Saturday, December 24, 2011

New Zealand - North Island Addresses

Unless you decide to spent an entire life exploring New Zealand, one has to choose on where to go and not go for a short vacation trip.

Te Awa Winery at Hawke's Bay

The first big question is to decide between the vibrant and lively North and the immense, scenic South. And then when settled down one has to still choose between mountains, volcanoes, cities, plains, tramping, surfing or sunbathing. This is what I chose for a one week vacation on the North Island in New Zealand.

Of course by choosing this itinerary, I left out a lot of nice and unforgettable places to visit, but so was my choice.

Auckland is a city squeezed between two oceans. Anywhere you look at you can see the sea. This is what could be considered as an ideal capital for a fisherman. Low rise houses make it even more manageable for investigation around the place. A nice online resource is the Auckland Big Little City guide, also available in pocket format for free.

Skycity Hotel
Cnr Federal & Victoria Streets, Auckland 1010, New Zealand.

[Website] [TripAdvisor]
This 4-star hotel has it all. Very central (imagine living at the bottom of the Sky Tower) clean and very spacious, the hotel is in fact the primary destination for all the casino addicts in the city. If you want to enjoy a nice view, you'd better find something else. The convenient idea is that from anywhere in the city you'll be able find and see your hotel.


150 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby 1011, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
I would not have chosen this Italian restaurant unless it was the only one open on a rainy Sunday night on Ponsonby Rd. Despite the large plate and OK service, I would not go back again, especially after seeing the bill at the end of the dinner.


16 Fort Street, Auckland, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
This unpretentious vegan place could be the hidden gem of the city. Cheap, fast, healthy and large portions are making happy faces around Auckland.

The Grove

Saint Patrick's Square, 43 Wyndham Street, Auckland 1010, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Fine dinning in Auckland. Next to a church, and at the end of a long cul de sac, the 20-table restaurant offers some of the best in the city. Excellent food and service are here to pleased the difficult crowd. Must try and book in advance when on a celebration.

Sky Tower

[Website] [TripAdvisor]
You can't miss it. It's right in the middle of the city at the highest point in town. The 360-view from above is nothing short of spectacular. If you want to have a bit of thrill, you can try to walk around the tower on a tiny metal path 300m above the ground. And if this is not enough you can also fall in less than 11 seconds attached to a string!

City Center & Harbor
Auckland is a walkable city and among the many things to do, the newly renovated harbor for the RWC11 and the city center are worth a try. There is a free bus for tourists that can bring you from Britomart Train Station up to Myers Park.

A small country-side city that is worth visiting if you don't know what to do otherwise. This is the place to sleep and explore the neighboring interesting sites.

Ibis Rotorua Hotel
Lake End Rangiruru Street, Rotorua 3010, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Plastic hotel in a lake town next to the most import building of the city: the restaurant lane. Working Ibis hotel with a parking.

Fat Dog Café
1161 Arawa St, Rotorua 3010, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Unmissable café with its blue and yellow facade. The portion are as huge as the painted dog outside. A safe bet would be to order for one and share with another person.

Lime Caffeteria
1096 Whakaue Street, Rotorua 3010, New Zealand.
Tucked away from the city center, Lime is almost facing the lake a couple of blocks away. Outside tables makes the breakfast experience a delight in the city. Be sure to try all the small cakes in the window before someone else has the same idea as you and take them all. Never had a better idea to start a long day driving than with a hot chocolate at Lime. Must stop by.

Tamaki Maori Village
1220 Hinemaru St, Rotorua, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Discrete by nature, the Maori culture is all in at Rotorua, and among the best three Maori villages in the neighborhood, Tamaki seems to be the place where the food was acceptable. Taken away by bus, hordes of tourist land in an authentic yet transported Maori village in which tattooed locals are explaining what their millennial traditions used to be. A traditional meal seals the end of the 3-hour evening tour. If you choose Tamaki make sure you end up with Mark the hilarious yet knowledgeable bus driver. The 45-minute drive back and forth will fly fast, guaranteed !!!

Redwoods - Whakarewarewa Forest
Long Mile Road, Rotorua 3046, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
If you love the outdoors this area is for you! Famous for its magnificent stands of towering Californian Coastal Redwoods it is just five minutes drive from the city center. Here you can experience some of the finest walking and mountain bike trails in the world. Not to mention taking in superb panoramic views of Rotorua city, lake and surrounding district.

Blue Lake, Green Lake & Lake Tarawera
Lake Tarawera is the largest of a series of lakes which surround the volcano Mount Tarawera in the North Island of New Zealand. It is located 18 kilometers to the east of Rotorua, and five kilometers to the west of the mountain. The route to see the Lake Tarawera is crossing a Blue and a Green lake where locals enjoy their time off to cool off from the hot city. This short drive represents best of what New Zealand has to offer: mountains, lake and quiet time to enjoy the scenery around you.

