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New Zealand’s North Island

New Zealand’s North Island


Renowned for their vistas and world-class LGBT-friendliness, Auckland, Wellington, Hawke's Bay, and Waiheke Island charm visitors.

NZGMW/ (Auckland view); Julian Apse (kayaking); Courtesy of Hotel Debrett.

There's a reason boat ownership here is (probably) the highest per capita in the world: Auckland is a water lover's paradise. The city lies between two busy but picturesque harbors, Waitemata and Manukau. Home to stunning skylines and beautiful beaches, the city is a gorgeous destination, and an exceptionally LGBT-friendly one. Soak in the views from atop Auckland's Sky Tower, the tallest freestanding structure below the equator, or from the summit of Mount Eden, the highest point in the city.

High Street
In the heart of the city, High Street and the Chancery shopping area are home to New Zealand (including Karen Walker) and international designer stores. Vulcan Lane, O'Connell, and Lorne streets are small but great for spotting street-wear trends from outdoor cafes and pub tables.

Ponsonby Road
Auckland's hippest strip is packed with furniture, design, and fashion shopping, plus cafes and dining. Fussy fine dining isn't a big thing in Auckland (plenty of great restaurants are B.Y.O.B.), so don't let the absence of a white tablecloth put you off.

Queen Street
Abutting High Street, this neighborhood runs along the eponymous main business thoroughfare; national bank, shopping, and restaurant chains are represented here, making it a popular shopping destination.

Auckland-2_0Courtesy of Auckland Seaplanes

The Big Foody Tour
Jump in your tour guide's car and be whisked off to sample the grassy olive oils, pungent cheeses, fresh produce, and cured meats of the area's gourmet markets; the coffees and baked goods on Ponsonby Road; and abundant fresh seafood and wine on offer in the scenic Viaduct area. (That's also the location of the Auckland Seafood Market and Auckland Seafood School, where making your dinner under a chef's guidance is a great alternative to table service, and you take the skills home with you: A highlight of the food tour was Miller's Espresso Bar and Roastery (, pictured above), an unassuming hybrid space with cinderblock walls, a pair of small tables, a gorgeous vintage espresso machine -- in operation -- and a giant roaster in plain view at the rear of the shop. Don't be surprised if you vow to give up your day job to become a roaster on the spot.

Browns Island Sunset Kayak Trip
Auckland Sea Kayaks offers all kinds of tours, including transport to the beaches. They provide all the necessary gear, instructions, and refreshments for an evening on the water with a guide. While no experience is necessary, kayaking is a rigorous workout, even in the relative calm of a sheltered bay. The tour from Mission Bay around the volcanic Browns Island was perfectly timed for a radiant sunset, made all the sweeter knowing we'd worked to see it.

Hotel DeBrett
This 25-room boutique hotel has a bold, chic design and is populated with eclectic furniture and art all hand-selected by Michelle Deery (co-owner with John Courtney). Nothing cookie-cutter here, just vivid color in common areas and spacious, serene guest rooms. Deery hosts guests for happy hour daily in the drawing room, where one can also find some old-school board games. It's an excellent location in the heart of the city on High Street, surrounded by shopping, parks, galleries, and restaurants. Hip is the word, but without a hint of pretentiousness.

Auckland Seaplanes
Half Moon Bay is pretty from the surface of the water, but from a height the view of lush island green and ocean blue is spectacular. And wading barefoot onto the beach at Waiheke Island's Oneroa Bay after deplaning from a just-landed seaplane is about as Fantasy Island awesome as an experience can get. Offering tours and charters, and easily accessible from Auckland city center in the harbor, Auckland Seaplanes is the coolest way to island-hop.

Waiheke Island

Waiheke-island_0Courtesy of Julian Apse (Waiheke Nineyard); Naska Raspopina (Waiheke Asland View); Courtesy of The Oyster Inn.

A short ferryboat (or seaplane) ride from Auckland Harbor is an island oasis of calm. Many locals have vacation homes on the island of farmland, forest, and vineyards, and many others visit from far afield for the wine, solace, mountain biking, and beaches. It's a must-visit for oenophiles; the island is renowned for its acclaimed artisanal wines.

