We’re not much of the “action/adventure” type, so when trying to figure out what we wanted to do while in New Zealand we had to decide what was important! Since you’re probably familiar with our style now, it should be no surprise that we decided on good food, good wine and amazing views. We hopped into the NewZealand.com website and were able to type in exactly what kind of adventure we were looking for and how long we had to do it. We knew we wanted to see as much of New Zealand as we could, and knew we wanted to rent a car to drive the whole thing. We found a “food and wine” route that tells you which towns to stop in throughout the North and South Island and went from there. We figured we could use that as a general guide and since we would have the car at our disposal, we could add different towns in along the way and take away towns we weren’t interested in.
We flew into Auckland from Buenos Aires, so our first stop was there. The 13 hour flight went much better than either of us thought! We purchased the SkyCouch on Air New Zealand and couldn’t be happier with our decision. It essentially gives you the whole row of 3 seats to yourself and the foot rests pop up to make it into a couch. Now, for normal size people you can use this to lay next to each other throughout the flight. Unfortunately, we couldn’t use it that way. Given that we’re slightly bigger than other people and Dean is very tall, we just used the couch to spread out and get comfortable in the sitting position. It was great. The flight went by fairly quickly and we were in New Zealand before we knew it. The flight got us in at 5am New Zealand time, so the first day was rough to get through! Especially considering the 16 hour time difference from Buenos Aires!
The city of Auckland is the perfect size. Big enough for that city feel but very walkable! We found that all the hotels in the city were very expensive though! We still haven’t figured out why, but even the 3 star hotels were well into the $200/night range. We chose the Ramada since it had a washer and dryer in the room, and we desperately needed it! Since it was so expensive, we decided to leave the city the next day and planned to spend more time there on the way back up before heading to Australia, hopefully finding cheaper hotels during a different part of the week. Even with only having a few hours here, we immediately felt welcomed by the people and comfortable walking around the city! We checked out Queen Street which is a street filled with shops. From big name stores to little coffee shops. We also discovered a little shopping mall right down the street from our hotel with the most AMAZING food court I’ve ever seen. Asian food lovers rejoice, it was a food court with every type of Asian cuisine you could want. Dim Sum, Sushi, Chinese, Japanese, Thai.. it was incredible! Since we have been craving something with flavor after our month in South America, this made us (especially me since it’s my favorite cuisine) very happy! So much so that we ate there for lunch and dinner!
We were then off to start our self guided “Wine and Food Tour of Both Islands”. The first thing we needed was a car! We booked through eBates (use our link!) and got 1.5% cash back! New Zealand is one of those countries that drives on the “wrong” side of the road (Thanks England!), so for this trip we opted for a great Toyota Corolla hatchback with automatic transmission to avoid any embarrassing missed shifts. It takes some getting used to but Dean loves driving so it’s a fun challenge. Since the first stop was very far from Auckland, we altered it a little and made our first stop in Hamilton, halfway between Auckland and Napier (the real first stop of the tour). It turned out to be good that we paced ourselves, there was a highway out of the city but it doesn’t last long. The roads become 2 lane twisty roads that takes much longer to navigate. While there really isn’t too much to see in Hamilton, it was a great town to stop. We used Ebates and got 6% cash back to book through Hotels.com and still added to our rewards (use our links!) at a great motel called Arena Court Motor Lodge, which was about a 15 minute walk from downtown. We’re used to “motor lodges” being dingy and gross, but it seems to be the opposite here! Yes, it was a motel style place, but just as as nice and clean as a normal hotel. We’d definitely stay there again! Downtown was pretty much just a street with small shops, cafes, bistros and a shopping mall. After checking everything out, we went to Hamilton Gardens, a free attraction we had read about online and were so happy we did. Hamilton Gardens used to be the waste disposal center of the town. Covered in trash and everything else the citizens of the town needed to dump. In 1960 they turned it into what is has become today, an international inspiration of gardens around the world and beyond. There are different types of gardens spread throughout the site, representing traditional New Zealand gardens, Chinese, English, even fantasy and paradise gardens. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon! One thing to note, give yourself plenty of time there, the gardens open early but close at 5pm.
We had heard about the Saturday night market in Hamilton and were so excited to be here on the only night of the week it takes place. We thought it was so funny that it was held in the K-Mart covered parking lot! It made the whole thing that much more fun. Underneath the covered garage held rows of vendors. Mostly food, but also some people selling perfume, stereos, toys etc. Again, much to my happiness, all the food was Asian cuisine. We browsed up and down and snacked on a spicy pork Bao steam bun before settling on 2 plates to share. Top the whole thing off with some churros and we’re two very happy people!
Since the drive to Napier, the first stop on the wine tour, was about a 5 hour drive, we decided to break it up and stop at the Waitomo Glowwom Caves along the way. Such an amazing experience! They bring you down into the caves to start, giving you a history of how they were discovered, then onto the fun part. Little glowworms attach themselves to the ceilings of the darkest part of the caves. Tour guides take you by boat into a river inside the darkest of dark and looking up are hundreds of little glowworms. It looks like the starriest night sky you’ve ever seen, but much closer and more of a glow in the dark color. The boat makes circles around the cave and since you must be very very quiet, it transforms you into a new dimension of your thoughts and this amazing sight. Since the light scares them, we couldn’t take any pictures… so you’ll just have to take our word for it. It was incredible.
Napier is the official start of the “wine tour” and is in the Hawkes Bay region. Our hotel was right on the ocean and we were so happy to finally see it for the first time in New Zealand! The water was so blue!
