New Zealand – The North Island

Since we arrived into Auckland in the early morning, we decided to pack the day full of activities to stave off jet lag. It was also our only day in Auckland, so we wanted to see as much as possible.

It turns out, Auckland really isn’t that big. Ok, maybe that’s not fair, since ~30% of New Zealand’s residents live in Auckland, but I was expecting something like London and instead got something like Austin. It was also a holiday (I think maybe the whole New Year’s week was a holiday?) and so the city was fairly deserted.

We walked around the central business district and then took a ferry out to Waiheke Island. This was our first experience with the water of New Zealand, and let me tell you, it was the cleanest, clearest, prettiest water I’ve seen, both in the ocean and in their numerous rivers and lakes.

Us on the ferry. Notice my tank top and lack of hat. I would learn.
Us on the ferry. Notice my tank top and lack of hat. I would learn.

Once we got to Waiheke, we decided to do a bit of a nature walk. It was then that I first noticed that no matter how much sunscreen I applied, I kept getting red. In fact, it got so bad, that I unzipped the bottoms of my hiking pants (they convert to capris) and put the fabric over my arms. I was convinced that I was getting a sunburn against all odds.

We kept going and were rewarded with a nice view of the cove we’d started in.

Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island

By the time we made it back to our hotel after dinner, my legs ached. Over the course of the day, straight off of the plane, we’d walked nearly ten miles. Needless to say, I collapsed that night and slept like the dead. Jet lag? What jet lag?

The next morning dawned bright and early, and I mean that literally. The sun rose at something like 6:30, so it started getting light around 5:00. I was sunburn free, and wrote off the redness to being hot from the hike and didn’t think anything more of it.

We drove to Waitomo for a tour of the glowworm caves. Tracy decided to do an extreme tour, complete with wetsuit, but Dustin and I opted to stay dry. And warm.

The glowworms (actually glowing maggots, as they are baby flies, but that wasn’t going to get them loads of tourists) live on the cave ceiling and drop silk lines down to catch any prey that is attracted to the glowing light.

Glowworm threads
Glowworm threads

From below, it looks very much like a night sky full of stars. Once our eyes got accustomed to the lack of light, we could actually see by the light of the worms. Barely. We all had white hardhats on, and those were pretty easy to pick up in the dark.

Glowworms
Glowworms

After the glowworm caves, we drove a couple hours to Rotorua, an area known for its volcanic geothermal activity. And you can tell. As soon as we stepped out of the car, the scent of rotten eggs greeted us. Hello, sulfur.

Right across the street from our hotel was a small wildlife park that boasted a nocturnal kiwi habitat. Based on the advice from the lady at the hotel, we had some time to kill until optimal kiwi viewing time (around 9:00). So we went to the park in the middle of town and soaked our legs and feet in a public thermal pool. It was awesome.

Rejuvenated, we went to spot some kiwis, which took a bit of patience. The enclosures were large, probably 25′ x 15′, and dark, and kiwis are good at blending in. But in the end, our patience was rewarded. Kiwis are freakishly adorable.

The next day we went to a thermal park. If Rotorua smelled, the thermal park stank to high heaven. It had entire lakes of boiling water, steam vents, bubbling mud, and all the rotten egg smell you could stand. Or not. One little girl had her nose covered with her shirt. I sympathized.

It also had this lake:

That color is not photoshopped.
That color is not photoshopped.

It was even brighter in person.

Their claim to fame, however, was the Champagne Pool. It was a large lake, maybe sixty feet across. Around the edges, the water had turned the stones a brilliant red-orange. The entire lake bubbled and steamed, and due to the light refraction or something, the steam looked white, red, or blue, depending on the area.

The Champagne Pool
The Champagne Pool

After spending a couple hours in the hot sun next to steaming water, we had no desire to get into a thermal pool, so we continued on to our hotel next to the Tongariro Crossing, which is good, because it was farther than we thought and we didn’t arrive until early evening.

What we arrived to, however, was this:

"If the pros aren't going, you shouldn't either."
“If the pros aren’t going, you shouldn’t either.”

While weather forecasters are generally very unreliable, in this case they were spot on. The gentleman at the hotel told us it would start raining about 9:00PM. At 8:45PM, the rain started.

The next day we drove out to the hike starting point, just to see what we were missing.

We couldn’t see anything. You’d have no idea there was a mountain (several, actually) behind me:

Look, ma, I'm hiking.
Look, ma, I’m hiking.

In addition to the rain, it was also freezing cold. It would’ve been a miserable hike, and without the view to make up for it, it would’ve been awful. So no hiking for us.

But at least the volcano was quiet while we were there:

Volcano Meter
Volcano Meter

I especially like the “PLEASE LEAVE AREA” in tiny print after the red warning. Well, since you asked nicely…

On the way to Napier, we hit a torrential downpour. It was the only day it really rained super hard. We were all doubly glad that we weren’t on top of a mountain. Then we made it over the mountains and down to the coast and the sun came out and it was a beautiful day. I guess the mountains blocked the weather.

Napier suffered a severe earthquake in the 1930s that pretty much flattened the town. They rebuilt it within a couple years and the whole town was done in the art deco style of the times. Tracy is a big art deco fan, so we went to check it out.

Our hotel was across the street from the beach. The beach itself was rocky, not sandy, and the water was super refreshing (aka freezing cold). We did not swim, and we didn’t see anyone else doing much swimming, either, even though it was the height of summer.

Sunrise from our hotel room.
Sunrise from our hotel room.

The next morning we rented bikes and went for a ride along the beach path. It was a nice way to spend an hour or so.

After our morning exercise, we drove across the country, from the east coast to the west coast and on down to Wellington. The west coast was beautiful–all big waves and rocky shoreline.

We arrived in Wellington early enough to spend an hour or so at Te Papa, the national museum. That gave Tracy time to see everything she wanted to see and Dustin and I time to get started. After the museum, we rode an ancient cable car up to the botanical gardens and walked back down. The gardens were in full bloom, and with sunset being close to 9:00PM, we had plenty of time to enjoy them.

At the bottom of the hill, the garden path winds through an old cemetery. This was the saddest gravestone I saw:

This family lost five kids in two weeks.
This family lost five kids in two weeks.

The next day, Dustin and I went back to the museum for a couple hours while Tracy shopped. That afternoon, we caught the ferry to the south island. The ship was so large, they loaded trains into the bottom of it. Trains! Madness.

The seas were fairly calm and we had a nice smooth ride. It took about three hours to get to Picton, the port on the south island.

Here is a map of our north island route:

North Island Map
North Island Map

Overall the north island was very pretty. I wish we’d gotten to do the hike, but considering that was the one day it rained on us, it seemed like the universe was perhaps giving us a sign.

Tomorrow, on to the south island!

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