Kia Ora – First Visit to New Zealand Nov. 2023

Old Nov 16th, 2023, 01:37 AM
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Kia Ora – First Visit to New Zealand Nov. 2023

Join me for a trip report on my first visit to New Zealand—a business trip with heavy doses of pleasure added on. I’ll skip over my business-specific agenda but share the public-facing wonderful things we did in between all the work. My personality is more a city-person who enjoys day-trips into nature, so I hope you'll enjoy this point of view. I took four days of personal time on the South Island at the end of the trip. You'll see the itinerary outline below.

Overview:
Oct. 31, 2023: Departed Salt Lake City—transferred flights in San Francisco
Nov. 2: Arrived Auckland—connecting flight to Wellington
Two nights in Wellington
Six nights in Hamilton
One night in Auckland
Two nights in Queenstown *beginning of my personal vacation time
One night on the Milford Sound
One last night in Auckland
Nov. 15: Fly back to Salt Lake City via San Francisco

We experienced wonderful spring weather—mostly cool in 50s and 60s, mostly dry, sunny or partly cloudy. Of my 14 days there, only two were rainy—very rainy.

Flight and arrival:
I was worried the 13-hour flight from San Francisco to Auckland would be torture, but it wasn’t bad. This was my longest international flight to date. Seven hours had already gone by when I first allowed myself to look at the flight progress—over half-way there.

As we neared Auckland, I knew I’d have to adhere to the biosecurity standards, so I ate the rest of my fresh food snacks and declared what I needed to. New Zealand is strict. After passing through customs, a detector dog flagged me! He could smell the silicon baggie I’d previously had apple slices in. I was cleared, and now I understand how seriously New Zealand takes its biosecurity.

My two colleagues and I left the international terminal and followed the painted green walkway to the domestic terminal. It’s a short, easy walk and the free luggage trolleys are a lifesaver. Don’t forget to walk on the left side of the walkway! We transferred to Wellington and rented a car. Luckily for me, one of my colleagues did all the driving. My other colleague did all the navigating. They were an excellent team! They’d both been to New Zealand before.

Wellington Day 1:
We stayed at TRYP by Wyndham on Tory Street. We’d contacted them ahead of time to ask for early check-in. At 10:00 am, we sheepishly asked if they could accommodate us, and after a few minutes of magic-working, they gave us our three keys. This hotel doesn’t have parking, so we used a paid lot across the street for day parking. The maximum paid time is 12 hours. The hotel recommended a garage up the street at Tory Hotel, which we used our first night, but we didn’t like it. It was dark, cramped, and there were people milling about and it made us uncomfortable. The second night we went back to the paid parking lot across the street from TRYP, because we would be leaving again in less than 12 hours.

After checking in, we had about an hour and a half to refresh (not fall asleep), because we had a lunch appointment with local colleagues. They selected a Chinese restaurant—Dragons, and it was directly next door to our hotel! I was absolutely delighted by the Yum Cha (new concept for me) lunch experience.


Everything I tried was better than anything I’d ever had back in the States. I kept adding more and more small bites to my plate and before I knew it, I was stuffed!


The best things for me were the crispy prawn wontons with their house-made chili oil sauce and the sesame balls with red bean paste. Heaven in my mouth!


After lunch, we visted Weta Workshop. We were early, so they were able to move up our tour time by 30 minutes. I’m not part of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit fandom, but I hold space for people who are! I wanted my colleagues to have the experience of their lives, so I was just along for the ride. I left celebrating creativity and mastery of craftmanship. Mad respect for the art that comes from Weta Workshop!



Next we headed for Lambton Quay to ride the cable car. We bought our tickets at the ticket office, and I also bought a magnet in the shape of the cable car. It was a shorter ride than I expected, but it still felt like a memorable experience. There was no line, no crowds—so different than the cable cars in San Francisco! I took a few videos as we went through the tunnels that were lit up with colorful lights, and of course I had to capture the view of the bay and bright green lawns and plants as we ascended.






Unfortunately the little museum and shop at the top were closed. If I’d been alone, I might have walked through the gardens up there, but as a group, we were starting to fade. We saw some gorgeous pink rhododendrons and giggled at bird songs we don’t hear in the States. Some of them sound robotic and almost fake, but it’s delightful to hear.


We made our first Countdown market stop. We had to check out the Whittaker’s chocolate and Tim Tam selections. I also giggled over department store windows showing off festive Christmas summer fashions.


We made a random dinner choice—Caucus Restaurant inside the Novotel Hotel on The Terrace (that’s the street name). The service was nice, but we did have to wait quite a long time for our food. I got fish and chips and it came with a nice side salad. I really liked it.

We made it back to our hotel and could finally end our 2-day travel day.

Wellington Day 2:
This was a work day and one of the only rainy days of my trip. I had the included continental breakfast at the hotel and walked to Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand.

I made it a goal to eat as much passionfruit on this trip as I could!

I spent the majority of the day in meetings and also got to experience most of the exhibitions. Four highlights for me were 1) the art exhibits on the 4th and 5th levels—great mix of contemporary art and fine art traditions. 2) The natural history exhibits—I love learning about plants, animals, stones, shells, etc. 3) Bush City—really nice to step outside and keep learning and enjoy the views. 4) Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War. I learned and felt so much. It’s described as a ground-breaking exhibition, and I would agree with that. Weta Workshop created massive installations that depict in incredible detail the human experience of those that fought in the Gallipoli campaign. The history of this battle was new to me, and I realized it might be similar to how Americans feel about the Battle of Normandy and the D-Day Beaches. All throughout my travels around the North and South Islands, I met people who spoke about this exhibition. It’s a must-see.




