New Zealand

As many of you will know I have family in New Zealand and lived there myself for seven years. The last time I visited was when my eldest daughter was 5 months, she is now 11 and her sister eight so we decided they were now old enough to cope with the long flights.


We travelled out with Air New Zealand via Los Angeles where we broke the journey for 2 nights. It was nice for the girls to visit Disneyland but they really struggled with the jetlag. My husband felt that it may have been better and less hassle to fly straight through but I’m not sure I could have coped with an 11 ½ hour flight knowing I had a further 13 hours to go with only a short break to stretch our legs!

travel-new-zealand001Air New Zealand squeezes an extra seat into their economy section so has a 3-4-3 configuration, this makes the aisles narrower and we were constantly getting knocked as people walked passed. The food was fine, there were plenty of games to play and films to watch to pass the time but it reminded me just how far away New Zealand is!

We spent most of our time in Auckland but managed a short trip up to the Bay of Islands for three nights. A new motorway through Auckland’s North Shore has reduced the driving time to around 3 hours. There is a toll on this road which can be paid online or through machines at the motorway service stations. We took a short detour around the toll and through some of the new housing developments. The land was all fields and native bush when I lived in Auckland. The population has grown by 1.5 million in the 11 years since I last visited.

We stayed at the Kingsgate Autolodge, Paihia in the Bay of Islands. It was very much like a Premier Inn, basic but clean and comfortable with the advantage of a fridge. It is right on the waterfront a few minutes’ walk from the centre and has a lovely swimming

On our 1st day we visited the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi a five minute drive from Paihia. The Treaty House is where the representatives of the British Crown and Maori chiefs signed the founding document of New Zealand in 1840. We watched a cultural performance in the Meeting House before joining a guided tour around the grounds to learn more about Treaty and the local Maori people. We had a lovely lunch at the café near the Maori war canoe. I would highly recommend the tour as our guide was very entertaining and informative. The cultural show was good but there are many places around the country offering similar experiences. They were just putting the finishing touches to the Museum of Waitangi when we visited but we didn’t get to see inside as it opened in February 2016.

From Waitangi we drove to Kerikeri (30 minutes) to visit the Stone Store, New Zealand’s oldest stone building. There is still a shop on the ground floor and you can take a tour of the museum on the upper floors. The road leading into Kerikeri is bordered by orchards and there are many roadside stalls selling fruit and vegetables. Avocados were particularly good value when we drove through.  There are also signs for artists' studios and potteries which you can stop and visit.

travel-new-zealand003On our second day we took the short passenger ferry ride over to Russell and had breakfast in one of the cafes. Russell was the first capital of New Zealand and one of the original European settlements. Smaller and quieter than Paihia, it is a pretty, historic town and definitely worth a visit. As well as the passenger ferry from Paihia that operates continuously throughout the day, it is possible to access Russell via the car ferry from Opua.

On the return crossing we had a fabulous view of the two cruise ships who were visiting that day. There is an excellent craft market in Paihia which is open on days when cruise ships visit. Situated just across from the wharf, there are some lovely local stalls selling items such pottery, paintings and jewellery.

In the afternoon, we went on a Dolphin cruise with Explore. We cruised in the Bay and around the islands looking for dolphins while the crew explained the different types we may see. Unfortunately the pod of Common dolphins we found had a baby with them so we were unable to swim with them. It was quite cold and windy as well so not the best conditions for sea swimming. We did get to see the famous Hole in the Rock from a distance!


travel-new-zealand004On the way back to Auckland we travelled down the west coast on Highway 12. This route took us through Waipoua Forest and we stopped briefly to visit the giant Kauri tree Tane Mahuta. We continued on before stopping for a quick look round the Dargaville Museum which is located 2.5 hours from Auckland. The Museum tells the history of the surrounding area as well as the pioneers who felled the great Kauri trees and those who came to dig for ‘Northland gold’ as Kauri Gum was known. It is an excellent museum and you could easily spend half a day looking round, unfortunately we only had a couple of hours!

