After spending three months in Asia, New Zealand felt a bit like coming home. The friendly laid back people, the green hills, the waterfalls, and natural beauty all reminded me of our home in the Pacific Northwest. And the delicious baked goods I had been craving seemed to be in every restaurant we came to.
New Zealand is made up of two main islands, the North and the South. From the moment we arrived at customs and talked to our first Kiwi (nickname for someone from New Zealand) we were asked repeatedly if we were going to the the South Island, because it is so beautiful and amazing. We had already decided that we were going to focus on the North Island only on this trip and we started to wonder if we made the right choice. But after only a few hours, we knew that although the South Island may be known as the “most beautiful” with New Zealand’s Alps, the North Island of New Zealand was full of immensely beautiful places as well.
We rented a car and Jeromy was excited to be driving on the right side of the road for the first time since Europe! It was also the fastest we had been able to drive in months, with well maintained highways and reliable vehicles.
We had planned a road trip around the island stopping and staying the a couple nights in 4 places, Auckland, Whitianga, Rotorua, and Martinsborough. We had two weeks to explore the North Island and even considering the abundance of suggestions to head south, we were glad we decided to not try and rush ourselves.
Auckland was a great city. The first night we were there, we found a local festival going on at a park by the marina and we let the kids play while we listened to live music and shopped for locally made products. Afterwards, we walked a long the wharf and had a delicious dinner near the water.
Our favorite part of the museum was the special exhibit they had going on about New Zealand’s music. We got to mix, spin, and play our own music while reminding ourselves of some of the classic acts that came out of New Zealand (Lorde, OMC, and more)!
After a few fun days in Auckland we drove out to the Coramandel Peninsula. The small town of Whitianga was located there and we planned to spend a couple nights there while we explored the area. It was a beautiful drive past gorgeous beaches and stunning landscapes.
We stopped about half way there at The Driving Creek Railway and took a ride on a cute little train up to the “EyeFull” Tower. It was a nice break and provided a great view of the Coramandel Peninsula and the islands beyond.
We arrived late that night and when getting settled into our Air BNB, the owners mentioned that the remnants of a monsoon was going to be coming through the next couple days so to be prepared. Being from the Pacific Northwest, we figured a little rain never stopped us from going to the beach, so the next day we headed over to Hot Water Beach.
Well, I had never seen rain this hard at any beach I had been to before (and that’s saying something being from the PNW), but we had one thing going for us…this beach, wasn’t like any ordinary beach. It has aptly been named Hot Water Beach because it has hot springs underneath the sand. When you dig down a few inches, the water that is underneath is hot. So what people do, and this day we were those people, is they dig themselves their own little hot tubs in the sand and relax in the hot water while looking out at the ocean. We were laughing so hard the whole time and had a great time, even though it was raining incredibly hard, and the wind was blowing even harder. I was impressed that so many other people managed to brave the storm and come make their own hot tub in the sand too!
The next morning we learned that the only two roads that led off the peninsula had been closed due to mudslides from the storm. Since we had no way to get out of town, we asked to stay an extra night in our house and had a little more time in Whitianga.
Fortunately, the roads and the skies cleared the next day and we were able to head out of town. On our way out we stopped at Cathedral Cove because we had heard that there was a beautiful beach there. It was a bit of a hike down, but we were not disappointed. It was so gorgeous, we only wished we had planned to spend more time there. Of all the beaches we had seen on this trip and in our lives, Jeromy said, this was the most beautiful beach he had ever been to, and I have to agree it is one of my top ones as well. It ticked all the boxes of a great beach…
- Crystal clear water
- Rocks out in the ocean
- A beautiful arch you can walk through
- A river to play in and try to dam
- And tidepools
As we drove into Rotorua, the first thing we noticed was the smell. It is an area high in thermal activity and the sulphur in the air was very telling that we had arrived! We had a fun time visiting Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. I assigned each member of the family a color along with the mineral that went along with it. So when we saw that color as we wandered along through this aptly named thermal wonderland, each of us would point and yell out “Sulphur! Iron! Manganese! nAtimony!” Or one of the other minerals that made this place so incredibly unique.
While the water was relaxing, the highlight for all of us was the short hike we took from the hot springs to the BOILING river! Yes, boiling! It was like nothing I had ever seen before. So amazing!While the thermal wonders are the main things that draw people to the area of Rotorua, there are so many other fun things to do there as well.
We spent a really fun night learning about Moari history and culture at Tamaki Moari Village, ending in an traditional Moari feast. The best part of the night had to be when the boys all learned the Haka (traditional war dance). You may have seen this before, it involves a lot of yelling, pounding your chest, and sticking out your tongue to intimidate the other people. We learned the reason for sticking out your tongue is to imply that after you kill them, you will eat them! Yikes!
Perhaps the most surprisingly fun thing we did in Rotorua was go Zorbing. Zorbing is when you get in a giant plastic ball with water in it and they then roll you down a huge hill in it. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time, it was so much more fun that you would even think. We had a blast and I tried to come up with a way to bring it to the Northwest just so I could go on it again!
Martinborough is a quiet little town in the wine country of New Zealand. It was a nice little place to relax for a couple days before we headed out on our last section of our trip in South America. We enjoyed eating the good food, going on walks through the small town, playing at parks, and even visiting their local library.
Along the Way
Lord of the Rings Sights
If you go to New Zealand, even if you aren’t a huge fan of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, you can’t miss seeing some of the movie sights there. It was amazing to learn how much goes in to making a movie on that scale. For example, in the book, The Hobbit, it talks about how in The Shire, there were plum trees, well there weren’t plum trees where they made The Shire in New Zealand so they removed all the leaves from apple trees and added thousands of fake plum leaves to the trees to make it accurate. This was all for only a few seconds that made it into the film!
In the Lord of the Rings there is a scene in the Paths of the Dead that was filmed at Putangirua Pinnacles. This was a beautiful hike all on its own, but it was fun to go back afterwards and watched how they used this area to film scenes in the movie.
We also spent an afternoon at Weta Workshop in Wellington that assisted in a lot of the design and manufacturing for Lord of the Rings and many other movies (Avatar, BFG, Godzilla, Spiderman, King Kong, Narnia, and so many more). It was really interesting to learn about the creative processes that go into making movies and all the different pieces that fit together to make it work.
New Zealand was more than we had hoped it would be, and it was a welcome respite as the place most similar to home that we had encountered on our trip. We loved it there and look forward to returning to finally explore the South Island, although I can’t imagine having a better experience there.