Looking back at Te Papa from Bush City (outdoor exhibition)



Te Papa has a great café that I visited twice during my 9-hour visit. I had my first sausage roll there, a savory muffin, a lemon, ginger tea, and a nice hot chocolate.

The museum shop is fabulous. I love museum stores as much as I love museum exhibitions. I bought some of my first souvenirs: two magnets, a note card, a notebook, and a little pink ceramic dish with an image of a fern etched into it. One of my travel hacks is to purchase pretty note cards, frame them, and add them to one of my gallery walls at home.

For dinner, my colleagues and I went back to Dragons. We couldn’t stop talking about how much we liked it. This isn’t something I would normally do, but I was absolutely on board. It was packed again, but no wait at all for a table. When we were seated, we were a little disappointed to realize that Yum Cha is only available for lunch. No worries—we scoured the dinner menu to recreate some of our favorites. I thought I ordered the same crispy prawn wontons with chili oil, but when it came to the table it was a soup. Still delicious, but I liked the crispy ones better. I ordered a plate of sauteed green beans and also an order of chicken lettuce wraps, which were fine but not special. We also got an order of sesame balls and mango mochi. We couldn’t make much of a dent in our food. We had to reassure the staff that we loved the food, but we were just too full to eat it all. On the way out, I bought a jar of their house-made chili oil. Overall, I'd recommend coming for lunch over dinner.


Tomorrow, we leave Wellington for the lengthier business part of our trip in Hamilton, but I still saw some of the most beautiful things on the trip during those days, so I have plenty more to report.
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Old Nov 16th, 2023, 05:21 AM
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I'm enjoying your report and photos! We were in Wellington less than two weeks before you, and we stayed in an Airbnb apartment that was literally several doors down from your hotel. We walked by Dragons and the hotel more times than I can count. We talked about having a meal there - but there are so many good choices right around that area, and we never made it. Agree with you about the museum and the Gallipoli exhibit. Memorable and very moving.
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Old Nov 16th, 2023, 05:24 AM
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Along for the ride.

Good on you for hitting the ground running! No easy feat after such a long flight.
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Old Nov 16th, 2023, 07:43 AM
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I will be reading along, too! We are planning our trip to Australia and New Zealand for October/November 2024 so we will be in NZ in November, same time as you. Happy to hear you had nice weather although of course I realize next year can be different.
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Old Nov 16th, 2023, 12:20 PM
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Day 3: Wellington to Hamilton
Driving through Wellington was pretty intense—lots of fast traffic and narrow lanes. And so many round-abouts. I had it easy sitting in the back seat and taking in all the scenery. I enjoyed seeing the harbor, cricket stadium, National War Memorial, the cute Victorian-style cottages, and spring foliage. Cherry blossoms in November! Once we returned the car, we checked our bags and made our way to our gate. We were surprised that there was no security check for our carry-on bags for this domestic flight. Near our gate, we ate at a bagel place. I got a bacon, egg, and cheese on sesame bagel and a hot chocolate. There are many wonderful things to eat in New Zealand, but bagels is not one of them—at least in my experience. During the flight, I enjoyed the views out my window, especially the spring green valleys and pasture land.






When we landed in Hamilton and walked outside to get our rental car, I could FEEL spring. It was cool, the air was fresh from rain, the sun was warm, and it just felt so good. The drive from the airport to the Novotel was pretty and interesting. I took in the plants, the Waikato River, and people out and about. Driving past the Hamilton Gardens thrilled my soul (spoiler: I never got time to go). We checked in early to the Novotel and only had 30 minutes to drop off our bags and freshen up. We had appointments from noon until evening. Later that day, my colleagues picked up a meat pie for me from Tommo’s Bakery. It’s a place they’d been to before and liked, so they put it on our agenda again. I liked the flakey crust and meat with gravy on the inside. Trying it once was great, but it’s not something I’m going to crave. My work wrapped up and on the way back to the hotel we passed a large rugby stadium having a huge match. I looked it up—it was the Pacific Cup final Australia v. New Zealand. Cars were parked all over and people were walking to the stadium. Later when I turned on the tv in my room, it was being televised. I recognized the stadium on tv as the one I had just driven past. The Kiwis won against Australia. It was fun to watch the players interact with fans and sign autographs. I could tell the fans just absolutely love the players and vice verse. Later that night cars drove past our hotel honking in celebration.

Around 7:30 pm, I decided to walk to Nando’s for take-out. We don’t have it in Utah, so I eat there sometimes when visiting other cities. On the way back to the hotel, take-out food in hand, I explored the river walk adjacent to our hotel. The trees and flowering plants along that stretch were stunning and smelled so nice. The view across the river was impressive. Once back in my room it was dinner time, and it turns out my food from Nando’s was my worst meal of the trip. I got a salad with chicken, and the chicken was undercooked and inedible. The salad was small. I was still hungry, so I had to rely on some random snacks.





Day 4: Hamilton
Long work day. We had the very nice buffet breakfast at Novotel. I was over-excited this first day and loaded up my plate with far too much. I avoided the beans and spaghetti. The highlights for me were the huge Nutella pump machine, fresh croissants, and passionfruit jam and thick, chewy bacon.

Throughout the day, I enjoyed my interactions with local colleagues. One had us to their home for lunch and it was lovely. We had roasted chicken, fresh tossed salad from the garden, roasted carrots and potatoes, and chocolate, and lemonade. One observation I have is lemonade seems to be always carbonated in New Zealand. We shared stories about our family members, and I showed them a video of my nephew catching a touchdown pass at his high school football quarter-finals the night before.

