10 Reasons To Visit New Zealand
When I was little, my parents showed me a country on the atlas map called New Zealand. I was told she exports some of the world’s freshest foods, and every fruit would be closely scrutinised before flying out. On grocery runs with my dad, picking random apples up and asking “is this from NZ?” became a routine.
Over a decade on, I rejoiced at the prospect of finally going to NZ. Alpacas! Double rainbows! Hobbit houses! I wasn’t even sure if these were trademarks, but they’re on Instagram, therefore they must be legitimate. I stalked the crap out of #newzealand on IG to prepare myself for the beautiful things I’d soon see. Be still, my beating heart.
Here’s documenting a ball of excitement’s journey through Auckland, Hawke’s Bay and Wellington.
Auckland has no alternative identity more apt than the City Of Sails. It’s ridonkulous. If you levitated and randomly threw a stone from above Queen Street, you’d probably hit a boat-owner.
She may be a modern city, but one would find the prevalence of Maori culture in the most unsuspecting corners, like the heart of its CBD.
1. Get (literally) down and dirty while preparing a traditional Hangi
You’d think I’ll know what a Hangi entails from my extensive “research”, but this is the part I disappoint by being culturally uninformed. I genuinely thought it was BBQ party time.
In my defence, it was a BBQ all right - only 10 times more hardcore. It involved digging a hugeass hole in the ground. Hot rocks and stones were scooped up with shovels bigger than my face. Metal crates were lined with leaves and filled with seasoned meat and vegetables before being lowered underground, and covered with wet rice sacks. The labor of 10 fully-grown humans had to be enlisted.
Fine. It’s not a barbecue.
The process may have been painstaking, but it was good fun! I felt like I was part of the Flintstones family, albeit the most useless member because my greatest contribution was lathering the raw turkey with salt.
Our fruit of labor was cooked for a good 1.5 hours, before the shiny foils tore to unveil a glorious spread. Who knew food so simply seasoned could turn out to be flavoursome? I’m not pro-pumpkin, but even that squash was a big hit.
Verdict: Leave anything to sit in the magical heat of the Earth and it will likely turn out delicious.
Proof that I was a valuable member to the team.
Food tastes best not when it’s free, but when you prepare it with your bare hands and 9 other people who’re more expert than yourself.
2. Cruise the waters below the Auckland Harbour Bridge on a traditional boat
While waiting for our food to cook, we went on a waka tour.
The Waitermata Harbour is pretty much the Quayside Isle of Auckland, except with more sails and teenage boys dock-diving because the New Zealanders are a fun bunch like that. Here, the bridge dramatically parted for the entrance of our rustic ride which looked terribly out of place as it invaded the yachts and boats’ territory.
The waka is a Maori watercraft originally made out of logs and tree trunks to resemble a canoe. It doesn’t sound like much, but the small stature and basic anatomy were capable of impressive feats like faraway voyages to San Francisco and Hawaii. I can’t imagine how that’s possible, the waters got mildly turbulent when we were a few hundred metres from the harbor.
Nearly everything is manual onboard, from the raising of sails to navigating. I had a go at steering the waka, but it didn’t move a single inch in spite of herculean effort. I blame it on the fact that my breakfast was still buried somewhere at Awataha Marae, but I couldn’t have asked for a better way to round up the traditional experience.
Girl tries summoning her inner Hulk to steer the boat and failing.
I am a Maori now, please only call me Ataahua from now on. It means gorgeous and pleasant.
3. Take a day trip to Waiheke island for a countryside retreat
Waiheke is the “Pulau Ubin” of Auckland - a laid-back island that is everything the city isn’t. About 8000 people live here, but only 8 policemen patrol the island. #AvengersOfWaiheke
Every Saturday the small town of Waiheke hosts a market selling fresh fruits and vegetables, light bites like pizza and tacos, and homemade produce ranging from soaps to spreads and Manuka honey.
