Howth – A Not so Hidden Gem

I finally managed to go to Howth at the weekend. And I have to say I can see why people recommend it.

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It wasn’t the sunniest of days when we went but it was still a gorgeous seaside town. Situated just outside of Dublin city centre, about 9 miles, it’s super easy to get to! The best way is to get the DART from Connolly Station. You can use your leap card or buy a return for around €6.50. You get off in the very heart of the town, right next to the harbour! It’s perfect to get out the city for a few hours/half a day, see the sea and relax! You can easily spend a lot more time there!

The best time to go is during the week. It can get incredibly busy at the weekends with tourists and locals going for a day out. Also avoid bank holiday weekends, and super sunny days. Though the latter is harder to do as, let’s be honest, everyone wants to go to the sea when it’s sunny.

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We were incredibly lucky when we got there, as there was a very cute fat seal in the water next to all the boats. These aren’t as common as you think! My friend who goes regularly, and says that Howth is her favourite place, has yet to see them. So if you don’t, don’t be disappointed, it’s just another reason to go back! Try not to feed them though, as this can cause them to become dependent on tourists food rather than hunting themselves. You can see them in the harbour and on the walk down to Howth Harbour Lighthouse.

Walking down to the lighthouse, even on a windy day, is lovely to do. It’s been switched off for some years now but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. I am a sucker for lighthouses though so I might be bias on this. From here you can see Ireland’s Eye, a small Ireland just off the North coast.

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And for all those history folk, Howth has a dramatic history, the Howth Gun Running. In July 1914, rifles were openly imported to arm the Irish Volunteers. There were civilian deaths and many wounded when police arrived due to large crowds surrounding the yacht that had bought them in.

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Getting lunch here is obviously a must! You have the classics, Leo Burdocks and Wrights Findlater but I would recommend The House. I had one of the best Seafood Chowders I’ve ever had. Filled with mussels, clams and haddock, plus some chorizo and a poached egg. Are you drooling too? It was fantastic, and so fresh. Plus a cheeky glass of white wine doesn’t go a miss. When you’re done head to The Grind for a Tea or Coffee to take away before carrying on your wondering.

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There is also an incredible walk to do, though I we didn’t do it as we lacked in time you can read all about it here. The loop is about 6km long and gives some of the best views of Howth.

Have you been to Howth? Did you get to see seals? What was your highlight?

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My European Bucket List

It’s good to have travel goals, right?! I love to plan, and read about all those places to go and its hard to pick a top list but this is it… today, it might change next week…

Lake Bled, Slovenia

I actually heard about this place from a girl I work with who loves Eastern Europe. And the second she showed me pictures I knew I wanted to go. I mean just look at it, it’s stunning. A medieval castle in the middle of a lake, surrounded by mountains. There is also so much to do around here, cannoning, hiking and swimming to name a few.

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Lake Bled

Berlin, Germany

I love history, so naturally I have a draw to Berlin. I want to see Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall and the Reichstag. On top of all of this, I have Germany heritage. I don’t know much about it, which is terrible and as I write this, it’s gone onto the list of things I need to change. I know Germany isn’t that far away, and considering everywhere else I’ve been it is bad I have yet to go.

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Reichstag

Prague, Czech Republic

Charles Bridge and the Old Square look gorgeous. The Bridge was built in 1357, think how much it has seen! You can take boat trips along the Vltava River and view the city from a different perspective (one of the things I loved doing in Amsterdam)! There is also a beer festival in May!

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Charles Bridge

Budapest, Hungary*

To start, Thermal Springs! Who doesn’t want to hang out in hot springs for a few hours surrounded by amazing architecture? Gothic, Turkish, Roman and Renaissance plus everything in between, so much to fall in love with.

*Just booked flights for March. I can’t wait!!

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 Parliament of Budapest

 

 

Rome, Italy

Food, the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel. Just listing those things has made me look up flights for April! It’s all very cliché, and I don’t care. I want to see all those things. I know it’s not Rome, but I also would love to go to the Vatican City. It would be rude to go all the way over and not really!

