Lorna Neale, Manager of our Norwich travel agents in Thorpe, got the chance to experience a once-in-a-lifetime tour of New Zealand’s North Island. Her action-packed adventure featured some fast-paced activities, as well as some moments to relax and enjoy the local food.
Destination: New Zealand
Operator/Host: First Class Holidays
Airline: Cathay Pacific & Air New Zealand
(Hotel names/Ship name): Stamford Plaza Hotel, Grand Mercure Puka Park Resort, Trinity Wharf Hotel, Hilton Lake Taupo, Scenic Hotel Te Pania and Rydges Wellington
Duration: 7 nights
The London to Hong Kong flight was on an older aircraft with a smaller seat pitch than the Hong Kong to Auckland flight. The crew were friendly and the inflight entertainment was very good on all the Cathay Pacific flights. There was a massive selection of films, music and some games. The food was OK but I would recommend allocating seats in the front section of Economy so there is plenty of availability.
The Air New Zealand flight was an internal journey from Wellington to Auckland. I was really impressed with how friendly the crew were. The flight was about one hour and they even served a drink and snack included in the fare.
Stamford Plaza Hotel - Auckland: I really liked this hotel; the rooms were spacious and the beds were amazing. The bathroom was big and had a separate shower and bathtub, which would be ideal for someone who cannot step into a bath. The location was great; it was only a few minutes from the shops and sky tower, and about 10 minutes from the harbour. The hotel is on a side street and was in a quiet area. It offers a swimming pool, gym and a large bar/restaurant.
Grand Mercure Puka Park Resort - Coromandel: I can see why this property is so popular; it’s a secluded hideaway located at Pauanui beach on the Coromandel Peninsula. The hotel offers 48 private chalets set around the native bush but the chalets are more suited to couples, not two friends. The restaurant was cosy and the food here was lovely.
Trinity Wharf Hotel - Tauranga: The location of this hotel is ideal for a pit stop, as you are located by a busy road. It has a lovely view of the lake, but is slightly noisy. The breakfast was good – self-service and plenty of choice.
Hilton Lake Taupo - Lake Taupo: I really liked this hotel; the rooms were a fantastic size and had comfortable beds. The hotel is big but the layout makes it seems smaller than it really is. It has lots of facilities, including a swimming pool, thermal spa, tennis courts and fitness centre. It is set back from the main area of Lake Taupo and so a car is required to get around. The food was fantastic and pre-booking the restaurant is a must if you want to make sure you get a table.
Scenic Hotel Te Pania - Napier: This hotel is very modern. I did like the location and the fact that some of the rooms overlook the sea. The shops are a short walk away.
Rydges Wellington - Wellington: The hotel is located in the heart of the city and the rooms have a kitchenette, which means they may be more suited to business guests. The breakfast room was on the small side but had a great choice of options: a hot station, continental section along with the opportunity to order omelettes, poached eggs or fried eggs. The hotel is a high-rise building, so ask for a low floor if you do not like heights.
Auckland Sky Tower - I loved this. It gave us a nice view of Auckland from above and we could see the whole city and the Princess Cruises ship in the harbour. You can also walk around the Sky Tower outside and zip line down the outside, neither of which I tried. These are at an additional cost.
Soul Bar & Bistro - We had dinner at this popular restaurant and there was a lot of fish on offer. I tried battered fish and local potatoes, which are potatoes in their skin and covered in lots of salt. I wasn't too keen on the potatoes but the fish was gorgeous. The area in which the restaurant is located is fantastic; it was at the harbour and had lots of other restaurants and bars.
Peppertree Cafe - We stopped here for lunch. This area was lovely for a wander to break up the journey from Auckland to Coromandel. The town is cute, with a few shops, and the cafe was busy.
Thermal Spa - This was included in the itinerary, as we couldn't do our planned boat trip due to sea conditions. The spa has hot pools, in which we relaxed with a cocktail. It is ideal for a relaxing afternoon after a long flight/drive.
Hobbiton Movie Set - We had a private tour of the Hobbiton set. I have never seen the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings films, but this was so fascinating to see. The information you are told about the films is incredible. We also had an all you can eat buffet lunch in the purpose-built marquee in the grounds of the movie set. At the end of the tour, you have the choice to sample a drink in the Green Dragon Inn. It’s well worth it.
