New Zealand’s North Island – In a nutshell

Let’s start with the basics, I don’t know if you know this (I most certainly did not), but New Zealand is divided into the North and South Islands. The famous city of Auckland is located in the North Island, and the beautiful city of Christchurch in the South Island. A while ago, my family and I entered a Jetstar Take on The World challenge, and won! The amazing trip of an all expenses paid trip for the entire family (5 people! We paid for the extra 2 more). Since my family is a family of nomads, we decided to go where none of us have been before, so we headed to Auckland.

Auckland…

is pretty amazing on its own, the city center would feel very small and makes it easy to walk around. I won’t delve too deep into it here except to note some of the main sights we saw (will write more on each major sight in separate posts). We checked out the harbors (and went for a dinner cruise on a yacht!), shopped all along Queen’s Street, and drove to Piha Beach (one hour away), One Tree Hill (15 minutes away) and Mt. Eden (15 minutes away).

IMG_8775(View from Mt. Eden)

Which brings me to one of the main things you should do when travelling New Zealand – rent a car and drive. Rental is pretty easy. You just need to bring the drivers license of your home country. You don’t even need to convert it into an international license. We rented the car from the airport (since there were five of us, it was easier than taking the bus and then renting a car in the city) and got a separate GPS navigation system as well. The GPS was helpful, but if you want a real feel of road tripping, bring along a paper map and navigate. The streets are well signed making it easy to travel around.

Hobbiton

DSC_0386(Bilbo Baggins house)

Hobbiton is home to The Shire! Or I guess a more apt description would be the set of the Movies The Hobbit and LOTR. Hobbiton is located about 2 hours away from Auckland (easy driving). Once you’re in Hobbiton, you have to go with The Hobbit movie set tour (there is only one company that does it) and they will pick you up in their bus to drive you to the set area. A second option would be to drive yourself to the start of the set area (Matamata). The tour isn’t the cheapest at AUD 75 each for adults. But the set is incredible! And it was a ton of fun to walk around. Expect the tour to take about 3 hours (mostly because you’re taking a gazillion pics)

Rotorua

DSC_0672(This was a welcome greeting btw, can you imagine if they didn’t like you?)

Rotorua is one of the towns known for Maori culture and Maori cultural villages (to be fair, Maori culture is all over New Zealand). We drove down there (another hour from Hobbiton) to check out Tamaki Maori cultural village. It’s a wonderful place to learn about Maori culture in a pristine forest setting. You will also enjoy their delicious earth cooked dinner and cultural show (including the amazing Haka dance).

Taupo

DSC_0505(Amazing geothermal park)

Taupo is located further south-west of Rotorua and takes about 2-3 hours drive (one way) from Auckland. But Taupo does not disappoint. Similar to Rotorua, Taupo is home to amazing geothermal activity, resulting in wonderful geothermal parks filled with geysers, bubbling mud, and calcium pools. Most of these actually sit on private land, so you would have to pay to enter. We headed to Orakei Korako geothermal park, and was amazed by what we saw there. Taupo is also home to Huka Falls an amazing icy blue waterfall and river stream. We didn’t have enough time to check out the Hukafalls jet but I think if you have a spirit of adventure, you should go check it out. Taupo town is also incredible beautiful (and quite large) so it could be a good choice for a place to stay as well.

Bay of islands

DSC_0232(Dolphin watching up close and personal)

Located about three hours to the north of Auckland, we headed to the Bay of Islands to check out dolphin (and maybe whales if we were lucky) watching. We were lucky as there were a family of dolphins swimming around and decided they were curious about us, so came up close and personal for a hello. Beautiful island tour, we went through the Hole in the Rock, and stopped at one of the main islands for a quick hike and incredible views. On the way back, we stopped by a wonderful glowworm cave!

Coromandel – Hot Water beach

IMG_2135(Community feel in Hot Water Beach)

Driving about 1.5 hours to 2 hours east of Auckland, we headed over to Hot Water beach. What is incredible about this place is that you rent little spades and shovels, and dig yourself a hole near the sea. If you’re lucky, you’ll strike ‘gold’ re: amazingly hot water that had been warmed up from the core of the earth. Bask in your little hole, and enjoy the scenery (and cold sea). Some tips here. Be nice to everyone, people are friendly enough that if you don’t find yourself some hot water, ask nicely and people may share their hole with you. Otherwise,  hang around in the late afternoon, when everyone has left and leave behind their hot water holes.

So that was my North Island New Zealand adventure in a nutshell. Even tough we had a lot of fun, I would recommend you not stick to one area as a base if you were planning on driving as much as we did. Instead, opt to fly into one place, start your drive from another (i.e. beginning from the top, Bay of Islands) and then driving down at your own pace. You can then choose to stop wherever you want, and enjoy the town and ride a bit more. Because we were based in Auckland, we had to drive back every day, which meant easily spending 4-6 hours in a car.

DSC_0690(The Hongi – traditional Maori greeting; the sharing of breath/ life by pressing noses)

Will write more detailed entries on each location in the future. And as they say in New Zealand, Kia Ora!

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