The next stop on our honeymoon: Auckland. As we expected, we were blown away by the beauty of New Zealand’s nature. We’ve hiked and taken in the amazing scenery and had wine tastings in Waiheke’s famous vineyards.
Initially, we had planned to spend more time in New Zealand. We’ve decided against it for two reasons. Firstly, we are not keen on driving at the moment, since either of us has driven in a very long time. Moreover, we wanted to end our honeymoon relaxing by the beach, in warmer temperatures. For example, the highest temperature in Auckland in December is about 22 degrees. In short, Auckland was the perfect choice to spend a couple of days in New Zealand.
Again, the return of our worst nightmare – having to apply for visas. We were very happy to find out that Romania benefits of visa waiver for New Zealand. In other words, no visa was needed, just an outward ticket! You can use this link to find out whether you need a visa or not to travel to New Zealand, and what else do you need in order to travel to New Zealand.
We arrived in Auckland on the 24th of December and we had set aside 4 days for our stay here. That is to say we had to research and plan thoroughly our day trips. There are a lot of things to do while in New Zealand, so the choice was not easy. We found out quite a few activities that are a short distance away from Auckland, and we’ve focused on those.. Since no tours operate on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we were left with only 2 days for day trips.
Activities that can be done from Auckland:
- Coromandel and Cathedral Cove tour
- Hobbiton & Waitomo Caves
- Sea kayaking
- Wine tasting
Day trip to Piha Beach
While looking for things to do around Auckland, we have quickly come across day trips offering the opportunity to explore New Zealand’s black sand beaches. We’ve quickly decided we would like to go to Piha Beach.
Piha Beach is one of the most popular black sand beach on the west coast of the North Island and it is located only 40km from Auckland ( approximately a 45-50 minutes drive from the city). The beach is also known for the best surfing around Auckland. We have found a few day trip options for Piha Beach, with Black Sand Tours and Trippy being top contenders.
What they offer:
- Shuttle bus to Piha – for those interested in surfing or exploring Piha Beach by themselves ( price: 40 NZ$ / 24 euros)
- Full day adventure to Piha Beach with a stop at Karekare Waterfalls and a mountain range walk ( price: 60 NZ$/36 euros)
- Tours and shuttle bus available daily
Trippy website: https://trippy.co.nz/
Black Sand Tours
What they offer:
- Day trips to various beaches west of Auckland : Piha, Muriwai, Whatipu, Anawhata, to the Bethells Sand Dunes and to Kitekite waterfalls
A full day adventure with Black Sand Tours costs 159 NZ$/95 euros and is available 3 times a week.
Black Sand Tours website: https://www.blacksandtours.com/
Both Trippy and Black Sand Tours have very good reviews, with Black Sand Tours being ranked 3rd in the Outdoor Activities in Auckland Central on TripAdvisor. Based on that and how their day tour availability matched our plans we decided to go ahead and book with Black Sand Tours.
While getting picked up for our day trip we came across another adventure travel provider – Peter Pans. Check them out at https://peterpans.com/new-zealand
Our day at Piha Beach
We’ve started around 10 AM and we were picked up from Auckland CBD and we were joined by 9 other travelers. Our guide for the day, Rachel was very energetic and having in the areas around Piha Beach, she knew quite a lot about the places we were visiting. We’ve then started our drive towards Piha Beach with a stop over in Titirangi to grab some food for lunch.
The scenery on our entire drive to Piha was very impressive, and even more so once we reached our destination. While at Piha Beach, we took a hike on the hills by the beach where we stopped for a lunch with a view of the waves of the Tasman sea. We then continued exploring the areas around the path and checked out the Keyhole ( tunnel through one of the rocks). All the while, our guide, Rachel was hiking barefoot – I guess that’s what it means to really know the area! After that, we went for a walk on the beach, and got our feet wet – with or without intention thanks to the waves.
On our way back to the city we made a short stop at Karekare waterfall. Here, some of the ones that dared jumped took a quick swim in the waterfall. My plan was that this would be a “no-regrets” kind of trip. So I jumped in for a swim in the waterfall as well. The water was freezing cold! Our guide was very reluctant to get into the freezing cold water. However she obliged and took a few photos of us in the process. She actually took a few hundred photos that day, which they then shared with us via Google Photos.
To top it all off, on our way back to the city Rachel gave us a few tips on where to eat and what to do. More about her tips in our section about Food. All in all it was a day to remember.
Waiheke Island’s wine and vineyards
Another thing we knew we did not want to miss out while in New Zealand – a wine tasting. As with all other activities: there’s plenty options to choose from in terms of wine tastings. There’s a wine region in all cardinal directions out of Auckland! To name a few of the wine regions: Matakana, Kumeu Wine Country and Waiheke island.
We decided to make a day out of it, and head out to Waiheke island. For instance, one way to experience Waiheke island is on your own and you can get there by taking a ferry. Once there, you can rent a bike / car / scooter or take a bus to the vineyards or to the beaches. The price of a return ferry ticket from Auckland to Waiheke island is about 40 NZ$ (24 euros). The ferry ride lasts about 40 minutes.