Between meetings, we had time to go to a Countdown grocery store, and I made my first stock-up trip of Whittaker’s chocolate and Cadbury. I might have gone so, so overboard. I filled an entire grocery bag “chock-a-block” as they say. The check-out person thought it was humorous how much chocolate I was buying.

Later that evening, we headed back to the hotel close to 10:00 pm. The only place we could find open for dinner was McDonalds. We weren’t excited about it, but my two colleagues made that work. I didn’t order anything. So far dinner in Hamilton was a bust, but the other meals are plentiful and there’s always enough to go around.

Day 5: Hamilton
Work day. Breakfast at the hotel. By this point in the trip I switched to eating yogurt, passionfruit jam, muesli, and fresh pineapple, kiwi, and cut clementines. Delicious and refreshing. Most days I couldn’t resist the croissants and Nutella too. A local colleague and I ran a few errands to buy some needed supplies at a fabric store and an office supply store, so it was interesting to experience that. I’m addicted to stationery supplies. I coveted my Kiwi colleagues’ hard-bound beautiful day-planners. I wanted to get one so badly, but never found the right one.

Lunch was a highlight. My American colleagues who have been to New Zealand before raved about Burger Fuel. I wasn’t wanting a burger, so I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich with bacon, brie, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and aioli. We also got the kumara fries. I’m not sure if kumara is the same thing as sweet potato, or slightly different. My sandwich and fries were so good. I told my colleagues I would be more than happy to come back here. I noticed they have a location in Auckland too, and probably more places, so if you're looking for a quick lunch you could try this place.



​​​​​​​That night we met a local colleague and his wife for dinner at a restaurant of their choosing. The Lookout Bar and Kitchen in Hamilton. They pointed out some of the best things on the menu. Three of our party ordered the Ribeye steak with battered prawns on top and various sides. It looked so good. I wasn’t even hungry for this meal, so I wanted something lighter. I got the seafood tagliatelle, which they also recommended. It fit the bill for the evening. I was interested to see the mussels in my dish were the famous green-lipped mussels I’d read about. They’re only found in New Zealand, I believe. So I was glad that my dinner turned out to be a unique choice. We also ordered dessert: a Whittaker’s chocolate cheesecake with cherry ice cream on the side.

We returned to the hotel feeling relieved and excited, because the next day was our day off and we had a full day of amazing sight-seeing planned.
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Old Nov 16th, 2023, 03:13 PM
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Day 6: Siteseeing in the Waikato Region
Morning: Hobbiton
Afternoon: Raglan
Evening: Bridal Veil Falls

We drove east to visit Hobbiton. The drive was so, so beautiful. The bright green rolling hills dotted with white sheep were mesmerizing.


We had tickets for 11:00 am but we got there early, so they allowed us to move our entrance time to 10:20. When we got there the parking lots were getting full. There was still about half of the back parking lot available. When we left, people were parking all over the surrounding lawns. I remember saying that I was glad we went in the morning. Everything was crowded when we got back. I know little about The Hobbit, but I’d heard coming to Hobbiton was worth it just to see the beautiful grounds and set. And I agree with that. We boarded a bus and got to see more of the original sheep pastures as we neared the movie set park. We learned about how the site was found by helicopter, and Peter Jackson and company cold-called on the family to ask about striking a deal for use of their farm for The Lord of the Rings movie set.


I started to feel the excitement as we neared Hobbiton. Each little Hobbit dwelling was so cute and the flowers and props made it special. Our guide was charming, and ending at the tavern was fun. Everyone gets a free drink. The choices include three with alcohol and one without. I bought a savory scone too, and it was the best I had on the trip, and I tried quite a few to compare! I still daydream about how good it was. Construction teams were working on a new section that will allow visitors to walk inside fully furnished Hobbit homes. It’s supposed to be finished soon—early December 2023. They were kind enough to offer a free gift to visitors who came during construction, and it was quite nice! A locally made ceramic tall mug with a handle in a sky blue color.








The gift shop afterwards was chaos. They had some decent stuff, but I just bought some postcards, stamps, and a package of lollies in kiwi and strawberry flavor. They have a cute little mail box in the store where you can drop your stamped postcards if you want to. I later learned that the type of stamp sold in the gift shop is not part of the NZ Post national mail system. It’s a private company. So if you decide to mail them later, you have to drop them in their corresponding blue post box, not the red NZ Post boxes. I bet the stamps are way more expensive too. Before leaving, I also got a scoop of hokey pokey ice cream on a waffle cone, and it was so good! I’d heard about this ice cream for years, and I couldn’t wait anymore. I mentioned earlier that I really wanted to visit the Hamilton Gardens. People I'd met up to that point recommended that I go. And I didn't have time to go. In this circumstance, I don't regret going to Hobbiton. It was a fun experience. But if I return to this area again (most likely for business), I will go to the Hamilton Gardens instead of Hobbiton again.

We left Hobbiton and drove back into Hamilton to stop at a few shops we had our eye on. The three shops we went to on Victoria Street didn’t have much of interest to me. We went into the Centre Place mall to a bookstore, and we all found quite a lot of fun things to take home. I found several more beautiful little notebooks to take home and I had a fun idea to buy summer-themed Christmas cards while I’m here, so I found one set. We were in agreement about stopping at these shops, but looking back, I wished we’d skipped the Victoria Street shops and just popped into the bookstore. We wasted quite a lot of time. It was 3:00 by the time we hit the road again, and we still had three major sites to visit.

