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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).
We're flying to the South Island to visit Christchurch and Queenstown. Where should we eat?
For a special meal in the heavily British-influenced city of Christchurch, try Curator's House Restaurant. The lamb and seafood are superb, and the setting—a Tudor mansion beside the Avon River in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens—might be even better (7 Rolleston Ave., 011-64/3-379-2252, curatorshouse.com, entrées from $13). Nearby, in a fantastic stone building that wouldn't look out of place in Oxford, England, is Annies Wine Bar & Restaurant, a more casual option that still works for a nice lunch or dinner and has a wonderful wine list (The Arts Centre, 1 Worcester Blvd., 011-64/3-365-0566, annieswinebar.co.nz, lunch from $12.50, dinner entrées from $20).
Queenstown is full of decent pubs and restaurants, but for something different, go to Joe's Garage, a hip, laid-back café with toasted sandwiches and tasty all-day breakfast (Searle Ln., off Camp St., 011-64/3-442-5282, sandwiches $8). Finding a place to relax is a challenge in Queenstown, the so-called adrenaline capital of the world. If you're craving a little peace and quiet, drive 10 minutes from downtown to Amisfield Winery & Bistro, housed in a stone-and-timber building. Go for lunch so you can take in the views of the vineyards (10 Lake Hayes Rd., 011-64/3-442-0556, amisfield.co.nz, lunch from $12).
Where can we find a nice setting for a wine tasting near Christchurch?
About an hour north of town, Pegasus Bay Winery is a standout—and not just for its smooth reds. The gardens are teeming with fruit trees and herbs for the restaurant, and the rolling hills and vineyards look like they're right out of southern France. Both restaurant and winery rely on sustainable organic practices (263 Stockgrove Rd., Waipara, 011-64/3-314-6869, pegasusbay.com).
Just outside the coastal town of Akaroa, on the peninsula southeast of Christchurch, French Farm Winery & Restaurant has a Tuscan-style restaurant; during the warmer months—usually late October through late March—the outdoor pizzeria is open. Order a couple of thin-crust pies to go with the wines (12 Winery Rd., Akaroa, 011-64/3-304-5784, frenchfarm.co.nz, pizzas from $17).
We'd love to go horseback riding near Queenstown. Is that possible?
Certainly. A 15-minute drive from town, Moonlight Stables is an 800-acre ranch with rides through open fields that look up to mountain peaks (69 Morven Ferry Rd., 011-64/3-442-1229, moonlightcountry.co.nz, rides from $71). The scenery at Dart Stables, 45 minutes from town, where some footage for The Lord of the Rings was filmed, is absolutely spectacular (58 Coll St., Glenorchy, 011-64/3-442-5688, dartstables.com, rides from $90).
Unasked-for advice Visit the seaside town of Oamaru in the early evening, when the amazingly cute Oamaru blue penguins march back to their nests after a long day of fishing (Waterfront Rd., Oamaru, 011-64/3-433-1195, penguins.co.nz, $15).