The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Category: New Zealand

New Zealand in Three Weeks

New Zealand is magnetic. From the moment the wheels of your plane touch down, you feel grounded to the earth in a metaphysical, spiritual way. When it’s time to go, you feel an aching sadness to have to part with a place that has captured your soul so completely. And everything in between charms, challenges, and inspires.

We spent three weeks in New Zealand. While many backpackers see it as an adventure destination, we explored a little more deeply. Here’s an outline of what we did, with links to detailed posts about each step in our journey.

Feeding our bodies:

Feeding our souls:

Facing our fears:

  • Braving a 7 meter waterfall in Rotorua
  • And no, there wasn’t a bungee jump in sight!

Here are some more practical tips I have for anyone who wishes to visit this amazing country.

Money:

  • The exchange rate may be in your favor, but New Zealand is an expensive place to travel compared to cheaper destinations like Asia or South America. Be prepared to have costs average around $100/day, even if you’re staying in budget digs and eating fast food.
  • Be wary of Queenstown. It is such a beautiful, wonderful, fun place that you may find yourself postponing leaving over and over again. Meanwhile, the bars in town are slowly sucking money out of your wallet. I’ve heard many a traveler cry over how much of their budget ended up in Queenstown.

Where to Go:

  • Most people will tell you that the south island is where it’s at. This is absolutely true. I recommend spending the majority of your time exploring the south island.
  • In the north island, the things I would say shouldn’t be missed are: The Bay of Islands, Rafting in Rotorua, and Waiheke Island. Add Hobbiton if that’s your thing. You can do most of these things in a couple of days using Auckland as your base.
  • In the south Island, the things I would say go onto your must-do list are: Milford Sound (or Doubtful if you have the time), Queenstown, either Mount Cook or the Franz Josef/Fox Glacier, and the Abel Tasman. I’ve heard amazing things about Kaikoura, but haven’t been myself.

Transport:

  • This is also not as cheap as other destinations. There are two primary ways travelers get around: Bus, Plane, or Car.
  • BUS: Budget travelers focus on Naked Bus or InterCity. Be wary of the Kiwi Experience buses if you’re only visiting for a couple of weeks; these are better suited to longer-term travelers and you will not get your money’s worth for shorter trips. If you will be around for a while, it can be a good way to meet other travelers. Just be conscious that the average age of Kiwi Experience travelers is early/mid-twenties.
  • PLANE: The primary airlines are Jetstar or Air New Zealand. They both compete pretty heavily for the Auckland to Queenstown route, so there are deals to be had if you are lucky with timing.
  • CAR: There are several campervan rental companies, and all seem to be roughly the same price. Camping in New Zealand is serious business, with thousands of beautiful sites to be found everywhere you go. However, there is also TransferCar, which is a car rental relocation service that asks drivers to move cars from one city to another free of charge. Depending on the deal you find, you can get gas, ferry costs and more covered. We did this from Wellington to Auckland and only had to spend about $80 on gas.

Hope this helps, and happy travels!

Facing the Beast

We held our paddles aloft, touching them together over our heads like a totem to victory. We were shouting something in Maori, which always manages to sound fierce and battle-cry-esque, though I was told it was a blessing to the river gods.

My heart was thumping wildly in my chest, and my breath was coming in short. A few meters away was the crest of a 21-foot waterfall, and we were about to go down headfirst.

“Paddle!” Our guide shouted urgently. And we all dug into the water with the paddles that just been over our heads.

One stroke. Surely my heart is about to explode!

Two stroke. Ohmygod, is this really about to happen?

Three stroke. Gasp!

“Down! Down!” The guide called over the roar of the beast just a few feet in front of us, as we felt the powerful pull of nature and gravity take hold of our raft. We all assumed our Down position, crouching into the center of the raft and holding onto the ropes inside with every ounce of strength we could exert. The front of the raft started tilting… And suddenly I was looking at the eye of a great white hurricane, hurtling into it at breakneck speed. For a moment, everything was white foam and green water and a shock of cold, and then… Air. We were upright. We had taken on the beast, and had survived. Euphoria isn’t a strong enough word to describe the feeling. We had started our journey as six strangers, but now we were whooping and high-fiving each other like old buddies.

