Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

We saved Auckland for the last day of our whirlwind New Zealand adventure (check out our itinerary and read about our previous 3 days here, here, and here). We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Auckland, which was right downtown and allowed us to easily walk around the city for the day. The view out of our hotel room, had us ready to get out and explore!

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Our first stop was probably our favourite spot in Auckland – the waterfront! We love cities set in dramatic settings, and being right on the ocean is always a good bet.

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Of course, being only four days into the jetlag and the timezone assault on our internal body clocks, we needed more coffee. Fortunately for us, Auckland is bursting at the seams with trendy coffee shops and cafes, seemingly on every street corner.

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Bettina found this mobile coffee shop called Utopia Coffee which she particularly adored (probably because it's turquoise).

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

We couldn't imagine a better way to start off our day exploring Auckland than sipping on a delicious cappuccino in the sun while enjoying the city's waterfront views.

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Shop My Look

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

The downtown core is fairly compact and easy to get around, though there are a number of fairly steep hills, even right within the central business district.

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Wandering around town, we had to stop by the sky tower for me (although we didn't take the elevator ride up in the interest of time)...

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

...and Tiffany's for Bettina (although we didn't enter the store in the interest of our future travel budget).

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

We spent some time relaxing in the sun at Albert Park before heading back down to the waterfront to have lunch at one of the restaurants we were eyeing earlier in the day.

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Of course, no meal is complete without ice cream and I simply couldn't resist stopping by the Island Gelato Company and trying a scoop or two of their salted caramel.

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

We also talked to some of the locals about their ice cream preferences. Turns out, any would do!

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Auckland has a fair amount of urban sprawl around the harbour and hills in the area. Hiking the hills are another one of the must-do activities here. We decided to "hike" up Mount Eden, which was steeper than it looked but well worth the views from the top!

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

You can see the entire downtown core of the city with the harbour and surrounding hills as a backdrop. A little bit further south is One Tree Hill (yes, that One Tree Hill of U2 fame) which we also enjoyed hiking to the top of for a different perspective of the city. Not only does this hill have great views, but also flocks of sheep happily grazing around the park.

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

It wasn’t long before we had to head towards the airport for our flight back home, but not before a stop at one of Bettina’s favourite stores of all-time – Forever New. She went a little bit crazy and bought as many clothes and shoes as she could possibly fit into her carry-on (and the remaining room in mine!).

 

With Auckland having the largest airport in New Zealand, it is likely you will begin or end your trip here, and it provides a great taste of metropolitan New Zealand. There are so many other sights to see in and around Auckland, such as taking one of the many ferries to a nearby island, that our one day visit wasn't quite enough and we will no doubt be back.

 

Adventures in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Which of our days in New Zealand / blog posts did you like best? We're curious. Let us know in the comments below!

 

 


 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

Kyle and I are both planners. When it comes to trips though, Kyle definitely has the lead and plans our itinerary which results in me often not knowing where exactly we're going. I didn't know much about the Lake Taupo area and thus didn't know what to expect. But just like the rest of New Zealand, it completely took my breath away with its lush rolling hills and crystal blue waters.

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Let's start from the beginning, shall we?

We arrived in Taupo very late the night before, driving from Napier after a night of wine tasting and dinner (in this order!) and checked in at the Hilton Lake Taupo. Read about the geothermal wonderland and wine tasting here. Due to Kyle's Hilton Honors status, we were promised complimentary breakfast and decided to get up early and take advantage of their offer and their spa facilities. Half asleep still, we stumbled out of our room to make our way to the breakfast hall only to be greeted by the most amazing views!

 

Hilton Lake Taupo - Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

It was a cool and brisk morning so we chose to have breakfast right by the fireplace.

 

Hilton Lake Taupo - Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Hilton Lake Taupo - Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Hilton Lake Taupo - Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

It was heaven on earth, followed by more blissfulness as we headed to the sauna.

 

Hilton Lake Taupo - Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Hilton Lake Taupo - Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Hilton Lake Taupo - Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Our entire stay at the Hilton Lake Taupo exceeded all our expectations and we highly recommend them should you find yourself in the Lake Taupo area.

