post author: rachel
The final stop of our two week trip in Australia and New Zealand was to Auckland, which is on the north side of the island. Upon landing, we hopped on the SkyBus, which was a really easy way to get around town, plus there was a stop just a couple blocks from our AirBnB. It was a small apartment in the perfect location, right in the heart of downtown. We dropped our backpacks and went to explore the city and find dinner. We stumbled upon a Spanish style restaurant near the Sky City Tower called Bellota. Two sangrias and a large seafood platter later left us happy and full after a long travel day!
As I've mentioned in previous posts, throughout this trip we made it a habit to stop at the grocery store on the first day we arrived in a new city. We found that having snacks on hand, or breakfast readily available made for a quicker start to the day and saved us money. Buying a few bottles of wine also helped cut costs because the price for one bottle at the store was the same for one glass at most restaurants.
Following dinner, we walked to the grocery store to stock up, headed back to the AirBnB, opened some wine and watched a movie on Netflix to end the night.
Wine tour day! Can you tell we love wine?
We got up early, walked down to the Harbor and boarded a ferry for Waiheke Island - an island just off the coast of Auckland that produces some of New Zealand’s best wines. We stopped at a two wineries - Casita Miro and Thomas Batch - and one distillery - Dellows.
After the tour, we asked our guide to drop us off at Mudbrick Vineyard. We had dinner reservations there and were extremely excited to try it. It did not disappoint! This place is a MUST-TRY! When we arrived, we went to the tasting room and sampled some amazing wines. Neither of us favor white wines, but their Chardonnay was one of the best we've ever tasted. We then hiked up on top of the hill that’s located right behind the vineyard and were treated to the 360-degree views of the ocean and the entire island. Such an amazing sight! Take a look at the photos in the gallery below to see the view.
We then walked back down to the vineyard and found a bottle of wine and table in the shade to relax, snack and enjoy the out-of-this-world view. Ironically, our waitress was from Oklahoma and had just moved to NZ a few weeks before. It was fun to chat with her, hear her experiences and how she up and left the states to explore the country.
When we finished our bottle of wine at Mudbrick, our waitress had recommended walking over to Cable Bay Vineyards. It was a quick walk up the road and had more of a relaxed hipster vibe. After grabbing one last glass of wine, we ventured out to the patio area, which was a large lawn filled with bean bags overlooking another absolutely phenomenal view.
After visiting as many vineyards as we could on Waiheke Island, we decided it was probably time to head back to Auckland. We split a cab with another family back to the pier and caught the ferry to the city just as the sun was setting. What a beautiful sunset! To think, we almost paid to take a sunset dinner cruise! Save the money and just hop on the ferry at the perfect time.
We were up early and at the bus stop to meet our tour guide for Hobbiton - the location for the filming of The Shire in The Lord of the Rings series, and The Hobbit - and the Waitomo Caves - a cave filled with glowworms lighting up the walls.
The tour company we used, unfortunately, was horrendous. It was through Great Sights - do not use! Due to holiday traffic (it was Good Friday), and our driver not leaving on time, it took us over half the day to get out there! It's normally just over a two hour drive from Auckland, but the heavy traffic disrupted our plans. Since we arrived in Hobbiton so late, we missed our time slot for the Hobbiton tour and missed our chance to get over to Waitomo Caves on time, which we were the most excited about.
The good news was that the Hobbiton employees were able to shuffle a few things around and fit us into another tour for the movie set. Our Hobbiton tour guide led us through The Shire, walking along the same trails the hobbits used in the movie. She shared tons of movie facts, grounds keeping stories and even let us go inside a hobbit home! We walked through the 12 acre set and saw all 44 hobbit homes on the property that are exactly as they are in the movie. At the end of the tour, we went inside the Green Dragon Inn and were treated to an apple-cider ale. It was such a neat experience.
Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings series, is regarded as a king in New Zealand and it's incredible to hear about his work, his keen eye and his creativity. His attention to detail is absolutely impeccable.
This is well worth the journey! I'd suggest a different tour company than Great Sights or rent a car and make the trek out there.
This was our last day of the entire trip. Our flight was that evening on Air New Zealand (highly recommend this airline!), so we had the whole day to continue exploring the city. We had to check out of our AirBnB that morning, so instead of lugging around our 15lb backpacks all day, we packed our smaller day bags with the essentials and stored our backpacks in a locker at the bus stop. It was the cheapest and safest way to ditch our luggage.
We wanted to see the city all at once in just one day...the solution - the hop on/hop off tour through Auckland Explorer Bus. We bought our tickets, grabbed the map, circled which places we wanted to stop, and made our way through the city.
We started on the red bus and made our first stop at the Bastion Point lookout for some out of this world views of the island, just breathtaking. Then we hopped off by the Parnell Rose Garden, which contains over 5,000 roses.
