Another month has passed; I can’t believe we are almost at the end of our year already. There were weeks that flew by, and there were weeks that seemed to drag on forever. Two and a half weeks in New Zealand were some of the weeks that flew. 2.5 weeks was not even close to enough time to experience all that beautiful country has to offer….we didn’t even try. We decided to slow down and really explore the north island. We debated going down to the south as well, but in the end decided it would be too rushed; and even 18 days on the north island was not near long enough to see all the sights they have, but we sure did try. We also debated renting a camper van, but in the end decided to rent the car and stay in hostels and baches (Camping cabins) as much as possible. We also like being able to leave our bags and take off for the day without our things with us (if that makes sense). In the end, we really enjoyed doing it this way, as we were able to connect with a lot of other travellers at the hostels. The other nice thing was that we found the car easy to maneuver through some tighter areas and smaller roads that would have been doable with the camper van, but a little more nerve wracking. But that was our experience and reasoning. We saw LOTS of rental camper vans on the roads and those people seemed to be enjoying exploring NZ that way just as much 🙂
So, we arrived by boat in Auckland, and picked up our rental car immediately. We headed out of Auckland after a quick stop for some groceries, and headed over to the northeast side of the island and a place called “Hot water beach.” We timed it just about right, and hit Hot Water Beach at low tide. There is a lot of thermal activity in NZ’s north island, which leads to hot water running just under the sand here. At the beach, we rented a shovel, and set about digging a hole. If you dig in the right area, you will hit super hot water, which mixed with cooler water, makes a nice little natural hot tub. We unfortunately did not dig in the right spot, but a group of people leaving their pool told us we could use it. Jo made friends with everyone around us, and three “hot tubs” turned into one when he tore down the “walls” between all the pools. We then spent about an hour hanging out and talking to everyone around us. It was a lot of fun, super relaxing, and a good start to the trip.
From there, we made it to our hostel just after dark, and decided to run out for some food. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to New Zealand, but the roads are tight, twisty, and go up and down. We felt like we were on a never ending roller coaster ride most of the time we were driving. Every one of us got car sick at some point in the driving. All that is to say that our hostel was on a bay, in a really quiet area…no houses, no street lights, no stores. It was awesome. But we were also really hungry. So we drove about 20 minutes down the dark winding road and made it to a town, where we wondered why there was so much noise and lights. We discovered they were having a beach hop with old American cars. American flags were everywhere, American cars were everywhere, and we felt like we had been transported back about 60 years and into another country. It was really weird and familiar feeling being in New Zealand but seeing cars cruising down the main street that we would see at a antique car show at home. It was a lot of fun. I don’t think I enjoyed it as much the first night because I was a little hangry and more interested in finding food, but the boys loved it!
That was our first night in New Zealand. From there we drove down to Tauranga, which is a neat seaside-ish town, and we drove around and explored Mount Manganui nearby. Then we headed down to Rotorua for 5 nights. This is a very active geothermal area, and the town smells a lot like rotten eggs because of all the sulfur in the air. We explored lakes, beaches, bubbling water, geysers, redwood forest, and stayed in a really nice, comfortable, spacious Airbnb. It was really nice to spread out, have a backyard, and meet people at the local park. And we learned about the Maori culture. They are a beautiful, welcoming, and gracious people, and we loved spending time with them and learning about their culture. (I also really love Maori/NZ accents; I could listen to them for hours).
From there, we headed south to Napier, where we rented bikes and rode 30km through some gorgeous farmland, ocean trails, and vineyards. It was a really good day out, and we all enjoyed stretching our legs and having fun on the trail. We wish we could have had more time here, but two nights was all we had. Then in was back up to Turangi, where we did a 25 km hike called the Tongariro crossing. I will post a separate piece on that, as it deserves its own 🙂 We stayed in another hostel and had a lot of fun with the people there; hanging out, chatting, and sharing that camaraderie that you do with fellow travellers.
Carrying on from there, we headed up to Hamilton, and then over to Raglan Beach. We chose Hamilton because it was central to Hobbiton, and the Waitomo Glowworm caves, both of which we explored on day trips out of Hamilton. Hobbiton was definitely cool to see. We really felt like we were there, not just on a movie set. We took an early tour and almost had the place to ourselves. Loved it! And to add to the awesomeness of Hobbiton, we ran into some friends from home. We had no idea each other would be there, and I did a double take as I pulled into the parking lot and saw one of my friends from Ultimate standing there. We couldn’t believe it! And we took a really small tour of some of the glowworm caves in Waitomo. Jo especially was intrigued.
After Hamilton we went to Raglan, where we stayed at a campground and just chilled. Raglan is a good place to do that. Jo fished every day. We played Frisbee and swam in the sea. And we watched tv and read books.
We ended our time in New Zealand attending a rugby game in Hamilton. The Chiefs won and the boys got to meet some of the players after the game. They really treat their fans well.
So to sum it up, New Zealand was unexpected. I have heard a lot of people like NZ better than Australia. And I went there expecting to love it right away. But it kinda took it’s time and grew on me. We met a LOT of tourists, but really enjoyed the few Kiwis that we got to spend time with. And after getting over the feeling of being car sick every time we drove, we really enjoyed the scenery and sights we drove past. New Zealand is a gorgeous country….very spread out, and diverse. We will definitely be back to explore more of this wonderful country that has stolen a little piece of our heart. We love you Kiwis and your beautiful country 😉 Thanks for having us.