North Island Trip Report

May 3rd, 2009, 06:30 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 435
North Island Trip Report

My DH & I spent 2 weeks in NZ in mid-April - one week on the NI and one week on the SI. I've decided to split up this trip report btwn the two islands. We had a totally amazing trip - can't wait to go back! We got to do everything we wanted - and more.

We flew from Chicago - LA - Auckland on Air New Zealand. The flight there was really good - great staff on board, very helpful & very smooth flight.

Day 1 - Auckland - we stayed at the Westin on points (free!) - great hotel which I think goes without saying. Awesome place to recover from jetlag. The first day we took a nap, then headed to the Sky Tower. That night we met some friends for dinner at Kermadec near the harbor. We all had seafood and it was very good; nice place. We were suprised at how humid it was in Auckland; it was also pretty warm & sunny which was great. We really got a kick out of the beeping walk traffic signals - we'd never seen those before!

Day 2 (Easter) - Day trip to Waiheke Island
We missed the bus as we got off the ferry so we started to walk up to Mudbrick Winery (which we found out was closed for the holiday). The hill was pretty steep and since it was already early afternoon we decided to just give in & rent a car for a day to make things easier. (A bit overpriced, but well worth it). Plus we had never driven on the left side before so Waiheke proved to be a good place to learn. We drove to Stonyridge Winery and sampled some really good wines – the Fallen Angel Sauvignon Blanc was the best. Then we ordered a large sampler platter of assorted cheeses, salami, bread, spreads, olives and oysters. Great view & they had some live music too. Then drove around more to some other vineyards and olive groves. Awesome views from various spots on the island.

Day 3 - Rotorua/Wai-o-tapu
Picked up our rental car from Apex (complimentary pickup from hotel) and headed towards Rotorua. It was amazing how the scenery begain to change - huge rolling green 'mountains' - I expected more of low rolling hills - but they were huge! Absolutely stunning. We thought the roadways were pretty well paved (where we live the roads are loaded with potholes all year round) We grabbed some lunch at Subway in Rotorua - tried the turkey (different than the US - I'm not sure if deli turkey is common in NZ) and Lemon & Paeroa - DH liked it!

Then we headed off to Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. It was a nice walk & we saw some really beautiful colors – bright yellows, orange & blues. Very scenic. Then we continued on to Taupo for the night. The drive to Taupo was stunning - I couldn't get enough of the scenery. We stopped at the Honey Hive to pick up some souvenirs along the way. We were staying three nights at the Lake Taupo Motor Inn. The room was clean with a small kitchenette with a refrigerator, sink, and microwave; and there was also a hot tub (which we never used). We grabbed some dinner and stopped at the local grocery store to pick up food for the Tongariro Crossing the next day...

Day 4 - Tongariro Crossing
The bus from Tongariro Expeditions picked us from our hotel at 6:20 am. We had no idea what to expect with this hike – in hindsight it was horrible at times and painful, but what an accomplishment! It was THE most extreme thing we did on our trip. We started the track at about 8:20am and finished at 4pm – with minimal stops. People were flying past us & I thought we were walking at a decent speed. We saw people in just jeans and some with babies(totally unbelievable)! So we started thinking, this can't be that bad....right. The Devil's Staircase doesn't look bad & at the beginning I thought it was ok – it's a good clear path with steps – but halfway up it becomes very tiring. It was never ending. After the Devil's Staircase you get to the base of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom for LOTR). We could see the people hiking up – they looked so small. We kept going. At this point we were crossing the South Crater which was completely flat & let us recover a bit from the staircase part – but more was ahead. The ascent up the Red Crater was very steep on both sides. The brochure the bus gave us said if there's strong winds you may have to climb on your hands & knees and the wind will 'push' you around! It was really scary & dangerous (for me at least!). Our legs were getting tired & shaking at times. But I just kept thinking, we're almost to the top, then we'll start our descent (which wasn't really a descent but more of up & down). The red crater was really beautiful – but it also said in the brochure that if you fall in you will not come out – b/c the helicopter can't get in there. It's all loose scree. If you went too far to the edge you could very easily fall down. I kept looking at the steep path up the scree ahead & just wanted to get it over with. It was a really beautiful spot. The path was pretty wide, but all scree (loose volcanic rock) made it very difficult to walk down. The Emerald Lakes were beautifulr. We didn't stop to rest b/c we were worried about not making it back to the last bus at 4:30pm! The map shows that at this point you begin your descent, but you actually don't. It's flat, then you have to climb again. We were both betting pretty tired. But it was really cool to look back & see how far we walked.

