New Zealand is a popular stop on the gap yah tour, but turns out it
is so, SO much more than that.
But here’s the thing: with approx. 11,000 miles and a thirty-or-so
flight time between London and Auckland, it’s not a trip you can
really get away with not planning – even the most lazzais faire
traveller will want an itinerary of sorts to maximise places seen.
So let’s start from the beginning.
NZ is actually split into two islands. Full disclosure, I had no
idea about this until I got there. Auckland and Wellington are in
the north; places like Queenstown and Christchurch are in the south.
The theory goes that the north island is the place for activities
(white water rafting at Kaituna, paddle boarding at lake taupo etc)
and the south is more beautiful. But tbh I was completely blown away
by north, so I’m thinking maybe they both share the two qualities.
On which note – Kiwis pronounce blown as a two syllabol word. So
it’s like blow-en. Kinda cute.
What you want out of New Zealand is completely unique and it’s
hard to compare experiences, but somewhere I’ve literally not
stopped re-visiting in my mind is Waiheke Island – a blissful remote
little tropic just off Auckland. Well. Remote-ish. Ferries run every
half hour (the crossing takes about 40 minutes), but the climate
feels so different from the mainland that you could be in literally
another world. With barely any cars (you’re much better to take a
bus than wait for a local taxi. Or better yet, hire a scooter),
it’s all hills and tropical fauna, with central roads running down
to idylicc beaches, peppered with places to stay (they call a
holiday home a ‘batch’). I’m not strong on decision making, so
we pretty much put a pin in the Air b’n’b map and took two
nights near Palm Beach. Our super cute one-bed was nestled in the
trees at the top of Bay Street, with sweeping views over the
coastline and all the traditional Kiwi comforts – mini kitchen,
huge shower, two-man kayak… The only thing I found it hard to get
on the island was bug spray. Take some. Lots. More than lots. Or
travel with someone who gets bitten a lot to act as your personal
shield. That someone was me. I had 38 bites on my legs (I counted).
He had none.
The open-air crossing back to Auckland has the most incredible views
of the skyline as you approach the harbour – it actually reminded
me a little of Dubai when you turn towards the city from The Palm.
There’s a bunch of beautiful restauarants and bars along the
waterfront – before you pick one, stroll down towards the marina
and arts centre. We were there a couple of days after the Volvo
Ocean Race completed, and there were plenty of boats to look at. The
clinking of the masts in the breeze is probably my favourite sound
in the world so I was in my happy place. . Slightly more inland
there’s another beaut restaurant called Prego. Try the calmari.
On our second morning in Auckland we got up for an early run along
the waterfront (jetlag dictated that we were awake early enough that
we watched the sun rise as we ran. The coast just seemed to go on
forever and the peaceful sea lighting up with the morning was next
level. Once we’d finished we retreated to Mission Bay Pavillion for coffee, smoothies
They have beanbags outside and live music on a
Sunday. Which basically sounds like a recipe for the perfect evening
under the stars. Which is genuinely not a cliché – I reckon I
paused at least once a night to ogle Orion’s Belt and the saucepan
(that’s a thing right?). Even in the city.
I should probably mention at this point that the primary reason for
being on the other side of the world was for the IronMan competition
(watching, not doing. Very important destinction), which happens
annually in and around Lake Taupo. Lake T is very much a tourist
destination – people travel from all over for the natural hot
springs. There’s some less natural ones that sort of double as
water parks too, like De Bretts and AC Baths, but I’d recommend au
natural. Make sure you wear sandals (or jandals as Kiwis call them)
or jelly shoes, as the bottom of the lake is pretty hard going on
And whilst we’re on the topic of water, Huka Falls
is a mindblowing waterfall a short drive from Taupo. The torrent of
water is the most powerful reminder of how small we all are compared
to nature. A few years ago, someone bodyboarded down the rapids.
It’s highly illegal and I think he got in a lot of trouble. So
don’t do that. But maybe watch it on YouTube.. If you do fancy an
adrenaline rush, Kaitiaki Adventures cruise down a series of 13 rapids and 3
waterfalls (one of which is the highest commercial waterfall in the
world). It is both exhilarating and completely terrifying in almost
equal measures. Especially if the boats tips. Which ours did. And
you surface underneath the boat. Which I did. You learn pretty quick
how to right yourself though.
Wine is a huge part of the Kiwi culture and one of their largest
exports, so it follows that they do wineries damn well. We drove to
Hawkes Bay (about an hour from Taupo) to stay with family in the
most beautiful, sprawling farm house and visited Craggy Range on the
way for lunch. Their venison was next level. As was their icy cold
Riesling. Luckily, I can’t drive so I could absolutely get
involved. Yaass to never being designated driver. (note: there are gazillions of epic wineries in New Zealand. We also visited Tantalus, on Waiheke Island. They have a formal dining area and a more chilled ‘brewery’ section which does amazing bar snacks to go with the wines).
When we arrived at
the farm we were greated by rose and canapes under a sweeping tree
on the front lawn. Between rounds of croquet (I actually don’t
remember who won. Let’s assume it was me) we chilled with the cat
(Orson) and wiled away time until a lady pulled up the long driveway
and enquired loudly whether we had any pigs for sale. Apparently
this is unusual behaviour in New Zealand, but I like to think
that’s a standard Kiwi greeting.