My friends Sheila & Andy Beal, the writer-photographer/husband-wife team behind the award-winning blog Go Visit Hawaii, often find themselves in places that aren’t Hawaii. They recently took their first trip to the North & South Islands of New Zealand, and Sheila graciously agreed to share it with me — and you, as well.
What brought you two to New Zealand?
New Zealand had been high on our travel bucket list for several years – safe to call it a Lord of the Rings thing. When Andy was invited to speak at a conference in Auckland, we seized the opportunity to expand the trip into a vacation. After he completed the business bits, we spent approximately 12 days touring the North and South Islands.
How much vacation time do you two take, on average, per year?
I bet you can relate to this, but with travel blogging, sometimes vacation time and work time blends together. Being self-employed gives us a bit more freedom, for which we’re very grateful. We normally don’t go off gallivanting for more than a week at a time, so this trip was a real treat for us.
What’s your travel style as a couple?
We love the adventure of independent travel and tend to look for luxurious digs near scenic locations. We tend to be planners and map out a good bit of our vacation before we arrive.
We’re almost always in tune with each other, unless, oddly enough, we’re in Hawaii; there, I’m a little antsier to tour around and discover finds for my readers, while Andy, after taking some photos, might prefer to work on his tan. New Zealand was all about a purely shared experience, though, so we were all about seeing and doing as much as we possibly could.
Did this trip differ from your usual travel style in any way?
We didn’t plan too much, partly because we didn’t have a lot of lead time and because, well, planning a trip to New Zealand — where everything seemed equally exciting to us — felt daunting. Luckily, New Zealand’s i-Sites were the perfect solution to our (for our standards) under-planning. I’d read in my Lonely Planet guide that i-Sites were a good place for free maps, local insight, and activity advice, and that was spot on. As we arrived in each new town, we made a stop at the local i-Site our first priority. They’re brilliant! Also, this trip was different for us because we never stayed more than 2 nights in the same accommodation. We happily lived out of our suitcases in exchange for seeing all that we possibly could in our allotted time.
I know the time of year you went was an issue…
Yeah, Mid-May to early June in New Zealand is cool — figuratively and literally. We were there on the edge of fall/winter. The further South we went, the chillier it was; by the time we got to Christchurch, we’d invested in thermal pants.
Also, our plans to visit Mt. Cook had to be changed because of snow-covered roads. With the clever assistance of our B&B hosts, though, we were able to reroute our plans and have a great time. We had wanted to visit New Zealand in their summer, but this business opportunity dictated the timing — and helped to fund the trip. We still loved seeing the country, and managed to enjoy ourselves.
What was your general itinerary?
We flew Air New Zealand, and gave them high marks for their service. (Side note: Having flown ANZ before, TWT agrees.)
We rented a car and drove like our lives depended on it; it bears mentioning that Andy grew up in England and drives quite easily on the “wrong” side of the road. (Again, a side note: If you don’t drive this way so easily, check out this post for some great tips.)
On the North Island, we stayed in Auckland, Rotorua, Lake Taupo and Wellington.
On the South Island, in Christchurch, Franz Josef and Queenstown.
We stayed in a good mix of hotels and B&Bs, and most enjoyed:
Lake Taupo Hilton on the North Island: It’s brand new and really pretty swank, with heated tiled floors, a large bath and an outdoor pool heated by hot mineral springs. They have ample self-parking and an elevated view of the lake.
The Weston House B&B in Christchurch: This is a fantastic location for exploring the historic city center of Christchurch. The hosts’ wit and advice helped us make the most of some truly unfortunate weather. Breakfasts were excellent, with one of the best spreads we encountered in New Zealand, like having an entire buffet for just the two of us.
Holly Homestead in Franz Josef: We were only in Franz Josef for about 18 hours, but the hosts’ advice really helped us make the most of our time both there and enroute to Queenstown. Breakfasts were very tasty and filling, and the place was exceptionally tidy and clean. Every place we stayed in New Zealand was clean, but Holly Homestead takes clean to a whole new level.
Two nights in Wellington turned out to be more time than we needed; if we could have relocated that day, we probably would have spent it in a rural area – maybe in the Napier wine region, around Hawkes Bay.
And because I’m hungry…what were your most memorable dining experiences?
We adored the award-winning restaurant at Pegasus Bay in the South Island’s Waipara wine region; recommended to us by our Christchurch B&B hosts, having a late lunch there salvaged a raw, rainy day that was too yucky for touring. (open for lunch only)
At Nins Bin, a simple beachside caravan off the main highway about 45 minutes north of Kaikoura (near Christchurch, on the South Island), we tried New Zealand crayfish (about the size of a lobster) and white-bait fritters, made from several whole “white-bait” (very, very small fish from the west coast).
In Queenstown, there’s a cool wine shop called Wine Tastes, where you serve yourself your own wine tastings from a great selection. You use a card that charges you by the taste, so you can try as many as you like. We also ordered a cheese and fruit plate to round out a nice late lunch.
We had our one of our best dinners in New Zealand at Bistro Lago, the on-site (and locally popular) restaurant at the Lake Taupo Hilton. If you go in cooler months, try to reserve a table by a fireplace; if you’re there in summer, head to the outdoor tables for views of the lake.
New Zealand: 2 Islands, 12 Days – Pt. 2
TWT Travel Binder: New Zealand
NOTE: Sheila and I have swapped blogs today!
My heartfelt contribution to Go Visit Hawaii is titled “An Ode to Maui.”