New Zealand’s North Island (Trip 1)

I’m out of order with my blog posts, but I was just so excited about my first trip to New Zealand (my sixth continent!) that I had to write up this trip first! For background for anyone that’s stumbled on this blog and doesn’t know me – I took a new job on 1 Oct 2018 with a US company that does some of our operations in New Zealand. I shifted from traveling for work to Florida from LAX one a month to traveling to New Zealand once a month! I no longer work there, but they have a factory and the majority of their employees in Auckland, but they operate out of the Mahia Peninsula.

Mahia is where it says “Launch Site”


I did a bunch of searching for blogs or Pinterest pics on traveling to Mahia before I took this trip, and I found nothing. So hopefully this post will help someone. It seems that the majority of travelers that go to New Zealand drive from Auckland – straight down the center of the North Island – to Wellington, where they catch a ferry to the South Island. People who vacation in Mahia are local Kiwis on holiday. To get there you can fly into Gisborne (GIS) and drive 1.5 hours to Mahia Beach, or take an 8 hour drive from Auckland. The drive is lovely – lots of wineries and hot springs.

There really isn’t anything to do in Mahia. They’re known for “wild camping” as in New Zealand you’re allowed to hang out and pitch a tent anywhere that’s not private property. The town of Mahia itself is at the isthmus, or “neck” of the peninsula, on the South-West side. There’s one motel, a Beach Cafe, a “lotto shop” (a very rural 7-11), a bottle shop, and one pub playing rugby on TV. There is a boat ramp that I only saw fishermen using. There are vacation homes and the best place to stay is in an AirBNB or a VRBO. My company arranged a spot for me and it was fantastic.

If you want to get out to the end of the peninsula, like the photos I’ve posted below, I’m sorry to say you can’t do it. It’s quite secure and all leased by my former company. The hike down to the end is amazing and I love the view of Portland Island just off the coast! To drive the road to the end of the peninsula as far as you can is the most worth-while thing to do here. I like to describe places I visit as the children of other places – I think it conveys the feeling of it. I think Mahia would be like if the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland had a baby with Big Sur in California. I don’t do drugs, but I’ve described Mahia as “Dingle peninsula on crack and LSD.” Crack because OMG the roads are crazy and LSD because it’s so beautiful that your brain can’t even process it – you feel like you are in a simulation and it’s not even real. The roads are gravel and winding and a lot of steep up and down with scary cliffs and only a sheep fence between you and certain death should your car veer off the road. My poor coworker that has done this drive a lot – I kept saying WOW around every corner, every day we drove out there. Definitely among the top five view experiences in my life. AND NOBODY GOES THERE!!! HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE??? The best part of the drive for me was checking out Table Cape – it reminded me a little of my hometown view of Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. But if it was natural and wild.

Back to Mahia town – the defining geographical feature is Mokotahi Hill – which was gifted to Queen Elizabeth II so that it could be protected. I didn’t get the chance to hike up there and enjoy the great view of the beach, which I’m kicking myself over! It’s supposed to be a twenty minute walk up, and an amazing expansive view of Opoutama Beach and Taylor’s Bay.

On the way in to Mahia, you’ll see a pull out on the right side of the road along the beach – this is Black’s Beach, so named because of the gorgeous black sand. Great surf here if you’re so inclined! There’s also some golfing on the way in, and the area is known for surfing and fishing, and I’ve heard that the scuba is great there too!

Black Sand Beaches on the way to Mahia

For food in Mahia – I don’t know if there’s anything outside of the Beach Cafe… Luckily for me my company took care of all of my food through catering. We had food delivered each night to our beach cottage. We hosted customers and coworkers there – not something I expected to be a part of my job description as an engineer. I threw three dinner parties and grilled steaks on the BBQ.

I will say that I didn’t pack appropriately for this trip. Going in October, it was spring and everyone was excited that it was warming up. I didn’t bring enough clothes or warm enough clothes. I’m from San Diego and I’m used to only dressing for one season – this is probably more of a personal problem for me than a worry for anyone else.