At the museum, we switched to the blue bus to explore Mt. Eden and Maungawhau, which is the highest volcano in Auckland. The last eruption was about 28,000 years ago, leaving a crater 160ft deep. We walked to the top in just under an hour, and let me tell - it was worth climbing that hill! At the top it was a 360° view of the city! Such a magnificent sight.
We made the long trek down the mountain and back to the red bus. Our next stop was to a gorgeous park. We had packed a few snacks and one last bottle of wine in our bag, so we found a cute bench in the park near the trees and flowers and enjoyed the last of our New Zealand wine and food.
After indulging, we made our final stop of the tour - the Sky Tower. Our bus tickets included passes to the Sky Tower, the 23rd tallest tower in the world. It was a fun and unique way to see the city. Just outside the base of the tower, we stumbled upon a festival. There were a number of locals, vendors and dancers. It was a wonderful way to experience their culture and put a cap on our trip.
This two week journey was one of the best of our lives! My husband and I loved every second of Australia and New Zealand! During our bus ride to the airport we were already talking about when we could return.
Thanks for following along this trip with me!
post author: rachel
New Zealand is such a gorgeous and breathtaking place to visit!
In case you missed it, my husband and I took a two week trip in March, each with only one backpack, and explored Sydney, Cairns and Melbourne, Australia and then hopped over to New Zealand. It was an incredible experience and a trip we'll be talking about for a very long time.
March, by the way, is the start of the fall season in Australia and New Zealand so we had wonderful weather and were able to enjoy all the beautiful scenery. Check out the photo gallery at the bottom of this post for more astonishing views!
We caught an early flight from Melbourne over to Queenstown on JetStar, which we chose because it had the cheapest flights available. We had a 3-hour flight and, unlike traveling to Australia, you do not need a visa, you just need to show your flight itinerary when departing the country.
The view from the plane (photo above) was breathtaking! We were so ready to explore this beautiful land!
Upon arrival, we went through customs, which we found had some very strict regulations. They are very sensitive to any foreign substances being introduced into the local eco-system. Therefore, you have to discard all fruits, veggies, nuts, foods, etc. You also have to declare any golf shoes, other sports equipment, hiking boots, essentially anything that might contain bacteria or spores that could be introduced in New Zealand and have a negative impact on the environment. Not only do they police it intensely, but it’s also a $400 minimum fine for any item that you didn’t declare prior to arrival. They ask you about what you have in your bag and then it is sent through an x-ray machine for further examination.
Once through customs, we taxied over to our Airbnb. It was a small unit on the first floor with a wall of large windows overlooking the water and the mountains. Beautiful! We also had access to the hot tub in the backyard and, it was phenominal!
We took a quick tour of the place, dropped our backpacks and walked into town for lunch. Queenstown is situated along Wakatipu Lake and is nestled on the side of The Remarkables mountain range. The leaves were just starting to change colors, which added to the beauty of the town.
As we strolled through this quaint little town, we did a lot of window shopping at the boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants along the way. The town reminded us a lot of Breckenridge, Colorado, but with more spectacular views.
For lunch, we stopped at Public Kitchen & Bar, near the water. As I've mentioned in previous posts, my husband and I shared most of our meals when we ate out because the portions were usually more than enough and it helped us save a few dollars along the way. Plus, we always had plenty of snacks on hand if we needed them throughout the day so we were never famished when we sat down to order a meal.
We shared some delicious fried squid with aioli and a fried chicken burger. Yum! The only things better than the food, were the views of the majestic mountains, the crystal clear water and the impressive boats. The restaurant had massive windows lining the back wall and it was the perfect place to relax and enjoy the view.
After lunch, we did a bit more walking and wandering in an out of small shops, stocked up on a few groceries and wine for the next few days and then stopped at a local coffee shop. We enjoyed some much needed caffeine while sitting outside on the patio people watching ... one of my favorite pastimes.
Town wasn't from our AirBnB, but with our shopping bags, we decided to grab a cab back. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing in the hot tub and enjoying a bottle of wine, a few snacks, and some music. A perfect first day in New Zealand!
Day two was scheduled to be a full-day of adventure, but unfortunately the weather did not cooperate that morning and our trip to Milford Sound was canceled. The weather cleared up by noon and we were fortunate to be able to participate in the second half of the tour that afternoon -- a wilderness adventure and a jet boat ride up the Dart River! What an experience and one of our favorite tours.
The tour bus picked up around noon and headed down the highway that runs alongside Lake Wakatipu. The views were spectacular and, I promise you, the photos don't even begin to do it justice. Along the route of our 45-minute drive, our driver made several stops to let us enjoy the breathtaking views and to share stories with us about the history of the town.
When we arrived in the small village of Glenorchy, situated at the head of the lake, our excursion started with an off-road tour out of town and into Mt. Aspiring National Park, which is a UNESCO protected piece of the country. This area of land has been used to film the Lord of the Rings movies, The Hobbit movies, X-MEN: Wolverine, and several other Hollywood blockbusters. Experts say it has become a popular destination for filming movies because of the remote location. There are no power lines, highways, or any other human interference in this area. As such, several different movies have used the exact same mountain backdrop for their shots...and the audience is none the wiser. Mount Earnslaw is the most popular site for these filmings and after seeing it first-hand, it’s more amazing in person than on the big screen.
