I lost count of how many cattle-related jokes I got in the days before my trip to Auckland.
"What are you going to do there?" and "New Zealand has a lot of sheep, right?" were questions I got from all my friends, but unfortunately had no witty retort to.
I could have recited the activities printed on my itinerary to them, but the words felt too foreign to leave my tongue.
After all, not being an expert on the woolly creature nor was I familiar with Tolkien's Middle Earth, the two things people associate with the country most, I had no idea what to expect from the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Little did I know that as I sat in the Business Class cabin on an Air New Zealand flight, a glorious city full of hidden jewels was waiting to be uncovered and explored.
I was hit with a wave of hospitality upon entering the spacious and well-equipped cabin. Fluffy pillows with our names printed on the covers greeted us as we approached our seats while meticulous flight attendants did everything to let passengers feel right at home.
Air New Zealand's latest Hobbit-themed flight safety video is known as 'the most epic safety video ever made'. And boy, it really was. Entertaining and creative, the video is one that will stay with you long after your flight.
Shot all over New Zealand including the set of Hobbiton, the video stars Elijah Wood and director Sir Peter Jackson.
With the many facilities and features on Air New Zealand's 777-200 aircraft, I barely felt the nine-and-a-half hour flight to Auckland. Seated in a luxurious leather armchair, time flitted by as I kept myself occupied with in-seat entertainment on a personal 26-centimetre screen.
The latest blockbuster movies, television shows, music and games made certain that I was never bored.
Besides spoiling myself silly with tempting dishes specially designed by an award-winning consultant chef, I also got to savour a premium selection of New Zealand's finest wine and spirits.
And if I ever felt sleepy, I could simply get some undisturbed rest by transforming my armchair and its ottoman footrest into a lie-flat bed, complete with my very own memory foam mattress and blanket. An amenity kit also ensured utmost comfort for the weary traveller.
The whole flight experience was further enhanced by other perks such as premium check-in and lounge access when departing from airports. Talk about a memorable and hassle-free way to travel indeed!
But with the clock ticking and only 48 hours in Auckland itself, what should you do to make the most out of your time and ensure that the trip will be worthwhile?
Here are the top 6 must-dos when in Auckland:
1. Take a half-day trip to Waiheke Island
Prominent vineyards, swanky restaurants, idyllic beaches, charming art galleries - respite, adventure and pleasure. You can find all of these - and more - on the 92 square kilometres that is Waiheke Island, making it a perfect destination for the short getaway that you so crave.
Hailed the Island of Wines, it is not hard to understand how Waiheke earned its reputation. Rich soils plus dry climates there create ideal growing conditions for grapes that eventually turn into quality chardonnay, merlot, syrah and so on.
Numerous wineries and stretches of vineyards peppering the region make wine-tasting tours a must. Many of these places also operate restaurants that serve top-notch cuisine, making them popular hosts of weddings and corporate events.
Sleek, modern and clean-cut, Cable Bay Vineyards specialises in manufacturing wines known for their elegance, subtlety, as well as individual personalities.
A sheltered outdoor terrace, known as The Verandah, is the model setting to while away some time in cosiness and class. Be sure to saunter down Cable Bay's underground cellar, embellished by rows of wooden barrels and take a tour of its other private dining rooms too.
Gourmet food, superior wines, a wonderful ambience and a view of the ever-so-gorgeous Haruaki Gulf further explain why Cable Bay Vineyards is an impressive restaurant and bar deserving of all the awards it has won to date.
On the other hand, Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant takes pride in the rustic charm and timeless quality that it exudes. The quaint yet romantic spot, with a luscious garden to boot, gets its name from the hand-hewn mud bricks that it was constructed with.
Here, all fruit from the vineyards are handpicked and only the very best ones make it into the winery.
Thanks to its impeccable location, dining with flora and fauna while sunset-watching or star-gazing is a norm at Mudbrick, where the food is as sensational as its surroundings. The fact that the restaurant is brimming with guests even on a weekday afternoon speaks volumes about its irresistible menu and hospitality.
Wine-tasting is available at both Cable Bay and Mudbrick, starting from NZ$10 (around S$10) per person.
Waiheke Island is home to a population of over 8,000 residents, many of whom are creative souls dabbling in writing, poetry, music and art. Indeed, it is uplifting to see a community so supportive of its local arts scene.
One stop we made on our tour of Waiheke was at the well-furnished home and studio of Christine Hafermalz-Wheeler, The Artist Goldsmith.
Fuelled by her passion for gemstones and a profound understanding of metals, the talented jewellery maker has been in her trade for 43 years.
What makes Christine's work extraordinary and highly sought after, other than they are all created from scratch by hand, is that she never makes the same piece twice. Using a mix of jewels, stones, beads and even million-year-old fossils, each item is genuinely one-of-a-kind.
Her drive, dedication and attention to detail are all the more evident when demonstrating the use of a mouth-blown soldering torch, a tool that is rarely used these days.
A visit to Christine's studio will require an appointment but her gallery at 106b Oceanview Road of Oneroa, Waiheke Island is open to the public.
Lastly, if there is anything else Waiheke is notable for, it would be its many pristine beaches where crystal clear waters meet fine golden sand. So go sailing or kayaking. Take a dip in the seas and have a picnic. The possibilities are endless on this paradise island.
You haven't truly seen Auckland in all its glory unless you have been to Waiheke Island, a whole new world compared to its metropolitan counterpart despite being only a 35-minute ferry ride away.
The best way to explore Waiheke without all the fuss about how to get around or where to go would be to book a tour.
Our guide from Ananda Tours was there to greet us with a friendly handshake and radiant smile the moment we disembarked the fancy MV Nirvana cruise vessel at Matiatia Wharf. With his comprehensive knowledge of the island and its people, he took us through an enthralling Waiheke experience.