New Zealand | North Island

Procrastination seems to be the name of the game when it comes to these blog posts. I’m sitting in LAX, ignoring all the homework that has piled up over spring break, looking back on a great week. A crazy, quick 7 days exploring the North Island has me ready to go back already. My dad & I traveled around the island with a “no checklist checklist”, as we did what we pleased with no agenda. Here’s my quick look at the land of sheep, cows, construction zones, and wineries:

Day 1: Fun in the Auckland Sun

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My dad landed at 5:30am & I followed closely behind at 8:30am. He picked up the rental car from the biggest mess of a rental car company & we were off. First stop: Auckland! On all the NZ websites I looked at, they all seemed to state that Auckland was easy to miss, but I am glad we spent the day here. Our day started with breakfast at a local market & a walk by the shore, followed by a nap, a shower, and a trip up the top of the Sky Tower. Watching people bungee jump of the tower left me uneasy, but the views that came with it were breath-taking. We ended up wandering into the weirdest (emphasis on the WEIRDEST) live modern art exhibit, and stopped for happy hour by the water followed by tapas for dinner.

Day 2: Cathedral Cove & the Coromandel Peninsula

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Day 2 started with one of my first personal losses of the trip. We drove out from Auckland to Hot Water Beach, about 2.5 hours away. At this beach, you can create your own personal hot tub by digging a hole in the sand and letting the warm water flow in. However, this only happens two hours before and two hours after low tide…well low tide happened at 7am, and we arrived just before lunch, not my best moment.

However, I have officially found one of my favorite beaches in the world. Just a short 2 & a half hour drive away from Auckland lies Cathedral Cove, a gorgeous clear water beach accessible by a quick 30 minute walk. The water has carved out a cave in the rock and both sides are greeted with brilliant blue water lapping at the sand. It wasn’t the warmest day, but we had to jump into the water anyways. Two other brilliant bays lead the way to Cathedral Cove, full of snorkelers, kayakers, and explorers.

The day trip Coromandel Peninsula was rounded out with some homemade pizza and a cider, the perfect combination after trekking to the beach, and the drive to Tauranga. Dinner was at Latitude 37 and the evening closed out with watching Australia pull out from a large deficit to tie the cricket game with India, and a good glass of wine.

Day 3: Wai-O-Tapu & a Big Personal Loss

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Rotorua and the surrounding areas sit in the Bay of Plenty, and are no stranger to geothermal activity. Regardless of the overwhelming smell of eggs, it was incredible to take in these geothermal sites. This is also where I took my second personal loss of the trip. We rolled up to Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland at 11:45am, only 30 minutes after their famous geyser had finished erupting. It only erupted once a day at 10:15am and erupted for an hour…oops

Even without the geyser, I really enjoyed Wai-O-Tapu! It was full of craters, hot and cold pools, bubbling streams, and obnoxiously green lakes. One of the highlights, the Champagne pool, was brilliantly colored, with a bright orange shore giving way to brilliant turquoise water. The Lady Knox Geyser is apparently brilliant, but we wouldn’t know.

Day 3 concluded with sundowners on a patio near the beach, and dinner at a funky little restaurant called Three Doors Up, which included an upstairs club, The Fourth Door. The food was delicious, and the small outside area was perfect to enjoy the warm night.

Day 4: Wineries, Bikes & Art Deco

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Hawke’s Bay is the land of wine in the North Island, so it was crucial that we stop here so I could become more experienced in the practice of wine tasting. Where we stayed, Napier, is also known as the Art Deco Capital of the World. It also seems to attract people who are more seasoned in life, and made my dad look young, which is saying something.

Being the young & fit people we thought we were, we decided to rent bikes to get to the wineries, only a quick 18km away. Never has 18km felt so long in my life as it took us nearly 2 hours to arrive at the first winery. Desperate for a drink we settled in for a wine tasting, some grapes tickling our taste buds, others not so much…The scenery at the wineries were stunning, with rows and rows of gorgeous grapes and bright green grass surrounding both.

Following this, we went to downtown Napier, to take in the Art Deco design it boasts about greatly. Not my own personal style, but you could see touches of this all through the city, from hotels to banks to stores. Funky and cool, if you’re into it.

