A short stay in Memphis makes a big impression on Jeremy Wells and his Hauraki co-host.

Nothing had more of an impact than our time at the National Civil Rights museum, built around the former Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King jnr was assassinated in 1968.

I'm asked regularly "how was Memphis?"

I've refined my once elaborate response to simply "Remarkable. You must see it for yourself", to avoid the two-hour ramble I found myself fondly pouring into every reply.


I was lucky enough to spend four days in the Southern city that proudly bears the title 'Home of the Blues and Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll'.

I used to think Memphis was lumped into the cliche bucket list, placing it in the "one day I'll visit" category, probably during a road trip involving half a dozen other Southern destinations and two-star roadside hotels you see on Fargo.

Although the road trip is still a tempting idea, I was given the opportunity to fast-track the wish list and fly into Tennessee to experience four days in the home of Elvis.

My radio co-host Matt Heath and I were tasked with the unique proposition of travelling to Memphis to absorb everything the city had to offer in an attempt to gain inspiration to write a radio jingle for a client. Some would say this was just an elaborate ruse to wangle a free trip to Memphis … they would be right.

Four days isn't long, but it was plenty enough for us to soak up the atmosphere of the city, get a deeper understanding of its extraordinary and at times haunting history of both music and civil rights.

Four days also allowed time to visit Graceland and see into the lounge, dining room, even kitchen of the Presley homestead. Touring the home of Elvis frozen in time was fascinatingly eerie and I left wondering if there would be any other artist in history who could create such an attraction. Even 40 years after his death, Elvis still draws mass crowds and moves fans to tears. I bought the T-shirt and pondered his immortality at the eternal flame that glows by his grave.

We expanded our music history by touring Stax Records of American Soul Music and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, but the defining moment of the trip was the tour of the legendary Sun Studio.

We stood in the very spot in the recording studio and Sun where musical legends Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash created Rock 'n' Roll history.


Unlike me, Matt Heath is actually a gifted musician in his own right, and I could see the experience was even more of a privilege for him. We both bought the T-shirt.

Four days also allowed plenty of time to sample a lot of food.

I have never eaten so much in a four-day period as I did in Memphis. Thanks to the skilled guidance of a born-and-bred Memphian, every meal took my travel buddies and I to a different spot in the city where we tasted outstanding examples of local fare.

Every restaurant, diner and bar we visited had a story worth telling. Downtown we found The Arcade, a diner proudly holding the title as Memphis' oldest restaurant.

At Graceland. Photo / Supplied
At Graceland. Photo / Supplied

Here we consumed a substantial breakfast of salty ham, eggs, biscuits with gravy, hash and endless amounts of coffee. We sat metres from the booth that was once reserved for Elvis and now sports a modest plaque to commemorate this achievement.

Charlie Vergos Rendezvous BBQ serves authentic Southern ribs with flavours you can smell oozing from the charcoal-fired pits even before you arrive. I ate more pickle in four days than I had in my previous 40 years.

To find this special spot, we followed our noses down an alleyway and climbed the staircase down to a large basement dining room filled with old photos, memorabilia and red-checked cloths.

The atmosphere was relaxed but humming with noise of the friendly staff, families and tourists getting their rib fix. Again, we handed the menu choices over to our Memphian who didn't fail to amaze us with a selection of ribs and local beer.

Our anticipation for the world famous Gus's Fried Chicken did not let us down either. I ate the biggest, tastiest breast on the planet served up by the friendliest wait staff.

To really add to the eating spree, we were in Memphis for Thanksgiving. A tradition I had really only been exposed to on Happy Days when Fonzie turned up on Thanksgiving with twin female companions and Howard Cunningham didn't even flinch, he just welcomed them in, sat them down with his family and fed them.

Shops and attractions were closed and bars open only later in the evening, so the day was spent at our hotel eating. We were lucky to be staying in "the" spot in town for Thanksgiving dinner; the legendary and grand Peabody Hotel.

For decades, families from all over the South have travelled to Memphis to meet up and eat pumpkin pie at The Peabody.

This grand hotel has stood in its current spot since 1925 and has a fascinating history.

The hotel is known for the "Peabody Ducks" that live on the hotel rooftop and make daily treks to the lobby fountain. We witnessed this display along with the hundreds of other holidaymakers who jostled to get a glimpse of these famous avians.

Everything I came into contact with during the short but well-packed visit has left its mark with me. Nothing had more of an impact than our time at the National Civil Rights museum that is built around the former Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King jnr was assassinated in 1968.

The facade of the Lorraine Motel remains, like Graceland, untouched and frozen in time. The result is an impactful and powerful experience for visitors.

Memphis really is like no other.

I often find my mind going back to those four days and the river, the people, the sounds, the history, those massive breasts at Gus's.

On the Memphis food trail.
On the Memphis food trail.



Air New Zealand

flies non stop from Auckland to Houston, with onwards connections to Memphis with partner United Airlines. One-way economy fares start from $1209.





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