Character study in the Big Easy

By Mike Yardley

The sparkling Gulf Coast of the United States has been dealt a very rough hand in recent years. First it was Hurricane Katrina that smashed apart and submerged much of New Orleans. Last year, much of the Gulf Coast was monstered by one of the world's biggest ever oil spills.
But despite the destructive force of these twin calamities, the stoic and resilient spirit of the deep South has got it back on its feet at breathtaking speed. In January, I undertook my first visit to New Orleans.
Five years on since Katrina, within the heart of the Big Easy, I was stunned at how difficult it was to discern any noticeable reminders of the devastation that tore across this beautiful city, killing so many of its proud and ebullient residents. Start your sightseeing in the French Quarter, the birthplace of New Orleans, settled in 1718. The historic district is picture-perfect and best explored on foot.
Its Creole architecture - filigree cast-iron balconies, hidden courtyards and rustic old wooden shutters - oozes with Caribbean character. Head down Royal Street to see the grandest balconies and fascinating small museums which are storehouses of the city's rich and fiesty history. Exuding faded New Orleans glory, the 200-year-old Napoleon House, at 500 Chartres St, is one of the places to linger and lap up the soul of this city. Locals love this place. The trademark drink is a Pimm's Cup (with lemonade and a slice of cucumber), but they also do a stunning Sazerac, which is New Orleans' official drink.
Head into historic Jackson Square, a grassy gathering place hemmed in by the glorious cathedral and some of the city's grandest buildings. Cross the road, and you're on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River.

For panoramic views of the city, jump on board a graceful steamboat cruise on the Natchez, which leaves the wharf at the end of Toulouse St at 2.30pm and takes about two hours. Most cruises will take you down to the riverside field that witnessed the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. This was the last time the English engaged in war against the Americans - and they were soundly defeated.
Ride a St Charles streetcar. Dating from 1835, the streetcars have continued to clatter their way from the river to uptown New Orleans, rattling through Canal St and taking in the leafy Garden District, with its southern-style mansions. It's a fabulous way to see this multi-personality city.
TOP TIPS
Whether it's for play or stay, The Roosevelt is a landmark establishment which should be on your New Orleans tick-list. The well-appointed spacious guest rooms are furnished in a classic style traditional to New Orleans. I absolutely loved the rooftop pool resort, complete with cabanas, heated swimming pool, fitness centre and stunning city views. For more details, see www.therooseveltneworleans. com
Air New Zealand flies daily to Los Angeles and San Francisco, with convenient onward connections to New Orleans through its Star Alliance partners. Experience the award-winning in-flight service and comfort across the Pacific, which made Air New Zealand the 2010 Airline of the Year. From April, Air New Zealand's innovative SkyCouch and Premium Economy product will enter service between Auckland and LA on selected flights. For best available airfares and holiday packages, go to  airnewzealand.co.nz

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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