I traveled around New Zealand without a guide book...i probably wouldn't recommend doing it, but I got by and it was fun. I decided to reflect on what I would want to see in a guide book and so here is my best of New Zealand--
Best day walks--Rotorua walkways which divide into 8 sections of forest, lake, city and geothermal hot zones. It is cool to see the steam and take in the wildlife factor.
Best free tour--Kiwi experience of Auckland and checking out Te Papa Museum in Wellington
Best $7--raspberry chocolate cake in Olives Cafe in Wellington, great ambiance and the flat white coffee was fantastic too. The cake was superior to any others that I tried.
Best $8--peppermint hot tea and a blueberry muffin
Best $32--Bottle of Seresin Pinot Noir--an organic winery
Best $100--the Bed and Breakfast at Renwick. I could have stayed there the entire time. Robert and Diane were wonderful hosts, they made me feel extremely comfortable and they had a hot tub which I can never pass up. I almost returned there to spend the next 10 days...
By far, the best hostel was in The Zone in Rotorua. When i arrived the guy told me that he would try to keep it so that my room was only for me since they were slow. I was able to use the internet for cheap and take two baths. The hostel is clean, quiet and the linens were brand new. It was definitely worth the $27/night.
I also like the Downtown Back Packers in Wellington with its central location, and each time I stayed there I was able to stay in a 4 person room with a shower/bath attached for $25. It was clean and close to the rail station. The bathroom was a definite bonus.
The Queen Street BP in Auckland is where I met my tour guide, Ben, and so that is definitely a top 3 item too. Plus, they provide towels and the bed was cheap. The tour guide made all of the difference for me though. We went to the ice bar, remember?
The worst hostels--
Definitely, in Blenheim--the Konai. It was grimy and didn't feel at all clean. THe location wasn't that great and it wasn't worth going to or from.
The Traveler's Lodge in Hastings was dreadful. The UK lady was pleasant, but she didn't give a tour, she handed me dishes that I didn't use and I had to pay $25 to use a crappy bike. It was out of the way and chaotic. I know that they recently took over, but clean it up. I found a cockroach in the shower/laundry room. It felt like I was showering in the arctic since it was more like an outhouse.
The Peak Backpackers in Havelock North was dirty and a lot of seedy people were guests. I had my own room, the guy lent me his bike and he drove me to Craggy Range and so despite its appearance, it wasn't one of the worst for the customer service.
I stayed at a few others in Nelson, CHristchuch and Napier. They were okay, but I should have been more choosy. I met Amber in Christchuch which was cool and I got lost in Hagley Park. The hostel was a good location, but it was super loud at night. I enjoy sleeping too much to be disturbed by drunken morons at the hostel bar.
I have realized that I am quick to decide. I should be more patient and the results could be better. I finished reading the Alchemist and Eat, Love, Pray and I feel so in tune with what I am doing and what I want to be doing. It feels great to be on this journey.
New Zealand is expensive. The dollar is basically crap here and they charge $8 for chips and salsa--not something that I would recommend to eat here. The Mexican is awful. They do well with fish and lamb.
In terms of wineries--
Nautilius and Seresin were fantastic on the south Island. In Hawkes Bay, I enjoyed Craggy Range, Matariki, Hatton and Te Awa. Each had a charming attendant and of course, I did hang out with the crew from Craggy which was fantastic. Their wine is in its own class.
I will return to Auckland tomorrow and then head out to Australia, early on Tuesday morning. Yes, I have a guide book and I will be a little more ready. I am getting rid of some books and it will feel great to be able to come and go as I please. I will probably have more to say tomorrow.
Oh, and I did have some interesting travel companions. I would recommend bussing around New Zealand since it is convenient as opposed to signing up for the Kiwi, Magic or Stray tour. It is easy to be independent here as a traveler.