The plan was to go to Bridal Veil Falls next and then end at Raglan and the Ngarunui Beach. I was starting to get concerned about the timing, plus we hadn’t had lunch yet. I suggested we switch the order, so we headed 40 minutes by car to Raglan. This was the right thing to do, because we got there around 4:00 and most of the shops closed at 5:00. We went straight to the wharf and Raglan Fish for fish and chips. I can’t compare this meal to anything else in Raglan, but it was phenomenal. Our local colleagues said this was the best, so I’ll take their word for it.

This is the view from Raglan Fish


There were a few fishermen on the wharf and it was neat to see them catching greenshell mussels, since I had just had some for dinner the night before




One order could have fed all three of us

There were two great shops nearby on the wharf. One, a pottery shop with beautiful homegoods that were out of my budget. We also loved Soul Shoes, a shop that sells locally-made leather goods. My colleague bought his wife a magenta wristlet wallet. I bought a unique pair of earrings made from pottery fragments that had pink and red roses on them. Rose is my middle name, so I’m always drawn to anything with roses. I also bought two sets of playing cards that teach some basics of te reo Māori. I’ll use these as gifts for some of my family members. We felt the unique items there were decently priced, and they stayed open late to help us make our final decisions and purchases. They don't take paywave here, so I had to use my debit card. My wallet got stolen three days before this trip, so I was pretty stressed about how to make purchases. Anything that accepted paywave was fine, since I had an immediate virtual credit card replacement. But thank goodness I went to my bank's local branch and got a temporary debit card, because I had to use it a few times, including one of my hotel stays.


We left the wharf and drove along Wallis Street and made our way to Bow Street where there are lots of restaurants and shops. Everything was colorful and felt like a real cute beach town. We had a major goal of getting some fresh fruit ice cream, but by the time we got to this area, most everything was closed. We were pretty devastated that we missed our chance for fresh fruit ice cream. This is where better timing of our shopping back in Hamilton should have been better. And now I really must come back and stay a couple days in Raglan!

However, the next site more than made up for the closed-up shops on Bow Street. We drove about 10 minutes to Ngaruniu Beach, known for surfing and black sand. The road leads to some car parks above the beach and out of nowhere, the amazing, beautiful beach unfolds before your eyes. We parked close to the paved, steep pathway down to the beach. I couldn’t contain my excitement and just took off, leaving the others behind. The plants along the path were lovely against the shimmering ocean view. We were there during golden hour. I took lots of pictures and walked along the beach. This sand along the west coast of the North Island is made up of titanium and iron. My colleague told me it’s supposed to be magnetic. She brought some cute little vials to take some sand home with her. I enjoyed watching the surfers, soaking up the sunshine, and the ocean breeze. We were there for perhaps an hour, because we still had one more site to visit before sundown. Again, I’d love to come back to this place.












This is the view behind the beach. We walked down the pathway lined with boards.





This post is getting long, so I'll come back and pick up with our next site of the day: Bridal Veil Falls.
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Old Nov 16th, 2023, 07:19 PM
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Great! A place in New Zealand off the beaten path (the beach, not Hobbiton)!
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Old Nov 16th, 2023, 07:40 PM
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I am really enjoying your report. I know writing them and selecting photos is a lot of work but it's well worth it. The beach photos are amazing!
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Old Nov 17th, 2023, 07:52 PM
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I'm happy to hear you had a wonderful time and I'm enjoying your trip report and photos. You've really given me a sense of being there.I look forward to reading about your time on the South Island.

I was amazed that your photo of Raglan's popular surfing beach, Ngarunui,had so few people in it. What a beautiful, long beach. I just looked up how long: 6 km!

I have good news for you. In the US, yum cha is known as dim sum and it seems you'll be able to continue exploring dim sum/yum cha in Salt Lake City!

That robotic sounding bird must have been the amazing vocal tūī. I often just sit and listen to their dazzling vocalizations.

I was glad to read your stolen wallet/credit card caused relatively few problems for you on the trip. I was on vacation myself in Bilbao, Spain, when I read your post about your stolen wallet/credit card. I wanted to post a reply as someone attempted to use my credit card number for a fraudulent charge before I left for my trip, after I'd already booked some of my accommodations, but I didn't have my Fodor's password and had an iffy internet connection. My bank flagged me on the unusual charge. I was able to stop the charge from going through, and quickly received a replacement cc. Anyhow, when I arrived at the hotels, I just explained I had a new credit card and showed my passport. Although I received a replacement credit card in just a couple of days, I was luckier than you as the fraud did not happen just days before I left on my trip. What a stressful thing to have happened to you.

Last edited by Diamantina; Nov 17th, 2023 at 07:55 PM.
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Old Nov 18th, 2023, 01:18 AM
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mlgb Thanks for following along!
KarenWoo I'm excited for you to experience New Zealand next November!
Melnq8 Thanks for joining!
ms_go I've enjoyed your trip report from October. Your coastal photos look amazing.
Diamantina I loved that we had relatively few crowds at most of our visits. The drawback is things close up fairly early. I think I'd take a nearly empty beach over an ice cream cone any day. I was wondering if Yum Cha is the same as Dim Sum. We definitely have that here! And yes, I think you're right about the tūī. Absolutely one of the best things about New Zealand is the birds. I'm still dealing with the fallout of the wallet theft, but things are slowly getting replaced. Sorry you went through an attempted fraudulent charge. This is my second dealing of fraud in about a year, and previous to now I've never had to deal with this.

