What a place. Totally stunning scenery. Incredibly friendly and chill people. A culture that believes the land is their ancestors. And a ton of things to see and do.
New Zealand is made up of a north and south island, built along a fault line that’s created some crazy topography. Most people go for the extreme activities you can do in all that nature (bungee jumping and white water rafting opportunities abound), though there are also plenty of pretty damn gorgeous golf courses too. Here are my non-life-risking musts:
1 Pinot Noir tasting in Central Otago
The main city to use as your base in Central Otago is Queenstown, and there you can take the Skyline gondola up the mountain to get a great aerial view. As you head out of town to the wineries about an hour away, driving through the gorges is just a scenic experience you have to have. Tan plateaus with sparse vegetation pop up in the middle of flat lands and it looks like you’re on the bottom of the ocean with all the water drained away.
Taste some savory Pinot Noir at winery cellar doors like Mt Difficulty with its expansive views, go for a French cottage feel at Aurum, or feed the ducks on the incredible farm at actor Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks (check out grapefriend for more wine details). In between wineries, you’ll come across some super tiny old goldmining towns like Clyde – there’s about 10 stores there total!
eat: In Queenstown, have from-the-garden organic breakfast at the Sherwood (fluffy fresh eggs and avocado, homemade baked goods) overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables range. In Central Otago get lunch with incredible views at Mt Difficulty, and in Clyde get coffee at The Bank Café and eat dinner at the cute Oliver’s next door (after a day of wine tasting, their local beer is awesome).
sleep: The St Moritz is the elegant luxury place to stay, with gorgeous views of the mountains and lake.
But I was amused staying at the Sherwood. They’ve renovated an old motor inn into a sort of hippie ashram with yak wool curtains, Be Here Now by Ram Dass instead of a bible, a yoga studio and a sunrise teepee. Not your usual hotel stay, but sort of dug it by the end as it felt very quirky and New Zealand-y.
2 bach hop through the Marlborough Sounds
Cruise through these stunning waterways surrounded by gorgeous mountains. We were spoiled enough to cruise through them on not one but two yachts to “bach hop.”
Baches (pronounced batches, short for bachelor) are little lake houses on the sides of the Sounds. Once you boat to the docks, many of these towns don’t even have cars so it’s really lowkey and relaxing.
eat: In Blenheim, Scotch wine bar (yes, ironic name for a wine bar) with a great list; The Good Home gastropub with a yummy tuna poke bowl and a lovely outdoor patio (Blenheim’s pretty small – I ate there twice!).
sleep: Stay in Blenheim at the Hotel d’Urville a former Public Trust Office Building built in the 1920s and converted into a boutique hotel. It’s super charming with themed rooms (I stayed in the New Zealand room and the Merlot room) and complimentary port in the hallway.
3 check out all the art deco in Napier
A huge earthquake devastated the town in 1931, so in the next two years 111 buildings were constructed in the Art Deco style popular then. The linear structures have geometric motifs like chevrons and zigzags, and in Napier they also have Maori motifs.
Now called the “Art deco capital of the world,” Napier hosts the Tremains Art Deco Festival every year with walking tours, vintage car shows, dances, a soapbox derby and jazz concerts. I wasn’t there for that but I loved seeing all the buildings because my building in NYC was built in 1929 – similar styles, all the way across the world. Other than that chicness, Napier’s pretty much a backpacky town with small shops, lots of cafés, and a pleasant beach.
eat: I didn’t have a ton of time so just grabbed dinner at the Masonic hotel restaurant which was convenient; get coffee at Six Sisters before a morning walk on the nearby beach (Kiwis are serious about their coffee and will give you a lot of shade for altering what you ordered)
sleep: One of the 111 art deco buildings is now the Masonic Hotel, where Queen Elizabeth II stayed during her 1953/4 Royal Tour. What’s good enough for the queen is good enough for escapefriend.
4 Interact with everything at the Te Papa Museum in Wellington
This is a really incredible interactive museum – you can click on digital maps to see the fault lines that plague the two islands and you can head into a small little house to experience simulations of some of their historical earthquakes. I learned a ton about New Zealand’s physical land, history, and social culture as well as why New Zealanders are called kiwis (after a rarely-seen nocturnal bird, not the fruit). Was only there for two hours and then had to catch a flight, but could’ve probably stayed all day.
eat: Noble Rot wine bar, had a gorgeous cheese soufflé with Felton Road Block 5 by Coravin.
sleep: Intercontinental – pretty swanky with really plush bedding and bath towels (goes a looong way when you’ve been traveling a ton)
5 Cruise the curvy highway to Martinborough
This was one of the craziest, most curvaceous highways I’ve ever been on. Up ahead of each turn you can see the road slice through the mountain for about 20 minutes, with some amazing views to your left. And then you wind up in the cute town of Martinborough, with its vintage stores and streets laid out like the Union Jack flag. So much charm to find in this country!
sleep: The Martinborough Hotel has sweet little touches in very corner – a chic and eclectically decorated bar, vintage hat boxes and golf clubs in the lobby corner, and a quaint outdoor patio garden.
All in all, New Zealand is pretty much a bucolic paradise, with stunning scenery and people who are really nice and peacefully co-exist. So much I didn’t get to see – the gorgeous waterfall at Milford Sound, the arty town of Nelson – that I’ll have to go back. When I got back to the US, I heard that Silicon Valley people have been buying land there as their escape plan in case of some sort of apocalyptic collapse. So, you should get there now in case they all ruin it.
For more about the wine in New Zealand, head to grapefriend!
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