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We were in Rotorua, New Zealand, on the Kaituna River. Earlier in the day we had gotten a crash-course in river rafting basics from our dreadlocked guide, and had practiced down some rapids and small-ish waterfalls. The climax of the trip is the 7 meter waterfall, touted as the ‘highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.’ On paper, it sounded like a lot of fun, and a few travelers we had met along the way said it was not to be missed. The only time I had any doubt was as we were shouting a Maori blessing to the river gods, about to go over.

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But the moment we made it to the bottom, I totally understood. That was a rush I’d experience again in a heartbeat.

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The Wines of Marlborough

After tasting our way through Waiheke near Auckland and Central Otago near Queenstown, we knew we couldn’t miss the most famous of wine regions in New Zealand: Marlborough.

With an overnight in Picton, gateway to Marlborough and the place to catch the ferry from the south island to the north, we decided our best bet to fill the one day we had there was (once again) wine. So we went to the local i-Site and signed ourselves up for a ferry trip and a wine tour, and off we went!

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Marlborough is most famous for it’s Sauvignon Blanc; you’ll see it on wine menus the world over. We were lucky enough to explore a little deeper than this acidic white. Here’s where we went:

Hunters

This is one of the more famous vineyards in the region, and the Hunter family is credited with putting the Marlborough region on the map. Sadly, Ernie Hunter, who founded the winery with his wife, Jane, died in a motor accident shortly after they ‘made it,’ leaving his wife to tirelessly carry on the legacy. She is now a VIP in the wine world, and her wines are sold all over the world. We made our way through a couple of Chardonnays, a Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc (obviously), and a Pinot Noir that was actually our favorite. But that could partly be because, after living in Australia for 3 years, I was Sauv-Blanc-ed out.

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Drylands

This place was like a wine emporium; a variety of labels lined the shelves. We tasted from Drylands itself, with the Sauvignon Blanc winning the day with its fruit and balanced acidity. The tasting room was nicely laid out for purchasing a variety of wine-related accouterments, and they were in the process of adding more space when we visited.

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Forrest

This vineyard had the prettiest cellar door, and a very knowledgeable staff who took us out into the vines and explained the process they use to grow, trim, and maintain the vines. There are few labels under the Forrest umbrella, and we tasted from Forrest and The Doctors (an homage to the owners’ former profession). At this point, we suffered a bit from overtasting (and we weren’t spitting), so it’s hard to remember what to recommend here, though I do recall being impressed with the reds from the Doctor’s line.

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Eradus

Our final wine stop was a small, Dutch-family run cellar door that wasn’t on the premises of the vineyard itself. We were able to taste their entire range, which was made up of a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Rose, Pinot Noir, and dessert wine called Sticky Mickey, in honor of the owner of the vineyard. We decided to bring a bottle of the Pinot Noir back with us to have with dinner, but the whites were good as well.

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By the end, the older ladies were coming up to us with shining eyes and commenting on how we were tasting everything, and not spitting. We just smiled and admitted that we’re lushes, but I think everyone on our tour was a little tipsy. We’d had enough to think twerking next to our tour bus was a good idea…

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So when our tour guide suggested a stop off at a Chocolate Factory, there was a resounding cheer from the bus. After a serious sampling session, we were dropped back at our hostel with a package of dark chocolate and a bottle of Pinot Noir, and decided that a cheese and meat plate was just what the doctor ordered for dinner.

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And this concluded our wine tour of New Zealand!

The Abel Tasman

Think you need to go to Bali to kayak through turquoise seas? Think Fiji is the best place to find yourself on an uninhabited island? Think that Australia is the only place in Oceania with beautiful golden beaches? If you answered yes, you’d be wrong.

