New Zealand's Capital City North Island
19 days on a rented bike in New Zealand
First off, let me say you are in for a treat! My phone says I have 2,900-some photos from our trip, and though these are sometimes shot from the back of the bike while going 60-70 MPH, there aren’t many I would toss out. This is in addition to hours of GoPro footage and still shots from Dan’s better cameras, but who’s counting. New Zealand is truly beautiful and on the two islands you have everything from Alps to ocean beaches. One can’t help but collect a few pictures and memories.
We spent the first couple of nights sleeping off some jet lag in Auckland at the Adina Apartment Hotel. We immediately found some dockside seafood at O’Hagan’s Irish Pub on Customs Street on the Auckland Waterfront. The next day, we enjoyed the birds-eye view from the Sky Tower in downtown.The New Zealand Maritime Museum was worth a look and a walk along Quay Street was beautiful at night with its red fencing and lampposts. An evening stroll to a restaurant near the Auckland Ferry Terminal afforded beautiful views of the city lit up at night. We could tell it was going to be a lovely holiday season, if different, with its palm trees and cross-dressing santas in miniskirts!
After picking up the motorcycle at Bike Round New Zealand, we were off to experience the wrong side of the road and all that New Zealand had to offer. We found our first meat pie along Highway 1 in Pokeno. A stop in Cambridge at an old church converted into a pub/cafe introduced us to a native Maori young man who helped us with some pronunciations and directions and introduced me to a fruit we don’t have in the US, which made a lovely juice--feijoa. Besides being handsome, the waiter was a wealth of information! I have a photo of the list of his suggestions for our stay in Rotorua. At the Sport of Kings Motel in Rotorua, the owner-family greeted us on their way to a Christmas party and told us where to walk for dinner--Urbano Bistro. We have pictures of our meal there, which means we enjoyed it. The people, so far, have been very welcoming. We were already well on our way to in-love with New Zealand’s coffee.
We did not pay to go into the Mitai Village, but did visit the grounds. If we’d had more time, I’m sure this would be worth exploring. Our route on the Thermal Explorer Highway (5) included more lush foliage and a roadside view of Waipunga Falls.
The ride to Napier through Hobbit land was beautiful. We opted not to wait for the tour but enjoyed the hedged countryside of sheep-covered rolling hills. Our stay at the Pebble Beach Motor Inn with bedside hot tub and lovely walks through the Marine Parade Foreshore Reserve and the Art Deco downtown was all very lovely. Dinner at the Emporium was superb and photo-worthy with what looks like a toffee pudding for dessert!
On our ride the next day, it looks like we stopped for coffee and a fruit pie at the charming Zinc Cafe in Waipukurau, and again for a meat pie at Greytown’s The Offering. One can never get too much pie, I find!
One thing that was surprising to me was that in many of the little townships, not much effort was put into curb appeal in what we might call strip malls. They were very plain jane and the architecture in many cases lackluster. I was collecting many pictures of lovely old churches, however, and these became favorites for me.
A motorcycle’s dream (minus the cool dampness of the day) was the ride up Rimutaka Hill between Featherston and Pakuratahi, State Highway 2.
We stayed at At Home Wellington City. We enjoyed an evening on Cuba Street with its lovely architecture and unique restaurants, shops, Etc.
The next morning we caught the Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry from Waterloo Quay and arrived at the Harbor View Motel in Picton.This Suite with a view of the bay and within walking distance of lovely restaurants and shops was a favorite stop. I remember, in particular, a chocolate ice cream with red pepper in the recipe--yum! We must have had a progressive dinner of sorts, either that or I had ice cream for breakfast (always a possibility!) What I remember is that it was too hard to choose among these warf-side restaurants. Dinner, it looks like, was at Escape to Picton, Boutique hotel, restaurant, and bar in their courtyard.
We decided to be brave and do as the locals do at our brunch-time stop in Culverdale and had a white bait omelet at the Culverden Bakery. Probably not my worst culinary experience ever, but that’s a lot of little eyes to look out at you from your breakfast!
Our next night was at the Bella Vista Motel in Kaikoura. This quirky little town was where we were recommended Cooper’s Catch fish and chips and where we took Christmas photos on the Kaikoura Peninsula, Pacific Ocean.
The next two nights were spent at the Pavilion Hotel in Christchurch. We enjoyed New Regent Street between Victoria Square and Gloucester Street with its trolley and old world appeal. People were lined up at the Rollickin Dessert Cafe, so we followed suit. Dan liked the name, Caffeine Laboratory. I wanted to see the “Cardboard Chapel” or the ChristChurch Transitional Cathedral but with it being Christmas Eve, the crowds were crazy and the motorcycle parking scarce. The mall in Shirley was interesting and certainly festive at this time of year.
Christmas Eve day had been spent on the beach having a lovely picnic and by Christmas day we were at Mount Cook with its unbelievable vistas. Our condo at the Aoraki Court Motel was spectacular and our Christmas buffet a lovely rabbit-inhabited walk away at the Panorama Restaurant at the Hermitage Hotel. This national park was truly spectacular and the ride along Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo on the Mount Cook Highway, 80, with its glacier-fed aqua waters, and something like yarrow in the foreground, nothing less than stunning. About this time is when we started seeing wild lupine along the highways. My phone says Tekapo, Middle Valley,and Fairlie. Some of the views from Rakaia Gorge Road, near Windwhistle were as lovely as the name implies. My phone also mentions Pudding Hill and what could be sweeter!
Our next two nights were spent at the fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments in Te Anau. Our room at Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments, with its view of Lake Te Anau, was lovely and the host and hostess accommodating as it was time we do laundry! Our Christmas evening meal was at a lovely Brazillian restaurant, Rustico, just a short walk to town. This place serves dessert the way it ought to be. My photo shows me looking adoringly at 3 different scoops of ice cream, a pavlova, and two other selections--one which looks to be chocolate and caramel.
