Finally, we reach an end with the New Zealand road trip story; and, unlike the first and second parts of this story, the conclusion to this saga was routed out probably just a few weeks before we left. This was the ‘relaxing leg’ of the trip, so we were a little bit more spontaneous with the planning, and as the conversation unfolds, this was really the shortest, most uncomplicated part of the three legs.
I am new to this whole idea of ‘travel stories and conversations’, but JH and I have travelled for a while (together and seperately) before I even thought to put this all on paper. We know ourselves, and we have always structured our trips with all i’s dotted and t’s crossed before leaving Canada, but this time, we opted for a bit of spontaneity. New Zealand is well travelled and is actually one of those places where spontaneity and exploration go a long way for the adventure factor. If we had time and the chance, we probably would have went completely off-map.
So, the story continues from where we left off leaving Tongariro. For the longest time, JH and I flipped back and forth over what was to become our next stop on the route. The choices were Rotorua (for the geothermal parks), Hobbiton (for Hobbiton), or Waitomo (for the glow worm caves). I also wanted to do the Pinnacles overnight hike in the Coromandel Peninsula (which we were headed out towards anyways), but I figured one ‘harder’ hike per trip is all JH would have tolerance for. In hindsight, I kind of wish we went to Rotorua after talking to relatives and friends who had been, and who had thought the sites were amazing; but JH was really unimpressed with the visitor videos we watched back at home when we were trying to decide the initial agenda skeleton. At the end of the day though, it does not really matter if we missed it this time, because we are certain we will be back to New Zealand at least once more in our lives. We came really close to going to Hobbiton, but it seemed really expensive to spend the day there (upwards of 80NZD for mandatory tours), and neither of us are really die-hard J.R.R. Tolkien fans. Mount Doom seemed good enough. Given that, Waitomo became the natural next stop on the trip to finish North Island.
- Mood – Still nostalgic.
- Focus – Remembering the last bit of details from the road trip.
- Craving – The huge mussels in Hahei or Ortalana’s pasta in Auckland.
- Feedback from the husband – He was pretty at the end of our trip given our days were becoming slower and more relaxed.
It took us approximately two hours to drive from Tongariro National Park to Waitomo. After our long hike, JH was a bit tired, but he survived the drive with energy drinks and snacks. I wish I could have driven this leg for him, but as we remember from the first part of this story, we collectively decided that putting me behind the wheel was probably going to be a nightmare. Maybe I would have adjusted really easily, but I guess we will never know. Point is, JH was a soldier for this trip, and I was really appreciative that he took the brunt of all the drives and my jam-packed structured agenda.
Waitomo is this tiny little village, and the type of place where everything is basically walking-distance and you can imagine everyone in town knowing each other’s names. The glowworm caves are the biggest attraction, and tourism basically drives the area’s infrastructure.
- We stayed at Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge on 7 Waitomo Village Road.
- This was one of our favourite places to stay at throughout the entire trip (though, for some reason I did not take any photos).
- The room, including breakfast, cost $114.57 for one night (booked as of 2016 on Expedia).
- The B&B is run by an elderly couple – Janet and Colin, who were both gracious, hospitable hosts.
- Colin gave us as many recommendations as possible – i.e. where to eat, visit, and little details to think about for our tour (i.e. wearing socks with black water rafting to keep our feet warmer).
- The couple lent us towels for our rafting trip, and allowed us to store our luggage in their house safely when we checked out and went on our tour.
- Beyond that, we just loved spending time talking to them, and listening to their vivid life story and travels.
- Their property itself is just adorable. There are a few parking spots outside the driveway, and you have to walk your suitcases up the driveway to the house to check-in (or you can drive the car up temporarily if you have a lot to unload).
- Our cottage (the one right across from the house) was cozy, with a huge bathroom, comfortable beds and a mounted TV.
- The beds are singles (placed back-to-back), so if you are a couple, you are not actually sleeping together. The room itself is pretty small if you take into account open suitcases.
- Shower pressure was really good, and we found shampoo and a hair dryer underneath the sink.
- WiFi was really good at this property; we did not have any issues with signal strength, and there were no restrictions on usage.
- They do not allow babies.
- They fed us a really homey continental breakfast the next day – breads, fruit, and some really amazing homemade rhubarb ginger jam.