Continuing our day of siteseeing in Waikato:



After tearing ourselves away from the beach, we still had a 30-minute drive to Bridal Veil Falls. We got there at 6:30 and had plenty of light for our visit. There was one other car at the trailhead and we passed a couple as they were leaving, but other than that we had the entire place to ourselves all evening. That was amazing to me.


There’s a well-groomed gravel trail that parallels a creek through a forest of moss, ferns, and tree ferns and then opens up to a massive hole and a stick-straight white waterfall falling into it. It's surrounded by lush greenery. This was one of most impressive sites I've ever seen! I was just in awe and enjoyed every moment.






I'm comforted and amazed that there are no snakes in New Zealand, but there are eels. You win some, you lose some.



After seeing the top of the waterfall, Tiffany and I followed the rest of the trail to a couple lookout points and took more photos. Then we followed the trail and the 261 steps down. Incredible views and even more enjoyable to have the whole thing to ourselves.










Climbing back up, we just took our time and caught our breath when we needed to. I was grateful to work my legs a little. These views were worth coming to New Zealand for! To wrap up our day, we headed back to Hamilton and stopped at Movenpick for ice cream. My colleagues said it was good, but I didn’t get anything.
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Old Nov 18th, 2023, 02:31 AM
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The remaining three days were our busiest meeting days of our trip. Here's a few photos and highlights I captured throughout those days.

One evening golden hour view


A morning stop for Mamas Donuts, a local shop. They were so good. I would 100% come back here if I return to Hamilton. The passionfruit donut wasn't in season, so I must try for that one in the future. This shop has five locations on the North and South Islands.


A banquet with colleagues with a delicious catered meal and a lesson in Poi Dance with a Poi ball to take home. I'm amazed at the warmth and generosity of our friends in New Zealand. I was given a gift that included some of my favorite Whittaker's and Cadbury chocolate and more importantly, a Toki necklace, which is a black rectangular rough-cut stone made from Argillite. I'm told this stone is only found in New Zealand's South Island. The toki represents courage, strength, determination, and authority. I wore it with honor for our last day of meetings on Friday!

On Friday, we packed up and left Hamilton by car to drive to Auckland. We had a few stops planned along the way. The first was to visit Pounamu Taonga Greenstone Shop about 30 minutes by car north of Hamilton. This isn't a must-do experience, but it seems like a local gem to me. It's a store that sells greenstone and carved bone jewelry and other important cultural gifts, such as framed mini kākahu cloaks. I can tell this is where locals shop to buy gifts of honor to give to family and friends. I saw some of the same gifts that were given at our banquet. And there were locals stopping in to pick up orders while we were there. The prices are better than what you'll find in museum shops and other specialty stores, and I feel like you're getting a quality product. The back of the shop behind glass windows is the work studio where some of the stone work is happening right there on site. I bought a simple pair of polished greenstone studs that I've been wearing ever since and have received compliments. There's no restroom at this shop and this is one of the places I encountered that doesn't take Paywave.



We also stopped in a small town called Pōkeno, which was another 20 minutes drive north of the Greenstone Shop. The ice cream shop on the main road in town, Great South Rd., was highly recommended to us by so many people. It seemed like the perfect hangout spot for locals and visitors. This place is famous for 12 scoop ice cream cones! However, maybe I'm missing something, but the ice cream brand sold here is Tip Top, which is the same I had at Hobbiton and is also sold in containers from the grocery store. So, I'm not quite understanding why this is the best place? No worries, it was still a fun stop. I couldn't resist ordering three scoops: passionfruit, chocolate cookie crunch, and hokey pokey.



Afterwards we went across the street to another Countdown store, and when I tell you I bought even more chocolate to take home, I am not joking. I also bought a jar of New Zealand-made passionfruit curd and a container of holiday hokey pokey chocolate and nut mix. As we were leaving the store, my colleagues and I were joking about how the weight of my bags might maroon the Milford Mariner, which I was set to board in a couple days time. And we joked about the American girl who single-handedly kept the manifest alive by feeding everyone chocolate.

Next up, our arrival to Auckland.
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Old Nov 18th, 2023, 06:27 AM
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I'm really enjoying your report magsrose, makes me wish I were there. How lucky you are to have a business trip to such a wonderful part of the world.

Thanks for sharing - it's always fun to see familiar places through new eyes.
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Old Nov 18th, 2023, 09:55 AM
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Enjoying your report and photos! I think it's wonderful that you had the chance to do all of this while on a business trip. I had a lot of business trips to interesting places back in the day, and they were pretty much all work and no play - or the only play was what I could fit in on arrival day before the meetings started. Looking forward to more!
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Old Nov 20th, 2023, 07:43 PM
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On Friday night we arrived in Auckland, and it was my last night of the business trip.


It was exciting to see the city, and yes, there’s quite a vibe change after a week in Waikato. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. We parked in the paid parking lot adjacent to the hotel. It wasn’t the easiest getting our suitcases out onto the steep sidewalk and into the hotel, but we made it work with more than one trip. Our rooms had views of the Sky Tower, which was exciting. I asked the desk clerk if she recommended any restaurants nearby, and she directed us to High Street; we’d find lots of options. We dropped our bags off then walked towards High Street. We decided on a Japanese cuisine place near Freyberg Square, and we sat outside in a bar area pumping loud music and ordered several small dishes. I can’t tell you name of the restaurant, but we did enjoy our fruit juices and dishes.


