A DELICIOUS DAY IN NZ; A PICNIC NEAR LAKE WANAKA FOLLOWED BY FLORAL DISPLAY

WANAKA, New Zealand Delicious.Everything about the afternoon is just that: delicious.The picnic lunch was served on the sun-streaked and terraced green hillside of the Rippon Vineyard.Vivaldi-on-tape and the resident Chenin Blanc-from-bottle blended softly with the sapphire blue of Lake Wanaka a short walk below, and the big-brothering mountains beyond.

“This scene . . . this could be the Lake Como of Kiwi land,” says Ron Sampson to his fellow New England troupers in New Zealand. “Bellisima!”

“Como’s multitudes would be jealous.There are only 2,000 people here,” says my friend, Aurelio.“Would you pass the wine and the olives, please?Are there any more salami sandwiches?”

“Very de-stressing,” says Terry Aufranc.

“That’s the adjective for the whole country,” says her roomie, Tucker Aufranc. “At least what we’ve seen.De-stressing.”

Don’t forget dee-licious.

Wanaka, a small, unhurried inland town in a southwest pocket of the South Island, has been reached by driving from the west coast over the Haast Pass that cuts through Mount Aspiring National Park.It is a passage of high, rocky walls, numerous rivers – green and blue – loudly excited waterfalls, and sleepy pasturelands of sheep and cattle, ending with a spine of lowland on which Route 6 divides the long, slender twin lakes Wanaka and Hawea.

Lake Wanaka, sparkling in a frame of poplar, willow, and gum trees backing up a sandy beach, is roomy enough for swimmers, sailboaters, windsurfers, and waterskiers to stay clear of one another.Resort lodges, stocked with college-kid employees, set a youthful, carefree tone.From attractive homes scattered across the rise on the east, almost everybody has a good look at the lake and upswept surrounds.And if the annual St. Columba Garden Club tour is a fair sampling, almost every home is occupied by an irrepressible gardener.

“Well, it’s easy,” Olivia Snow said modestly, standing amid her roses and delphinium that burst with health and vigor.“In this climate you can grow anything.”

Probably.Nevertheless, close attention has been paid, green thumbs applied skillfully to produce spectacular results.Like the place with 14 varieties of lavender.Or the one where a home-cultivated grass tennis court is decorated with ball-sized yellow and white roses trained on the fencing, not far from clumps of five-foot artichokes surrounding a swimming pool.

Digitally verdant Aurelio was pleased at the relaxed, unrushed hospitality offered at the dozen properties on the garden crawl, the ease in moving about.“Similar tours in Boston are usually crowded.You may not have a chance to talk to the owner.But here the homeowners are readily available, and delight in sharing the experience with visitors.It’s the way most gardeners like to be.”

“Vegetables or flowers, they know their stuff,” said Terry.

“Yes, undoubtedly horticultural mavens,” said Tucker, “but, for my taste, the plants I preferred were the grapes at Rippon Vineyard.They could pay their way.”

“Self-sufficiency isn’t everything,” she responded.

“But,” Sampson said, “beauty is often in the eye of the imbiber.”

Although the sun is out, the regional godfather, Mount Cook, to the north, is not.Clouds mask the tallest peak of the Antipodes, 12,384 feet, on which the native son, Sir Edmund Hillary, trained for his historic 1953 breakthrough scaling of Everest.Whether shy or aloof, Mount Cook most often disdains to truly reveal itself, especially its conehead of snow.

But the day before, Cookie had let down its guard, and Aurelio pounced.On a morning as clear as vodka, she left her companions asleep and whizzed up Route 8 from Wanaka, disregarding signs warning of speed cameras (“I hope my hair looks OK in the cops’ photos”), in order to point her own cameras at the titan of the ranges and its surroundings.

She struck Route 80 at Lake Pukaki and followed the startlingly turquoise waterway its 33-mile length into Mount Cook National Park (a World Heritage Area) through the Hooker and Tasman Valleys.Hooked on a wildflower called lupine, she expected to see some – “but not to be dazzled, overwhelmed.

“So dazzled by their size and colors that I parked the car and infiltrated, throwing myself in their midst and wonderful aroma,” she said. “I had no idea they grew to such height – 5 feet – and came in so many colors and combinations.Purple, lavender, rose, white, yellow, red, royal blue, pale blue, pink with yellow, purple with white . . . on and on. I married a color chart.It was a floral orgy.

“Mount Cook, unshrouded, kindly stayed open to portraiture, and I snapped away happily.What a day.”

How would she characterize it?Delicious?

“Delicious-plus.”

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