A lot of our conversations have gone like this:
“So where’d you go on your honeymoon?” says random person expecting to hear the usual of some island locale.
“New Zealand” we say.
“What?? Really? How was it?” random person is suddenly much more interested.
It was amazing. That’s how it was. Amazing. That little country has a small monopoly on the world’s beauty. If you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings, we felt like we were walking through the movie the entire time. The sights were incredible and the food was delicious. What more could you ask for? Oh, being on the most amazing vacation for the honeymoon with your husband? Yes. That sent it way over the top.
We were there for a week and a half and explored four cities on both islands – Queenstown, Hamilton, Waiheke, and Auckland.
Getting to New Zealand isn’t the easiest. You can take a direct flight that’s about 16 hours. But we decided to go the long way so we could get business class seats with our stock pile of points. Long way = 25 hours. 11 hours to Korea, then 11 more hours to Sydney, then 3 hours to Queenstown. If you’re flying business class, it’s actually quite enjoyable. You have lots of space, a big TV, a lie-flat bed, and two 4-course meals served to you every flight. One of the planes we were on even had a bar and lounge in the front that you could go hang out at. No big deal. Just kidding… What?!??
We started our trip in Queenstown, which is in the South Island. It was evening by the time we got in. We went to dinner at Tanoshi where we had wonderful sashimi and other Japanese goodies. We wandered around town for a bit afterwards and found ourselves at a chocolate shop. Who’s surprised? William’s drawn to them like a magnet. We got a few chocolate treats and a mandarin basil sorbet that tasted quite wonderful.
The airbnb we were staying at was completely adorable. We woke up the next morning to a beautiful little vineyard with snow covered mountains in the distance.
We found breakfast at a quaint and rather hard to find restaurant called The Boat Shed. Is breakfast too early for hot chocolate? William thinks not. We walked around Queenstown for a bit after breakfast. It’s a small and very walkable town that’s fun to explore. We ended up at Halo for lunch where we had what I think was the best lamb during the entire trip, and we ate a lot of lamb. It was some sort of bbq melt in your mouth goodness.
I have a love/hate relationship with surprises. I love them, but they’re also stressful, especially if I know that they’re happening. I don’t know where to set my expectations, so a lot of the time I feel like I expect too much. William likes planning surprises though, at some point I’ll get used to it. This was his big surprise for the trip. He planned a private airplane tour of milford sound. Let’s just say, it was a very good surprise and did not disappoint. My mind is still blown at the incredible scenery we saw.
As if that wasn’t enough for the day, William took me to my first fine dining experience at Amisfield. My mind is officially completely blown, and it’s only the first day! This place was amazing. They started by bringing out the cutest and most delicious little “snacks”. There were 8 different ones by the time we got to the appetizer, and then three mains, and two desserts. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that much in my life. No Thanksgiving even began to compare to this. It was all so good, I just couldn’t stop myself.
Queenstown is a very relaxing and chill place to be. Everywhere we went, there was good food and wonderful people. Our next breakfast was at Vudu Cafe and Larder. Smoked salmon hash and a black rice and coconut pudding with raspberry chia. Yummmm.
Lunch was at Public Kitchen and Bar. We shared an osso bucco with pumpkin puree entree and started our streak of oysters during the trip. They have really good oysters down there.
Luge rides were next! Imagine, real. life. Mario Kart. Granted, I nearly had a panic attack getting up the mountain. I learned I don’t like gondolas. The swaying, the bumping, I don’t like it. You’re hanging like a hundred feet in the air with only a little cable holding you up and you’re surrounded by big windows so that you can clearly see your demise coming. Anyhow, once we got up there, it was fantastic and I wish we could go back. They gave us each a little cart with wheels and a hand bar for you to pull back to brake. And then you get to roll down the mountain on an awesome course. Did I mention Mario Kart? William was making Mario Kart noises all the way down. Wahoo!! Yippee!!
After having our fill of luge rides (which I won, all of them), we went to explore Arrowtown, the neighboring town to Queenstown. We thought it might have an interesting downtown like Queenstown, which we had already explored. Nope, it looked like it was lost in time and never made it out of an old Western movie. There was nothing there. I’m so happy we decided to stay in Queenstown. Don’t go there, just do more luge rides.
We had dinner at Toro back in Queenstown. More lamb and pork belly and all around goodness. I’m pretty much convinced that it’s impossible to find bad food in New Zealand.
We liked the Boat Shed so much that we went back again for breakfast. I kept eyeing William’s avocado toast when we were there last time and wanted to get some of my own. I’ve never had avocado toast like it before. They added olives, sun dried tomatoes, some spices and a drizzle of maple syrup on top. So weird, but so good! I’ve been making it for breakfast at home a lot now, it’s delicious.
This was our last morning in Queenstown and on the South Island. After breakfast we headed back to the airport to fly up to the North Island. We chose to stay in Hamilton for the next few days since it was central to the activities we wanted to do in the area. In Hamilton, our airbnb was again really cute. It was a small cottage in farm country surrounded by trees and lovely rolling hills. We were even woken up the next morning by the neighbor’s cows mooing. Very different from our normal city lives.
That night we went into town and had a lovely dinner at Palete. Sashimi, duck three ways, and another plate of delicious lamb.
Sunday morning we found ourselves at Hayes Common for breakfast. We felt like we were back in SF because of the awesome hipster vibes this place had. I wish I could have this breakfast every morning. You just can’t go wrong with a good British breakfast. This actually ended up being inspiration for our Christmas breakfast this year. It was that good. And again, hot chocolate. Surprised?
William’s coworkers lent him one of the office drones for the trip and he was super excited to try flying it. It was a rainy morning, but that didn’t stop him from learning how to fly the drone and having a wonderful time.