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Collosseum

Copenhagen, Denmark

Though being in two minds about going to Denmark at all I do still have a draw to Copenhagen. Perfect place for city break. Obviously I would have to see the Little Mermaid but I want to have wonder up and down Nyhavn! See where Hans lived and wrote (somewhat odd) fairy tales. And the Christmas market looks incredible.

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Nyhavn

Where are the places in Europe that you want to go?! Or where else would you recommend?

Foxlow, Soho

The much more chilled, baby sister of Hawksmoor, Foxlow has the same fundamentals – good food, great drink, all sourced to the highest standard. They have a few now, Chiswick, Balham, Clekenwell and Soho. This is based on my experience in the Soho branch!!

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I booked a table via opentable.com, I’m lazy and really do hate to talk to strangers on the phone unless I have to! It’s super easy to do and reliable. My sister and I booked in for Brunch at 11am. Everyone knows by now that I LOVE brunch. It’s probably my favourite meal, just edging out Afternoon Tea. It’s more relaxing, full of great food and every now again a glass (or bottle!) of bubbles or a spicy Bloody Mary.

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A mixture of large and small tables, low and high, leather chairs, wood and tiles all give a very cool, relax feeling. Plus it has massive glass windows, giving it a lot of natural light, but still somehow managing to give an almost intimate feel.

I arrived a little early, and with my sister running a little late, I ordered myself a Vietnamese Coffee. These are a small obsession of mind – slightly sweet, creaming, strong, iced coffees! Though this was not entirely what I got here, it was still lovely, and strong; two very important factors for my morning coffee. It was more of a Frappuccino style, blended rather than over ice and not as sweet. I’m not sure if they used condensed milk or not. But it was £3.65 and like I said still tasty!

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When the Big Sis arrived, she ordered tea, though we quickly realised that both of us wanted something a bit stronger. We resisted the bottomless brunch as we both had places to go that afternoon, it was a hard choice I can tell you now! We went for a bottle of their prosecco, Nino Franco, at £28 a bottle it wasn’t the cheapest thing we could have chosen but it was delicious. And we felt very fancy having bubbles with our brunch!

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I went for the Fried Chicken on Croissant Waffle with a Fried Egg! Didn’t your mouth just water reading that! All of their chicken comes from Castlemead Farm. They are all free-range and well looked after which I always think is a bonus when restaurants do this! It shows they care about all aspects of their place, not just making money. It came with sausage gravy but I was offered maple syrup when it arrived – I couldn’t say no to that! It was amazing!! The chicken, which in past experience can be incredibly dry when fried, was moist and almost fell apart soft. The gravy was thick and so flavourful, though I only had a little as, like I said, maple syrup was offered! For me this was one of the best brunches!

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My Sister, feeling greedy, and knowing she was going out to the football after went for the Full Breakfast! And at only £9.75, it was a bargain for the amount you get. Fried egg, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, beans and toast! All cooked to perfection.

The service was really good to start but as they got busier they didn’t pay us too much attention. We had to go find someone to ask for the bill. However, when I first arrived they were lovely and very welcoming!

I would highly recommend hitting up this Soho restaurant for brunch! I don’t think you can go to wrong.

Why I love Pop Up!!

I know it is probably one of the best marketing ploys of the 21st Century but I love going to a pop up. Firstly, 90% of the ones I go to are in London, I don’t live there now but I read and follow so many other people which publicise these events. I know London has a lot of them, and with so many to choose from, they don’t tend to get as horribly crowded. And they really do try to outdo each other which is great for us consumers!

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The reasons why…

They are always different! I love to travel (if you hadn’t guessed!) and I find a pop up in an area I know and love, can give me that same sort of feeling when I find a cool bar, or a great place to eat in a new city. Even if they are in the same location as ones I’ve been to before, the set up always makes it feel so special. It always helps that they tend to be on roof tops and therefore we go when it’s sunny. And sunshine will make even the worst day that much better.

