When I was contacted first time to work with Air New Zealand over a year ago to go to a cool trip to California desert, I couldn't make it. They came back to me few months later and were keen to work with me on some project. So I've asked, Why not to sent me to New Zealand? and they agreed. It took another few months to iron out all the details, organise ground support and set up the itinerary and then we finally set the date. As I did not want to travel alone, they were very helpful and agreed to cover ground support for my partner too.
Day 1 - 2 On Board
Air New Zealand flight to Auckland was from London Heathrow on Tuesday at 3pm with two hours layover at LAX. It was a pretty long journey and don't judge me, my biggest worry as a smoker was, how i gonna survive 25 hours on board without cigarettes. So armed with nicotine patches and chewing gums we boarded our Boeing 777 at LHR. Luckily Air New Zealand was so great they've booked me Premium Economy seats to make the journey more pleasant.
Boeing 777 is large, beautiful and comfortable plane, Premium economy leather seats were wide enough and very comfortable with adjustable leg rest. I've spend most of the time on board during the flight editing pictures from wedding i shot last weekend and later watching documentaries on in-flight entertainment. After slightly over 11 hours we landed at LAX. With a hope that there would be a smoking zone somewhere at the airport we started queuing for immigration. Yep, unfortunately even in case you're only transferring through LAX, immigration is a still necessary to go through. It's not a pleasant experience and queues were long, it took us for over an hour to finally pass through but it has to be done.
I was lucky, there was an outdoor Smoking zone at LAX so I've used remaining time to fill my lungs with smoke, and then we started boarding for our second flight to Auckland. Same plane, different crew and at 10pm we took off for another long flight. Regardless of the fact that I can't sleep in planes, I've managed somehow to fall asleep for couple of hours, so when we landed at AKL I wasn't that tired. My compliments goes to all cabin crew who make the flight more enjoyable.
Day 3 - Auckland
Our driver was already waiting for us at the departure hall and drove us to our hotel in Auckland. It was almost 7am on Thursday when we finally get to our beds at Heritage Auckland Hotel and had some proper rest. We didn't want to sleep all day so I've set alarm at 2pm and we went to explore the city. We walked towards Viaduct Harbour, area full of restaurants and bars right at the waterfront. It was the end of autumn and weather was mild, around 16C and with occasional sun spells.
At the evening we met for a dinner with Iva from Air New Zealand Marketing at Soul Bar & Bistro, fancy restaurant in Viaduct Harbour waterfront area. She gave us SIM card for data and calls and other permits and informations about our trip. Was lovely to meet her and after dinner we walked back to our Hotel.
Coincidentally my good friend from Dublin Loky, who moved to New Zealand few years ago was coming back from a holiday in Fiji and arrived in Auckland on the same day as we did. We couldn't miss that opportunity to meet up with him and grab few drinks. We ended up in tiny Mo's Bar, lovely place to enjoy few drinks and have a chat. It was great to see friend on the other side of the world but we didn't stay long as we had another early flight at the morning and around 2am we returned back to our hotel.
Recommendations for Auckland:
Sleep - Heritage Auckland
Places to see - Viaduct Harbour, Princess Wharf, Sky Tower
Day 4 - Hawke's Bay
After a good sleep in our hotel beds taxi picked us at the morning and drove to the Domestic Terminal at Auckland Airport for a short flight to Hawke's Bay Airport. This ANZ flight was operated with a small propeller plane and flight took only slightly over and hour. At the airport we picked up our rental car from Budget and drove about fifteen minutes to Napier.
Napier is located in Hawke's Bay on the eastern coast of the North Island and it is the largest wool centre in Southern Hemisphere and has the primary export seaport for northeastern New Zealand. It is also a popular tourist location, with a unique concentration of 1930s Art Deco architecture, built after much of the city was razed in the 1931 earthquake.
Our accommodation for next couple of days was Art Deco Masonic Hotel right at the Marine Parade and boy it was a beautiful hotel. Built in 1861, in the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake the hotel was destroyed, mainly by the fire that followed rather than by the earthquake itself. There were two main earthquakes thirty seconds apart with the biggest reaching 7.9 on the Richter scale. It was rebuilt to it's current glory and we had wonderful stay there.
Next on our itinerary today was a trip to Te Mata peak, just south of Napier rising up to almost 400m. It is a great lookout spot with panoramic views of Hawke's Bay. Our lunch was booked in Craggy Range Winery located just in the shadows of the Te Mata. Their Terrôir Restaurant was beautiful sitting right between vineyards and food and wine was delicious.
