When our cruise ship docked in Auckland we still had five days of exploring to do before we headed to our next destination. What a fabulous playground we discovered in this beautiful, friendly corner of paradise.
Auckland and Caluzzi Bar
We stayed at the Langham Hotel which is a very comfortable 5 star hotel close to Karangahape Road, the heart of the friendly and lively gay scene in Auckland. Just a short walk down the road you will find the fabulous Caluzzi Bar and Cabaret and you need to put it on your ‘must do’ list.
From the moment you walk through the door the laughs begin. Drag queens Miss Ling Ling, ‘who loves bling’, Miss Victoria, Miss Kola and the elegant Miss Taro Patch, ridiculously tall in their high stilettos, welcome visitors to Caluzzi Bar and Cabaret.
These ‘sluts with nuts’, as they call themselves, turn on a Kiwi welcome with energetic, exuberant and raunchy charm, ensuring the mood from start to finish is totally upbeat and completely outrageous.
Celebrating more than 20 years of fun and frivolity, let Captain Campbell (the very hot owner) and his bevy of high camp babes, take you on a journey you’ll never forget.
Rotorua and the Polynesian Spa
The hot mineral baths of the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua have renowned therapeutic properties and are listed in the top 10 spas by Conde Nast Travel.
Treat yourself and your loved one to an indulgent experience, including a private spa room overlooking the thermal lake on sunset. Also, don’t miss the local Museum for a fascinating look back at the early days of Rotorua and the beginning of spa tourism.
Te Puia is a cultural centre built on the edge of a geothermal valley and here you will see the amazing Pohutu Geyser and the legendary mud pools. Check out the Kiwi House for a glimpse of the nocturnal national symbol. We spent half a day wandering here and loved every minute.
Napier and the Art Deco Festival
Delirious about art deco and dying for a dress up? Napier, New Zealand has the largest Art Deco Festival in the southern hemisphere. Prohibition parties were never as much fun as this.
The summer festival in February each year is a huge dress up event attracting 40 000 people and with new festival manager Jonathan Smith there is bound to be more gay happenings on the agenda like an Art Deco pool party.
For a slice of Art Deco on any day try the Emporium Eatery and Bar, part of the award winning Masonic Hotel. This stunning place has joined a few select establishments in New Zealand voted one of the world’s best bars.
The Bay of Islands and Waitangi
A kilometre or two out of Paihia is the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where the famous Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British and the chiefs of the Maori tribes.
The grounds have stunning views over the bay and a huge flagstaff marks the point where this historic event took place.
At the Carved Meeting House a Maori cultural group perform a spectacular, traditional welcome (Haka), explain their rituals and present tribal songs and dances.
Within the treaty grounds there are three war canoes, one of which is the world’s largest ceremonial canoe at a staggering 35 metres long and needing up to seventy hunky Maoris to row.
Lake Taupo and Huka Falls
Amazingly beautiful and formed 2000 years ago by a fiery volcanic eruption, Lake Taupo is the size of an inland sea. A perfect playground for swimming, fishing, sailing and adventure sports like para-gliding and jet skiing.
Majestic snow covered Mt Ruapehu, the largest active volcano in New Zealand, sits in the background while swimmers enjoy the warm geothermal currents in the lake.
Huka Falls just outside Lake Taupo blasts out more than 220,000 litres of water every second. Stand on the foot bridge to witness the roar and energy as the water crashes into pools below. For further excitement take a jet boat ride below the falls.
Tauranga Beach and Maunganui Bluff
The town of Tauranga is split in two; portside and beachside. We wandered to the beachside where there were cafés filled with locals and tourists. Tauranga is a favourite with New Zealanders who claim it to be the best beach in the country.
We enjoyed a wonderful dip in the ocean, a welcome sunbake to dry off and then tried out the delicious local food at one of the cafes.
Nearby Maunganui Bluff is an easy fifty minute walk around the base of a mountain. On your journey you’ll see lots of sheep and cuddly bunny rabbits grazing on the lush pasture. There are small sandy beaches that you can stop at and the views on the walk cover the inner harbour to the open ocean.
It’s well worth the effort. We strolled back to our ship past the many families enjoying the last of the sun’s warmth on the calm portside beach area.
Wellington and the Ortega Fish Shack
Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum, is located right on the harbour front. Entry is free and the displays of Maori culture from weapons, carvings and art works to a magnificently restored Maori Meeting House, provide a true sense of how the indigenous people of New Zealand lived before white settlement.
Ortega Fish Shack is a hidden gem and serves outstanding seafood. An award winning chef, top shelf local produce, striking decor and friendly staff are a real recipe for success.
While we are on the subject of delicious New Zealand food, and it is readily available all over the country, do not miss the incredible High Tea at the Intercontinental Hotel in Wellington. You will be delighted, and full up to the eyeballs.
Picton & Marlborough Wineries
OK, so Picton is on the South Island but you can jump a ferry from Wellington and be there in about 2 hours. The waterfront of this stunning and extremely popular little town is a photographer’s delight.
On the day we visited bagpipers played to welcome guests and the local restaurants and tourist offices were full.
Organise a short winery tour at the local tourism information centre, it’s a brilliant day out. The Marlborough region is a rich, fertile landscape dotted with over 100 wineries producing premium Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay varietals.
World famous Cloudy Bay is the best known winery but we enjoyed the clear, crisp selections from Spy Valley and a smoky, dry Riesling from Framingham Wines. Delicious!