The bazaar is nothing like those in the city. It is communal but not festive and loud; simple but far from dull. It reminds me of Sydney’s Paddington market - quiet with an allure too easily overlooked.
Waiheke has a few vineyards to boast too, and it’s a shame to leave with zero alcohol in your bloodstream. Batch Winery comes highly recommended for lunch or tea, so be sure to drop by. Here I made a life-changing discovery that cheese + Manuka honey = bomb.
Book your Waiheke day tour with Ananda Tours.
In general, life eludes the cities in Aussie and NZ after 6pm. When I told our tour guide just how quiet I found Auckland, she said, “Just wait till you go to Hawke’s Bay.” And she was right.
Hawke’s Bay is known for the most fertile land in NZ, a region synonymous with award-clinching wines. It’s only an hour away from Auckland, but they’re worlds apart. She’s home to one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever seen - Napier - but more on that later.
4. Bask in the atmosphere of Hawke’s Bay Farmer’s Market
6-year old me would’ve been so psyched to know I’ll someday be at the convergence of all things fresh and pure. Where every random thingamajig I pick up - be it an apple or a stalk of celery - is confirmed plus chop made in NZ.
The Hawke’s Bay Farmer’s Market happens every Sunday, where over 50 producers, growers and makers come together with the finest fresh goods. What better place to experience a farmer’s market than the most fertile region of NZ? I firmly believe it’s the one place you can unleash your inner aunty without judgement.
Take your pick from the truckload of seasonal harvest, or treat yourself to a homemade soft-serve with fresh blueberries in it. Stop to admire the craftwork of handmade chopping boards that are known to last for years. Better yet, come with an empty tummy and assemble a hearty breakfast out of roasted coffee and pastries.
Here, you’ll find an assortment of life’s little pIeasures, like hearing the live band play 3 of my favorite songs in a row, and the tantalizing sight and smell of bacon sizzling on hot pan.
If not the aromatic coffee or the glorious avocados, take away with you the importance of a kindred community. It’s amazing - the common understanding that staying sustainable means supporting one another and being authentic.
That is why restaurant owners come here to stock up on ingredients, giving patronage to locals who make this their livelihoods. This market runs every week without fail, even on rainy Sunday mornings.
Hawke's Bay Farmers Market
Opening hours: 8.30am to 12.30pm on Sundays
Address: Hawke's Bay A&P Showgrounds, Kenilworth Rd, Hastings
5. Get up close and personal with wildlife at Cape Kidnappers
Cape Kidnappers is a coastal headland by Pacific Ocean, named by Captain Cook when one of his crew nearly got abducted by the Maori in 1769. The overland tour took us through the winding roads in air-conditioned comfort on a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
En route to Cape Kidnapper’s main attraction that is the world’s largest gannetry, the routes were lined with flowering manuka, freely roaming sheep and cow herds. It’s incredibly therapeutic to watch them in their own habitat. To see valleys deep enough to make our furry friends look like cotton specks, and grass so fine they move in the wind like fibers on a freshly laundered mink coat.
About 3 hours and what felt like 2837421 sheep later, we arrived at the cape’s plateau. Overlooking the pinnacle is the nesting place of 4000 gannets - large white birds known for their monstrous appetites. It has a listing on urban dictionary: a person who is always hungry. It appears that after all these years, I’ve finally found home.
Never have I seen so many birds that aren’t mynahs at one place, so this was kind of overwhelming. Imagine my shock when I saw a gannet casually do a 360 degrees head rotation. Excuse me, what the hell was that?! I wish I had a gif to show you but I missed the moment, so you’ll have to imagine it. It’s not that hard.
Gannet Safaris Overland Ltd
Address: 396 Clifton Rd, Te Awanga, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
Contact: +64 6 875 0888
6. Travel back in time to the 1930s on a luxury vintage car
Sweeping declaration: Napier is the most insta-worthy city ever. I’m not sure how that can be verified, but it just is. And it doesn't even have to try.