Lake Rotorua
This giant lake is the primary destination for tourists hungry for water activities in the region, but there is so many lakes in New Zealand that I would rather go somewhere else, although the drive along the shore to Lake Taupo is impressive.

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Wai-O-Tapu Loop Rd, Rotorua, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
The "Sacred Waters" (in Maori) is an active geothermal area at the southern end of the Okataina Volcanic Center, just north of the Reporoa caldera. The area has many hot springs noted for their colorful appearance. Worth noting are the Champagne Pool and the Artist's Palette among the various mud pools, geysers, steaming volcanic lakes and mineral terraces available to see in the 18 sq km park.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley
587 Waimangu Road, Rotorua 3043, New Zealand (20 mins south of Rotorua).
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Self-guided walks and hikes or guided eco tours are available through the world's youngest geothermal system. Created from the massive 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera, Waimangu today offers a choice of easy walks through volcanic craters, advanced hikes and the Lake Rotomahana boat cruise. Depending on how much time you have to wander through the site, activities range in duration from 45 minutes to over 4 hours. An hourly bus will bring you back to initial parking lot.

Taupo is the quieter sister to Rotorua, with more family-oriented activities. If you want to get away from tourists, Taupo would be a better spot for you than Rotorua, although this place is quite a hot spot during the high season.

Replete Food Company
45 HeuHeu St, Taupo 2730, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Replete Food Company is regarded as a local institution. Established in 1993, it was designed originally to sell a wide range of deli products, anything from homemade Stilton pate to bacon and egg pies, but the shop moved quickly to the next door shop, and opened a restaurant. The main objective, as its name suggests, is to have the cabinet completely stocked with tasty but simple food, and for their customers to feel replete. Guess it's working pretty well indeed.

Huka Falls
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
The falls are more like a massive swarm of rapids, a sort of horizontal Niagara Falls, ready to be mastered by crazy water jetboats . The falls area is viewable from an easily accessible bridge nearby. At Huka Falls ("foam" in Maori), the Waikato River which is normally 100m wide, is squeezed through a 20 meter-wide gorge and over a 20-meter drop. Every second, up to 220,000 liters of water gush through the gorge and shoots out over 8 meters beyond to create a beautiful blue-green pool.

Lake Taupo
With a surface area of 616 sq km, Lake Taupo is the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand, and the second largest freshwater lake by surface area in Oceania after Lake Murray. Lake Taupo has a perimeter of approximately 193km and a deepest point of 186m. Tourism is a major component of Taupo's commercial sector, and the city attracts over 1.2 million visitors per year, specially around busy Christmas and New Year. The lake is in fact closer to an internal ocean than a true lake, and is a must-do for sunset.

Tongariro National Park
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Established in 1887, Tongariro was the first national park in New Zealand and the fourth in the world. It is also a dual World Heritage area, a status which recognizes the park's important Maori cultural and spiritual associations as well as its outstanding volcanic features.

Tongariro Northern Circuit
[Website] [TripAdvisor] [Wikipedia]
Hiking (or tramping) is the main activity in the park. It is home to one of the most famous day hikes in the world -"The Tongariro Crossing". The park has numerous huts for those who wish stay overnight in the park doing extended hikes. There are various multi-day hikes available with tracks crisscrossing the park. The famous Great Walk, the Tongariro Northern Circuit, is very popular and takes four days to complete a circuit around Mt. Ngauruhoe.

Really? How So?

With over 122,000 people, Napier-Hastings is the fifth-largest metropolitan area in New Zealand. On February 3, 1931, the center of Napier was destroyed by the earthquake, and later rebuilt in the Art Deco style popular at that time. Today the city still has a fair amount of Art Deco inspired buildings and is a well situated city to explore the nearby wineries.

Best Western Fairley Motor Lodge
Corner Tareha Street & Meeanee Quay, Napier, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Just outside the tiny city of Napier, the motor lodge is a car park hotel next to the sea. Quiet and clean, this hotel is designed for travelers who want to sleep well between long drives. No stay over for a long period of time despite the kitchenette.

Restaurant Indonesia Napier
409 Marine Pde, Napier 4001, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
It is quite unusual to find an Indonesian restaurant outside SE Asia, and this one has some flavors that could be close to what an Indonesian restaurant would offer outside the motherland. The food is average and price OK, but does not deserve its enthusiastic reviews on TA. I never like it anyway when an owner asks me to write a good review on TA to keep their top spot.

Café Ujazi
28 Tennyson St, Napier 4001, New Zealand.
Greasy, expensive and too-big portions. Only the Maori bread was an interesting experience in this over-raved place.

Mission Estate
198 Church Road, Greenmeadows, Napier, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Housed in an elegantly restored historic seminary building with sweeping views of Napier, Mission Estate offers visitors a complete wine experience with tasting, visits and restaurant. The backyard is certainly the best place in the city to enjoy a nice lunch and glass of wine under the shade of a vineyard. Special mention to their Cabernet Franc 2008.