You can find all of these things on the north end of the South Island of New Zealand, in the Abel Tasman National Park. Named after some Dutch dude from the 17th century, this is a paradise that many travelers miss if they’re on a tight schedule in New Zealand. And what a pity that would be! I would put this on any must do list when it comes to NZ.

Where else could you kayak next to the nesting ground of seals?

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Or have a beach picnic on an island without a single man-made thing on it?

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Or have a barefoot hike through an island that’s a sanctuary to dozens of species of birds?

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We did all this via the Soul Food Tour with Abel Tasman Kayaks, a really great outfit with top-of-the-line equipment and awesome guides. If you only have a day, I’d recommend this to anyone. You also have the option to get out there and do it yourself, if you’d prefer. But I’d really suggest you spend a couple of nights here, either camping at one of the many campsites along the way, or staying in one of the huts if you don’t want to lug camping gear around while you hike and kayak along the stunning coastline.

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What: The Abel Tasman National Park
Website: http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/nelson-tasman/places/abel-tasman-national-park/ 
Where: North End of the South Island (Closest Town is Nelson)
When: Summertime is the Best; December – March
Cost: Varies; guided day tours average about $150. One day rental (unguided) is about $50/day. Campsites are usually around $15/day.
Recommendations: Book ahead during the summer! This is a popular thing to do for Kiwis and European hiking enthusiasts, and campsites will fill up in the peak summer months. Nelson is also a really lovely little town, so give yourself a day or two to explore there as well.

Franz Josef Glacier: Walking on Ice

Sneakers crunch over billions of glittering diamonds, throwing rainbow magic into the sky. But these gems have a love affair with the bed of ice upon which they sit — try to remove them, and they melt away, leaving nothing but their tears of mourning at the separation.

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The cobalt sky boldly steals all color from the lack beneath. A mechanical heartbeat is the only sound to break the silence, and breath is seen rather than heard. The valley merely tolerates the presence of these interlopers, having looked on at passerby for millions of years and seeming to know that this, too, will pass. Time means nothing, it is simply the passage of the sun, sometimes building up and sometimes taking away.

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The mountain peak, given the name of a man by man, ignores it all and stands sentry to this treasure trove, towering above all with forbidding beauty. There is nothing soft here. The wind whips snow and ice into razor-sharp peaks, black basalt elbows it’s way through a hard crust of ice, the mountain pushes itself into the sky in sharp, jutting movements. All is right angles and a contrast of color — here, there are no shades of grey.

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I flew here on a wave of trust, borne on by the goodwill of strangers, and found myself here among the diamonds, cowed by the artistry of nature yet again.

A Vintage Mode of Transport

Have you read On the Road by Jack Kerouac? Of course you have, you little hipster you. If not, it’s a manic love story about life on the highways of America. Jack was the OG travel blogger, and the book will make you fall in love with America, traveling, or both a little. Or at least make you go on a roadtrip.

Either way, in much of the novel, the protagonist is flat broke and manages to get across the country through a series of intense moochings – crashing with ‘friends’ he met once at a party, hopping on and off moving trains, and… hitchhiking.

This was obviously pre-Ted Bundy, when hitchhiking around the US was a common occurrence. But throw in a few serial killers and the modern, sensationalist network news machine, and hitchhiking in America went the way of gluten. Nobody does it anymore.

Hitchhiking was never something that was on my bucket list, nor had I ever really considered it a valid mode of transport. It was from a different time, Jack’s time. When people inherently trusted each other, which is definitely not right now. But somehow I found myself on the side of the road outside Queenstown, New Zealand, holding a cardboard sign that said “Wanaka” while my sister held up her thumb and smiled at every passing car.

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And so began a 523 km/325 mile journey up the west coast of the south island of New Zealand without paying a dime for transport. My friends who were living in Queenstown convinced me I needed to at least try it, with even the ‘cheap’ buses that ply the route being super expensive thanks to summer and last minute bookings. And in a total of five trips, we found ourselves in Greymouth, where we had our very first paid drive.