Auckland and surrounding areas

On my way to Auckland – We took off from LAX on Saturday night and landed on Monday morning, completely “time traveling” through Sunday altogether. On Monday we went to the office for a bit and met a bunch of people before we flew to Mahia. I came back on Friday morning for a big event at the office. I stayed through Sunday on my own expecting some solo travel to get to know Auckland, but I ended up having lots of fun with my coworkers.

Friday night after our big event, we went down to the Viaduct – which is a great area on the waterfront with lots of restaurants and bars. Yes, there is a smattering of tourists there, but I feel as thought there were a lot of hip locals at the right bars. We had a delightful dinner at the adorable Lula Inn and then walked around before settling on the brand new Holey Moley Auckland. It was a mini putt-putt and a bar combined – all inside with ornately decorated holes that weren’t too complicated from a golf skill point of view. Instead of the traditional castles and wind mills, this place had a Game of Thrones hole, a Simpson’s hole, a Back to the Future Hole, and my personal favorite – a Big Lebowski hole. If you were wondering, the rug really tied the room together. They gave us cheesy golf visors to wear while we were golfing and I loved every inch of the place. Would be really fun to go to as a date night.

This rug really ties the room together

On Saturday I started out on my own in the morning to get my solo travel sightseeing out of the way. I had heard about a great farmers market and I went and checked it out. Glad I walked down there, it was cute, but it was way smaller than what we have in California. One of the things I was told to buy in New Zealand was the Manuka honey. I was able to try some (yum!) and bought some to bring back for my mom. They swore to me that it was a solid and I could carry it on the plane – but they lied. Anything that can be smeared on the skin counts as a liquid apparently. Dumb move on my part.

I 100% recommend going to Giapo for some AMAZING ICE CREAM. The flavors were all incredible, and they let me taste everything before I decided on two scoops. But you don’t just get two scoops. They cover it with extras for you. And if you want to be really Instagrammable, you can get one of their ice cream desert sculptures. The reason I went there was because they had one made in honor of my work, but they were out of it when I was there. Bonus – they walked around while I was enjoying my ice cream and passed out chocolate samples!

While on my walking tour of Auckland, I visited some of the shops on Queen Street, which is one of the main drags. I popped in the Queen’s Arcade, which was more than a little touristy, but I found some kitschy gifts and a New Zealand wool sweater that I love. I quite liked the Gallery Pacific – I got a nice jade/greenstone necklace there. You can find cheap versions of them at the tourist shops, but this was done by a real artist for the trade. Definitely ask questions and look up the meanings of the different shapes when you’re shopping. One other shop that I loved because it was adorable was Typo. Super cute stationary/gift type store. I think it’s from Australia though.

I wanted to check out the touristy stuff and get them out of the way. I walked over to the Glass Goose for bite and a glass of wine on their delightful patio. It was a fun place to watch bungee jumpers fall almost directly at you from the Sky Tower above. Then I bought my ticket to go to the top, and it was actually pretty cool. Great views, and a very good cafe! I had a really yummy charcuterie and beer sampler tray all to myself. Enjoyed it immensely.

I met up with coworkers again later that night. We had drinks at an Irish Pub (Father Ted’s – it was just a normal pub) and we went to Sweat Shop for dinner. We had a good time there, but it was a bit of a weird spot – hard to find the entrance and the bouncers were all on super power trips that were mismatched to the caliber of the place for what hoops they were making the clientele jump through to get in. They brewed some good beer and we enjoyed hanging out on the patio.


Going to be a Hobbit for the day was my top thing I wanted to do on the North Island, and I am so glad I was able to do it! Since I was solo and had to be back for my flight home, I did a quick Google search and found this one through Auckland and beyond. I have to say, this isn’t my usual method of travel, but I had everything taken care of for me, and I got to meet a nice girl who was my photo buddy, switching off cameras with me. I paid $133US and if I had just bought the ticket myself it would have been around $54US. A drink at the Green Dragon pub, snacks and water was also included.

