What do you think of when you think of New Zealand? Probably Hobbits, sheep and impressive landscapes. Sure, there are about six sheep to every person and yes, no visit to NZ is complete without a stop at Hobbiton, but New Zealand’s North Island is SO much more. And trust us, 'impressive' doesn’t do the landscapes justice. Auckland is a great place to start your journey to Middle Earth and beyond, so here’s what you need to know.
Where we stayed...
Queen Street is Auckland’s answer to London's Oxford Street, with most shops, bars and restaurants a short walk from here. Anywhere along Queen Street or those parallel to it is a good shout for accommodation, with many of the decent budget hotels not that different in price to the nicer hostels.
Citylife Auckland: 171 Queen St - Accommodation prices start from Dhs986 per person per night on a bed and breakfast basis with complimentary wifi.
For cheaper options, try:
- Ponsonby Backpackers - Prices range from Dhs75 per person for one night for a seven bed mixed dorm to Dhs145 per person for one night for a single private room.
- Brown Kiwi Travellers Hostel - Prices range from Dhs85 per person for two nights for an eight bedroom mixed dorm to Dhs212 for a standard twin private for two nights.
Where we ate...
In Auckland itself, there’s plenty of choice. Mojo and Remedy are great coffee spots just off Queen Street, serving great breakfast.
The Kitchen at the boutique Hotel De Brett does a very good value brunch in snazzy surroundings. The Federal Deli, AKA The Fed, is an old-school NYC-style diner run by an award-winning chef, serving comfort food and cocktails ’till late.
Towards the seafront, the fairy-light strewn Britomart complex is full of swankier options that won’t break the bank. Amano and Ortolana served up two of the best meals we had and are well-worth a bit of a blow-out treat night. The Deck at The Seafarers is a great drinks-with-a-view spot, before heading underground to Caretaker cocktail lounge just across the road.
What we did...
Browse the shops in Ponsonby. This arty district of Auckland is packed with cool bars, pop-up restaurants and one-of-a-kind shops stocking everything from retro stationary to vintage homeware. We grabbed a drink and a bite to eat at Conch Kitchen & Bar, before spending too much money in Iko Iko, and hanging out at Ponsonby Central, where we chowed down on Chinese at Chop Chop.
- Ponsonby is a 30min walk from Auckland’s Queen Street, or Ubers are pretty easy to come by
Live your dream life on Wine Island, AKA Waiheke. WARNING: If you come here, you will never want to leave. This breathtaking island, just a short ferry ride from Auckland, beat the likes of the Maldives and Bali and to be voted one of the Best Islands in the World by Conde Nast Traveler and best region in the world by Lonely Planet in 2016.
With 46 vineyards, a laid-back arty atmosphere and some of most stunning beaches we’ve seen, it’s not hard to see why. You can just about squeeze it into a day trip, but if you can spend a couple of nights here, we’d highly recommend it. Afternoon Tea at Bach Winery overlooking the island is a must, as is a walk along Onetangi Beach while you silently weep at the knowledge you don’t live here.
- Fuller’s ferries leave every 30mins from Auckland’s Ferry Terminal on 99 Quay Street and take around 40mins to arrive into Waiheke’s Matiata Wharf at $36 return
Go chasing waterfalls along the West Coast. An hour’s drive from Auckland are some of the North Island’s most breathtaking surf beaches and jaw-dropping waterfalls. Piha Beach feels huge and the sea mist blowing in over the glittery black sand has to be seen to be believed. We did the short 15min hike up Lion Rock (Whakaari) in the middle of the beach to take in the full views, before grabbing lunch at The Piha Cafe. This surf shack-style hangout does brunch until 3pm, ice coffees and incredible tray bakes.
Just a short 10-15min drive from Piha is the Karekare waterfall. A 5min walk from the nearby carpark down an easy track, but totally hidden in the bush, it’s a secluded spot without too much hiking. It’s safe to swim, but be careful of the rocks underfoot and prepare for the less-than-balmy water temperature.
Become the Hobbit you’ve always longed to be at the Hobbiton Movie Set. No visit to New Zealand would be complete without it and it does not disappoint. Hobbiton is around a two hour drive from Auckland, so we’d recommend travelling from somewhere a little nearer.
How to get there...
Fly to Auckland, New Zealand from Dubai from Dhs6,000 with Emirates (directly in 16h05), or from Dhs4,900 with China Southern (via Guangzhou, China in 20h05). From Abu Dhabi fly from Dhs4,100 with Etihad and Air New Zealand (via Melbourne, Australia in 20h15).
- New Zealand airport customs is strict. ALL food and drink should be declared when you reach customs, but don’t panic. All the customs official will do is say ‘Yes, that’s fine to bring in’ or ‘No, you need to throw that away’. It’s far better to declare anything edible here than get it discovered by the sniffer dogs and face a fine. Ditto muddy walking shoes, which will be quickly cleaned.
- The weather is all over the shop. Unless you’re travelling in peak summer season (which is expensive AF), be prepared for changeable weather. By which we mean torrential rain, scorching sun, strong winds and humidity all in the space of an hour. A lightweight and properly waterproof mac is essential, as is SPF 30-50 (there’s no O-Zone in NZ, so the sun is seriously strong). If you’re venturing out of the city, a rucksack is a good idea, as are sturdy trainers or walking shoes, swimwear, flip flops and a lightweight/quick-drying towel. Layer up with thin t-shirts, shirts and very thin jumpers - this is not a climate that calls for chunky knits.
- Don’t panic about bugs. Coming from someone who usually becomes a human pin-cushion on most continents, I escaped bite-free after two weeks spent mostly in shorts.
- For more information please visit newzealand.com
Note: Flight prices based on Skyscanner.com, to travel in November or December 2017
Originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk