitchen splashback, hidden behind marble cupboard doors. Similarly hidden in plain sight are the ovens that blend invisibly into the end wall of black glass. The kitchen has the largest island
bench Christchurch Corian has ever made at a whopping 4.2m long by 1.5m wide. Another Melissa specification to get her dream functional kitchen, was that it be wide enough for two wine fridges that open to the entertaining area.

Ben says his favourite aspect of this project was collaborating with the Prossers to ensure all elements of the design and architecture melded cohesively. “Also pushing the boundaries to offer something unique and unexpected, such as the combination of parquetry timber work mixed with banana leaf and seagrass wallpapers accented with crystal lighting and brushed brass door hardware.” Oak parquet flooring, dark chocolate American oak timber joinery, doors and furniture, European rugs and mirrors, flock and glass wallpapers, fine wools and antiqued leather layer further natural texture. “We believe it’s the details that offer refinement,
personality, balance, character and luxury,” says Ben. He certainly nailed the brief for this building duo who may have laid their final foundation, loving their move to town after decades living in traditional country homesteads. The Prossers are totally at home in their contemporary city abode. “For the first time we actually feel really settled,” says Melissa.

Traditionally, hotels have focused on quality of service and product to justify their five‑star status. By product, I mean the size of spaces and materials used – cavernous atrium's, extravagant chandeliers and copious amounts of marble and granite equaled luxury. Also fine dining restaurants were compulsory.

While these hotel attributes can still help to define luxury, there has been a move towards new kinds of luxury for hotel guests. In this month’s article, I will discuss what these might be.

1.Design

Architecture and interior design have always been a way for a hotel to express quality and their five‑star status. Think of The Savoy, London, or Raffles Singapore.

But in recent years, the design ante has been ramped up to a new level with star architect designed hotels such as Marqués de Riscal in Spain by Frank Gehry or the S heraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort in Huzhou, China, and Dubai’s Burj Al Arab Jumeirah.

While the interiors of the first two aforementioned hotels do not live up to the excellence of the exterior architecture, the interior of the Burj Al Arab certainly does, albeit a bit over the top and dated now – but there is no doubt that design contributes significantly to the six‑star status of this hotel.

2. Space

Large amounts of space can equal luxury. It was the vast atrium of the fomer Christchurch Crowne Plaza that was the main reason that hotel received a five‑star rating (the rooms were relatively small).

The Penthouse at Christchurch’s Hotel Montreal is vast and takes up most of the top floor. This is probably the central city’s best hotel room and while you may not use all the spaces in the living area, its spaciousness contributes to its luxurious feel.

Small spaces beautifully crafted can still feel luxurious, like Pescatore’s private dining room at The George,Christchurch.

3. Materials

Traditionally luxury hotels have used the finest materials for their interiors. This tradition has been maintained with many of the new Chinese hotels where relatively cheap supplies of marble and granite have translated into very rich interiors – not always put together in a well-designed ensemble unfortunately.

In new hotels, basic materials such as raw concrete, steel and timber can be used in clever ways to still create the feeling of luxury, as in the bathrooms of the Waterhouse at South Bund in Shanghai.

4. Service

Whether it be personal service (remembering not only your name, but also your preferences for wine, TV programmes, newspapers, etc), or even a personal chef (which is available at Seascape, Annandale, Banks Peninsula), service has always been, and still is, a key factor in luxury stays.

With the use of databases and big data applications, individual preferences can be applied, even at very large hotels with hundreds of guests at a time.

5. Technology

Hotels have traditionally pushed the boundaries of technology. They used to have bigger TVs and better technology than we had at home. This has now been reversed, and hotels have struggled to keep up.

However, the latest features like cellphone entry as at Mi-Pad in Queenstown, and smart rooms controlled by the guest’s voice are becoming more common.

6. Time

While the previous concepts of luxury have always been part of the agenda for upmarket hotels, recently others have come to the fore. One of these is the concept of “having time”.

In our busy world, time has become a luxury. Time to relax and not be bothered; time to think and not have to react; time spent with people we care about and love.