Making friends from my tour group at the Green Dragon

To do the tour in Hobbiton, you get assigned to a guide and a bus. There are departures every few minutes from the visitor’s center, and you stick with your guide and fortyish people the whole way through. That way they keep people spaced out and still moving. Our guide was funny and knew a lot about the movie trivia, and which scenes were filmed in which location. I usually skip the guide, but I didn’t really mind this. We really had the perfect spring day for this, everything was blooming, the colors were so vivid and I was geeking out. Ended at a cute shop afterwards and I bought some nerd gifts. If you’ve seen the movies, it’s a must do. If you haven’t seen the movies, it’s still gorgeous and adorable and will give you a photo that’s totally worthy for the ‘Gram.

Bag End – Where Frodo and Bilbo lived

One tip of advice – this is an exterior set only. You don’t get to go inside any of the Hobbit holes and have it look like the movie. There’s this one photo where I’m coming out of a door, but there wasn’t anything inside, it was essentially a closet. Some influencers and rich people get the fab photo of them inside Bag End looking out over the New Zealand countryside. You have to be important to get on that tour, or you have to pay $1000 for a private tour. You can do weddings there though – I was definitely tempted to consider it in the future!

Where did I stay?

Duh, I always go for a Marriott whenever possible since I earn so much for my stays as a lifetime Platinum Premier member. The Four Points by Sheraton in Auckland was fantastic – it’s brand new and they’re still building it. It’s very boutiquey for a major international brand. The breakfast buffet was phenomenal and the staff was quite friendly. When I left early on Sunday for my tour, I worked with them in advance to arrange a take-away breakfast. But it was enough food to get me through breakfast and lunch! The location was phenomenal and perfect for me to be able to walk to 100% of the tourist sites in Auckland I wanted to visit.

View from Four Points Marriott Auckland

General travel tips on visiting New Zealand:

  • Customs is hard. Look up the rules and pay attention to them. The reason they’re so hard is because the eco-system is quite fragile and they’re super concerned about bringing in biologics. Declare your hiking boots. Make sure you clean them first. Don’t bring in any wood or wood carvings/gifts. Be very very careful about what food you bring in.
  • COFFEE – Yeah, it’s super good. They take it seriously there. Try to always go to local shops or small chains and never go to a Starbucks once!
  • Driving is on the left, but the rentals are automatic. I didn’t drive on my first trip, stay tuned for blog #2!
  • Passport stamps – I didn’t get a New Zealand passport stamp and I’m so bummed! When you enter the country, you can do the automated passport line with the machines, or you can go to a person. Sacrifice the speed and convenience to get your stamp!
  • New Zealand is extremely credit friendly! I brought NZ$20 with me and only spent $15 of it. Always use credit whenever possible – earn those points and miles for free travel! Tipping wasn’t a part of the culture, especially since I was using credit most of the time. There wasn’t anywhere to leave a tip when you were paying!
  • SPF – Don’t forget your sunscreen, it’s much cheaper to bring it than to buy it imported. Remember how close you are to the hole in the ozone layer. My Kiwi coworkers definitely reiterated the importance of this!
  • Carry your passport with if you’d like to have a drink. They won’t let you in places (even if you’re almost forty! Dude, I don’t look eighteen!) if you only have your US driver’s license. I know there’s a lot of debate between leave it behind in the hotel safe or bring it with you, and I’d say bring with here.
  • My biggest tip for traveling is to pick an alliance and stick with it. But now I’m breaking my own rules. American/OneWorld only has direct flights to Auckland seasonally. I really liked flying Air New Zealand, they treated me better as someone who had never flown their airline before than American treats me as a Platinum Pro passenger. I don’t really like American and I want off, but Air NZ doesn’t do a status match.


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