New Zealand (NZ) is a living nature museum with lots of adventure sports in the heart of it. I haven’t met anyone yet who said they have seen all of what NZ has to offer! It’s a pity that this beautiful country is so far away that for me it will be once in a lifetime experience.Most people land into Auckland as a logical starting point of their trip. The South Island is way too amazing so if you see that first, you may not like North Island as much. Auckland has all the urban amenities with a good city life, yet it maintains a small town feel. It is a multi-cultural city with fantastic restaurants, magnanimous shopping outlets and vibrant night life. There is a lot to do and see around Auckland and the challenge as a tourist is to prioritize. We went to New Zealand in month of July which is peak winters. Here is a summary of how we spent our 3 days:
- Day 1: Explore Queen Street and City Center
- Day 2: Hobbiton Movie Set & Sky Tower
- Day 3: City Tour of Auckland
- Alternate to Day 3: Spend Day 3 in Rotorua to enjoy Hot Water Springs and Waitomo glow worm caves
Day 1: Explore Queen Street and City Center
We reached Auckland around 5 PM in the evening and explored Queen Street. The country’s tallest buildings run along either side of this street and it is quite an experience. It’s a very busy street with all kind of cuisines and shopping outlets available. It was a long journey for us so we treated ourselves with delicious Indian food at 1947 eatery. This upscale restaurant has a very authentic look and the food is freshly prepared just for you!
Day 2: Hobbiton Movie Set & Sky Tower
The magical world of Hobbiton at Matamata is about 2.5 hours away from Auckland. It is a must visit destination even if you have not watched ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie or read the book. The Hobbiton farm and the drive are stunningly beautiful and the entire experience is outstanding. You can see large grasslands and farms with cattle grazing in these lush green landscapes.
Collect your passes at the Shire’s Rest which also has a nice cafe serving quite a few eating options. The Shire’s Rest also sells authentic Hobbiton souvenirs, a must have for hobbit/ Lord of the Rings lovers.
Traveler’s Tip: We went in off season so we were slightly lucky to get the last 2 seats on the spot for the 11 AM guided tour. I highly recommend to book these online ($79 per person) at this site.
The guided tour is for 2 hours and it takes you through the Shire, hobbit holes, gardens, green dragon and the mill which has been adorned intricately. You will hear fascinating stories about how the movie scenes were shot. The intricate details that were planned to prepare the site, are absolutely inspiring and will leave you dumb struck!
Photographer’s Tip: At the end of the tour, you will not retrace the same path so make sure you pace yourself and take ample photos along the way.
The round trip took about 7.5 hours for us and even after I left Matamata, I was day dreaming about Hobbits. Haha……I loved the entire experience of visiting this dreamland.
In the evening, we went to the Sky Tower. It is an observation and telecommunication tower that is the tallest standing structure in southern hemisphere. There are many restaurants in its vicinity and from the looks of it, they all looked awesome!
Day 3: City Tour of Auckland
We were “sort of” jetlagged so we had no excuse to not wake up for the sunrise. We went to Cheltenham Beach to see the sun rising from behind Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto is Auckland’s iconic island and has a peculiar conical structural as observed from the mainland. As the shape suggests, it is a volcanic island. It was so peaceful and surreal to just sit at the beach and enjoy the sunrise. We took a pit stop at Bella Monte Cafe which is an art studio and very nicely done. .
We then headed to Mount Eden, a dormant volcano whose summit is the highest natural point in Auckland. Take this short trek for about 15 minutes to see these picturesque panoramic views of the complete city. It was unique to see this lush green Mount Eden in the middle of concrete jungle.
The best was saved for the last. We drove to Waitakere Ranges. Piha road, aptly named Scenic Drive, runs a good portion of the length of these ranges and offers splendid sights of the lake, farmlands and grasslands. This road ends into a small stretch that leads to Tasman Lookout. We enjoyed the scenic views, fresh air and the serenity away from the city. For Day 3, you could also consider this alternative:
After visiting Hobbiton, drive to Rotorua on Day 2 and plan for a night halt there. Rotorua has the most amazing hot water springs that will blow your mind. The are many options : Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland or Waimangu Volcanic Valley, Paradise Valley or Rainbow Springs. On Day 3, you can drive to Waitomo caves for glowworms and see another Hobbit filming location – Hairy Feet Tours which is very close to the caves. We did Te Anau glowworms tour instead but we heard that the ones in Waitomo are much better.
Unfortunately, we could not do this as we had pre booked a non-refundable flight from Auckland to Queenstown. Rotorua has an airport as well with a direct flight to Queenstown. This flight will be slightly more expensive than the one from Auckland. If I were to re-plan, I will go ahead with this alternative.
There is so much to see and do around Auckland. But, like I said before you need to pick and choose and the best is yet to be seen in SOUTH ISLAND!! Stay tuned for my next post on Te Anau…..