The South Island of New Zealand is one of the world’s premiere and most popular road trip destinations. A star in its own right and criminally underrated is its northern sibling; the North Island, just like Luke Hemsworth, Danni Minogue and Phillip Matera.
To show you how good this area of the world is, we’ve compiled a bit of a road trip for you to hit this summer that takes in places in the north of the north island – forgoing half of the island. These are only places from the centre of the island and up, starting from Lake Taupo.
Waikato to Rotorua
1. LEGENDS OF THE PEAK
If ever there was a country made for an off-road running festival, it’s New Zealand. This one is the ultimate. Legends of the Peak is set amongst the tallest trees in the world – redwoods – in the extraordinary Whakarewarewa Forest, and involves four different events, suited for both elite competitors and mad chillers. At the end of the event, there’s a proper festival – sip on a well-earned beverage, cop some live music, see your friends and whānau cross the line after an epic adventure.
Most countries around the world have one or two impressive natural resources that wow travellers, whereas New Zealand has about 50. One of these is the geothermal walkway at Craters of the Moon, a cratered valley of other-worldly proportions, featuring bubbling craters and steaming vents. Take one small step for man after the other, and remind yourself that this outrageous slice of landscape is in fact still on Planet Earth.
Gindulgence is New Zealand’s premier gin festival, with events in 2023 at Tauranga (November 4), Nelson (November 18) and Wellington (January 20 – 21). The Tauranga one is the one we’re choosing to focus on – set amongt the beaches and volcanic cones of one of New Zealand’s oldest cities, there’ll be free tastings, distiller talks, cocktails and live music. Leave the car keys in your hotel room and grab yourself a G & T in the sun – what a vibe.
“It’s a dangerous business Frodo, going out your door.
“You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Alright, we know: Hobbition isn’t really the nowhere-near-the-beaten-track sort of vibe you subscribe to get lost for – it’s actually one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations. But it’s popular for a reason, and we’re fairly certain Bilbo Baggins and get lost are akin when it comes to travel and adventure. Walk the charming paths and green hills of The Shire, grab a pint at The Green Dragon Inn, get a photo in front of a hobbit hole and boog under the Party Tree like it’s your Eleventy-First birthday.
New Zealand’s answer to Byron Bay is located about 30 minute’s drive west of Hamilton, on the country’s north-west coast. Raglan is a great option for those looking for a little bit of bohemian luxury in rugged natural surroundings. It’s also ideal for those looking to catch a wave, with New Zealand’s longest point break on offer here. At the end of the day, hit up Ulo’s Kitchen – a funky, family-run Japanese restaurant is undoubtedly the trendiest place to eat in the region, with a DJ deck, eclectic décor, fresh food, local craft beer.
You’ve made it to the big smoke. You’re near the end of your road trip, but it’s not a road trip without getting absolutely lit at least once – fortunately Auckland has you covered. New Zealand’s largest city is in a vibe in a few areas but we reccommend K’ Road, an up and coming section where chilled sundowners and proper disco boogs are equally achievable. Madam George is a modern Peruvian restaurant where you can sample exquisite fare, and a great place to start. Caretaker is an intimate New York-style drinking lounge, and if you’re still going strong later on, InkBar is drum and bass operation open until very late.
The chequered flag to your road trip is on the northern tip of the island – but this is no frantic to dash to the finish line.
We love The Ark – a small houseboat with its own lake, situated in a tiny corner of the world named Kerikeri, a quaint village with an even quainter pub and a winery.
It’s a little wooden shack docked onto the wharf of the lake, with a deck to sit out and read, drink or get a tan, or maybe all of those. Go for a dip in the lake, and forget about notifications – Zuckerberg can’t get you out here.
Sitting adjacent to the hulking, gothic-style, protestant supporting Wesley Church on the fringes of Melbourne’s CBD is a charming little cottage. And inside that charming little cottage is an even charming-er little bar called Caretaker’s Cottage.
Originally the living abode of the church grounds caretaker, it has been there since 1858, but likely never served a Penicillin Milk punch (Johnny Walker black label, fresh ginger, lemon, salted bush honey, camomile, Talisker 10 year float) nor had cracking Guinness on tap, nor had The Avalanches spinning on vinyl.
The cottage was probably lit by candlelight and some stage, but it probably did not illuminate trendy 20, 30 and 40 somethings on date night whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears, which this intimate space seems to be perfect for.
It’s more than that though; outside, perched slightly above the rest of the Melbourne CBD, you are sandwiched between skyscrapers and elegant 19th century architecture –a contrast of new and old. It’s a space conducive to conversation.
In its first year of trading, Caretakers placed number 60 on the longlist of the Top 50 World’s Best Bars list, the only Australian bar to make the cut. This week, they went one better and placed 23rd in the 2023 list. Onwards and upwards.