- As noted, we had a couple of long conversations with them, and they said they were thinking of selling the property so they could properly retire and travel more. While we loved the B&B, we wish them nothing but the best.
- We ate at Huhu Cafe, which was literally located right across the street from our B&B, and one of few options right in town without additional driving. Colin helped us to make a last-minute reservation. We had a relatively early dinner (at 6), so the reservation did not actually matter, as the restaurant did not really fill up until we were about finished.
- Our waitress was a bit awkward and clueless with how she described the menu and answered our questions. We think she might have been the teenage daughter of the chef, forced to help out with the family business. Anyways, half way through, our table became too sunny with how the window was positioned, so we moved seats. As a result of the move, we got a different waitress.
- JH ordered a lamb shoulder rack with harissa-roasted pumpkin, mint yoghurt and hummus (34 NZD). I ordered a salmon with a broccoli slaw, beetroot relish and candied walnuts (34 NZD). I also had a real craving for sweets that day (we had not had dessert in a while, and as you all know, we addictively eat sugar at home), so we also ordered an apple & rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice cream (13.5 NZD).
- JH awkwardly asked the waitress if the desserts were any good, and if there was anything comparable as “the best dessert in town”. The waitress looked back at us really awkwardly and said she could not really say there was a best dessert in town beyond what was served at the café. The awkwardness continued as we actually stared at each other in silence for a few seconds. Anyhow, after all that, I chose the crumble.
- The food was okay. Neither of us thought the meal was really special. Also at this point, we were getting a bit tired of how expensive eating out was (even though the convenient thing with eating out in New Zealand is that the final price is all-in with taxes and service, so you know right off the bat what you are paying without really even thinking; also CAD and NZD are pretty close to par on an exchange basis). Best thing though was that the restaurant was incredibly close to our B&B, and we were able to rest immediately afterwards from the long day. We actually caught an episode of my favourite show from back at home – This is Us. I love Sterling K Brown, aka Randall, and the relationship they have written of him with his biological father William. I could rant about that show for hours, but for the purposes of keeping with this story, let’s move on. Let’s get back to Waitomo.
Ruakuri Caves Bush Walk
- Colin recommended we try this hike before we headed to dinner. Even though we had just finished the long Tongariro hike hours earlier, we cleared our heads, and decided that (based on his description of how easy it was) a short walk would not hurt us.
- The car park heading to the trail was about a 5 minute drive west of our B&B.
- The start of the trail is not really that clearly marked. There looked to be a couple of paths, but I think we chose the right one veering off of a sign explaining the trail and area. The path we chose was also near a gazebo. In retrospect, given the path is a loop, it probably does not matter which path you choose because you will loop back no matter what.
- We were one of few hikers on the trail, so it was really quiet and peaceful. The trail is really easy, a basic loop that you can finish in about 30 minutes (taking into account time to stop and take pictures). The path veers in and out of little caves, wooden platforms & bridges facing pretty streams, and small manageable stairways. There are also a number of benches in case you need to take a rest. This would be a great trail for families with young kids.
- We went when it was still bright out, but Colin told us that at night time (around 9PM-ish), there are a couple of spots where you can view packs of glow worms.
Legendary Black Water Rafting
Black water rafting with Legendary Black Water Rafting Co was the main reason why we chose to pass through Waitomo. I preface this part of the story with the fact that I generally cringe a little with activities where I get really cold and wet – case in point, the polar plunge in Antarctica. However I am up for trying anything at least once.
JH and I booked the Black Abyss Tour – a 5-hour black-water rafting and glow worm cave tour starting at 9AM in the morning. You drive to their main building, and leave your car in their parking lot. Guides then drive you and the group to the caves for the actual tour. Based on our experience, swimsuits, towels, flip flops, and shampoo (which I forgot) are the key things to bring. We also decided to try the ‘sock’ layer that Colin suggested, but in retrospect neither of us thought it helped much. Once you get cold and wet, you get cold and wet.