Evening Glowworm Kayak Tour - This tour was guided by two men and their passion was amazing. To start, we had wine and nibbles and then we were kitted-out with a waterproof skirt and a life jacket. They then got us in the kayaks and gave us a safety briefing. The kayak was great, but in the dark, it is quite difficult not to bump into each other. The guides took us into the glowworm canyon, which is a truly spectacular wall of shimming lights.
Original Canopy Tour – This tour consisted of 600m ziplines, a swing bridge, a conservation trail and treetop platforms. I was OK with the first zipline but, after having to walk along the swing bridge, I wasn't too sure of the next one. It took a little while to do the next zipline, but I did it. The following zipline was very long, but I started to enjoy it more. On the final zipline, we had the choice of going upside down, which I did attempt but I’m really glad I tried the course.
Gondola, Buffet lunch and Luge Ride - The gondola ride took us up Mt. Ngongotaha. At the top, the views over Rotorua were stunning. After lunch at the buffet (which was the best buffet I have tried), we had a go at the luge. I really enjoyed this; it’s certainly a must-do.
Wai-o-tapu Thermal Park – This is considered to be New Zealand's most colourful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attraction. The area does smell of sulphur, but it’s interesting to walk around and see the different coloured sections.
Huka Falls Jet - This is a half-an-hour jet boat ride on the river, which is lined with native bush, sheer rock cliff faces and natural hot springs. The boat driver made the jet do 360-degree spins while soaking us. We also saw Huka Falls from the water level.
Private Cruise on Lake Taupo - This boat trip takes you to see the Maori Rock Carvings. I also got to see the snow-capped mountain peaks of the world heritage Tongariro National Park. After seeing the carvings, we had the opportunity to try and catch a trout. I did have a go, but my fish fell of the line! We did catch a trout, though, which was amazing.
Evening Progressive Dinner in Napier - We were collected from the hotel and taken by a local guide to the three restaurants. At the first stop, we tried six wines and had a selection of cold meats, olives and breads. We were then taken on a tour to Te Mata Peak. The next stop was Terrior, where we tried three Craggy Range wines and had our main course. Once we had finished our main course, we headed to Mission Estate for dessert and to try a dessert wine and a port. The evening was good but there is a lot of driving involved.
Vintage Car Tour - This tour was fantastic. It was a highlight of my trip and involved three 1930s vintage cars pulling up outside the hotel with each driver dressed accordingly. We had an overview of Napier and were told how it has changed over the years due a fire. The city was then rebuilt in the Art Deco style. The drivers then took us around the city, showing us all of the Art Deco buildings and streets.
Lunch and Guided Tour at Tui Brewery - We enjoyed tasting the beers and a tour of the new state-of-the-art brewery.
Pukaha Mount Bruce - I had a guided tour through the aviary, over the eel bridge and into the Kiwi house, where I got the chance to see a white kiwi. We also got an added extra of seeing two new-born kiwis.
Wellington City & Coastline Tour - This was a great way to see Wellington. We also had a ride on the funicular.
Te Papa Highlights, Museum of New Zealand - We had a guided tour from a very happy man; he gave us a really good tour of the museum. I would recommend having a guide if you can, as some of the items were described in such detail and wouldn’t have made sense otherwise.
Karaka Cafe – This is located just a short walk from the museum and is situated on wellington sea front. I tried hangi, which is a Maori-inspired dish consisting of house smoked chicken, pork, potato, pumpkin, kumara, stuffing and cabbage which is then steamed and served with fried bread. It was nice to try the local food.
Weta Studio Tour - I was given a guided tour of the Weta Cave Workshop and the Thunderbirds Are Go Miniatures Stage Tour. The guide was excellent and very passionate, as he has been involved in making sets and props for the Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and Gallopoli.
Dinner at the Parliament Building - It's quite a new opportunity to dine at the building. It was a fantastic setting and the food was gorgeous.
I enjoyed the entire trip to be honest. Lake Taupo is my favourite place; it’s such a peaceful place to wander and enjoy the street cafés, bars, restaurants and shops.
Rotorua was the best day; I really loved the zipline, luge ride, gondola trip and the buffet lunch.
Napier was my surprise city. I didn't realise how the Art Deco would work, but it did.
I would definitely recommend this trip. It has certainly given me the confidence to promote New Zealand North Island.
Must see? Lake Taupo
Must do? Art Deco Tour in Napier
Must try? Ziplining and luge ride in Rotorua
If you would like to plan your own adventure in New Zealand, speak to the team or visit your nearest branch. We have travel agents in Dorchester, Lymington, Hythe, Westbourne, Christchurch and across East Anglia.