Favorite Meals in New Zealand

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Afghan cookie and cornflake ice cream from Giapo in Auckland

I know, I know. I’ve been retracing each step of my New Zealand trip in excruciating detail.

There’s still a few more sightseeing posts to share, but today, I’m taking a break from that and instead talking about the yummy food in New Zealand.

You know me, I usually like to do a complete travel food diary (breakfast-lunch-and-dinner-each-day), but there were just too many tasty things. So, today I’ll just showcase the ones that stand out.

I already did a whole post on our wine tasting day at Waiheke Island, including the wine country lunch at the Shed. Now that we’re heading into fall, I’m craving their sweet potato deconstructed “cheesecake.”

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A fun quick breakfast from the Auckland area was this egg salad and bacon bagel from Best Ugly Bagels. The name is strange, right? But ugly is fine by me when the bagels are so tasty. 

Perhaps the most indulgent things we ate in Auckland were the creative ice creams from Giapo (the Afghan cookie version is pictured above). This one below is hazelnut and toasted merengue.  The selection changes every few months and I’d love to see what new versions are concocted each season. IMG_0064

Moving on to Queenstown, we loved the burgers there including the famous Fergburger and Devil Burger, both of which I recommend.

However, everybody goes to those places, so I want to highlight two other great meals we had. The first was this giant steak and fries platter with herbed garlic butter from Atlas Beer Cafe. Yes, that slab of butter melts all over the meat and fries… and it’s a bargain for less than $20 New Zealand dollars. (NZ beef ain’t cheap, ya’ll).

The other was this halloumi cheese avocado toast and ice milk from Vudu Cafe and Larder. The ice milk has all the components of a milk shake,  but it’s not blended.

Everything is plopped put in a glass and then time works it wonder, gradually melting the ice cream into the milk and chocolate syrup.

I already talked about our wonderful road trip day through Otago region and our stop at the Cardrona Hotel. This garlic knot was recommended by some people we met and it came out of the oven piping hot and salty and buttery.

In Christchurch, I already gushed about how we stuffed ourselves at the Farmer’s Market. However, other favorites were Pedro’s House of Lamb. (Try it if you’re in the area- one serving feeds a small family!)  and we stopped at Dmitri’s Greek Food for falafel. Guys, this falafel rivaled the best we had in Greece last summer…

Nelson, New Zealand was home to some of our best dishes on our trip. First up was this giant turkish food platter at Paasha. We thought there’d be no way we could finish this much food. Um… it was inhaled in about 10 minutes.  

I also discovered hazelnut merengue cake with kailua frosting from the Grape Escape.  Turns out these merengue style desserts are popular in Australia and New Zealand, so there’s lots of great recipes for them online. I’ve since researched how to make this exact version at home. 

Finally, in Rotorua, we visited the Wednesday night Night Market and enjoyed a whole range of things including this pita with venison, couscous, greens, and spicy sauce.

Our last special meal of the trip was our breakfast at the Hamurana Lodge. Fresh squeezed orange juice. Warm croissants. Charcuterie. Cheeses. Fresh berries with cream.

Incidentally, we were the only people at the inn on this day and we got such fun service and attention. There’s a lot more to say about this place, so stay tuned for my upcoming Rotorua post. 

Rocky Beaches, Seals, and Overcast Skies in Kaikoura

I recently read an article about the benefits of spending money on travel, rather than say, material things.

The research shows that even if you have a less than perfect time, we tend to remember it in a more positive light as time goes on, making us feel that our money was well-spent. Our brains look back on that experience fondly unlike a material thing we bought, which quickly bores or disillusions us.

This certainly rings true when I think about the tiny resort town of Kaikoura (or Kai-crappa, as my husband liked to call it at the time). We stopped there on our way from Christchurch to Nelson on the south island.

For the record, I don’t think Kaikoura was crappy at all. It was just a low point during our travels.

In the warmer months, Kaikoura is packed with visitors who come for the dolphin excursions and water activities. But we arrived at the beginning of winter, so it was gray and dreary.

But the funny thing is that although the weather felt really dismal at the time, now when I look back over the photos, Kaikoura looks rather pretty to me with its muted hues of blue and gray.

We stayed at a nice bed and breakfast overlooking a walk that runs several miles along the ocean. This was the lovely view from our balcony window.

We knew the rain was coming in soon on that day, but we decided to walk along the ocean to find the seal colonies. It was cold and misty, but the terrain was nice in a stark severe sort of way. 

The best thing was that finding the seals was so easy, and because there were few people around, we got the chance to get up close and personal.

Okay, not that close- (Have you seen their teeth?), but nice to observe them without people everywhere.

Some of the seals are rather bold too, and wobble out into the road, which makes driving around them pretty exciting.

Eventually, it started sprinkling on us, but we made it back to our room without too much damage. That night, we found a strange pizza place (that’s a whole other story about how they didn’t seem to have anything on their menu) and turned in early for bed.

