New Zealand North Island Itinerary
We spent twelve days in New Zealand for the first part of our honeymoon (more about the second part here). We kind of stumbled on the idea of New Zealand from a friend who had paired their honeymoon with Bora Bora and thought it was a nice mix of beaches and more ambitious sightseeing. When we found reasonable non-stop flights from Auckland to Tahiti we were sold.
This is a shortened version of our full itinerary, here, which would be perfect for a long weekend to explore highlights of the North Island. If we were doing a trip only in the North, in addition to this itinerary, we would include a few more things.
Northland Region - Stay at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs for a true luxury experience and take in the coastline, marine reserves, and wineries and the tropical climate of Northern New Zealand. This will be the warmest location so be sure to plan for some days on the beach.
Martinborough - Spend the after visiting the boutique wineries of Martinborough and then enjoy a few nights at Wharekaukau Country Estate
Wellington - Spend a day wandering around New Zealand's capital before taking the Interislander Ferry to Picton to continue on to the South Island
We arrived in Auckland at 5:45am after a flight from New York to LA and then overnight flight from LA to Auckland. It really was a long trip (and we typically don't mind long flights) plus that first week was one of the worst jet lags we've had - this was one thing we hadn't really planned for (the first night our eyes were burning by 6pm and we were still up at 3:30am - wide awake). We are typically pretty good at getting acclimated but when you're traveling so far I think there isn't much to do but wait out the jet lag.
That first day we hit the food scene hard. When we visit cities we seem to find ourselves wandering around taking in the sights most of the time as opposed to museums and things like that and with the walking comes a lot of food. By 8am we were at Caffetteria Allpress sharing pastries and sipping on fresh coffee. Unfortunately the weather wasn't great, it's fall in New Zealand in May but we were expecting high 60s. It was warmish but foggy and misty so it didn't make for great walking weather. What was also interesting was the city itself - it wasn't what we expected at all. We felt like the architecture was newish but outdated and overall didn't think this was a particularly pretty city. So instead of walking too much more we wound up at Best Ugly Bagels to test out the Kiwi's bagel skills. The bagels were okay but the place itself had a great vibe.
Next up (I did say this way a big food day for us), after a very short time walking we found ourselves at Depot. This was our favorite restaurant in Auckland - we had both breakfast and lunch here as well as some glasses of Chardoney by 10am which we'll blame on the time change and lack of sleep the night before. We stayed here at the bar for a few hours chatting with the bartender and eating some delicious oysters, lamb ribs and grilled kumara (New Zealand sweet potatoes). The food here was amazing and we wished we had the time to come back for dinner.
Luckily the weather started to clear so we were able to get up to the top of the Sky Tower for a view of the city in the afternoon. We were crashing at this point though and took a quick nap before heading to Ima Cuisine for dinner. We probably would have skipped dinner altogether this first night if we didn't have the reservation. The middle eastern food was delicious but we were still full from our breakfast(s) and lunch and by this time so tired that we couldn't fully appreciate it.
We love wine and had read a lot about Waiheke Island while planning our trip so we knew we wanted to spend a day touring the island and sampling New Zealand wines. We booked a tour with Waiheke Island Wine Tours and took the ferry over from Auckland. The ferry was a fun experience in itself and gave us a chance to see the Auckland skyline from the water as well as all the other smaller islands in the harbor.
Our tour stopped at three wineries and let us pick where to go for lunch (we hadn't planned for having the choice so we ended up going back to one of the wineries we had tried). Probably the most famous winery in Waiheke island with the most beautiful grounds and views to the water is Mudbrick Winery. We sampled a few wines here including Syrah and Chardonnay which have become popular in the region. This area also does a lot of Bordeaux style wines which we aren't typically our favorites.
We absolutely loved Casita Miro for lunch and wine tasting. They specialize in Spanish food and do a lot of tapas which we sampled as part of the wine tasting - then when we went back for lunch we enjoyed a full meal and a few more tapas. The outdoor area of Casita Miro is really unique as well with the owner having created a beautiful patio with mosaic tiling which made me feel more like I was in Barcelona than New Zealand.
We ended up skipping dinner this night. We were so full from our lunch and tastings and still so tired that we decided to call it quits early and try to catch up on some much needed sleep.
Getting around by plane in New Zealand is much easier than in other places so it's recommended especially if you have planned driving at other times during your trip. Fly from Auckland to Napier for the next few days spent wine tasting in Hawke's Bay.
Spend your first full day wine tasting in Hawke's Bay which we were referring to as Little Napa by the time we left. The climate and culture reminded us so much of California and the wines here were bolder than those we tried in the Central Otago region. They specialize in Syrah's which we really enjoyed. One of our favorite spots was Mission Estate Winery which is one of the oldest wineries in New Zealand. We had lunch outside here overlooking the vineyards and found it to be so peaceful and beautiful. Another highlight from the day was going to the top of Te Mata Peak which we did first thing in the morning. The drive up to the top is unnerving (it's a one way winding road) so going first thing in the morning when there are less cars is best. Luckily we were with a tour guide because I can't imagine driving up to the peak on our own. We loved the views of the whole area from the top. We also loved our quick stop in between wineries at Arataki Honey. There is a shop where you can sample their wide variety of honeys and of course take some home with you. We loved the sampling and bought a few jars to take with us. Our absolute favorite place in this region though was Ash Ridge Winery. We stopped here mid afternoon for a tasting and snack which was the most delicious cheese platter that we enjoyed in their screened in porch. We loved all of the wines here, especially the Syrah's and their late harvest dessert wine and ended up buying a case to be shipped back to us in the US.
Back on the road, after a relaxing morning in our temporary home, Millar Road, we were on the way to Rotorua for some history and culture. Rotorua is one of the main centers for the Maori people in New Zealand and is steeped in history. The Maori are the indigenous Polynesian population of New Zealand and have a very distinct culture and way of life on the island. We knew we wanted to experience this part of the country which made Rotorua a good stop on the way back to Auckland from Hawke's Bay - it's about half way between both. On the way, we stopped at Wai-O-Tapu, a geothermal park famous for the Champagne Pool, naturally colored hot and cold springs, and volcanic craters. We really enjoyed wandering around here and taking in all the colors (and smells). The thermal activity around Rotorua also makes it a popular attraction in addition to all of the Maori related tours you can do. We decided on the Mitai Maori Village experience for dinner. There are a few options of different companies to choose from but from everything I had read, they all seem to be very similar. Overall, we had mixed feeling on the experience. We liked learning more about the culture but the whole night felt a little more like being in Epcot than in New Zealand.
We packed up our things and headed for Auckland International Airport. The drive was a few hours and while we had originally planned to stop along the way at Hobbiton and then stay in Auckland overnight for an early morning flight the following day, our flight got pushed forward so we scratched those plans and headed right to the airport.
Overall, we can't say enough good things about New Zealand - the people, food, scenery, culture were all incredible and we really hope to visit again some day!