Jennifer Tice's Blog

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Day 9 and 10: Paihia, Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga

After leaving Auckland for the second time, we head north for the town of Paihia.  We have ourselves booked in for 2 nights, but after seeing all there is to do here, you could easily stay 3 or 4 nights.

Paihia is backpacker heaven, there a dozen backpacker establishments all located next door to one another on Kings road which is just a stone’s throw from the beach.  A word to the wise, if you are planning on cooking while you are here, pick up groceries ahead of time, there are a few small grocery stores in town, but it is more expensive than other places.

Fuller's Boat Cruise

Fuller's Boat Cruise

On our first day, since we have arrived around noon, we decide to do the half day boat cruise around the Bay of Islands.  A boat cruise of some sort is a must do in this town, and there are lots to choose from.  Be sure to check out who has the best deal going since it can be a bit pricey. After trying some hokey pokey ice cream, the Australian favourite flavor, we head out on the Fullers half day boat cruise.  The swells are quite high out on the water today and a few passengers are seasick.  Unfortunately for us, since the water is so rough, it means we can’t venture out to the Hole in the Rock, out on the cape, so we buy the postcard instead.  We cruise around all the islands, stopping to see a house where Queen Elizabeth stayed when visiting New Zealand several years ago.

Dolphins!

Dolphins!

On our way back, we come across 2 different pods of dolphins, my first time seeing dolphins out in the open ocean.  They follow our boat along for a while and we take a few hundred shots and live video feed.  Heading back to mainland, we walk around this small little town for a while.  There is basically one small strip and a few side streets that comprise the town, but you could see how it would be a great party place in the summer.  We venture out tonight down to Pipi’s bar which is down at the X base backpackers next door.  Have a few drinks and meet some folks who are signed up for our bus tour tomorrow to 90 mile beach and Cape Reigna, off to bed early since we need to catch our bus at 7 am!

Our last day – and what a day it is! We catch our bus in the early morning and we are off to the most northern part of New Zealand, Cape Reinga.  You can do this drive yourself, however it is long (8 hours driving round trip, no stopping), and you have to be familiar with the tides on 90 mile beach, so I would highly recommend doing a bus tour. Along the way there is 90 mile beach and several others to take in.  As it turns out, Spike, who we met in New Plymouth is our bus driver for the day! What a bonus!

One Big Tree!

One Big Tree!

First on the list – Manginangina National Park. Here we take a 45 minute walk around a boardwalk to see the biggest trees I have ever laid eyes on.  The Maori tribes would use just one of these great big trees to carve giant canoes out of that could hold over 100 people!  Next on the adventure – New Zealand’s, “best” bakery – somehow I think Spike is getting hooked up here, but I did have the best donut in the world – a very dougy cinnamon sugar donut, Andrew and I had to resist going back for seconds.

Now the real fun begins, 90 mile beach at low tide is considered a road – meaning you can zip along at 100 km/hr, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a small car.  As we drive along the beach, the most amazing thing is that there is no one and nothing else for miles.  It is a stunning site to see so much beach and so much uninterrupted coast line. As we drive past, we see a pack of wild horses running along the beach – it’s like a site out of a movie!

Jumping for Joy on 90 Mile Beach

Jumping for Joy on 90 Mile Beach

Finally we stop just passed a small island which provides some variety to the background in the photos.  We fun and frolic on the beach, jumping in the crashing waves and writing our names in the sand.  I scoop up a bunch of sand here to add to my world sand collection back home.

90 mile beach is surrounded by massive sand dunes, and what better to do with all that sand then to go sand boarding! Out from under the bus appears sand boards for everyone, and we all race to the top of the hill to be the first to go down.  I am the first girl and 3rd person to make it to the top from our bus group, I feel good about this.  Sand boarding is like tobogganing but a bit scarier, and messier.  Wear sunglasses for this as you will get sand blowing up in your face.  It is an amazing rush boarding down the sand dunes, an experience not to be forgotten.

Since we are all covered in sand, a stop at another beach to rinse it off and have some lunch at Tapotupotu Bay. This one is off the beaten track a bit but worth a stop.  Huge waves crash onto this small bay, making it a bit too dangerous for boogie boarding, but good enough to wade in and rinse off the sand.  A picnic on the beach to take in the sites here is a must.

