Or in the Maori language, kia ora, Aotearoa! We’re super excited to begin our New Zealand travel adventure. One rental car, two islands, three months, and four friends (Steve, Marlene, Bill and me). We’ve done the research, made 30 lodging reservations, obsessed more than necessary over the details, and endured the 22-hour trip to Auckland from our home in Colorado.
It was 25 degrees and snowing heavily when we left Denver. Upon our arrival in Auckland, it was sunny and headed toward a high of 70+ degrees. Off to a good start!
Why New Zealand? It’s been on the proverbial bucket list since I first heard about bucket lists. Years ago, our son Philip spent a semester abroad on New Zealand’s South Island. Fast forward a few years, when he returned with then girlfriend Kim (now wife) for more travels around the South Island.
We participated in their adventures via email vignettes. A few select quotes about their 7-day backpacking journey on the Dusky Track in the extreme southwest corner of the South Island:
“heavy rain . . . most remote track in NZ . . . middle of nowhere . . . wet rocks and roots covered in a fine, slimy moss . . . mud holes that varied from ankle deep to knee deep . . . six days of rain . . . climbing straight up and down mountains using all available hands and feet . . . raging rivers and waterfalls . . . out of food . . . tricky if not a bit dangerous . . . water crossings up to my chest . . . awesome fun!”
“Long story short, we made it out alive, and my girlfriend did not break up with me, although I’m not sure how or why.”
Took us a few years to make it happen, but we knew we had to go. I hope we can describe our (considerably more sedate) experiences in such an engaging manner.
After spending a few days Auckland acclimating to the new surroundings, we headed for Christchurch to pick up the rental car and begin our self-guided tour of the South Island as shown below. For those who have been or may be planning to go, here’s our itinerary in just two photos.
After concluding our South Island experience in Picton, we’ll take the ferry across Marlborough Sounds to Wellington and explore the North Island for the remainder of our visit.
I hope you will follow along!
Back to Our First Four Days in Auckland
Our compact (a/k/a tiny) rental unit was conveniently located about one kilometer from the waterfront in the heart of the downtown Auckland business district, across the street from Aotea Center (performing arts and events center) and Aotea Square (open-air concerts, markets, political rallies, and other gatherings). The view from our balcony on the 18th floor:
With approximately 1.6 million residents, Auckland is home to nearly 1/3 of of New Zealand’s total population and generates about 37% of the country’s gross domestic product. The city is situated within a large volcanic field that contains 50 (currently) dormant volcanoes. Auckland has a total coastline of 2,300 miles, with waterways that open to the Hauraki Gulf/Pacific Ocean on the east side of the city or the Tasman Sea on the west.
After a day of settling in and catching up on sleep lost during the long flight, we ventured out for a leisurely day of exploring on foot.
Day 2 Photos – Auckland
Day 3 – Hiking on Rangitoto Island
A short twenty-five minute ferry ride transported us from Auckland to Rangitoto Island Scenic Reserve, part of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. The island was created from a volcanic eruption about 600 years ago and has been more or less protected from commercial development since the late 1800s.
The island, with hiking trails to the crater summit and around the perimeter, was a nice day trip from Auckland. There’s a good view of the summit when you land on the island.
Following the hike to the summit, we did a little exploring along the coast.
Well worth the trip!
Day 4 – Wine Tasting on Waiheke Island
A totally different island and experience on day 4, as we hopped aboard the ferry once again to visit Waiheke, a 40 minute ride from Auckland. Waiheke has a permanent population of around 9,000, plus a sizeable number of part time residents.
There are about 30 small wineries tucked into the hills of Waiheke, and our objective was to visit five. We rented electric bikes to get around the island – a first for all for of us. They were wonderful, but a little terrifying until we got comfortable with the “surge” that propels you up the hills. Not to mention the challenges of riding on the left for the first time, dealing with the surprisingly busy main road, and trying to navigate the map. By the time we arrived at Obsidian, our first winery (only one wrong turn along the way), we were ready to relax!
According to an article in Metro Magazine, Obsidian is “one of the happiest wineries to visit, even though the facilities couldn’t be more simple. The wines are gorgeous, and the knowledgeable chap pouring your wine may well be one of the owners.” We agree.
We walked up a short path from Obsidian to Casita Miro, our second winery of the day, which specializes in Spanish-style wines and award-winning cuisine. The setting was pleasant, the wines were fine, and the colorful mosaics all around the property were outstanding.
Back onto the bikes for our third winery – Stonyridge, which produces Bordeaux style reds. We enjoyed a lovely tasting experience in a casual, outdoor setting.
Then it was on to Goldie Estate, which is the oldest vineyard on Waiheke Island, dating back to 1978. During our tasting, we met Waiheke locals JB and Natasha, with whom we engaged in a lively and prolonged conversation about wine, travel, international politics, and life in general. We also enjoyed the wines.
Our final winery experience on Waiheke Island was dinner at Mudbrick Restaurant and Vineyard. Beautiful views overlooking the Gulf of Hauraki, plus tasty food, good wine, and exquisite company.
Afterwards, we returned our bikes at the ferry landing with battery power to spare. What a fun day!
We enjoyed our visit to Auckland, and we’re looking forward to having a few more days to explore the area at the very end of our New Zealand travels.