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Everyone is always so happy – because it’s new and you have to want to go (and stick out the queues sometimes!) people are always so happy and bubbly. Even the servers that have probably worked 12 hour shifts for the last 5 days are loving life and so excited, which let’s be honest makes me way more excited.

The effort that some of these guys go to just amazes me, they can work months for just a few days or weeks of an event. It’s incredible the details they think of, from an idea they create themes, ensuring all of it flows, from the to the hall way leading to it to the tables you sit at, to the outfits for the staff to the colour scheme to compliment them.

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Food – yes it tends to be a little pricey but it’s always great! These hard workers bosh out perfect snacks every time. And I love when a pop up is based entirely on food – I went to Bloodies Kitchen pop up in Selfridges for some cookies and milk (yes you read that right!). It was a little expensive but it was worth it. Going with a couple of friends for a pure sugar high is such fun. It has now changed to someone making roll up ice cream right in front of you; and yes it’s also AMAZING!

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If you have food you must have drinks…and much like food it can be expensive. But it’s always so much fun getting something I wouldn’t normally get – frozen margaritas anyone? Small side note and slightly annoying thing is 90% of these places serve their drinks in plastic! It’s a pet hate of mine, I understand why they do but either way would be nice to have glass.

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The views you get are always unique. Whether you are on a roof top or a boat the views are always a drawing point of the event. Rainbow Afternoon Tea on the Thames, passing some iconic buildings while munching my way food so incredible food will go down as one of the best experiences ever! Oh and with bubbles!!

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There are two down sides –

Sometimes they just aren’t done well. I’ve recently had this, where the event was just poorly organised and we ended up missing the sun on the roof. That reason we came!

You wish they would stay like that forever! Sometimes a day, a week, or even a summer just isn’t enough! But that’s the beauty they will always make you want more…

 

Have you been to any this Summer? Did you enjoy them? Or just find them over priced?

Exploring Lisboa

I have to say Lisbon wasn’t on my top places to visit until very recently…mainly when I discovered it was one of the most consistently warm places in Europe and I had a Hen Do to plan! I didn’t think much of it. I just thought of it as “just another city” and oh man, was I wrong! I think I fell in love the second I got a taxi from the airport. I don’t normally get a taxi from the airport but the three bridesmaids were waiting for me to arrive so I wanted to get there ASAP. A quick note on that, if you can book a taxi in advance, I ended up waiting for about 15 minutes. And yes, at this point I realised it would have been quicker to get the metro but we live and learn.20170430_130655.jpgIn the morning, I popped down the road and get some freshly made pastries to take back to the apartment and all the girls. I did take a mini detour as it was so quiet I couldn’t resist seeing the Arco da Rua Augusta and Terreiro do Paço empty! Though it’s beautiful at anytime of day it’s great to see it so early. I would recommend getting up early on one of your days just to see the city in silence – there really is something beautiful about it.IMG-20170502-WA0044I love to walk (something my family still can’t believe having ones loathed it!) so I organised a good walk around the city. Starting at Carmo Convent, which is ruin of a church. Founded in 1389 it was the largest church in Lisbon but in 1755, an earthquake off the coast of Portugal caused significant damage. Today, it is a roofless nave open to the heavens, a gorgeous piece of history. The square on which it looks on to, Largo do Carmo, has some great little bars so we grabbed a seat, quite literally pulling them into the sun and some sangria – after all when in Lisboa… It was lovely just to sit, chat and watch people coming and going, a mixture of tourists and locals. IMG-20170729-WA0019Not long after we headed up to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, the gardens to Palacio Foz. They have the prettiest views! When we arrived there was a little market going on with food, drink and knick-knacks. It was incredibly touristy but still nice to look round and grab some food. It was so cheap! A massive ham and cheese sandwich with a beer for €5! Plus it tasted fantastic!IMG-20170502-WA0036After a nice chilled out lunch looking over Lisbon we headed on to Park Bar…it was pretty cool. Again touristy – but let’s be honest all rooftop bars are but we all still love them. Park is located on top of a multi-story car park. They don’t take reservations and they make it super clear that they don’t!! It was packed but we managed to squeeze onto a table! It overlooks the city, the river and the bell tower of Santa Catarina. It’s safe to say it was pretty spectacular. The booze wasn’t actually too pricey either and guess what, we had sangria!! Have you noticed a pattern here, views and booze.Screenshot_20170729-113747After a while we left to continue walking around the city. It is just beautiful to meander around, to look up, all the different tiles, the different floors, something different on every street. This is why I fell in love. It was genuinely such a gorgeous city. At this point though we realised were reminded as to why Lisbon is known for its seven hills…our calves were definitely feeling it! We headed back to our apartment to relax, shower and play some hen do games. Check out my blog here if you are looking for inspiration on Hen Do Activities. After much squealing, laughing and drinking we headed out. Drinking out was good fun, there is so many places to explore. Head over to FXFactory where there is a lot going on.Screenshot_20170729-113937The following morning a couple of us walked up to Castelo de S. Jorge. A Moorish Castle, approximately 1500 years old, with parts of the structure being built in the 6th Century! Though we didn’t realise you had to pay so we abandoned that and got Pastéis de Nata from Nata Lisboa which I have to say are a must! They were incredible. I want to move to Lisbon just for these!20170430_125626-e1501325157447.jpgJust around the corner from here is the best wine and food tasting! It worked out at about €35 pp. With this you got a bottle of red, white and wait for it…port…between…FOUR people!! Not just the the food was great and the service even better! We were there for about 2 and a half hours just taking it all in.IMG-20170502-WA0069Make sure you check out “Time Out Market”. It opened in May 2014, and has 35 kiosks selling regional specialities, such as Azeitão sheep’s cheese, flowers, Alentejo ham, sardines, wines and chocolates. Grab some food, some souvenirs (note – you can’t take sardines in your hand luggage, apparently they are classed as a liquid!) and take a load off your feet!