As mentioned, reflecting on our stay, I’m glad we stopped over in Kaikoura. In the moment, we felt disappointed with the melancholy weather, but when I look over the pictures now, I see we were actually really fortunate to be in such remote and oddly pretty place.

Crystal Blue Water at Abel Tasman

When planning my trip to New Zealand, Abel Tasman National Park immediately caught my attention. Pictures of this coastal nature reserve showed hiking trails over the ocean, dense forests, and that crystal blue water!

(*Heads up: the photos below have NOT been edited. The water really does look like this!)

There are several ways to access the reserve, but the easiest for us was booking a “self-guided” tour through  Wilson’s Abel Tasman.  We chose option 6, which lasts about 6 hours. It included a boat ride to an isolated drop off point and a boat pick up from another point hours later.

If the temperature had been warmer, we would have loved to do one of the kayaking or beach options, but given the season, this worked out great.

Chilly morning boat ride to Abel Tasman
Remote and gorgeous drop off point along Abel Tasman Coastal Track.

This tour let us walk along the track at our own pace. Believe me, you will want to stop and take so many pictures along the way. I should warn you though, there are only basic facilities in the way of water and restrooms, and  you’ll need to bring in your own lunch.

We spent the day leisurely stopping at the many lookouts and even getting up close to the water. Can you believe how clear that water is?

Every once in a while, the trail veers into the vegetation and you can walk along giant fern trees and babbling streams.

There was a forest suspension bridge to walk across.

After several hours, the end of our track led us to this beautiful beach, where we happily sat and waited for our boat pick up.

It seemed when researching this trip ahead of time that Nelson, where Abel Tasman is located near, is not as popular as other New Zealand cities like Queenstown or Christchurch.

However, this day during our trip was really a highlight for us, so I encourage you not to miss it if you make to New Zealand!

Dolphins and Waterfalls at Milford Sound

If I’m honest, I’m not a boat person at all.

I have too many bad memories of motion sickness from my past. But I do make an exception for dolphins, waterfalls, and fjords, all of which are in New Zealand’s Milford Sound.

Milford Sound’s landscape is  one of the most serene places I’ve ever been to. You can explore it by hiking for several days, or by boat. There are even overnight boat tours.

From Queenstown, we hopped on the BBQ Bus which led us through winding mountain passes. There were lots of scenic stops along the way and lots of information from our tour guide (er, everything you could want to know about the kiwi bird and also some stuff about his marriage we didn’t want to know). Once we were on the boat, the guide prepared us a barbecued lunch.  

One of the nicest stops was at the Mirror Lakes above. You really could see everything reflected in that water! The other picture on the right was taken right before a hundred Chinese tourists stormed the view.

Because the weather was so overcast, I was a bit worried about rain and how the boat trip would prevail… Rocky and uncomfortable? Bad visibility?  Humid and crowded inside?

But all that anxiety was for nothing, because it was really nice.

In addition to fun talk (I’m something of a magnet for college girls) and a great lunch of lamb kebabs, we enjoyed dolphins playing RIGHT NEXT to the boat.

I was pretty excited to capture these two little guys and now I sort of wish I were a National Geographic wildlife photographer.

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Milford Sound is located on the southwest side of the New Zealand’s South Island. It was a bit of a journey to get there by bus from Queenstown, but it was so worth it.

Christchurch Farmer’s Market

Enjoying the “Happy Buttie” sandwich at the Farmer’s Market

All the meals we had in New Zealand were great, but one of my favorite food experiences was the Farmer’s Market in Christchurch.

We almost missed it completely, though because … we had no idea it existed.

In fact, if I hadn’t been bored on the plane and hadn’t absentmindedly browsed one of those airplane magazines that people NEVER look at, we would’ve lost out forever.  I’m so glad for random airplane magazines. You too?

Anyway, to get this farmer’s market, we walked from our hotel through a couple little neighborhoods and a big city park. It turned out to the most lovely local setting right next to a little canal. 

What can I say about the offerings?

Well, there were so many beautiful looking fruits, vegetables, and pastries to buy and some new-to-me local specialties too, like feijoas and NZ Afghan cookies. More to come on those…

We spent some time browsing all the vendors, getting inspired by quite a few things.

But there was a HUGE line to get bacon breakfast sandwiches, and we knew we couldn’t resist. I mean, check out the menu.

How cute is the “Happy Buttie”? It comes with a long list of yummy things and a HUG! (My husband turned down the hug, but of course, I obliged)

Anyway, this sandwich was so good, and we’ve actually made this at home twice since coming back. (On a side note, it seemed like almost everything in NZ comes with these colorful fresh greens)

The other thing we had to try was “Posh Porridge.” The concept is so simple, and I’m sort of shocked we don’t see this at farmer’s markets in the States much.