We walked past a selfie studio with the interior painted pink and full of photo ops and photo booth machines, and I thought my friends back home would have fun there. We also passed a big fancy Krispie Kreme shop, which hey why not live your best life, Krispie Kreme? Unity Books looked lovely to shop in, but it was closed for the evening. Speaking of shops, there is a Chemist Warehouse across the street from the hotel, and I was intrigued and needed to buy more eye drops so I went in. I’ve never heard of this store before, but I saw they carry a lot of the products I use and a few I’ve been interested in using. In Salt Lake, I usually have to run around town to several shops or order online to get what I need. And the prices here were decent. So I don’t know if I fell in a tourist trap, but I liked that store. For one night in Auckland, obviously I didn’t experience much of the city but I still had fun. Our time there was a means to an end—seeing a couple more museums and getting to the airport.



We visited the Auckland War Memorial Museum on Saturday morning, Armistice Day. We were pulling up to find parking just after the museum opened, 10:03 am, and whew it took some sleuthing to find a place to park or to eventually find the carpark under the museum. I had a feeling there were some morning events at the building involving Armistice Day, since I saw a few people in uniform walking towards the building, and maybe that’s why parking was so packed. As an aside, it was cute to see kids out in the nearby parks playing cricket while we searched for parking. Perhaps most people on here know that the name of this museum refers to the building itself serving as a war memorial and that the content of the museum is not focused on war history. I think that could make a difference for someone deciding whether or not to visit. The collection is similar to Te Papa’s—art, natural history, contemporary and indigenous cultures, and popular traveling exhibitions.



Part of my responsibility for this business trip was to research successful ways to exhibit Pasifika collections, and I found many great examples.




Now, I'm just blown away by the extinct Giant Moa bird. This was the hugest example yet! How amazing that New Zealand was inhabited by so many bird species for so long.

At 11:00 there was an Armistice Day Memorial Service in the Hall of Memories that commenced with bag pipes and included several speeches and musical tributes. It seemed like a special experience to witness. I stood nearby to listen to a portion of the service.

My one complaint about this museum is I found the layout to be confusing. When time and energy is at a premium, it’s the worst to have to backtrack through sections you’ve already seen—several times—and get turned around and hit dead ends, etc. This probably sounds dramatic, but this happened to me on the ground floor, first floor, and second floor, and this was with a gallery map in my hand. I ran into my colleague in one gallery who was experiencing the same thing.

If you want a good museum store, this is the one. There were so many beautiful things. Take my money. I had so much fun shopping here. I bought a magnet, heaps of postcards, some beautiful notebooks, finally found a Christmas ornament and got enough for me, my mom, sisters, and nieces. I also bought a few more note cards. There were so many other things I was tempted by. I eventually got out of there and then we headed to the domestic terminal of the airport to drop me off and to say goodbye to my colleagues. I was off to the South Island! My colleagues stayed one more night and went to the New Zealand Maritime Museum and got some gorgeous photos of the view over the harbor back towards the city.

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Old Nov 21st, 2023, 06:57 AM
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Auckland looks interesting. We aren't going to the North Island so it's been fun to see your photos and read your report. That Giant Moa bird is quite amazing!
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Old Nov 22nd, 2023, 12:21 AM
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Let the personal vacation time begin! I was leaving Auckland for Queenstown. At this point I was 12 days in New Zealand and wrapping up my first international business trip. I had very heavy bags and was tired but not exhausted. I knew once I got to my hotel room I’d get a second wind. I decided to pay an extra $20 USD to check a second bag on Air New Zealand, because I didn’t know how strictly they enforced the rule of one carry-on bag that can only weigh 7KG. As it turns out in my eight flights on this trip it was never enforced, but that may not be the norm. In the Auckland domestic terminal I sought out some lunch before going through security. I got a teriyaki chicken sushi roll and a cup of miso soup. I then hit a snag with my carry-on bag in security. They flagged my bag and pulled out all of my belongings and rescanned it FOUR times. I was trying to be a team player through it all. It finally dawned on me that I had a work-related object in my bag that was eligible for confiscation. I should have checked it, but I forgot it was in my computer bag. They gave me the option to mail it home, but I agreed to have them throw it away. That took a big chunk of time and caused some anxiety, but then everything was fine after that.


I was mesmerized by the views out my window the entire flight! The Queenstown airport is small yet seems to have everything you could need, including an international terminal. I retrieved my bags, exited the doors and walked right up to the bus stop. The route 1 bus departs every 15 minutes and my hotel, the Ramada Queenstown Central, was right along the bus route. On the bus, I paid $5 for a Bee card and another $5 for the minimum fare top-off. My trip into town cost $2. It was about a 20-minute bus drive and I was feeling the sunshiny excitement of being in a mountain lake resort town in summer! Getting my bags off the bus was not graceful. I crossed the street, checked in, and had to pay with my debit card because of the wallet theft that occurred right before my trip, which isn’t great when you want travel points. I was briefed on the water cryptosporidium outbreak and mandatory boil order in Queenstown. The hotel provided pitchers of ice water (previously boiled) in the lobby, but they encouraged purchasing bottled water in their restaurant. This whole situation was such a drag. New Zealand prides itself on its clean tap water, and that is so refreshing after trips to Europe where I’m expected to buy pricey water every time I go to a restaurant. And at this point on the trip I needed to be more frugal with my budget, so I was not in the mood to spend money on two days’ worth of bottled water for drinking, brushing my teeth, and rinsing off my toothbrush. I checked into my room, and it was nice and felt like a splurge. It was a mini suite, so it had a kitchen and bathroom with laundry. I immediately put a load of laundry in and took a little time to settle in. Filled up my water bottle in the lobby and decided to rest and freshen up during the laundry cycle. I put the load in the dryer and then walked down the hill to the city center in time for Saturday evening exploring!

