North Island, New Zealand
Updated: Mar 4, 2021
It felt weird leaving Santiago at night like that, seemed rushed and I wasn't completely ready for this long flight (would've done more yoga if I had more time), but had to board right after speaking to my family. I was seated in a window seat next to a larger woman in the middle with her friend or sister (I couldn’t tell), but they were from NZ or AU because they had that accent. It was the first time I heard that kind of accent in a while and it made me happy. I was really dreading this flight and it didn’t help that the lady’s arm was getting somewhat in my way every time I tried to sleep - I could feel her arm move whenever she moved and it woke me up. Therefore, I didn’t get much sleep, maybe 4 or 5 give or take. I was finally able to watch the new updated Disney movie, Aladdin, that came out a couple months prior and I actually really enjoyed it. In all, the flight wasn't too bad in that fact that I didn’t feel sick, just very uncomfortable and long but what can you do? I arrived in Auckland really early at 5am and going through immigration was a wakeup call, they checked to see if I had any food to claim (which I did, some crackers and chocolate), but they didn’t do anything. I ordered an Uber right away and was at my hostel by 6am (I knew I would arrive earlier than expected and the Airbnb lady told me to just knock on the door). So I waited 5 minutes admiring the cute little cottage with beautiful colored flowers out front and a really pretty view of Auckland's downtown skyscrapers and my first glimpse of the tower. I knocked several times and no one came so I got a bit worried and then waited a few minutes and knocked again louder. A man came to the door in his PJs and a New Orleans T-shirt so I could tell he was American by his accent. He welcomed me in and told me my room was surprisingly ready since the people before left early so he showed me to my room. I was so relieved as I was exhausted and needed a bed. The room was situated in the middle floor, with a very small little living room area and all wooden floors. Their room was on the same floor and then down the stairs was the kitchen, living room, and laundry room. The man, Rick, showed me where everything was in the kitchen and told me everything I needed to know and then we got to talking about where they were from and how they started Airbnb in New Orleans and have been doing it for like 20 years (they had a cute schedule on their kitchen wall chalkboard that was neat). He was very talkative for it being 6am, told me he works from home as an architect and his wife sells his brother’s dried fruit business at grocery stores every afternoon. I knew he was doing some sort of yoga or pilates before I arrived since there was a mat in the living room when we walked by and I told him I should probably get rest and he said he was going to get back to his mat.
I unpacked and then took a nap, set my alarm for mid-afternoon as I needed to get used to the time change - which was a wapping 16 hour difference. I woke up from my nap feeling groggy but refreshed a little and walked to this coffee shop down the main street (Ponsonby) that my mom’s friends had told me about. It was so fancy!!! This street had tons of restaurants, shops, furniture stores, etc. and it felt like I was in a whole other world. The air was crisp and the sun was bright and shiny with forest trees and nice cars, and white (pale) people walking around everywhere. Culture shock at it's finest having been in South America for the last 3 months, my mind was still in Spanish mode and the latin culture.
The coffee shop was so cute and I loved being in there, ordered a turmeric latte and a smoothie bowl along with a gluten free pastry dessert thing - basically all healthy food. It was warming and I stayed there to plan the rest of my trip in NZ as I hadn’t really done much planning lately. The young boy in there was really nice and helped me plan some things on where I was going to drive in the South Island since he was from there—my first Kiwi friend! Then I decided to walk around a bit more and ended up at the waterfront area that my mom’s friend had told me about along with Rick and I ordered a beer, my first NZ beer - nothing special. Then I walked past this field/public park area and watched young boys and girls skating at this skate park next to some people practicing Rugby and others running or playing basketball. A very lively scene, I guess also because it was a Friday. I wasn’t sure what to do for dinner so I just went to this restaurant my friend Kasey from college had recommended in her blog when she traveled to Auckland. I stopped at the Airbnb since it was basically on the way and ran into Elizabeth (the host lady I had been communicating with through Airbnb). Elizabeth was so sweet, with grey hair and round glasses, she was very friendly and welcomed me as my mom would with her guests.