Touching the Lighthouse

Touching the Lighthouse

Half an hour later we pack up and head to our final attraction of the day – Cape Reinga.  This place is very important to the Maori people, it is sacred land, and it is asked that you respect this by not eating or drinking on the land. As you head through the underpass and onto the walkway you can really feel the spirituality of this place. Here the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea.

There are signs along the walk that point out the places of reference in Maori culture.

Endless Sea

Endless Sea

As you make your way down to the lighthouse, you will be surrounded by views of the ocean and sea on both sides.  There is a view here like no other in New Zealand.  At the lighthouse there is a pole with a number of signs telling the distance to various world cities – Vancouver makes the cut at 11,000 km away. A few more minutes of soaking in the view here and back on the bus to Paihia for tonight.

I can’t believe it is our last night in New Zealand.  Even though it was quick, I really think we made the most of the time we had.  There is always more to see, but I feel like we had a good run at it.  Off to Australia tomorrow!

Day 8:

It rained all night, but it looks like we have lucked out and the rain has stopped for now.  Heading up north again towards Auckland,  I have been looking forward to this day for the whole trip – this is the day we get to check out the Waitomo Caves.

Waitomo Caves

Waitomo Caves

Located about 3 hours south of Auckland, the Waitomo caves consist of a number of different caves containing stalagmites, stalactites, and best of all, glow worms! There are a number of different tours and adventurous ways to see the cave, we did a 2 cave combo which gave us the glow worm cave and the Aranui cave. You can also go black water rafting, or abseil into the caves if that’s your thing.

Our first stop is the glow worm cave, no photos inside unfortunately.  You take walk through in the dark and then take a mystical boat ride under which seems like a sky full of thousands of stars – but those are the glowworms hard at work. At the end of the glowworm cave tour, we are able to snap some photos.

Stalactites in Aruani Cave

Stalagmites in Aruani Cave

Next, the Aranui cave.  Here, over thousands of years the limestone that drips from the ceiling has formed large stalagmites (the ones hanging from the ceiling), and stalactites (the ones growing from the floor). In the old days, tourists were able to snap off parts of the fixtures as souvenirs.  Now that researchers understand how long they take to form, there is no touching the formations.   Another hour is spent touring this cave.

Hamilton Gardens

Hamilton Gardens

Back on the road again we take a quick stop in Hamilton – it’s where I am from (in Canada) so I have to at least get a few pictures.  Here one of the major sites is the Hamilton Gardens, since they are free you might as well stop to check them out.  The gardens are massive, they are broken down into 7 different genres, and each of these are then broken down into sub categories as well. Each is completely contained, their own mini-oasis. We spent a few hours and got through about half.

Finally, we arrive back in Auckland, feels like a bit of a home base over here in New Zealand. We spend a bit of time walking around here and then call it a night.  Getting up early to head north to Paihia.

Day 7:

Today we leave Wellington and start the drive back to Auckland.  We could push through and do it in one day, but decide to take our time and travel around the west coast of NZ, spending the night in New Plymouth.

Starfish on the beach

Starfish on the beach

Along the way, there are lots of secret surf spots to check out.  A good stretch of the highway is named “surfer’s highway” with signs to various beaches along the way.  We decide to stop by a few and see our first surfers in action.  A group of eager young kids brave the cold and the wind and seem to be having a great time in the water.

We get into New Plymouth in the early evening and spend some time exploring the shops in this small town.  We ended up staying at the BBH hostel (another hostel affiliation), as the YHA hostel in New Plymouth is pretty run down.  The BBH hostel is much nicer and has a nice cottage feel to the place.

In the common room we end up meeting some folks from Australia who are visiting friends for the night. We end up chatting about our plans to head up to the very north, and the one guy, Spike tells us he works for a tour company, Awesome NZ that runs tours to 90 mile beach.  We keep this in mind for our journey the next day.

Turn in early for the night as we prepare to head to Auckland the next day.

Day 5:

We get up early and start our drive towards Wellington.  We are trying to time it so we will be in Wellington (with internet) in time for Andrew to do his very important football draft.  The day starts off good, and then about an hour into our drive we pass a sign that indicates that we have been driving the wrong way! We must have made a wrong turn out of the gas station back in town.  Our plan is now to stop in another small town along the way to pick up wi-fi for the football draft.  Oh the things we have to do for football! lol

View from Mount Eden

View from Mount Eden

We make it to Wellington (finally!) mid afternoon and check in to the Travel Lodge hotel – by booking through a last minute site we were able to get a pretty good deal.  It looks like rain for tomorrow so we decide to check out some of the outdoor sites today.  First stop, a drive up Mount Victoria for awesome views of the city.  Very windy and cold up here!