Craggy Range
253 Waimarama Road, PO Box 8749, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Certain places are blessed by their location. Craggy Ranges one of them. At the foot of the Te Mata Peak, Craggy is protected by a giant. The wine that comes out of this spot is unique and rich at the same time. Their restaurant "Terroir" (means "soil" in French) is a immense round living room with a sizable chimney in its middle. The poured French influence (music included) has been well distilled by local owner to provide what New Zealand can give best to the world's wine community. Special mention to their "Le Sol" 2007.

Te Awa
2375 Rte 50, Hastings 4201, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Te Awa is in the west of Hastings, and is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the region. Wines are OK, but not as rich as what the region [Wine Hawke's Bay] can propose.

Elephant Hill
86 Clifton Road, Te Awanga, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
This is exactly what I don't like in a winery: concept estate (a life-size elephant sculpture in a winery), over designed with white couches and floating curtains, mixed wine to tailor to a vast range of customers. Unless you like tainted wine and bling-bling, you should focus on something else instead.

Te Mata Peak
At the end of a long, curly road stands a giant peak overlooking the valley. Te Mata viewpoint is a must do when you want to have a look at the lovely surroundings.

The other city of the "the Twin Cities", Hastings has much less to offer than Napier, and should be skipped if necessary, except maybe for ...

Opera Kitchen
312 Eastbourne St, Hastings.
Opera Kitchen is the award-winning place to eat here, with Hawke's Bay's finest produce sourced from roadside stalls to the local farmers market.

Palmerston North
If you need a place to eat, stop or sleep, you might want to consider the tiny Palmerston; otherwise you should go somewhere else more north or south for other options.

Halikarnas Café
99 Dixon St, New Zealand.
Random Turkish restaurant in a random city. Portions are large and bread freshly made. What else to ask when on a pit stop between two main cities.

Te Apiti Wind Farm
Te Apiti is a wind farm located on 11.5 km² of land north of the Manawatu Gorge near Palmerston North. It was New Zealand's largest capacity wind farm until September 2007, when the third stage of the nearby Tararua Wind Farm was completed. The $100 million wind farm consists of 55 separate turbines. Each turbine is atop a 70m high tower. It is fitted with 3 blades each 35m in length.

Wellington is the capital city and second most populous urban area of New Zealand, after Auckland. It is at the southwestern tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range. It is home to close to 400,000 residents. Squeezed between nearby mountains and a natural bay, Wellington is called the windy city.

Ibis Wellington Hotel
153 Featherston Street, Wellington 6001, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Very centrally located, the hotel is very convenient, clean and quiet. Room are small, but the bill is not.

White House
232 Oriental Parade, Wellington 6001, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
No mistake for this dinning experience. All was close to perfect. View, service and food were all excellent. Very nice Christmas dinner indeed.

192 Cuba St, Wellington 6001, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Logan Brown restaurant is a 1920s revamped bank chamber with high ceilings, private dining room and a separated dining booth. In 1996 Al Brown and Steve Logan had a vision. They wanted to take the standards of fine dining in New Zealand to a new level. Today, their success is well deserved and must be tried out to compare with other great restaurants in the region.

18 Majoribanks Street Mount Victoria 6011, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
A detached house transformed into a restaurant, Ambeli has everything to be the best place in town. Nice food, sassy (and sometime long) service, great wine list. If I had to recommend only one restaurant in the North Island in New Zealand that would be Ambeli.

Mt Victoria Lookout
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Atop the nearest mountain in Wellington, the lookout is stunning across two bays. This is a must-do if the weather permits.

Cable Car
Lambton Quay, Wellington, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
The Wellington Cable Car is one of the oldest and most popular tourist attractions of the city. The cars run from Lambton Quay in the heart of the central business district, and within 5 minutes whisk you from under the corporate towers of The Terrace past Kelburn Park and Victoria University to the top entrance of the Wellington Botanic Gardens with its magnificent lookout over the city and harbor - Te Whanganui-a-Tara (The Great Harbour of Tara). A great place to watch the sunrise.

Te Papa Maori Musuem
55 Cable Street, Wellington 6011, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
Certainly the biggest and most enjoyable Maori museum in New Zealand, this 5-level museum describes mostly what was their life before settlers arrived, as well as what is New Zealand today. You can spend an entire afternoon in this modern and large museum targeted to adults and kids of all age.

St Johns
Heineken Hotel 5 Cable Street, Te Aro 6011, New Zealand.
[Website] [TripAdvisor]
This is the place to have a drink after a long museum visit next door. Usually people are lying on the grass in the front when the sun is out.

In conclusion, the North Island of New Zealand is a mix of urban place with some National Parks in between. Large concentrated population gives one a chance to have the best food at reasonable prices in the country. The North is not at vast as the South but is more accessible money-wise and distance-wise. Should not be ruled out if you want to have a complete New Zealand experience. The South island provides the New Zealand scenery.