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Saving some money was nice, but want to know the best thing about it? The people we met!

Frieda and Emma – Queenstown to Wanaka – 67km/42 mi.

Two Dutch (Swedish?) girls picked us up just outside Queenstown, promptly repacking their campervan to make room for my sister and me and our bags. We made the typical traveler idle chat for a while before we tuned into the iPod as we wound over the mountains. We only spent an hour together, but we reveled in the fact that we were sharing our first hitchhiking experience (theirs as drivers, ours as riders) together!

Day 1: Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier

Allan – Wanaka to Haast – 142km/88 mi.

We owe a huge debt to Mr. Alan – he was by far one of the best people that could have picked us up. A Kiwi in his early sixties, he not only waved off our offers to pay for gas, he actually stopped at popular hikes and waterfalls in the area and let us explore a bit, all while giving us a rundown of the history of the place. It was like being on a guided tour, but without the price tag.

I Can’t Pronouce, Let Alone Spell (2 Israelis) – Haast to Fox Glacier – 121km/75 mi. 

These two were Israeli friends from outside Jerusalem who had just finished their turn in the Israeli Army. They loved the fact that we were American (thus I learned firsthand the impact of controversial foreign policy) but weren’t so fond of Obama. Loved Bush, though. We had lots of talks about American films, television, and music, and I told them to YouTube the Hannukah Song by Adam Sandler after we had a long conversation about his films. I kind of wish I could have seen their faces when they listened to it.

Lee – Fox Glacier to Franz Josef Glacier – 23km/14 mi.

The day was getting long and we were worries that we might have missed our chance to catch a ride the short distance between the glaciers, but like a knight in shining armor, DUDE and his cute golden retriever showed up to save the day! He was a construction worker originally from Manchester who had been in NZ for the better part of 20 years, and we squeezed into his tiny two-seater. Beth happily shared the hatchback trunk with NAME, the dog for the quick drive.

Day 2: Franz Josef to Greymouth

Olly and Mom – Franz Josef to Greymouth – 173km/108 mi.

We owe our greatest debt of gratitude to this hilarious pair, a young Maori guy and his chain-smoking, opinionated mother who cursed like a sailor. They happened to live in Greymouth, and had been in Franz to do some painting, which was the family business. Listening to their banter was like listening to a comedy routine, and Olly was an awesome DJ for the stretches between conversations.

New Zealand is probably the last country on earth you can safely hitchhike (that could also be entirely untrue), and I’m glad that we pushed ourselves to give it a try. Not only did it save us nearly $300, but we got to have contact with local Kiwis in ways we never would have otherwise. Afterward, we lamented our failure to take photos with each of the people who drove us, but they will live on in our hearts forever.

Disclaimer: The south island of NZ is safest for hitchhikers; buses or car rental are recommended for the North. As usual, common sense and your intuition are your best guides. Never get in a car with anyone who gives you a creepy vibe, and be especially careful if you are a solo female. 

The Wines of Central Otago

Continuing our trend set our first few days in Waiheke, we decided a wine tasting of the Otago Valley was definitely order. Because Pinot Noir. Because it’s our favorite red, and it grows like no other in the cooler climate of southern NZ. Because the country outside Queenstown is some of the most beautiful in the world, and what better way to see it than with a glass of wine in hand?

After a little investigation into pre-organized wine tours, we discovered that the cost for the three of us would have easily been nearly $200, so we hatched a plan. Amanda posted on a Facebook forum for Queenstown locals to see if anyone would like to supply a vehicle and sobriety for a day. We would supply $100 NZD, lunch, gas, and sparkling (if slurry) conversation. In no time, we had dozens of offers.

