Making the Most of New Zealand
New Englanders meeting up with their daughter in New Zealand are in search of places to drink in the views and the wine, with hiking on the side.
Interested in getting coached? E-mail us your questions—seriously, the more the better—to Letters@BudgetTravel.com.
Want advice? Log on for our weekly Online Trip Coach chats, Tuesdays at noon (ET), and let our experts answer your questions. Click here to submit questions and browse our archived chat transcripts.
DEAR TRIP COACH...
We're heading to New Zealand to travel with our daughter, Nina, who's studying in Dunedin, and two of her friends. We enjoy beaches, hiking, good wine, and locally grown food. Robert and Barbara Page, Hardwick, Mass.
Should we rent a car or try to see everything by bus?
Without a doubt, get your own wheels. You'd eat up too much time trying to coordinate bus schedules and then wind up missing sights as you rode past. Just keep in mind that Kiwis drive on the left side of the road, like the British.
We get to Auckland in the morning, and we're not meeting our daughter until later that day. How should we kill time in between?
You'll probably be exhausted from your long plane trip, but do your best to stay awake until you adjust to local time. Stretch your legs, drink lots of water, and get some fresh air. Auckland's Sky Tower is a great place to get a feel for the lay of the land. Be on the lookout for bungee jumpers leaping off the side of the 1,076-foot tower (011-64/9-363-6000, skycityauckland.co.nz, observation deck admission $19). Back on the ground, stroll among the 65-plus shops and vendors selling jewelry, crafts, and clothing at Victoria Park Market, which has live music at lunchtime on the weekends (victoria-park-market.co.nz). Or walk along Ponsonby Road, an adorable drag with galleries, restaurants, and shops (ponsonbyroad.co.nz). Just off the road is Western Park, a green space laced with walkways.
Any recommendations for casual restaurants where locals eat?
Pubs are hugely popular with New Zealanders. The Gables is the quintessential local pub, with quiz nights and hearty food (248 Jervois Rd., 011-64/9-376-4994, entrées from $9). The Belgian Beer Café, a chain with great steak frites and rich Belgian brews, is a little more upscale. At the Ponsonby location, in an ornate former post office, you can eat in a courtyard (1-3 St. Mary's Rd., 011-64/9-376-6092, theponsonby.co.nz, entrées from $11). You'll get breakfast at your B&B, but save room for a second round at 5 Loaves & 2 Fish. The friendly local favorite is revered for its strong coffee, tasty egg burritos, and thick, honey-cured bacon (208 Jervois Rd., 011-64/9-361-5820, breakfast from $6.50).
What route should we drive to Northland?
Take the Twin Coast Discovery Highway, which loops around the region. Do the east coast section in one direction and the west coast section in the other. If you time your trip right, you can catch a sunrise along the east section or a sunset along the west.
Where should we stop on the way?
BeesOnline, about 45 minutes north of Auckland, produces gourmet honeys and has an unassuming café that's big on local ingredients. Ask your waiter for whatever's freshest and see if you can taste the honey—there's some in every dish (791 State Hwy. 16, Waimauku, 011-64/9-411-7953, beesonline.co.nz, entrées from $13.50). Farther north, visit the 82-foot-high Whangarei Falls (whangareinz.com, free). The ocean isn't visible from most of the highway, so you'll have to detour a bit to see the water. Two worthwhile spots are Aranga Beach, where a steep hike leads to views at Maunganui Bluff (kauricoast.co.nz), and, 28 miles northwest of Auckland, Muriwai Beach, a craggy, dramatic stretch with lots of crashing surf (muriwai.com).
Can you suggest an easy, scenic hike near Paihia?
A Fullers Bay of Islands passenger ferry departs Paihia every half hour and, in about 15 minutes, reaches Russell, New Zealand's first permanent European settlement—now a vacation town (Paihia Wharf, Marsden Rd., Paihia, 011-64/9-402-7421, fboi.co.nz, $8 round trip). A walking path leads about a mile—with a few steep inclines—to the peak of Flagstaff Hill, which lies at the north end of the town. A Maori chief became famous for repeatedly ordering that the British flag here be cut down. At the top, there's a 360-degree view of the surrounding islets, beaches, and deep-blue waters of the Bay of Islands region (doc.govt.nz, free).