We booked online at the regular price (240 NZD per person) many months ahead, but Colin had a 10 percent off coupon which he gave us to use, and it turns out you can probably find a 10 percent off voucher at most places around town at the tourist information center, hotels, etc. The company would not however let us use the coupon, or rather, if we did, we would have to pay a sizeable penalty to cancel our existing booking and create a new one. We spoke to the manager, but she gave us about 500 1000 excuses as to why she could not let us use the voucher or waive the penalty, or even throw in pictures (which cost less than the amount of the 10 percent being taken off). We were left with a bad taste in our mouths, but at that point, we were not going to leave. Of course we continued with the tour. We just hope that anyone who books this tour in the future knows to look for the 10 percent off coupons ahead of time. It would be great if everyone else could benefit from a discount in the future even if we could not.
That aside, our tour guides, Matt and Emma were great. Matt was a joker, while Emma was all-business, but in a friendly way. They were very thorough in helping our group move through all the motions:
- Locking away our stuff;
- Suiting up in wet suits and boots, and choosing helmets;
- Walking us through rappelling training;
- Actually rappelling into the cave;
- Strapping us up for the zip line, and;
- Moving quickly and safely through all the dark areas of the cave.
We never felt unsafe, and it was just a great experience to look up and see all the glowworms when the opportunity arose. They looked like Christmas lights, and it was nice to think of them in that respect when they are actually creepy-crawly luminescent larvae. At some point, Emma noticed I was shivering and helped to heat me up with warm drinks (and by this, I mean she literally poured hot liquid down my wet suit); and to actually move through the cold water with forceful aerobic movements. Despite the wet suit, the water was really cold, and the temperature went straight through me. It was like a polar dip, but you cannot run out in 10 seconds after the initial shock hits your body. There are areas where you have to swim for a literal minute or you cannot move on to the next part of the tour, so you really have to force yourself to move.
All in all, my favourite parts were where our group was linked together (arms and legs) in the rafts, and we floated along quietly staring at the glowworms above; and the very last part of the tour, where you actually climb up (steady) rocks through a waterfall. It was really fun, and despite the cold parts, the five hours goes through relatively quickly even with a short uphill hike at the end from the cave back to the parking lot. Before you know it, you are taking a shower (there was left-behind-shampoo thankfully), and off to eat the bagel & tomato soup they provide you at the end. We were not able to take pictures because cameras were not allowed given the liability of the surroundings. Matt used a point-and-shoot to capture some pictures, but they did not look really professional so we opted to move on. JH and I also equally did not want to give this company any more business.
Hahei – Coromandel Peninsula
In truth, 90 percent of my vacation inspirations come from seeing a picture or reading about an experience. I might know nothing about the country – its culture, politics, people, food, etc. But, if I see a picture of something that looks absolutely surreal (case in point Tongariro’s Emerald Lakes), I will obsessively research how to get there to experience it in person, and then learn and read about the country in the process to validate every reason why I should go there, and go there soon. Mind you, if it is an actual war zone (and not one that’s not actually a war zone, but is just blown out of proportion by media), I will casually back off. I am not that crazy – though, JH’s parents have given me “please no” expressions when I have suggested wanting to go to Iran and Pakistan (and even to our current plans to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – basically anything ending with a “stan”). In my defense, there is nothing wrong with Iran – multitudes of tourists go to Iran each year. Trump politics just made JH too skittish for us to go this year what with have his constant back and forth to the US for work, but we will get there one day. We may just have to drag along young kids for that particular trip. There is also nothing wrong with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. These countries are not the “Bahama’s” and “Italy’s” of the world, but they deserve exploration in their own right. And then Pakistan, I need to read a few more travel blogs and talk to some more people to determine how I really actually feel about there, but I know in my heart I want to visit Fairy Meadows and Hunza Valley sometime in my lifetime.
Getting back to the point (before I continue going off on a tirade), if JH is open to visiting that country, I will structure an entire trip around specific places. What can I say, we grew up in a media age, and seeking out or idealizing about experiences and places seen through social media is pretty normal (at least I would think).
So, for our last stop before Auckland, I was keen to visit Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel Peninsula. I had seen many beautiful pictures of the cove at the perfect tide and with gorgeous rays of day light, and knew that I wanted to visit it. The drive from Waitomo was approximately 3 hours to Hahei in Coromandel. After rafting, we picked up our bags from Colin and Janet, said our goodbyes and went along our way.
For the most part, the scenery on the drive was fairly similar to any of the other drives (farmlands, rolling hills, scattered forests). At some point, probably an hour away from Hahei, the scenery of the road completely changed. We started driving on a continuous switchback surrounded by tall forests, and a bit of jungle. We continued driving along this scenery for a little awhile, and eventually met the coast.
Hahei, similar to Waitomo, is a very small place. Once again, everything is walkable, and the main attraction is the Cathedral Cove walk, and nearby Hot Water Beach. We got there with about 5 minutes to spare before our hotel check-in closed (at 6PM) for the night, and then had enough time to eat dinner and explore the beach before the sun went down.
|· We stayed at The Church (87 Hahei Beach Road).
· A room with a queen bed was $141 per night through Expedia (as of 2016 when we booked).
· The hotel is a series of cottages with their own parking spots. The rooms are rustic and beautifully decorated. Our cottage was literally next door to the restaurant.
· The location is really serene and quiet. There is a garden leading outside of each cottage.
· Wi-Fi is free, but signal strength was poor. There was also no TV in the room.
· It was cold in Hahei that evening, so we used the portable heater in the room.
· The hotel was about a 7 to 10 minute walk to the beach, and a couple of restaurants.
· The hotel has a great restaurant by the same name. We ate there for dinner under a reservation I had made back in Canada.
· Reception posts the times for low tide and high tide, so you know when to visit Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.
|· We had a fabulous dinner at the Church restaurant next door. It is in an old converted church, and the atmosphere is completely rustic.
· Even though it was a bit drafty, we sat in their covered porch area to enjoy the natural light.
· JH ordered the Lamb Tagine with a couscous and mint yoghurt (28 NZD), and I ordered the Coromandel mussels (21 NZD).
· We shared patatas bravas with a spicy (not really spicy at all) tomato sauce (11 NZD).
· The mussels were so good, and the biggest ones I have ever had in my life. JH said he also enjoyed his dish; he pretty much ordered as much lamb as he could throughout the entire trip.
· The table next to us got a sticky bread pudding for dinner that looked so good, but we were so full that we opted to pass.
· We also ate at Hahei Beach Café for breakfast the next day after our hike. It was also really delicious. I had a pancake stack with bacon, while JH had a roasted chicken and brie sandwich. They have a really big patio with large picnic tables, so we enjoyed a sunny brunch outside, with seagulls eyeing us casually from the next table.
- After dinner, JH and I decided to talk a walk. Hahei reminded us of one of those cottage country towns. The streets are small and quaint, and everything just seems really peaceful. All the restaurants are congregated in one area just across the street from the beach. We explored the neighbourhoods for a little while, and even stumbled on a street named after me (Y and all). JH insisted I take multiple pictures in front of the sign to which I begrudgingly obliged.
- We then sauntered off to the beach to catch some photos of sunset. I loved the beach. It was quiet and there were barely any people there. It was not that warm outside, but it did not hurt to take off your shoes. JH chased seagulls and I tried to make reflections in little pools of water.
- Towards the east side of the beach, there is a rope swing that you can play with. JH and I swung for a little while, taking some photos and having some fun.
- It was a sweet, innocent night, and I really enjoyed the serene atmosphere. It was the most relaxed I think we both felt for the entire trip.
Cathedral Cove Walk
- Low tide was not that early. I think JH and I woke up around 7:30AM, and drove to the start of the trail by 8AM (timing could be dodgy, but just know that you need to frame your timing of the walk according to tides anyhow). The car park was about a four minute drive away from our hotel. We were thinking that we would walk the entire way, but figured that if we drove, we could just spend more time sauntering the trail downwards through the coves.
- When we got there, the parking lot was still relatively empty versus it being completely full when we left (probably around 10:30-11AM).
- The walk was relatively easy. I think it took us about 30 minutes to get to the actual cove without detours.
- There are other bays that you can explore along the way (Stingray Bay and Gemstone Bay), a grove, as well as additional hikes for other viewpoints.
- The trail curves up and down a bit until you reach the final set of stairs heading down to the beach leading to the cove.
- When we got there, there were only two groups of people. The beach was relatively quiet, and once again the atmosphere felt very serene. The sun was just hitting the area very softly, and there are several rocky areas where you can just perch and zone out.
- The two groups of people kept on getting in the way of each other’s photos, so we just waited patiently for our turn. One group left, and we ended up speaking to the other group.
