G: After three weeks at the vineyard, it was finally time to discover the beauty of New Zealand with the freedom of a rental car. As the amazing universe would have it, my best friend Carrie and her friend Andrea joined us to explore the North Island for one week! With a jam-packed itinerary scheduled, we all anticipated a great journey ahead.
The adventure began at 8am Monday morning when we picked up the girls, jet-lagged, but excited and a lot warmer than the Canadian winter they had escaped. We immediately left Auckland and drove the scenic coastline of Coromandel, lined with Pohutukawa trees and their bright red flowers contrasting the shimmering blue-green ocean. We stopped at a quaint café for lunch with a delectable menu and small library on site, and indulged in a bag of fresh plums – yum! Next we visited the Mahamudra Tibetan Buddhist temple for a quick walk of the grounds and meditation. And finally, we celebrated with a toast of manuka honey-flavored vodka to welcome the week (and help the girls relax into the new time zone)!
B: The next day we headed out early to make it to Hot Water Beach while the tide was still low. This place is unique because it’s a beach with geothermal activity just below the surface. At low tide, all the tourists show up with a spade to dig a hole in the sand deep enough to strike hot water. An all-natural hot tub on the beach! Despite all the tourists, this is one place that can’t be missed. Then it was off to nearby Cathedral Cove, a rock-formed archway on the beach that resembles the shape of a cathedral. The rest of the day was spent driving south to Rotorua with plenty of stops in between for pictures and a short roadside hike to a waterfall.
G: The next morning began our most colorful day while exploring around Rotorua, starting with some tree-hugging through the Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest; a truly oxygen-enriching experience. The brisk morning air combined with the fresh smell of sequoias towering overhead made for a great start to our day. Next we visited the Blue and Green Lakes for a few pictures, and then stopped at Mamaku Blue Winery to sample everything blueberry! After some lunch, we hiked up the Rainbow Mountain Track. Once we summited, the views were beautiful in all directions. There was also a lovely gentleman at the top in a cabin hoisted on the mountain on forest-fire lookout. He answered our questions about the wildlife, landscape, and anything New Zealand. Although we thought the skies were clear and the view spectacular, he told us that it’s usually much clearer, but the smoke from wildfires in Australia has been blowing over and creating a haze recently. He gladly refilled our water bottles for the return trip and took a picture for his Facebook scrapbook! What a character! Finally, we made it to the geothermal river known as Kerosene Creek where we soaked our aching muscles away…
B: We settled down for three nights in Turangi so that we’d be close to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – the best one-day hike in NZ, or as others may know it: Mordor. Unfortunately, when we got there our guesthouse informed us that the trail was only open halfway due to the recent volcanic eruption and we could only get there by shuttle, which is $40/person. We took a day to think about it and drove north to check out Taupo the next day. We made a summit of Mt. Tauhara that offered spectacular views of Lake Taupo and surrounding area. We stopped at Huka Falls, the Honey Hive (for all things honey), and relaxed in more natural hot springs as the sun dipped low in the sky.
We decided to skip the Tongariro Alpine Crossing due to the cost and the fact that we could only do half of it, which was absolutely the right decision. Despite perfect weather the previous few days, we woke up the next morning to rain and overcast skies. We tried to do a different hike near Mt. Ruapehu, but the rain lingered and the visibility was incredibly low. We would’ve been so disappointed if we paid $160, woke up at 5am, and were stuck on an 8-hr hike without being able to see anything! So instead we took advantage of the surrounding geothermal activity and went to some more hot springs. 😉
G: With Blake’s enthusiasm (as the girls were too relaxed from the warm soak), we went on a short geothermal walking tour outside the hot spring site. Well worth the leisurely 20-minute walk as we saw bubbling mud pools and geothermal water reserves with a variety of colors and textures. That evening we played some Frisbee in the nearby park, polished off the manuka honey-flavored vodka and cooked another wonderful meal together.
The next day was a long drive to Wellington. Along the way, we made a quick stop to take a picture in front of the world’s largest gumboot, and Carrie finally got to try the Kiwi’s Lamb Burger! When we got to Wellington, we took a driving tour before returning our rental car and saw the theatre where “The Hobbit” premiered (Peter Jackson is from Wellington)! In the evening, we enjoyed walking the city and spent some more quality-time together. The girls even treated us to our last meal together, with some wine to celebrate. Thanks Carrie and Andrea!
It’s safe to say that we were all more than thrilled with our week’s tour of the North Island. The landscape was amazing at every turn and the geothermal activity was unbelievable! Everyone said that the South Island is the place to be, but the North Island was quite impressive. Next, the girls headed off to Australia for two weeks and we took the ferry across the Cook Straight to see the South Island!