In June, I boarded a long-haul flight to New Zealand.
For nine days, I explored Auckland, New Zealand, and Queenstown, New Zealand.
Half a year later, here's why I'm still dreaming about the landscapes, activities, and fresh food.
I can still remember the feeling when the Boeing Dreamliner landed in Auckland, New Zealand, last summer. It marked the start of a nine-day trip across the country. Nearly seven months later, I'm still dreaming about a return.
In June of 2022, I visited New Zealand. For the entirety of my 13-hour flight to Auckland from Los Angeles, I was excited to get off the plane.
And it wasn't because long-haul flights are often exhausting, cramped, and uncomfortable. If anything, my experience was the opposite. I was on my first business-class flight, and the ride was a complete luxury.
I was eager to get off because for the next nine days, I had plans to explore the country's dramatic landscapes, dine on delicious cuisine, chat with locals, and learn about new cultures.
My itinerary kicked off in June with a few days in Auckland, where I gained a first glimpse of Air New Zealand's redesigned plane cabins.
From Auckland, I headed to Waiheke Island to taste wine and explore abandoned WWII complexes.
Then, it was off to the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown.
Practically every day I pinched myself in disbelief at where I sleeping, who I was meeting, and where I was exploring.
It's now been seven months, and I'm still pinching myself. Take a look at why I haven't forgotten the trip, and why I'm even more eager to adventure back to New Zealand.
I can't stop thinking about the diverse landscapes that fill every corner of the country.
For a country that's only 103,483 square miles in size — about the same size as Colorado — I was amazed by the range of landscapes I saw in just nine days.
One day, I was walking along pebbled beaches on Waiheke Island and spotting sheep in lush, green pastures. Three days later, I was bungee jumping into a massive canyon. Then, I was admiring skiers on snow-capped mountains and hiking along lakes that felt as massive as oceans.
I've never been to a place with the range of landscapes New Zealand offers, and my trip didn't even scratch the surface.
There are also black-sand beaches and lush rainforests in Piha. Tongariro National Park is home to volcanoes, craters, and glacial lakes. And a unique species of glowworms fill the Waitomo Caves on the country's North Island. These are all places I hope to see next time.
Within those striking terrains are many unusual and one-of-a-kind accommodations I'd love to book.
I'd argue that New Zealand is home to some of the most impressive accommodations.
Not only are some of the country's hotels, Airbnbs, and vacation homes located in the aforementioned grand landscapes, but I think they are also among the most unique.
On past trips, I've stayed in celebrity-loved, five-star hotels in Aspen, Colorado, and spent a night in a jungle-themed hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah. I've also slept in a literal jungle in Queensland, Australia.
But the places I slept in New Zealand were even more fascinating.
I spent one night in a magical tiny home with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto striking mountains and a crystal lake. The next night, I was admiring stars from my geodesic dome glamping tent. Both places were surrounded by grand landscapes and were just as luxurious as any five-star hotel I've stayed in.
And there are so many more tiny homes, campsites, and luxury hotels across the country I didn't have the opportunity to experience.
I am still craving foods that I can't get back at home, like pāua croquettes and hokey pokey ice cream.
The country is full of cuisines and ingredients that I had never tasted before. Months later, I am still craving things like pāua, L&P soda, and hokey pokey ice cream.
I kicked off my trip with truffle pasta at Amano in Auckland. The tagliatelle pasta was fresh, and it was sprinkled with Canterbury Perigord black truffles, which were grown Canterbury region of New Zealand, according to Canterbury Truffles. The truffles were earthy and had that musky flavor I've grown to love.
At the Nest Kitchen and Bar in Queenstown, I had pāua croquettes, which were fried balls stuffed with pāua, or New Zealand sea snails. The crispy, crunchy dish was savory and the sea snails had a rich, umami flavor I've never tasted.
But it wasn't just at restaurants where I found new foods. I tried candy bars I haven't seen in the US, tasted hokey pokey ice cream, which is ice cream with chunks of honeycomb candy, and sipped on Lemon & Paeroa soda, known as L&P, at an airport lounge.
It's been seven months, and I am missing everything I ate in New Zealand. I can't wait to return for more pāua and to try more of the country's staples like pavlova and whitebait fritters, which are small fish fried in batter.