- This group consisted of three young travelers – one German guy and two French girls, who had all met each other randomly while travelling and decided to stick together to continue their journeys. They were basically on more of my dream journeys – travelling for a year, across countries, etc, etc. Anyhow, the one girl had a professional camera set-up going with a tripod and timer, so we asked if she would take a few photos for us. She was really nice and ended up doing many photos for us – outside and inside the cove. Luckily for us, no one else really came until we were starting to leave.
- The cove was gorgeous. It is one of those things that you really have to appreciate in person. It looks amazing in a photograph, but seeing it in person is just so surreal. It just knocks your breath out, especially on a blue-skied day and the water is just sparkling against it.
- JH and I hung around the area for a while just because it was so peaceful. On the way back, we did two additional short hikes to a viewpoint overlooking the ocean (20 minutes – sign marked on the trail), and another viewpoint also overlooking the ocean, but sitting on a cliff ledge (10 minutes – not really marked, you just kind of see a path near a picnic bench – i.e. see picture below).
- We also visited Stingray Bay, which really was not that much, but I am not sure if we actually explored it fully.
- For this walk, we wore running shoes (and took off our shoes on the beach). We wore jackets since it was cool, but shorts since it felt warmer with the sun. Remember to bring sunscreen and sunglasses.
Hot Water Beach
- After lunch, JH and I changed into our swimsuits, checked out of the hotel and headed to Hot Water Beach, an 8 minute drive away from Hahei. I think the perfect tiding for the beach was supposed to be around 2 PM, but we went early, and were actually able to get a good spot before large crowds really came in.
- Hot Water Beach is a thermal water beach – essentially nature’s natural hot tub.
- There is paid parking right above the beach. I think one of the tourist centres or nearby hotels provided spades, but for whatever reason (mostly laziness) we decided to go without one. We ended up borrowing one from a friendly neighbor after JH made slow progress at digging our hole with a stick. (JH was my good little digger). We eventually built a solidly good pool with warm enough water.
- At first, when you arrive at the beach, you are not 100 percent what to do, but as you watch the ‘regular’s around you (a lot of New Zealander families), you figure out quickly that you need to feel the heat of the sand with your toes, and dig around the heat to make a hot water pool that you can sit in. Some areas are too hot (literally making your feet jump and burn), so you have to feel around until you find just the right temperature. There are only a couple areas that are affected by volcanic rock on the beach, so wherever everyone starts congregating, there are likely good spots to build a pool. The good spots however are taken up pretty quickly; some people build incredibly big pools with good walls and foundations.
- We were one of the first ones there; and by the time we left, there were many vacant pools around dug out for other people to scoop up.
- JH and I relaxed a bit, but given he hates sun, we did not stay for too long, and ended up giving our pool to a nice-looking couple who had just arrived. There are outdoor showers and change rooms by the car park, so we rinsed ourselves a bit off and changed before heading back on our way.
Auckland & Waiheke Island
I know I complain a lot about not having enough time to travel. I am also constantly jealous of couples who travel for months and years, but whenever we are near the end of a trip, I do feel ready to go home. I do miss my kitchen, eating at home, seeing my dad, being with our cats, and getting back into a routine. So, in many ways, I am basically a walking contradiction. 17 days after we left Toronto, it was time for us to head to our very last destination – Auckland. The intention is that we would stay in Auckland for about two days, and then fly home to Toronto on an evening flight.
It took us about 2.5 hours to drive from Hahei to Auckland. It might have actually been a little more because we encountered traffic just outside of the big city (I kind of lost track of time easily, and we never really looked at how many kilometers we clocked overall).
Auckland reminded me a little bit of Toronto. They are equally grid-walkable, but we found that Auckland has a lot more pedestrian-only areas, both in its financial district and down by the harbourfront. Its harbourfront was also generally better structured and utilized with seemingly endless amounts of packed restaurants and bars. Unlike our harbourfront or Distillery District, Auckland’s pedestrian-only areas and marina areas also did not seem touristy at all. If I were to imagine King West and Ossington in Toronto smashed into our harbourfront, then maybe I could see a semblance of Auckland’s vast restaurant marina district.