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There was still so much to see! I want to head back just to wonder down the small streets, take it all in all over again.

 

 

Top 10 Things to do in New Zealand – North Island

As all my friends and family know I fell in love with New Zealand. The scenery, the people, and the drink. I say I’m lucky enough to have gone back to NZ recently for the Lion’s 2017 tour but we worked hard and have made the choice that travel is more important than other things. We wanted to go back to see this beautiful country again. And as expected it didn’t disappoint. I’ve decided to do a few blogs on this gorgeous country as I don’t want to bore you all with one big one, or make you too envious! I’ve put together my Top 10 of the North Island. This is definitely just a guide as I’m sure if you go yourselves you’ll find new and different things which would go on your own list. I’ve organised it geographical aside honestly don’t think I could put this in a true Top 10 List!

1. Cape Reinga

This is (nearly!) the top most point of New Zealand, where the Tanzanian Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. To get here we drove straight from Auckland, approximately a five and a half hour drive. A hard one but worth every second. The road has only recently become sealed which is great, makes the drive that bit more pleasant. There is also a campsite on the coast about a 10 minute drive from the car park.

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Park up and take the 10 minute walk down to the lighthouse. Just walking down is gorgeous. The view is just incredible. It completely took my breath away. The blue sky (we were very lucky, especially as it was torrential rain the day before), the lighthouse and the closing sea. It gives an end of the world feel.  You can understand why Maori legend be lives this is where the souls go to make it to the underworld. Just stand and take it all in, and I can tell you now that feeling of awe will never leave you.

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2. Auckland

One quarter of the population live in Auckland and you can see why. This might not be the reason why you go to New Zealand but it’s well worth a few days there. Start your morning by hitting up one of the amazing cafes – my recommendations are either Bluebells Cakery or Chuffed. Go for a cupcake at bluebells or the pilly steak sandwich at Chuffed. Neither will disappoint. And obviously the coffee at both are fantastic.