From there we drove back to Napier and as the sunset is at this time of the year quite early, around 5pm we've decided to walk towards Ahuriri Beach. It turned out to be a pretty spectacular sunset.
Day 5 - Hawke's Bay
You know that I love a good sunrise and have no problem to get up early. Napier has one of the earliest sunrises in the world so it would be a shame to miss that. After chilling on the beach until the sun was up we went for a breakfast in our hotel's Emporium Eatery & Bar and I have to say it was extraordinary and very delicious.
At 10am we had booked Art Deco Vintage Car Tour and our guide Pamela met us on the front of the hotel and drove us around the city in old vintage car with a lovely commentary. After the tour we jumped to our rental car and plan was to get to the Cape Kidnappers just few kilometres from Napier. Unfortunate one of the way how to access is was through the private property which was closed today and only other way was walking on the beach for about 4hour each way. As we didn't have that much time we drove back to Napier to grab a lunch at Milk and Honey and chill the rest of the afternoon on the Ahuriri Beach
Our dinner was booked at Elephant Hill Winery, another cool winery at Te Awanga, between Napier and Hastings. We had a lovely meal accompanied with great wine and then full and tired drove back to our hotel.
Recommendations for Hawke's Bay:
Sleep - Art Deco Masonic Hotel
Places to see - Te Mata Peak, Cape Kidnappers, Art Deco Vintage Car Tour, Te Awanga
Day 6 - Wellington
We couldn't miss that lovely breakfast in our hotel and then with full bellies drove back to the Hawke's Bay airport for another flight at 9am to WLG. After just slightly less than two hours we landed in Wellington, Capital city and second most populous urban area in New Zealand. First thing I've noticed was how windy it was there. Our taxi was already waiting in departure hall and drove to our first stop, Weta Workshop. As it was already a time for the lunch we went first to get some food at The Larder, well known foodie spot in Wellington located just few meters from Weta.
Weta Workshop is a special effects and prop company based in Wellingtons neighbourhood Miramar, producing effects for television and film. It came to worldwide prominence with director Peter Jackson's film trilogy The Lord of The Rings, producing sets, costumes, armour, weapons, creatures and miniatures. From the latest blockbusters, they worked on effects for Blade Runner 2049, Power Rangers, Thunderbirds are go and many more. Our tour took about one hour and It was a great experience to see behind the scenes on how of some of the effect were created.
From there we were picked up by taxi and dropped to our hotel Copthorne Hotel Wellington Oriental Bay where our luggage was already waiting for us. Lovely hotel located in the popular Oriental Bay. Sun was already going down so we decided to walk around city a bit to find some place for dinner. Small Italian place called Pizzeria Napoli was looking cozy so we gave it a try. Food was nice and staff professional and welcoming. After dinner tired we returned to our hotel to get some sleep.
Day 7 - Wellington
Today the first thing on itinerary was a visit of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa few minutes walk from our hotel, where we learned a bit from the history of this beautiful island. Te Papa was recently named one of the top 25 museums in the world by Trip Advisor so surely you should check it out. After visit we walked a bit around Queens Wharf and then came back to our hotel to get ready for a Zealandia Eco Sanctuary Tour.
Zealandia is a protected natural area in Wellington where the biodiversity of 225 ha of forest is being restored. Most of New Zealand's ecosystems have been severely modified by the introduction of land mammals that were not present during the evolution of its ecosystems, and have had a devastating impact on both native flora and fauna.
The sanctuary, surrounded by a special predator free fence, is a good example of an ecological area, which allows the original natural ecosystems to recover by minimising the impact of introduced flora and flora. It become a significant tourist attraction in Wellington and is responsible for the greatly increased number of sightings of species such as Tui, Kaká and Takahé.
We spent a nice four hours there walking around and were lucky to spot Takahé and Tuatara. Unfortunately famous Kiwi's were sleeping as they are nocturnal birds. It's a great place to visit and Teresa, our guide was very knowledgable and trained to spot the birds.
From Zealandia we called taxi that drove us back to Oriental Bay and went up to Mount Victoria lookout to watch a glorious sunset.
Day 8 - Wellington
Only scheduled activity on our itinerary for today was a private Wild Wellington Nature Tour to visit Terawhiti Farm that used to be the oldest and largest sheep station, located along the south coast of Wellington and since 2009 is home of a Wind Farm with 62 wind turbines, able to produce enough power for every home in Wellington City. Access to the Fur Seal colony at Tongue Point was possible only through a private property thus only for available for tours. It was great to watch this lovely animals in their natural habitat. As the wind was really strong visibility was great and we could see South Island in far.
