Danny Wallace's top ten New Zealand tips

Danny Wallace is a writer and broadcaster with a love of all things New Zealand… and these are his top ten tips for your next visit to the North Island.

10. White Lady Burger in Auckland!

When I was asking for tips about what I should do, having travelled the many, many thousands of miles from London to New Zealand, I was wary of one of the first recommendations I received… a hamburger.

And yet the recommendation was so passionate I could not ignore it.
Still wracked with doubt, however, I did a little more research. And I discovered that these burgers are no ordinary burgers. They are White Lady hamburgers, served to late-night revelling Aucklanders since the 1960s, and currently – genuinely – listed on some well-respected travel sites as not only the number one thing to do in the nation’s largest city… but the number one thing to do in the nation itself.

So I tracked down this single-decker bus to a darkened street in New Zealand, and I had one.
And it was good. Very good.
So there’s your late-night New Zealand jetlag food sorted.


9. Great Barrier Island!

Just 90km north east of Auckland, accessible by ferry or tiny, bouncy plane, Great Barrier Island is as isolated and isolating as you could want… it’s also ridiculously beautiful. Seriously. Down on the coast, you essentially trick yourself into thinking you are an incredible photographer with an amazing eye for the right shot. You’re not. You’re still rubbish. It’s the island doing all the work.

The surf is pretty good, the dolphins like to visit, and if ever your soul just cries out for some peace, some quiet, some ambling and some rambling, the Barrier is the place…
I highly recommend the Claris Texas café, by the way. Because it’s pretty much the only café there.


8. Flat Whites in Wellington!

It’s an unbelievable statistic, but there are more than six hundred million coffee shops in Wellington alone. And it’s a city that claims ownership over the now global ‘flat white’ – smaller than a latte, but stronger thanks to a shot or two of espresso. And a flat white is what you start your day with when you book a walking food tour with a Zest cityguide…

My guide was lovely, and together we traipsed about Wellington, stopping to taste chocolates in side-street chocolatiers, honeys in a gallery, and finally a slap-up meal of regional produce and national dishes in a top-notch restaurant. The good thing is, you’re essentially renting a local and then forcing them to walk you round their city and offer you nuggets of wisdom and history while stuffing yourself on things you might never have tried.

And by the way, I think I may have read that unbelievable statistic wrong.


7. Wineries by Bike in Napier!

When I was a student, there was a man who said he wanted to unicycle from pub to pub, and would we like to join him? We all said no. It sounded like suicide. Years later, I find myself undertaking the far more sensible and middle class version of that young man’s dream. I am wearing a luminous vest, a helmet, I have a map in my pocket and a mountain bike underneath me, and I am cycling from vineyard to vineyard just outside Napier in New Zealand’s incredible wine country.

On Yer Bike Winery Tours are the people you need to talk to about this one… they provide the bikes, the maps and the safety equipment… all you have to do is turn up and cycle.
The day I did it, I learned an incredible amount about the wine I’d been drinking for years, from people who live that life every day. I stopped for lunch in one, and ate wood fired pizza accompanied by a glass of fine merlot. I may have had two.
I forget what happened after that.


6. Road Trip!

Driving in New Zealand is a joy, especially if you’re willing to go off the beaten track when the mood takes you. Finding a small town you’ve never heard of, after a long, lonely drive through stunning countryside, while listening to a long Radio New Zealand debate on jam-making makes whatever day you’re doing it feel like a strangely perfect Sunday.

Sometimes, when you’re driving in Britain, you might see a sign suggesting you stop and have a sandwich while taking in a view of whatever they’re proud of there… a lovely hill, maybe, or a small lake. In a country as stunning as New Zealand, you know when you see a similar sign, whatever awaits you is going to be pretty special. So take your camera, and obey the signs.

Oh, and there are other signs you should pay attention to. Like, “No Petrol for 147km”.
I’m not ignoring that one again.

5. Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateahaumaitawhitiurehaeaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu!

At 105 letters long, the place otherwise known as Taumata (because if it wasn’t, every conversation about it would last ten minutes), this thousand-foot hill is worth the climb – if you can find someone to take you up there. My guide was Mark, owner of the local pub and an enthusiastic teacher you’d love to share a pint with.