The restaurant I went to was at this chic market place with lively young people and it got more and more crowded as I sat at the bar so ended up getting a small table so I could chill and not get overwhelmed as I was still very tired and people were starting to get rowdy (which is expected for a Friday evening). Famous for their meatballs, I ordered a glass of wine and checked off the menu what I wanted (it was like a checklist menu which was neat). It was dark by the time I left, and when I arrived at the Airbnb I realized I had left the key on the dresser. I freaked out for a little because the lights were off and I could tell no one was home (I knocked and no one came to the door). I walked around to see if there was a back entrance or another way I could get in but there was no luck whatsoever. I actually saw some dude lying on a couch or bed in the room behind the house and that kind of shocked me but I noticed there was some Wifi if I stood next to the side door so I messaged Elizabeth through the Airbnb app and my battery was at 5% so I was thinking of what I could do if she didn’t respond as I knew they were probably out on a Friday night and probably wouldn’t be back till late. I waited about 10 minutes and then decided to look at the instructions the Airbnb had and THANK GOD there were instructions that included the information that a spare key was placed on the side of the door - I was in luck (they never mentioned this to me at check-in)! It was also just in time because my battery was just about to die for real and it was like a savior came to save me. I got in and showered and went to bed, so exhausted. I apologized the next morning to Elizabeth for bothering her and all the messages and she understood and also apologized as they were out and weren’t looking at their phones (Rick played piano Friday nights at this bar). I slept in pretty late actually, making breakfast around 10am and Rick was up and chatted with me. I decided to walk around Auckland downtown and go up the Sky Tower, which was overwhelming at first with all the tourists. I walked into the hotel and didn’t see any signs on where to go so I went up an elevator obviously thinking the way up was the right way but soon realized after asking this waitress that it was down that you have to get a ticket to go up a different way. So I went to the right spot and up the Sky Tower that cost $32 NZ which was frustrating but whatever - I guess it was worth it. The view was really grand as you could see 360 views of the entirety of Auckland and surrounding islands, and then I got a sandwich and coffee and chilled up there for a bit. Then I walked around downtown to this other park/garden and was going to go to the Art Gallery but that also cost too much money so skipped it and went to get a SIM card, and then went to this ice cream shop that my high school friend Meg told me to go to which was really cool - had many different shapes of ice creams from the Sky Tower replica to the Selfy Stick replica, etc. It was very touristy and lots of people out and about (so happy I got an Airbnb as I needed some space and real home comfort feel again instead of a hostel). When it was starting to become dark, I decided to go for a run. It felt so nice to actually run outside in the streets and neighborhoods and sweat. I was tired and didn’t feel like going to a restaurant (and someone in the kitchen was cooking something Asian and all the spices smelled so good so I decided to order Thai food). When I went to make some tea (Rick and Elizabeth were out), there was a random guy in the kitchen cooking. I started talking to him and he told me he lived downstairs with his girlfriend (they were originally staying in the Airbnb room and asked Elizabeth and Rick if they could stay in the other room since they were expats trying to stay for longer). They were doing a work exchange (on a working visa in NZ) for a few months and he was a really nice guy who I won't ever talk to again in my life probably. I had another good night sleep and then woke up in time to go to Devonport. I arrived at the downtown dock just in time for the next ferry and then hiked up to Mount Victoria - this really neat mountain in the middle of the peninsula with the most amazing view of the water and Auckland downtown. There were tons of boats and people out and about walking. I decided to stop at this place that had a sign saying Organic Wine week and got a glass of wine (the bartender let me try the various types and I fell for this smooth white pinot). The sun was shining and I was very satisfied with my day so far and it was only 2pm. I went back to Auckland to take a Zoomy (the NZ form of Uber) to Mission Bay and there was so much traffic and many many people at the beach. I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of tourists from Indians to Asians to Europeans to locals. I tried going to this restaurant I had looked up that had the best fish and chips but it was closed so I went to the second one and their service sucked and didn’t have Wifi so I went to the third choice and so glad I did. I had a great view of the beach and enjoyed the fish and chips they offered. I was ready to go back, after feeling the cold water and went to this Kombucha place that Kasey also recommended. It was going to close in 30 minutes, there was no one there, but I went to the bar and got the sample to try all of them (the bartender was this younger guy who seemed to be training because he had to ask the owner some of the questions I was asking him). The owner came over and started chatting (he’s from Seattle and came here on a sailboat 5 or so years ago) and then started this company. He was explaining that Kombucha is a new thing in NZ and not big at all, and it’s only been open for about 2 years. It was already 8pm before I knew it and I ordered my favorite (the Green one) and then walked to this park near central. I stopped in this Asian restaurant that had Pho and ordered some with seafood and a fancy drink. Afterwards I felt sick to my stomach, I had definitely eaten way too much that day, something was wrong. I felt so gross and overwhelmed. I had to lay down, it was bad. After a little while I decided to take a bath and that made me feel much better. I woke up on time again to take a ferry to an island for wine tasting, and that morning the German guy was in the kitchen and we chatted about concerts and music for a while but I told him I needed to go to make the ferry to Waiheke Island. The ferry