I flew into Auckland in the afternoon of 4 October 2014 and met my friend Christie at the airport. Leaving the warmth of the airport and exiting the doors I was hit with freezing grey and rainy skies a bit of a change from across the ditch which was having a barmy warm blue skies streak, how can it be this much colder only three hours flight away!
The overcast skies and drizzly rain didn’t let up for the entire time I was in Auckland but I enjoyed being shown around the city by Christie and am sure in the summer months it would be lovely as it is a city surrounded by water, volcanic mountains and plenty of outdoor cafes, pubs and restaurants. We had fish n’ chips for dinner and I was surprised to learn at the chippers in NZ you can order fish n’ chips, chicken, roast dinners and chinese takeaways, what a mix.
On 6 October I picked up a hire car and headed for Tauranga NZ’s Riveria in the Bay of Plenty what would have on a nice day being a lovely area I was struggling with gale force winds and a drive out to the peninsula of Mt Maunganui where a big volcanic mountain stands at the end of the beach I wasn’t game enough to get out of my car as the sand was whipping across the road at great knots, the car park had a handful of cars in it and I noticed the drivers sitting in their cars as well. I was really hoping the weather was going to change soon as it hasn’t been a great start so far.
On the morning of 7 October blue skies had come out to play and the wind had subsided so I decided to go for a drive further along the Bay of Plenty to Whakatane. It was lovely there but my visit was short as I was heading onto Rotorua for two nights and had to make tracks, the drive was beautiful my first inland drive over the green mountains even a glimpse of a volcano in the distance. The stench of rotten eggs waffled through the vents in the car as I entered Rotorua which is an effect of the thermal activity in the area and I took a walk in the afternoon in the public park filled with bubbling smoking ponds and the heat coming from them is pretty hot.
On the morning of 8 October I visited Whakarewarewa Maori Village on the outskirts of town. The Maori Village is set on a thermal hot spot with houses mixed in along bubbling pools of water which reach over 100 degrees celsius, our guide cooked some mussels in the pool for us which took only seconds to cook. I had a traditional hangi lunch which is cooked underground using the heat from the rocks to cook the meal, it was delicious. The Village has a bathing area where they filter water from the pools into big bath tubs for bathing. I also caught a traditional Maori song and dance show and yes that haka is pretty intimidating. In the afternoon I visited a redwood forest, the only redwood trees outside of the USA. Rotorua really does have a lot to offer including sailing on the lake or relaxing in a thermal pool but it was getting time to move on again.
I was staying at Lake Taupo on 9 October as it was only a short drive from Rotorua I decided to drive a section of the highway in the middle of the island called the Volcanic Loop. It took me down the desert highway a pretty barren part of the island with no green mountains only brown spinifex type grass. But in the middle of the loop was two very big snow-capped volcanos which lead down to ski fields. Two days previous this road was closed due to it snowing, today the sun was shining and I couldn’t stop looking at the volcanos as I drove a loop right around the mountains and back to Lake Taupo where I splurged for the night with a thermal spa in my room so big it took an hour and a half to fill and a gorgeous orange sunset to top the day off.
10 October saw me drive over to the East Coast and the town of Napier, which was flattened by an earthquake in 1931. The town was completely rebuilt and the art deco buildings remaining have become a tourist attraction to the town on Hawke’s Bay. This area is also well known for it wineries and is the fruit bowl of the country. I also took a side trip to Te Mata Peak a scary drive up to the peak of the mountain but well worth it with sweeping views across the valley.
11 October would be a long day in the car for me as I was driving to the capital Wellington but along the way I decided to take a detour to the longest place name in the world which is a 305m high hill. An hour out of Napier I turned off the highway and drove on small roads through farming lands, but it wasn’t like any farming lands I’d seen before the green mountains were massive and rippled up and down as far as the eye could see filled with farming homes, sheep and cows. It was a beautiful drive to Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu I have no idea how to pronounce it but it is a Maori name which means “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”
Heading back onto the main highway to Wellington it was a nice drive through small quiet towns which reminded me of my own hometown. The last part of the highway before hitting Wellington took me through a mountain range in which the road clung about half way up the mountain with a sheer drop on the other side. It was a bit scary and I had a trail of cars behind me as I only drove about 30km/hr through the winding road, I don’t know how the big trucks manage to weave there way through it.
Arriving in Wellington I caught up with a friend of mine Gary and his girlfriend where a great evening was had enjoying the pubs and clubs along Cuba Street and the main entertainment district of Wellington.
Being much out of practice on the drinking front it was with a heavy head on 12 October I set out to explore Wellington and enjoy my first car free day. The sun was shining and I headed for the waterfront a lovely promenade filled with restaurants and the National Museum of NZ Te Papa which I spent a few hours in reading and experiencing all about NZ’s life and culture, a must for anyone visiting Wellington. In the afternoon I took the scenic cable car to the top of the city which had great views over Wellington and a lovely walk back to the city via the Botanic Gardens.
Another long day in the car for me today 13 October I was driving half the length of the Island to New Plymouth, it was a pretty cruisy drive along the highway as I was making good time decided to turn off and drive the Surf Highway 45 which is a coastal loop along surf beaches with Mt Taranaki in the middle. The skies had turned overcast when I arrived in this area which was a bit disappointing considering I was on the coast but I still explored a few beaches, a lighthouse, an old ship wreck and watching people stand at the waters edge catching white bait in nets (apparently it was the season for it and everyone is excited). Mt Taranaki was covered in cloud which was very disappointing as I think it would have been the most impressive of volcanos on the North Island. In the late afternoon I drove into New Plymouth along the coast road, the rock formations jutting out of the water was the most impressive part, the city itself is nothing to write about.
14 October I drove a stretch of road called the Forgotten World Highway, this turned out to be my most favourite part of the trip and I wrote a separate story on it here Forgotten World Highway. At the end of the day I drove to Waitomo Caves and stayed in the old Waitomo Caves Hotel for the evening complete with creaky floors.
I had a much needed sleep in today 15 October and headed down to the main attraction of the area, the glow worm caves. With only ten people in our tour group, the week before during school holidays they could have up to 50 and four groups running at the same time, it was a relaxed tour of the caves firstly walking through the big caverns with its stalactites and stalagmites but the main attraction was the second half of the tour climbing into boats and entering a darkened cave filled with thousands of glow worms stuck to its ceiling, it was just like looking up at a starry night, just beautiful. On exiting the cave the tour guide shone his torch on all the spiders and creepy crawlies clinging to the rocks which freaked a few people out.
In the afternoon I took a drive along the coast to a surfing town of Raglan a lovely small seaside town before heading in land to Hamilton, with a quick visit to the Hamilton Gardens before heading thirty minutes out of town to cow territory to visit my friend Megan for the evening. A quick stop at the bottle shop and a great evening was had enjoying a bbq of mussel fritters made by Megan’s flatmate and a few beers.
16 October was my last day in NZ I stopped by Megan’s work out in the sticks and learnt more than I probably needed to know about bull sperm before enjoying my last drive through the green mountains back to Auckland and my flight home.
New Zealand’s North Island is absolutely stunning especially at this time of the year whilst all the mountains are green and the waterfalls are full. I hope to be back at some stage to enjoy the South Island.
Travelled New Zealand North Island: 4 – 16 October 2014