Auckland, New Zealand | Travel Guide

At least once a year when Josh was in flight school, he would go on a detachment for about a month. When he goes on detachment he gets paid a per diem which most people spend on food and alcohol. Josh doesn’t drink, he brings food to cook in his hotel and buys produce from the grocery store so we end up making extra money from detachments and he always encourages me to use it for a trip. When we lived in Texas he went to California for a month and I used that money to travel to New Zealand with my sister. It quickly became one of my favorite places and I knew that I wanted to go back with Josh as soon as he had enough time off to make it happen. This year was the first time since he started flight school (a million years ago) that we got our holiday leave dates in advance and were able to book a big trip. Of course we picked New Zealand.

I’m not totally sure how to explain why I love New Zealand so much. I think we all react to different places for different reasons so why we like or don’t like a place is extremely personal. There is something about it that reminds me of California, where I grew up. Not only is it beautiful, but there are amazing restaurants, great shopping, outdoor activities and really good weather. It has everything that I love in a city.

We flew in and out of Auckland and ended up spending about 6 days there. We stayed at two different Airbnb’s and both were pretty great. The first one was in Ponsonby, here’s a link to it. It was such an amazing location right on Ponsonby road so we could walk to coffee, meals and shopping. The second place we stayed was in New Market and it was pretty awesome too. January was a perfect time to visit because it was summer there. The weather was really nice most of the time and out of the 12 days we were there, it only rained once. Here are some of our favorite things we did while staying in Auckland:

1. Mt. Eden

Mt. Eden is a volcanic cone with a huge crater in the middle. It’s the highest natural point in Auckland so it provides a really beautiful view of the city. There are a handful of trails around it so you can spend a lot of time walking around or just go straight up to the top for the view. I really loved how calm and peaceful it was. It’s a really pretty area with lots of trees and tall grass and amazing views of the city.

2. Shopping

Ponsonby Road is a great street to explore for shopping for home goods or clothes. We also found this building called BLOC that had a ton of cute home goods stores all in a really cool building with multiple levels. Britomart downtown is another good area along with Parnell. We did a ton of shopping, there are just so many cool stores with really cute ceramics, linens, furniture (wish we could have brought some back) and clothes.

3. Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island is one of the best parts about Auckland. It’s a small island that you can reach in about 40 minutes by ferry and it’s absolutely beautiful. There are wineries, olive groves, beaches and some of the most beautiful scenery in Auckland. We bought the hop on/off bus tour from Fuller’s which was $65NZD for the ferry and the bus. The bus does a loop around the island with a bunch of different stops and you can get on and off as many times as you want. They also tell you random facts about the island which is fun to hear. One of the things they talked about was how sustainably they have to live on the island. They have to send all their trash back to Auckland so they have a great system set up to donate old things so other people can reuse them instead of throwing stuff away which keeps their trash to a minimum. 

We went to Kennedy Point Vineyard first. They are the only (officially) organic winery there so we knew we wanted to check it out. The bus doesn’t stop in front of it so you have to walk about 20 minutes from the stop but it’s worth it. We got lucky on our way there because a taxi stopped and gave us a free ride. (You can also hitchhike in New Zealand! Being from the states it’s always weird for me to see that.) Kennedy Point is gorgeous, they have a beautiful patio you can sit at and you can see the water and the boats while you’re tasting wine. The wine was also excellent, we ended up buying some red wine even though both of us usually prefer white. 

Waiheke is mostly known for its red wine so we picked Tantalus for our next stop because we knew they had white wines to try. This was by far our favorite winery, we loved every wine we tried and ended up buying 3 of the 4 that we tried. Their Pinot Gris was our favorite and the Rose was a close second. I should also note that you can try beer and cider at Tantalus as well.

Our next stop was Rangihoua Estate which is an award winning olive oil producer. It was amazing!! We tried some of the best olive oil I have ever had. Most of the olive oil sold in stores isn’t actually olive oil. About 80% of what is sold and labeled as olive oil is adulterated in some way. At worst, it’s a different vegetable oil that has added color and flavor. SO DON’T BUY CHEAP OLIVE OIL. If you buy cheap olive oil just know it isn’t olive oil. Anyways, this olive oil was the real deal and tasted amazing, it’s definitely worth a stop. They also have wine you can taste here and we ended up trying a really good chardonnay that we bought as well.  

Our last stop was Goldie Estate and this was our least favorite. The wine was good but the service was pretty bad, we kept having to ask multiple times to try the next wine and Josh ended up going and pouring the last two wines himself because nobody was around lol. Probably wouldn’t go back. 

The view from the ferry while we were pulling up to the island.

Tantalus Estate

4. Piha

Ahh Piha, this was such an amazing day. The west coast of New Zealand is only about a 45 minute drive away. We picked Karekare Beach to visit first because it looked so beautiful and it did not disappoint. We honestly didn’t even make it all the way down to the water because the dunes and scenery around it was so beautiful. After you park in the lot, it’s a ten minute walk out but the whole walk is stunning. Once we got close to the beach, we had to cross through some water to get there. It was fairly deep so I jumped on Josh’s back (in a dress!) while we balanced our bag, tripod, giant camera and crossed over. I’m sure I looked ridiculous but it was early and kind of cold so I didn’t want to get wet. We went right after sunrise and it was absolutely gorgeous. 

After the beach, we drove to the Muriwai Gannet Colony. The colony nests from August through March every year. It smells pretty bad but it’s really cool to see. We went because Josh is obsessed with birds but I ended up really liking it too. There are about 1200 pairs of Gannet’s nesting and we saw eggs in some of the nests and baby Gannets in others. You can get pretty close to them too and they don’t seem to mind. 

This view was incredible!

Food in Auckland

The food in New Zealand is really good. As much as I like living in Japan, it was so nice to be back in a place where I could read menus, order food that I actually eat and go grocery shopping and know what I am buying without trying to google translate the labels. They also have tons of vegan options at grocery stores and restaurants.  Here are some of our favorite restaurants:

1. Janken - Japanese food! It’s funny that we live in Japan and my favorite Japanese restaurant is in New Zealand but this place is that good. The owners are Japanese and they do a lot of traditional foods but they have vegan rolls and amazing salads and vegan and vegetarian options on top of regular sushi. They use really good and fresh ingredients so everything tastes amazing! My only complaint is the rolls are HUGE, like I had to eat them in two bites, so everything was falling apart and I am not very good with chopsticks. Josh told me I looked like a hot mess lol. I kept trying to wait until the people working there weren’t looking my direction to take bites hahaha.

2. Little Bird - This restaurant is organic, raw and vegan. It’s also sooo good. They have tons of food and drink options (like shakes made from cashew ice cream!) as well as a case full of vegan desserts. We ate here a couple times and stopped in for drinks a bunch of times too because it was walking distance from our first Airbnb.

3. Wise Cicada - This place has a grocery store as well as a café and we ate here a bunch of times. The café has a lot of vegan and vegetarian options and is so delicious! There are tons of vegan desserts here too.

There are a lot of amazing restaurants but these are the best vegan/vegetarian options. We also like to stay in Airbnb’s so we can cook and ended up eating there at least 1-2 meals a day.

After Auckland we flew down to the South Island which was a crazy experience, so check back next week for that recap!