A rough translation is, “The hill of the flute-playing Tamatea, who was blown hither from afar, grazed his knees climbing mountains, fell on the earth, and encircled the land, to his beloved”, and is considered by the Maori to be a sacred place of great import.

The views from the top are stunning – I got there by clinging to Mark on the back of his quad bike – and you’ll kick yourself if you don’t grab a photo by the sign.

Just don’t text people to say where you are.
They might think you’ve sat on your phone.

4. Zealandia!

You can’t help but be reminded of Jurassic Park when you’re in the middle of Zealandia. You can’t help but feel, for example, that somewhere in the lush, dense undergrowth – or maybe over there, past the lake, or beyond the dam – there are raptors slowly stalking you, wondering when to pounce.

Of course, the good people at Zealandia aren’t growing raptors. It would be terrible if they were. But they’re growing everything but.

This is an incredible place on the edge of Wellington – at once inspiring, beautiful, saddening and maddening. The idea is pure sci-fi… to create an ecosystem that shows us what a world that took 80 million years to evolve might look like if we hadn’t messed it up in just a few hundred.

A huge and impressive video wall shows the innocent, blind impact we simpleton humans have had on a world of such insane beauty. And then you’re out there, in the wild, seeing rare birds squawk and tweet… reptiles thunder about… plants and flowers sway like they’ve never even been near a human…

Alan Dicks is the man who showed me around. Ask for him. He has the air about him of a man who’s constantly in trouble with the rest of the staff there. But a more passionate advocate of projects like this you’ll never find.

This is a place that could one day be seen as a turning point in our attitude to what’s around us. It really could. And there should be more of them. One in every country, specific in its contents to wherever it is. It could really make a difference.

If Alan can keep out of trouble long enough.
(And yes, I realise that a write-up like that should guarantee its place at number one – but you’re a holidaymaker, for goodness sake – and just look at what’s at number 3…)


3. New Zealand Boutique Beer Tasting in Wellington!

A lovely man named Neil Miller is your guide through the beers of New Zealand; a man who can talk with as much passion for and knowledge about beer as any wine connoisseur could ever manage…

Yes, in some cultures he’d be labelled a drunk, but in New Zealand there is the respect for good booze that good booze deserves. Over the course of a couple of hours and a lot of beer, Neil taught me how to look out for the tones in different beers, the subtle and not-so-subtle differences a brewer can instil, and within just a few hours he was my best mate in all the world and I was ready to move in with him.

I also somehow ended up judging a local homebrew competition in a fine Wellington pub called Malthouse, and if an afternoon can end with you judging a competition you are incredibly unqualified to judge, I reckon it’s been a good one.


2. Glow worm Kayaking in Waimarino!

On a balmy evening, outside my hotel, he arrived… jumping from a Scooby Doo-style van was Blair, a champion kayaker and Tauranga’s friendliest man.

So friendly, in fact, that before he takes you anywhere near a kayak or a glow worm, he lays on cheese and wine to be enjoyed as dusk turns to night on the edge of Lake McClaren... from there, it’s into the kayaks and out onto the still waters, lit only by the moon, until you come to the caves, and the site of some proper, real-life magic… magic which is hard to explain. But magic which will make you gasp, as thousands of tiny lights around you light the walls of the cave.

A lovely way to spend an evening, and one which will make you glow.


1. Volcano Hopping in Tauranga!

A tiny but sturdy helicopter becomes the best friend you ever had for half an hour as you head out over the Pacific – over sharks and the odd dolphin - and towards the dramatic, billowing sight of New Zealand’s only active Volcano: White Island.

It’s a harsh and horrible place – which has the effect of making it humbling, fascinating and strangely beautiful too. Smoke and steam burst from random holes, making you feel small and pathetic and powerless to its fury… but scientists reckon it’s some way off blowing its top any time soon… a visit to White Island is something pretty unique to do with your day, a talking point, a memory and a humbling, awe-inspiring few hours.

And hey – to prove it - check out the video, if you like…


More from Danny at www.dannywallace.com, or follow @misterwallace on Twitter…

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