After a quick tour around the beautiful landscape, our guide led us on a on an easy hike through the forest and shared the history of the land.
We then met up with our jet boat driver for a trip up the Dart River. The jet boat was a 15-person speed boat that operates much like a jet ski. We cruised through water that was just a few inches deep and our driver took some exhilarating 360-degree spins with ease! The water is all fed from a glacier range and runoff from any big rains in the area so, the water levels are constantly changing. Because of that, the boat drivers have to be highly skilled to navigate those ever changing waters.
We sped through the river, twisting and turning, and occasionally stopping to appreciate the breathtaking sights -- magnificent waterfalls, crystal clear waters, towering peaks. We were awestruck by the Lord's beautiful work. It almost seemed too majestic to be real!
After an hour or so in the boat, our driver dropped us back in Glenorchy to rejoin the bus and head back to Queenstown. As we departed, our driver presented each of us with a small piece of the local greenstone. It is a sacred stone that early inhabitants of the area pulled out of the river beds and is considered a treasure. Greenstone is protected and you cannot take it without specific permits and permissions. It is widely used in making jewelry and sculptures today and we were thrilled to receive this special keepsake.
When we got back to town, we weren't quite ready to call it a day so we headed up the hill to the Skyline Gondola - one of the steepest cable rides in all of the world. This area of the world is truly a thrill-seeker’s dream! From the gondola, you can hang glide, bungy jump, swing 300 meters across the valley, or ride the popular Skyline Luge. Wow!
The Skyline Luge is essentially a motorless go-kart that rolls down a winding track of small hills and tight turns. The track also is at the top of the summit so it offers incredible views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables Mountains and everything in between. Absolutely fantastic sights!
After enjoying several runs down the luge, we headed back down the hill towards town to find some dinner. We stopped at the legendary Fergburger, which came highly recommended from multiple sources. Upon arrival, it was a 30 minute wait to get to the counter to place your order and another 20 minute wait to get your food. Based on a tip from our jet boat driver earlier in the day, we called Fergburger (while standing in line) and placed our order ... it allowed us to skip the line and cut the wait time in half!
While we waited, we went and watched the sun set over the mountains (a much better use of our time and a great way to avoid waiting impatiently in line). Once our food was ready - a Fregburger and fries - we made the trek back to our AirBnB where we enjoyed our dinner with a bottle of wine and a little more relaxing in the hot tub. All in all, a wonderful day!
We woke up early, but again to a rainy start to the day, so we made some coffee and sat back to watch the rain splash down over the lake. Just as we were finishing our cup of joe, the rain lightened up a bit so we threw on our rain jackets and made the walk into town for breakfast.
We stopped at Mrs. Ferg’s, a local coffee shop with a variety of options. We ordered more coffee, a delicious fruit smoothie and a breakfast wrap. Mrs Ferg's is a cute little shop and it was filled with locals -- it was a great place to really get a feel for the community.
The rain had picked back up again, so we used that time to check in with our families and FaceTimed our parents. They were so excited to see us and hear about our adventures!
Once the rain finally stopped, we found a gorgeous walking trail with magnificent views and a spring flowing nearby. We walked quite a distance on the trails before making our way back to town. We were anxious to try The Winery - they have over 80 New Zealand wines on tap - after friends of ours (thank you Georgia & Cody!) who had visited a few months earlier highly recommended it. It did not disappoint!
We had our fair share of local wine before heading to dinner by the water at Blue Kanu where we joined another couple we had met on our excursion the day before. They too were from Kansas and had attended K-State, so we had plenty to talk about! Our double date dinner featured tapas style entrees with tastes of the Pacific - Hawaiian, New Zealand and Polynesian inspired foods. Amazing flavors that all paired well with more of the local wine.
This was our last day in Queenstown and we had a couple more spots we wanted to hit before we left.
Our first stop of the day was to a place called Yonder, a local breakfast spot right in the middle of town. We got a mimosa, a Bloody Mary, and split an egg & bacon sandwich. It was all delicious!
Following breakfast, we enjoyed one last stroll through this small community with the gorgeous mountain backdrop.
There are stores of all kinds in Queenstown. Everything from souvenir shops to high-end retail outlets. We also discovered some interesting sweet shops too. My favorite was Cookie Time. It houses multiple types of edible cookie dough that you can buy by the scoop! So scrumptious!
We got a few scoops and took our treats over to the park where we lounged on a blanket near the edge of the lake and simply relaxed and did a little more people watching. The skies were blue, the breeze was cool and crisp, and, of course, the views were absolutely spectacular.
I would highly recommend adding Queenstown to your bucket list. It was paradise and should not be missed!
Next up - Auckland! Be on the lookout for that post soon. In the meantime, take a look at the photo gallery below!