It's hard to say which part of a German couple's love for New Zealand is the ultimate compliment: The New Zealand radishes they grow back home to feed the monkey they sponsor in a Munich zoo, or the fact they are here on their 16th consecutive visit.
Or maybe it's the fact they booked next year's holiday long before this one even started.
Antonie and Rolf Ruhland from Dachau in Germany's upper Bavaria are in Nelson on their annual pilgrimage to New Zealand, and like clockwork, have returned to the hospitality of Bob and Anne Haswell of Clifftops Retreat above Ruby Bay. The connection was forged when the Haswells owned Lake Rotoroa Lodge, and the Ruhlands discovered the South Island on about their third trip to New Zealand. Mr Ruhland is keen on fly fishing, which is how they ended up there.
The former bankers who dream about the country from the collection of pictorial coffee table books they acquired over the years, including the additional volumes they received as retirement gifts, now spend three months here each year. They spend the remaining nine months in Germany, counting down the weeks before they will be back.
The consummate tourists' love for New Zealand has reached the office of Minister for Tourism and Prime Minister John Key, who wrote them a letter in 2010, thanking them personally for how they had made New Zealand their regular holiday destination.
The couple said it was difficult to pick out a favourite part of the country.
"You have so many different kinds of landscapes. The country is not small but it's narrow and you have so many wonderful mountains, lakes and rivers. Then there are the beautiful beaches and the culture that is so important for this country.
"We feel very secure here," Mrs Ruhland said.
The couple are so organised they always send ahead to their first destination a large box of all the gear and books they will need for their holiday. Although retired, Mr Ruhland still helps out a private individual as a bonds and shares trader. He loves books on historic New Zealand, but never has time to read, unless on holiday.
Mrs Ruhland loves Nelson for its "little city" feel, plus the shops, galleries and atmosphere helped by the artists and Saturday market.
She said they did not consider New Zealand was at the bottom of the world, so much as "in the middle". They kept a part of the country with them at all times.
"We have a home with furniture from New Zealand. We grow roses like the ones here, tomatoes and New Zealand radishes for the monkey [named Antonie] we sponsor in a local zoo in Munich," Mrs Ruhland said.
The couple are heavy promoters of New Zealand, especially since the tourism office moved from Frankfurt to London, said Mrs Ruhland, who also writes about New Zealand for German readers in the bilingual publication New Zealand News.
Mr Haswell said the Ruhlands were "perfect" representatives of the type of tourist New Zealand should be welcoming, for the fact they were long-stay visitors who kept returning, and for the value of their expenditure.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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