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Discovering New Zealand’s North Island: Part I

New Zealand has become a travel hotspot over the last decade, not only because it produces the finest Sauvignon Blancs in the world, but also due to being the film location for the critically-acclaimed and wildly popular Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. While traveling halfway across the globe may seem like an arduous enterprise, the beautiful scenery, rich culture and friendly locals make New Zealand a country worthy of a spot on any travel bucket list.

The flight is admittedly the most expensive and time-consuming portion of the trip. Qantas, Australia’s most popular airline, operates a direct flight from Dallas to Sydney, Australia. (Note: If in Australia for more than 8 hours, a visa is required, regardless of whether or not Australia is the final destination.) Dallas to Sydney is a flight totaling 16 hours. The trick is to stay awake for approximately half of the flight – which usually leaves from Dallas at night – and then sleeping during the latter portion. That way, arriving in Sydney early in the morning isn’t quite as jarring to the body’s internal clock.

From Sydney, the next stop is Auckland, New Zealand. That flight is approximately 3.5 hours with a 2-hour time change (New Zealand being two hours ahead, and bringing the total time change to 18 hours ahead of Dallas). Most visitors will arrive sometime in the afternoon, making the nearby winery, Villa Maria, a convenient first stop. Villa Maria is heralded on it’s website as “New Zealand’s most awarded winery.” It is one of the major exporters for New Zealand wines, and its lower-priced options can be found many places in the Unite States, even Costco. The Villa Maria staff is well trained at providing a thorough introduction to New Zealand wines and there are several different price points, ranging from the very affordable to moderately expensive. While a basic understanding of wine is valuable, hold off from purchasing any bottles. There are many other wineries that offer more unique vintages worthy of attempting to bring back to the states, plus a return trip to Villa Maria can always be made on the way back to the airport at the end of the vacation.

Auckland is a sprawling harbor town, located on New Zealand’s North Island. It was settled by the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, as early as 1350. With the arrival of the Europeans in the 18th century and a large influx of Asian immigrants after a policy change in 1986, Auckland has become a cultural melting pot with diverse food and entertainment options. Recent efforts have been made to preserve the Maori heritage, which can be seen in the many Maori names and words utilized for monuments, towns and natural formations (i.e. the numerous volcanoes found throughout New Zealand).

That first evening is critical to adjusting to the time change and reducing jet lag, so resist the temptation to crash at the hotel upon arriving. Drop the bags off, take a quick shower and choose a suitable dining option. Being a harbor town, Auckland has a wide variety of fresh seafood that is caught daily. Whitebait fish is considered a local delicacy. Try it as a fritter, the preferred way of preparing it in New Zealand. Around 8 p.m. or later, it’s finally time for sleep. Rest well and get excited…the adventure is only beginning!