We were very lucky with the weather during our stay and were able to make use of my parents’ pool most days. We did manage to drag the girls out of the pool a few times to go on a couple of sightseeing trips around Auckland. The first trip we did was a hop on, hop off Explorer bus tour, it was really good to do as it reminded me just how much there is to see in Auckland. The buses depart from the distinctive orange Ferry Building at Queens Wharf in the city centre. Many of the harbour cruises and ferries  which cross to Devonport, Waiheke Island and Rangitoto Island also leave from here. We only had time to experience the Red Circle and our first stop was Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium. A must see for families when visiting Auckland, it has penguins and an interesting exhibit on Scott’s expedition to the South Pole as well as large underwater viewing aquarium.

travel-new-zealand005Our next stop and where we had lunch was the Auckland Museum. This is also where you can change over to the Blue Circle route which visits Mt Eden – great views of the city from here, Westfield Shopping Centre – one of biggest and oldest in the country, Auckland Zoo and MOTAT – the Museum of Transport and Technology. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do both routes.

After a delicious lunch we explored the Museum. The bottom two floors have displays about the history of the Pacific people and the natural history of New Zealand. The top floor tells the stories of the various wars the country has been involved in and has a number of War Memorials.

Our final stop was Sky City where we went up the 328 metre high Sky Tower and enjoyed an ice cream whilst admiring the 360 degree panoramic view of the city and harbours. If you are feeling adventurous you can SkyWalk around the view platform or SkyJump off the tower but we settled for the safer option of taking the lift back down.

On our second day of sightseeing around Auckland we visited the small but interesting Navy Museum at Torpedo Bay near Devonport before taking the ferry across to the city. Devonport has been a navy base since the 1880’s, there are some beautiful historic villas as well as art galleries, cafes and boutique shops to visit. It is well worth the 10 minute ferry ride across from city. We had lunch a few minutes’ walk from where the ferry arrives in the Americas Cup Viaduct Harbour. Originally built as the home for the 2000 America’s Cup yachts it now has hotels, restaurants and bars and is a great place to eat or drink and watch the world go by. I can recommend Fox’s Ale House which is tucked away in the left hand corner.

travel-new-zealand006As we visited over Christmas we spent as much time as we could with family so our only other trip out from Auckland was to Matamata, home of the Hobbiton movie set. 2 hours drive from Auckland and less than an hour from Rotorua, you can easily fit it in as a stop when travelling up or down the North Island. Tours depart either from the centre of Matamata or as we did from the Shire’s Rest Café. They depart every 30 minutes, are guided and last around two hours. I would recommend pre-booking, preferably before you leave the UK as in peak season they are fully booked days in advance.

We had an excellent lunch in the café whilst waiting for our tour. It was really tasty food and very good value. A bus takes you across to the set and from there you walk down and round the valley. The paths are not paved and it is quite steep in places so not ideal for those who are less mobile. I would recommend taking a tour in the morning especially in the summer. Our tour was at 11am and by the time we finished it was very hot. Bottles of water, sunscreen and sunhats would also be a good idea. The guide talks about the history of the farm, the set and films while you walk past Hobbit holes of various sizes. The tour ends with a complimentary drink in The Green Dragon Inn – most welcome on a hot day! The bus then takes you back to Shire’s Rest. We all really enjoyed our visit and I recommend it to Hobbit fans.

travel-new-zealand007On the way back to the UK we flew via Singapore and had one full day to explore. Deciding that a city tour was probably not the best thing to do with the girls we headed to the River Safari and the Night Safari both of which are part of the Singapore Zoo. The River Safari was great, particular favourites were the Manatees and the Pandas. The Night Safari was not as good as I remembered, the queues for the tram were very long and the animals seemed to be in small enclosures.

Singapore Airlines use the same planes as Air New Zealand but they do not squeeze the extra seat into economy therefore their economy is a more spacious 3 – 3 – 3 configuration. Our flights home were much better than the ones on the way out.

We were very lucky with the weather during our visit and had a lovely time with all my family which was made extra special as it was my Dad’s 75th birthday on Christmas Day. 

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