New Zealand’s “winter,” I learned this past summer, is essentially a Michigan Spring. Grey, wet and you’ll definitely need a jacket.
I visited in July this year after my trip to Australia and flew from Sydney to New Zealand’s capital, Auckland. When the lovely Simonne (who is featured in my post about bungee jumping) offered to show me around, I leaped at the opportunity. I booked a super cheap flight ($175) via Virgin Atlantic and made it to Auckland in about 3 hours.
An important thing to note when traveling to New Zealand is that they have some serious customs laws and enforcement – and they don’t mind side tracking your itinerary to ensure you’re clean. In the interest of protecting their wildlife and renowned natural beauty, they strictly abide by regulations on meat, nuts, vegetation, etc. I was unfortunately placed in a massive line where they searched through bags and carry-on items. Make note of this potential time-stealer when traveling internationally into NZ.
I was sadly in this incredible country for a mere 3 days, and with that, Simonne mentioned she had the perfect plan for me as we settled into our hotel in Auckland: We were going on a boat to the island of Waiheke, which boasts of some of New Zealand’s most amazing wine country – something I could not miss while visiting, even in the winter.
Photo Credit: candrwaiheke.com
Simonne, three of her friends and I booked a ferry ride ($10-$15 NZ dollars) on a grey and cloudy day out to Waiheke from Auckland. The ride took only about 45 minutes or so and we managed to down a few glasses of wine to “prepare” us for our vineyard visit.
Upon arrival to the island, we had transportation pick us up and take us all through the island to get to our wine tasting for the day. Our driver was extremely knowledgeable about the island and shared tons of stories about the inhabitants and some of his favorite vineyards. He informed us that Waiheke is particularly known for Bordeaux wine grapes, Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc as well as Syrah thanks to its climate and rugged landscape allowing for all kinds of soils for winemaking. We happened to be going to his favorite for the afternoon (and amongst Simonne’s) – Man O’ War Vineyards, a historic establishment on the island and family-owned with over 4,500 acres (one-fifth of the island). Each wine is named after war elements and battleships such as Ironclad, Dreadnought and Valhalla.
We had trays of cheese, charcuterie in their Tasting Room and of course – tons of wine. The Tasting Room looked like an adorable beach side home, a rickety old wooden dock, complete with a barking dog greeting us and a wraparound porch. Earlier that day, Man O’ War lost power and it ended up just being our group and our two guides that afternoon along with their incredibly friendly (albeit stinky) dog, Lucy. We instantly became best friends.
After a guided tasting with our incredible hostesses, we were allowed to pick whatever bottles were our favorite and enjoy the outdoors and the property. Even though it was chilly, the sun finally peaked out over the waters. Simonne couldn’t be happier – she said it was her positive thoughts and hard wishing that made it happen. We sat on the porch, took pictures on the beach and enjoyed the day laughing and saying ridiculous things I had to write down to remember.
Taking the boat back to Auckland, I braved the weather and went out to the deck as the boat fought against the waves. I stared at a foreign landscape that looked like something I had only seen in movies before – something I thought never truly existed without CGI or editing. All the unnamed mini islands, the mountains and hills, the cliffs and greenery – even in all the greyness of a New Zealand “winter” – it was beautiful. I still to this day cannot believe people get to live there and wake up to that view every morning.
Back home in New York, I recently cleaned my desk and found the sheet of paper with inside jokes from that day in Waiheke and it really warmed my heart.
One of my favorite days of my life thanks to great wine and even better company.
I know I will visit New Zealand again… And Queenstown, you are up next!
Photo Credit: queenstownnz.co.nz