Updated: Feb 24, 2020
On Christmas Eve I boarded a plane, celebrated Christmas in the air and landed in Aukland New Zealand on Boxing Day. What an amazing way to end 2018. I had planned to revisit and discover more this month in January 2020 but alas life has happened and my trip has been postponed until April. However the good news is that I'll be landing right in the middle of the wine harvest. That means there will be a follow up blog to this focusing specifically on wineries later this spring.
In the meantime and in preparation of my second trip to this magical island, here are my top must dos when it comes to visit New Zealand.
A haven of beautiful vineyards, olive groves and beaches, all just a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. Combine your ferry travel with the most flexible and cost-effective way to experience the island's top spots. The Hop-on Hop-off bus tour gives you the freedom to visit popular vineyards, beaches and seaside villages full of galleries, shops and cafes at your own pace.
My favorite winery on the island was Mudbrick Restaurant and Vineyard and it was the perfect spot to stop and have lunch. The weather was breathtaking but unfortunately the 19hour time difference caught up to me and I had to take a nap on a bench outside the restaurant.
I've been to 46 countries and have never experienced jet lag like that. It was a near death experience and I had to cut my time on the island short. When I go again, I'd fly into Aukland, spend 3-4 nights on Waiheke Island. There is so much to discover not to mention it's just beautiful (and you'll need a little bit of time to get adjusted to the time difference especially if you're traveling from the States). I found that the city of Aukland didn't have too much to offer so I wouldn't spend much time there if you didn't want to.
Huka Falls / Lake Taupō
At Huka Falls you can witness the phenomenon of natural hydro power with more than 220,000 liters of water per sec barreling over 11meter high waterfall. The Waikato River, New Zealand's longest river, moves gracefully north from Lake Taupō between banks 100 meters apart. The other unusual thing about Huka Falls is the color blue. This unique color blue is due to the clear water reflecting blue light. The air bubbles in the water intensify this blue color. This isn't a must but if you are doing a road trip, it's pretty impressive to stop and see. The best part, you can literally drive up, park, snap your photo and move on. You don't have to spend a lot of time here or pay an entrance fee. Looking for a lush resort experience, check into one of New Zealand's top luxury lodges, Huka Lodge for the night.
Lake Taupō is beautiful but accommodations are sparse. We stayed in a nearby town Turangi (42 minutes by car) in a small bed and breakfast. For $200+ we stayed in someone's downstairs bedroom and they made us a sandwich for dinner and provided breakfast items. When we went to check out, they requested cash only. We felt a bit bamboozled so either plan to stay closer to Lake Taupō or move on to a bigger city that doesn't rely on just one attraction.
This sleepy town of 1,680 people is filled with create wine and ambiance. It was my favorite place on the north island and I would go again in a heart beat. There is a long list of wineries which you can visit but Colombo was just perfect. If you feel like you haven't tried them all, then head into the picturesque Martinborough Village and stop in The Wine Bank. The Wine Bank tasting rooms offer a chance to taste and buy the best of wines from around New Zealand.
They have over 60 wines available to taste and guests are able to sample vintages from small-scale bespoke producers, as well as sample premium and flagship wines from more famous labels. Many of the wines that are stocked come from wineries who do not have their own cellar doors, making The Wine Bank the only place these wines are available by the glass.
I went back to my notes where I wrote "town is cute but super weird when it comes to anything. No food in restaurants and places open and close at odd hours. Not a fan so don't really need to go here." However what this capital city prides itself on, is its café culture. This city truly runs on good coffee and well-poached eggs. Hands down a must visit is Pōneke by Mojo. We were so blown away by the delicious and well curated food designed for anyone, no matter their dietary restrictions and/or choices.
If you plan to get from the north island to the south island then you're probably going to catch the Interislander ferry landing in Picton.
Welcome to wine paradise! My favorite winery of all time was Hans Herzog Estate. Plan to stay for dinner, with sundowner drinks in the gardens, you won't regret it.
We stayed at the best airbnb, staying on their vineyard property in Fairhall, where they grow Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris grapes! The couple were growers for Wither Hills (another beautiful winery) and even had a bottle of their wine from the year prior in the fridge. This well appointed one bedroom guesthouse overlooks the vineyard with views over the valley, and is only 7 minutes from the town centre and airport, is close to local wineries and the Omaka Aviation Centre. I thoroughly enjoyed the morning sunrises in the vineyards while listening to the birds chirping and watching the fog coming over the mountains.
Another winery to visit is No1 Family Estate, known for their fine bubbles. We loved it so much that we actually grabbed a bottle to pop at New Year's in Sydney. Next stop, lunch at Allan Scott Wines & Estates. For gorgeous panoramic views, and as they advertise "where design meets wine", check out Brancott Estate Wines. In one day, we visited 10 wineries and they were all fantastic. If you're into wine, this region is for you!
In summary, our total road trip looked a little something like this. I felt the south island had a lot more to offer than the north island. We started our journey in Aukland and ended it in Christchurch before flying to Sydney, Australia for New Years. We were on a pretty intense schedule as we landed on the 26th and had to make it to Christchurch by the 31st. That's five days in this country which were not enough. Hence I will be writing more in April!