It doesn’t seem right to sum up all of the fun we had on the North Island into 1 post, but its been over 2 months since we have been back and it’s time to come to a close. Enjoy!
So traveling between islands in New Zealand is so easy, no security, no long lines, show up twenty minutes before and you are good to go! We flew from Nelson back to Auckland, picked up our rental car, relived the Rugby World Cup with the rental agent, and then headed South for Rotorua. After a couple hours of driving and a quick bite for lunch our first stop in Rotorua was to the amazing ‘i-site’ info center in town. Every town in New Zealand has one and they are fantastic. Had we known, we wouldn’t have booked anything before hand and just relied on the great local knowledge and information available to us at these centers. Throughout our trip we went to the ‘i-site’ in most of the places we visited, whether to book tours, use the restroom or just grab a couple brochures/return brochures. Just a little shout-out to this amazing service they offer throughout New Zealand.
At the info center we booked a Hangi, which is the Maori form of cooking and along with a great meal comes some Maori entertainment. Before the Hangi, we went to the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife park to see a kiwi. We actually saw 2 kiwi’s in the exhibit plus a baby kiwi! Since kiwi’s are nocturnal, the exhibit is pretty dark and no pictures are allowed. The 1 kiwi we saw the most, as he was wondering around to eat, was pretty big, and oh so cute! We saw all kinds of cool birds at the park including a kea, weka’s, a awesome grey parrot named Mandela, and various other birds and even some cool rainbow trout. You even get a bottle to fill up with fresh Rainbow spring water!
- I spotted an All Black Kiwi!
- Coolest parrot ever!
After the wildlife park, it was time to have a Maori feast. The Maori would dig a pit in the ground and use heated rocks to steam meat, potatoes and vegetables.
- Hot Rocks!
The food cooked in the traditional Maori form was excellent! Of course they also had other yummy New Zealand food including lamb, green-lipped mussels and Pavlova (meringue based dessert). We sat at a table with another newlywed couple from England the the girls kiwi parents and a couple from Korea who ate about 3 plate fulls of green-lipped mussels. After dinner there was a show of traditional Maori dancing and games which required some audience participation, so we were called up on stage.
- Dave with a Maori warrior
The next day we went to check out Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park. They have a geyser (not as cool when we learned they set it off once a day), volcanic craters, mud pools (which make a really cool bass noise as it boils), amazing geothermal colors we had never seen before including the Champagne Pool.
- Lady Knox Geyser
- Mud Pools
- Volcanic Valley
- Watch Out!
- Champagne Pool
Yes, that is the color of the water
After exploring the geothermal park, we went to check out the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. They have 6 different pools they fill up daily with water from the Te Manaroa natural boiling spring (of coursed it is cooled off first). We went in all 6 pools and even did the eco-trail to see the spring. This was an amazing experience, the water was so warm, it was hard to get out of the water. We had a lovely view of the local landscape (a farm) and felt so relaxed. Loud music and a soda were necessary to keep me from falling asleep as we drove to Taupo. Driving in this area was pretty cool because all around you could see steam coming from the ground.
When we arrived in Taupo and went to the i-site to book our bus ride for our big adventure the next day. We had wanted to try out Hell’s Pizza, but it wasn’t really a restaurant and didn’t serve any alcohol, a deal breaker in our book. So we ate some real pizza and enjoyed some beers at an Italian restaurant next door. After a stop to a crappy grocery store (no pre-made sandwiches!) to load up for the next day’s adventure we were back to our hotel to hit the sack.
We were up early for our bus pick up at 6:15 in the morning, we were on our way to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing!And we were lucky because we had a nice day. The crossing is 19.4k (12 miles) and takes about 7-9 hours. You bascially walk the length of Mount Tongariro, starting in one valley and ending in another with views of Mount Ruapehu (an active volcano) in the distance and Mount Ngauruhoe (also known as Mount Doom, LOTR) which is an option to climb to the summit. It’s important to be prepared with food, water and clothing because the weather can change in an instant up at the top. Although we saw plenty of people that did not heed to that advice (kids wearing flip flops, really?!?).
- Beginning at zero
It’s all uphill in the beginning, going up the Devil’s Staircase to the South Crater.
- Up and up we go
Once in the South Crater you climb the ridge of the crater to Red Crater. Before we made it to the top of the ride, we veered off and did the Tongariro Summit.