We returned back to Wellington at late afternoon and spend the rest of the day wandering around the city fighting with strong wind, we took Wellington Cable Car up to the Botanic gardens and as it got darker we grabbed street food in the city and came back to our hotel to get some sleep for another early flight following day.
Recommendations for Wellington:
Day 9 - Dunedin
Our flight from Wellington Domestic Airport was at 8am and it took about two hours. It was significantly colder when we landed in Dunedin, just around 5 degrees celsius. We picked up our car from Avis at the airport and drove to our new home for two nights, Scenic Hotel Dunedin City right in the centre of Dunedin. We dropped our luggage, got quick shower and moved to the next place on our itinerary, Orokonui Ecosanctuary.
Orokonui is an ecological island wildlife reserve similar to Zealandia, located in the Orokonui Valley near Waitati, about 20 km to the north of central Dunedin. It was raining a bit and most of the birds were hard to spot so we didn't spend long there and went to explore Northern Beaches around Port Chalmers. Unfortunately rain gets worst so we returned back to our hotel.
We didn't know where to go for dinner so I checked on Foursquare that Etrusco at the Savoy had the best rating from all restaurants around and it was just across the road from the hotel. Restaurant was quite crowded and buzzing when we arrived and that is always a good sign in the restaurant. Food was soo delicious! It was probably the best Pizza I've had outside of Italy and Kate's pasta was also very yummy.
Day 10 - Dunedin
We've decided to get out of the city and go to the Nugget Point for sunrise. It was about hour and half drive so we left hotel at the dark, what i didn't realised (and didn't checked) was a fact that South Island sunrise is happening an hour later than at North Island so when we arrived at the spot it was pitch dark and I've started to feel that something is not quite right :) Luckily we had some food with us so we've enjoyed tasty breakfast in the car and as it started to get brighter we could finally see how beautiful scenery around us really is.
Nugget Point Lighthouse is a lighthouse built in 1870 at Nugget Point in the Otago region of the South Island of New Zealand just at the beginning of Catlins Forrest Park. An easy 20 minute return walking track leads from the car park at the end of The Nuggets Road to a viewing platform right next to the lighthouse overlooking "The Nuggets". Once we enjoyed the place enough we jumped to the car and drove back to Dunedin.
We stopped at the Tunnel Beach about 8km southwest of the city centre of Dunedin. Tunnel Beach has sea-carved sandstone cliffs, rock arches and caves and it's a great photo location.
At the afternoon we had booked Dunedin Heritage City Walking tour with lovely guy Athol that took us around the city centre. It's a lovely city with interesting architecture and European feel. Dunedin Railway station is absolutely beautiful and it was shame we didn't have more time as I would love to go on one of their scenic train trips. After we had enough walking I went to return our rental car and it was almost the time for dinner. We chose once again Etrusco and it was all superb as yesterday.
Day 11 - Dunedin
For today we had planned 6 hours Elm Wildlife Tour to see Royal Albatross, Sea Lions, Fur Seals and hopefully some endangered Yellow Eyed Penguins. Dunedin's Otago Peninsula is renowned for hosting the world's only mainland breeding colony of northern royal albatross and various other unique species.
We had some breakfast at the hotel and then went for a coffee to Standard Kitchen. Weather was pretty rough, with little bit of rain and strong wind.
At the first stop at Taiaroa Head which is the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world we weren't lucky, no birds in sight. So we moved towards Cape Saunders and our second and final stop at the Papanui beach and it was a different story there. Fur Seals on the rocks, Sea Lions just relaxing on the beach, totally ignoring us so we could get close enough to take pictures and watch them. We were already cold and slightly wet but still hoping to see one of the rarest of penguins species in the world.
Our guide explained that we would have to wait a bit longer to possibly spot them as they are fishing all day in ocean and coming back to land only at the evening. Obviously it's hard to predict wild nature but we've decided to wait. To make our wait to be more pleasant, it started to pouring rain. After about two hours on the beach, soaking wet and freezing, that little guy showed up from sea. It was an amazing experience silently watching him walk to the land while drying his tiny wings. Super cute animal.
Then finally we were happy enough and jumped back to the minibus that took us back to the Hotel in Dunedin. You can call me crazy but Etrusco were so good two previous nights that we ended up there for dinner again and we felt almost like a regular customers, we even received shots on the house :) After dinner we walked back to our hotel to pack and get some sleep before another early morning flight.