Before running for the hills (well driving in our case, see our driving route here), we explored the area around Taupo and had to stop at Huka Falls which were a short 10 minute drive away from the hotel...

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Shop My Look

... and went for a stroll on the beach where we met up with some locals who were extraordinarily friendly.

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

The area around Lake Taupo impressed us with lush, rolling hills, crystal blue waters, and snow-covered mountains in the far distance. It reminded both of us very much of our respective home countries, Switzerland and Canada, and it immediately felt like home.

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

One destination you can't miss when you're on the North Island in New Zealand is seeing the Glowworm Caves in Waitomo. Everyone we met along the way was raving about the caves so we decided to take a tour. Right at the beginning of the tour, we were told that the cave was recently flooded due to heavy rainfalls and that over half of the glowworm population was killed. And to add on top of that, picture taking was limited to protect the animals. That being said,  taking pictures without flash of tiny blue dots is really quite difficult!

Slightly disappointed about the prospects, we entered the cave which by itself was already very impressive! After a brief introduction to the cave,we got on a motorless boat and were immersed in total darkness.

 

Glowworm Cave Waitomo - Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Once our eyes had adjusted to the dark environment, the rocks above us started to light up with millions of little blue lights. It was one of the most magical things I have ever seen!  This picture doesn't even come close to doing it any justice as it was taken with an iphone camera from a moving boat, but it gives you an idea. Check out this video by Stoked for Saturday Lifestyle which really captures the magic.

 

Glowworm Cave Waitomo - Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

We can't recommend doing the Glowworm Cave tour enough!

 

Breakfast at Lake Taupo, Dinner at the Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

 

Under the light of the full moon, we drove to our last destination on this trip - Auckland. Have you been to a glowworm cave? If not, is it on your list? Let us know in the comments below!

 


 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

Rotorua is widely regarded as the geothermal wonderland of New Zealand.  Rightly so, as from our hotel room, we could see steaming geothermal activity and awoke to an unfortunately strong smell of sulfur in the air. It was definitely a surprise as we had arrived late at night under the cover of darkness and didn’t know what to expect the next day (read about our first day in NZ here)!

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

We had a bit of a late start to our day, which seems to be a common theme when we travel, but managed to stop at the impeccably maintained Government Gardens and the Kuirau Park Mud Pools before once again grabbing a lot of coffee, stocking up on some road trip provisions, and setting out for the day.

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

For the uninitiated (us, in this case) we had assumed that the geothermal wonderland activity and parks around Rotorua were primarily free and open to the public to explore, similar to our experiences at Yellowstone National Park and throughout Iceland.  While Rotorua does have a number of geothermal areas around the city and free areas nearby, there are a number of privately held thermal parks where you pay admission. We decided to visit the geothermal wonderland called Wai-O-Tapu and the headlining Lady Knox geyser. (Thank you @jmk.travels for your travel tips!)

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

We read online that Lady Knox erupts at 10:15am every day, and with our slow start in the morning we were rushing to arrive in time, rolling up to the parking lot at 10:10am.  We were hoping Lady Knox was having the same kind of morning that we were that day.

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

A guide explained some history of the area and Lady Knox which was actually quite interesting. Lady Knox was discovered in 1901 by a group of prisoners from the newly opened nearby ‘open prison’. This prisoners came across the hot thermal water of Lady Knox and began to wash their clothes in the water with soap. The soap created a chemical reaction and Lady Knox erupted with a jet of water, nearly 20 meters high! Turns out, that this is still how Lady Knox erupts. We were a bit disappointed to see that the guide places a surfactant into the opening of the vent to initiate the eruption of Lady Knox each day. Certainly, Lady Knox was no Old Faithful!

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

After the slight disappointment of Lady Knox, we made our way around the rest of the geothermal wonderland and were pleasantly surprised at how large it was.

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

We easily spent a couple hours here, walking the trails and seeing the diverse thermal activity.

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From bubbling mud pits, to hissing steam vents, boiling hot waterfalls and strikingly lime green pools – there really was something for even the most discerning geothermal observer.

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

We also made friends with the locals...

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

The geothermal wonderland was only our first stop that day. With limited time in New Zealand, we were aiming to see as much of the North Island as possible and were headed to Napier (I mapped out our drive for the day here.). Our drive this day took us through the Waikato region to Hawke’s Bay over the hills and through the valleys via State Highway 5. I really enjoyed driving through all the windy roads in this fairly remote area.