Dave in the South Crater
The summit trail was marked, but you basically walked along the side of the mountain. When we were almost at the summit, there was snow on the trail. I was good going to the top but coming down on the snow I was scared. A couple ran down in the snow as I scooted on my butt. When I got to the bottom of the snow part I realized it wasn’t that bad, but I already looked like a big whimp in my husband’s eyes.
Trail to the Tongariro Summit
- Up the snow
View from the top
Once we made it back to the main trail, we continued on the ridge to the top of Red Crater. In the trail information, it does state on a windy day, you may have to crawl, thank god it wasn’t windy! Once at the top though, you must go down, and down a steep loose trail. It was eaiser to slide down the loose rock, but I didn’t realize that till half way down. Again, my husband was thinking I was being cautious, but the last thing I wanted to do was fall off the trail to my death, which was not just in my head, it was a real possibility.
- Going down the trail to Emerald Lakes
- The trail we just came down
Once down by Emerald Lakes, the hard part was over and I survived! We had lunch and continued on to Blue Lake.
- Us by Blue Lake
From here, it’s a short climb to North Crater and the landscape changes dramatically, it looks more like a grass valley. Because it was a nice day, we had a spectacular view of Lake Rotoaira and Lake Taupo.
And the rest of the hike it zigzagging your way down through the valley, then into a forest and finally you make it to the car park. And boy is it hard on your feet going down, it seems like it never ends. We made good time going down, partly because of the pain and need for the downhill to end and were back on the bus to Taupo.
- Glad to be done!
We did the crossing in about 8 hours which included the side journey to Tongariro Summit, for a total of 16 miles. I was definitely scared at times, but the amazing views and just the experience made all 16 miles worth it! After a long hot shower, we enjoyed a nice meal of local NZ food and a few local beers at Plateau.We both slept like a rock that night!
The next day was our last full day in New Zealand! We couldn’t leave New Zealand without seeing the glow worm caves in Waitimo and if your going to visit some caves you might as well go caving with the Black Water Rafting company! This was our last big adventure and frankly after canyoning, this was pretty easy and a lot of fun! We decided to do the Black Abyss tour. We got all decked out in wet suits and helmets, loaded into a van to a hole in the ground and learned some safety tips. From there we abseiled 35 meters (110 feet) into the cave.
- Abseiling like a pro
We walked around in the cave, saw some stalagmites and then zip-lined in the dark with glow worms above us. You land on a rock formed platform and after a quick break, jump with a inter-tube into the cold water. We floated around and checked out the glow worms, learning that they aren’t really worms, they are larvae of flies (maggots). After our view of the glow worms, we dropped off our tubes and slid down a small waterfall slide and continued through the caves. We squeezed through a tight space or two and then were told that we need to climb up a few waterfalls in order to get out of the caves. There was no set path or anything, it was just our guide telling us where to put our hands and feet as we climbed up a waterfall. It was pretty awesome, though a bit unsafe considering you could slip with the wrong hand/foot placement! 3 waterfall’s later and we were out of the cave.
- Dave climbing out of the cave
It was cold down in the cave, but we had a fantastic time. We were with a pretty cool group and had 2 great guides. It was a great tour, check it out if you want to see the glow worms in Waitimo.
After our caving adventure, we drove a few hours to Auckland. What a difference from the South Island in overall scenery, it is much more populated especially as you get closer to Auckland. It was weird to actually be on a highway (they call it a motorway). We made it to Auckland and changed to enjoy our final night out in the city.
- Me in Auckland
We found a great place to eat outside on the waterfront and enjoyed our final meal. It was weird that we would be leaving the next day. It wasn’t that we were necessarily ready to go, it had been a fantastic honeymoon, but our journey had ended so we knew we had to leave.
- Sky Tower
We had some time in the morning to walk around Auckland and do some final souvenir shopping before heading to the airport. We were treated like royalty again on Qantas only to get back to the US and get sub par service on USAirways. We made it back home after our honeymoon adventure with nothing but amazing memories!
New Zealand, you are such an amazing part of the world! What more could you ask for in a country with amazing scenery, wonderful people full of such charm and class, and lots of adventures! We hope to make it back one day to enjoy more of all you have to offer. Thanks for the memories!
Special thanks to my husband, I’m so lucky to have an amazing travel buddy to explore the world with! You are fantastic at helping to find cool places to explore and without your enthusiasm I might not have experienced some of the most amazing adventures we had in New Zealand!