The night JH and I arrived, it was spitting rain. The rain was not uncomfortable like in Wellington, but we had to move quickly and casually use umbrellas here and there. We had a splendid dinner of pasta at Ortalana (31 Tyler Street in Britomart – which is like another beautiful pedestrian-only area / outdoor mall by the business district). I loved everything about this restaurant. The inside had a very warm, rustic décor, but we sat outside on the covered patio. It was the slightest bit breezy with the spitting rain, so the staff gave us blankets. The food was just sublimely delicious (even if just for pasta). I ordered a pappardelle with olives, anchovy and capers (28NZD), while JH ordered a gnocchi verdi with a vivid, garden-spread of peas and beans (20NZD). We also shared a squash panzanella (8NZD). I am such a sucker for Italian food, but this was one of my favourite meals on the trip (other than Kika).
Because it was raining, we did not get to explore too much, so after a short walk around the Britomart district, we went back to our hotel earlier. We had nothing planned for the next day, and the weather was anticipated to be gorgeous, so we wanted to pick something great for our last full day.
We stayed at the Celestian Waldorf Apartment Hotel (19 Anzac Avenue).
- We paid $152 per night on Expedia (as of 2016).
- The hotel is about a 10 minute walk away to the Ferry Terminal, and fairly convenient to walk to anywhere else in the main city.
- There is onsite parking for 25NZD per day. WiFi is only available for the first hour.
- We were lucky and actually got upgraded from a one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom suite with a fully-stocked kitchen. The suite was really big with a really nice bathroom. We never used the second bedroom, but it was nice to have more space to lay out our suitcases for re-packing and clean up. This room would have been very nice for a family of 3 to 5 people.
- There is no daily cleaning unless you stay for longer than four days.
- The hotel is facing a random street, so the view is nothing special. The hotel was also under-going construction, so the hallway floors were padded.
After some quick research, JH and I decided that for our final day we wanted to visit Waiheke Island. A number of people we spoke to recommended the island, but they also told us that it deserved at least two days to explore. Given we just had the one day however, we were fine just to see even a strip of it.
Early the next day, JH and I walked to the ferry terminal and bought a return ticket (36 NZD return per person) to Waiheke Island – ticket prices can be found here. Given it was a summer Friday, the ferry was packed. Some people were already breaking out champagne in the morning. Needless to say, people-watching was fun. The ride was only about 40 minutes, so it felt relatively quick. Before we left Auckland, JH and I decided we would try to do as much exploration on foot. There were options where you could buy hop-on-hop-off transit passes or rent a car, but we were sticking mostly to the west side of the island, so we figured, given it was a sunny day, walking would not hurt us.
Waiheke Island is a beautiful place to explore. It is the kind of place where, if on a blue-skied sunny day, you could imagine yourself getting married there and it would be the most beautifully photographed wedding ever. I am slowly accumulating places for a future vow renewal with JH, and Waiheke Island is one of those places that I am tempted to add to my list, especially for the place I describe next. I am just not sure if it is off-the-beat enough (since after getting married in Toronto, I want something completely different; currently, Madagascar is winning in that race). JH and I also have a plan where if we get shit-faced rich somehow (likely from winning the lottery), we will fly a few friends over to some private island for our vow renewals. We will leave random costumes in each of their rooms, and our guests will not be allowed to attend the ceremony unless they show up in those particular costumes. Jabba the Hutt is a current suggestion. Oh, how it is so nice to dream sometimes.
Anyways, getting back to Waiheke, the island’s main attraction is a number of highly-rated wineries. Makes sense, we are in New Zealand. Mind you, I have never been to Napa, or had time to visit wineries on previous Europe trips, or when we were in Patagonia, but I fell ridiculously, whimsically, and romantically in love with the winery we visited while there – Mudbrick Winery. The winery is about a 35 minute walk south-east of the ferry terminal. We got lost at first, but with the help of some locals, and the gradual presence of signs, we finally made it there just in time for lunch (at 11 AM). We could not get a reservation, but they have plenty of tables on their patio for walk-ins.
Mudbrick is on a large-plot of land. There are a couple of main buildings for wine tastings, their shop, and then areas for private dining (of their tasting menu), and for hosting events. As mentioned, we sat on their patio, which was great because we had a great view of the surrounding property. If you take a short hike up the hill from their main building, you get an amazing view of Auckland and the water, set amidst rows and rows of sparkly green grape vines. The atmosphere of the vineyards is just stunning.