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

Unfortunately, as we arrived in Napier it began to rain pretty hard.  This was not the weather we had in mind for our afternoon of touring vineyards and wineries. That being said, good wine is good wine whether it is sunny or pouring rain.

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

This area has no shortage of world famous vineyards. With this being the low season, a number of the tasting rooms were closed or had limited hours, so make sure you do some research in advance rather than assume they are all open! Our first stop was at Elephant Hill Wine Estate. The pictures of this winery and it’s vineyards set along the ocean looked breathtaking online, however it was raining so hard when we arrived we could hardly see the rows of grapes from inside the tasting room.

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

We enjoyed our first tasting and were eager to try some more, so we continued to Black Barn Vineyards. We enjoyed all the wines, but were blown away by the Pinot Gris here. Pinot Gris is not what we would call one of our favourite wines, but the vintage by Black Barn Vineyards was amazing and we bought a bottle to take with us!

 

From Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua to Wine Time in Napier, New Zealand

 

Heading into downtown Napier, we took in the Art Deco architecture that is highly concentrated within the city. We enjoyed a dinner of fish and chips and New Zealand lamb at the Emporium Eatery & Bar, which transported us back in time with its interior décor. We didn't take any pictures so you have to believe us when we say it was really well decorated!

Have you heard of New Zealand's great wines before? What is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below!

 


 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

Arriving into Auckland at 5:30 am (see our itinerary here), two days after we left the U.S., we felt surprisingly awake though badly in need of a shower. Much to our surprise, there are free showers available at Auckland airport for anyone to use. Of course, we were not prepared at all and had to purchase a towel and toiletries. It was totally worth it! There is no better feeling than having a hot shower after such a long flight. We picked up our rental car, and were ready to explore the North Island, all before sunrise!

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

We began our drive by heading southeast towards Pokeno. I mapped out our drive for the day here. I have found that driving on the left side of the road and right side of the car (to clarify: the opposite of left, and not “correct”) is just like riding a bike, and within a few minutes, I had no issues at all becoming quickly adjusted.

For those who don't know why I'm used to driving on the right side on the road, here's a quick flashback. I spent half a year studying in Bath, UK. I love to drive so I was excited to explore England by car.  Forced to learn to drive on the left side of the road, I learned very quickly, despite having the stick shift on the wrong side of the driver's seat!

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

For the first few hours of our drive, it was raining and cloudy, but as we came over the hills near Hikuai, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine. We were immediately taken aback by the wonders of the North Island.

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

We stopped at a local grocery store to pick up road trip snacks, which is Bettina's favourite part about road trips. It turns out, every country seems to have their own unique chips flavours. Switzerland has Bettina's favourite paprika flavour, Canada has ketchup and all-dressed chips, and New Zealand has *drum roll* chicken flavoured chips! Adventurous as we are, we had to try them and they surprisingly taste just like chicken.

 

Chicken Chips in New Zealand

 

Mount Paku stands proud over the Tairua Harbour, and the top is easily reached by a short hike.  We couldn't pass it up and had to stop there to hike to the top. Other than the birds chirping, everything was completely silent, and almost magical. We definitely felt like we were somewhere special – a place directly taken from a movie scene.

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

The views on the way up were excellent.

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

The views from the top were even better!

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

After a short hike back down to the car, we continued our road trip to the famous Hot Water Beach on Mercury Bay.

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

We found out that the sea water is just as cold as everywhere else but if you dig in the sand, you will find puddles of hot water.

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

After almost getting our feet burned by stepping in the wrong water pool, we can confidently say that the water is indeed hot!

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

Our main destination for the day was the Cathedral Cove - a must see if you're exploring the North Island.

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

As we walked the 2KM path from the parking lot, dark clouds were rapidly approaching.

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

About 500 metres from the beach the skies opened and we got soaking wet as we ran to the caves for shelter.  Were weren’t the only ones taking refuge from the rain in these caves.

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

A short 15 minutes later, the clouds had passed and the sun again began to shine down on the beach, leaving us with the most breathtaking views!

