Auckland & Waiheke Island
Flying into New Zealand on New Zealand Air, we were treated to the most hilarious flight safety video ever, courtesy of Peter Jackson. A great welcome, but we’ll save the details for you, in case you end up on an Air New Zealand flight yourself. (Or just look it up on Youtube.) In any case, we arrived in New Zealand happy but desperately travel planning, because our first attempts at planning ended poorly when we realized there were absolutely NO double rooms available in Auckland during the few days we planned to spend there. We thought that New Zealand would be booked all over during December high season, but, upon check-in, we found out it was because the Rolling Stones were in town. And yes, they were sold out already.
Somehow we managed a few scraggly rooms, and enjoyed a short hike to a volcanic crater that overlooks the city, and some wine at a lovely vineyard on Waiheke Island, near Auckland.
Bay of Islands
We moved north to the Bay of Islands, for a chance to swim with dolphins. We spent a fun day on the boat, and saw lots of dolphins doing backflips and swimming right under us next to the boat. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to swim with the dolphins, due to New Zealand law prohibiting swimming with dolphins when there is a baby dolphin in the pod, but it was amazing to see them up close nonetheless.
In Rotarua, we enjoyed learning about Maori culture through a performance by locals, including the famous Waka dance performed at the start of the All Blacks rugby games. We were impressed at the obvious respect for Maori culture and inclusion in all types of culture – the U.S. could learn a lesson from this. Thermal features abound in Rotarua, from the city parks to the large geysers. Jon also got to mountain bike, and Jen took a hike in a redwood forest.
Lake Taupo & Tongariro National Park
We planned to do some big hikes in Tongariro National Park and the iconic Mt Taranaki volcano, but unfortunately, the weather would not cooperate. In both places, we were rained out of the big hikes that we had planned, but still managed a few short hikes and saw some partial views. We were told over and over that we had the bad luck of travel during an unusually rainy and cold end of spring.
Taranaki National Park & New Plymouth
Although our time was short, we had a great impression of the city. It has a spectacular setting, with bays and hills and houses and city all around, with a vibe similar to the Pacific Northwest in the US. There is a great hike which rises from downtown with great views of the bay. The highlight for us was Te Papau, five floors of museum giving a great history of all things New Zealand.
Overall, we enjoyed the North Island, but we’re looking forward to the South Island. Because we had heard that the South Island packs a bit more punch, we dedicated only 10 days of our five New Zealand weeks to the North Island, compared to 3.5 weeks in the South Island. Onto the ferry!