Looking up at my hotel window from outside


My first view of Lake Wakatipu from Stanley Street


It was just so fun to feel the energy of Queenstown and enjoy this mountain resort area during a November summer!

As I meandered through town, I saw a shop for Cookie Time having a 2 for 1 warm cookie happy hour, so I decided to get some. I had never seen this brand before, but they served them on Air New Zealand and they were so good. I also saw them everywhere in the grocery stores and vending machines. This store was cute and pretty busy, so it was a touristy thing to do but I think it was worth it. I stopped in one store selling vintage style postcards, which is my favorite, so I got several of those. I knew I was coming upon Fergburger just by the crowds forming on the sidewalk. I'd read a recommendation to skip Fergburger and head into Fergbaker instead for pies, sandwiches, and pastries without the lines. I headed in there first, but the pickings were slim for a Saturday evening. I bought a savory scone and a pain au chocolat to stash away for my breakfast the next day. Then I braved the Fergburger line, which turned out to be not that bad. This place is popular for a reason, and I didn't want to miss it. I ordered the Fergburger with chedder and fries with aioli, then sat at a little counter and waited for my order. I did notice the beginning of a new unfortunate reality for this portion of my tripthat with crowds comes bad manners. I can expound on that as I share more about my time in Queenstown.




The food was so, so good. If you like burgers and fries, I would recommend dealing with the crowds and ordering it once while you're in Queenstown. They're also open until 4:30 am on the weekends, which I doubt is appealing to most Fodorites! I made a rookie mistake of eating at that little counter, but if I'd known the absolutely gorgeous beach just a block away, I would have taken my food and found a serene spot to enjoy it. After dinner, I walked to the pier and beach and was astounded by the beautiful scenery and energized by everyone out enjoying the evening.





This is the adorable Coronation Bathhouse, now a restaurant. It was built in 1911 to commemorate the coronation of King George V, Elizabeth II's grandfather.

That wraps up today's post, but not the end of this magnificent evening. My next post will feature the best part of the evening, my walk through Queenstown Gardens and then move on to my Sunday activities. Thanks for reading along!
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Old Nov 22nd, 2023, 07:33 AM
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Really enjoying your report!
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Old Nov 22nd, 2023, 12:58 PM
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Happy to see the Queenstown photos and report. Planning on spending 3 nights in Queenstown next November!
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Old Nov 25th, 2023, 11:18 PM
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Continuing my first day in Queenstown:
As dusk was settling in, I walked through the Queenstown Gardens and was mainly struck by the sheer size of some of the plants I saw. I loved all the flowering plants and felt like I was in heaven. It was still a novelty to see irises and peonies in November.



Entrance to the gardens


Amazing rhododendrons with a small lady in the corner for scale!




The Queenstown bowling club was charming. There was a group of athletes out front chanting and singing and probably enjoying some drinks together.


Another person on the bench under the tree for scale. Not as big as the Redwoods though!


A beautiful carved crutch for this, the longest tree branch I think I've ever seen. Half of it is out of the frame.

I took a loop path walk down the center of the peninsula and then walked back along the lakefront to the entrance of the gardens. This walk invigorated me and brought some peace and grounding, especially after the crowds on Shotover Street. Don't miss visiting the gardens and walking along the water.






I then took the path through the park again, but this time up to Park Street and then to Frankton and back to my hotel. Filled up my water bottle in my hotel lobby, rested a while, then used practically a full bottle to figure out how to brush my teeth and rinse off my toothbrush. Before bed I found myself going back down to refill two more times. I think the last time was at 1:00 am. Not having tap water to drink was an inconvenience that I grumbled about, but I realize having access to clean water in the hotel lobby was a privilege that I was thankful for.

Queenstown Day 2
I booked the RealNZ tour company’s TSS Earnslawday-cruise for lunch at the Homestead Restaurant at Walter Peak High Country Farm. The ticket includes the 45-minute lake cruise, a visit to the beautiful homestead with an incredible meal, and an entertaining farm tour and sheep dog demonstration.

I spent the morning getting ready for the day. I ate my pain au
chocolat and part of the scone from Ferg Baker for breakfast. Both were good but not especially noteworthy. I walked down to the wharf on Beach Street where we were to board the TSS Earnslaw at 11:40. It was impressive seeing it up close. Here are a few notes I learned about the importance of this boat. It’s the only operating steam ship in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s 111 years old—build in 1912—the same year as the Titanic. It was built in Dunedin, then disassembled and transferred by rail to Queenstown.The late Queen Elizabeth II rode it in 1992. I should probably refer to TSS Earnslaw as “she and her” but that doesn’t come naturally to me!



When I boarded, I started to feel some social anxiety about being a solo traveler. All the booths were full and there were people everywhere. I felt the need to quickly find a decent place to sit, so I found a booth with a couple and asked if I could join them. We chatted quite a bit, and they were nice. Then as the boat was starting to move, I realized there was an outdoor deck and I didn’t want to miss any views! That was the most important part of the experience for me. So I excused myself and went out to the deck. It was sunny, the water was turquoise, the mountain views were stunning, but it wasn’twarm and it was SO windy! As we picked up speed, it got unbearable so I went back in and hung out by a window for more views. Eventually as we started slowing again, I went back out for the last part of the cruise and loved the views as we approached the farm.











