In February of 2018, my husband and I took a three week self driving tour of both the north and south islands of New Zealand. We initially looked into renting an RV, a very popular way to travel NZ, but ultimately opted for an SUV and a series of hotel rooms as we deserved a bit more room and comfort. Didn’t we?
We were more than a bit apprehensive about driving on the “wrong side” of the road, whatever vehicle we choose. But after the first two very vigilant days with one or both us shouting, “LEFT! LEFT!” and a couple of close calls, the “wrong” side felt like the “right” side after only a couple of days.
After a couple of days in Auckland, we headed west to the Coromandel Penninsula, then south to Waitomo, Rotorua, Lake Taupo, and finally Wellington where we caught a ferry to the South Island. The blue line is our route and the blue pins show points of interest.
We spent our first afternoon in an Auckland pub so that Steve could watch the Super Bowl (bad planning on our part). Too bad the Patriots lost.
Our first full day was spent on Waiheke (why a hee kee) Island, a quick 30 minute ferry ride from the Auckland harbor. We chanced upon a celebration hosted by one of the indigenous Maori tribes, then took off wine tasting on electric scooters. The scooter guy at @onyabikecanberra was awesome, letting me practice riding the scooter before renting as it was my first time driving on “wrong” side of the road. I’d had a somewhat humiliating attempt at driving a scooter in Greece so I was a bit gun shy. And now I had to drive one on the “wrong side.” But with a bit of patience and practice and I did it!
We lucked out and caught the end of a traditional Maori celebration on the island. Later in the trip, in Rotorua, we attended a Maori Hangi Dinner and Performance. Well done and highly recommended.
The Kiwi’s commitment to preserving and honoring the Maori culture was evident all over the country. Maori celebrations, schools, and even dedicated TV channels in every city we visited.
We left Auckland and headed west to the Coromandel Pennisula to see two places I’d heard much about: Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. They didn’t disappoint. At Hot Water Beach you dig a hole in a specific area of the beach within two hours of low tide and climb in. The hot water bubbles up as if by magic. You had to be careful, though as within each hole the water temperature fluctuated wildly from lukewarm to “don’t sit there!”
Once you find your hole and get the sand shaped just right, you sit back and relax, watching the people parade. The red bums were quite entertaining!
Next up – the town of Rotorua. The town itself is nothing special. They call it “RotoVegas” as its mostly a series of sad motels and the smell of sulfur permeates everything everywhere. All the time. Did I say everywhere?
But that’s not why you go. You go to see the Wai-O-Tapo Thermal Park. As somebody said, “it’s like life after the apocalypse.” Rotorua sits on an entire region of collapsed craters, bubbling mud pots, and hot springs. At Wai-O-Tapu you walk through the steaming craters, bubbling mud pools and hot springs with strangely luminescent hues of green, blue, yellow, and orange. The plop plop plop tunes of the mud pots, surreal colors, wafting yellow sulfur fumes, and nonstop rain made for a colorful and highly sensory experience.
Glow worms, what can I say? They’re unique to New Zealand and they’re interesting, kinda like fire flies that don’t fly.
We drove out of our way to take a tour of the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, not realizing until later that glow worms can be found all over the country. And you don’t have to pay to see them if you know where to look.
Glow worms are bio-luminescent creatures that live in caves and dark forests. They drop sticky “fishing” lines and glow to attract tiny insects. I was surprised to learn, however, that they’re not worms at all, but rather maggots. But as our Waitomo glow worm cave guide said, “who’d pay to see maggots?” Not me. Not again anyway.
We’d had quite a bit of rain already then the weather settled into constant rain. Sightseeing took a back seat and we headed for Wellington, hoping for better weather and a sunnier South Island!