Day 4 concluded with sundowners on the patio near the beach again, this time eating at that restaurant, after discovering their accountant gets on Trip Advisor and responds to the negative reviews with a quick tongue and plenty of sass. Dad & I were in stitches before the apps even got to our table.

Day 5: Taupo Exploration

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Day 5 involved getting back on the road and back-tracking up to Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand, and home to adrenaline junkies and plenty of geothermal activity of its own. I tried talking myself into skydiving and almost did so, until I decided I want to skydive as a celebration of graduation from grad school in May, that way my sister could join us too.

Instead we visited a funky café for lunch, which included a sculpture garden full of mosaic furniture. After a forty-five minute drive outside of Lake Taupo, and a quick 15 minute walk we made it to a still, clear, and picturesque lagoon, Waihora Lagoon. The serenity and calm of this place was incredible, the water cast an almost perfect reflection of the trees on it.

Following this lagoon, we headed back into town to take a try at the Lake Taupo Hole-In-One Challenge. There was a floating platform in the lake, and the opportunity to land a hole-in-one and win $10,000. Apparently, they have a winner every two weeks or so, and I came remarkably close. For someone whose golf experience is limited to Putt-Putt, I surprised everyone with my swing.

Day 5 was closed out again with an attempt to watch the sunrise over the water, with little success. We found another brewery/restaurant again with a sassy owner responding to negative Trip Advisor reviews with the “real story”, with no apologies in setting previous customers straight. Steak was served on the hot stone, and the pizza was delicious, so no complaints leaving this place.

Day 6: Waitomo Glowworm Caves

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Today was the only day where I had pre-booked anything, and of all the tour options available in New Zealand, this was one I just couldn’t pass up. We drove the quick two hours to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves early in the morning, and got suited up for five hours spent in a cave. There is the option to ride on a boat and glide through the caves for a quick forty-five minute tour, but we opted to get there a different way.

After abseiling down 35m (and squeezing through a tiny hole), zip-lining in the darkness, and wading through water on uneven ground (falling every three seconds or so), we floated in darkness, staring up at the infinite number of glowworms suspended above us. This part was absolutely unreal, it almost looked as though they had just hung LED lights on the ceiling of the cave. Pictures and words don’t do it justice, it was incredible. After taking in as many glowworms as we could, we trekked through freezing cold and more tight squeezes to get out. The final challenge was a climb up two rushing waterfalls, with nothing to hold onto but the uneven juts of the rocky wall, but we all somehow managed to do it. The tour concluded with much needed hot showers, hot soup, and a two hour drive back to Taupo.

That evening concluded with one of my favorite meals at Plateau, hungrily finishing off a plate of Portobello risotto, garnished with hazelnuts, watercress foam, truffle oil, and parmesan. Yum.

Day 7: Getting Stuff Done

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Day 7 marked the final day we would be spending on the North Island, so we loaded the day up with plenty to do. We started at Te Puia, another geothermal area outside of Rotorua. Here, the geyser erupts once or twice every hour, and was erupting right was we walked in the park (I was trying to make up for missing Lady Knox Geyser). The geyser erupted for over an hour, and after we got bored of watching, we continued on throughout the park, taking in some impressive mud pools, and lush greenery.

Following Te Puia, we wondered over the Redwood Forest, taking in these giants by walking up 12m high through the trees on the Redwoods Tree walk. I found it absolutely wonderful, dad wasn’t as impressed, but hey, you can’t always please everyone.

The final activity of the day involved a quick walk to a beautiful spring, producing the clearest water I have EVER seen, and I mean EVER. It was so impossibly clear that in pictures it looks like I am taking a picture of the dry ground. It was so stunning, I couldn’t stop remarking at how amazing it was, I think I drove dad just a little bit crazy.

Finishing the day off with dinner at a restaurant called Atticus Finch, which featured a charming quote from To Kill a Mockingbird painted on the wall. Dinner was served tapas style and dad and I shared some yummy risotto balls, beef strips, halloumi, and some shockingly bad wine.

The North Island of New Zealand was stunning and unique, and the last week was full of exploration, adventure, and relaxation. It was a wonderful spring break spent with my dad, exploring somewhere new. One day, I’ll go back and explore the South Island, as I hear its sights and sounds are pretty impressive.

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