North Island – New Zealand

We flew from mainland Fiji and arrived in Auckland on the North island of New Zealand. Getting from the airport to our apartment was nice and straight forward and we were greeted by our other NZ party who’d already checked in. Dave’s sister Rachel and her husband James flew out to join us for 3 weeks, though we’ll be staying in New Zealand for an extra 12 days afterwards. We were very excited to have company that we knew! We didn’t do much in Auckland, James and Rachel recovered from jet lag and Dave and I recovered from our Fijian food poisoning. We just had a potter around the city centre and down to the port though the best view we had of the city was just from our high rise balcony!

We got a car for the three weeks with James as our main driver. Our first stop on the road trip was further North to the Bay of Islands where we spent a couple of nights in Paihai, a picturesque beachside town where we skimmed stones on the waters. We had a great cultural start to New Zealand visiting Waitangi where the treaty between Maoris and Brits was signed. The tour guide was great and really educational. The treaty was signed in 1840 and the problems from the treaty arose predominantly due to two versions of it being circulated; one in English and one in Maori which were worded differently. I couldn’t help but feel ashamed to have a British passport when their treatment towards the indigenous population was so clearly underhanded. The tour ended with a traditional Maori cultural performance at the meeting house. Both the men and women were amazing singers and we even got to watch an intense Haka. We then headed just outside Paihai to Kerikeri where we visited the Rainbow falls. Whilst it was quite a beautiful, tall waterfall, it absolutely pissed it down and we got soaked. Funnily enough no one else was at the falls due to the rain, but it made it nice for us to have the falls to ourselves. We stopped off at the town chocolate factory to warm up with a hot drink/ scoff free samples.

Our next drive was to Matamata, a tiny town of little interest but centrally located for the next few places we wanted to visit. The afternoon we arrived, we headed to the Waitomo caves, underground caves illuminated by glow worms! I was a little apprehensive as I don’t like caves and the first part of the tour was less than enjoyable for me personally. We descended in to a tall cave lined with stalagtites and stalagmites and spotted our first few glow worms. The tour guide explained how they eat, shining a torch on these minute dangling thin threads, similar to that of a spider’s web, from their nests that they use to attract insects. We went down further to a lake and boarded a small boat. We saw hundreds of thousands of glow worms radiating a blue-ish hue, it was like gazing up at the most intensely star studded sky you’ve ever seen. It was quite spectacular though unfortunately, no photography was allowed – I did buy a post card though, see below! The next day, the other three headed to the Coromandel peninsula whilst I had a relaxing day staying in and video calling my family. They visited the hot water beach where you dig your own small pool in the sand and the water is heated geothermically by underlaying hot springs. They also stopped off at cathedral cove, a rock formation that looks like a cathedral overlooking the beach, though they said the grey skies made it less picturesque than anticipated.

We’d had some unfortunate rainy weather but thankfully, the skies cleared for our day trip to Hobbiton. This was perhaps the ‘tourist attraction’ I was most excited for being a big fan of the Lord of the Rings. My sister and I have done multiple LOTR marathons and even went to a Hobbit Q&A with Sir Ian McKellen. Anyway, we arrived at Hobbiton and were instantly captivated by the landscape of rolling green hills unhampered by any telephone wires or signs of modern day life. The tour took us round all the Hobbit holes, though you could only actually enter one of them, and we were shown the difference between those built to scale of 60% and 90% to aid the perspective on film with the respective actors. The tour ended at the Green Dragon where I broke my alcohol ban for a cider in Merry and Pippin’s regular [LOTR reference, duh].

Our next day took us to nearby Rotorua to visit the Redwood forest. The trees are not native to New Zealand but were first planted in 1901. As the name would suggest, Redwoods have a reddish trunk and are massive, towering trees reaching around 100 metres tall.  You can do different walking tracks through the forest, but we chose only a short 1.5 hour walk. The forest also had a sulphur lake that smelt absolutely vile but was beautiful to look at the electric blue water and how anything living, wilted and died around it. We drove on to Taupo lake that afternoon where our hostel had a gorgeous little bull dog.  We went to see the Huka rapids, a different kind of water fall than what we’ve seen on our travels so far. This was just huge volumes of water plummeting through at a crazy pace. We also came back the next day to a different viewpoint along the river for the opening of the dam that happens at 10am. It wasn’t perhaps as immediate as we were all anticipating, but the river filled up very quickly and was soon cascading very fast.

Our final stop of New Zealand’s North Island was the capital, Wellington. Rachel and James went to the Weta Caves film studio whilst Dave and I did some shopping around the town centre buying thrilling things such as water proof trousers and a rucksack… We all went together to the Te Papa museum which has something for everyone; a rugby 7’s exhibition for Dave and a refugees in New Zealand stories exhibition for me. They also had an earthquake simulator which intrigued us all but was very anticlimactic in the end. Our last place was Mount Victoria where you can either walk or drive up to the top view point to overlook the city, mountains and surrounding waters, a beautiful end to the North Island!

Thanks for reading, join us next time as we get the ferry across to the South Island.

Sophie & Dave

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