Ananda Tours
Waiheke is the "island of wine," but if you've never been, you can't be faulted for not knowing where to start. Enter Ananda Tours, which can pick up your party for a trip along the wine trail to sample the award-winning fruits of the grapevines and olive trees. Gourmet food tours (think oysters, wild honey, herb-and-cheese boards) are available as well.

Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant
The sea and vineyard views at Mudbrick are impressive. Chief winemaker Patrick Newton is convivial and generous with his time, and the wines are excellent, particularly the stunner, a 2013 Velvet red.

Batch Winery
Named for the small batches it produces -- hence the number on each label -- the winery has a wonderful array of whites and "Fizz" sparkling wines (and, apropos of nothing, winemaker Daniel Struckman bears a striking resemblance to Avatar actor Sam Worthington).

The Oyster Inn
The cute and casual bistro with views of Oneroa Bay from the veranda is owned by a gay couple (Jonathan Rutherfurd Best and Andrew Glenn) and is a can't-miss dining experience on the island. And it's truly an inn, with several minimalist -- but warmly appointed -- rooms designed by Katie Lockhart, available for romantic long-weekend getaways. The raw food bar features local catches, including, as the name suggests, great oysters shucked to order. During an unannounced pop into the kitchen, head chef Anthony McNamara was making a Japanese-style fish print (rubbing a sack cloth with the back of a spoon over a fish painted with a washable black ink to make an image) with an old-timer fisherman who'd brought in a massive and beautiful specimen.

EcoZip Adventures
Three zip lines, each over 200 meters, give awesome views of Waiheke. The 35-minute hike back is an educational walk though the 300-year-old forest.

Hawke's Bay
Clockwise from top left: Takaro Trails, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers Lodges, Gannet Safaris, Guided Art Deco Walk and Vintage Car Tour. Courtesy of Locations

The east coast of New Zealand's North Island is home to a beautiful and robust food and wine region, Hawke's Bay. The region is especially known for award-winning chardonnay (though sauvignon blanc, bordeaux varietals, and syrah thrive here as well), wide-open vistas, and a relaxing pace. The town of Napier is a destination known worldwide for its profusion of Art Deco architecture, art, and a festival dedicated to the style and design movement.

Takaro Trails
The scenery -- from vineyards to beaches -- is wonderful, the biking gets the blood moving, and Jenny can tell you where to find an excellent local beer, coffee, ice cream, or a bottle of wine to take home. The Hawke's Bay Trails include hundreds of kilometers of great bike-only paths, all year round.

The Farm at Cape Kidnappers Lodges
Countryside accommodations that showcase the natural environment are a grand tradition in New Zealand. And this stunner is the ultimate luxury lodge. Poised atop 6,000 acres of rolling pastureland, including a working sheep and cattle farm and a renowned golf course, The Farm is all refined rusticity and modern, lavish comfort. Suites and the Owner's Cottage can accommodate up to eight guests. Dinner (jackets required) features lamb, beef, local produce, and seafood. Hikes and tours of the remarkable estate -- land's end is dramatic cliffs over remote Pacific beaches -- are available to guests. This is a grand escape worth saving up for.

Gannet Safaris
On The Farm is the largest, most accessible mainland gannet colony in the world. Birders from all parts flock to watch the 20,000-plus gannets (members of the Booby family) that nest on the cliffs at Cape Kidnappers.

Guided Art Deco Walk and Vintage Car Tour
The Art Deco Trust was formed to preserve and showcase the unique architecture that arose after Napier's devastating earthquake in 1931. A local guide in 1930s attire will meet you for a walk through the city's landmark buildings. The vintage car tour takes place in a gorgeously restored 1930s car and goes to landmarks like the National Tobacco Company building, among the most photographed buildings in New Zealand.

The Food and Wine Classic highlights the region's finest food and wines. An event in November 2014 (springtime) featured Nadia Lim, winner of 2011's MasterChef New Zealand, serving her signature "Aromatics" dishes while Black Barn winemaker Dave McKee poured a tasting flight, accompanied by striking sunset vistas.

John's House
The pastoral setting of this private and secluded holiday home for rent (next to an actual alpaca pasture) is a 20-minute drive from Hawke's Bay's vineyard, and a 10-minute walk along the Karamu stream to the shops of Havelock North.