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Head up Mt Eden, a dormant volcano. It gives some great views of the city. At the summit you can see both coasts at once. We actually climb the smaller peak first thinking that was it, till we got to the top and actually saw mount Eden behind! For more great views you have the sky tower which is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere.

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The Auckland museum is a must! A few highlights – a Moa (now extinct) replica which was huge. The boy pointed out it was too tasty to the Maoris to survive. The section devoted to Maori culture is interesting though a little reparative and hard to follow. The paintings of some Maoris where incredible, the tattoos they have and the way they distinguished tribes was impressive.

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3. Hot water beach

It’s up on the Coromandel Peninsula so a little out of the way but well worth the trip. Either hire a spade for $5 at your campsite or little shops on the way. Most places take a deposit of about $20 just so you’re aware, wouldn’t want you caught short and not be able to get digging!

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There is a Top10 campsite near by to stay at which is incredibly useful as it’s only about a 10 minute walk to the beach. Plus, they are so helpful and lovely – they gave us a late check out for free as well as the facilities being clean and well kept. Oh and only an extra $2 for a powered sight, which I can tell you now makes all the difference when campervan-ing around. They also have up when low tide is. You want to head down two hours either side of low tide to be able to dig your pool.

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It’s great fun! Find a hot patch and get digging. But watch out it can get burning hot. I was sceptical on my way down that it would only be a few degrees warmer than the sea but oh how wrong it was. We paired up with a few other Lion’s fans and created a pretty big hole, with a wall to protect to us from the sea and everything. It was great fun digging the springs and then relaxing in the water. Safe to say the boys had more fun digging the hole and protecting it with walls and even a moat , than relaxing! Not sure I’ve laughed so much at grown men effectively playing with sand like children.

4. Watimo caves

Drive down to Otorohanga for the Waitomo Caves! First you abseil 27m down into a stream, it’s a lot deeper than it looked. From here you walk into the caves which are incredible – the glow worms created what looked like a starry night. If you’re lucky you might get to see a weta! It’s an incredibly active time with lots of small holes to climb through – I have to admit I passed on the first as I couldn’t think of anything worse, the second I just followed everyone and guess what, I ended up stuck! I was not happy! Though our tour guide just laughed which in a way made me ease up and I clearly got out otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. You then get to do Black Water Rafting which is amazing: you turn your lights off so it’s pitch black apart from the glow worms – just beautiful! You’ve gone down so you’ve got to rock climb out!! It was hard I have to say, and scary but you really don’t have a choice  as it’s the only way out.

5. Hobbiton

Based on the outskirts of Matamata, you have Hobbiton, the real film set for both LOTR and the Hobbit films. Photos do describe this best (and I don’t want to ruin it too much for you!) so here are just a few facts –

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  1. The hobbit holes were built to different perspectivesie50%-100% to make Gandolf look bigger and the hobbits smaller. Very cleverly done.
  2. Everything is real except the mould which was made using yogurt, and the oak tree in the hobbit.
  3. The original oak tree in the LOTR is real but Jackson needed a younger looking tree for the Hobbit so took it down, replanted it and replaced it with a fake tree with over 200,000 fake leaves on it.
  4. The Green Dragon pub’s exterior was real but the interior was built after they came back to film the Hobbit which means you canhave a drink in it. You can also purchase these in the shop to take home!

6. Taupo

This is a little town on the edge of Lake Taupo (in case you couldn’t work that out!) The view over the lake is gorgeous. You can see as far as the mountain range on a clear day. Here you can take a tour to the Maori rock carvings which are pretty cool.

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In the morning we got a great coffee and toasties from Stir Cafe. We took it back to the van which we parked up next to the lake and just admired the view. It was a crisp morning which really just added to the whole experience.

Just north of here, about a 15 minute drive, are the Huka Falls. 900 litres of water pouring over every second is definitely worth a visit. They are beautifully clear blue and the sound is pretty intense! There are a few walks you can do but to be honest we just went to look at the falls.

