Suspense, intrigue and a sweet mystery
If planning your holiday is a chore rather than ‘half the fun’ as some claim, you can let a travel designer design a surprise getaway tailored for you, as Debbie Griffiths did.
If adventure lies in the unknown, then signing up for a mystery weekend is the ultimate adrenaline rush. In fact, having Luke Peterson from New Zealand Insight plan our weekend feels a little like a less stressful version of The Amazing Race.
Our instructions are to pack for changeable weather, a fancy night out, and to bring our sense of adventure. We arrive at our starting point – a cafe in Tauranga – feeling a little trepidation. Peterson is quick to reassure, texting me, ‘‘You’re not nervous, you’re excited! Have fun and any questions, we are just a text away.’’
His enthusiasm is contagious.
‘‘That’s the fun part of being a travel designer,’’ Peterson tells me later. ‘‘I really enjoy engaging with clients and getting that excitement going. Some people book months in advance so I generate that anticipation and tease them with clues about where they might be going. I send an email exactly seven days before they leave saying ‘this time next week, you’ll be on your way somewhere’.’’
My partner and I are heading to an event in Auckland and Peterson has been tasked with filling in the gaps. It’s called the Surprise & Delight package. He draws out the suspense asking about the atmosphere at Patio Rose Cafe. ‘‘It’s chill,’’ I respond by text. ‘‘Beautiful cafe!’’
Peterson comes back with, ‘‘Sounds chevere.’’ I look blankly at my Venezuelan partner. He laughs and admits to being impressed with Peterson’s careful research. That’s probably the most Venezuelan word to ever exist, he says. It means ‘‘cool’’ or ‘‘great’’.
When I mention it to Peterson, he admits to calling on his Venezuelan friends for help to personalise our mystery weekend.
‘‘My strength is putting myself in my clients’ shoes, so each holiday is genuinely unique and tailored to you.’’
The former travel agent launched the company in 2012, initially to target international visitors. But post-Covid, he is excited to be planning surprise adventures for Kiwis.
‘‘Overseas visitors want to tick off all the tourist attractions, but Kiwis seeing their own country are excited to get off the beaten track and discover those lesser known gems. This is designing beautiful bespoke itineraries based on clients’ personalities.’’
This is a challenging assignment for Peterson. Not only have I spent a lot of time working in Auckland as I spent 10 years living there, but I can’t escape that feeling of excitement created by simply not knowing what’s coming next. The itinerary is revealed while we’re in the cafe.
‘‘It’s all done for you so turn your brain off and relax,’’ Peterson says. ‘‘You don’t have to think and it’s so much fun. For me, it’s such a diverse job.’’
When we find our accommodation in Auckland, as Peterson anticipated, we’re delighted. The Convent Hotel opened in November last year, after a massive two-year refurbishment. The imposing white, Spanish mission-style building was constructed in 1922, and was home to St Joseph’s Convent until the early 1990s.
It’s a boutique hotel with just 22 hotel rooms, designed to look rustic yet contemporary, and is filled with nods to its religious past.
‘‘I don’t like doing cookie cutter – the same old itinerary. When I was one of the travel consultants selling the same hotel and the same experiences, I felt like a robot. I want to keep it fun for myself too.’’
Peterson’s itinerary makes our travel easy, with quick links to Google Maps, and even the estimated costs of Uber rides. When we head out for dinner, we find that again Peterson’s taken a clever punt that we love South American food, sending us to Olas Arepas in Ponsonby Central. We arrive to find a table reserved for us.
An easy Uber across the central city takes us to one of those ‘‘hidden in plain sight’’ gems that proves why Peterson is so good at what he does.
An unassuming door marked only with a gold pineapple is our next stop.
Pineapple on Parnell is an exclusive cocktail bar with low lighting and upmarket gentlemen’s club style. There’s a full menu and an invitation from the bar staff to name your favourite spirits, liqueurs or mixers – from which they’ll dream up an original creation. We lean back on velvet bolsters in a dark corner and sample a couple before heading to our pre-arranged function. Peterson admits he lives vicariously through his clients’ adventures.
‘‘It’s just fun reliving my own trips. I’m in Queenstown this weekend exploring the new experiences, restaurants and shops, and I know that when I add them into someone’s itinerary, I’ll remember my trip there. I went to a winery yesterday, and my idea is to add a surprise bottle of wine at the end of the tasting. It will be a surprise within a surprise. I love coming up with stuff like that.’’
There’s a suggestion for breakfast at a nearby cafe the next day but we choose to eat in-house before hitting the road. We stop in Karangahake Gorge to stretch our legs on the historic and scenic Windows Walk. Peterson’s itinerary then directs us to Falls Retreat cafe.
‘‘I think it’s a challenge and a big leap for people to do a surprise trip in the first place, but you can tell from the personality survey what people like to do on holiday, so sometimes I might send travellers hot air-ballooning, bungy jumping or abseiling, but I’m careful not to push clients into doing something they really wouldn’t enjoy.’’
There is an option on the New Zealand Insight website for those wanting a complete surprise.
‘‘Surprise Kiwi Adventures are the most challenging, but those are the trips where I’ll push the envelope a bit and find something random like walking llamas on the beach.’’