2/3/17 – Explore downtown Auckland. We do a self-guided walking tour of CBD, drive to one of the outer beaches and then drive the coastline back into the city. Hike Mt Eden (presumably still an active volcano) for views of the entire city and eat some great food. We also walked the harbour area and ferry building.
2/4/17 – We get up early in the morning and make the three hour drive to the Bay of Island at Paihai. There we jump aboard a sailboat for an all day cruise of the bay. From the boat we were able to see hammerhead sharks, little Penguins & the “Jesus Bird” (bird that walks on water). For lunch we stopped at and island for some beach time, snorkeling, kayaking and hiking. We return back to the city at 4pm completely exhausted and ready for dinner. We find a place nearby pub with $5 burger/fry deals and we jump on it as it will probably be the cheapest thing did we find here.
2/5/17 – Wake up early again to begin the long drive to the Coromandel Peninsula. First stops are at the mermaid pools and Piora Waterfall. From there we drive back through Auckland and cruise through the mountains on the Peninsula. It was a long day of driving so we grab dinner immediately once we get to Hahei. There we decided to complete the Cathedral Cove hike during sunset. After the hike we make the 30 minute drive back to our hotel in Whitianga.
2/6/17 – Wake up early and drive an hour to Hot Water Beach. We rent a shovel to dig out own hot water spa on the beach. After that, he had to Owharoa waterfall. From there we drive to Tauranga to hike “The Mount” but the parking situation was terrible in the city so we skipped that and headed to the Blue Spring (apparently it was a holiday we did not hear about). We hike the crystal clear springs and then drive to our hotel in Rotorua.
2/7/17 – Starting the day in Rotura, we check out some of the spots in the downtown area. First the government gardens, then to Lake Rotorua and then to Kuirau park to see some geothermal pools. Next we venture to Whakarewatewa forest to walk among California Redwoods. From there we drive to the surrounding peaks to get a free vantage point of the major geysers in the town (which are commercially operated and not cheap). This is our last destination in Rotorua and we make the hour drive to Taupo. We check into the hotel and then walk over to spa park hot pools and finish up the night with $2 tacos (a lot of tacos were consumed here).
2/8/17 – Wake up early in Taupo and make the one hour drive to Tongariro National Park. We park at the finish off our day long hiking adventure and catch a shuttle to the start point. There we being the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which is a 13mi hike through an active volcano region. After six hours of hiking, we complete the hike and check into National Park Tavern. We surprisingly stumbled into a very nice restaurant (since it was sleepy little town it was the only option), have dinner and then go to sleep early.
2/9/17 – Begin the day by cooking breakfast at our Holiday Park using farm fresh eggs and enjoying lemon scones given to us by the waiter from the previous night. After breakfast we get in the car and head to New Plymouth/Mt Taranaki. We take the Forgotten World Highway which takes us through mountain ranges and farm land. After several hours on the road we make it to New Plymouth. Since we couldn’t check in yet, we decide to head north to Three Sisters Beach & Elephant Rock. We return back to the hotel, get checked in and stumble upon a little unexpected surprise. The manager of the building, who lives on site, had an 8 week old Golden Retriever. After some playtime with the puppy, we head out to find dinner and then walk the oceanside in the evening.
2/10/17 – Wake up with the intent to complete a hike around Mt Taranaki. As the mountain was socked in with clouds, we decided to hit the road and complete the 5 hour drive to Wellington. We make a few pit stops along the way, and arrive into Wellington in the mid afternoon. After getting settled in our hotel, we head out to Mount Victoria to get a 360 view of the city. To wrap up the night, we get a dinner at a New Orleans inspired dinner and call it an early night.
2/11/17 – First thing in the morning we head out to get coffee and bread at Prefab cafe. From there we head over to the Te Papa – Museum of New Zealand and then walk down the waterway exploring the markets and random shops. Next we head back to explore some craft brews at Third Eye Tuatara. After a few drinks we head back to the hotel for a quick rest. For dinner we head over to a pop up restaurant for some pizza and then we head back to the waterside to watch fireworks commentating the Chinese New Year.
2/12/17 – Load up the car and catch the ferry to take us to the south island.
WTF New Zealand?! You give us metropolitan cities surrounded by volcanos and turquoise oceans…seas with hammerhead sharks swimming amongst penguins…seaside beaches where you can dig your own hot pool…California Redwood Forest with mud geysers hidden within…translucent natural springs surrounded by pastures and mountains full of sheep….alpine tracks through active volcano ranges which are surrounded by tropical forests… and so much more. It’s like your a one-upper. You take something already amazing and you just keep adding more amazingness to it. Since being here, we’ve been blessed with good weather which helps bring out all the vibrant colors of the countryside. Thankfully we’ve had a rental car for this journey which takes us to all the hidden spots throughout the country. In the north island we have driven a few thousands of kilometers, which is only about one third of the total driving we will complete here. Before we started our trip on the north island, I was expecting the south island to be more beautiful and scenic than the north, but at this point, I do not know how that will be possible.
