To be honest, I’ve been feeling a little down recently. The weather certainly doesn’t help, winter in Auckland is a dark and rainy situation, where the amount of wind makes umbrellas obsolete. While I was offered the chance to stay on with my company in New Zealand, with much research I’ve gathered that it’s pretty much impossible to get a dog from the US into NZ, (we all know what happened with Johnny Depp and Amber Heard with their dogs in Australia, and NZ is even worse).
I have an almost three year old pup back in the states currently living with my mom, so unless I want to spend several thousands of dollars or take the risk of putting a dog who is prone to seizures through a cargo flight to NZ, it’s the most adult decision for me to go home. And fight like hell to campaign against Donald Trump. I’m sad, I’ve grown to love my dysfunctional family at work, but it’s been a great learning experience and I’m excited to see what’s next. BUT, my time in NZ is now dwindling, so I have to do as much …ASAP!
I was surprised with a 3 day weekend a few weeks back – it was the Queen’s fake birthday, apparently. Excellent. Just another excuse to have a day off at work. Her birthday is in April, but it’s celebrated the first weekend in June. And I’m speaking of the Queen of England, Elizabeth…just in case you were wondering. How little the world knows of NZ politics, I am guilty as well. With my extra day I decided I would venture on a road trip to Hawke’s Bay, NZ first wine region.
6am Saturday morning, I packed up my shit of a Nissan rental and pulled onto Route 1, the main highway in New Zealand (LOL, highway). I expected the drive to be over 6 hours, but was happily surprised when my GPS informed me that it would take just under 5. Hamilton soundtrack blasting, I was off… Until I was stopped less than a minute later by the police for a mandatory Breathalyzer test. That’s a thing in Auckland; they wait at the entrance of the freeway, and test every driver at random times of the day. As I was pulled over, (thankful that I hadn’t been drinking the night prior…which isn’t often) I was offered this machine that looked like a walkie talkie, to which I said, “um, so how do I this?”
I passed my test with flying colors, and finally, I was actually on my way. I love highway 1. In Auckland City, it spreads over four lanes each way, but as soon as you get outside the city, it quickly shrinks to one. The other three lanes are replaced with green hills, covered with sheep. Thousands and thousands of sheep. It pairs perfectly with your soul-searching playlist.
After four hours, I arrived in Napier, which is the main city in Hawke’s Bay. Hawke’s Bay is famous in terms of wine because it was the first established viticultural region in the country. It’s on the Pacific Ocean, on the east side of the North Island. Napier was destroyed in an earthquake in 1931, a catastrophe that killed 256 people, the deadliest natural disaster in New Zealand history. The city was rebuilt in the Art Deco style, and today remains one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture in the world. It felt as though I walked onto the 1950’s set in Back to the Future. Pastels, the fonts of the signs on businesses, all set along a gorgeous coastline. It almost didn’t feel real.
I was starving, so I decided to search out a spot that had been recommended to me a multitude of times. Since Napier is quite small, I found Bistronomy quickly. A spacious, minimalist interior, it was fairly empty when I showed up around 2pm for some lunch. The staff made me feel at home immediately, and I chowed down on swordfish with brandade and a sparkling negroni while chatting up the bar staff. I recommend you go if you’re ever in Napier. It was spectacular. After lunch I walked along the streets, snapping photos of the beautiful buildings, then down to the beach, where many were enjoying the surprisingly good weather. Then it was off to my Airbnb lodgings – possibly my favorite part of the trip.
My Airbnb was a solar powered converted shipping container up in the mountains overlooking Napier and the whole of Hawke’s Bay. The drive took me along the rugged coast, then steadily up a dangerously curvy mountainside until all I could see was herds of pigs, sheep, and cattle. As the sun was beginning to set, I found my shipping container. Along with my four new pets – a herd of goats.
It was the coolest place that I have ever stayed. It was incredibly modern on the inside, and the view was insane. I even considered doing yoga on the porch, (if only I knew how). The only problem was that it got incredibly cold at night, and a fireplace was my only source of heat. The owner requested that I only used wood to build a fire, without the aid of paper, straw, whatever, so I ended up having to message my guy friend way past his bedtime to ask him how to light a fire. I’m useless. I got it, eventually.