ride was so beautiful, we passed by at least 2 inactive volcanoes and tons of sailboats. The water was bright blue/green and it was a little cold but not too bad. When we arrived, I asked the easiest way to get to Mudbrick Vineyard (a winery also recommended and researched) - the info lady was somewhat helpful, she just gave me a map. I found a trail that was super interesting, it was the “bird seeing” trail and I did see a lot of birds and then stumbled upon vineyards and then tons of sheep when reaching the top. It was a stunning view, I loved hiking this trail I randomly found and then went to this other trail that had a view of the other side of the island. It was so much fun and a very romantic scene. I arrived at the vineyard and there were couples and families and I went straight to the tasting room. The guy serving the tastings was a neat guy to talk to and then I went to sit outside and admire the view. I wasn't sure how long I wanted to stay but the price to open a bottle there was $20 more than just purchasing it (so ridiculous), so I decided to just purchase one (and then went to the other restaurant to ask for a glass and open the bottle - somewhat beating the system ;-)). Then I ordered the famous lamb and it was the most delicious meal I had in all of New Zealand (even better. than the fish & chips!). I can’t explain how or why but the texture and sauce combination of the meat was perfect. There was an American couple there celebrating their engagement that started talking to me and we chatted for a bit and she told me one of her clients was Cvent (a company I used to work for in VA) - small world. Then I walked back to the ferry at sunset and it was dark by the time I got back to Auckland but walked back anyway as I felt very safe in this city and understood my surrounding. I was checking out that evening (Elizabeth was nice enough to let me keep my stuff there until 8pm as the next guests weren’t showing up until 10pm). I said my goodbyes to the sweetest Airbnb couple (not to mention them letting me do two loads of laundry for free with their detergent) and ordered a Zoomy to my next Airbnb which was more downtown.
The next Airbnb was more complicated as it was in this apartment building and I had to get a keycode to get the key out down the street following the host's instructions. When I arrived at the apartment and knocked on the door, the host was this young Asian lady and she was on the phone but showed me my room. It was a cute little Asian themed room and I was tired so I just had some tea and went to bed. I woke up early the next morning to get my rental car from the cheapest company I could find (and had others recommend) Juicy Rental Car, and the process actually went smoothly as I booked everything online in advance. Once I got the rental car, which was this cute Swift, I was on my way to this yoga class I had signed up for that morning at 10am (another friend from college recommended I go to this studio and take a specific instructor’s class). I felt rushed trying to cram in this class after picking up my first rental car but that's me for ya - trying to do whatever I want if I can make it work. Of course it was raining that day, the day I had to drive on the left side (driver on the right) for the very first time, and hadn’t driven in months. Thankfully, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be and of course made sure to go slowly, and got to the yoga class early so I chatted with the instructor before class. The class felt great, it was a really nice combination between bikram and vinyasa. I really enjoyed taking a class for the first time in so long! After showering at the studio, I headed to the west coast to this beach called Piha. I had to keep telling myself and my mind to “keep left” the entire time and go slow and super careful. It was cloudy and very windy but not too bad, I had gotten there just in time as it started to rain after walking around for an hour and admiring the rocks along the beach. There was this one rock shaped like a lion laying down which is what this beach is known for along with surfing, but the winds that day were too rough so no one was really out and about. I was going to go to this coffee shop but it was closed and my data wasn’t working so I went into this grocery store and ordered a pizza slice and the lady told me to try turning off and on my phone (which I hadn't) as the data should be working. I did that and it worked thankfully. I ate and then left for the next Airbnb which I'm glad I did since it was raining and gross and I just wanted to chill. When I arrived at the new Airbnb, the host lady, Alison, greeted me with 3 large happy energetic doodle dogs! They were the cutest poodle doodle dogs and so fun and cuddly - it made me super super happy. Alison was certainly a dog lady and works from home, running a business that makes dog beds and was a sales rep for a soap company prior. Reminded me a little of my mom as she was the same with Bacci and also works at home somewhat teaching Pilates while running Airbnb. She showed me to my room which was this gorgeous high ceiling, carpeted room with a modern touch. She was very talkative so I decided to sit down on the couch and snuggle with her doodles and have some tea time with her. It was such a lovely rainy afternoon, I enjoyed being in a house with dogs for the first time in a while. Eventually she started working again and talking on the phone with one of her best friends (reminded me of my Aunt Carol for some reason the way they were chatting) as I started booking my flights in Asia. Then I thought her husband was home (it was about 3:30pm at this point) but it was one of her guy friends. He was this larger, tall Irish dude with a very outgoing personality and they sat right around me chatting away and “catching up” as girls normally do. It was one of the cutest bonds I had seen and later found out that they used to work at booths next to each other at the market back in the day (he still does). They seemed so close and so good to each other - just friends chatting away on a Monday or Tuesday afternoon because they had nothing better to do (he also brought over a lovely pastry for the two of them). Loved that they included me in their conversation. Then the husband shows up a couple hours later and he’s a nice fellow as well. I went to get Mexican food close by for dinner and then went to bed at a decent hour as I was off to Hobbiton the next day (where they filmed Lord of the Rings)!
