Day 48: Ben nerds out
Our last stop in New Zealand was Auckland, but first, a visit to Hobbiton along the way. For those of you who are not Lord of the Rings fans, Hobbiton was one of many filming locations for the LOTR and Hobbit movies. Now that the movies have been completed, they’ve turned the very elaborate set into a permanent tourist attraction where you can pay a pretty penny to geek out with fellow LOTR nerds. I am not a LOTR person (that’s right, I said it!), but Ben is a huge fan so of course we had to make a pit stop. It was a terrible day in terms of weather—on and off pouring rain—but apparently Hobbit life continues rain or shine so our tour left right on time. I won’t be able to do it justice in words because I really can’t remember the names and details of everything they showed us (I’m sure Ben can discuss the details with interested parties), so pictures will have to do.
I’ll admit it—despite the horrendous weather, the set is really quite beautiful and worth a visit, even if you’re not a LOTR fan. After trudging around hobbit holes in the rain, we stopped for lunch at a little place called Paddock in Cambridge, where I had the most delicious ‘jaffle’ (basically a panini):
While we were there and mooching off their wifi, I received an email letting us know that, due to flooding, our glow worm cave tour—where we were headed next—was cancelled. In the infamous words of Donald Trump: SAD! In all seriousness, I was really sad to see this because it’s supposed to be incredible, but alas, nothing we could do (or could we? More later…). There’s really nothing else to do in the area, so we decided to head straight for Auckland and take advantage of the extra couple of hours to settle in.
Our Airbnb in Auckland was a small studio, similar in size to the one in Sydney, but that’s where the similarities ended (thank you baby Jesus)—this place was lovely and clean and all things good. I’ve always been particular about the cleanliness of the place I call home (whether it’s my actual home or a hotel, etc), but after 7 weeks on the road with no ‘home’ to go back to, I’ve really come to appreciate having a cozy place wherever possible. It was early evening by the time we arrived, so we really only had time to drop off our things and go buy some groceries for the next few days. I was too tired (read: lazy) to cook, so we ordered in Dominos and ate pizza in bed in our PJs while watching crappy TV—you know you’re old when this is your idea of a perfect night.
Day 49: So. Many. Hills.
It was our last day with the rental car so we took advantage and decided to head out of the city. First stop: Piha Beach. It was certainly not beach weather, but this is a heavily recommended stop and now I know why—they’ve got some pretty incredible views out there. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining, so we had an opportunity to walk around the beach a bit, which I bet is perfect in the summer.
There’s really only maybe 2 places (if that?) to eat around there, so we stopped at Piha Café and had breakfast (and beer) for lunch. It’s going to be hard to go back to real life after this…
Next stop for the day was Arataki, the gateway to the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park with various hiking trails ranging in difficulty and length. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of strenuous exercise, or really any kind of exercise. This is not a new thing, this is the way I’ve always been. I didn’t grow up playing outside as a young child (Dominican families do not believe in letting their young children, especially not their daughters, play outside in the Bronx—and probably rightfully so), and by the time I moved to the ‘burbs, my dislike of the outdoors was well ingrained. Now that I’m an adult, I recognize that I SHOULD exercise because it’s supposed to be good for me (blahblahblah), not to mention that there’s so much peer pressure to exercise with all these Crossfiters and marathoners and generally fit people all over social media, making you (or maybe it’s just me) feel fat and inadequate. But, alas, I am who I am and apparently no amount of peer pressure can motivate me to become outdoorsy, no matter how hard Ben tries.
ANYWAY—that giant aside was simply to provide context for the excessive amount of huffing, puffing, and general whining that occurred during the 3km hike through the woods that Ben guilted me into. I will admit that the first half was extremely easy because it’s a steep decline (in retrospect, terrible for my old lady knees), but that just made the second half even worse. There were a few points where I thought I might die on the way back up and I had to take lots of breaks, which provided Ben ample time to take a zillion pictures for your enjoyment:
You’d think I’d be used to the hills by this point in the trip given that both Hawaii and NZ are literally all hills/mountains/volcanoes, but NOPE. I was so happy when that trail was over and we got back in the car to go home. We returned our rental car when we got back to Auckland and Uber’d back to our Airbnb (ah, to back in the world of Uber!) for dinner at home.