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There are some great little pubs just set back from the lake which do great food and beer. If there is a rugby match on I highly recommend you go to Pub n Grub. They have a great atmosphere and great hospitality (even to the opposition!!). Watching rugby is a must in NZ and where better than at this place with a great view too.

7. Mt Ngauruhoe and the National Park

This is perrfect for those that love some good walks! The first one we did was to the Taranaki waterfalls which was great. It’s  a really scenic walk and the falls were beautiful. This is only about an hour round walk.

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But my favouirte walk, which I really think if you can you should do… 5 – 6 hours, 17 kilometres return to the Tama Lakes! There is a view of the lower lake before climbing a steep slope to the upper lake view point. Make sure you take windproof clothing! It can get cold! Don’t forget your camera, you’re going to want it.

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When you’ve finished all your walking go for a cuppa in the Grand Chateau it gives an incredible view, plus you can say you’ve had tea where the LOTR cast did!

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8. Napier

The Capital of Art Deco, Napier is a must for people who love architecture and a bit of history. This whole city was flattered by an earthquake in 1929 which meant that when it came to rebuilding the city it was built in the gorgeous art deco style, popular with that period. Take it all in with a walk around the city. Check out the Telegraph Building and the what is actually now the Lone Star.  Stop off at Hopi for a coffee before mooching round a bit more. The opossum world is worth a visit, though only because you won’t see this anywhere else. The hate of opossums in NZ is summed up in this one shop!

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Head out of town to Silky Chocolate Cafe. Go via the National Tobacco Company. Another great building demonstrating the 1920s decor. Have the chocolate extravaganza. It’s a warm melted chocolate pot topped with cream with the option of chilli flakes. It’s incredibly sickly but brilliant all the same. For $8 there is a museum you can do too. It’s pretty interesting learning about the origin or chocolate and some of the biggest chocolate factories of today.

IMG_9291.JPG9. Martinbourgh

This has a cute village feel, it actually reminded me of my home town!. It’s full of those nick nack shops and of course wine! The whole area is full of vineyards. This wine region, for me, is the best in New Zealand. It’s a bold shout I know. Go for either a Pinot Noir which they specialise in or the classic Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling all made in the area. The Rieslings are one of my top choices, lovely and a little sweet. Plus not badly priced – two glasses $16 (£9/€10) wouldn’t get that here anymore. So spend a couple of days here ether visiting the vineyards or the bars, both will give you lots of different wines to choose from.

10. Wellington

The first stop in Wellington has to be the Weta Cave Workshop. It’s the company co-founded by Peter Jackson who made a lot of the costumes ie armour for LOTR as well as working on projects like Tintin and Avatar! You get to see the way technology has developed and shaped the film industry. It’s really interesting, even for those who aren’t big film nerds. For those Hobbit fans, you get to see the troll statues used – they are huge and so detailed! For lunch, head to the Chocolate Fish Cafe. Food and coffee were beautiful and the staff were so helpful. Plus, drinks also came with a marshmallow chocolate fish!

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Head to Te Papa which is one of the top museums in NewZealand. You’ll learn a lot about the history of the country and it answers loads of questions that we had ie why New Zealand was involved in the Vietnam war. Plus it was free which is always great for the purse strings.

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There are a lot of beer places to pick from but I would recommend heading slightly out of the main town and go to the Garage Project. It’s pretty small and can get very busy but the beer is worth it. And the service is great so even though it’s busy you’re not waiting long to be served. If you enjoy the beer, you can head down to their brewery and off licence and pick up a bottle…or can…or growler!

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Do the cable car, and admire the views! It’s not too expensive and it’s good fun. It also takes you up right near the botanical gardens which are always nice in any city.

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It was hard to just pick 10 so here are a cheeky few other places I would recommend – Rotorua (Thermal Activity), Whakarewarewa (Redwood Froest), New Plymouth (Seaside town), Surf Highway,  Mt Taranaki, Ohakune (Mount Rauapehu), Palmerston North (New Zealand Rugby Museum).

 

What are your favourite place in New Zealand? Or where have you always wanted to go?