Cable Car

Cable Car

Next, we check out the Wellington Cable Car, it takes you from the bottom of the city to the top, pretty neat way to travel around.  It is surrounded by gardens, which we take a quick walk through due to the cold.  Spend some more time walking around the harbour and the city.

Next mission – finding something for dinner.  We decide since our room has a fridge and a microwave to pick up some food from New World grocery and have a nice meal in tonight.

Day 6:

Te Papa Museum

Te Papa Museum

The rain is here. Luckily, there is lots to check out indoors in Wellington.  Our first stop, the grand Te Papa Museum.  Newly re-opened with$317 million dollars of renovations it is a site to see.  The museum consists of a number of different exhibits from Maori culture, to land, sea and earth demonstrations, to the war, and the famed giant squid exhibit – the only giant squid in the world to be on display. The best part of this museum is that it is absolutely free to visit – the best ones usually are.  If you are planning on visiting allot at least half a day easily, we spent 4 hours there and still didn’t see everything.

Wellington Parliament

Wellington Parliament

Next stop, the Parliament buildings, another must see in Wellington, and again tours are free, running on the hour every hour. Beautiful old buildings, that have been restored due to a fire back in the day.

The next best thing to stay out of the rain is to check out the outdoor malls, there are lots of pedestrian only promenades that have long eves to take shelter under. Great shopping in Wellington, lots of boutique shops and cafes.

We check into the YHA hostel for our second night in Wellington, I highly recommend this as a place to stay, it is located right on the water, and across the street from a grocery store-  what more can you ask for? On top of that the rooms are pretty nice and clean as well.

Since it was a weekend, we did want to go and check out one of the many pubs that are down the street from the YHA, but the cold and rain won and we ended up watching a movie in the common room, all in all, not a bad day for our first rain day in NZ.

Day 3:

Today we exit Auckland and enter the wilderness of New Zealand.  Picked up our rental car from Jucy Rentals and away we went! Note to travelers – if your time is short (like ours) renting a car is the best way to see the most of New Zealand – however, gas is more expensive here ($1.67/L NZ) so be sure to factor that into your budget.

My favourite picture

My favourite picture

We head south and drive around the Coromandel Peninsula.  There is breathtaking views of the ocean and rolling hills here.  Worth the drive around – but it takes a lot longer than you might think judging at the distance.  The roads are very windy and steep – but who’s in a rush anyway with this view? We spend all night driving and end up in Rotorua for the evening.  This is a good place to stop over on your drive – a good size town with lots of restaurants and lodging options – however, since the Rotorua district is in the middle of one of the most geothermal areas in the world – there is a lot of sulphur in the air – think rotten eggs smell ewww! The main part of town isn’t bad, but when you enter and leave the town be prepared, the smell will almost knock you out at times!

We stayed at the YHA YHA “>hostel, Treks in Rotorua, a beautiful hostel, it has a 5 star rating (one of the few) for YHA hostels.  Make sure you pick up a YHA membership card at some point if you are going to be staying in hostels – cost is $40 for the year, and you save $3/room/night/person, plus you get discounts on a lot of popular attractions both in NZ and Aus, worth the investment.

Lady Geyser Erupts!

Lady Geyser Erupts!

Next morning we head out to explore some of the geothermal attractions in the area.  There are many places to choose from – we went to the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, cost is $30, but good value for your money.  Here we saw the Lady Geyser erupt (they time it for 10:15 am everyday), and then spent about 1.5 hours walking through the area.
Pictures will not do this place justice -hot springs, mud pools and sulfur mix to make an errie bubbling landscape rich in different colours.

Next stop, Taupo.  This is a beautiful beach side town, not yet overrun with tourists.  Lots of amazing vacation homes line the waterfront area.  I would recommend having an outside picnic on the grass and enjoying the view of Lake Taupo.  (Beware of ducks here – they will eat your food!).  Stopped in to see the largest underground wine cellar in NZ (and maybe all of the southern hemisphere!).  The place was huge and done up beautifully, had to buy a bottle of wine here.

