New Zealand took some planning. Lots of planning. There are a few tour companies that do the hop on, hop off stops all over the country but we wanted a little more freedom than waiting for buses and only going where they go, when they go. So we decided to rent a car and road trip.
New Zealand is huge. It might not look that big but in just 14 days we drove almost 1,500 kilometers and only saw the north side of the North Island. After researching the things we really wanted to do we plotted all our stops on google maps and choose a route and decided on how many days we wanted to be in each area. We booked our rooms through Airbnb and Bookings.com. It went a little like this:
Hamilton- Hobbiton and Glowworm caves
Tarangi- Tongariro Alpine Crossing (Mt. Doom) and Lake Taupo
Rotorua- Buried Village, Redwood Tree Park, Maori Villages, Te Puia Geyser, Skyline, Blue/Emerald Lakes, and Wai-O-Tapu
Whitianga- Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove
We also had some random road trip stops to and from these places: Volcano Activity Center and Huka Falls.
We arrived in Auckland and headed to get our car. Seeing a car with the steering wheel on the right side was more than strange. It took us days to get used to getting on the correct side of the car or reaching for the seatbelt on the correct side. After 20 years ofhabits I had to reverse them all. I can't tell you how many times I used the windshield wiper instead of the turn signal.
Arriving in Hamilton for a few days, we checked into our Airbnb. First thing on the agenda was Hobbiton in Matamata. For those that haven't seen Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, Hobbiton is the hobbit village used in the films. Hobbiton looks just like it does in the movie.
It was the actual movie set for these scenes. I'm not a super huge LOTR movies but this was super cool. I had way more fun than I expected. The only way to see the village is to take the tour as you can't walk freely through the set. Our tour guide was a lot of fun. He shared some cool facts about how scenes were shot, things that were real and fake in the movie, and antidotes about set design. Overall, a great way to spend the afternoon.
The following day we headed off to see the glowworm caves. We decided to book the Lybrinth rafting tour with Black Water Rafting Company. This tour consisted of wearing wetsuits (the water was so cold), hiking the cave in the dark (just a headlamp), jumping off small waterfalls backwards with an innertube, and floating down the river. There was a ton of water swallowing and slipping on rocks, but we had a great time. We spent the end of the tour with our headlamps off, pitch black, floating on our tubes linked to each other and looking up at the glowworms. Beyond cool!
You can see the glow by taking a boat tour, but this was more of an adventure we were glad we did. The only down side to this was we were not allowed to bring our camera or go pro. Due to the activity level of the tour they restrict these items for safety. We did get some postcards to remember the day.
Our next big stop was Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This was going to be our big hike day. The way the hike works is that you walk from one end of the crossing to the other. You have to make plans to drop your car at the end and then start at the opposite end. This isn't a circular path. We aren't big hikers and knew this was going to be a challenge as the entire path is about 19.4 km. We decided to do part of the hike by stopping at the Emerald lakes then turning around and heading back to where we started.
This hike is no joke. It is rocky terrain and increases in elevation. We were not a fan of this. We did however enjoy hiking along side Mt Doom (Mt Ngauruhoe). As we progressed through our hike it was becoming apparent that we did not have the right shoes, enough water, or any food. After about 6 km in and reaching a sign that basically asked us if we were prepared for this hike. The answer was no. We decided it was best to turn around. Hiking isn’t my thing.
On our way to Rotorua we stopped at the Volcano Activity Center. Looked fun. We paid the cover and entered through the door. It was a single room with some old, cheesy, interactive displays. We laughed as soon as we entered but still managed to spend about 45 minutes there laughing at everything inside. Across the street was the Huka Honey Hive where we learned about bees, honey, and mead.
We also randomly found the bluest waterfall I have ever seen right down the road from the Volcano Activity Center. Huka Falls had a few different viewing decks.
Our next stop, Rotorua, is where we spent most of our time in New Zealand. It’s the worst smelling town due to all the geothermal activity in the area. The town smells like boiled eggs. You kind of get used to it till you step outside and get hit with a strong wave of it.
The Te Puia Geyser was literally out our hotel window….at least the steam from the geyser was visable. This geyser is the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. It is active multiple times an hour. Sometimes for 3 minutes, other times for half an hour. While we visited it it was active almost nonstop.
My favorite thing we did in Rotorua was the few hours we spent at Wai-O-Tapu Termal Wonderland. Even though it was incredibly hot walking the park and exploring the geothermal pools it was totally worth it. See all the different minerals and the colors they make in the water was really neat. The colors were beyond vibrant. We also saw our first mud pools here!
Our final stop was to Whitianga. I had read about Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove and knew I wanted to make these stops a priority. We arrived at our hotel Backpackers on the Beach (Bookings.com) and discovered that it is in fact on the beach. So the first day in town we spent relaxing and I did some beach laying.
The next day we headed out for the hike to Cathederal Cove. I wasn’t aware of how intense this hike was going to be. We arrived at the car park to find that there was only like 30 parking spaces which were all full. We headed back down the hill and parked in a guys lawn that was selling spaces. We made the trek up the hil to the car park to dins we have about a 45 to 60 minute hike a head of us….up and downhill. We finally made it to the end and found we had about 100 steps to walk down to get to the beach. But we were rewarded with the beautiful beach and water. We spent the afternoon here swimming and exploring the coves.
We also stopped by Hot Water Beach to see what all the hype was about. We had read that you can dig a whole near the shore, fill it with water, and the geothermal activity in the ground will heat the water up like a hot tub. Sadly we didn’t get to find out if this was true as it was high tide and we couldn’t reach the area of the beach where you could do this.
Our roommates however were there at the right time and said they were able to make the “hot tub.” They also said it got too hot to even sit in. I’m sad we didn’t get to do this but after a few hours at Cathedral Cove we weren’t too interested in waiting 4 hours for the tide to go out.
Clearly we did a ton in New Zealand and a bunch I didn't even talk about here. It was a jam packed two weeks. There was so much we didn’t get to do on the North Island and we didn’t even touch the South Island. I have heard the South Island is completely different then the North. Can't wait to check that area out.