100% fun on New Zealand's North Island
I’ve recently returned from a strange, foreign land called New Zealand. You may have heard of it. Something about rugby, sheep and Hobbits? In this far-off world, around 3 hours flight from Brisbane, Woolworths is called Countdown and the locals speak in an unusual tongue, swapping their i’s for u’s and e’s for i’s. What a bizarrely beautiful place it is.
I spent six jam-packed days being whisked around the North Island countryside on a bus with a posse of 24. Over the course of our journey we had a total of 95 minutes down time between hangi feasts, jet boat rides, farm tours and cruises. I returned to the Land of Oz with cave water lodged in my ears, a brief desire to tattoo my lips and chin Moko-style and dreams of taking on the South Island as soon as I can get back on a plane. Take a look at my holiday highlight reel, you’ll get the gist.
Exploring Auckland City
You have to feel for Auckland, once the country’s capital until Wellington came in and stole the spotlight. But Auckland is all “whatever, bru. I’m still awesome without all the political hoo-ha.” If someone threw Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne into a cocktail shaker with a few hundred thousand sailboats and an exotic splash of Maori culture, you’d get Auckland. Tasty.
My recommendation for amazing coffee and Instagram-worthy food is Depot, near the looming Sky Tower. After you’re feeling sufficiently fat and happy, walk it off on the main shopping drag, Queen Street, and keep an eye out for Vulcan Lane. I could feel my purse opening on its own accord as soon as we spotted the arty pubs, designer boutiques and hipster cafes lining the cobblestone plaza.
Discovering Whittaker's Chocolate
My first experience with New Zealand produced Whittaker's Chocolate was in a gift bag and OH what a gift it was! Sorry Cadbury, I’m a golden girl now. Back in the day, James Henry Whittaker used to peddle his hand-crafted chocolaty goods door to door around Christchurch, but you can get the stuff pretty much everywhere now. They come in squares, chunks, thin bars, mini slabs and blocks across a veritable rainbow of flavours - I suggest Hokey Pokey, Berry Biscuit and Peanut Butter. The Whittakers website likens chocolate to religion. I like you, Whittakers. We’re going to get along just fine.
Getting my Hobbit On
Driving along a gravelly country road against a backdrop of rolling hills speckled white by thousands of sheep, I started to wonder if “hobbit” was just what Kiwis call their livestock. Hobbiton is definitely off the beaten track, taking up a tiny corner of privately owned farmland. The site is pretty darn adorable. There are 44 individually designed “holes” tucked into the hillside with veggie patches, flower gardens and countless tiny touches that make you wonder if there are really Hobbits hiding behind the circular wooden doors. I won’t spoil the story, that’s what they pay the guides for. Lord of the Rings nerds, I mean fans, will love Hobbiton, but so will everyone else. It’s amazingly charming and The Green Dragon Inn serves a damn fine apple cider.
Luging through Redwood Forest
Okay, so I didn’t really know what Luging was before this experience. The magical vehicles are powered by gravity (right on, Newton!) and roll through the scenic Redwood forests at Skyline Rotorua, the original home of the Luge. We went on dusk (which happens quite early in NZ) on a drizzly day that brought light fog over the mountains. Gliding over babbling brooks through the towering woodlands made me feel like I was in an Enid Blyton novel, but the chairlift back to the top was even more crazy beautiful, my feet dangling contentedly above the forest canopy. There’s also a Jelly Belly shop wall-to-wall with gourmet jelly beans and a boutique winery called Volcanic Hills. Yep.
Spotting Shy Kiwis
Once upon a time New Zealand was bird central, not a mammal in sight. They love their keas, wekas, tuis and, more than anything, kiwis. I don’t know why it’s so exciting to see these funny, furry, flightless birds – it just is, okay? The consensus was that kiwis were bigger than we expected and delightful when they run (more like a waddle). The kiwi is endangered too, which makes seeing one extra special. Luckily, breeding and conservation programs are all the rage and we got to spot the national symbol at Te Puia and Rainbow Springs, Rotorua. I loved the critters so much I “adopted” a kiwi and now have a soft toy of my very own to nest with.
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