As we disembarked, I felt the desire to let all the crowds go on ahead. I took my time. It seemed silly to me that I saw groups running to be the first to enter the Homestead Restaurant. I guess the seating is first come first served. I was struck by the immaculate gardens surrounding the Homestead buildings. So many flowers and colors. They were just beautiful against the white buildings and red roof. I loved the patios out front, and insidethe interior decor was elegant and trendy at the same time with fireplaces and bold wallpaper with framed paintings. I asked if I could sit on the patio but was told no. There were no tables by the windows left, so I found one that was right near the building entrance, and I sat so my view was out the front door. Again, I felt a little self-conscious being alone but tried not to dwell on it. Waiters came by to take drink orders, but I stuck with water. Then we were invited to head to the buffet. There were two identical food stations that included salads and hors d'oeuvres, side dishes, carved meats, sauces, and desserts. This is where I felt the crowds losing some sense of decorum. There were a lot of people, and we were all there for the same thing. The food was impressive and so very good. Highlights were the flatbread appetizers, the sliced roast beef with chimichurri, and the sliced chicken with any of the sauces provided. Iwish I could have eaten more. The desserts were amazing too, especially the chocolate dessert.The couple at the table next to me were friendly and started chatting with me.















As our meal was wrapping up, we were invited to head to the outdoor amphitheater to watch the sheep dog demonstration. I headed first to the gift shop barn, because I wanted to shop without the crowds. I found another set of cool summer-themed Christmas cards and two notecards. And there were plenty of other nice things. Then I headed to the amphitheater. The farmhand, with a thick Irish accent, was teaching about sheep shearing and gave a lamb its first haircut. Then he introduced two of the sheep dogs and taught us a lot about them. When they’re fully trainedthey’re worth $10,000 (probably NZD). And they love their jobs. With one word he sent Mia racing up the hill to the very top and she rounded up the sheep and stopped and started based on the few words the farmer was saying. It was so impressive. The dog doesn’t bark, she just intimidates the sheep by staring at them. All the sheep were herded neatly into the pen next to the amphitheatre stage.






Mia about to start her job


That'll do, Mia!

After the farm show, we were free to wander over to see some of the other farm animals. I was amused by the highland cows and taking pictures of them when one of the farmhands came up to me and said there was a problem with the TSS Earnslaw and they needed to get a replacement boat to us to pick us up and they were asking us to return to the restaurant so they could account for everyone and come up with a plan. I headed there and was asked if I had any afternoon bookings that I needed to get back for. I said no and was told they would send everyone back in a smaller boat in waves—those with other commitments first. It would be another 45 minutes. They put together a more involved farm tour and took us around to meet more animals. I joined that and had a lot of fun learning about them and their personalities—which there are some fun and strong personalities on that farm.






Three-week old Pickles


Bacon, with the hair


Peaches and Peanut


Walking back from the farm to the dock to see if a boat had arrived


nope

​​A second wave of people left, and I didn’t get to board, so I waited another two hours. On one hand, there are worse places to be stuck. I enjoyed the scenery, walked along the water and found cool rocks, and rested on the grass. They even served us afternoon tea with scones and clotted cream (again, there was some pushiness over getting served!).







On the other hand, this was my last day in Queenstown so I was losing three hours of more time in town. I was wanting to get on the third boat, and the employees got me on. It was a smaller jet boat and it was packed. It was a faster ride back—30 minutes. I just wanted to get back.

My last view from the boat

I got back to Queenstown at 6:30 and it was supposed to be 3:00. I don’t blame anyone for this, and I think the companies involved handled it pretty well. On our return ride, the TSS Earnslaw roared past us headed back to pick up the remaining people, so I was glad that it got up and going again and ended its (her) day with dignity! The plan for the rest of my day was to ride the gondola, and I was interested in the Kiwi bird sanctuary near the Skyline. But when I got back to the wharf, I felt...done for the day. I wandered in and out of some shops. I stopped in Fergbaker again and got a sandwich and a cream bun to eat the next day. I thought the gelato at Patagonia looked better than Mrs. Ferg's, so I got a gorgeous ice cream cone of dark chocolate and hokey pokey. I also ordered a decadent hot chocolate—the thick kind they whip up before pouring in your cup. My experiment was to save it completely for the next morning. After my treat, I really wanted an early night in the hotel because I needed to pack up all my bags and leave early the next morning. So that was it for my time in Queenstown, sadly. I walked back and had a relaxing evening. There was a Polynesian dance festival being broadcast on TV from Australia and it was fun to watch all the different islands perform while I packed my bags.


For me, one evening and one full-day (mostly the boat excursion) in Queenstown wasn't enough. One more day would have been the perfect amount of time. If you are hiking or doing more adventure activities, you would want even more time. But don't worry, I wasn't leaving New Zealand just yet. The next two days were spent in the Fiordlands to Milford Sound and back, so I'll report about that next. Queenstown was a dream!







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Old Nov 26th, 2023, 01:46 AM
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A very nice trip report. I was sorry to read that the Earnslaw broke down and you got stuck and ended up missing the gondola ride, but I'm glad you had a good time all the same.

A sheep dog isn't just worth a lot in NZ. Look at how much one sold for in the UK three years ago.
That's more than NZ$37,000 at today's exchange rate.
If you'd had the chance to visit Lake Tekapo, you would have seen a statue honoring the humble sheepdog (a border collie).
And look what a NZ Southland stag sells for!

I look forward to hearing about your Milford Sound trip.
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