My Trip to New Zealand with Air New Zealand

Let me start by saying that this New Zealand trip recap is way overdue! Indeed, it’s been a long time in the making… As you might recall from social media, I had the extreme privilege of traveling to New Zealand with Air New Zealand last November. Not surprisingly, it was the trip of a lifetime! However, as life turned out, I found out I was pregnant about a week after returning home from New Zealand. That surprise plus the resulting sickness, lack of energy, and plethora of medical testing and such led to delayed coverage of this awesome trip. Delay notwithstanding, please enjoy this recap and recommendations of how to spend your time on the north island of New Zealand…

New Zealand Trip Recap

The primary impetus for the trip was the 2016 Air New Zealand Wine Awards, the premier wine competition for a country known for its wonderful wines!

Luckily for me, Air New Zealand now provides a direct flight from Houston to Auckland, New Zealand! In my experience, having a direct flight to your destination is a game changer. In fact, we are spoiled here in Houston to have direct flights to many international destinations. However, I was still surprised that I could fly directly from Houston to New Zealand! The comfort on Air New Zealand made the 14-hour flight seem like a breeze. (More on that soon…)

So, after flying from Houston to Auckland, I met up with a small group of influencers to explore the beautiful country. We spent a few days in Auckland, exploring the city and attending the wine awards. Then, we flew down to Hawke’s Bay, which was heavenly.

Earthquake Experience

The plan after that was to fly down to the south island to explore the country further. However, nature had other plans for us… 

You see, on the evening of November 13, I skipped out on dinner and retired early, as I wasn’t feeling well… (Looking back, I now realize it was pregnancy-related nausea.) But then, just after midnight, I was awakened abruptly. It felt as if my bed was surfing on waves in every direction! Undoubtedly, it was the strangest sensation!

It turned out I had just experienced an earthquake! Though the 7.8 magnitude earthquake was centered on the south island, we still felt it intensely on the north island. You can read more news about the major earthquake here and here. Then, tsunami warnings came into effect for us. So, we spent the evening evacuating the Mangapapa hotel with the ever so helpful property manager.

Needless to say, it was an eventful night! And long story short, after the earthquake, the group decided that we would forego traveling to the south island and just extend our time on the north island. While we were sad to miss the beauty of the south island, we all felt it was the right decision at the time. Plus, we enjoyed delving deeper into the north island.

What to Do on the North Island of New Zealand

So, without further ado, based on my experience with Air New Zealand, here are my recommendations for the north island of New Zealand…

Auckland Recommendations

  • Where to stay:

    • Skycity Grand Hotel – This large hotel is located in the heart of the city. Stay here, and you’ll be within walking distance of many downtown restaurants and attractions. Plus, the views are great!
  • Where to eat: 

    • The Sugar Club atop Sky Tower – Don’t miss this culinary gem! Famed chef Peter Gordon cooks up fresh seasonal dishes in a lovely art deco setting. Go early to get a cocktail in the bar and take in the breathtaking views!
  • What to do:

    • Visit the Ponsonby neighborhood – This hip district is completely walkable and full of cute shops, restaurants, and art galleries.
    • Drink wine of course!
      • If you want to see a large-scale wine operation, we recommend starting with Villa Maria. The winery has been in business for over 50 years, and this family-owned business prides itself on its sustainability initiatives. Furthermore, Villa Maria is the sole supplier of wines for Air New Zealand’s lounges and economy and premium economy in-flight cabins.
    • Take the ferry to Waiheke Island – A mere 40 minute ferry ride from Auckland, but worlds away! This island is full of natural beauty and great wineries.
      • While on Waiheke Island, there are two great wineries that you simply must check out!
        • Man O’ War Vineyards – The setting is just spectacular! This coastline was discovered in 1769 by Captain James Cook. Indeed, Man O’ War provides both coastal beaches along with high, rugged cliffs, creating a truly magical place to taste wine.
        • Cable Bay – What I especially liked about Cable Bay was its combination of old world methods with new techniques to create really interesting wines. Plus, the fine dining is impeccable. And the property boasts some really great modern art pieces. So, have lunch, drink some wine, and soak in the art and the views.
    • Attend the Air New Zealand Wine Awards
      • Of course, if you’re schedule allows you to be in New Zealand in November, definitely consider attending this gala. It will give you a great appreciation of just how large and how small the wine industry is in New Zealand.
      • The number and varieties of wines produced is staggering! But at the same time, everyone knows everyone within the industry.

Hawke’s Bay Recommendations

  • Where to stay:

    • Mangapapa Hotel – Without a doubt, without any hesitation, I highly recommend Mangapapa! Staying at this boutique property was truly a highlight of the trip. And in fact, it’s one of the most special hotels at which I have ever stayed. It just has a certain spirit about it that’s hard to describe.
    • The hotel is at once luxurious, secluded (in a good way!), and elegant. Having just undergone an extensive renovation, the rooms are pristine. You can definitely tell that no expense was spared.
    • With only twelve guest rooms, each guest is considered a high priority to management and staff. Indeed, I cannot say enough nice things about general manager David Thompson. His care for us was genuine and heartfelt every day. But his service went above and beyond in taking care of us during the earthquake.
  • Where to eat:

    • There were so many great restaurants in Napier and the Hawke’s Bay region! Really, every place we tried was delectable, as we found ingredients to be of the freshest, highest quality everywhere.
    • One restaurant that we thoroughly enjoyed was Bistronomy.
    • Also, we were fortunate to be there during the Hawke’s Bay Food and Wine Classic.
      • If your schedule allows you to plan your trip around these dates, you won’t be disappointed! Extraordinary food and wine combinations set in the most stunning locations are sure to please the senses.
  • What to do

    • Visit Cape Kidnappers Golf Course – If you’re a golfer like I am, you simply can’t miss the chance to see this course, which is consistently rated top 100 in the world. The cliff views are completely breathtaking. Prepare to be in awe!
    • Take the Art Deco tour of Napier – After being destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, the city rebuilt in art deco style, the prevailing, popular style of the day. The high concentration of well-preserved art deco architecture makes it one of the art deco capitals of the world!
    • Visit wineries of course! A few specific recommendations:
      • Craggy Range: an idyllic setting at the base of Te Mata Peak
      • Elephant Hill: gorgeous setting with a very modern build-out of the facilities

In Closing

So, have you been to New Zealand? Would you like to go? Hopefully your interest is piqued after reading about my adventure! New Zealand is a magical place that lives up to every expectation and notion you might have about the country. Thankfully, Air New Zealand makes a far away place seem closer with its direct flights from the United States.

Finally, on that note, I cannot thank Air New Zealand enough for the opportunity to go on this trip! New Zealand was high on my travel bucket list. And thanks to the hospitality and attention to detail in planning by the Air New Zealand crew, the trip did not disappoint. Stay tuned for more coverage of the trip in weeks to come.


  1. Azanah says:

    Seems like an amazing trip, and props to you for surviving an earthquake! New Zealand is definitely on my travel list, but I will admit the long flight has deterred me so far!

    1. Carrie says:

      Hi there – thanks so much for reading!

      It is a great place! Definitely worth the journey.

  2. Nz Vacations says:

    New Zealand North Island is my top destination. Thanks for sharing your tips! I will be there soon.

  3. Peter says:

    I will definitely put New Zealand on my bucket travel list! I can’t wait for my NZ travel next year.

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