The ride out to Milford Sound was cold, though beautiful. There were hiking trails worth stopping for on the way and more aqua water--this time in rapids along the Kawarau Gorge Road.The tunnels and quick descent made for an exciting ride with opportunities to stop and take pictures since there is one road in and the same road out. There is no rushing to, or from, Milford Sound! Once on the boat, some waterfalls made for scenic backdrops and some sun-bathing sea lions and a pod of dolphins were very agreeable to a photoshoot. At least they were for one of us! I got a very cute picture of some fowl play atop a rental car in the parking lot--not even a kiwi, mind you, but a duck of some kind. Milford Sound, all in all, was a good use of a day--not to be missed--at the approach of the Tasman Sea.
The glowworm caves made for a fun boat ride the morning we left Te Anau. But, no pictures; these rare creatures are understandably camera shy!
The next two nights were spent at the Heartland Hotel Queenstown, a lovely Chalet with a view of the Sunshine Bay on Lake Wakatipu. A walk through the Queenstown Gardens nearby was lovely. We sprung for a tourist attraction and had drinks at the Minus 5 Ice Bar.
The drive out to Arrowtown was a lovely windy (think motorcycle, with a long i) route. This was a Charming little village of hotels and shops. One of our best purchases of the trip was a basket of fruit a street vendor sold to us enjoyed over the couple of days. This was a good place for souvenir shopping besides that! This day was definitely a highlight.
Another couple of touristy stops in Queenstown were where we had a cocktail at a boat bar, I may not remember the name; and, though the lines were long, the famous Ferberger shared on a park bench was worth it.
Our next night was at the lovely Sunset Motel in Fox Glacier.Our view out over a green lawn of low clouds and mountain range was one of our best, no doubt. The walk through a glacial valley out to the famed Fox Glacier in Westland Tai Poutini was wet that day, but interesting, invigorating, and as it was the backside of Mount Cook fairly spectacular.If our elk pizza at the Last Kitchen wasn’t exactly that, the beer bottle chandelier was!
It seems this begins the wet part of our trip. The next morning, our departure was a downpour, but since there’s no point in delay, we muscled on. My biggest regret being the missed scenery!
Our drive through Mount Aspiring National Park afforded us opportunities to hike out to an impromptu swimming party, apparently, on one occasion (young people jumping youth-like off of high footbridges) and on another occasion, a glacial deposit turned informal zen-like balancing rock exhibition at Fantail Falls.
The State Highway 6 was an amazing drive as was our New Year’s Eve. dinner and stay at the Punakaiki Resort. Here you can see why New Zealand is known for its ferns. Our walk across (or under) the highway to dinner was a boardwalk among hydrangeas and palm trees of every variety.The next morning we visited the pancake rocks which the area is known for and this was amazing. It was a foggy ride and there was a lot of construction still from the 2016 earthquake but it was lovely drive nevertheless and I was amused by the penguin crossing signs along the road.Maybe the flowers that look like giant purple onion blooms (Agapanthus?) along the road will be in full bloom when you are there as they were when we were there. This ocean highway was truly spectacular with its switchbacks and hairpin turns that motorcyclists gravitate to. The unexplained phenomenon of the pancake rocks both majestic and mysterious.
The scenery is ever changing on these small islands. I remember thinking I’d have other opportunities to take, say pictures of lupine, and then that opportunity passed but there was something equally beautiful.
Our next night was at the Avalon Manor Motel in Motueka. The room was lovely, with a private courtyard, but it must have been one of those wet days when my camera stayed mostly packed away. I have no pictures and little memory of this leg of the trip! Judging by pictures on Google Maps, however, I’d say a do-over is called for in this town on the western shore of Tasman Bay!
The next day we were back on the Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry in Picton back to Wellington and back at the At Home Wellington City. The Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand was interesting, abounding in Maori Culture and New Zealand’s role in WWI. (New Zealand returned to a peace-keeping country after a devastating loss of lives.) The wax figures depicting that at something like 200% of life-size were remarkable.
We enjoyed the Beach Tree Motel at Taupo. This seemed like a lovely little town but with the pouring rain and too many people to fight for restaurant reservations, it was not a favorite for us. Though I’m not a fan of McDonalds, I was about ready to resign myself to the McDonalds in an airplane, which you gotta admit is unique. This was voted the “coolest” McDonalds, and to some that’s probably saying something!
Our next night was at the Breakers Motel in Whangamata.I have some beautiful pictures of us at the Bay of Plenty. I also have lovely pictures of the hotel pool as it rained and rained. We could have stepped right out and dove in, but didn’t consequently! Instead, we stayed sequestered and ran blow-dryers on our shoes and socks!
The route on Kopu-Hikuai Road, 25A, Coromandel Forest Park, with its fern-covered, sometimes overhanging, cliffs was one of the most beautiful routes. (Do I keep saying that?) With the low clouds, it was like a scene from Gorillas in the Mist.
By the time we crossed the Waihou River, we could no longer keep our feet dry as the river had crested and was over the bridge. There was evidence of high winds in fallen-down barns and sign posts. This made for a drama-filled ride back to Auckland and our fight home. As I was wearing my warmest shoes--the ones I intended to wear on the airplane, I wore sandals instead for the 13-hour flight home. Better that, I suppose, than wet feet!
Please forgive any errors or discrepancies. I am not the navigator on these trips, merely the back-seat photographer and not professional at that or any other part of travel writing. It’s been two years now, and high time I wrote this up! This is a draft and will be revisited and looked over by my travel companion in time. For now, Happy Trails and do let us know about your own travels to New Zealand!