Day 50: Vino, vino, and more vino
Another highly recommended activity in the Auckland area? Wine tasting on Waiheke Island. You don’t have to ask me twice! Of course we had to take a ferry there…these people love getting places on boats. We decided to depend on the public bus system once we got there to get around, since we didn’t have a car anymore and taxis would get expensive quickly—we soon discovered that while the bus is doable, they don’t run frequently and it may or may not be on time. That said, it’s better than walking because the island is way bigger than it looks on a map and no one wants to walk an hour between vineyards…it’ll murder your wine tasting buzz. These were our stops from first to last with their ranking:
Obsidian–#2: We decided to work our way east to west on the island, since the ferry leaves from the west side. This meant taking the bus for ~40 mins once we got off the ferry and then walking ~20 mins to go to our very first vineyard–Obsidian. This place lets you choose 4 wines to taste for a fee of $10 per person, a decent deal. I honestly can’t remember everything we tasted in the end, but we did really enjoy the Voignier and ended up getting a bottle of that to take with us. One warning: the 20 min walk here is deadly—you have the choice between a ridiculously steep hill or a ridiculously steep set of stairs…pick your poison. Needless to say, I huffed and I puffed and I died on the way up. Thank god there was wine at the end of that. The view at the top didn’t hurt either:
Stonyridge–#3: Next up was Stonyridge, a beautiful vineyard with fantastic views and a hoppin’ restaurant. We each had a different tasting flight ($9 each) as well as a very pricey lunch. My main dish (some vegetarian pasta thing) wasn’t great, but man oh man, our appetizer (goat cheese & pancetta bruschetta) was to DIE for. I would happily eat that every day for the rest of my life.
Cable Bay–#4: We managed to get to Cable Bay just ~30 mins before they were closing, so we had a quick tasting flight ($10 per person?) here. Honestly, the wine was fine here but not that memorable. The views did look great but we didn’t get a chance to enjoy them much–needed to head out to the next place.
Mudbrick–#1: Our last stop was by far our best stop. Mudbrick is very highly rated and we can see why—the wine was spectacular, the views just as good. I can imagine spending the entire day here just lounging on their terrace and enjoying glass after glass of delicious wine. We each had the same flight (can’t remember the price but something reasonable) and exclaimed how great each wine was—and no, we weren’t drunk from the previous tastings! It was hard to choose, but we bought two bottles from here in the end—their bubbly and the Sauv Blanc. Yum yum yum.
After a long day of walking and drinking, we made the trek back to the ferry terminal to head home. Warning: If you decide to take the shortcut that Google tells you to take, just know that it’s basically guaranteed to be muddy—like nearly ruin your shoes muddy—the entire way. We did it and it became Ben’s job to scrub our shoes for 30 mins when we got home.
Day 51: Rain, rain, go away
Auckland is basically the London of NZ…rain, rain, and more rain, all day, every day. We stayed home for the first half of day because touristing is just not worth it when it’s pouring out—it’s a great excuse to sleep in and be lazy. Eventually the rain seemed to stop, so after lunch we decided to head downtown and pretend to be social people. As is our luck, the rain started up again shortly after we got down there. We gave up—Ben went to hide at a Starbucks and I decided it was the perfect day to go get a mani/pedi instead in preparation for our soon-to-be switch to the tropics. Of course, there are no decently rated and reasonably priced nail salons downtown, so I had to take a bus back to Ponsonby to find a place, but what else is there to do in the rain anyway?
By the time I was finished and came back to find Ben (who was still sitting at the same Starbucks, poor thing), it was time for dinner and we decided to treat ourselves with dinner out (i.e. I couldn’t bear the thought of cooking again). We ended up at DeBretts Kitchen, a well-rated bistro/bar at a nearby hotel. We forgot to pictorially document our meal (again!) but it was delish—I got the chicken and Ben got the fish of the day. The cocktails were pricey but good too.
Day 52: If at first you don’t succeed, try again
We were so disappointed about missing out on the glow worm caves that Ben decided to check for a cheap rental car so we could trek all the way back to Waitomo for a quick visit—Thrifty to the rescue! Next step was calling the Waitomo Caves and checking on the possibility of another tour cancellation due to flooding…to which the customer service person replied “sorry, I don’t control the weather, I can’t tell you what to expect.” Well THANKS FOR NOTHING LADY. We chanced it anyway, booked the tickets, and left early in the morning with all of our fingers and toes crossed. Of course it rained heavily all the way there so we were 50% sure that it would be cancelled as soon as we finished the 2.5 hour drive to get there, but I think the gods cut us a break because they were still open! Granted, the cave was a bit flooded so we couldn’t exit the normal way (into the river), but who cares. Unfortunately they don’t allow photography inside the caves (wompwomp) but trust me when I say that these glowworms are the coolest thing ever. I wish I could describe it in a way that gives you an elaborate mental picture, but instead this photo of a postcard will have to do:
Afterwards we grabbed lunch at Huhu Café, right by the caves, and it was quite yummy—obviously I got fried chicken.
On the way back to our Airbnb, we made one last stop at Mount Eden, a volcanic peak right outside of the city with amazing views. Of course, it was yet another hill 🙄 .
And so ends our time in New Zealand! Up next: Bora Bora. 😍😍😍