What do hotels offer that can allow us to take our time? Very late and flexible breakfasts so we can sleep in, is one idea. Instead of a breakFAST, maybe a breakSLOW!

I think that flexibility is the key to allowing guests to live to the time zone they feel like.

7. Seclusion

Along with time, seclusion can be a new luxury. Getting away from the world – no cellphone coverage or emails can, surprisingly, be a luxury! New Zealand is perfect for that as there are so many remote areas.

Seascape is so secluded it takes 40 minutes by four-wheel drive to get there from Annandale. You are the only guests in the whole of the bay, and the only connection to the outside world is a satellite phone (for emergencies).

8. Pureness

For tourists who live in polluted cities such as London or Beijing, pure air, water and soil can be a luxury. In New Zealand we have it all (but perhaps not as much as what we are known for overseas). This is a concept we are promoting to the world and they are believing it – we now need to make sure we deliver.

Te Waonui Forest Retreat in Franz Josef is a true eco-hotel and offers the “pure” experience in five‑star luxury. Experiencing virgin rainforest at this hotel, from your guest room or restaurant balcony, can be a priceless luxury.

In New Zealand, we have the ability to create hotels that have the three new luxuries for very little cost. And the world wants it. Bring it on!

If Christmas leaves you wistful for a winter wonderland, perhaps it’s time to put a visit to the official hometown of Santa Claus in Finnish Lapland on your wish list.

Words Gaynor Stanley

Contrary to popular belief, Santa does not reside at the North Pole. His original home is a closely guarded secret in the far northern fells of Finland, but, in 1985, he set up headquarters to welcome visitors every day of the year at Santa Claus Village, located right on the Arctic Circle just a few kilometres north of the small city of Rovaniemi. The big man in red receives half a million visitors annually, from all corners of the globe and, as you’d expect, the numbers snowball as the chocolates disappear from the advent calendars.

Festive fever starts to peak from a month before Christmas when locals and tourists gather in the central square of Santa Claus Village for the annual Grand Opening of the Christmas Season. The traditional ceremony reminds us of the Christmas message of goodwill, sharing and caring, and the elves and local artists put on a festive concert that culminates in Santa Claus’s speech.

One of the most hectic days on the festive calendar is December 23, which marks the culmination of the year’s preparations with the Santa is on his Way event drawing huge crowds of well-wishers to cheer on the sleigh’s departure and a global television audience.

What to expect

At Christmas time, daylight hours are few, while snowfall is vast, which makes for a concentrated daily dose of magical activities. Imagine dashing through the snow on sleighs pulled by huskies or reindeer through trees cloaked in white. Or a family snowmobile safari in the blue twilight of the Polar Night to the barren fells high above the treeline, the kids astride their own pint-sized snowmobiles. You might also learn to drive a reindeer – at ground level (flying skills take centuries to master). And those are just the warm-up acts.

The main attraction for anyone besotted with Christmas is spellbinding encounters with Santa and his elves. You’ll be served by elves at the Santa Claus Main Post Office, operated by Finland’s national postal service to handle the avalanche of Dear Santa letters that arrives each year (15 million from 198 countries since 1985). Tip: Make sure to mail your Christmas cards here to brand them with a unique ‘look-at-me’ Arctic Circle postmark. You can help the elves make traditional Christmas gingerbread or groom Santa’s reindeers ready for their annual flight around the globe. The kids can even be enrolled at Elf School to learn the most essential lessons of being an elf. No doubt the kids will forever cherish the memory of descending the long underground tunnel into Santas’s home cavern for a private audience in his office.

Steady the schmaltz

Now, if all this jolliness is provoking a touch of the ‘Bah! Humbug!’, balance your itinerary experiencing some of these other sensational Rovaniemi experiences.

1. The spectacular Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, are visible in and around Rovaniemi from mid-August until early April. A Christmas visit has the bonus of the soft blue twilight known as the Polar Night, which lasts from mid-November to mid-January. Sun and longer days return in February. Go Aurora spotting the traditional way by donning some snowshoes or cross-country skis.