Our hiking boots were awesome on this track - I wouldn't recommend using any other type of shoes. It seemed like we walked forever until we reached the Ketatahi Hut – the last hut – & we still had 2 hours to go!! The rest was descent but my legs were so shaky & there were parts you had to climb over rocks, and some parts with no path – just a steep little narrow path – very scary – you could easily fall down the mountain – literally. People just kept flying past us. We could still see the track in the far distance – it was totally unbelievable how far we still had to go & that we were even still walking. We kept going & descended into the beech forest. It looked just like the jungle in Brazil. This part was really bad – although the track is really good – we were SO tired - & time was flying. The last bus left at 4:30 pm and we had no idea how long we still had to go! Walking, walking – then finally the end. The track just emerged into the car park – we were so happy to be on the bus. Two days later we were still sore from the hike. It was a great accomplishment but totally crazy and dangerous at times. I still cannot believe we saw people taking babies on the track!!
Day 6 - We relaxed this day from the hike and went to see Orakei Koraku Thermal Area. Again, it was set in the most beautiful rolling green hills - looked just like the sound of music! All around the Rotorua area you would just see the sulphur smoke coming out of the mountains – so cool. That night we drove to Rotorua to attend a Maori concert and hangi at Mitai. It was so fun - & the food was delicious – like Thanksgiving! The concert was really interesting - we loved; we thought the Maori culture was so interesting. We really enjoyed the haka. The food was honestly the best food we had the entire trip. They cook the food in the ground with hot rocks & wood steaming on top. They had lamb (delicious), chicken, this really good cauliflower side dish, a salw, corn, & their sweet potato: kumara – much different that ours at home. It was a great night. Then we walked through the woods and saw glow worms. There was also an option where we could've done a night nature walk (we found out too late) - I think that would've been fun.

Day 7 - Waitomo Caves
So we kept moving along...We left Taupo early and drove 2 hours to Waitomo to go blackwater rafting in the Ruakuri Cave. The drive to Waitomo was spectacular – windy roads through huge rolling green hills with sheep – stunning scenery. It was also a beautiful, warm sunny day. Originally we had planned to do the most extreme tour: the Black Abyss – which was 5 hour tour that included abseiling, rafting and climbing waterfalls. We were still so sore and tired from the Tongariro Crossing we switched to do a less instense trip that was just blackwater rafting. It was still thrilling – we walked through caves – which was difficult & my legs still felt like jelly from the hike. We had to jump backwards off waterfalls - it was fun! Then we floated and saw glow worms.

We wanted to see more glow worms so we went on another cave tour to the Anarui Cave and saw thousands of glow worms - many more than in the rafting tour. The cave itself wasn't that impressive but the glow worms were. Then we drove 2 hours back to Auckland for the night before flying the next morning. We stayed at the Ventura Inn & Suites & it was the perfect place – really close to the airport & included continental breakfast buffet.

Note about the food in NZ - we were amazed at how easily we could find good food everywhere. For example at the cafe at the blackwater rafting place - we had an awesome pancake breakfast! And everywhere in NZ the food is presented very nice & with thought - a little drizzle of sauce squiggled on the side, a little flower, a little this or that.

Also the bakery - wow! We would be in the middle of nowhere & stop a cafe on the side of the road and find the most delicious muffin ever. You could tell it was all natural ingredients.

The only squabble I have is the coffee. I drink very strong filtered coffee & had trouble understanding the terminology in NZ - long black, short black, flat white, etc. Also, it seemed instant coffee was prominent everywhere. Luckily almost everywhere we stayed had a coffee plunger so I was able to make my own. Otherwise I just asked for the strongest coffee they could make me!
AngelaS is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 02:24 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
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Sounds like you had a great time!

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
May 4th, 2009, 06:04 PM
Join Date: Jun 2004
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Thanks for the great report. I'll definitely pass on the Tongariro Crossing!

I laughed outloud about your problems with the coffee. I felt the same way! My next trip to NZ is in two days -- and is already planned out. But you've given me some good ideas for the next time.
Songdoc is offline  
May 5th, 2009, 08:14 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
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Congrats on your trip, you included a lot in a short time.

I think your description of the Tongariro will be helpful to future trip planners who think a "day hike" means a walk in the park!

Flat white worked for's a strong coffee/espresso with milk.
mlgb is offline  
May 5th, 2009, 12:32 PM
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The Tongariro was the most extreme thing we did (besides bungy jumping - but that's over quick) - the Crossing is definitely not a walk in the park! However, we're so glad we accomplished it - our pictures are amazing. I wouldn't have changed a thing. =)
AngelaS is offline  
May 30th, 2009, 06:46 AM
Join Date: Apr 2008
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Hi Angela, You did such a detailed report so I am hoping you can help with my plans. Does this seem reasonable to you: Arrive Auk. 3:00pm Friday, drive to Waitomo, spend night there, Sat. explore Gloworm cave in the am. Drive to Rotorua in the afternoon,(how long would the drive take???) spend Sat. afternoon exploring and spend Sat. night in Rotorua. Sun. AM more Rotorua, then drive to Bay of Islands (How far, how long of a drive?)& stay there Sun. night, get back to Aukland Monday for a 2:30pm flight back to Calif. We leave in 4 weeks and this part of our trip is not planned so I am getting a little nervous and would really appreciate your advice! Thanks, Gabriella
Gabriella1 is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2009, 10:51 PM
Join Date: Aug 2006
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Interesting about the coffee. My daughter and son-in-law shifted from Wellington to the US last year, and can't find anywhere that serves a decent cup of coffee!!!!!
nelsonian is offline  
Jun 18th, 2009, 08:03 AM
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Gabriella - so sorry I haven't replied sooner - I haven't logged on in a while! You are probably leaving soon & may have already settled your itinerary, but I'll add my 2 cents just in case.. =)

I think your plan sounds good - the drive to Rotorua from Waitomo is about 2 hours - & a really beautiful drive. However the drive back up to the Bay of Islands is going to take a good 6-7 hours I think.. You might want to skip it & stay near Auckland instead?

Have a good trip!
AngelaS is offline  
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