Monday, January 18, 2016

New Zealand: part 2

'It's my last night in New Zealand, now down in Wellington at the bottom of the North Island.  The Contiki trip has ended, and the rest of those traveling on have taken a ferry over to the South Island. My traveling companion @nitabasu flew out this morning in her long journey home, stopping in Aukland and then San Francisco before heading into the snow storm poised to hit NYC. Good luck to her! 
So for the first time in almost 2 weeks, I have a room of my own for the night, and thus, a chance to write.
One of the great ways that @nitabasu and I found to explore different cities was wandering around and trying out different bars/cafes.  So allow me to go back Auckland to review a few places we discovered.
Right Track Sports Cafe: if you're in the city around 10am, but it feels more like 4pm, you're tired and need a shower, but have hours to kill before you can check into your hotel, the good news is there's somewhere open to sit down and have a drink (and though not on the menu, they will make an Irish coffee on request). And if you are looking to play the ponies, this is your place, with the races on the TV and betting stations.
Vulture's Lane: when you're a little more refreshed, this is a great spot for a late lunch or a laid back drink later in the evening.  They are a craft beer bar, but I can't tell you anything about that, not being a beer drinker. I can tell you they have a delicious chicken wrap and a full bar.  Also TVs where you can catch up on rugby, soccer, or cricket.
Fort Street Union: there's a great outdoor roof space to enjoy a little sun or moonlight with your drinks/eats.  Full bar, takes credit card, and has available wifi (always a perk in NZ)
On to the Bay of Islands and Paihia.
Hone's Garden in Russell: just across the bay from Paihia, this is a great find a little off of the main drag, wood fire cooked pizza made to order, a nice selection of wine and beer, and wifi included with your order.
Splash Bar: nice outdoor seating with water views, but higher priced drinks than many others in the area.
The Saltwater Pub & Pizza bar: we didn't try the pizza, but the bar is low key, with a pool table and jukebox in the back, and reasonably priced.
There is only one bar in Waitomo, it's called called Curly's. Enjoy!
In Rotorua, the smell of the lake might put you off your appetite, but if not, there are some good places to eat in town. The town was built in a volcanic region, and the lake created after one such volcano collapsed through the magma cavern beneath, creating a caldera. The continued geothermic activity in the area releases sulphur into the air through hot mud pools, geysers, and the lake. If you think you have smelled sulphur and it's not so bad, well, you have no idea. 
But back to the eateries. 
Fat Dog: a cool little cafe, good for brunch or lunch, decent prices, tasty food and drinks.
Picnic Cafe: another good choice for brunch, right at the end of "Eat Street," good food, feel free to have a boozy brunch, nice atmosphere
Gengy's: get a good deal on Mingolian BBQ here, choose your ingredients and watch them cook everything up in a great rotating assembly line. 
And about an hour away is Hobbiton on the Alexander family farm, so I don't want to leave out the Green Dragon Inn.  We were a little rushed through, only getting one drink each, I chose the cider which was pretty good, and heard the stout was excellent. The tours are expertly run, the scenery stunning, and they manage to get about 3,000 people through a day! 

After Rotorua we moved on to Taupo for one night, a really pretty lakeside town.  We went out on a dinner cruise here, so we didn't explore as much as in other places, but did find a cute cafe overlooking the lake appropriately named:
Waterside Restaurant: eat outside with a beautiful view, enjoy a well priced lunch special, or an extended dinner menu, plus free wifi.  
Taupo is known for nearby sky diving, which I didn't participate in this time, but heard was a lot of fun at 15,000 feet with great views on the way down.  
From there we had a long bus ride down to Wellington, the last stop in our tour. Along the way we stopped to get a view of Mt Ngauruhoe, known to many as Mount Doom.
And then on to Wellington itself.  Here we also stayed in the central business district, near well known Cuba Street and Courtney Place. Some highlights of the food include:
The Library: a great theme bar on the second story, filled with book shelves, some sofas, a great feel for book and booze lovers (particularly if you come in for their 2 for 1 drink special). The have a few savory choices on the menu, but are more known for their sweets like the creme brûlée. 
Chow: an Asian fusion restaurant with tapas, including a lunch special of $25 for a drink, 2 tapas, and a side of rice. No wifi though.
Monsoon Poon: recognizable by its elephant sign, and known to be a favorite of David Beckam, whose signed plate is hung in the wall, this is also Asian fusion, a little pricier, but great decor and ambiance. 
Also while in the Wellington area, we went up Mt Victoria for the views of the bay, and our first taste for the windiest city I've ever been in. I also made the long climb up to the Botanical Gardens, very pretty, lots of trails to get lost on, and an observatory if you have the time. I opted to take the cable car back down to the city center. 
And while here, we paid a visit to the Weta workshop, responsible for making all of Peter Jacksons costumes, props, animatronics, and CGI. They are used on lots of major films around the world these days, like Avengers and District 9, but still all feel a special allegiance to Middlearth. A small fellowship of us also went to check out a few of the Lord of the Rings filming locations in the area.  Sadly, all sets were totally taken down and the areas returned to their previous condition after filming, so it takes a bit imagination to envision the movie scenes. 
Here we are as hobbits hiding from the ring wraiths on Mt Victoria. We also visited the areas that housed Rivendell and Isenguard. 
This gateway was put up after the success of the film had so many people coming out to see the film sites and wanting something familiar to pose with. 
So tonight I bid farewell to New Zealand, before I get up ridiculously early to catch a 7am flight to Melbourne in the morning. I'm extremely excited for Australia, and to hang out with cousins I haven't seen in many years. 
More to come! 

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