So for this post I am going to cheat a little because we have done so much in such a small amount of time and still on the go, there is just too much going on. Therefore, I have written short little notes about some of the things we have done. These are the things that I remember most or are things I feel like I should share with future travelers.
Auckland: reminded me of Seattle (even though I have never been), city on a harbour with the iconic Sky Tower. We stumbled apon “Rugby Fan Day” where I saw rugby players for my first time and realized all rugby players are very attractive fit men (unlike in football). Mt. Eden gives you one of the best views of Auckland and was my first volcanic area experience.
Bay of islands: we traveled by sailboat (my first time sailing, it wasnt for me) and saw a variety of wildlife (penguins, baby hammer head sharks, the “Jesus bird”). On the boat was a family from Wisconsin whose, thanks to my childhood friend’s Dad (Kevin), accent I was able to pick up the second the father of the family started talking. I like little reminders of home like that 🙂 Because we were on the boat all day they provided lunch where I had my first L&P. Normally, I dont drink soda and am highly against its production but this one I would definitely treat myself to on a rare occasion *add this to my list of items to import*
Cathedral Cove near Hahei Beach: breath taking, a must do! If you have done or are wanting to drive the Great Ocean Road in Australia to see the 12 Apostles, this experience was way better than that.
Mermaid pools on the Coromandel peninsula: awesome! The water was too cold for me but Eric braved it and enjoyed the moment. The water was absolutely beautiful, another must do!
Hot Water Beach: a very interesting experience that is a must do before 8am. I had injured my back the night before so Eric had to do all of the digging which he enjoyed *after all the years I spent living on the beach & digging in the sand, I wasn’t nearly as excited as Eric was. He couldn’t stop* The water was so hot that digging by hand was painful so we rented a shovel which made life so much easier (a shovel is definitely needed). I enjoyed our little hot water pool for awhile but it was so hot and stinky (strong fish odors) that I got out before Eric. I was quickly replaced by a young Russian boy (about 7 years old) who didn’t understand English but loved Eric’s spa. Between Eric not knowing Russian and the boy not knowing English they played & laughed while the little boy rambled on in Russian and Eric just nodded with a smile on his face. It moments like this that warm my heart and remind me that we are in a foreign place.
Blue Spring: the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. I cant even find the words to describe the colors & beauty. If I were going to recommend coming to NZ for something, the Blue Spring would be that 1 thing.
Tauranga: super cute beach town with great shopping. Very busy so you must get there early to find parking. Hike Mt Maunganui to get an awesome view of the town.
Rotorua: stinks from all of the thermal pools. Land of the touristy adventure activities (go kart, zorb, golf, etc). I am not into thermal pools or their smells so I wouldn’t go back but this was Eric’s jam so he would definitely recommend stopping here.
Mt Ngauruhoe (also known as Mt. Doom for all the Lord of the Rings fans): is by far the best hike we have ever done (and we have done a lot of hiking around the world)! Very challenging hike over a volcano (straight up for 3 hours then straight down for 3 hours). The change in scenery on the hike was mind blowing! One minute your on a volcano with ash making for some REALLY sketchy hiking terrain & next you are in a tropical rain forest with waterfalls. Mind blowing. Such an AMAZING experience! This was my first time to ever see anything volcano related so I was in aw the whole time.
New Plymouth: cute little funky town. Paritutu Rock is pretty cool to look at and easy to hike up. Three Sisters Beach should be on everyone’s bucket list: has the softest sand I have ever felt on my feet! The sand is so black it almost looks blue but sparkles like a diamond. The rock formations on the beach are stunning (way better than the 12 Apostles in Australia) One of the rock formations looks like an elephant (hints the name “Elephant Rock”).
Driving around the North Island: It’s exactly as you would imagine but better. The coats on the cows have a beautiful shine, the sheep are so fluffy, the alpacas are so cute! The crops are protected by a line of very tall trees. At first I didn’t understand this concept but then we drove by a corn field where I wanted to stop and steal some corn for dinner, it was then that I realized the purpose of the tree defense wall *oops*
Wellington: same weather as San Francisco. We got to experience one perfect summer day here which is 60-70 during the day with the sun shining, very chilly and windy at night. The city itself is older construction (no new office buildings or new construction going on). It’s a pretty hip & cool city. Everyone was younger and dressed very hip. A few breweries in town (we went to Third Eye and I would highly recommend it. Their beers had flavor profiles unlike any I have ever had before). As a tourist looking to learn, I recommend Te Papa Museum of New Zealand (it’s free and where I got to experience my first earthquake, it was artificial).
At this current moment we are sitting on Deck 8 of the Interislander, while our little Nissan is hanging out on deck 5, heading over to the South Island *the Nissan was definitely a down grade from the prius* There is amazing live entertainment on the ferry from a very beautiful man whose providing good vibes & knowledge about Maori & Aboriginal music / instruments. These good vibes are everything I need right now….
“I love this city, the hills, the harbour, the wind that blasts through it. I love the life and pulse and activity and the warm decrepitude. There’s always an edge here that one must walk which is sharp and precarious, requiring vigilance.”