Now, unless you've been living under a rock, you know New Zealand is ground zero for LOTR fans. Roughly seven hours of driving from Wellington (two from Auckland) will get you to Matamata. This rural town transitions to Middle Earth on sections of a bucolic 1,250-acre sheep farm that has been turned into a
bank permanent attraction.
The Hobbiton Movie Set is quite something and worth the two-hour tour, which ends with a choice of exclusively crafted ales, cider or ginger beer at The Green Dragon pub. We drove up from Wellington, but it's also possible to book the tour from Auckland or Rotorua.
Tower Road Motel -- After many hours on the road, all we needed was a hot shower and a comfy bed, and that was exactly what we got. Karen welcomed us with a "no worries" when we arrived much later than anticipated. Our studio was fully self-contained -- all quality and no-frills for a very fair price. Quiet perfection, that's close to main street Matamata.
EAT Urban Foodstuffs -- A café serving raw food in these parts is like seeing a mirage in the desert. I almost could not believe it. This is the only place in town catering to gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, low calorie, low carbohydrate, vegan and vegetarian diets. But don't walk away just yet...Comfort classics like kumara and lamb shank pie, as well as sandwiches stuffed with all sorts of meaty things, are also on offer. If you're in the other camp, breakfast on granola with almond milk, then try the raw veggie wrap for lunch.
AUCKLAND & WAIHEKE ISLAND
Because of busy holiday bookings, I had only managed to tour through Hotel DeBrett on my last visit to Auckland. This time, I sorted things out well in advance and, after another long stretch on the road, I was certainly patting myself on the back.
We checked into a stylish suite that was just as perfect as I remembered it. Our corner of the iconic luxe boutique hotel occupied two levels, had a large ensuite bathroom with lovely products by locally-made Sans[ceuticals], and an LCD Flatscreen TV. I almost feel bad saying that I put on the red velvet robe provided and relaxed, while Mario went for a city orientation walk... but you understand, right?
A couple of hours later, we joined DeBrett's owner (and interior designer), Michelle Deery, for a pre-dinner drink in the Drawing Room. Over a glass of some of the country's best wine, she tells me that her 25-room property is ever-expanding and that they are currently creating a private dining room to cater to additional demand for tables at the Kitchen restaurant. Not surprising. I had taken advantage of "The Square Meal" deal on my last visit. That being the gourmet lunch version of a Happy Meal, which includes an app, main and dessert with a glass of wine for $35. Delicious value. A gift shop is also in the works, and I can only imagine that will be filled with covetable items chosen by Michelle. The woman has impeccable taste, after all.
The downtown alleys are filled with little joints offering everything from java to sushi to tapas. The Britomart Precinct has visitors spoiled for choice with a pretty array of pleasing restaurants and cafes. For something special served with sweeping city views, reserve a spot at Ostro. It's all "upscale yet unpretentious," but they've got serious bragging rights with multiple Michelin-starred chef Josh Emett creating the menus. Think: Small plates of beef carpaccio, seafood platters, and a raw bar serving the freshest market fish.
On the more casual side there's Mexico Food & Liquor. Loved the authentic atmosphere, as well as the salmon taco and other tapas that paired so well will with zingy Margaritas. For a tasty blend of Kiwi and Japanese food, try Fukuko for fast and fun bar style service.
In the morning, head in the same direction and you will find Shakey Isles on Customs Street.
Viaduct Harbour has plenty of sunny brunch options. In the evening, Snapdragon is the place for cocktails and bistro bites. And when you'd rather not venture too far, DeBrett's Corner Bar is always a great place for lunching or kicking off an evening.
While on Waiheke Island...
The last time I was in Auckland, I had missed catching the ferry out to Waiheke. That was not happening on this visit. Sadly we could only day-trip it, but I have a feeling there will be days spent at The Oyster Inn in the future. Our lunch included standouts -- a very fresh Very Green Salad and flavourful Tempura Oysters -- all washed down with a white from Amisfield. In between courses, owner Andrew Glenn gave us a quick tour of one of the rooms. His background in fashion (time at LVMH and in the PR department at Topshop UK) is evident in the sophisticated seaside aesthetic -- that's a seamless fit for the Cape Cod style building.
After saying goodbye to Andrew and his partner Jonathan, we walked over to Oneroa Bay beach before grabbing one last scoop at the Island Gelato Company.
To roll like a royal in Queenstown, click check out part one of this series.
For more on Christchurch & Wellington, check out part two.
For more photos of New Zealand and beyond, check out @freshpresse on Instagram.
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