New Zealand Roadtrip - Part 1 (North Island)

Friday, October 02, 2015

Australia and New Zealand have what you could call sibling rivalry of each other. From who created our fluffy meringue dessert the "Pavlova" to whether Russell Crow is an Aussie or a Kiwi, we always find things to argue about. But even as an Aussie myself, one thing that is completely undeniable is that New Zealand is an incredibly stunning country!

I was lucky enough to spend 3 weeks on a family roadtrip from the North Island down to the South (and no, we didn't kill each other - only nearly).

Our adventures began in Auckland, at the top of NZ. To be honest, there isn't a lot different in Auckland to any other coastal city (it's a lot like Sydney... do I dare say that?!). However, if you look over the waters into the distance you can see a place I'd definitely recommend visiting! A short drive around the bay will bring you to Devonport and North Head. The scenery is amazing, so take it on foot from here. The view from North Head spans across to Auckland city and is stunning! This part of Auckland is also home to the maritime museum, with all the walks taking you around various weapons from the war which are now historic relics for public viewing. All around Torpedo Bay there are expansive views of the city, ocean and back to the hills.

I was only in Auckland for a day, so I'm sure there are plenty of other places to visit, but in my opinion the real side of NZ isn't revealed until you start trekking on down!

About a 4 hour drive south of Auckland is Whakatane (yeah, go on and try to pronounce that!). Whakatane itself is a small, simple town, but it is the gateway to White Island. Known to the Maori people as Whakaari, this island is the only remaining active marine volcano in New Zealand! We joined a day tour with White Island Tours over to the island for the chance to walk on this live volcano. Once decked out in all our safety gear (the gas mask was necessary!) the tour guides lead us onto the island, starting at the remains of an abandoned sulphur mining factory which still stands despite numerous volcanic eruptions. Following on from this we walked amongst the steam vents and bubbling mud pits to the edge of the volcano where you can look down into its fiery abyss.

It is hard to explain the adrenalin fuelled feeling of knowing you are standing on an active volcano and being able to explore its history and incredible geology. The tour guides will also happily share their knowledge with you, and show you some of the more scenic areas of the volcano. The sulphur which lies all over the island is an incredible bright yellow colour, although it smells horrible! Definitely a trip worth taking as there are not many places in the world where such an accessible volcano can be visited by travellers. The tours are very weather dependent and are also dependent on the seismic activity of the volcano. The latest eruption from White Island was in October 2013, and as such visitors are warned of the extreme safety risks associated with visiting the island. If you're like me however, no adventure is too risky, so I would mark it as a definite must do!

Back in the motorhome again, our next stop was Rotorua. If you have a sensitive nose perhaps avoid staying in Rotorua itself. The town is situated in the highly active Whakarewarewa geothermal valley, so the smell of sulphur lingers in the air for miles. Ignore the smell and embrace this amazing town, where you can explore history, culture and amazing landscapes in one place. By far my favourite place in Rotorua is Te Puia.

Home to the Maori Cultural Centre as well as the world famous Pohutu Geyser, Te Puia is your one stop shop for everything NZ! Inside the 60 odd hectares of Te Puia are endless geothermal fields which you can explore at your leisure. You can't miss the Pohutu Geyser which erupts around 20 times a day, shooting jets of water up to 30 metres into the air. Other than the Phoutu Geyser there are a number of other geysers to visit, as well the mud pools and walks through the steaming scrub land. We spent the whole day here wandering around the geysers and through the bushland. It was honestly one of the most incredible experiences of my life! I love nature and natural wonders, so this kind of place was right up my alley!

Eruptions from the geyser's of Te Puia

Once you've had a good look around the geothermal fields, there is plenty of Maori culture to dive into, including various cultural performances including the welcome call, pōwhiri, Haka, as well as traditional carvings and weavings at the onsite school. You can also take a look around the Maori constructed buildings to truly gain some insight into their fantastic culture. I encourage anyone who visits New Zealand to really engage with the Maori culture and delve in as much as you can. The native people have incredible stories and cultural tit-bits to truly make your experience worthwhile. You might also catch a glimpse of the elusive Kiwi bird at Te Puia. If you didn't know, the Kiwi is an endangered species and can only be found in New Zealand. Be sure to make the most of the opportunity to see one of these rare birds up close!

I love to meet the native wildlife from overseas destinations, so if you're keen to meet some more of NZ's animals I'd suggest a visit to Rainbow Springs. Set amongst beautiful native plantlife and streams, Rainbow Springs is home to an incredible number of NZ's more endangered and beloved animals. It is also the largest kiwi bird conservation centre in New  Zealand, releasing over 1,200 Kiwi's back into the wild since 1995. Other than the Kiwi you will meet birds including the Morepork owl and mischievous Kea, as well as the Tuatara (which is neither a lizard nor a dinosaur!). Rainbow Springs also has a sponsorship program where you can "adopt" your own Kiwi, providing much needed funds to the conversation of this endangered NZ icon. I couldn't resist adopting a Kiwi, and sponsored ET!

Dragging myself away from Rotorua and itself incredible landscape was a hard task, but the trip must go on! Next stop on our NZ roadtrip was Taupo. This town is situated next to Lake Taupo which was created thousands of years ago by a gigantic volcanic eruption. This serene town is home to one of NZ's most visited attractions - the Huka Falls. Being a bit of a trekaholic, we took the scenic route down from the Spa Thermal Park (a great treat on the way back!). The walk takes approximately 2 hours return, give or take for the endless photo ops, and winds down the Waikato River. As you walk down the riverside through the gorgeous native forests, the waters bubbling peacefully alongside. But once you reach the rocky ravine it takes on a whole new
character, plummeting 220,000 litres of water over the Huka Falls each second. This view is pretty spectacular, with several vantage points to capture its true glory. If you're travelling with friends I suggest they walk down the hill a little further where there is a great spot to capture you and the falls. Heading back up to the Spa Thermal Park you can lounge about in the hot springs to soothe sore muscles and appreciate more of NZ's natural wonders. Taupo also has a number of other walks and treks, as well as boat trips up to the Huka Falls (take a rain coat!).

Leaving Taupo we headed to our final destination on the North Island, the capital of NZ - Wellington. For the many camper vans, buses and motorhomes, Wellington is the port of call for transfers between the North and South Island's. In itself the ferry ride is fantastic, showing off the greenery of the hills, and the glistening blue waters of the ocean crossing. This is the perfect time to sit back, relax with a wine and watch the world float by before the real adventures start in the South!

Ready for the next instalment of my NZ roadtrip adventures? If you like the sound of the North, just wait until you hear about the South! Check out Part 2 now :D

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