Basically, it’s organic oats topped with all sorts of tasty things. We got the banana, sticky date, peanut butter, and chocolate version. Look closely at the picture and you will see they did NOT skimp on the chocolate.

I loved it, and I’m so glad I got a picture of the sign, because I’m planning to make all those versions as well (blueberry and lemon curd, oh yes).

Finally, can we talk about these Afghan cookies?

So these were a new completely new discovery to me (have you ever heard of them?), but they are a really popular treat in New Zealand.

This chocolate cookie has cornflakes in the dough, a thick swirl of chocolate on top, and a crunchy walnut. You can buy them in bakeries and grocery stores and we tried at least a couple versions of them in New Zealand.

I’m officially hooked and have googled recipes for homemade versions as well.

You see, this is why I LOVE travel. It’s all comes down to the cookies.

Exploring Otago Region, NZ

Queenstown is a perfect location to spend a few days as your home base on the South Island.

From there, you can explore the Otago region for its lakes, glacier mountain pools, historic Gold Rush towns, and wineries. We thought about doing a few organized tours, but in the end, opted for the flexibility of a rental car.

Our first order of business was a visit to the stunning Blue Pools.

It was a little out of the way north of Wanaka, but it was worth it.

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You drive into Mount Aspiring National Park (isn’t that a great name?), then walk through a small wild mossy green forest across a wobbly suspension bridge, and then you reach these jewel colored pools that are absolutely clear to the bottom.

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This particular day was so dismal and overcast and I really didn’t think the water would be so vibrant. I thought there needed to be sun to get that gorgeous glittering blue, but I was so wrong.

The pools were the most beautiful color! They get their distinctive hue from light refraction of particles in the icy mountain water.

It’s sort of crazy to think about this beautiful place in nature just hiding in middle of a dense forest. I wonder how many more undiscovered places lie waiting around the world? And I wonder what the first people to come upon these pools thought about their discovery. 

Don’t you want to jump in?

After the blue pools, we did some more driving through Wanaka region, stopping to take pictures at every turn and seeing lots of sheep dotted across the countryside.

This photo sort of looks like a folk art painting to me. I love how there’s a layer of mist hanging low over the small village.

Remember our wine-tasting day at Waiheke Island where we befriended several New Zealand ladies? Well, one of the places they highly recommend to us was the Cardona Hotel.

This historic spot was built in the 1860s for gold miners. Today it’s a cozy little stop between Queenstown and Wanaka, and the food was fantastic! In addition to the tiniest retro sink in the bathroom (you could only fit one hand in at a time!) I’ll always remember this place for serving one of the best coffees I’ve ever had. (Eventually, I’m planning to write a post about New Zealanders and their obsession with coffee!)

Driving back to Queenstown, we took advantage of our rental car to visit the Gibbston Valley winery and cheesy. (Yes, cheesery is a word, I learned on this trip.)

This charming winery with its red barn buildings, birds, and rose garden (still hanging on even in early winter) was so picturesque.

We spent a little relaxing while here sampling a few of their sheep and goat cheeses along with some glasses of Otago wine. There is a nice restaurant there too, where I would have loved to eat dinner, but we had plans in Queenstown for a meal instead.

Overall, our plan to rent a car and plot our own itinerary from Queenstown was the right decision. In fact, I highly recommend you do that if you’re planning a trip here too. There’s just so much interesting scenery and stops and you’ll want the flexibility to pull off the road when you want to.

 

 

 

 

Queenstown. NZ

I’m excited to share with you our time in Queenstown, New Zealand.

In recent months whenever I mentioned this trip to friends and colleagues, they always said, “You have to go to Queenstown!”

Mountains. Fresh air. Beautiful views. Outdoor adventures.

And I’m so glad we followed their advice. This mountain village has it all.

We stayed at the Novotel Queenstown Lakeside with views facing Lake Wakatipu. All this beauty was literally steps away.

The first afternoon we spent leisurely walking around the lake and soaking up the beautiful winter sun. Queenstown is on the southwestern side of the South Island, so it was quite a bit cooler here than Auckland. It was bright and sunny, but a down coat was definitely needed!queenstown-5

The next morning, we took the gondola up to the peak overlooking the city. We were lucky that the clouds lifted and we were able to get these panoramic views looking down on Queenstown.

It was still early in the season, so no skiing was available yet. But year-round, you can all do all sorts of other activities from there including hiking, paragliding, and the luge!

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Zip down the side of the mountain and take in the views as you go. Not bad, right?

After spending a few hours at the peak, we decided to hike down instead of taking the gondola again.

It only took us about one hour and we appreciated getting the fresh air to stave off the jet lag. 
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We spent 4 days in Queenstown, so it became our home base for lots of other outings and adventures including day trips to the famous Milford Sound, Lake Wakana, and Otagu region wineries.

We thought the natural scenery couldn’t get much better than here, but we were wrong. I’ll be sharing so much more soon!