Landing in New Zealand, our move through customs was pretty seamless, except for a bit of a wait to x-ray our bags on the way out. We caught the super shuttle from the airport to our hotel, the Apollo, located in the city center.
After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we took a short walk to breakfast at Scarecrow on Victoria Street. The hungry travelers that we were, our palates weren’t satisfied at Scarecrow, so we trekked around until we found a Denny’s location, where we enjoyed a more American breakfast fare. The price was pretty reasonable, even though we were in a touristy area – something like 17 USD bucks per person.
After breakfast, we walked about the streets of Auckland, sightseeing and souvenir shopping. We came across some pretty interesting people, in particular a cartoonist, who was creating sidewalk drawings using chalk, and his hand as an eraser.
Once we left the cartoonist, we continued up Queen Street in search of what we were told were the best donuts in the world. I can’t deny it – and this is coming from a person who grew up on Dunkin’ Donuts on Chicago’s Southside – between this place and Tim Horton’s (which I consider to be the Holy Grail of donuts and coffee) the Pie Piper on K Road in Auckland is a very close second…if not better.
We left the donut shop and passed a place called The White House, which is a nice spot to get out and enjoy Auckland nightlife while in town. The White House is located right on Queen Street, about two blocks from K Road. Back at the hotel, we crashed for the night to be ready for the next day’s adventures.
Waitomo and Rotorua
In the morning, we rented a car at the airport, and headed down to the south of North Island; destination Waitomo and Rotorua.
For the first 100km, the drive was pretty foggy, but then the sun broke through and the drive turned out to be smooth. We stopped at a small cafe on the way, where the staff allowed us to enter before business hours to use the restroom and take in the sights. Of course, it was only fair and proper to sit down for breakfast to show our gratitude. If you ever find yourself on Route 1 South in North Island, make sure you stop and check out this quaint little cafe. Not only was the food really good, if you walk out back to the other section of the restaurant, you can be treated to a quick lesson on New Zealand culture.
After eating, we hit the road again; headed down to Waitomo to see the glow worm caves. When traveling the countryside of New Zealand, keep in mind to add an hour to travel time; you will definitely want to carve out time to take in the sights. New Zealand is full of mountains and breathtaking views of hills and plenty of cows. We finally made it down to the Waitomo caves around noon.
There are over 50 cave systems in the Waitomo region. Interestingly, if someone purchases land in Waitomo that has a cave on it, the buyer will also take possession of the cave and has free reign over what to do with it. On one of the tours, we had the pleasure of meeting the owner of the cave we explored. Ross “the Boss” was a very gracious guide, and took time to explain all there is to know about the caves, the glow worms and the region.
After trekking the cave with Ross, he took us out for a spot of tea. The property held a house that was a replica of houses the Maori people would have had in the past. He explained the various types of trees used for insulation and construction, and told us about Koi Koi plant. This plant is used for a various array of ailments, Ross said. Rubbing it on your skin will remove infection overnight, clear up eczema and/or cure other skin disorders. Nowadays, they take the leaves of the plant and crush them up to make a tea, which is beneficial in balancing emotions. For example, if you’re feeling down or a lack of energy, drinking the tea will lift your spirits or give you energy. After a quick spot of tea, and a cultural lesson from Ross, we ventured out on a self-guided nature walk and got chance to see some rapids and small caves.
After leaving the Waitomo caves, we started our road trip to Rotorua. We rolled through countless small provinces, such as Ortohanga and Cambridge. Each province has its own unique style, but all filled with the Maori culture.
Rotorua is a completely geo-thermal city; there is an active volcano under this section of the North Island. This lends to an almost suffocating smell of sulfur all over the city; the worst of the smell coming from the waters of Lake Rotorua. There all kinds of sulfur ponds around the city, with steam rising everywhere. It is definitely a sight to see, but be sure to bring a mask with you!
On our second day in Rotorua, it rained the entire time, but it didn’t stop us from sightseeing. If traveling to Rotorua, pack a rain jacket and hiking shoes or boots. The terrain is ever changing – one minute there is flat ground under your feet, and in a split second, you’re on on gravel and rock, or leaves and brush. Our first sight was the Te Puia cultural center, where you will learn all there is to know about the Maori people – where they originated and how they settled in New Zealand from Tahiti. There are seven major tribes of the Maori people – six of the tribes settled in the North Island, with the final tribe settling in the South island.
Additional attractions are the natural sulfur geysers and the mud pools. We came upon a pitch dark room that housed two kiwi birds. Nocturnal animals, as are many animals in this region, kiwi birds thrive in enclosures that are kept completely dark.
We left the Te Puia cultural center, and then drove around to the Redwood Forest. Here, the redwood trees have been growing for years; some as much as 236 feet high, with girths that range up to six to 10 feet. After getting soaked in the rainy Redwood Forest, we took the drive down to Matamata, also known as Hobbiton, the location where the Lord of The Rings movies were filmed.
As our trip drew to a close, we realized there were many hidden gems in New Zealand that did not disappoint. It is such a great country, filled with beautiful scenery and delightful people. If travel to New Zealand is not on your bucket list of things to do, places to go and people to see, I suggest you add a new destination on your list.
By: Craig Henry
CEO, The Travel Junkees
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