Like all beautiful things, Napier’s architecture has a woeful story to tell, following the 1931 earthquake, NZ’s deadliest natural disaster to date. TL;DR - nearly every building fell, coastal land raised by 2 metres, and Napier’s entire landscape was altered. Its rebuilding preserved many Art Deco landmarks, and we learnt about these icons' heritage through a walking tour.
The architecture in Napier is characterized by a distinct vintage flavor. Most buildings are pastel and old-fashioned, and as a result of the detrimental disaster, low-lying. Think of it as a quaint, simple version of Beverly Hills, California.
Learn about the stories and trivia of each landmark, like the Masonic Hotel’s lofty heritage dating back to 1861, and the subtle Maorian influences found on the exteriors of banks and malls. Go for a spin on a vintage car to end the tour!
Our tour guides were decked in vintage fashion - totes adorbs!
Every turn and bend led us to corners to marvel at, and sights that look like they belonged to storybooks or cartoons. You can attempt to photograph every other spectacle, but your device’s storage limit will burst like mine did.
Art Deco Trust
Address: 7 Tennyson Street, Napier South, Napier 4110, New Zealand
Contact: +64 6 835 0022
7. Stuff yourselves silly with food and wine on the Twilight Odyssey Tour
There isn’t any specialty that is to NZ what ramen is to Japan and pho is to Vietnam. But after this trip, I’ve discovered their single trademark. Are you ready to hear me gush about their fresh produce for the millionth time?
Chefs here experiment with the same old cuisines, but homegrown ingredients make a world of difference. Not a single dish owed its quality to excessive seasoning; it’s usually wholesome on its own. Even the least appetizing leaves were a crunchy, delightful affair here. *side-eyes Caesar Salad*
Not all of us are blessed with the talent of fitting 6 meals in a day. When tummy space is a scarce resource on vacation, calm down and be strategic. The Twilight Odyssey Tour was started to keep tourists entertained after businesses close at 5-6pm, but it’s solved a FWP of travelers.
The tour takes you to 3 restaurants and wineries after sunset, and is the ultimate foodie experience in Hawke’s Bay. Imagine starters, mains and desserts at 3 different places, alongside a stellar variety of red, white and ice wines. What better city to be kept fed and rosy than one synonymous with award-winning wines?
Any fresher, you'll have to do the grape-stomping yourself.
Book the food tour with Odyssey NZ.
8. Take in the sceneries of changing terrain on 2 wheels
I like cycling. But when I do it in the heat of Singapore, I end up seeking refuge in a 7-eleven store and offsetting the few calories I’ve burnt with a Big Gulp. A 10km cycling trail would’ve maimed me back home, but it was pure delight in NZ’s weather.
We started from the city and were soon taken to the depths of Napier’s countryside. There are no flashy attractions or exotic wildlife species waiting in ambush to surprise you, but it turned out to be my most inscribed memory of the trip. It must have been the satisfaction of completing 10 kilometres without dying, or the sheer pleasure of navigating an arresting landscape.
There were picturesque sights at every turn, and on 2 wheels we passed streams and rivers, bridges and flowering bushes. Plains with more roaming sheep and cows than the humans you’d see en route, lalang fields that stretch so far out they eventually meet the skies on the other side. You can get off your bike anytime for photo opportunities and likely find yourself at a picnic-worthy spot, like this deserted railway track:
Our cyclist guide asked if railways tracks are a thing among Singaporeans, as she’s met many who seem to be fans of them. Well done, fellow countrymen!
The capital of New Zealand is a bustling, cosmopolitan city with diversity embedded in its architecture, and street art in its nooks and crannies. Graffiti and murals are commonplace, and even public toilets are given a touch of edginess.
One moment you’ll pass a roof with a little Buddha statue seated atop, in the next you’ll see New York-style houses with the typical escape stairways and red brick wall. The sort of intriguing juxtaposition that makes you contemplate its backstory.