Recommendations for Dunedin :
Sleep - Scenic Hotel Dunedin City
Places to see - Tunnel Beach, St Claire Beach, Dunedin Train Station, Papanui Beach, Cape Saunders, Dunedin Railway station
Day 12 - Marlborough
At early morning our driver from Classic Jaguar Limos was waiting at the hotel and dropped us to the Airport from where we had about two hours flight back to Wellington and then one short around 40min flight through Cook Straight to Marlborough Airport in Blenheim. Weather has improved and when we landed, we were greeted with a lovely sunshine. Our taxi driver was waiting for us and we went straight to our hotel for tonight. Marlborough Vintners Hotel is a beautiful luxury five star hotel surrounded by vineyards and mountains in the heart of Marlborough. Apartment was truly stunning with terrace leading to vineyard.
At noon we had planned bicycle ride with Vine tasting so we walked across the road to the Vines Village to meet with Peter from Explore Marlborough who would be our guide around the vineyards. We have picked up our bicycles and cycled towards first Winery.
Forrest Wines Estate - John and Brigid Forrest have been crafting wines since the late 1980’s. After succesful careers in cinetific research and medicine, the young family came back from living and working overseas to get a start on a fairly green New Zealand wine industry. Recently they started focusing also on low alcoholic wines and I loved "The Doctors" Riesling with only 9% of alcohol.
Framingham Wines - The original vineyard was established by Wellingtonian engineer Rex Brooke-Taylor who took the name ‘Framingham’ from his ancestral home town near Norwich, England. By combining small batches of fruit from different parts of the vineyard, their build depth of flavour and texture and by using experimental techniques and blending options they get as result rich, expressive wines that are lovely to drink. My favourite was Select Riesling from their F range.
Wairau River Wines - Established in 1978 by Phil & Chris Rose, and today joined by their five children and extended family., Wairau River produces distinctive Marlborough wines from their 100% family owned estate vineyards. I never thought that I'm a Riesling person but again my favourite here was their Summer Riesling. It was the time for lunch so we had a lovely burger on their summer garden and then Peter had to leave so we cycled around a bit, stopped by Wairau river and then decided to give a try one more vineyard.
Hans Herzog Cellar - For the love of wine, Hans Herzog changed 500 years of winegrowing lineage in Switzerland to pursue his dream to find the perfect terroir to make truly outstanding wines able to stand amongst the world’s best. It's incredible how many grape verities they growing and the vines were exquisite there.
After cycling for almost 20k and several glasses of great wine we had enough and returned to our hotel to get ready for dinner at Arbour.
Set in the stunning landscape of rural, wine growing Marlborough, Arbour is a modern restaurant, with innovative cuisine, an extensive wine list and friendly service. They have different menu everyday so we decided to go for a five course one. Food was beyond amazing and they won several food awards already. Liz, the co-owner looked after us very well and it was a great end of a lovely day. Well end of the day maybe but as we were in Blenheim where my friend Loky reside last couple of years. He was waiting at the Marlborough Public House. We had couple drinks there and went on quick tour the bar. We ended up at The Yard Bar and i think that around 2am we have got taxi back to the hotel.
Day 13 - Marlborough
Have to say that it wasn't easy morning after last night drinking. Vintners Hotel is absolutely lovely and i would love to stay few more days here, however there was another exciting day ahead of us. So we packed all our stuff once again and Stephen from Marlborough Tour Company ,our driver for today and tomorrow, was already waiting at the hotel to drop us to Picton, picturesque seaside town on the north coast of south island known as the gateway for Marlborough Sounds. We had quick breakfast there and bought some water and food then boarded on small boat from Beachcomber Cruises company and went through Marlborough Sounds towards our first stop at the Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary
It’s taken an enormous amount of work over decades to return the bush and the birds to islands like Motuara, which was covered in lush forest when Captain James Cook used it to claim British sovereignty over the South Island in 1770. In the beginning of the 20th century, the island was used for farming, but in 1920 Motuara was declared a reserve. The bird sanctuary is now predator free, and you can spot birds like Tui, Bellbird, Cheeky robins and Fantails, as well as Yellow-Crowned parakeets and around 200 South Island saddleback. The most important species on the island - the nocturnal Okarito brown Kiwi - is hidden from sight to most. It was amazing experience to be on island alone only surrounded by birds.
