We had a really fabulous time in Sydney, it is a really fun, dynamic city. We spent a couple of busy days there and then flew to Auckland, New Zealand. We rented a car and spent the next week and a half driving around the North Island. It was incredible. I would absolutely make the flight from the US to spend more time there in the future. It is one of my favorite trips ever. I have never seen so much natural beauty in one small area ever. It was by far the most relaxing trip we took. This is our itinerary.
One of the things I noticed right away, even before we arrived, was that most of the hotels and restaurants are locally owned. We only stayed in one large chain hotel, and that was our last night when we made our way back to Auckland. All of the other hotels we were basically greeted by the owner. Everyone is so friendly!!! For the first time in my life I did not plan a trip aside from where we were going to stay. I am not a spontaneous person, but this was such a huge trip, I just didn’t have the time to do all the research. The hotel owners and managers were so helpful on giving us recommendations for activities and restaurants. Also every single one them gave us a bottle of milk for our tea. I don’t drink milk in my tea (shhhhhhh, don’t tell my Ausie friends that) so B got a bottle of milk, it was great!
We arrived in Auckland on New Zealand Day, which from what I could tell was a kin to the 4th of July in the States. It was really pretty neat to experience both Australia Day and New Zealand Day on this trip. We stayed in a small hotel down by the harbor, off a few blocks from most to the action. It had a nice balcony, which gave us a perfect view of the fireworks display. B loved it! The next morning we took off in our Green Roadster, the Clark Griswald would be proud.
On our first morning we headed south, then turned back north so we could go check out the beach for a day. We stayed in a sleepy beach town called Whitianga. It was the end of the season so it was pretty deserted, which was lovely. We took our time and stopped a lot to take pictures. We stumbled across a fantastic oyster restaurant on our way. It was a good start to the trip. Driving in New Zealand is almost like experiencing another beautiful surprise around every corner.
It’s really hard to choose which photos to post. Here are couple from our drive to the beach.
Once we finally made our way to the hotel we quickly changed and headed to the beach. B loved looking for shells.
The next day we drove to Matamata because we had tickets to tour the Hobbit movie set. It is the only thing we planned ahead of time. It was worth checking out. We had a great time.
We got to Hobbiton and were able to grab some lunch at the restaurant before our tour. I am going to digress a bit here. I have to tell you we did not have a bad meal or a bad cup of coffee the entire time we were in New Zealand. We had heard the food was expensive there, but we really didn’t think it was that bad. Everything we ate (even a a tourist destination like Hobbinton) was made with good, fresh, ingredients and was freshly cooked.
The coffee. Let me tell you about the coffee. It is really good there. Every single gas station, restaurant, little road side cafe has a really good espresso maker, and locally roasted beans. Even the gas stations!! Nathan and I drank so much coffee, just because it was so good, I am not sure how we slept. The weather and the excellent coffee were welcome respites for us.
Now on to Hobbinton!
Hobbinton is on a family farm in the middle of the countryside. The family let Peter Jackson come back to film the Hobbit there on the condition that he approve that they open the set up for tours. When you park there is a lovely restaurant and gift shop while you wait for your tour. You board a bus with your group and tour guide and they drive you to the actual farm. You are with the same group and tour guide the whole time. At the end you get to go get a drink at the Green Dragon Pub. It was a lot of fun. If you are a Tolken fan, you should definitely go check it out if in the area.
Once we finished our tour we headed back out on the road to Rotoura. We stayed for 2 nights there. It is a largish city with quite a few things to do. We were also able to drop our laundry off and get it washed at a dry cleaner that was a recommendation from the owner of our hotel.
Another thing about the hotels in New Zealand, they are all comfortable accommodations for families. Most hotels have multiple rooms and beds, usually there is a sitting area, and a little kitchenette. It is a really nice place to travel with kids. You don’t have to go to bed the same time as our almost 3 year old if you don’t want to, and larger families with older kids wouldn’t have to have a separate room.
Our first day in Rotoura we ended up doing something that wasn’t even on our radar because of a recommendation from the manager on duty at the hotel. There is a very large redwood forest that you can hike through. These are California Redwoods that were planted in the early 20th century. New Zealand is the perfect climate for them to flourish.
After the Red Wood Forest we went to Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village. The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. The Living Maori Village has information on the Maori and how they lived in the past. They also have a geothermal park. It was a really interesting cultural center.
On our second day in Rotorua when we were checking out of our hotel we got a tip to visit the Wai-O Tapu Geyser and Geothermal Park. I had no idea that New Zealand has so much geothermal activity, in this area especially. It was such a pleasant surprise.
We stopped first to see the Wai-O Tapu Geyser. I will be honest this was a bit anticlimactic. Partially because it is a forced geyser. They have the pressure rigged so it goes at the same time every day. They have risers for you to stand on, I am short I couldn’t see really well. The other reason is because right before the geyser blew B had a major meltdown so I actually missed the beginning of it because I had to carry him to the back.
The walk through the attached geopark was really cool. We really enjoyed that part of our morning. It made for some cool pictures too.
When we finished at the Geopark we moved on toward our next destination which was Lake Taupo. We stopped on the way to see Huka Falls. It is seriously the bluest water I have ever seen. Pictures do not do it justice.
Well there is the first half of our dream trip through New Zealand. Stay tuned for more.