Zealong Tea Estate
A tea farm! I was so excited when William found this place. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I absolutely adore tea. Zealong Tea Estate is completely organic and is New Zealand’s only commercial tea farm. During our tour of the farm, the tour guide decided that we should be the ones to get dressed up to show the rest of the group what people used to wear while picking tea. We looked ridiculous, but please enjoy a laugh.
You only pick the top three leaves from the bush and they are kept really small and low because of that.
After the tour, our guide did a tea tasting for us. I could drink tea all day, it was wonderful and so special to be drinking tea on the estate. Afterwards we went and had more tea in their restaurant. I fell in love with the cup that they served it in. I want one now, the strainer fits neatly into the lid and it’s a lovely design. There was a small burner at each table to keep the tea pot hot so we could continue to steep our leaves at our leisure. Genius.
Right afterward we did another drone flight. A word of caution when flying drones: birds can be a problem. We inadvertently, yet thoroughly, pissed off a hawk that quickly ended our flight once it started trying to attack the drone. Little drone = no match for hawk. The drone is ok though.
We had dinner at Agenda that evening. More delicious food. We had such an easy time finding amazing allergy friendly food everywhere we went. I didn’t get sick once, and that’s never happened before while traveling. We had muscles, pork belly and scallops, and duck.
Monday morning we learned that William doesn’t like liver. He was feeling adventurous and ordered it for breakfast. It looked cool, but I’m glad I stuck with eggs and bacon. NZ bacon is the best thing ever! It’s big, meaty and crispy. It looks like Canadian bacon, but tastes like American bacon. How do they do it???
Our next exciting activity was to tour the Glowworm caves. This has been on my bucket list for years and was so exciting to finally see! I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I couldn’t get a picture of the glowworms, but let me tell you, it was incredible. I felt like I was in Disneyland in a magical cave. You’re in a pitch black cave and then all of a sudden you walk into a room with walls covered in beautiful blue shimmering lights. You need to go see them, add it to your bucket list right now if it’s not already there. The rest of the cave was also stunning. So many incredible formations!
After the tour of the glowworm cave, we left that afternoon to take a ferry from Auckland to Waiheke, an island a short distance from the city. Imagine an island of vineyards. Seriously! It’s known as the Island of Wine. It’s a little island with over 20 vineyards. To top it off, we got to stay in a treehouse!
We got in late in the day and went to Mudbrick for dinner, where William fell in love with their olive oil. We were the last ones there and it was so cozy and wonderful. As you’re walking up, there’s a sign at the entrance asking you to walk up through the vines rather than on the road. I love little unexpected delightful moments like that.
Tuesday morning we found an amazing breakfast place, Wai Kitchen, with incredible views over a small bay. Have I mentioned how amazing the bacon is? It’s amazing.
On our way to breakfast I saw a sign saying something about tea, so we had to go back and find where that led to. It ended up being a little shop with delicious sparkling tea. They had beautiful bowls filled with loose leaf tea and different herbs and spices that you could mix together to make your own tea blends.
We decided to go wine tasting for the rest of the day and explore the island. We started at Casita Miro for lunch since it had been recommended to us. I’m so glad that we did. It was decorated with vibrant colors and their food was just a vibrant and beautiful and tasted as good as it looks.
Our next stop was Tantalus for a wine tasting. Everywhere we looked there were incredible views. StonyRidge was our last stop with more wine and more lovely views of green rolling hills with vineyards and olive trees.
We took a bus to get back into town from the last winery. We love taking public transportation whenever we travel to see what it’s like in different areas. William’s mind was blown about how he was on a bus on an island. I love how excited he got about everything on the island. The houses, the buses and even the trash trucks and plumbing were a thrilling discovery to have on an island. But really, when you think about it, it’s pretty amazing how they brought everything over for such a small place.
We took a walk on the beach before dinner and did another flight with the drone. Birds again. This time there were about 30 seagulls chasing it. It survived, and was quite funny to watch.
We had dinner at the Oyster Inn, so of course we ordered oysters. Holy cow. The. Best. Oysters. Of. My. Life. They were huge and light and creamy and flavorful and so delicious. Now I’m craving oysters.
We went back to Wai Kitchen for breakfast again. The owner recognized us and said “You’re regulars now! I have to find something for you to do, I think we can get you set up with washing dishes.” He was fantastic and one of the friendliest people that we met.
We took the ferry back to Auckland that morning and had the rest of the day to explore the city. It was a big city, but didn’t have a big city feel and reminded us a lot of SF. They also have awesome street art. It was so much fun discovering all sorts of murals as we walked around. They have great style!
Lunch at Misters brought more hot chocolate and lamb and beet bowls. The lamb there is cheaper than the chicken. What!? It’s a dream come true. We did more exploring after lunch, found lots of fun shops, more street art and I found a lovely cafe called Little Bird that served delicious golden milk lattes.
We booked an airbnb at the last minute while we were on the trip and scored with this adorable place. I’m always jealous of people that can keep plants alive in their apartments. That’s my next goal. We ended our stay in Auckland with an amazing sushi dinner at Masu. And then we spontaneously went to Oyster and Chop afterwards on a recommendation from our host for an oyster happy hour. We were trying to get as many in as we could before we left.
While we were at Waiheke, we bought a little bottle of kombucha called Daily Organics (I was victim of good packaging). We saved it to have with breakfast at the airport. It was the best kombucha I’ve ever had and it put the stuff that I make to shame. I can’t believe that I didn’t try it sooner. I would have bought a case of it to bring back, but sadly, I was already at the airport. If anyone goes to New Zealand, please bring me back some!