2. Stay in an extraordinary hotel. The Arctic Snowhotel in Rovaniemi is made entirely of snow and ice while glass igloos promise romantic Northern Lights viewing at Snowman World Glass Resort or Santa’s Igloos. Check-in for designer style in the treetops at Arctic Treehouse Hotel or the luxury hotel voted Finland’s best at Rovaniemi’s Arctic Light Hotel.

3. Cultural attractions abound in the creative city of Rovaniemi. Visit the Korundi House of Culture housing the Chamber Orchestra of Lapland and Rovaniemi Art Museum, containing one of Finland’s finest collections of modern art. The Arktikum Museum attracts as much for its arctic nature exhibits as the striking 172-metre-long glass tunnel that leads to it from Ounasjoki River. Between December and April, its windows offer a spectacular view of long-distance skaters and skiers gliding across the frozen river.

4. Architectural gems. Pilke Science Center is an example of ecological wooden construction at its best and a showpiece of Finnish architecture. World-renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto had a major influence on Rovaniemi designing several buildings (the library still stands) along with the distinctive town plan, known as the Reindeer Antler, in 1945.

5. Finland is synonymous with sauna and there will be ample opportunities to indulge, but at the Arctic Snowhotel even the sauna is made from snow and ice. Only the sauna benches are made from wood. The thick steam of the stove keeps the temperature high, even though the snowy walls radiate cold.

Fin facts

If taking the children to Finland is pushing your sled too hard, they can always send a letter to Santa: Santa Claus’ Main Post Office, Santa Claus Village Rovaniemi, Tähtikuja 1, 96930 Arctic Circle, Finland.

The typical daytime temperature in December is -20 to -10 degrees Celsius.

Rovaniemi, population 60,000, was almost completely destroyed in World War II. In 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, came to witness the rebuilding process and wanted to visit the Arctic Circle. Officials built a cabin eight kilometres north of the city, which still stands today next to the Santa Claus Main Post Office.

There are more reindeer in Lapland than sheep. While they all have an owner, they roam free and every visitor is bound to have multiple encounters – even on the dinner menu.

In Finland, Christmas Eve is the main event of the holidays, and the night Santa comes with his presents. It is spent with the family, decorating the tree, drinking “glögi” (mulled wine) and doing the quintessential Finnish thing, bathing in a Christmas sauna. A visit to Christmas Mass at midnight is customary for many.

There’s not a cloud in the sky, the heat is up and you’re ready to emerge, but where to go? We hunted high and low for places worthy of your time in the sun.

Words Gaynor Stanley

 

Warehouse chic in Dunedin

New life continues to be breathed into the splendid heritage buildings of Dunedin’s Warehouse Precinct. Built to house companies riding high on the Otago gold rush, over the past couple of years

these historic gems have been revived and gentrified to attract creative workspaces and ‘it’ places to eat like Vogel St Kitchen, Precinct Food and Taste Nature. Talk of the town over the winter months was restaurant newcomer Moiety taking up residence in the former Terminus Hotel. Diners are flocking to enjoy Sam Gasson and Kim Underwood’s five-course menu unpretentiously plating the best of local produce (venison tartare anyone?) in an intimate dining room stripped back to the building’s original brick, steel and hefty beams.

Coming very soon to Vogel St in the Warehouse Precinct is Kind Grocer, a plant-based grocer, deli and herbal dispensary.

For more warehouse architecture done with thoughtful attention to detail, you can book to stay right upstairs in a one- or two-bedroom loft-style apartment at The Terminus.

Elsewhere in the Terminus Hotel building you’ll find Brendan Seal making wine. Yes, actually pressing grapes and cellaring right on the premises. When not winemaking for Chard Farm, Mt Difficulty and Mt Edward, Brendan has finessed pinot noirs and aromatic whites in California, Oregon and Alsace.  Observing the trend to urban wineries in cities like Portland and Melbourne, with similarly exceptional winemaking regions in their backyards, Brendan decided the concept was ideal for Dunedin.  After trialling a pop-up venture, URBN VINO Project has now established a permanent home in the historic pub to craft small parcel, single vineyard wines from Central Otago. Visit the new cellar door open Saturdays from 1-5pm or by appointment, or try an URBN VINO wine at Ombrellos Kitchen & Bar, NOVA or Vogel St Kitchen.

