En route to interview the organizers of Gay Ski Week NZ in Queenstown, OutTraveler's Dennis Hensley spent three action-packed days in the City of Sails, Auckland, New Zealand. Here, in his own words, are his top recommendations.
This 5-star luxury B & B overlooking the Harbor Bridge is the most fabulous place I've ever stayed. The owners, Frances Wilson and Stephen Fitzgerald, have poured lots of TLC into every detail, creating a sumptuous, homey atmosphere that reflects their passions for antiques, opera and contemporary design. There was a baby grand piano in my room. Seriously. You know, in case Josh Groban happened to stop by. There was also a romantic fireplace that roared to life with just the flip of a light switch, again in case Josh Groban happened to stop by.
Though I was tempted to never leave Mollies, a short stroll took me to the eclectic shopping district of Ponsonby Road, where I dined at the Spanish-influenced Rocco, indulged in a raspberry bar at the Earlybird Bakery and Cafe, and had the tastiest chai latte of my life at Dorothy's Sister, a cozy neighborhood hangout that's as old-school camp-tastic as its name would lead you to believe.
2. POTIKI ADVENTURES
My second day, I headed to the funky shopping area of Kingsland with Melissa Crockett, one of two lesbian owners of Potiki Adventures, a company that specializes in contemporary Maori culture tours. After turning me onto mincemeat pies at The Fridge, Melissa led me next door to Native Agent where we perused their wide array of handmade, Maori-inspired crafts and clothing. My favorite item was a kiwi bird-shaped wall hanging made from an old record album, specifically the Village People's "Macho Man." Gay enough for you yet? I thought so.
Then it was off to One Tree Hill, a gorgeous, grassy hillside park with a breathtaking 360-degree view of the entire area and a rich and complicated history as a much-prized Maori battleground. We ended our day with a drive through the rain forest to Piha Beach near where director Jane Campion shot her film The Piano. After snapping the requisite Facebook photos, Melissa and I savored the rich colors of the sunset reflecting on the black sand beach. It's an image I won't soon forget.
3. SAIL NZ
My interactive sailing adventure with SailNZ aboard an America's Cup yacht from 1995 started out as a mellow, fun-in-the-sun type proposition. But then the weather started getting rough and our tiny ship was tossed. For a few minutes there, it was like being in The Perfect Storm except George Clooney wasn't there to tell you everything was going to be okay. At times during the downpour, it felt like our vessel was almost perpendicular to the sea but my shipmates and I kept our cool and prevailed, grinding and steering our asses off, then we sailed back to the downtown Auckland pier under a big hot sun and a welcoming gay rainbow.
4. K'ROAD THE GAY ROAD
With assured guidance by my local gay liaison, Nate, I embarked on a big gay club crawl down Karangahape Road or K' Road, is it's more commonly known. We started out with the friendly neighborhood pub Naval and Family then dashed across the street to the bustling, high-energy Family Auckland's preeminent gay dance club.
My favorite stop though was Caluzzi Bar and Cabaret where sassy drag divas serve dinner, clear plates and then put on a hell of a show. The kicker: at least once in each number, the performer or performers leave through the front door and continue to lip-sync for their lives through the front windows from the sidewalk outside, like their in a drag queen aquarium. This leads to some hilarious cameos from unwitting passersby who hadn't planned on appearing in a drag show that night. Sometimes, if the music moves them, a diva will venture beyond the sidewalk right out into street. It's traffic stopping fun…in more ways than one.
5. SKYJUMPING FROM SKYTOWER
Seeing Zachary Quinto on Letterman made me jump off a building. I'll explain: When the Heroes actor was on Late Night to promote his role in the new Star Trek film, Quinto boasted to Dave that he just did the Skyjump, a controlled bunjy-style jump from the SkyTower in Auckland. I figured if Spock can do it, I can do it.
So after getting outfitted in a nifty blue and yellow jumpsuit, I was taken by elevator up to the platform where I enjoyed the amazing view of the city as well as some classic rock songs as I waited for my turn. I was hoping to hear "Freefalling" or "Eye of the Tiger" but I got "Breakdown," which doesn't exactly make one feel invincible. What really unnerved me though was the sound of the cable uncoiling as the jumpers before me took their leap. It's loud and metallic and it gets faster and faster as the person descends. It's the sound of a death splatter, frankly, but I blocked it out and got harnessed up by a guy with a hot accent named Andy.
"Are you nervous?" he asked me.
"Yes," I replied, "but I decided I'm going to stay in the moment and trust the experts."
"Too bad I don't know where they are," he said.
And then I jumped off the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere (630 feet). And I did it with as much grace as I could muster. If I was going to plummet to my death, then I was going to tap into my dance background and do it with good form.
Once I was actually falling, I went from feeling terrified to exhilarated in about a split second. In fact, I got so into my arched-back superhero fantasy that I didn't get my feet under me in time and I sort of botched my landing. The East German judge was particularly harsh but I didn't care. I was having too much fun. I giggled through my landing and for a few minutes or so after. In fact, I'm still giggling.
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