I landed in Auckland at about 1am on Nov 7. Earlier on the 6th my American friend Sarah had flown to Auckland to begin her New Zealand Working Holiday Visa. She booked us a room in an airport hotel and I got the free shuttle to it. I think I got to bed at about 3am.
It was so great to see Sarah! She had just spent a little over three months in the States visiting friends and family a well as attending her brother’s wedding. She had flown to the USA about the time I had started my job in Roma. She had a small suitcase FULL of treats from the US – jellybeans, candy corn, peanut butter M&Ms, Cheezits, Cheetos, Fritos, Bottlecaps – a whole suitcase! Awesome!
After our night at the airport hotel we stayed for a few days at a really nice new hostel in downtown Auckland called the Attic. We went to the zoo, I saw a doctor for my throat infection, we wandered the city looking for gardens (flowers are scarce in that city) and we also saw two theatrical productions – Chicago and Wicked. They were loads of fun and we got great seats for a steal. We also discusses what we wanted to see on New Zealand’s North Island so we rented a car.
From Auckland we headed west to Bethell’s Beach, known for its black sand. It wasn’t as black as I was expecting but it was definitely dark.
Next we headed northeast a couple hours to Whangarei, where our friends Katharina and Bjoin (a German couple we befriended while on Phillip Island) were living. We stayed a few nights there to visit and see the sights (Whangarei Falls, mermaid rock pools, coffee shops), then started our assault on the “Northland”.
We drove into Paihia and jumped on a four hour boat cruise around the Bay of Islands. This was an amazing experience and we saw numerous dolphins and native seabirds on our way to the ‘Hole in the Rock’. We stayed one night in Paihia in a hostel and then took a leisurely drive up to Pukenui, stopping at at least five beaches along the way. One of them supposedly has the most amazing white sand beach. I thought it was a bit grey looking. We had purchased groceries and made sandwiches so we could sit and eat our lunches anywhere along the way.
Pukenui is on the way up to Cape Reinga which has the furthest north lighthouse in New Zealand. We stayed at a lovely property in Pukenui, with a separate little house or backpackers.
The next morning we drive up to Cape Reinga, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. It gets it’s name from the rocky outcrop at the tip, Te ReInga -the place where the spirits enter the Underworld – according to Maori legend.
After exploring the cape we drive down to the Ancient Kauri Kingdom showroom where we walked up a staircase carved inside a Kauri tree trunk. We also drove our rental car onto 90 Mile Beach and Sarah dug us up some clams for dinner. We stayed the night in a holiday park in Ahipara.
The next day we drove down the west coast a tiny bit past beache and farms and forests. We stopped at a tiny natural geothermal hot springs, with pits dug into the ground, full of hot, stinky water. It is called Ngawha Springs. We stopped for lunch between Opononi and Omapere, where they look out to sea. There is a bronze statue if a boy riding a dolphin there, to honour a lonely dolphin that made the inlet her home in I believe the early 50s.
After lunch we made it to another forest, Waipoua Forest, home to Tane Mahuta, New Zealand’s largest tree, a mighty Kauri tree. Tane Mahuta means “Lord of the Forest”. Then we took a small walk to the Four Sisters Kauri trees.
After the Kauri forest we stopped at the Kai Iwi Lakes, three purely rainwater fed freshwater shallow lakes surrounded by sandy beaches. Super spot for camping if we had a rent or caravan. Unfortunately we did not so we ended up spending the night in an old schoolhouse converted into a hostel in Dargaville. That was a really nice place. For dinner we had an impressive omelette and some mussels we had found on a beach earlier that evening.
Sunday we headed back to Whangarei because Sarah was to do a trial at a fish & chips takeaway shop across from the beach. She got the job but she told them we wanted to do a but more traveling together on the North Island still so they decided that she would start working on Wednesday November 27. The next day we said goodbye to Katha and Bjoin and went back to Auckland to exchange our little rental car. The speedometer had stopped working on us a couple of hours after we had got the first car, which seemed to be Asian imported because every morning the dash console system would greet us in a language that used only very complicated symbols. My guess was Mandarin.
