NEW ZEALAND: EXPLORING THE NORTH ISLAND

19th January 2019

Well hello there! Long time no see eh?

After so much time planning our dream trip to New Zealand and Australia and finally jetting off in December 2018, it’s crazy to be back in the UK, digesting it all. I’m still slightly shell-shocked at how much we’ve done and what an incredible experience it’s been and I wanted to write down in more detail what we got up to, in case any of you are thinking of doing something similar and so I have a place to relive the memories in detail. For ease of reading, I’ll be breaking the trip down into three parts, New Zealand, Sydney and Queensland. I have decided to only include key parts as quite honestly, this post would go on for ages!

Auckland

Our adventure began in Auckland with our flight from Singapore landing late at night (something I’d recommend trying to do if you’re flying across the world) and the host of our first Airbnb kindly meeting us at 1am in the morning to show us our little apartment, right in the heart of the city. We were too exhausted to do anything other than brush our teeth and collapse into bed, falling asleep pretty instantly!

We had deliberately left the next day free so we could shake off any jet lag and explore at our leisure. With a busy week ahead of us, we took the time to gently take in the surroundings as well as a trip up the Sky Tower, something that doesn’t take too long but is well worth doing.

Coromandel

Going from the bustling city of Auckland to the coastal town of Coromandel in just a couple of hours was very strange but there was something about being by the sea that helped nurse the jet lag.

We drove straight to our first activity of the week, kayaking at Haihei beach. Led by the friendly Brad from Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours, we were a group of eight who were quickly briefed on the basics before jumping into our kayaks and hitting the water. I can’t lie, I actually found kayaking quite hard as it was a real workout on the arms and clearly I lack any upper arm strength, as poor Matt had to take on the brunt of the work. That said, I still really enjoyed being out on the water and taking in the views. Brad was really knowledgeable and filled us in on lots of local information as we paddled.

My favourite part was stopping at the beautiful Cathedral Cove where we were able to stretch our legs and take a look around the beach. Brad even whipped us up some hot drinks right on the sand and we sat and enjoyed frothy cappuccinos, lattes and warm chocolate chip cookies before heading back out to sea.

It’s safe to say that kayaking is exhausting (whether you’re any good at it or not!) so we were pleased to be able to check into our second Airbnb of the trip a short drive away.

Hobbiton

One part of our trip that Matt had particularly been looking forward to – as a Lord of the Rings mega-fan – was the Hobbiton film set. Based in Matamata, a small agriculture town, we were picked up by coach with our tour group from ‘Shire’s Rest’ and driven to the film set.

We were then led around the 12-acre set with our very knowledgeable tour guide talking us through the secrets of the set and behind the scenes stories. I may not be a Lord of the Rings fan but even I found it really interesting and it was exciting to be so up close to some of the most famous settings from the film. The level of detail the director Peter Jackson and his team went to was seriously impressive. The hobbit houses were a particular highlight and there was plenty of opportunities to take lots of photos with them. The doors were available in a range of sizes so you could look like a hobbit next to a big door or a human (or Gandalf!) next to a tiny door.

The tour takes about two hours which we found was more than enough time to explore and then there’s the chance to take as long as you want in the gift shop which is any Lord of the Rings fans dream – just ask Matt!

Rotorua

Our stop at Rotorua was one part of the trip that we left unplanned but it actually became one of the biggest surprises of our trip. The first thing you notice is undoubtedly the rather pungent smell of rotten eggs but then it’s understandable considering Rotorua is nicknamed The Sulphur City. Being perfectly honest, you get used to the smell and it’s not uncomfortable in the slightest.

We stayed in a gorgeous lakeside house on the beautiful Lake Rotoiti and our Airbnb host Faith (who was probably my favourite person we met on the trip) was really helpful in recommending things we could do. If anything, we realised that we could definitely have done with spending longer as there was so much to do!

Our first stop the next day was Te Puia, home to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Insitute and the Pohutu geyser. It was a brilliant chance to learn more about the Māori culture and even watch cultural performances, something we got managed to get a glimpse of during our visit. The geothermal activity is always fascinating to see and Te Puia had lots of geysers as well as mud and hot pools too. There’s even the opportunity to see a kiwi, though much to Matt’s dismay, the little guys didn’t make an appearance!

Before driving to our next Airbnb in Te Awamutu, we decided to treat ourselves to a relaxing afternoon at the Polynesian Spa where geothermal hot mineral waters are sourced from two natural springs and feed into 28 hot mineral pools. We opted for the ‘Romantic Double Dipper’ package which gave us access to all of the adults-only pools and admission to a private pool just for the two of us for half an hour. On a trip that was pretty much all go go go, it was really lovely to take some time out to sit in the warm water and just relax.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Christmas day saw us drive from our Airbnb in Te Awamutu to the Waitomo Glow Caves. It was certainly a very different experience to our usual Christmas day of opening presents and eating vast quantities of food but an enjoyable one nonetheless! You are not allowed to use cameras in the cave hence why I have no photos but there was something quite magical about sitting in a boat and gazing up at thousands of glowworms.

We then drove to Raurimu and my favourite Airbnb of the whole trip, our very own treehouse. I always wanted my very own treehouse as a child and as I grew up, that transpired into wanting to stay in one. So when I found the treehouse in the exact place we needed to stay, it felt like a must and my Dad kindly paid for two nights for us as our Christmas present.

We were both in complete awe, walking round and round, just staring at our surroundings. Similar to an apartment, there was a large kitchen/dining area, lounge, two bedrooms and a very modern bathroom. Particular favourites for me were the two window seats and the huge balcony where Matt actually proposed to me! (More on that another post!).

The reason for our stay in the treehouse was the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 19.4km hike that Matt insisted we do. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t the one part of the trip I was dreading but I knew how much Matt wanted us to do it and having just about survived climbing Snowdon, I reluctantly agreed to give it a go.

Along with hundreds of other walkers, Boxing Day saw us picked up nice and early by a shuttle bus and dropped at the starting point, ready (or not!) to start the walk. What ensued was the toughest physical endurance test I’ve ever endured. Taking us a grand total of eight and a half hours, we tackled multiple terrains, some easy, others challenging. We were rewarded for our hard work with the incredible views we met along the way but the last hour or so felt torturous. My feet have never felt so much pain and it’s safe to say my legs took a couple of days to recover! Would I recommend the crossing? If you like (and can handle) a challenge, sure! It was a fantastic feeling and I’m immensely proud of myself but never again!

Wellington

Our final stop in New Zealand was the seaside town of Wellington. This was always intended as more of a pit stop as it was just 15 minutes from the airport where we would be flying to Sydney, but I stumbled across an Airbnb in the form of a lighthouse and it felt like the perfect way to end our New Zealand leg of the trip. Small but perfectly formed, the lighthouse consisted of three rooms on three floors. At the top was a lounge area with sofa directly in front of the large glass doors and balcony, the perfect spot to curl up and watch the sea and certainly very romantic.

I’ll be honest, although I had been of course looking forward to visiting New Zealand, I fell completely in love with the place and it surpassed any expectations I had massively. We encountered so many varied landscapes on our trips from beaches to the countryside to the city and each one was so beautiful. We both actually really enjoyed the driving between each stop as the views were so lovely and for this reason, I’d thoroughly recommend hiring a car. Everyone we met were so friendly and there’s so much fascinating culture in the country. Before flying to Sydney, Matt and I both admitted we were disappointed to be leaving as we’d had such a wonderful time but with so much more to see, we’re determined to go back and explore the South Island next time.

Would you like to visit New Zealand? Or have you been already? What were your favourite parts? Let me know in the comments!

Emily>