The wine in this region is fantastic! New Zealand is filled with micro climates, so the same type of wine from one vineyard can taste one way, and the same type of wine from the vineyard next door can taste totally different. While they don’t do tours, we were able to go to a few different wineries and taste their wine. That’s the best part anyway! We had originally booked a tour that would take us around to 4 different wineries for $90/person. We decided that was way too much money to spend and would try to do it ourselves and boy are we happy we decided on that. We went to 4 wineries on our own, of our choosing and since the tasting at each place was only $5/person (NZ), we ended up spending only $20/person (NZ). Win! It was so much fun to see such different places all within the same area. The first two places, Sileni and Ash Ridge, were a little further from the town and therefore we didn’t have anyone else tasting wine with us, just the way we like it! We had the owners of the wineries to ourselves telling us all about the wines and how they started. The next two places, Church Road and Mission, were a little more touristy. Both had many people tasting and the people serving just wanted to get us through the tasting and out the door. Was still fun and the wines were still great, Mission even gave us glasses to take home! We’ll see if they make it! All in all, it made for a great day of wine tasting.
We were then off to the southern most point of the north island, Wellington. We wish we had left ourselves with more time here! Aside from Auckland, this was the closest to city feel since we arrived in New Zealand. Tall buildings and lots of people. It seemed to be a college town so there was a huge variety of food at more affordable price point. It’s right on the harbor too, so the views driving in were incredible!
What did we eat? As we mentioned earlier, the Asian cuisine scene is very big in New Zealand. A great relief from hamburgers and sandwiches! Most of what we ate on the north island was some variation of this and everything was delicious.
Atrium on Elliot: This is the food court I was telling you about in Auckland. Stepping out of the elevator on the bottom floor of this shopping mall was a pure moment of happiness as we realized how many delicious restaurants there were to choose from. How do you even start?! We managed to make the decision of starting with a few pieces of chicken sushi dim sum (perfection for me!) to share and then sharing a plate of Pad See Ew from the Thai restaurant to share. As we were devouring we saw a shop that was making their own pulled noodles and decided we must come back and have that for dinner. So that’s exactly what we did! For dinner I got pulled noodle Chow Mein and Dean got Pork Ribs in Spicy Noodle Soup. We shared an order of spring rolls and our evening was complete.
Hamilton Night Market: Also as mentioned earlier, placing this market in the K-Mart parking lot made going to this market all the more fun. Just so weird to think that such amazing food can come from such a random place! From Chinese to Thai, Sushi, Filipino and even some Fijian Indian curries, it was so hard to choose what to get. We decided to share Fijian Indian and Chinese. The Fijian-Indian combo came with 4 different curries on rice. Butter Chicken (like Tikka Masala), Lamb Curry, Chilly Chicken (yes that’s how they spell it) and a Chicken Curry, that was supposed to be goat, but they were out, much to Deans dismay. The Chinese dish consisted of fried rice (probably the best we’ve ever had), Crispy, sticky honey chicken and slightly spicy lamb stir fry. Eating these dishes out of styrofoam containers, sitting on plastic chairs in the covered K-Mart parking lot with kids playing guitar just made it a perfect evening. We of course needed desert and had heard about the Churro stands. We thought it was funny since there isn’t a big Latin culture here, but didn’t ask too many questions and devoured them instead. We opted for both the caramel stuffed churro and regular churros with chocolate for dipping. The whole night was great. Nothing fancy, just good food and good company.
Continental Fish Supply: What can we say, when we find something we like, we stick with it! This place was right around the corner from our hotel in Napier and we ended up having it the two nights we spend there. The true definition of a hole in the wall, you walk in and right up to the counter where they are doing all the frying you can imagine. From fish and chips to chicken nuggets and wings, even hamburgers and hotdogs.. there truly is something for everyone and all extremely cheap! Since we had heard one of New Zealand’s signature dishes is fish and chips, we had to get that. For $12 (NZ) so about $8 US, we got 2 huge pieces of fish and 2 orders of chips which ended up being more like MOUNDS of chips and were right up there with the ones we had in Belgium. So crispy and flavorful!
Little Penang: We were in search of a place in Hamilton that was delicious, filling and cheap. We hopped on TripAdvisor and this little Malaysian spot was the first place that popped up. It was right down the street from our hotel so we figured we give it a shot. It was perfect! They had a special going where for $25 NZ you get an appetizer and salad to share, two entrees and a dessert. The appetizer consisted of crispy spring rolls, crunchy vegetable fritters and savory pork sausage (Dean’s favorite!), The salad had julienned zucchini, carrots, bean sprouts, fried tofu, more of those crunchy vegetable fritters and hard boiled eggs, topped with their delicious peanut sauce. Entrees consisted of a wide noodle dish for Dean and Vermichelli noodles for me. Both had chicken but were so different in taste. Mine was more of a sweet and spicy flavor and Dean’s was more black pepper forward. Both were excellent. Dessert was fried banana fritters and rich, creamy vanilla ice cream. Perfection!
The North Island stuffed us with amazing views, delicious wine and flavorful food. We can’t wait to see what the South Island has to offer! We’re off to the ferry to take us down, we’ll see you there!
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**We are using Ebates and Hotels.com to book everything we do! We get cash back from Ebates and earn free nights on Hotels.com so you get rewarded for doing what you would normally do anyway! On Hotels.com, they provide excellent service and will match hotel prices if you find something cheaper elsewhere. If you stay 10 nights, you get 1 free and if you become a gold member (30 stays in 1 year) you get early access to deals and special rates. Also 24/7 service. On Ebates, while the percentage cash back varies depending on the store, you legitimately get cash back on almost every store you would shop online for anyway and get a check every quarter with your savings. They also have special coupon codes to get discounts on the site that you can’t get otherwise. In 1 year we’ve gotten back $350 cash back. That’s nothing to sneeze at! We get credit if you use our links (hyperlinked in the names) and would love if you could help us out! But really, you’re helping yourself too!!**