THE OTHERWORLDLY ADVENTURES AND FARM TO TABLE FANTASIES OF NEW ZEALAND’S NORTH ISLAND
BY AMBER GIBSON
At times, New Zealand strikes a visitor as being not quite of this earth. After splitting away from supercontinent Gondwana 85 million years ago, what is now this southwestern Pacific nation developed into an isolated area, one with unique birds, reptiles, and flora. There were no land mammals for several million years before humans arrived 800 years ago. Both North and South Island offer diverse and equally beautiful landscapes, but North Island is home to three quarters of New Zealand residents and the country’s most populous cities, Auckland and Wellington. As the political and cultural capital, the latter is charming and very walkable, with a lively arts scene, robust coffee culture, excellent dining, and a palpable young entrepreneurial emphasis.
Daredevils should note that bungee jumping was invented in this country, with the first leap off Auckland’s Greenhithe Bridge in 1986. There are plenty of other outdoor adventures for thrill seekers, too, including jet boating (also invented here), kayaking, skydiving, and off road driving tours. The Taupo region offers the best mountain biking in the country (for riders of all abilities), from meandering scenic crosscountry treks to steep downhill thrills.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
New Zealand is 18 hours ahead of New York City, but it’s never been easier to get there from the East Coast. Auckland is the principal point of entry, and Air New Zealand offers direct flights from five major U.S. cities, including a new 16 hour flight from Chicago (the carrier’s longest). There are also direct flights between Auckland and San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and Honolulu. The airline’s Business Premier Class is a cut above most carriers in its friendly Kiwi service and excellent food and amenities. Leather armchair seats fold over into a true lie flat bed with memory foam mattress and two pillows. Premier seats also have direct aisle access, and you can order snacks and beverages throughout the flight directly from entertainment screens. Top New Zealand chefs Peter Gordon and Michael Meredith consulted on the menu, which features native ingredients like hapuka, lamb, kawakawa herb, kumara sweet potato, horopito pepper, and extra virgin olive oil from Hawke’s Bay. (Gordon’s The Sugar Club [see last page in this article] is one of the best fine dining experiences in Auckland.)
Getting through customs and picking up bags is typically a breeze, but New Zealand has some of the most stringent biosecurity laws in the world, so be prepared to wait in a queue for screening. You must declare any food or animal products, or risk a fine. If renting a car, remember that, like the Brits, they drive on the left side of the road here.
These majestic falls are the most visited natural attraction in the country, draining Lake Taupo, the largest freshwater lake in Australasia. (Huka is the Māori word for “foam.”) The best way to get up close and personal with the falls is on a jet boat ride. Skim the water at up to 50 miles per hour, barely swerving past trees and with 360 degree spins thrown in for good measure. Hold on tight and prepare to get wet, and amazed. Wairakei 3377, hukafallsjet.com/nz
Visiting this eco sanctuary is like stepping back in time before humans arrived in New Zealand and mammals took over. Birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts will adore a place that’s like Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs, filled instead with harmless native wildlife. While species like the flightless moa (the largest birds to ever exist) can’t be brought back from extinction, Zealandia’s conservation efforts are impressive and the park continues to evolve. Twilight tours are a perfect opportunity to see both diurnal and nocturnal birds, including the iconic kiwi and stealthy morepork owl (or “ruru” in Māori). 53 Waiapu Road, Karori, Wellington, visitzealandia.com
MUSEUM OF NEW ZEALAND TE PAPA TONGAREWA
A celebration of Māori heritage and New Zealand’s natural history, you could easily spend several days touring Te Papa’s extensive artifacts and artworks. The “Blood Earth Fire” exhibit explores the country’s unique geological and ecological identity as well as the Māori connection to the earth, while “Tūrangawaewae: Art and New Zealand” curates a thought provoking collection of colonial to contemporary portraiture. Don’t leave without visiting the show stopping “Te Marae,” an inclusive performance and events space depicting cultures from around the world. The museum gift shop offers a diverse array of authentic arts and crafts, including coveted pounamu greenstone jewelry and objects d’art. 55 Cable Street, Te Aro, Wellington, tepapa.govt.nz
WHERE TO STAY
Auckland’s hippest new hotel has an enviable location just a few blocks from Captain Cook Wharf in the trendy Britomart neighborhood, where many of the country’s top designers have boutiques (including WORLD, which designed the interiors and chic uniforms for the hotel). SO interprets luxury with playful insouciance like a more artful version of W Hotels. Rooftop bar HI SO has been a hit among locals since opening, and the lobby lounge features custom tea blends served by New Zealand’s first tea sommelier. Rooms feature complimentary minibars and organic toiletries from local brand Verité, and all standalone tubs have city or harbor views. 67 Customs Street East, Auckland accorhotels.com/9149
