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May 3, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                     Rotorua, NZ

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Kia ora! (Thatís "Welcome!" in Maori.) This week travel back in time without leaving the luxuries of the modern world, as we check into one of the most amazing and exclusive lodges in the world: Treetops. There we explore some of New Zealandís beauty, culture and adventure sports! Boy, are you going to love this place! If youíre ready for that mini-virtual vacation, put down your phone, grab a cup of java or glass of wine, sit back and relax. Iím about to take you to a place you will never forget.

Last week (hereís a link to the archives) we left off just before touching down in Rotorua, New Zealand. Roturua is 137 miles southeast of Auckland -- a 40-minute small plane ride, or a 2 Ĺ- to 3-hour drive). Rotorua is probably the most touristy location on the North Island, and is famous for its smell. Thatís right: The many geothermal hotspots carry the unpleasant aroma of rotten eggs (blame the sulfur). But donít let the smell stop you. Rotorua is known as the place to go for adventure sports (we will try some shortly), and the trout fishing capital of the world (there are 11 major lakes). Visitors also come to Rotorua to learn more about New Zealandís native population: the Maori. A third of Rotoruaís 70,000 residents are of Maori descent, the highest percentage of any city in New Zealand. As for the weather, Rotorua has a mild climate. At 950 feet above sea level, it never gets too hot. The average summer highs range from 68 to 78 F. Wintertime highs hover between 50 and 55 F. Remember: New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, so its seasons are the opposite the U.S. The warmest months are January, February and March.

Fortunately, I wasnít staying in downtown Rotorua (the smell really is ridiculously bad). I was 30 minutes (12 miles) away in the remote village of Horohoro where the air is fresh, crisp and clean. As I pulled into the Treetops Lodge driveway the terrain quickly turned from smooth flat pavement to bumpy dirt. The road was occasionally very steep. The 2-mile driveway seemed to take much longer than the actual 10 minutes. It mustíve been all the anticipation to reach the lodge -- I read so many incredible things about this exclusive retreat, which has won all kinds of awards, like Harpersí Hideaway of the Year. In fact, a 5-night stay was even included in the 2005 Oscar gift basket (no wonder so many A-list celebrities have stayed there).

Treetops is no ordinary lodge. To fully understand it, you have to know about its creator. John Sax, a New Zealand native, is the chief executive and sole shareholder of over 20 companies in New Zealand, including Southpark Corporation (Aucklandís largest industrial landowner). He designed most of his properties, including Treetops Lodge. A key element in all is that they be eco-friendly. Many of the Treetops rooms have light sensors, to avoid wasting electricity. Mr. Sax is a family man, and his dream was to build a sanctuary that reflected the very best of what New Zealand has to offer. He said: "My hope is that God's creation may be what really inspires you, that encourages you to reflect on the things that are truly important: family, friends, community and what it brings us life's real joy and satisfaction." After spending a few days with him at his lodge, and then at his Auckland home, I learned about his foundation (For the Sake of Our Children Trust), and what an incredible man he really is.

Mr. Sax is invited each year to a White House breakfast with heads of state from throughout the world. Many U.S. senators and celebrities have stayed at his home in Auckland. Mr. Sax is a very wealthy and powerful man, yet he is so humble and approachable. On the way back from his lodge, I had an overnight layover in Auckland. Mr. Sax surprised me by picking me up at the airport (he was waiting by my gate!). He insisted on carrying my heavy bags and drove me to his house, where his wife made a lovely dinner and I spent the night. In the U.S., most people of his stature would have sent a driver and had a chef whip up supper. This says a lot about Mr. Sax, and about Kiwis (New Zealand natives) in general. I found them all very friendly, and down-to- earth. BTW: The Saxesí home in Auckland is called Florence Court. Itís a Category 1 historic 12,000-square foot mansion (there are not a lot of these left in New Zealand, which means this place is an outstanding historical building). The exterior is a fine example of Edwardian architecture, while the inside is filled with Louis XV antiques. Besides the Saxesí bedrooms, there are four rooms and one self-contained cottage (where I stayed) that are sometimes available to the public. The Saxes' occasionally operate their home as an upscale B&B, and rent the house out for parties and weddings. Florence Court, 6 Omana Ave, Auckland; tel.: 09-623-9333.

Traveling to New Zealand is like going back in time. When Mr. Sax picked me up at the airport, he parked his car curbside. Keep in mind this was at the countryís busiest airport, Auckland International -- not some Podunk landing strip. How nice is that? He didnít have to worry about tickets, tow trucks or bomb squads. No wonder so many Americans are buying second homes in New Zealand.

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Pictures From

The Trip


Treetops Located In The Hills


Getting Closer


Geothermal Hotspots


Treetops Lodge




John Sax


Florence Court


B&B Bedroom


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