What started as the most convenient country for a transit to our next destination (Fiji), turned out to be a welcoming and amazing surprise, incredibly far away from the country we’re born in. New Zealand always had an appeal to us, but more as a country to go and drive around in a rental camper for several weeks when we were retired and have had enough of carrying our backpacks on our backs around the globe ;).
Although during previous years we heard an increasing amount of people being enthusiastic about NZ, it somehow had not climbed the ladder of our bucket list of countries we wanted to visit yet. However, we got talked in to it by friends who are traveling already since January this year and who we planned to meet on Fiji beginning of July. As Auckland, a big city on the northern island, turned out to be an economically interesting stop over from South America to Fiji, why not spend a little time in there?!
Being wintertime in New Zealand and we were really (I mean, really really) looking forward to the beach, we decided to spend little less than two weeks there. A timespan we knew in advance would not far be enough to thoroughly explore all highlights of NZ, but definitely a good bunch of them.
Starting in Auckland we had arranged a (free) relocation car. An ideal way to explore an area driving a car from A to B within a fixed amount of days. For us it meant we had 4 days to explore the Northern Island and take the ferry to the southern island where we’d return the car.
The Northern Island is famous for its great surf and beaches in summer time. In wintertime, there are relatively more highlights to visit on the Southern Island. However, as we had time we still could visit a few highlights like our first stop Rotorua. Rotorua is mostly known for its thermal underground activity creating many natural hot springs all around. Close to the city centre there is a huge park where hot steam and boiling mud erupt from the earth. Getting closer to Rotorua we were introduced to the typical geothermic smell that comes with it and is something to get a little used to. Luckily (for all you guys it’s still impossible to send smell via blog, social media or anything, but for your imagination: it smells like rotten eggs. Probably if you live there, you wouldn’t notice, but they say that of about everything 😉
After spending a night in a lovely countryside Airbnb, our next stop was the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. Wai-O-Tapu which means Holy Waters in Maori and is a geothermic park with a high concentration of beautifully coloured pools, rivers and craters. Just before we first stopped at the famous Lady Knox geyser. Every morning they throw some chemicals in the geyser, causing it to erupt for about 1,5 hours afterwards and up to 20meters high. Although it isn’t completely natural, it’s still fascinated to see. A few miles down the road we arrived to the entrance of the thermal park. Linked with pathways and wooden bridges, Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland makes you feel you have arrived on another planet. Everywhere you look steam finds its way up through cracks in the earth. Water and mud boil and have the most fascinating colours letting you know that you do not want to get to close. Now and then your nose is treated with an unpleasant smell of sulphur and rotten eggs. But it sure is a beautiful sight for the eyes to wander around and definitely worth visiting.
Continuing our road trip, we crossed beautiful countryside, forests, millions of sheep flogs and little towns where we could stop for a good cup of coffee or chai latte.
On our last day on the northern island we took a little de-tour driving up to the 2.797 meters high Ruapehu mountain for a great view of the surrounding area and our first contact with snow. Unfortunately, as we started our ascent it became foggier by the minute and as we arrived at the last parking stop before ski lifts started, the visibility was about 5 meters maximum and it was snowing. Feeling excited about the snow, but disappointed about the lack of a descent visibility, we turned the car and headed down.
After that we headed south towards Wellington, the countries capital. Here we spent the night and got up early to catch the ferry towards the southern island.