The day finally arrived to land in a new country! We arrived at the Auckland airport at 7 am like a kid on Christmas morning ignoring any signs of sleep deprivation and fueled by excitement. There is a 23 hour time difference from Hawaii and since we crossed the international date line, that meant one exciting thing to us… Time Travel. We left on a Wednesday and after a 7 hour flight, it was Friday.
Getting through passport control was a breeze. They even have a separate line for Americans (and a few other countries) that allowed for quick electronic access. The visa is on arrival and free.
Customs is a bit more complicated. New Zealand is very strict on biological material that could upset it’s fragile island ecosystem so it is best to over declare. You will get passed into additional inspection by doing that, but it beats the alternative of paying a $400 fine from withholding something. We reported our gum, gym shoes, and prescription medication. The inspection added about 1 minute to our arrival.
We did very little advance preparation for this entire 5 month vacation. We researched enough about New Zealand to decide that we wanted to start in the North Island and booked our flight into and out of New Zealand. You have to show proof of a your flight out of NZ when you get to your gate and when going through customs. You can show them proof from your email confirmation.
The second arrangement we made prior to arriving was to rent a car. There are three main options for site seeing the country:
By on and off tour bus
By camper van
After doing research we felt the best option for us given our budget and preference was to rent a car. We rented through Budget for 28 days which was $1000 USD. We found the best deal through kayak and picked it up at the airport with no issue.
The real issue was learning to drive the Kiwi way, on the left side of the road. By day three it becomes second nature but there was a lot of getting into the wrong door, turning on the wipers instead of the blinkers and grabbing air instead of the seatbelt. We decided that every time we got into the car we would say as a joke but also a reminder “We drive on the left side of the road here”.
Since we couldn’t check into our airbnb until the afternoon, we picked a cafe near downtown Auckland where we could sit for a while, caffeinate and plan our two day visit.
Through Google maps and ratings, we found ourselves in the New Market neighborhood which is filled with shops, restaurants and cafes. With the exception of the 10 minute grace period at our metered parking spot, it wasn’t much different from the US. A 10 minute grace period was our first experience of the Kiwi hospitality and laid back nature.
The vibe in New Market was casual but very nice and clean. The city goers were sipping coffee and working on laptops in tank tops and sandals. There was no existence of hustle or bustle. We joined in at the Massimo cafe and drank a mochachino from a bowl that could easily serve pasta.
By the time we finished our beverages, Trip Advisor lead us to our next destination called One Tree Hill.
You can park and hike or drive right to the the top of One Tree Hill. This was the first moment we really felt like we were in New Zealand. The landscape is so lush and vibrant coupled with a variety of trees we had never seen before. More typically expected were the rolling hills and sheep that graze the pastures unfazed by the presence of tourists. It was about 80 degrees so we put hats on and walked to the view point that looked out onto downtown Auckland and Waitemata Harbour.
Our next Trip Advisor recommendation was to another part of town called Mt. Eden which has a main street that has an old-timey feel with a lot of character.
Our purpose to this part of town was for fish and chips at Mt. Eden Fish Market. It was fresh, simple and delicious.
We had killed enough time to check in to our air bnb rental. We booked this while we were in the Honolulu airport. It was very basic, in a shared house. The hosts were extremely helpful and eager to sit with us and give us a lot of information for our trip. We will take the time to detail and recommend any accommodations that stand out but this was not one of them. It was average at best but suitable for a place to shower and sleep and our room was big enough to get some yoga in!
Our night out in Auckland was in the central business district. We started at the Sugar Club, a bar at the top of the Sky City Tower for the best view of the city and the harbour. Don’t park at the sky tower is was almost $40 and we noticed other parking garages after we started walking around.
The Viaduct is a trendy and populated part of the Harbour with rows of restaurants. There is no shortage of options, live music and happy hours which made it a perfect spot to watch the sunset over the harbor.
The next morning we experienced a local market that was a fantastic experience and highly recommended. It is a French Market called La Cigale. It is only open on weekends, but we were able to eat breakfast and pick up some fresh groceries for the car ride and days ahead.
We spent a total of one and a half days and one night in Auckland and we felt that was enough time to see everything.
So far in New Zealand there doesn’t seem to be a noticeable lower class. Every area we drove through appeared to be middle to upper class with no excessive cars or homes. Everything about New Zealand so far is very comfortable, inviting yet humble.
Off to beaches and nature in the Bay of Islands… next time.