Exploration and surfing have always gone hand in hand.
Olotsara Retreat is a 65km adventure west of Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. We say adventure because getting there is no cruise down a highway – expect bumpy roads, rickety bridges and only one sign – ‘turn for Olotsara’.
Once there, you’ll be escorted to one of five rustic bungalows, all with epic beach views. This or a tent on the beach, if that’s more your vibe.
While most surf in the Solomons is in the Western Province, there are more and more waves being discovered in Guadalcanal, too. A stay at Olotsara is a hark back to the 1970s and 1980s, when surfing was still in its relative infancy in the western world, and brand new waves were being discovered every year.
For what it’s worth, there are two main breaks Panukurutu, a right-hander, is about a fifteen-minute boat drive north of Olotsara. Nughu Kiki Tiaro is a break for the goofy footers and is a more exposed break south of Olotsara that attracts more South swell. They also offer board hire, and transport to and from the breaks by boat.
A trip to Olotsara is a great weekend adventure or the perfect add on to an extended trip out to the other provinces. You can get a bus from Honiara that will cost you $60.00 SBD (around $10 AUD) or drive yourself, and there are plans afoot for a shuttle bus.
The Calile Hotel in inner-city Brisbane is like the best of both worlds: a stunning tropical paradise based in the midst of a rising urban metropolis.
It was recently ranked the 12th best hotel in the world by influential and respected World’s Best group, comprised of almost 600 independent industry leaders.
It’s got one of the most aesthetically pleasing swimming pools we’ve seen, set amongst bold architecture which works on every turn.
The colours are very ‘northern-cool’; a term we’re inventing to describe the palette of pastels that seem to work so well on a swathe of new Gold Coast, Brisbane and Sunshine Coast hotels. Palm trees are also very in at the moment, and The Calile has heaps of them.
As we continue uncontrollable runaway train which is the countdown to the 2032 Brisbane Olympic Games, which is down to a mere nine years, it is places like The Calile Hotel which confirm the Brown Snake’s reputation as a city on the rise.
Out: iPhone, traffic and living expenses. In: Fresh air, gum trees and natural expanses
Into the Wild Escapes are a set of tiny homes that seem to be multiplying faster than Catholic rabbits, with almost 50 stays now dotted across Australia’s eastern states.
One of these escapes is Maggie—a beautifully simple, spatially economic structure set in Victoria’s high country beneath some of the brightest stars in the world. The further you make it up the long winding driveway leading to Maggie, the more secluded you feel from the outside world. We highly recommend.
Traditionally, you wouldn’t describe Maggie as luxurious. But then that depends on your definition of luxury—waking up with someone (hopefully) very nice, drinking coffee with a panoramic view of the lush high country? Small home, big luxury vibes.
“You’ve been sentenced to a couple of nights in Pentridge,” — not something you wanted to hear between 1851 and 1997, when the tall bluestone walls of Pentridge Prison housed some of Australia’s most notorious criminals.
If you’re hearing it now though, it’s good news, given the brand-new urban wellness retreat, The Interlude, at Pentridge—a converted jail. And while you’ll walk through the same intimidating prison gates as the likes of Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, escapee Ronald Ryan and even Ned Kelly, you’re in for a slightly different experience.
There are 19 exclusive heritage suites, each created out of the original cells with vaulted brick ceilings, thick cell doors and bluestone walls. The walls they did demolish (to create more expansive bedrooms) took two weeks to break down, FYI. Meanwhile the bar features former cells converted into cosy booths and a wine cellar that was also a cell. A cell-ar, if you will. But the highlight of the entire hotel is surely found below ground, where there’s a candlelit pool that took three months to dig by hand.
One of the world’s most trusted travel brands has turned 50. Lonely Planet has been the bible for adventurous travellers the world over ever since the release of Across Asia on the Cheap in 1973.
Conceived by British-Australian power-travel-couple Tony and Jill Wheeler (pictured below, arriving in Australia in 1972), the little blue books have been like super powers for intrepid travellers over the last five decades, concealed somewhere in a backpack until revealing, when called upon, the coordinates of a bar deep in the Amazon or a difficult-to-find hostel next to waterfall in Thailand, or how to say hello in Yoruba.
150 million – number of Lonely Planet guidebooks printed
4 destinations have exceed 2 million copies – Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and India
50 – South East Asia (formerly Across Asia on the Cheap) has been in print for 50 years across 19 editions.