I planned on wine tasting the next day, but started the morning with a hike around the property, which essentially entailed walking around around a bunch of sheep and pigs. It was far more glorious than it sounds. After some breakfast, I was ready to wine taste. I drove my car to the gate, opened it, and stepped on the gas to go up the hill. It didn’t go anywhere.
I was stuck in the mud, in the middle of nowhere. I was reminded of my childhood, where I lived in a house where the driveway was so steep that unless you had four wheel drive plus snow tires in the winter, you were fucked. Luckily, after reversing a bit and then putting the gas pedal to the floor while steering haphazardly all over the place, I was able to get out. I parked at the top of the hill for the rest of the trip.
It was a full on day of tasting. I started at Esk Valley around 10am, and happened to run into a gal who was working at the first wine shop I ever went into when I arrived in Auckland. It was a hilarious coincidence, but not at all surprising to see that only industry folks were out wine tasting that early in the morning. What can I say, we’re professionals.
I proceeded to visit several wineries in the area; Craggy Range, which is well known the states, and Te Mata, but I was blown away by neighboring Black Barn, which had a Chardonnay that blew my socks off. It tasted like the priciest Chardonnay in Napa (which can run you upwards of $100) but was only $30. I bought some, and was going to save some for my sister’s visit, but alas, I’ve already drunk it all.
I was ready for some lunch, and I heard that Elephant Hill Winery was the place to go for a treat yourself meal. Elephant Hill is special in that it is one of the closest wineries to the ocean in the world, so I really wanted to see what they had to offer. When I walked in, I asked if they had any lunch offerings for one. They kindly told me no, but I could do a tasting with a cheese platter if I was interested.
Bitch no, I wanted lunch, not a stupid cheese plate. At that point I was ready to grab a sandwich anywhere, but I agreed to at least a tasting at the bar. However, halfway through, and the host came over and said, “Do you still want to dine with us?” I said yes, and he responded, “Are you Lauren?” And like any old hobag I told him, “sure, I’m whoever you want me to be.” Turns out, Lauren never showed up for her reservation, so it was mine. Thanks, Lauren, whoever you are! The oysters, venison, and the view of the vines and the ocean was pure perfection. And I loved their Syrah.
After checking out a few well known places, I really wanted to see something beyond the exported. I found that in Alpha Domus. It was as though I was visiting a tiny winery in Sonoma. I spent my time tasting through an array of gorgeous wines in a garage while scratching behind the ears of the lovable dog. It was exactly what I was looking for. Great wines, with heart, and no pretension. I walked out with a case…they were having a sale, guys. I can never turn down a good sale.
The next day I took the 4 hour harrowing drive to Gisborne through the mountains. Not before stopping in Tangoio for a little hike to check out the gorgeous waterfalls. Gisborne just North of Hawke’s Bay, so I thought nothing of it, but it was the most beautiful and treacherous drive I’ve ever taken. Too many curvy roads, with cars going way too fast. I was grateful when I pulled into town.
Gisborne is the first place in the world that sees the sunrise, and is also where Captain James Cook first landed in New Zealand. So it’s kind of like visiting Jamestown or Plymouth Rock in the states. Honestly, beyond a beautiful coastline, there was not too much else to see, so around 5pm I climbed back in my car, ready to what I thought was going to be maybe a 3 hour drive back to Auckland. My mouth dropped when my GPS told me that it would take 6. See, the only way to get out of Gisborne is a 3 hour drive through the mountains before you finally get back onto a real highway. There was no way that I was going to drive in the mountains in the dark, so I decided to book a hotel for the night, and drive back in the morning. Hey, why not be the first to see the sunrise? I got a room right on the beach, and made friends with the super fat motel cat, who I caught chilling on my bed when I got out of the shower.
The drive back to Auckland took about 8 hours, but it was one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever been on, through the mountains and along the coastline. Back in Auckland, although I was exhausted, I still felt as though I had more energy than I had in weeks. I did a few loads of laundry, cleaned my room, and asked a guy I had been talking to out on a date. Sometimes, you need to get away for just a bit to re-calibrate, and it makes all the difference.