Alternatively, you can choose to book a tour with one of the many tour companies. Check out TripAdvisor’s list of wine tours operators for Waiheke island. We chose “The Essence of Waiheke Wine Tour” which costs 125 NZ$ (75 euros) per person to which the ferry price is added. The tour includes transfer to/from the ferry terminal, wine tastings at 3 vineyards and a lunch reservation either at one of the vineyards or at a cafe by the beach. We were around 18-20 people on the tour. Our tour guide had mentioned that the island might be quite busy that day, since it was 27th of December. It seems that is the time when everybody comes to the island for summer holidays. We did not feel that too much during the day, but on going back to Auckland we were afraid we would not make it onto the ferry.
The three vineyards we’ve visited offered quite different experiences, but the wine was amazing at all of them. We’ve visited Cable Bay Vineyards, Goldie Estate and Obsidian. Our favorite vineyards were Goldie Estate and Obsidian.
Goldie Estate vineyard is located on the western side of the island and has amazing views out to Putaki bay. The wine selection and its presentation were very well put together, and each wine we’ve tried surprised us in new ways. I believe I have found my favorite rose wine here, not too sweet, not too dry – just perfectly balanced. After our wine tasting we could choose between roaming around the vines or go atop of the hill and enjoy our last glass of wine while taking in the views.
After that, our next stop was Obsidian, a vineyard hidden away between the hills of Onetangi Valley. We had our wine tasting outside under the pergola, in a very rustic setting. While nibbling on bread and olives and enjoying the wine, we could take in the rolling hills of the vineyard.
For lunch, we chose to go to a cafe by Onetangi beach. This gave us about 30 to 45 minutes to relax by the beach and go for a swim before returning to Auckland. While we have enjoyed the tour, if we are to find our way back to New Zealand and Waiheke island in particular, we would rather go for renting a bike and experiencing the island by ourselves.
Auckland city activities
SkyTower is a 328m telecommunications tower located in the Central Business District of Auckland, offering 360 degree views of the city and its surroundings. The price of a ticket is of an adult ticket is 32 NZ$ (20 euros). Those brave enough can take a SkyWalk (at 192m up in the air! – no, thank you) or go for a SkyJump.
Another location from where you can take in the sights of the city is Mt. Eden. Mt. Eden is the highest volcanic cone in Auckland. No worries, the volcano last erupted 15000 years ago! To get there, you can take a bus or Uber to the base of Mt. Eden and take a 20 minute walk up to the summit. We’ve enjoyed our walk up to Mt. Eden and taking in the views, though the wind was quite something that day. I would recommend this more than the SkyTower, just because it’s outside.
Coast to Coast Walkway
While out on a stroll in the city and checking which way to go, we came across this. Auckland City Council published this route as part of their “Find a walk, track or trail” list. The entire route spans 16km, and as the name describes it, it’s a hike from one coast of Auckland to the other, from Waitemata to Manukau. Unfortunately, we came across the map too late during the day, and did only parts of the walk.
Well, this is not going to be a very large section. Certainly, we were prepared that it would be a bit more difficult to find interesting restaurants for dinner, since we were there over Christmas. What we did not realize, is that the Christmas period coincides with the start of the summer holidays here. As a result, we had even fewer restaurants to choose from, as most of them were closed between 20th of December and 7th/14th of January.
Some of the larger hotels in the city have one or more of their restaurants open over the Christmas days. However, they usually offer a set menu ( sometimes quite expensive) and require prior booking.
Since we arrived in Auckland on the morning of the 24th, we decided to make a reservation for dinner for that day to avoid any jet lag and hunger fueled drama. Yes, one half of the couple gets “hangry” at times. And to top it all off, the weather that day was rain, rain and … more rain.
That’s how we came across Woodpecker Hill, a fusion restaurant that mixes Southeast Asian and American barbeque flavors. While it was far from a “traditional” Christmas dinner, it was exactly what we like. Most importantly, if you like this type of restaurants, we recommend trying it out. For one of the other evenings we had received some suggestions from Rachel, our guide on one of the day trips. A few of her suggestions were Velvet Burger, Mexicali and Botswana Butchery.
Restaurants in New Zealand charge an additional service fee of 10-15% during public holidays. We have found that this is not always clearly advertised on websites / in the restaurants.
Lastly, another one of Rachel’s suggestions was Giapo Ice Cream. However, Giapo is so much more than ice cream, it’s art. Visiting their location for the first time is an entire experience. Once we stepped in we were greeted by one of the hosts and were given an introduction to the concept. Before we chose our ice cream, we got to try out of all of their flavors, yummy. Their ice cream is just as tasty as it is good looking and perfectly put together. Therefore, we would recommend stopping by if ever in Auckland. And if you would like to have a little souvenir, customize your ice cream with one of their chocolate sculptures of the SkyTower.
Very different from Denmark, where you can buy alcohol in any 7Eleven, convenience stores in New Zealand do not sell alcohol. Beer and wine can be bought in supermarkets, while other liquors can only be bought in liquor stores ( bottle shops).
On a less happier note, Auckland, one of New Zealand’s most populated cities, has seen an increase in the number of homeless people in the past years, mainly due to its increase in prices in the housing market and lack of affordable housing.
Though we’ve spent only a few days here, we were very impressed by the beauty of the architecture and nature in Auckland and its surroundings. New Zealand is definitely on our list of places we would like to return to. It’s difficult to explain in words, but there’s something about its multitudes of shades of green of the trees and the clear blue waters that draws you to it again and again.