For most North Americans, thinking about a trip to New Zealand might be the mental equivalent of envisioning yourself on the moon. First, depending on the departure hub, there's 20-odd hours of flying to endure. And when the cost of getting there amounts to what one might spend for an entire week (maybe two) in Mexico, well...
This is not to dissuade you dear reader, but rather open up your mind to what New Zealand can offer on the ground. Where else can you get up close to a Hobbit hole (we'll go there in Part 3), after all?
Here are my highlights that should help balance the budget, while allowing intrepid travelers to splurge here and there.
We were lucky to stay with my parents while visiting the city, but I hear The George is not too shabby.
Christchurch is so different from my last visit before the 2010/11 earthquakes. I recall a vibrant downtown with pretty cafes and lots of green space - thankfully the botanic gardens are still intact. Things are tragically different now, but it's inspiring to see the locals doing a great job of regenerating the main shopping area via the Re:START Project. The district must be one of the coolest solutions to reviving a city devastated by disaster. Steel shipping containers have been painted up and kitted out with shops and cafes. We had yummy brunch/lunch at Hummingbird Coffee.
In the evening, dinner at Ace Wasabi was lovely (order the delicious Blue Ocean special from the teppanyaki menu; includes prawns, King salmon and scallops). Because the downtown is still devastated, restaurants in Merivale and other neighbourhoods are jammed. Making reservations very necessary.
Also, an honourable mention goes to Little India in Merivale. Our roadtrip from Queenstown had us rolling in later that anticipated. Luckily this restaurant was open and it was a tasty reward after seven hours of driving. Highly recommend the Tandoori Prawns.
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It was a rainy welcome upon arriving in the capital city, but any damp disappointment was shoved under the bed at Museum Art Hotel. Our super chic room was kitted out with amenities (hello, Nespresso coffee machine) and an unobstructed harbour view. Thankfully the next two days were sunny and warm.
Our location made for an easy walk to the waterfront restaurants and notable points of interest like Waka House - a beautiful exhibit of traditional Maori canoes. I recommend picking up a scoop of lime/cucumber sorbet at Gelissimo before spending a couple of hours wandering through the exhibits at Te Papa - New Zealand's national museum and art gallery.
NZ's capital city takes its food seriously. Here are my highlights...
Tommy Millions - Drop in for gluten-free brownies and soy cappuccinos. This fueled one Friday morning perfectly.
Crab Shack - My guy loved the crab fettuccini, and we both enjoyed the crab and prawn cakes...just don't order the calamari salad.
The Laundry - Describes itself as "a pop up, ramshackle, newfangled juke joint" and serves up burgers mostly in the super casual music café.
Commonsense Organics - Behind our hotel we found the perfect roadtrip supply shop.
Pandoro - Decent coffee chain and lunchy kind of place, directly behind Museum Hotel.
Picnic Café - for a four-star lunch overlooking the rose garden at Wellington's Botanic Gardens. If it's a sunny day, I don't believe you could do better.
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Scopa & Duke Carvell's Emporium - These two places, along with Tommy Millions, are part of the Bresolin brothers food empire. The former is cute with decent pizza, while Carvell's dishes out a fine brunch in a quirky cozy scene.
Monsoon Poon - A tasty mix of South East Asian fare served in a lively atmosphere.
Sunday Food Markets - Every Sunday, two markets set up shop on the waterfront, mere steps away from each other. Harbourside Market (outdoor) concentrates on fresh produce and artisanal foodstuffs, while City Market (inside the Chaffers Building) offers a "star-studded line-up" of local food and beverage producers together. The Market Kitchen is constantly rotating the best local chefs. There are also wine and craft beer tastings, book signings and cooking classes. Not to be missed!
Hippopotamus - the luxurious bar, conveniently located in our hotel, was a great way to start and end the evenings.
To roll like a royal in Queenstown, check out part one of this series.
Up next ... Matamata and Auckland.