I only tasted a few sips of the country's wine, which left me wanting more.
According to Culture Trip, New Zealand's temperate climate and solid diversity create an ideal environment for growing grapes and producing wine.
And while I was in a country known for wine, I didn't sip nearly enough.
I visited two wine hotspots during my trip: Waiheke Island, which produces Syrah and Cabernet blends, and Queenstown, which is in Central Otago, and is known for its pinot noir.
The wines I drank were bold, smooth, sometimes woodsy, and often fruity. Each sommelier I met was eager to share how the wines were produced and where each wine's notes were coming from, whether it was from an oak barrel or a nearby lemon tree vineyard.
After hearing how the wineries cared for their land, I left with a new appreciation for wine. And for a future New Zealand itinerary, I'll dedicate entire days to wine tours, where I can stop at multiple wineries and dig deeper into the country's wine scene.
I'm already missing the friendly Kiwis I met along my journey.
New Zealand's residents are affectionately known as Kiwis, a moniker coined after the country's kiwi bird, according to Tourism New Zealand.
As I explored the country for nine days, every Kiwi I encountered was eager to show off their home to me.
I sat next to strangers at bars, who gave me lists of their favorite restaurants, connected me with friends in the places I was visiting, and encouraged me to have the trip of a lifetime. I became friends with other New Zealanders who promised to take me spearfishing the next time I visit.
Everywhere I went, people were happy to point me in the right direction or give me advice on how I should be spending my precious time in their country.
New Zealand was one of the friendliest countries I've traveled to, and it's comforting to know I'll be welcomed when I return.
Everywhere I looked, it seemed like people celebrated Māori culture.
According to Tourism New Zealand, Māori people, New Zealand's indigenous people, arrived in New Zealand over 1,000 years ago. Today, the same source reports that there are over 100 tribes spread across New Zealand, and parts of their culture are embedded in everyday life.
I appreciated the opportunity to dive deeper into Māori history and culture by being on the ground in New Zealand, and there wasn't a single day on my trip where I didn't learn something new.
As I traveled across Waiheke Island, I spotted the Māori names for landmarks on road signs. When I met Māori men and women, they embraced "Manaakitanga," a Māori term for respect and hospitality, according to Tourism New Zealand. Nearly every New Zealander greeted me by saying "Kia Ora," which is Māori for hello. And almost every tour guide was knowledgeable about the Māori tribes that had and continue to inhabit the regions I was exploring.
Culture Trip reports that "there aren't many places in the world that have made as big of an effort to preserve and respect their indigenous culture as New Zealand has."
I agreed and found it to be a stark difference from what I've experienced living in the US. Back home in Denver, and when I travel around the states, I rarely see Native-American culture and history incorporated into everyday American life like it was in New Zealand.
The trip reignited a desire to learn about my home's indigenous populations and continue learning about New Zealand's culture, too.
I'm itching for another adrenaline rush in the adventure capital of the world.
People around the world arrive in Queenstown seeking thrills. They might have plans to go heliskiing or sky diving, or they might want to go hang gliding or bungee jumping.
Like so many other travelers, I arrived in Queenstown with hopes for an adrenaline rush. As I wandered through the city, I met locals who urged me to try skydiving and promised I'd find a thrill on a jet boat ride. Ultimately, I settled on bungee jumping with the company AJ Hackett.
My jump involved a 440-foot drop and an 8.5-second freefall — the highest bungee jump in New Zealand. And I got the adrenaline rush I was promised. It was the loudest I've screamed, the highest I've fallen, and some of the most fun I've had.
Months later, and the adrenaline from my jump has fizzled. Now, I long for another adventure. Although next time I'm in Queenstown, I might try skydiving over the country's remarkable mountains for a new thrill.
I haven't forgotten the fresh pasta I had in Auckland or the whiplash from bungee jumping in Queenstown. I'm eager to return to New Zealand to do it all again.
I could fill an entire lifetime adventuring throughout New Zealand, so a mere nine days just wasn't enough.
Until I return, I'll keep daydreaming about the country's tasty food, rich culture, and friendly people. But I hope one day soon, I'll once again bring those dreams to life.
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