Dear New Zealand, dear Australia,
Greetings from the Oriental in Bangkok. I decided to break up the journey to London and I’m now half-easing out of holiday mode, half-easing back into work poolside. I want to thank you both for a most wonderful eight-day holiday and, while I could be penning separate thank-you notes, I felt you’d both enjoy reading my reflections on your fine countries.
New Zealand, I’m not quite sure why it took me 43 years to reach your shores but I promise to be back very soon. While I know I saw next to nothing, Great Barrier Island was incredible and Unesco should already look at recognising “bach life” or NZ cottage living as a cultural force worthy of protection. The architecture by the Auckland practice Herbst is flawless, George FM radio is a great listen, it’s wonderful that your newspapers are still super-size and I found lots of interesting, small companies designing and manufacturing products that need a much bigger stage.
I wasn’t particularly surprised by the food, as I knew it was going be good, but the Depot restaurant in Auckland went beyond expectations and was nothing short of outstanding. The quality of the coffee was uniformly exceptional. If I may, I think Auckland is in urgent need of a hotel that reflects that quality of design, architecture and food that’s being produced. It doesn’t need to be fancy but it should embrace the NZ vernacular and feature high quality merino wool blankets, locally produced toiletries, a good pool area and an all-day café.
As you were such a fine host, you should invite more people to sample what’s on offer – Auckland airport was a total surprise, with its charming old dears on hand to give directions, the good retail and the most courteous security set up I’ve ever passed through. Your national airline should go to more long haul destinations and add a first class to its 777s – just four seats covered in the best wool with possum fur throws and breakfast sandwiches from Dizengoff in Ponsonby.
Congratulations for doing your own thing and not following the pack. I’m already dreaming about building a bach on Waiheke Island.
Australia, New Year’s Eve marked our 24th anniversary as firm friends. I don’t think I’ve visited you quite as often as I should have – I do hope that my three trips over the past year have made you feel the love again. While I was flying across the Tasman sea I was thinking that you and New Zealand should hook-up and own service. Kiwis and Aussies are good at hosting, selling, serving and chatting and you could easily develop two campuses devoted to hospitality that would give Lausanne and Cornell a thumping. I’m always amazed how many young people in Australia want to outdo each other with better pizzas, new takes on Thai and fresh spins on everything from burgers to banana bread.
But before you can start the hospitality school you’ll need to sort out your hotel situation. How is it that a city like Sydney doesn’t have a property with a drop-dead sun and swimming set-up staffed by attentive, attractive people? I know the Park Hyatt is to re-open in February but it shouldn’t be the only game in town. Like your friends in NZ you have the local architectural talent to develop your own thing. Have you thought of developing a premium, Australian-owned hotel group? Surely, if Canadians can come up with the Four Seasons, you can do one better by pulling together the talent and funds.
Also, on the topic of Australian spirit, are you really going to let Qantas roll over and get a thumping from carriers in the Middle East and Asia? Really? You’ve got an excellent product on the ground and a so-so product in the air but you need to start flying to more places (Beijing? Taipei? São Paulo? Zürich?) and give people an authentic Australian experience, with real Australians at the controls and in the cabin and more Marc Newson designs. Also, both Melbourne and Sydney offer so much on the culinary front alone that you could do with marketing these cities with dedicated campaigns and do a little less of that red earth, lifeguards and kangaroo stuff.
Having spent a bit more time on your streets, in your cafés and just wandering around than usual, I feel both you and New Zealand should be playing a bigger role in the broader neighbourhood and on the world stage. New Zealand, don’t you need a proper air force again? How else are you going to have a good finishing school for the pilots of all those new Air New Zealand aircraft? Australia, it’s good that you’re buying more subs than you’ll be able to staff but shouldn’t you also use sport and food a bit more as instruments of soft power? Or perhaps it’s just a case of getting more people to meet you both in person to make them realise that there’s another way of doing things in the English-speaking world that has little to do with UK or American way.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
More columns at www.ft.com/brule