I slept in later than expected and had a nice breakfast with Alison and then hit the road. It was rainy again so I wasn’t sure if I should stop at the Botanical gardens but decided to and kind of glad I did. It was nice walking around the park for a bit as I was in the car for a good amount that day. A few hours later I arrived in Hobbiton and it was raining but I decided to bite the bullet and buy the expensive ($50?) ticket to see this famous movie set scene. It was pretty damn cool so I’m so glad I did!! We did get poured on in the middle of it but it ended up being okay because we had large umbrellas and was able to change before the next drive to Rotoroa so I wasn’t soaking wet as it was another 2 hours or so. I parked the rental car a few blocks away after checking into the backpackers hostel in town then went to get dinner at the Indian restaurant next door which was a little odd as the men kept staring at me as if they hadn’t seen someone like me in a while. Anyway, I got back to my room and there was a quiet Asian girl in there who didn’t say a word and I got ready for bed. Then this other girl came in and she was very talkative and had the bed next to me. We got to talking and she’s a recent University grad from Germany, traveling for a couple months before starting a job. I mentioned my plans for the next day and she decided to tag along. We got McDonalds for breakfast and hit the road to the thermals. It was a cool walk around the different colored thermals and then we went to this other park that was also a lovely hike with thermals and an oasis and a lake with tons of birds. It was very much a nature-filled day as we then went to walk around these redwood trees. I had to be back in time for this Maori culture dinner that I had previously booked (another recommendation). I showed up and waited for it to start and then more and more people started to show up. It was a very very touristy event and I’m glad I did it but also didn’t need to do it after all as it was very expensive (don't recommend for backpackers). I was also freezing cold as it was outside and I didn’t know that was going to be the case since it was super hot during the day. There were tons of families and couples and I ended up sitting by myself and then started talking to this family from Australia (the girl across from me was about 21 years old and on vacation with her family) and then this mom and her son about 12 years old. They gave me recommendations on where to go and then thankfully it was time to go. It was a long night, I got back around 11pm and found a new girl in the bed the Asian girl was in and turns out she’s from San Francisco, CA. We chatted for like 30 minutes and she’s a landscape filmmaker and has been living in NYC for the past 8 years but might be moving to NZ. Then I chatted with Tanja (German girl) for a while and then went to bed. We got breakfast that morning and then I was off to Lake Taupo.
It was a nice drive, very windy and a ton of cattle. I decided to stop at this honey farm and get a free honey tasting and the guy let me try mead (honey and liquor) - it tasted like wine! Then I went to this water damn waterfall place with the most bright colored blue water powerfully flowing down the river. Then I went to this spa park to lay in natural hot springs and it felt absolutely amazing. At first it started raining but then it stopped and thankfully there weren’t that many people there. I found a nice quiet spot and FINALLY got to relax in a NATURAL hot spring by MYSELF. I was extremely happy since I hadn’t been able to do this in my life…every time I go to a so-called natural hot spring, it always seems to be a man-made one or too many people to enjoy a natural one. Then a whole group of rugby boys arrived so I decided I had been there long enough and left to go to McDonalds as I was hungry and it was rated the top McDonalds in the world for it was made out of an airplane and you could eat in the plane - it was neat! Afterwards, I checked into my hostel and walked around Lake Taupo at sunset and then decided to actually go on a run again. I made pasta since there was a kitchen and then showered and met my roommate. She was this 23 year old from Australia and she gave me some really good recommendations for Asia and Australia as well. We both were on our laptops and went to bed. I got up to hike this mountain near by and it was kind of a confusing trail as it started out going up a hill and then the trail itself was very steep and skinny so doing that by myself was a bit tricky since I wasn't sure how long it would take - it ended up taking 3 hours which was the average from what I had read. It felt great to sweat and hike up that trail to see a fuller view of Lake Taupo and surroundings, really happy I did that. Then I drove to this glow worm cave and waterfall and then back to Auckland after that as I had an early flight the following day to the South Island, Queenstown. The drive was again, very windy and it was a little rainy but not too bad. I arrived at the caves just on time and the whole experience was OK - I mean, it was pretty cool to see the glow worms under the caves on a boat but again, very touristy (don't recommend for backpackers). I then decided to drive an extra 30 minutes as I looked up this waterfall that was supposedly one of the most beautiful waterfalls in NZ and it was! I’m so glad I drove the extra way. But then it was getting dark and I headed back to Auckland and dropped off my rental and then walked to the Juicy Auckland hostel close by. I reserved a private room and unfortunately it smelled like cigarettes and was a bit run down, but just thankful I had my own room. I showered and organized and then ordered an Uber to the airport the next morning and I was ready to get to Queenstown!