Speaking of Ombrellos, this much-loved Dunedin eatery is poised to open a new venue underneath Petri Dish on Stafford St.

 

Southern Lakes stars

We didn’t need another excuse to take the spectacular 40-minute drive up Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy but the Full Monty has us planning our next trip. This fully-clothed experience is a gelato sundae served in a waffle cup with raspberries and organic chocolate chips on top. The gelato is just one of many temptations at Mrs Woolly’s General Store, where you can furnish a picnic from fresh local meats and produce and breads, cookies and pastries, all made in-house.

Definitely don’t limit yourself to a day trip though when Camp Glenorchy and Mrs Woolly’s Campground are new at the head of the lake too.  Glampers can bunker down in one of eight canvas tents that fling open their flaps for the summer season this month. Each features a king, queen or two twin beds, fresh linens, a carpet, cushioned chairs, and coffee and fresh pastries delivered each morning.  For a family camping experience that’s way more ritz than rustic, then Camp Glenorchy offers en suite bathrooms and designer interiors in quirky cabins rivalling the Humboldt Mountains backdrop for eye candy.  You’ll sleep even sounder knowing Camp Glenorchy is the country’s first net zero energy use visitor accommodation and that all profits from each of these associated endeavours are directed back into a community trust.

Eichardt’s Bar in Queenstown was crowned Asia & Pacific’s Best Hotel Bar in this year’s Tales of the Cocktail Foundation Awards, so make sure you peruse the cocktail list before ordering your go-to glass of Bollinger.

Following the bad luck of a fire in August, the hidden away gem that is Ode Wanaka expects to reopen later in October and has just been named as a finalist for Cuisine’s Good Food Awards (along with neighbours Bistro Gentil and Kika). Serving the best of local organic produce in a three- or eight-course menu alongside a full organic and biodynamic wine list and locally distilled spirits.

 

New horizons in Christchurch

It’s now been more than a year since Original Sin began tempting us back to The Terrace, soon followed by the cocktail lounge Kong. Fast-forward to today and the choice is all yours – Craft Embassy, Botanic, Terrace Tavern, Bangalore Polo Club, Amaterrace Teppanyaki, Fat Eddie’s and Amazonita, all injecting new blood into the old ‘strip’. If you haven’t yet ventured to explore the precinct’s laneways and stairwells, you’ll find the vibe these days is much more ‘grown up’ with some very glamorous fitouts, serious kitchens and striking architecture embracing the Avon River outlook.  We wait with bated breath for Chiwahwah to add Mexican to the menu options… any day now.

And after a year and a half in development, the new Hoyts multiplex complex EntX Entertainment Centre opened September 28 to enliven the prime Colombo and Lichfield street corner with seven cinemas and 13 eateries.

The southern end of town is also getting some serious love from the hospitality sector as the city rebuilds. Blink-and-you’d-miss-it Welles Street is becoming quite the hospo hub with its namesake pub where the beers rotate but the mezze and rotisserie chook are consistently flavour-packed. Next door is Bootleg BBQ Co and along the street it’ll be double delights when Auckland fave Burger Burger moves in with Supreme Supreme at the end of the year to introduce Cantabs to its slow-cooked meats, vegan specialties and sustainable ethos.