Huku Falls in Taupo

Huku Falls in Taupo

Checked out the Huku falls – small but pretty.  Went to the Volcanic Activity Center – informative, but not sure if it was worth the $10 admission fee.  There are lots of nice walks in the area if time and weather permits.

We decided to drive on, we want to get to Wellington early the next day, so we decide to drive a bit more before calling it a night.  WARNING  – there really is not much in the way of nice towns/accommodations between Taupo and Wellington, if you do keep driving, be prepared.  We spent the night at a sketchy  hostel in Okahaua – my standards seem to be sliding down a slippery slope here! Thank god we had the bottle of wine (and our own sleeping bags), it really helped! Anyways, we are getting up early to continue our journey to Wellington, stay tuned for more updates!

Auckland Harbour Front

Auckland Harbour Front

Day 1:

We arrive! After almost 19 hours in the air, we finally land at the Auckland aiport at 5:15 am on Sunday Sept 6th (we have skipped Sept 5th entirely because we passed the international date line).

We arrive at the apartment/hotel that we have rented for our first two nights, Quest on Nelson St. I would definitely recommend this place – the rooms are mini-aparments complete with a full kitchen, pots and pans, and in suite laundry and for relatively cheap.  It was great to have some of the comforts of home on the first few days.

We headed out into the city, looking for a coffee shop that would be open at 7am on a Sunday morning.  Esquires coffee has vouchers for free wi-fi which let us send a note home to our family and friends to let them know we had gotten to NZ safely.  We walked along Quay st by the water and decided to take the ferry to Waiheke island for the day.  I would recommend the Fuller’s Explorer tour – for $48 you get the round trip ferry ticket, a 1.5 hour tour of the island, and an all day bus pass as well.

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island

The tour is a great way to see the island which would be hard to navigate on your own – lots of small windy streets.  Views here are spectactular – the island has lots of bays and sandy shoreline.  Wine tours are popular here as well.  We stopped at Gold Water Estate and sampled a few of their wines – only $3 for a tasting of 4 wines.

After we get back to Auckland, we decide to take advantage of our full kitchen and buy some groceries.  Shortly after dinner the time change catches up with us – both of us our lights out by 9 pm.

Day 2:

View from Sky Tower

View from Sky Tower

An early start to the day (since we did hit the hay really early!) at 7:30 am.  Decide to start things off at the Sky Tower – this is a must do in Auckland.  It is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere – even taller than the Eiffel Tower! However, I really think they should judge where the observation deck is  – more of a true measurement of the views you get to see.  Either way – the views are great – you definitly want to do this on a clear sunny day.

Inside Auckland Museum

Inside Auckland Museum

Next,we jump on the Link bus to the Auckland Museum, about a 10 minute bus ride out of the downtown and only $5 entry fee.  (The Explorer Bus tour is over priced for what you get – it is much cheaper to take the city bus and/or walk to places).  You want to budget at least 3 hours for the museum as there is a lot to see – first floor is the Maori/New Zealand culture and history.  Second floor is all about volcanoes, and then the exhibits on Earth, Land and Sea creatures – as well as a few dinosaurs thrown in for good measure! (my personal favourite).  3rd floor is a memory to WWI and WWII and the New Zealanders that contributed to those efforts.  Definitely eat before you head in as there is no food/drink allowed in the museum – we almost didn’t make it through the 3rd floor we were so hungry!

View from Mount Eden

View from Mount Eden

Next we walked from the Museum to Mount Edan – the highest land point in Auckland.  It is about a 30 minute walk from the Museum.  Great views here as well, a must see in Auckland (and its free so hey why not?).  Took a bus back into the city to grab some food for dinner.  A word to the budget conscious – food and drink are much more expensive in Auckland than Canada. Ex.  Starbucks tea (my drink of choice) in Canada – $1.65 in Auckland – $3.10.  Haven’t been able to find coffee or tea anywhere for under $3. We hit up a food court at the mall for a hearty meal under $10pp.

Next – we head out to find free wi-fi – and we hit up the public library, always a good place for free internet.

Tonight – probabaly a low key night again, we might try our luck at the Sky Tower casino to see if we can get any winnings for our trip! Wish us luck!

Stay posted for updates from Roturo and Taupo.


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