THE LODGE AT KAURI CLIFFS
Robertson Lodges operate three Relais & Châteaux properties that set the standard for sustainable luxury tourism in New Zealand. Kauri Cliffs was the first: a 6,000 acre property that offers beautiful private beaches, lush forests, a waterfall, and coastal cliffs to explore by land, sea, or air. Golfers go gaga over the challenging par 72 championship course, currently ranked 39th in the world by Golf Digest. Book a guided heritage discovery tour to go beyond the breathtaking natural beauty and into the stories and traditions of the Māori. You’re guaranteed to walk away with a greater appreciation and reverence for our planet. 139 Tepene Tablelands Road, Matauri Bay, kauricliffs.com
WHAREKAUHAU COUNTRY ESTATE
The tight knit staff here welcomes you into the family with heartfelt service at an agrarian fairytale locale. Wharekauhau has to be the most enchanting sheep station in the world a 3,200 acre farm just a 10 minute helicopter ride from Wellington. There are only 16 cottages, and meals are truly farm to table, featuring fresh fruit, vegetables, and luscious free range eggs. The Hauora Spa is not to be missed; book its signature body scrub and wrap, featuring sea salt and manuka honey with organic skincare products designed exclusively for Wharekauhau. Take a farm tour to meet the sheep and see the black volcanic beach, then head to nearby Martinborough for wine tasting (the pinot noir is tops). Ocean Beach 5773, wharekauhau.co.nz
DAY TRIPS AND TOURS
ZEST FOOD TOURS
Tap into local foodie culture by sipping and sampling your way through Wellington with Zest Food Tours. You might begin with coffee from one of the city’s original craft roasters, wind through Harbourside Market on Sundays, and then refresh with craft beer before savoring a vegemite treat at Lashings, the city’s hot new brownie bar. Group walking tours are regularly scheduled, but book a private tour in Wellington or the nearby Martinborough wine region to best suit a diverse palate. Guides get together weekly to try the newest restaurants, cafés, and bars, so they always have their finger on the pulse. Wellington and Waiarapa tours, zestfoodtours.co.nz
WAIRARAPA WINE TOURS
Family owned Capital Personalized Tours offers the best jaunts into Wellington and the Wairarapa region, whether you’re interested in Lord of the Rings filming locations, nature, craft beer, food, or wine. Whether staying in Wellington or Wharekauhau Country Estate, spend a day exploring the quaint townships along the rugged coast, and don’t skip the excellent New Zealand cheese in Featherston, Food Forest Organics’ plant based café in charming Victorian Greytown, or the many boutique cellar doors in Martinborough, where some of the country’s best pinot noir is produced. Wellington and Waiarapa tours, captours.co.nz
DINE AND DRINK
If ice cream parlours qualified for Michelin stars, this place would have three. Young Italian couple Giapo and Annarosa Grazioli elevate the fundamental concept of ice cream, using 3D printers, drills, and vacuums to construct elaborate creations. The culinary imaginers perfect the art of hospitality, too; guests receive samplings of all flavors in shot glasses before selecting a favorite complete with flavored cones, sculptural accoutrements, and unique serving vessels like Yorkshire pudding bowls. Flavors like guacamole and strawberry with crunchy corn two ways are equally inventive and delicious, while the chocolate pikorua twist and parāoa parai fry bread honor Māori culture. 12 Gore Street, Auckland, giapo.com
HILLSIDE KITCHEN & CELLAR
Enjoy five or seven course vegetarian tasting menus at this charming restaurant, where beautifully composed plates are presented without an ounce of pretension. The diminutive space seats just 24 diners, and service is friendly and relaxed. Nearly everything is sourced from the kitchen’s own garden out back or from local producers, including heirloom tomatoes dressed in kawakawa juice and sweet corn with briny samphire and spring onions. A favorite is the four course surprise tasting menu, which includes snacks and apps, main, palate cleanser, dessert, and petit fours. Kiwi dining at its best pure, flavorful, creative and humble. 241 Tinakori Road, orndon, Wellington, hillsidekitchen.co.nz
THE SUGAR CLUB
Atop the Sky Tower with panoramic views of the city and harbour, this place could coast on its 53rd floor views and ambiance alone, but the food lives up to the elegant setting. Sapid and vibrant combinations like cured king fish with wasabi, sea herbs, and grapefruit are inspired by Chef Peter Gordon’s extensive global travels. Unexpected details like Marmite butter with malted beer bread or asparagus ice cream paired with dark chocolate mousse are both memorable and delicious. It’s rare to see a chef with Gordon’s long legacy remain relevant and continue to push culinary limits. Skytower 72 Victoria Street West, Auckland, skycityauckland.co.nz/restaurants/ the sugar club.