Frome there we went to our next stop, Ship Cove, small bay just west of Motuara Island. The name Ship Cove was given by Captain James Cook on 15 January 1770 when his ship the Endeavour anchored there to replenish supplies of food, water and wood. Cook would return to the cove a further four times over the course of his first and second voyages to the Pacific. Our plan was to have a snack in little shed from supplies we bought in Picton, however I had to grab my camera and take some pictures first. As I was leaving the shed, flightless chicken size bird called Weka curiously popped up from the bush interested to see who are the intruders.
Knowing that we are alone on island I left all the camera bags and food in shed and walked just few meters to the beach. When I came back ten minutes later I've Immediately realised something is wrong here, most of the food were on the floor, packs half open and big bag of bread was missing. It took me only a few seconds who to figured out who to blame for the mess. I caught that little Weka bird steeling our shoes later on so if you spot them, be aware :)
When we had enough of beach we went to explore Ship Cove further and tried to find small waterfall, unfortunately we must missed the turn so we returned back to our boat. It was just in time to get to our last stop for today, Bay of Many Coves.
Set in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds, Bay of Many Coves Resort is a luxury five star resort hotel nestled amid a rolling landscape of native bush that kisses the shoreline of the beautiful bay below. Originally a family retreat from hectic city life, Robert and Colleen Gilkison eventually moved in permanently in the early 1960s. Capturing the truly special nature of the property, its new owner Errol Christian named it ‘The Gem’ and the opportunity to experience the very best of authentic New Zealand was born. The only way how to get to this pure paradise is by the boat or with helicopter. Our luxury one bedroom apartment was beautiful with warm wooden interior mirroring untouched native setting that sweeps down to the secluded bay. It wasn't really warm outside but we still couldn't resist to dip into the outdoor hot tub and enjoy the glass of bubbles.
Our dinner was booked in their fine dinning restaurant The Foredeck. Superb fine dining experience with awesome food and wine.
Day 14 - Marlborough / Auckland
After a lovely sleep we walked for a breakfast to the Kumatage, second restaurant in the resort. Bay of Many Coves is certainly a place where i can imagine to stay longer, unfortunately we had few more things to do today before we will fly back to Auckland and then back home. We packed our stuff and then just sit and relaxed with coffee on the sundeck until our boat came and brought us back to Picton.
As we arrived to Picton our driver Stephen was already waiting for us and we drove towards coastal village Havelock also called the Greenshell mussel capital of the world. Along the way we stopped at few stops with spectacular views like Governor Bay, Cullen Point and Mahakipawa. Our destination actually wasn't the Havelock itself but location called Pelorus Bridge, at Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, which was used as one of the film locations for The Hobbit movie. Absolutely wonderful place. We walked towards pontoon bridge, took couple of pictures and then we get back to the car and returned to Blenheim for our last stop in Marlborough.
Brancott Estate, New Zealand's largest wine company and first winery in this region that started producing Sauvignon Blanc. At the Heritage Centre we met for lunch with Andrea from Brancott and Kelly from Destination Marlborough and they told us bit about fascinating history of this place. We did not want to leave but it was time to get back to the car and start the journey home. Stephen drove us back to the Blenheim Airport which was just about 15min away and we boarded to our first flight of the day to Auckland.
Recommendations for Marlborough :
Places to see - Marlborough Sounds, Queen Charlotte Sound, Motuara Island, Ship Cove, Bay of Many Coves, Pelorus Bridge, Picton, Blenheim
Day 15 - flying back home
Air New Zealand get us access to their Koru Lounge at the Auckland Airport to make waiting for our flight as comfortable as it could be. It was great to grab some food and relax before long flight. Boarding was fast and in little more than thirteen hours we landed at LAX where we had almost three hours layover but luckily again with access to Air New Zealand Lounge. Our final flight was scheduled at 5pm and at noon next day we happily landed at London Heathrow.
Thank you again Air New Zealand for great trip, Hawke's Bay Tourism, Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency, Enterprise Dunedin and Destination Marlborough for ground support and making our trip as amazing and smooth as it was.
I do have to come back to New Zealand for longer to explore this beautiful part of the world further and ANZ would surely be my choice of airline that will get me there.
Air New Zealand flies daily from London Heathrow to New Zealand via LA, as well as via Asia and North America in conjunction with its partner airlines. Return flights via LA start from £782 in Economy and £2390 in Premium Economy. For the most up to date fares please visit airnz.co.uk/flights-to-new-zealand