Bed-and-breakfasts color New Zealand stay

Travel Weekly editor at large Nadine Godwin recently visited several points of interest on the South Island of New Zealand. Her report follows:

ot to take anything away from the acknowledged attractions of Christchurch, a determinedly English city, or of Akaroa, a nearby village with French roots, but the "attractions" here that stick most firmly in memory are the bed-and-breakfasts where I stayed.

But then, why not? The properties were once private homes or, in one case, a girls school, and so they are a bit like local museums except visitors can sleep in them.

Christchurch Cathedral is a natural starting point for sightseeing in this South Island city. At Christchurch, New Zealand's second-largest city at 350,000 plus, I had arrived on a very rainy night and so already was inclined to move no farther. With digs at the Charlotte Jane, guests might not want to venture out on clear nights either.

The B&B is housed in two buildings, one of which was built in 1891 as a girls school, then converted to various uses until current owners, Moira and Siegfried Lindlbauer, bought it in 1995 with an ambitious plan to renovate and repurpose the facility as an upscale guesthouse with 12 units.

Soon after, they bought the 1930s home next door and, after renovations, expanded their boutique property to offer conference facilities and a gourmet dining option.

They went for period furnishings and decor in lounges and sleeping rooms, but the bathrooms are slick and modern, as is the glass-roofed Alexander Lawrence Restaurant added to the 1930s house.

Guest rooms are on the first as well as second floor of the old girls school; there is now a wheelchair entrance to this building.

My room was wrapped in dark wood paneling, but its centerpiece was a four-poster bed that seemed vast. Other rooms have fireplaces, and a few have whirlpool baths.

At the Alexander Lawrence, a creative chef emphasized foods from the area, sometimes those of the exotic kind, such as farm-raised venison. My choices simply had to be recorded in the journal: ostrich carpaccio with balsamic vinegar and pumpkin seed oil, pumpkin relish and Parmesan cheese followed by lamb cutlets with escargot-herb crust, ratatouille, caperberries and olives with thyme jus.

That was a good start to an all-too-short visit to this city, a place known for its gardens, tram tours and punting (river-boating) in the city center.

The sightseeing circuit starts with the cathedral square in the heart of town.

Visitors can walk to most attractions -- or board the restored early 20th century trams that travel daily on a loop in the old city center.

The hop-on, hop-off service costs $5 for two days, but it is free for children up to age 15 who are accompanied by a paying adult.

Christchurch's own Avon River weaves dreamily through the middle of town, providing idyllic settings for a riverside stroll or a little punting on the river.

The sight of small boats skimming the water's surface is reminiscent of scenes on the campus at Cambridge in England.

To complement this visit to the South Island's largest city, I sampled an equally quick sojourn in the nearby seaside village of Akaroa, population 750, set at the end of a peninsula that juts into the sea southeast of Christchurch.

The Banks Peninsula is small as the crow flies but can make for a long drive from end to end because of its terrain, created by volcanoes millions of years ago.

Its mountains are rugged and craggy, and the valleys deep and dramatic, ending with numerous inlets at water's edge.

To reach Akaroa, I traveled most of a day on those high and winding mountainous roads, using the services of ground operator Peninsula & Alpine 4X4 Tours, and returned to the city in about 90 minutes aboard a regular bus service ($10 roundtrip) on easier roads that hug the shore.

Akaroa, on a long harbor created by one of the volcanic craters, is now home to penguins and fur seals plus the world's smallest dolphins, which are available for swimming dates with humans.

The town was settled by French and English pioneers in 1840 and today charms with its brightly painted colonial cottages and its 19th century shops, churches and museum.

Colors are so bright and varied they inspire cracks about the last paint sale, but no house compares with the Linton of Akaroa Bed and Breakfast, my home away from home, which almost blooms with color.

On the exterior alone, owner Josie Martin said she used 11 different colors.

The interior is another riot, ranging from the bright blue tiles (artistically broken and arranged by Martin herself) that provide trim around the bathtub to the all-yellow kitchen, painted in homage to the yellow kitchen in Monet's house at Giverny, France.

Then there is painter and sculptor Martin, who chose blue for her hair and seems to prefer Miro's brightest colors for her most whimsical sculptures, which dot the house and its grounds.

As if in counterpoint and meant to show some reverence for an 1881 grand manse built by a banker, for heaven's sake, the entry hall and living room are mostly elegant in whites and browns with touches Architectural Digest would love.

It's a kicky place to stay, of greatest appeal to those with interest in the arts. And who can resist a personable hostess who decorates the spillway in her steep driveway with mosaics and attaches red and white tea kettles to her mailbox, one upside down?

Martin said her small Akaroa B&B gets few bookings from U.S. agents, but she wants that business and will pay 10% for it.

As for the Charlotte Jane in Christchurch, Moira Lindlbauer said it pays 20% to 25% commission, depending on volume.

She said the U.S. accounts for about 20% of the business, and agents account for about 80% of all bookings.

Room Key: Charlotte Jane
110 Papanui Road, Christchurch, New Zealand
Telephone: (011) 64-3 355-1028
Fax: (011) 64-3 355-8882
E-mail:[email protected]
To book: Use e-mail or fax above.
Commission: 20% to 25%, based on volume.
Owners: Moira and Siegfried Lindlbauer
No. of units: 12
Renovation report: Two buildings restored and converted into guesthouse in late 1990s; modern, glass-roofed dining room is a new addition.
Daily rates: About $120 to $170, including breakfast.
Room amenities: Hair dryer, terry-cloth robe, TV, desk, large shower.
Food and beverage: Gourmet dinners in dining room; B&B self-service breakfasts taken at shared hardwood table in paneled dining space.
Other: No children under age 14.
Noteworthy: Free e-mail; beautifully restored buildings with all the right finishing touches, plus modern, large bathrooms; some rooms with fireplaces.
Not worthy: No light over bathroom mirror or over desk.

• • •

Room Key: Linton of Akaroa Bed and Breakfast
68 Rue Balguerie, Akaroa, New Zealand
Telephone: (011) 64-3 304-7501
E-mail:[email protected]
Commission: 10%
Owner: Josie Martin, an established painter and sculptor.
Number of units: Three -- two doubles (one, at ground level, with conservatory) and a twin.
Renovation report: Banker's home built in 1881 of native timbers; renovated by current owner, sometimes with her own hands; opened as a bed-and-breakfast in 2000.
Daily rates: $90 for two in double; $75 for two, twin room; $60, single.
Food and beverage: "Continental breakfast," which is heartier than that.
Other: Josie Martin hosts occasional concerts that guests are welcome to attend.
Noteworthy: Creatively renovated house (with yellow kitchen inspired by Monet); a veritable art gallery inside complemented by terraced artist's gardens outside, featuring the host's work; hilltop location commands views, but ...
Not worthy: ... the climb up the hill would be difficult for some. Dim lighting in bedroom; the big bathtub on the second floor is hard to get into.

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