If you only have two weeks, don’t even fool with going to Australia. That’s the advice Gary and I got from people in the know. It’s too big, they said—like trying to see all of the United States in two weeks. Instead, they advised spending those two weeks in New Zealand.
We like to mix it up when we travel. Sometimes we go with friends, sometimes we call on our friends at Adelman Travel. Sometimes we take a motor coach tour, book a cruise or hang out at a resort. But sometimes we like to hit the open road, and that’s what we elected to do in New Zealand. We organized our trip through Self Drive New Zealand. We told them our interests, likes and dislikes, and they offered suggested itineraries. Once we finalized our itineraries, the staff handled every little detail of our trip, including rental cars, hotel reservations and excursions. They did a fantastic job and made our trip even more enjoyable.
Here are a few things to note before you go: New Zealanders are nice. Maybe even more so than Midwesterners, and that’s saying a lot. They also know everything about us. They know more about how our government works than 90 percent of Americans do. Our popular culture is their popular culture. If they didn’t have an accent and drove on the right side of the road, you’d almost believe you’d never left home.
New Zealand is beautiful, pristine and innocent. The lack of security shocked us. We are so used to being examined and inspected that it’s become routine. They haven’t experienced anything close to our 9/11. Earthquakes, yes. Terrorist attacks, no.
If you think the weather is changeable in 417-land, think again. In New Zealand, it is common to experience at least three—and possibly four—seasons all in the same day, and maybe in the same hour.
New Zealand is quickly moving away from the kiwi bird being its national symbol. A flightless bird can’t survive forever in the wild. The few remaining kiwis live in captivity. No one we spoke to had even seen one in the wild. So, they’ve moved on to rugby. When the All Blacks play, the country virtually shuts down. The All Blacks’ logo, a silver fern leaf, is slowly becoming the national symbol. I must say, it is more attractive than the odd-looking kiwi. The fern leaves come from the huge fern trees that are native to NZ.
There’s a reason Peter Jackson chose to film the Lord of the Rings movies in his home country. There is simply no other place that has such a range of flora, fauna and terrain in such a small area. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s get started. Follow along our two-week itinerary, or craft your own with these must-visit spots.
Days 1 & 2: Arriving in Auckland
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city. Built along the harbor, modern skyscrapers juxtapose against historic buildings. It’s a perfect blend of old and new.
We stayed at the Heritage Hotel Auckland (35 Hobson St., Auckland, (64-09) 379-8553, heritagehotels.co.nz). Its great central location means you can walk to many of the major sites and restaurants. Ask for a room with a balcony and a view of the harbor and Auckland Bridge.
There is great shopping along Queen Street in the CBD (Central Business District), including Auckland’s premier department store, Smith & Caughey’s.
The half-day tour with Bush and Beach Wilderness Experience ((64-09) 837-4130, bushandbeach.co.nz) offers a great overview of the city, cultural background and history of the area. You can also take a couple of tramps through the bush (think Jurassic Park–type scenery), by raging waterfalls and on beautiful beaches.
Sky Tower (West Victoria Street and Federal Street, Auckland, skycityauckland.co.nz) is right around the corner from the Heritage Hotel. At 1,076 feet high, it dwarfs everything around it. Go in time for sunset to see the city light up. But before you head to your sunset-viewing spot, position yourself by the window in front of the base jump area to watch brave-hearted souls seemingly fall from the sky. Or fall from the sky yourself for a mere $225. For the truly brave—or some might say crazy—bungee jump off the Auckland Harbour Bridge, or just climb it for the view.
All this exploring is sure to work up an appetite. Dine at Clooney (33 Sale St., Auckland, (64-09) 358-1702, Clooney.co.nz). It has some of the chicest decor you will ever see, and food is elevated to an art form.
Also check out Sidart (Three Lamps Plaza, Level 1, Auckland, 283 Ponsonby Road, (64-09) 360-2122, sidart.co.nz). Food is art here, too. Enjoy the chef’s tasting menu and nice views of the city. Sidart is located in a neat neighborhood with a good shopping area. You might want to arrive early to take a look around.