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We were picked up in time to make it to the first winery by the time the tasting room had opened. Our itinerary was as follows:

Peregrine:

The wine here was good, but not memorable. The huge barrel room directly behind you as you taste certainly is, though! After a wander through the barrels and a careful consideration of two Rieslings, a Sauvignon Blanc, and two Pinot Noirs, we picked up a bottle of their easy drinking 2013 Saddleback Pinot Noir to drink later, because it was both our favorite and the cheapest! Those two things weren’t linked, I promise. Okay, maybe they were.
Tasting Cost: Free; bottle purchase recommended

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Wooing Tree: 

The wines here were all enjoyable. We started with a chardonnay that didn’t win any fans, then tasted our way through three Pinot Noirs, 2013, 2011, and 2010. We finished with a dessert Rose made from Pinot Noir grapes that we all absolutely adored, so much so that we bought a bottle. It’s cutesy name Tickled Pink was adored when tipsy, but groan-worthy once sober. Either way, it was delicious!
Tasting Cost: $5 without bottle purchase; free with purchase.

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Mt. Difficulty:

We stopped here for lunch, a couple of meat and cheese platters that had us swooning (though I rarely meet a meat and cheese platter I don’t like). We did a tasting to see what glass we should have with lunch, and opted for a delicate, light 2014 Chenin Blanc. The view from the vineyard was also stunning, looking out over several different vineyards that populate the Bannockburn region of the Central Otago Valley.
Tasting Cost: Free

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Chard Farm:

The drive to this vineyard is pure New Zealand: a dusty, one-lane road carved into a mountainside, falling steeply to a fluorescent blue river. Across the highway, bungee jumpers are braving a free fall off an old bridge. After a few nail-biting minutes, rows of vines cradle you until you arrive safely at the tasting room. There, you’re rewarded with some of the juiciest pinot noirs in the area. Try them all, but stick to the reds if you’re trying to avoid getting wine drunk. My favorite is the Mata Au, but i haven’t tried the single vineyard varieties yet. They also have great deals on pre-selected boxes of their favorite bottles. Not to be missed!
Tasting Cost: Free

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Milford Sound

We’d been driving through farmland for the better part of two hours. It was beautiful, but it was a little monotonous. The first field of sheep was charming, but by the 17th, it had gotten a little old. But the landscape was changing, stacking up more and more trees in the green fields so slowly as to be imperceptible. We rounded a wooded bend in the road, and outstretched before us was a wide valley floor full of long, yellow grass, a river snaking lazily through, and mountains framing our view as far as the eye could see.

Of course, we had to pull off the road and frolic, the wide open field was just begging for it.

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We were midway on our journey to Milford Sound, a butt-aching 4 hour drive from Queenstown. What we didn’t know at this point was how many more natural wonders this drive had in store for us. Soon, we were whizzing past lakes, rivers, and countless waterfalls. We began gaining altitude, with glacier and snow-covered peaks looming all around us. Mother Nature had given the region a cold snap and some condensation, which meant there was enough snowmelt to create double the usual number of waterfalls down the mountain sides.

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We stopped outside of a one-lane road that had been blasted through 2 kilometeres of solid rock mountainside, the area draped in a surreal cloak of mist from the hundreds of waterfalls that surrounded us. After passing through the mountain, we slowly made our way down a harrowing series of switchbacks to the valley floor on the other side. The piece de resistance awaited us through a grove of pine trees: Milford Sound.

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We stood at the water’s edge, astounded by the natural beauty in front of us. Across the water, shrouded by mist, rose the peaks of the fjords of the Sound. far to the right, a waterfall violently voided a river a water, casting more mist into the air and giving the view a surreal tinge. It was a painting that only the masterful hand of nature could have created.

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We reluctantly left after an hour or so of exploration so as not to be driving back twisting mountain road in the dark, certain that this had been worth every monotonous minute and every aching butt cheek.

If you’d like to visit Milford Sound, I’d recommend self-driving instead of taking a bus tour. You can stop as you please along the way, and aren’t beholden to a specific itinerary. There are plentiful cruises around the sound, though we opted to save our money as the (free) view from the visitor’s center was incredible enough, and we’d been told that that cruises aren’t really that great. There isn’t much to do in the area to warrant an overnight stay, but if you want to break up the drive, there are accommodation options at the visitors center and about 5 km. away.

