It’s Day 3 and I’m already convinced that New Zealand is the most naturally stunning place on this earth. To think that it’s the youngest country on the planet is shocking… it’s like the best was saved for last. The first settlers, the Maori, arrived only 800 years ago. Now there are roughly 4 million inhabitants spanning across the expanse of land.
New Zealand fosters a feeling of isolation, yet in a good way. It’s thousands of miles away from my roots in Philadelphia, as well as countless other major cities. The single lane roads are empty, the population density is extremely low, and the landscape is vast. It provides an unmatched sense of purity and clarity.
The scenery in enviable. Though my brother Matt and I only have 22 days in New Zealand, we’re determined to witness all of the epic sights that it has to offer: dazzling beaches, rugged mountains, breathtaking fjords, placid lakes, moving glaciers, tropical forests, and active volcanoes. New Zealand packs many marvels of the world into a land mass 1/3 of the size of California.
Luckily, I flew directly from Sydney to Auckland, so my 3 hour flight was a breeze compared to the typically lengthy voyage of most travelers. I was previously aware of the Kiwi hospitality from experiencing it firsthand through my colleague at work (shoutout to Sue - i <3 u), and my first few days in NZ confirmed this notion. Strangers offered rides and directions, waitresses sparked interesting conversations, and our housing hosts welcomed us warmly. They realize how blessed they are for living in this special environment and want to reciprocate their bliss.
Matt and I crashed at a hostel after our nighttime flight and woke up to a sunny summer day, perfect for exploring Auckland. As we wandered through the city, we mused about a similar metropolis, but could not think of one. It resembles Sydney with it’s dominating tower, harbor-front location, and cafe culture, yet it’s uniquely Auckland. Since we came to New Zealand primarily for it’s nature, we escaped the city by hopping on a ferry to Waiheke Island.
The $36 roundtrip ferry ride was completely worth the price. After 40 minutes of gliding across the windy and surprisingly vacant harbor, we pulled up to Waiheke’s turquoise waters and green rolling hills. An enjoyable mile-long walk brought us to Oneroa, a quaint beachside village. We picked up some local apples and plums and relaxed on the white sand for an hour or two. That’s about as long as our Irish skin can last under a depleted ozone layer. Unfortunately, Matt had a similar experience to my first day in Australia and got completely owned by the NZ sun.
We cooled off at the cellar door of Cable Bay Vineyards, located on the West side of the island. The modern, impressive facility was an exceptional place to spend our afternoon. After tasting five of their current offerings, we opted to sip some more of their creamy Chardonnay on the lawn, which overlooked the harbor. Time passed slowly as we sat in bean bag chairs, nibbling on homegrown lemon and oregano olives, and relishing in the natural beauty of Waiheke Island.
After arriving back in Auckland, we grabbed a drink at The Glass Goose and indulged in a memorable meal at Depot, a casual and faced-paced eatery owned by Top Chef Al Brown. The hapuka sliders with preserved lemon mayo on toasty, fluffy brioche buns were one of the best things I’ve ever tasted… and that means a lot coming from me, a self-proclaimed foodista. We meandered around the marina post feast to burn off a portion of the sugar pie that we had for dessert, and marveled at the shiny yachts. One day I will own one.
We woke up early the next morning and drove 3 hours through farms and lush mountains to Coromandel. Our first destination was Hot Water Beach. We decided to grab a bite to eat at the beachfront cafe before digging hot pools into the sand. My kumara rosti was remarkably tasty and made me wish that it appeared more frequently on menus in the States. After chatting with the owner for a bit, we discovered that her husband was from Elkins Park, a neighboring town to our home in Pennsylvania. What are the chances! He told us his admirable life story and how he couldn’t be happier living in this friendly, beautiful country.
Matt and I napped in a shaded cove until the tide rolled out. We giggled at the tourists shoveling fervently, but couldn't help but to join in on the fun. Every day during low tide, steaming water seeps up through the sand from a reservoir of water and heated rocks. It’s a remnant of volcanic activity from 9 MILLION years ago. In my opinion, it was too hot to handle, yet it was still amazing to witness
We drove a few more miles North and hiked down to Cathedral Cove. The white cliffs and rock formations, topped with puriri trees, contrasted beautifully with the bright blue water and sky. If we had more time, I would have loved to kayak and snorkel in the marine reserve. Instead, we hopped back into our car and drove a few more hours to Raglan.
It’s common for both locals and tourists to book a bach, or a beach house, for a holiday. That particular evening, we stayed in a boat that was converted into a quirky cabin. It was located on the property of a lovely Kiwi couple and had expansive views of the harbor, ocean, and farmland. They owned an adorable miniature house and a peacock, among other animals. We made it in time to catch the magnificent pink and orange sunset before millions of stars came out. Matt and I used his Sky Guide app to pinpoint constellations that are hidden from the Northern Hemisphere. Shortly after, we fell asleep to the sound of cows mooing (that will later be McDonald’s burgers… no lie) and owls hooting. It’s a sleeping location that I will never forget.
To be continued ….