Neither JH nor I are wine connoisseurs, but JH decided to do a wine tasting (I stole sips since alcohol is not really good for me these days). There were two tastings – a premium (20NZD per person) and standard (10NZD per person). JH opted to do the 5-glass premium tasting, which included the following glasses of:
- 2016 Reserve Waiheke Viognier (“vee-own-yay”) – my favourite
- 2016 Waiheke Rose
- 2016 Waiheke Onetangi Valley Shiraz
- 2015 Waiheke Mudbrick Velvet
- 2014 Marlborough Reserve Noble Riesling
I had wandered off to explore, but JH stayed with the sommelier in the tasting room. He funnily told me later that he “uh-hmmd” to a lot of what she was talking about (though he did manage to ask her some questions about aging that she did not know the answer to). But overall, that’s how inexperienced we are with wines.
For lunch, JH and I ordered a bundle of delicious food (forgive me as I do not remember pricing, and their online menu has rotated). I wanted to do their tasting menu, but my stomach was also reaching saturation point, so we ordered what I thought was a bunch of small snacks. We ordered a meat, cheese and breads platter with olives and a bunch of sauces (like herb butter, hummus and baba ghanoush). The platter was massive. To top it off, JH thought the focaccia looked great (based off of seeing it on someone else’s table), and decided we should order it as well. It turns out, focaccia was included with our meat and cheese platter already. I was so bloated from bread afterwards that I wanted to fall asleep. It also did not help that I ordered rhubarb donuts to “start” the snacking. Needless to say, despite all the bread, it was such a good way to spend a Friday morning / mid-afternoon.
Afterwards, we walked around the west side of the Island to try to work off all the carbs, cheese and wine. Our route was not well-planned out at all, so I do not know if we got to see the prettiest parts of this side of the island, but we basically sauntered in and out of legitimately marked bush trails to random neighborhoods, somehow ending up at beaches. One of the beaches was at an incredibly low tide, and it was interesting to see boats essentially “beached”. At another beach, I saw a bunch of jutted rocks that I thought would make for an interesting picture. JH likes to be protective because he knows I am a clutz, but he also knows that if I want a picture, I want a picture. Needless to say, we traversed a bunch of really sharp rocks against low-tide to get some gorgeous views facing the beach away from the ocean. It was fun, and despite arguing about doing nothing and everything, I do love it when JH is protective of me.
We were warm and tired at this point, so we got some gelato, and then decided to catch the next ferry back. I completely agree that we barely touched the island, but once again, I know if we come back, we will go again. There is a vineyard – Man O’War at the complete east side of the island that I really want to visit. I think maybe next time, we will actually stay on the island if there is reasonable-enough accommodation to be found.
I will not rant on and on about the rest of our time in Auckland, as there is really nothing more that interesting. We did one of these free walking tours (which we also did in Sydney) just because it gives you a free, quick (2-3 hour) overview of the highlights of the city. We achingly returned our little Suzuki Swift to Jucy, where I cried (JH was happy because the price of gas in New Zealand is crazy). We also had a couple more meals:
- Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar (86 Federal Street) – not great; food was meh, and service was pretty off (though they were really busy). We ordered lamb ribs, broccoli, oysters and fish sliders. I think we only liked the fish sliders (because of the buttery bun). The lamb ribs were especially fatty, and not seasoned well.
- Food Alley (9 Albert Street)– predominantly south-east Asian food court – Auckland’s largest Asian food court. Food cost on average 8-10NZD, and is probably one of the cheapest options in the city for a decent meal. The place looks like a hole-in-the-wall, and the food is pretty greasy. Nonetheless, I love south-east Asian food. I love it A LOT. So, for our last meal, we had to have laksa and mee goreng. I also saw some really delicious clay pot rice, so we ordered that too. Everything (though greasy) was so delicious.
- I finally drank a flat white, though I technically should have drank one in Australia.
All in all, we left Auckland with relatively tight pants and spirited hearts. For me, and importantly so, I gained momentum to go back and face home. 18 days is really not that much time, but I think we tried our best to see and experience as much of the country as we could. For what we did, and what we experienced, we built up enough memories to know that we love Australia (okay, we barely touched Australia) and New Zealand, and will definitely be back. We just have to probably get through 20 other countries first….the bucket travel list is long, and vacation time is minimal (JH let’s run away PLEASE).