Magical Queenstown

There’s a certain kind of magic that hangs around Queenstown that’s apparent from the moment you step off the plane and gape at the Remarkables mountain range towering overhead. Scratch that, it’s apparent before your plane even touches down, as you see the mountain peaks approaching and can see the deep blue lake stretching out in the valley, with a small town hugging one end.

Since I had been here before, I held back on any remark after our arrival, to see if my sister felt the same thing I felt any time I was here. As we trudged through the airport parking lot, I heard a ‘Wow…” and turned to see her snapping photos of those same mountains that had stunned me the first time I laid eyes on them, and at every subsequent viewing since.

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The feeling doesn’t stop once you’re in town – cafes, bars, shops, and beautiful hotels line the streets of ‘downtown,’ if it can be called that. It’s a perfect-sized town; enough variety to keep things interesting, small enough for you to get your bearings within 24 hours. It’s clean, beautiful, and full of happy people. Because how can anyone be surrounded by those mountains and that lake and not be happy?

We used Queenstown as our base to explore the surrounding area, and stayed with our friend Dan, who I met through Amanda, who I met when I hosted her in Sydney through CouchSurfing. They had chosen to settle down in Queenstown for several months to work, replenish bank accounts, and just enjoy the awesomeness that is QT. Needless to say, Dan and his roommates were all awesome, especially Toa, the sweet Staffie who shared the couch with me on a particularly cold night.

My Amazing Hosts

My Amazing Hosts

Toa, My Love

Toa, My Love

We spent a few nights getting acquainted with the bars of Queenstown. Since we were with ‘locals,’ we skipped the touristy attractions such as Ice Bar and instead made for places like Rhinos, The Find, and Vinyl, where we rocked out to a band that specialized in early 2000s pop punk with a mini guitar as a prop. And of course the famous Ferg Burger factored in as a dinner once or twice as well (Insider tip: you can call in your order and skip the hour long line at the window). The first time I came to Queenstown (on a slightly bigger budget), Eichardts and Botswana Butchery topped the list of pricier places to eat and drink.

Getting Cray with the Ukelele

Getting Cray with the Ukelele

FERG!

FERG!

We also visited the gondola and downhill luge at Skyline on the mountain above town, and even hiked up to the Ben Lomond saddle behind the tourist complex. What we thought might be a relatively easy 3 hour hike turned out to be a grueling 4 hours up a steep incline that left us sore for days. But what a view from the other side!

Luging

Luging

Before We Knew What We Were Getting Into

Before We Knew What We Were Getting Into

Struggle Street

Struggle Street

We Made It!

We Made It!

The Payoff

The Payoff

When it was time to say goodbye, my sister and I both didn’t want to leave. But who wants to leave such a beautiful place? But glaciers, national parks, and other adventures beckoned, so off we went!

The Wines of Waiheke

The first time I went to New Zealand, I visited Auckland for a couple of days. Everyone told me to get out as quickly as possible, that there isn’t much in Auckland worth sticking around for. But since we had an overnight there anyway, I went exploring and found Waiheke Island.

On my second round of New Zealand exploring, I knew it was the best place to spend the couple of days we had on either side of our flights. Why do I love Waiheke? A few reasons: The relaxed beachy vibe, the beautiful vistas from the hilltops, the friendliness of the locals. But the biggest reason? WINE. There are vineyards all over Waiheke (pronounced WAI-heck-ay), which appreciates a little warmer and more stable climates than Auckland.