While you weren’t paying attention, Sydenham has become something of a foodie hotspot too. 5th Street (Elgin Street) took out the gong for Outstanding New Establishment of the Year in the recent Christchurch Hospitality Awards, as voted by industry peers. Its older sister across the road, Hello Sunday, claimed the People’s Choice award and was a finalist in the Outstanding Café category, along with newcomer Southside Social (Wordsworth Street) – abrought to you by Eaton Drink Co, which has added this delicious daytime eatery to its catering operations and promises a garden bar this spring.  Over on Colombo Street, The Fermentist was in the running for Outstanding Ambience and Design but its inexpensive wholesome food, kombuchas and craft ales and garden are even more compelling reasons to visit. And the feline inclined should book in for an hour-long cuppa with a side of furry snuggles at the cat-café-cum-adoption-agency, Catnap, just across the street.

And if that’s whet your appetite for exploring the far reaches of our city, set your GPS for Roydvale Ave in Burnside to enjoy Strange Bandit, the second venture by celebrated Moorhouse Avenue barista Luciano Marcolino. Go east to discover the organic deli delights of BearLion Foods in New Brighton, head up Mount Pleasant to the Summit Road and stupendous views of My Coffee at Hornbrook, or drink in the harbour view from the rooftop bar at Eruption Brewing in Lyttelton.

Been there, done that? Keep your itineraries fresh visiting these rising stars or the old favourites having another moment in the sun.

Perth 

The mining boom drove a swag of swanky new hotels, both high-end and hip, and a host of new shopping and restaurant precincts. While mining has waned, the hotels and visitors keep coming to a revamped city boosted by new non-stop flights between Perth and Europe. Much of the city’s transformation stems from the $580-million redevelopment of a huge CBD block around Cathedral Square where several heritage State Buildings had sat unused for 20 years. Then COMO The Treasury took up residence in three of the 140-year-old buildings and promptly won every award going, including #2 Best Hotel in the World on the prestigious Conde Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards 2016. It remains the only Australian hotel on the Top 50 list, but Perth travellers are spoilt for choice when it comes to luxury lodgings.  The design-driven Alex Hotel in Northbridge was another trendsetter and has since been joined, among others, by The Melbourne Hotel, another boutique heritage revival; the Westin Perth and InterContinental, along Hay St from The Treasury; and Crown Towers Perth across the Swan River. More international heavyweights like Hilton’s DoubleTree and Ritz Carlton open later this year and big investment is now planned to re-energise idyllic Scarborough Beach and Fremantle.

For retail therapy and top eats head to the State Buildings, King Street Precinct in the city’s West End or Northbridge.

 

Lisbon

It’s been dubbed Europe’s new capital of cool and plenty are heading Lisbon’s way attracted by its chilled blend of big little city charm. Some come for the culture, its hilly coastal beauty best explored by trams, funiculars and the Santa Justa elevator; others to surf, shop, admire the architecture, or indulge in the food (Pasteis De Belem, famed for its Portugese Tarts, was TripAdvisor’s most reviewed restaurant globally last year – be prepared to queue for one of 23,000 magnetic morsels made daily). Everyone is welcomed by fashionable, creative inhabitants enjoying living in the city of the moment. And, compared with much of Europe, Lisbon has the bonus of being inexpensive.

Also consider Belgium: the past four years’ WWI commemorations have put the spotlight on the Flanders Fields battlegrounds and a wealth of beautiful, yet unsung nearby Flemish cities like Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp and Brussels.

 

La Paz

At 3,640 metres above sea level, it’s little wonder that La Paz feels so other worldly.

To say that La Paz is hustling and bustling would be an almighty understatement; the constantly frantic nature of this Bolivian city is often too much to handle. But if you can stick it out, there are serious rewards to be reaped.

There’s really no surmising this incredible destination, where an ancient culture that predates the Incas meets modern South American living, so get amongst it! Visit the Witches’ market, watch some wrestling cholitas, sample the local culinary delights and round off a manic day of exploring with a famed Bolivian spirit, such as singani. When it comes to getting around La Paz, let us recommend Mi Teleférico, the world’s longest and highest urban cable car network.

This South American must-see certainly delivers high altitude and high intensity, so don’t forget to breathe.

An exclusive destination in the best sense of the word, La Paz flies under the tourist radar more for its challenging geography, than its high prices.

 

Seoul

Rest well before your trip to Seoul because this is the non-stop city that will keep you intrigued 24 hours a day.

