We couldn’t wait to get to Auckland to meet up with Claire! However, luck was not on our side and her plane finally arrived 24 hours after it was supposed to. It was horrible to have to wait another day when we hadn’t seen each other for so long…
… however it did mean that Ryan, mum and I had a little bit of time in Auckland which we hadn’t originally planned for (every cloud…!)
Auckland – like all of New Zealand – felt almost deserted. considering that New Zealand’s total population is about half of London alone, this was no surprise. However the fact that 32% of the country’s people live in Auckland we were expecting to find a few more people about…especially on a Saturday night! The lack of crowds made our sunset walk around the harbour and along the quays even more atmospheric. We admired the imaginatively modernised industrial landscapes.
Having finally met up with Claire (hooray!) we headed in our hire car up to the Northlands. We took a stunning winding route through Kauri Forests, visited the ‘Lord of the Forest’ (humungous Kauri tree) and via the Kauri Tree Museum, to learn all about the Kauri timber trade and ‘gum’ collectors.
We eventually arrived at Opononi on Hokinaga Harbour, made famous in the 50s for the friendly dolphin ‘Opo’ who visited frequently to play with the residents in the water. The following day we made the short drive over to the other coast to stay at Keri Keri.
Mum spent some time at the famous Waitangi Treat Grounds, where the europeans settlers and Mauri chiefs signed the historical and controversial agreement, while me and Claire visited Haruru waterfalls.
The next day we hopped on a small ferry to visit Russell, which used to be an old whaling village, charmingly known as ‘the hell hole of the south pacific’! It is now fully gentrified and quite fancy – we wandered through to a beach on the far side to have a chilly swim and a bit of a snorkel.
We then headed back down the peninsula, past Auckland and onto Matamata. Next stop – Hobbiton! We had great fun exploring ‘The Shire’ and admired the attention to detail on Peter Jackson’s film set for both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Reeling from the excitement of Hobbiton (we were beside ourselves – especially mum!) we headed further south and inland to the geothermal centre of New Zealand – Rotorua. We and heard that you can smell Rotorua several miles away and we noticed that in the town itself at times the smell of sulphur was unbearable.
However you quickly forgive the smell as the landscapes are breathtaking, with a huge central lake, half of which has geothermal activity along with a a fascinating array of bird life. The local parks have numerous steaming and bubbling pools and small water baths where you can bath (and almost burn!) you aching feet.
The following day we visited Te Puia and found out some more about Mauri culture…
….and visitied their amazing geothermal sites, including the Pohutu Geyser and bubbling mud pools. Pretty impressive!
We even had our lunch prepared for us in the tradition Mauri way of steaming it for several hours over geothermal steam. This way of cooking is called ‘Hangi’ and it was delicious!
Following Te Puia we did a tree top walkway through redwood tree and fern forests – careful to spot the famous New Zealand Silver fern (harder than we had thought!)
We couldn’t leave the Rotorua area without spending a couple of hours sampling the hot pool culture ourselves. Claire, Ryan and I relaxed in the pools as the sun set.
Rotorua behind us we continued south, stopping for the afternoon at Tongariro National Park for some hiking and more Lord of the Rings geekiness (hooray!) by visiting Mount Doom itself (otherwise known as Mount Ngauruhoe). The volcanic activity here – as well as at Rotorua – was unlike anything any of us had seen before.
We then arrived at our final stop of the north island, at New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. Of course our first stop was a Lord of the Rings themed excursion…. the Weta Workshop where may of the props and costumes for Lord of the Rings and many other films are made.
Wellington had many other interesting sights and seemed like a lovely city. We visited the botanic gardens and of course had to partake in their famous coffee culture!
The following morning it was time to leave the North Island behind us and catch a ferry across the Cook Strait to Picton where our adventure would continue…