320 – the number of travel writers that have hit the road since the pandemic restrictions lifted in 2022
1 – USSR edition, given that country had dissolved by the time the book had printed
33 – the number of languages Lonely Planet publications have been translated into
95% – the % of destination content covered in Lonely Planet’s printed guidebooks
100% – all Lonely Planet titles are printed on FSC paper
From one set of travelling pioneers to the OG – congratulations on 50 years of bailing us out of trouble in the farthest flung locations.
Air New Zealand’s have taken out an award for airline innovation at the Crystal Cabin Awards during the week, with their Skynest concept winning the prize for giving the common person business class privileges.
The Skynest is a way to make sleeping more accessible on long haul flights for those that can’t afford business, and it might just pave the way for other airlines to follow suit.
The Skynest is a block of six sleep pods in a bunk bed configuration which can be rented in four hour slots each flight, allowing passengers to put their head down and actually lay flat for a while. Pretty handy for some of Air New Zealand’s flights, like the 17-hour direct flight between New York City and Auckland, which is one of the longest in the world. It’s been received well and
The Kiwis also added the Economy Skycouch to their growing range of ‘things that make your flight way better’.
It’s essentially just a row of economy seats that can change into a couch after take-off, with a special footrest on each set to make it a little more practical. It’s not rocket science, but like the Skynest, it helps you lay down and sleep on a flight – invaluable in our book.
The not so clever
While the Skynest and Skycouch have been hailed as universal winners, we’re not quite sure about the double decker concept, which has been floated in recent days as another potential innovation in the air.
The double-decker conceivably means more seats could be squeezed into a plan, and you would think more leg room down low.
The downside would be having the seat in front of you a few inches from your face at all times. It doesn’t look too comforting.
It is only a concept at this stage, but we couldn’t imagine many things much more claustrophobic than this seating arrangement for a long haul flight.
UrbnSurf is opening the first wave pool in New South Wales at Olympic Park in Sydney, with completion expected in early-2024.
Surfing actually has a higher participation rate in New South Wales than Rugby League (2x), Basketball, Netball, Cricket, Hockey, Squash, Volleyball, AFL, Yoga and Fishing. Yet there are only so many beaches with decent waves, seemingly not enough to accommodate everyone.
The result? Turf wars and kook slams as every man and their dog (literally, see below) fight for a tiny piece of the ocean to get a wave on.
Enter wave pools: waves on cue, to thousands of people every single day, using the Wavegarden technology that closely intimates specific waves over and over again.
Wave pools are not a new thing, and UrbnSurf has actually been pumping in Melbourne since 2019. Prior to that the U.S. had a few of these bad bois before anyone else.
Some purists may turn up their nose at wave pools and yeh, we get it; you get the taste of chlorine over salt water, and you don’t have Australia’s beautiful beaches and rock faces to look back at.
But look at it this way. UrbnSurf in Sydney can take 1,000 surfers every day, which means 1,000 people that aren’t vying for waves in the beach. It’s a win-win, and more waves for everyone.
The Sydney set up will be similar to Melbourne. A variety of six different settings, spitting out waves suitable for everyone – from beginner groms through to Mick Fanning. There’ll be lessons for groms and adults alike, and a bar on-site where you can’t talk about the one that got away…because everyone was there to see it.
Beers in the west have sure come a long way from the humble bush chook.
Busselton’s locally owned Shelter Brewing Co is a recent addition to the thriving West Australian beer scene, joining stalwarts like Little Creatures, Colonial and Bootleg from that part of the world.
As well as producing an array of epic froffies, Shelter run an insightful brewery tour that also happens to be pretty laidback – like everything else here.
Seagulls, the smell of salt and probably a fair amount of sun are likely to be what greets you at Shelter, and it’s difficult to escape the feeling of that you’re in a Tim Winton novel. The brewery itself is humungous, with an arched roof that is typical of the architecture in this part of the world. Out the front is green lawn that leads up to the beach, and the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere.
Inside, the brewery has a capacity of about 800, and has bands playing occasionally. Tom from Shelter takes us around and tells us that 80% of the building’s power comes from the sun, the same ample sun that shines in through the gigantic wall to floor windows in the north-facing building, creating the pleasant aesthetic of drinking a beer in the sun whether you’re sitting inside or outside. He explains Shelter’s philosophy when it comes to brewing beer, which is typically laidback; “we brew beers that we want to drink”.
We walk along a platform, past a row of truly enormous vats while Tom explains the brewing process, made easier to understand with brewers brewing away right in front of us. Magic right there in front of our eyes.
There’s seven beers on tap – ignore any misgivings you might have when you hear the name of the brand-new and limited edition Beetroot Stout. It’s a smoky type of operation that is (thankfully) more stout than beetroot, and it’s delicious. The Indian Pale Ale is great too.
Shelter generally brews seven core beers, and you can get them from from bars and bottle shops around Western Australia, and available to order online for the rest of Australia.