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

Photo credit to our new Canadian friend whom we met on the Cathedral Cove beach: @ekklesia_kofi

 

We spent a lot of time wandering around the beach and enjoying the views before embarking on the final drive for the day - the drive to Rotorua.

 

North Island Wonders of New Zealand

 

We always expected New Zealand to beautiful but didn't expect it to be this magical. What movie do these hills remind you of?

 

 

 


 

Fly To New Zealand On A Budget

Our trip to New Zealand in late May was somewhat surprisingly the first time that we had traveled to the Southern hemisphere! Obviously, New Zealand is a long way away from Chicago and most people certainly thought we were crazy travelling that far for just four full days on the ground (they are not wrong!). Once again, how we booked this trip has a bit of a story, not unlike how we booked our Easter trip earlier in the year (read about our Easter trip here).

 

Introduction: New Zealand 2018

 

How We Booked Our Flights to New Zealand

 

Back in late November we were enjoying a relaxing morning in our hotel room in Kuala Lumpur (read about our Malaysia experience here), and as I was scrolling my news feed on my phone, I came across a great flight deal from @TheFlightDeal that had just been posted for Air New Zealand economy class from San Francisco to Auckland for just under $400USD per person round trip. Economy class flights from North America to Australia or New Zealand are generally well over $1,000USD. So this deal was more than 50% off and too good to pass up!

 

Introduction: New Zealand 2018

 

I jumped for my laptop and began searching for fares and dates that we could work into our schedule. We already had our week-long trip for Easter planned in late March and weren’t able to easily take another week or two off a few months later to travel to New Zealand, so we settled for a four day trip over Memorial Day in late May. We decided to book the flight from San Francisco to Auckland before the fare disappeared shortly after. Fun fact, we already had Southwest flights booked for the May long Weekend but cancelled them in order to take this opportunity.

 

Introduction: New Zealand 2018

 

Now obviously, we don’t live in San Francisco, so we needed a way to get there. That is where our Southwest Companion Pass once again came in handy (you can read about the Companion Pass here) and we booked an early morning flight from Chicago to San Francisco to catch our 9:45PM flight from San Francisco. We booked our return flight to give us a few hours buffer between arriving in San Francisco, clearing customs and immigration, switching terminals, going back through a security checkpoint, and catching our final flight home.

 

This is what we ended up flying:

 

Introduction: New Zealand 2018

 

The Flight Experience with Air New Zealand

 

Our grand plan of spending the Friday working from the lounge in San Francisco was slightly foiled by poor weather conditions that day, which caused our Chicago to San Francisco flight to be delayed by over two and half hours. We were really glad that we had booked a very long connection, given that it would be unprotected and we didn’t have any wiggle room in our New Zealand itinerary if we missed our flight. Once we did arrive in San Francisco, our lounge plan was further put to waste as we were too early for Air New Zealand to check us into our flight. We needed to check our bags and get our boarding passes, so we had to sit and work land-side for a few hours.

 

Introduction: New Zealand 2018

 

The prospect of flying 12 hours in economy class is generally not appealing to anyone, and we were a bit apprehensive of how we’d feel when arriving in Auckland at 5:30AM, two days later. Our worries were unnecessary though, as Air New Zealand long-haul economy is actually a fairly pleasant place to spend some serious time. First of all, the onboard IFE (Inflight Entertainment system) was one of the best we have ever seen. The selection of movies, TV shows, documentaries, and music was extremely comprehensive. While we didn’t partake in a movie marathon, Air New Zealand conveniently had the full series of movies for Harry Potter, Star Wars, and of course, Lord of the Rings. Just as good as the movie selection was the bottomless New Zealand wines available!

 

Introduction: New Zealand 2018

 

(Full disclosure: Because Bettina was feeling under the weather, we didn't end up taking any pictures of our flight experience. You will just need to trust us when we say it was pretty great!)

 

We were very pleasantly surprised by our flight there, and we arrived fairly well-rested as we were both able to get about 6-8 hours of sleep (Advil PM always does the trick!). Even though we each watched over 3 movies, there were so many more that we wanted to watch, we were already looking forward to the flight home!

Have you flown Air New Zealand before? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!