From an early morning palace tour to admiring the numerous galleries, in between each stop you’re sure to spend much time gazing up at the most spectacular architecture. When the sun goes down behind Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park and City Hall, vodka-like drinks called Soju will recharge your batteries before you take on the Namdaemun night markets. If you’re still standing, no trip to this diverse city would be complete without blasting out a few karaoke favourites in a self-service noraebang or hitting the plentiful dancefloors of either Itaewon or Hongdae.

Seoul is just as modern as it is traditional and as natural as it is cosmopolitan. This forward-thinking and most dynamic destination, will have you returning time and time again.

Don’t miss: South Korea’s second-largest city Busan, a port beauty attracting plenty of attention for its mountains, beaches, hot springs and food.

 

Time to revisit

Since the opening of the look-at-me Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore seems to have shed its safe and sterile persona to offer visitors a far more edgy experience (read Kate Preece’s Singapore experience page 20).

It’s got some of the most incredible attractions in the world, but since the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, the world’s visitors have stayed away big time.  Over the past year or two a lot of effort has been going in to allay security fears (especially at Egypt’s airports and museums) and incentivise tourists’ return. Bear in mind MFAT official advice that it considers Egypt high risk because an ongoing threat of terrorism throughout the country, including in Cairo.

safetravel.govt.nz/egypt

Rugby World Cup 2019, Tokyo Olympics 2020; more Michelin 3-star restaurants than anywhere else in the world... Need we say more?

 

Faster growing than old man’s beard. So powerful it can eliminate your power bill. Able to leap the New Zealand Building Code in a single bound. It’s Superhome – and it has the power to raise home standards nationwide.
Words Gaynor Stanley

A campaign to improve standards in New Zealand home building is fast gaining traction with both the industry and the public seeking warmer, more sustainable homes with greatly reduced running costs. Christchurch architectural designer Bob Burnett founded the Superhome Movement when his post-quakes experience “started me thinking”.

Forced from the new and highly sustainable Huntsbury family home he’d designed with his wife Shizuka Yasui (registered architect, Japan) into substandard rentals, they witnessed their young children’s health quickly deteriorate. “We had to clean the mould off the furniture when we moved out,” Bob says. “We’ve got a million unhealthy homes in New Zealand,” says Bob, citing Building Research Association of New Zealand’s four-yearly housing survey that reports more than 50 per cent of homes have evident mould; more again would have hidden mould.

In Christchurch, 90% of people surveyed by the Council said their homes were too cold. The issue, he says, is that our Building Code standards are decades behind the UK and Europe – “even Australia is beating us and it’s a warmer country” – and that almost all (98%) New Zealand homes are built to meet the minimum code requirements, whether they are low-budget houses or those at the highest end of the market. “The building code really needs to change, standards need to be triple where we are, at least double.” “We’re building 30-year-old technology. Would we be happy driving Ford Escorts and Morris Minors? No, we want the air bags and we want the gadgets in the car, but we don’t think about our houses the same way. Instead, it’s ‘how big a house can I get for how small a cost?’.”

Since launching the movement in late 2015, Bob has recruited more than 150 builders, designers and suppliers similarly committed to delivering healthier, more sustainable homes. He’s also gained the support of organisations like EECA (Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority), Christchurch City Council, the New Zealand Green
Building Council and independent research, testing and consulting organisation BRANZ. His practice, Bob Burnett Architecture, built New Zealand’s first 10-Homestar homes in Church Square, Addington (one of which, pictured opposite, now functions as his office). Bob opened these to the public – along with six innovative Christchurch
homes from other builders and designers – for the first Superhome Tours in 2016, deliberately scheduled in winter so visitors could feel the warmth of the homes.

“Our aim is to raise public awareness about the dangers of building to the Building Code minimum standards and
dispel the myth that building better homes is too expensive or unachievable.” The movement is appreciably gathering momentum with a public hungry for information. This June’s tours attracted around 10,000 visitors to 12 homes across three weekends – a threefold increase on the previous year.

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