We spent a total of four days on Waiheke Island between the start and end of our trips, and we had a very good sampling of the vineyards on the island. I have outlined our experience below:

Mudbrick:
http://www.mudbrick.co.nz/

This is my hands-down favorite. It’s not necessarily the wine that’s my favorite, but the vineyard is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever set foot on. It looks a bit like a French country home, with a vegetable and herb garden out front, beautiful flowers blooming out of wine barrels, bougainvillea climbing the walls, and a showstopping view of downtown Auckland over the water. When you think of a vineyard wedding, you think of a vineyard like Mudbrick. The wine is decent, but nothing that’s ever made me swoon. But that view… now that is swoon-worthy.
Tasting Fee: $10 / 5 ‘standard’ wines, $15 / 5 ‘premium’ wines
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Cable Bay:
http://cablebay.co.nz/

I’d venture that this is the most famous vineyard on the island, and it’s just a 5 minute walk from Mudbrick. Thus, it boasts a beautiful view as well, but not as good as the view from Mudbrick. It’s a sleeker and more modern building, which to me makes it feel like it lacks a little bit of soul. But to each his own! We tasted a very good sauvignon blanc here, but the reds that were on the tasting menu didn’t leave an impression.
Tasting Fee: $10 / 5 wines
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Stony Ridge:
http://www.stonyridge.co.nz/Home 

This is one of the oldest vineyards on the island. It’s tucked into a valley, with the tasting house and restaurant surrounded by it’s vines. It was very busy when we got there, but since we were getting lunch we decided to take our tasting in the restaurant. It’s famous for it’s Bordeaux-style reds (the Larose being the most famous), and they are certainly delicious! The food here wasn’t too bad either, fresh oysters and a cheese platter stacked with yummy trimmings.
Tasting Fee: $3 – $18 NZD per tasting, depending on the wine. Often have sets of reds or whites for $15 – $25, depending on the season.
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Te Motu:
http://www.temotu.co.nz/

The tasting room of Te Motu is set in a casual garden full of edibles for the restaurant’s kitchen. Cats laze about, glasses clink, and olive trees stretch out in the distance. This is just a short walk from Stony Ridge, so if you visit one, you should visit both. Te Motu is small, and the limited production is reflected in the prices for a glass or bottle, or even a tasting flight. But the wine is good, the food is adventurous, and it’s a great little spot to spend a couple of hours educating your tastebuds.
Tasting Fee: $20 / 5 ‘Heritage’ wines, occasionally flights of their less expensive label, Dunleavy for less.
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Casita Miro:
http://www.casitamiro.co.nz/

This pretty spot is an homage to the Spanish artist Miro, with mosaic tiling reminiscent of his style found all over the grounds. On this side of the island, they say there is a ‘wine trail’ that allows you to hike between Miro, Obsidian, Stony Ridge and Te Motu. We tried to take it and ended up getting lost and traipsing through some fields of wildflowers and sharp pricklers. But perhaps you might have better luck! Either way, you can walk between Miro and Obsidian. There is a beautiful little terrace above the restaurant that has a beautiful view out to sea, and the restaurant serves tapas.
Tasting Fee: $15 / 5 wines
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Obsidian:
http://www.obsidian.co.nz/

Last, but certainly not least, is Obsidian. This tasting room is no-frills: there are no glasses for sale (they don’t the license), there is no restaurant, but this had my favorite wine on the island. They had a 2012 Tempranillo and a 2010 Cab blend that I couldn’t say no to. I bought a bottle of each, and an extra Cab for a wine loving friend. Everything we tried from this small vineyard was delicious, but those two stood head and shoulders above everything I tried in our grand tour of the vineyards of Waiheke.
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If you’d like to have your own tour of Waiheke, there are no shortage of tour operators who would be happy to drive you around on a scheduled tour. If you prefer a little more freedom, the transport company Fullers offers hop-on-hop-off Vineyard Hopper bus tickets, and you can get a deal on these if you take the Fullers ferry to the island. Just purchase at the ferry terminal in Auckland.

If one day just isn’t enough (it seriously isn’t!), there are lots of really cute AirBnB listings all over the island. It’s a popular place for weekend & holiday homes, which means plenty of options that aren’t in a hotel! You’ll likely want to stay closer to Oneroa, the main town on the island, but Onetangi beach on the other end is a beautiful day trip, especially if you combine it with a visit to Obsidian!

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