After two years of closed borders and having to postpone this tour twice, I was thrilled this trip finally became a reality! Along with some of the world’s most stunning vistas, meeting a Māori tribe and experiencing outstanding food & wine, New Zealand is truly everything you expect. It is a country that draws you in and captivates. We covered almost 2000 miles in 19 days going from the North to South Island. These are landscapes and experiences that cannot be truly captured in photos – but I will try to give you some of the highlights…
America’s Cup Sailing Experience
We had the unique opportunity to participate as crew (or sit back and relax) on an America’s Cup yacht. Guests were able to take the helm or exert energy on the grinders at the direction of professional crew in Auckland’s Waitematā Harbor. I’ve sailed quite a bit but I really want to emphasize how fast these boats are. Wow! The entire experience was exhilarating!
Welcome Dinner at The Sugar Club
Dinner at The Sugar Club in Sky Tower 53 floors above Auckland was a chic and elegant experience with stunning views of the harbor. We even had a fireworks display that evening! The lemon dessert will live on in my memory. That looks like a lemon but is really creamy lemon mousse goodness in a lemon shape coated in crispy white chocolate – served with pistachio ice cream…in my view, one of the best dishes on the entire trip. I wish I had the recipe…
Wine Tasting on Waiheke Island
Casita Miró Vineyards
The minute you step off the ferry from Auckland to Waiheke Island, you sense that this is a special (and privileged) place. It’s about the ocean, the setting of vineyards, the homes, gardens, quaint towns and, of course, the wine. Casita Miró was our first introduction to Waiheke wines. This is a winery showcasing authentic Spanish cuisine in Gaudi-Dali-Miró-inspired architectural gardens. The entire setting, the tasting experience and the wines were a delight.
Wine Tasting on Waiheke Island
Mudbrick Vineyard is known as one of the best places to dine and enjoy fine wine in and around Auckland. It must be so because Dua Lipa had reserved one of their restaurants the same day for her family (we didn’t see her). This is an absolutely stunning venue offering gold-medal wines. The vineyards, grounds, restaurant and chef’s garden look out toward Huruhi Bay providing beautiful ocean views back toward Auckland. Do not miss this if ever in New Zealand!
A LOT of Driving
We clocked many miles on this trip. Around every curve was more beautiful scenery. Most of both islands is lush green. If you want to visit New Zealand and drive yourself, the effort is well worth it.
Māori Cultural Exchange
Rotorua, North Island
This family-owned experience gave beautiful insight into traditional Maori culture, history and traditions. We were warmly welcomed as extended family from the moment we stepped onto their meeting grounds (marae). Through songs and storytelling from the elders, we learned about this fascinating culture. After a welcome ceremony at the marae, we took a 4WD excursion to a tribal meeting place in the hills overlooking Lake Rotoiti. This woman’s tattooed wedding ring tells a story about her spouse and each of her children as does every tattoo in this tribe. Family and ancestors are everything in the Māori culture along with respect and being stewards of the land.
Te Puia Thermal Wonderland & the Māori Arts & Crafts Institute
Rotorua (North Island)
Te Puia is a Māori park and cultural center in the Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley. It is a wonderland of shooting geysers, steaming vents, bubbling mud pools and is also home to the Māori Arts & Crafts Institute. The institute teaches traditional greenstone (New Zealand jade) carving, bone carving, woodcarving and weaving. Rescued kiwi birds are given a home here. We enjoyed a hangi dinner with meat cooked over steam vents as well a haka. This is a group ceremonial war dance that showcases a tribe’s pride, strength and unity. Actions in the haka include stomping of the feet and rhythmic body slapping, bulging eyes and protruded tongues set to a chant – all meant to fend off invaders. Imagine meeting up to 500 of these fierce warriors at one time…who wouldn’t want to retreat?
A day in Wellington (on the southern tip of the North Island) must include a visit to Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. This is an interactive museum..it is visual, contemporary and bicultural. Te Papa Tongarewa literally transaltes to ‘container of treasures’. You can’t see it in one day or even one week – don’t miss this either if ever in New Zealand.
Ferry Crossing through Marlborough Sounds
North to South Island (Wellington to Picton)
The 3-1/2 hour Interislander Cook Strait ferry is worth taking the time vs. flying between islands. The scenery through Marlborough Sounds as you enter the South Island is absolutely breathtaking – even on a cloudy day.
Marlborough Wine Region
New Zealand is probably best known for its Marlborough wine region on the South Island which has put New Zealand white wines on the world stage. We tasted sauvignon blanc and chardonnay and enjoyed a delicious lunch of local fresh fish at Rock Ferry Vineyard. We also tasted at Fromm Winery. There was a reserved wine festival going on the day we were there preventing us from visiting other more well-known wineries, but these experiences were nevertheless enjoyable. This wine region is beautiful, to be sure.
Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park on the north coast of the South Island is some kind of piece of heaven….gorgeous gold sand beaches set against native bush. We took a cruise, a hike and enjoyed a bit of kayaking along the coast.
Pancake Rocks & Blowholes (Punakaki)
Traveling southward along Coast Road (west coast of the South Island) led us to the spectacular Pancake Rocks & Blowholes. Set along the Tasman Sea, these are heavily eroded limestone formations made with fragments of dead marine creatures and plants that landed on the seabed below the surface 30 million years ago. The immense water pressure over time caused the fragments to solidify into hard layers that gradually rose above sea level. They are striking to see along with the mesmerizing blowholes that spray mist among the rocks.
Franz Josef Glacier
Franz Josef Glacier is one of only two glaciers in the world surrounded by rainforest. Sady, the glacier is retreating at a fast rate. Some guests hiked as far as they could go and viewed the glacier from a distance. Those that took a helicopter ride to the glacier were treated to amazing views and an exhilarating experience. Love those smiles!
Fiordland National Park
Milford Sound is simply to be experienced. Photos and video cannot do it justice. It rains 90% of the time in Milford Sound. We happened to capture it on a cloudy day without rain – in my view, making the scenery even more dramatic. The cruise took us to inlets where we saw penguins, dolphins and seals on the shore. The cheeky Kea (New Zealand’s alpine parrot) landed on our coach when we made a stop en route to Milford Sound. This area is remote and rugged. I had to pick my jaw up as we cruised through the fiords. It is amazing and an absolute must-see on any trip to New Zealand.
Lunch at a Locals Hangout
Hard Antler’s Bar
Any good trip has to have local color. This was it. Our guide made a stop at Hard Antler’s Restaurant for good old New Zealand fish ‘n chips, burgers, fish chowder, craft beer and darts.
Our tour ended in Queenstown – the ‘adventure capital of New Zealand’. This is a beautiful city on Lake Wakatipu set against the Remarkables Range. Bungy jumping, skydiving, paragliding and much more is offered everywhere (note the paraglider in the gondola photo). Flame Bar & Grill is the local’s place-to-be seen in Queenstown. Everyone enjoyed their free time in Queenstown and we did. Two guests opted to flyfish: Mike caught an 8-pound trout and Mary’s trout broke her rod – this, on the same day they flew home. It’s all here – whatever you choose to do.
The last photo is from our Farewell 8-course ‘ Trust the Chef’ Degustation Luncheon at Amisfield Winery. Every dish was also an art installation. This course dubbed the ‘garden wall’ was set on the side of a bowl. The chef a this winery is inspired by nature and memories of his childhood. Made of an underlayer of local goat cheese covered in ground parsley, asparagus bites made to look like logs, perfectly-placed edible flowers and herbed ice, it was ‘the dish’ to end a remarkable journey.
Final Thought…Go to New Zealand – everyone should experience this country at least once in their lifetime!