Scene-setter: What business does Drake, our second-favorite Canadian, have being the scene-setter for Auckland? None, except that we happened to score half-priced tickets to his show at the City of Sail’s Vector Arena on the night we landed. 2 Chains opened, and there is nothing weirder than a stadium full of Kiwis rapping along to “Birthday Song.” Drake just happened to drop a new mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, a few days before we saw him and one of the best among the new tracks is “No Tellin’,” a song that contains the lyric “Suitcase, I been livin’ outta suitcase,” further proof that DRAKE JUST GETS ME, MAN.
Pound-the-table recommendation: Damn, this neighborhood is cute. Ponsonby lies just west of Auckland’s city center, and you may never want to leave. Ponsonby Central is a little cluster of restaurants, bars, and shops where you can buy your fresh produce and your artisanal cheese (obvi) and your perfect housewares and your happy hour drinks. The neighb also has a couple excellent sneaker shops and a womyn’s bookstore filled with all the feminist/lesbian/lady-authored books you could want, so what else do you need, really?
Back-pocket fact: On the island-nation of New Zealand, there are no, we repeat, no snakes—which means that even if it were also an island-nation of garbage and poorly-dressed men, and it would still be Blake’s favorite place on Earth.
Scene-setter: Teen queen of our hearts Lorde hails from Devonport, where the ferry back from Waiheke makes a stop before it deposits you at the Auckland piers.
Pound-the-table recommendation: The Oyster Inn is everything that you want in a seaside three-room hotel—there’s a very good restaurant attached, it’s owned by the two loveliest gents in all of NZ, and it’s on an island that’s a cross between Nantucket and LI’s North Fork. It’s just about as charming and stylish as it gets, and it’s our favorite place that we’ve stayed thus far on our journey.
Back-pocket fact: Over a quarter of Waiheke Island’s residents were born outside of New Zealand. Basically, it’s a place you come on vacation and either find a way never to leave or can’t stop thinking about until you return/move there and open a gelato shop.
Scene-setter: Welcome to Mordor, Hobbits. Tongariro National Park, just south of Lake Taupo, was the stand-in for Mt. Doom and much of the rest of Sauron’s happy hideaway. (Note from Blake: If you don’t know any of the proper nouns in this sentence, it’s supposedly a Lord of the Rings thing?) (Note from MacKenzie: GET WITH IT, BLAKE.)
Back-pocket fact: It’s spelled Taupō and pronounced “Tow-pour.” Huh.
Scene-setter: When the Cricket World Cup is taking place in New Zealand, and you happen to be in New Zealand, you take in a match whether or not you know anything about cricket. To prep for Pakistan v. UAE, we watched Lagaan. If you haven’t made time in your life for this nearly four-hour Bollywood musical about cricket and colonial oppression, that’s on you. The hero is dreamy, the costumes are remarkably chic, and you get to see Helena Peabody in a sequence that looks like a music video from the late 90’s.
Pound-the-table recommendation: Sitting along the sea in Hawke’s Bay is a town called Haumoana. In that town, there is a lovely woman named Charlotte, who can be found at Coastal Wine Cycles, which is precisely what it sounds like; Charlotte rents beach cruisers out of a barn at the end of a dirt road. You ride along a coastal limestone bike path, stopping in at the wineries that dot the road. We tasted at Elephant Hill and Clearview Estate—the former felt like a futuristic wine prison (in the best way), the latter like a theater set designer’s idea of a “charming, rustic winery and tasting room.” Both were pretty much perfect.
Back-pocket fact: In 1931, Hawke’s Bay was devastated by a 7.8 earthquake. The town of Napier quickly rebuilt in the prevailing architectural style of the day, which means that today it’s sort of a frozen-in-time art deco film set.