We traded the Asian rental car for a Volkswagen Polo and headed east. We drove on highway 2 towards the Bay of Plenty. Stops included Paeroa (where the New Zealand famous L&P – Lemon and Paeroa – soft drink comes from), and the Karangahake Gorge, which was a gold rush town. Onward we drove to our destination if Whakatane for the night. There was a beautiful sunset and I tried to get pictures of White’s Island, and active marine volcano just off shore.
The next day’s destination was Gisborne. This was a gorgeous coastal drive which we should have taken two days to do. We did make plenty of random stops (making four -legged friends at a couple of them) and took walks along beaches and to viewpoints. We didn’t find any seafood to eat though. We did drive out to East Cape, the furthest east you can go in New Zealand. We also walked down a couple historic wharfs and walked in a magnificent carved church as well as say the village that Whale Rider was filmed in. That night in Gisborne we stayed at the Flying Nunnery, a former convent now a hostel.
The next day we made to easy coastal journey to Napier, searching at random beaches for clams or mussels at low tide along the way. No luck. We did see bluebottle jellyfish and got trapped on a back road by a herd of sheep. Then we drove all around Napier trying toed ice where to sleep before choosing the old Stables, now an expensive hostel. Napier experienced a devastating earthquake several decades ago that leveled most of the town. It is well known in NZ now because of all the Art Deco architecture of the rebuild.
Thursday we drove to Wellington on the very boring “wine route” highway. It was dull but we did see a giant kiwi bird sculpture and drove through a mountain pass northeast if Wellington. There are great views if the city on the drive in as well. Our big hurry to get in to Wellington was for a Lord of the Rings film locations and effects studio tour on Friday. That was REALLY fun but can be best portrayed using my pictures. After the tour we headed north of town about 45 minutes and stayed in Paraparumu at the YHA hostel. We ate dinner at a Burger King (not Hungry Jacks in New Zealand!) designed to look like a 50s diner.
The next day (Saturday) was a long drive but a nice one, all the way north to Te Aroha. Before leaving Paraparumu we went to the annual Strawberry Festival…and bought a squash and an avocado. We discovered strawberries are very expensive in NZ. This day we drive past lots of cows and sheep, a giant storm that gave us a free car wash, Lake Taupo, giant corrugated steel building made to look like a giant sheep and a giant sheepdog, and Matamata, our destination for the next day. We stopped and got a bunch of fruit at a farmers stand and saw a beautiful sunset. We stayed at a deluxe holiday park (with its own geothermal hot pool and an obstacle course) in a private trailer.
The next morning we stopped at a cheese factory and then made our way back to Matamata, destination: Hobbiton. We drove to the Shires Rest Cafe, in Hineura, Matamata. They operate the Hobbiton set tours from there, across the road in the farmer’s (I think) 50 000 acres of fields. You can do a bus tour which allows to to hop off for 1.5 hours and wander around Hobbiton and get a drink at the Green Dragon or you can also do a helicopter tour of the area. We did the bus/walking tour and it was absolutely awesome!
Interesting page giving background of the Hobbiton Movie set tour.
It’s amazing how good and real that place looks! I loved the veggie gardens the most. All of the plants are overgrown to make the hobbits look small. We had the best day there! It was also the hottest day of the season so far so we had great weather! We got to go inside a couple of the hobbit holes as well, although there is nothing but rocks and support beams inside. Perfect day!
After that we drove to a hostel on a farm, called Shekinah Farm, in the Tuakau-Pukekawa region south of Auckland. We had a great time there. We were the only guests there that night so we got our own private room/chalet, and we each got a double bed! We used their BBQ and cooked steak with blue cheese sauce and squash for dinner while watching New Zealand’s Got Talent and Castle on TV. Perfect day!
The next morning we packed up and headed back to Auckland to return the rental car and for Sarah to pick up the car that she had purchased online via auction, and for me to be ready to start my Kiwi Experience bus tour!