9. Eat your way through the colorful food culture of Wellington
Wellington has a rich food culture that consists of craft beer, coffee, artisan gelato and more. Many highlights are hidden within residential districts and back alleys that non-locals will have a hard time sussing out, so a food tour is mandatory.
Coffee is a huge deal in NZ. It’s a language locals speak, an ice-breaker on strangers’ first meetings. We started our trail at Havana Coffee Works, where the folks who make 6.8 tonnes of coffee weekly introduced us to the manufacturing process. The fresh goodness are ground and brewed with beans from Cuba and Sumatra, for big cities like Shanghai, California and New York.
Even with its superior quality, prices are kept affordable at $35/kg, yielding only a small profit margin. Some may think it’s a strange business model, but it’s the makers’ way of sharing what they love with their community. Coffee is just part of the produce that abides with this principle.
Apart from coffee, you’ll also be treated to pure cocoa products at a chocolate factory, quirky alcohol renditions like chili beer at craft breweries, and peanut butter from a hole-in-wall establishment. Literally.
Organic peanut butter spread that is also spicy, because New Zealand.
This treacherous expedition of stuffing ourselves silly was conducted by Zest Food Tours.
10. Have your holiday begin once you board the aircraft
People know Air New Zealand for the best flight safety video of all time, and I later discovered that its kickassery translates to every aspect of the flight experience. The airline recently started direct flights to Auckland and we got to experience the Premium Economy cabin. Many friends tell me it’s not worth the upgrade on most airlines, but I guess I’ve gotten the longer end of the stick.
This looks like a hotel's continental breakfast, but it's just a fraction of the spread at Air New Zealand's Koru Lounge - a better way to fuel up for the flight than combing the DFS shops 10 times each.
The spacious seat and legroom felt more like a Nearly Business Class than anything. It’s the approximate size of an OSIM massage chair and came with a big, fluffy pillow. For the first time ever, I knocked out for 4 hours straight onboard. Sincere apologies to my fellow passengers if snoring was involved.
You’ll not find a single window shade on the aircraft, because you can - get this - adjust the window panes’ brightness! First World Problem #246: I want to see the clouds from my window seat, but the sunlight is too damn bright. SOLVED. I didn’t even know I wanted such a feature, but now I do. A highly fascinated me adjusted it at least 8 times during the flight.
During my trip in November, the in-flight entertainment system was already updated with Macbeth and a bunch of new films. There’s also a function that allows you to text other passengers in case you miss your friend 2 aisles away, or urgently need to inform him that they’ve got the entire Star Wars trilogy onboard.
Pure New Zealand
On this trip, I've lost count of the flat whites I've had, and vineyards set against backdrops as unreal as oil paintings. Strangers who greet like old friends, different plots of earth we stood on to see the planet's largest ocean. A gust of crisp wind blows, and in its fleeting brush it hits me for the 17th time that I'm in one of the world's most beautiful landscapes.
The kiwis are incredibly passionate about the land they live on. In a 1930s-esque vintage car, an elderly man shared anecdotes of his small town with strangers in the backseat. A similar pride can be heard in the tireless commentary by our safari tour guide, as he told us how they'd 'kidnap' young kiwis before they hatch, releasing them back into the wild only when they're large enough to fight scavenging weasels and cats.
People are quick to associate NZ with its mountains and volcanic lakes, but its identity as a nature haven resides beyond its landforms. I found it in the lighthearted banter between growers and buyers at the farmer's market, and the way the coffee man's eyes lit up once the beans came gushing out all at once. Voila! He broke into an infectious smile I was lucky to capture.
Among the many things NZ has opened my eyes to, it is these characters I'll remember most fondly.
Them, and the good looking waiter who sprinted a little way down the street to return the cellphone I left behind. You're a lifesaver.
This post was brought to you by Air New Zealand.