Mister D's
This diner-style restaurant, in the heart of the Art Deco district in Napier, has a big wine list and serves up neatly prepared dishes of fresh ingredients in a bustling environment. They make their own bread, pasta, and pastries daily -- and guests can inject filling (quince, chocolate, or custard) into their famous donuts.

Elephant Hill Winery
A modernist architectural stunner. Classic techniques, local ingredients, and attentive service are paired with outdoor dining table views of a reflecting pool, grapevines, and a hint of the sea beyond.

MTG Hawke's Bay
The museum is home to an earthquake exhibit and a nationally significant collection of fine art and historical artifacts, including the Taonga Maori collection and costumes and textiles from the 18th to 20th centuries.

Courtesy of Wellington Resource Hub (beach); Courtesy of Museum of New Zealand te Papa Tongarewa; Jess Silk (Cuba Street); Gourtesy of Garage Project; Courtesy of Museum Art Hotel

Wellington is significantly smaller than Auckland, with more winding roads than wide boulevards. Nestled between a stunning harbor and forested hills, Wellington is picturesque, cosmopolitan, and walkable -- be prepared for some hills, though. But wildlife, mountain biking, and hiking are just a short drive from the city's innumerable restaurants.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Home to exhibits that range from the island nation's formation in the geological wayback to its first inhabitants from east Polynesia: Maori cultural treasures, the remarkable changes brought by the 20th century, diversity and civil rights advances (including LGBT rights), and many rotating exhibits.

Museum Art Hotel
Located in the heart of Wellington city opposite the beautiful harbor and Te Papa, the 165-room hotel is overflowing with massive paintings and sculptures -- and not anodyne, hotel-y pieces for the faint of heart. The rooms are well-appointed, but be sure to ask the staff about how the entire building was moved 120 meters from its original spot.

Charley Noble
The seats at the seafood bar are recommended, so one may watch the cooks working at the wood-fire grill. The atmosphere is lively, the raw seafood selection (oysters, clams, ceviches, crudo) is copious, and the cuts of aged meat are all pasture-fed.

Garage Project
Their auspicious launch in 2011 -- releasing a different beer each week for 24 weeks -- showcased their bold creativity, as do non-traditional ingredients like chili, mango, golden syrup, and kumara (sweet potato). These brewers opened Cellar Door in a former auto mechanic's garage, and there they brew, pour tastings, and sell their rotating selection of distinctively named beers for takeaway.

Cuba Street
Kitsch and vintage boutiques sit side by side with emerging artists and designers, cafes, and buskers. Wakefield Hotel ( stocks high-quality menswear from New Zealand and international labels. Mandatory ( custom-makes suits and sells a selection of work and casual wear. Ziggurat ( sells classic clothing and accessories from 1900s to contemporary designer labels. Good as Gold ( sells youthful street style in a treehouse.

Bike Wellington
The trails that rise above the harbors on the wooded hills of Wellington offer some of the best mountain biking in the world. Amazing scenery and friendly guides make for a biking adventure. Bike Wellington's tours are full or half day and include a full-suspension bike, a helmet, snacks, and transportation.

Gay Nightlife
The bartenders at S&M's (for Scotty and Mal's, pour cocktails on the street-level lounge, while a DJ keeps the small downstairs dance floor thrumming. Club Ivy ( calls itself "camper than a pair of tits" and is a little slice of hedonism in the excavated basement of the old James Smith Department Store.

Zest Food Tours
Getting a handle on Wellington's food offerings requires a pro's touch. The Capital Tastes walking tour was a great introduction to hidden alleys of craft soda pop makers, craft chocolatiers, craft coffee, burgeoning farmers' markets, an array of dining options, and samples of fruit, chocolate, cheese, and wine; it's a must for foodies.

Air New Zealand
One of the world's stellar airlines, Air New Zealand offers premium economy seats with nifty features. The Spaceseat design is hard-shelled, so others' reclining seats never tilt into your space. Seats along the center of the plane are good for couples, with a shared bit of room between the seats, while those along the cabin edge are staggered for greater privacy. The 17,000 hours of movie and TV content, full meal (with New Zealand wines) and snacks available for order made a quick and easy trip of a long-haul flight.

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