5 years ago today I had just returned from my backpacking journey through South East Asia. I spent 4 months learning about the world and myself while traveling through small towns, large cities, and even tiny villages, learning the art of mastering a squatter toilet and saying “yes” to every adventure that knocked on my door, from dining on a still-beating snake heart to learning to ride a motorbike the morning before I set out on 8 hour journey on one through the winding roads of Vietnam with a group friends I had just met two days prior. While in Asia, I started a blog to document my travels and keep in touch with family and friends at home. It was this blog that helped me fall back in love with writing and made the decision to start this one much more obvious.
Now here I am with Mike, nearly 5 years since we met (we met 3 months after I returned from my trip) and on another adventure with him. As I write this, we’re on our 4th flight in one week. We’re headed to Queenstown, the vibrant New Zealand city in the South Island known for bungee jumping and adventure. We started our journey last Sunday after the marathon, heading home on an evening flight from Sacramento to San Diego. We spent one day at home and work before packing an even larger bag and boarding a flight to Honolulu, Hawaii on Tuesday where we spent 24 hours on a paid vacation layover thanks to a mistake made by Hawaiian airlines (we were supposed to leave for our trip Wednesday).
It actually turned out to be much better having the layover since the flight to Hawaii is 6 hours and the flight to Auckland was another 9. We got into Honolulu in the afternoon, took a walk, laid on the beach for a bit and then had cocktails during sunset at the restaurant at our hotel. Our flight on Wednesday wasn’t until 2 p.m. which gave us a full morning to enjoy the 80+ degree weather. Ironically, my oldest friend (circa kindergarten), Samantha, was also on the island with her husband and son, George. Sam lives about 2.5 hours away from us in California now which means that we haven’t actually gotten to see much of each other because of the daunting obstacle of LA traffic. So somehow it made more sense to do a meet up in Hawaii. We spent the morning at the beach where I learned the lesson that 2 year olds do not make for a relaxing beach day – luckily I didn’t mind.
The 9 hour flight to Auckland actually went by pretty quickly thanks to the long list of free in flight entertainment. We left Hawaii on Wednesday afternoon and arrived in Auckland on Thursday night, losing about 23 hours of life thanks to the international date line. Luckily on the way back, we gain an extra day.
I was instantly brought back to my backpacking days in SE Asia when we checked into our “ensuite” hostel room in downtown Auckland near midnight on Thursday. Our rock hard full sized bed with accompanying twin bunk was squished into a room far too small and the sink (which I later learned is apparently not just a problem in hostels) was barely large enough to was our hands, let alone our faces!
We spent a rainy Friday exploring New Zealand’s largest city, lingering over breakfast and coffee (yes, coffee – trying not drink it daily but it’s definitely one of our favorite parts of vacation!) and then walking around as much of the beautiful city as we could. One thing I must say about Auckland is that it a sophisticated city. The streets are immaculate and all of the cafes, shops and eateries are very trendy. The food is absolutely delicious – it’s a very international city with no real emphasis on any one type of cuisine. We found an absolutely delicious casual vegetarian cafe for lunch, ate a mind-blowing street waffle in the afternoon, drank delicious local craft beer in the evening and ended it with an amazing Asian fusion dinner (Indian naan for appetizer, Indonesian Nasi Goreng and Thai Curry for the main dish). It was a day of delicious food!
Saturday was the highlight of the trip so far with a day trip to Waiheke Island, which is just a 40 minute ferry ride from downtown. Waiheke is known for its unspoiled beauty and abundant wineries. Waiheke is most commonly visited (by tourists anyway) via a tours and we almost booked a tour when the guy at the tour desk mentioned that you could just hire bikes and ride to the wineries. Perfect!
We started the day with a 2 hour hike from the ferry station through an absolutely stunning route featuring dirt and beach trails. We arrived in one of the larger towns on the island and continued our trek for about another hour, heading down to Blackstone beach and saw the endangered bird who migrates all the way from Alaska to be there! After the hiking we had an amazing vegetarian lunch (starting to realize that New Zealand is VERY vegetarian friendly) at a cafe overlooking the beach.
After lunch we rented 2 mountain bikes (the rental shop actually rarely rents these bikes – they specialize in electric bikes due to the rolling hills on the island which make it pretty hard to ride comfortably) and headed on quite a journey. The roads were very hilly and winding with basically no bike path, but all of the cars were good about avoiding us (lucky for us). It had started to lightly rain after lunch but it didn’t bother us because we were generating enough heat on the massive inclines so it actually felt pretty nice.
We rode probably 45 minutes or so before we found our first winery and stopped in for a tasting of 5 wines. The tasting area was absolutely adorable, nestled among the vines. The woman who gave us the tasting gave us a very thorough run down on each pour and was very nice to talk to. We felt a little scrubby in our hiking/biking gear but felt no judgments here! We ended up purchasing a bottle to go, which waived the tasting fee.
After the tasting we set out for more riding, passing one winery that appeared to just be a restaurant, not a tasting room. Eventually we ended up at an absolutely breathtaking winery on a hill which not only had a nice tasting room, but a gourmet restaurant and an event venue (a wedding was taking place). We felt a little more scrubby here, but one of the fellow wine tasters asked if we were the ones on the bikes so we felt like our appearance was a bit more acceptable in a nice place. Everyone who asked about our bikes throughout the day was impressed that we weren’t using the electric powered ones!
We had been out for nearly 3 hours now and the other wineries were starting to shut down due to weddings and other private events. We made our way back in more rain, cycling for about another 30-45 minutes before reaching town. We immediately sought out food and had dinner and drinks at a laid back, but hip restaurant overlooking the water. We made our way back to the ferry by 7:15, for a 10 hour day on Waiheke Island! It was absolutely perfect and a great way to end our stay in Auckland.
More photos to come once we download them off our old fashioned cameras. For now, you get the iphone versions!