“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
I had to throw in a Lord of the Rings quote because well duh we just got back from Middle-Earth! Seriously, guys NZ was so amazing I actually might be at a loss of words. How do I find words to describe the beauty and magicalness (See! is that even a word?) of this country? I’m not a literary genius or really a legit writer, so I’m just going to stick with what I know and that is this, damn NZ is amazing, beautiful, gorgeous, fantastic, and all around an absolutely lovely country.
I decided the moment I walked off the plane and into this magical land that I owed it to this country and this trip to make this a two part blog post. Therefore, my loyal blog readers you are in for a treat (or not, depends on how excited you get for these updates) for parts one and two: the North Island and South Island.
If I haven’t said it before I’ll say it again, when it comes to travel and wanderlust my eyes will always be too big for my stomach. There will always just one more place I want to go. I’ve had to be calculated with my picks for these big trips, while living in Japan, and NZ has always been on my short list. With it taking well over 30 hours to travel there from the States, to knock that travel time down to like 20 seemed logical and well worth it to me, and man was I right. Traveling to the other side of the world/hemisphere was a headache but once we finally made it was so worth it. We were also greeted by this when exiting the airport…just saying.
I had decided the best way to see this country was to road trip from the north island to the tip of the south island, that way we could see as much as we could. Our journey started in Auckland, which you would think being NZ biggest city would be the capital, but it’s not it’s actually Wellington, located on the south tip of the north island. We arrived Christmas day and although NZ is a country that celebrates Christmas, it really didn’t feel like Christmas this year. It did, however, help to see all the airport employees were wearing santa hats, oh and did I mention the best part? ENGLISH! Yup, the first time in 8 months John and I got off a plane and were able to communicate with immigration and of course the people. It was absolutely wonderful to speak English and hear it back, I pretty much reveled in it the entire time! Ok back to our trip…
Despite the holiday and everything being closed, we managed to get a good grasp on Auckland and I imagine this city has a lot to offer when not on holiday. It’s got a cool young, retro, hipster vibe that I could totally get into. We spent our time there with a few other expat friends from Japan, and our friend from home, AJ. Even though we were not with our families on Christmas it was nice to have people we love and care about to spend the holidays with. It’s the beauty of expat life, you start to make friends and meet people everywhere. It has to be one of my favorite things about this journey! Here are few snaps of the city and the Buckland Beach, a popular beach area not to far from our hotel. We had high hopes of traveling a bit further out, but jet lag and 20 hours of travel had us staying local.
After our unconventional Christmas dinner in a pub and a few beers at a local Chinese restaurant, we were up early the next day to make the drive down to Matamata, home to Hobbiton aka the Shire. For those that don’t know I love a good movie tie and am not above a cheesy tour related to one, so of course this was right up my ally. Come to find out it was not in the least bit cheesy. Hobbiton was pretty legit. You actually felt like you were in the Shire and the best part, the tour included a free beer at the end that is made only for the Green Dragon Inn and specific to Hobbiton. Lucky us and finding rare beers! Here are some snaps of Hobbiton.
From here our journey took us further south to NZ largest lake, Lake Taupo. I mainly picked this town because it seemed like a logical stopping point on our way to Wellington and also that it’s summer in NZ this time of year and was hopeful to catch some beach weather. Sadly, it was a bit too cold still and the beach didn’t pan out, but Lake Taupo didn’t disappoint with it’s beachy northern Michigan lake town vibe.
I should also mention that during this trip we had a few hiccups and the Hobbiton tour was the start. We showed up about a minute past the time our bus left…and when I say one minute I literally mean we watched the bus pull away at 10:01 while pulling into the parking lot. We were initially told that there wasn’t room for us on another tour, however, they eventually worked it out and we were able to go. The same day after arriving in Lake Taupo were told that our hotel didn’t have a room for us, because it was under new management and our booking didn’t transfer. The busiest time of year in this town and we were homeless. Thankfully the nice Kiwi couple did us a solid and found us a room at a very nice hotel just a minute from their location. Little did I know this was only the beginning of a few “minor” mishaps along or journey. Any who, Taupo was great. I wish we had more time in this town, but we managed to check out the local pub scene and sample some of NZ’s best craft beers lakeside. The next day we were off and headed down to Wellington.
The drive to Wellington was of course breathtaking. We managed to make it down in about five hours because we had to make a few stops just to take pictures. NZ is known for their sheep. I think there might be more sheep in this country then there are people, which Australians love to poke fun at the kiwi’s for (I think it’s all in good fun…). Any who, we passed sheep pasture after sheep pasture and mountain after mountain. I’m surprised none of us drove off the road from the distractions. Unexpectedly, we drove right through Tongariro National Park which is home to Mount Ngauruhoe, a volcano that looks a lot like Mt Fuji or I don’t know some other famous fictional place…possibly Mordor.
Alright before I go any further with this I have to say that I’ve only ever seen the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies once. I’m not a super fan or a geek about it, but it’s pretty easy to get into the spirit of things especially when you recognize stuff. Any who Mount Ngauruhoe is Mount Doom from the movies. It was definitely a sight to see!
At long last we made it to Wellington for the final leg of our north island tour. Wellington is the capital of NZ and it being a holiday and all it appeared that the whole city was completely shut down. Turns out there is a lively little street, called Cuba St, that is pretty hoppin’ most days of the year. We also learned from our taxi driver one night that the government offices shut down for about a month from Christmas to almost February, apparently the country will be totally fine without any official government business happening for that long (the taxi driver’s words, not mine). Our first night was pretty low key, to get a flavor of the city and it’s locals. We managed to find a good spot with some awesome 80s tunes and old school board games to spend the evening. A pretty intense game of Jenga went down that night, even though we didn’t want to go totally crazy because the next day we had some hiking planned.
To keep in theme with the Lord of the Ring thing, there were a few major filming spots not to far from Wellington, it included where they filmed Rivendell in Kaitoke Regional Park and the Paths of the Dead in the Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve. I have to Kaitoke park was absolutely beautiful with the river running through it and the lovely trails, but Rivendell was kind of lame. It basically was home to the set that was taken down and everything else was digitally put in. However, the Putangirua Pinnacles were a sight to see. I’ve never hiked or been close to something so beautiful and unique before. For the majority of this trip I had to keep pinching myself and reminding myself that this is real and not my imagination. I really wish my brain was a camera that I could share with everyone, because honestly the pictures I’m about to post just don’t do the place justice.
The rest of our time was spent exploring Wellington. Since we only have a few days we kind of had to pick and choose what we wanted to see. There is a famous over look at Mount Victoria in Wellington that I wish we had time for and also a recommendation for a place called the Chocolate Fish, which I hear includes outdoor wine drinking near the harbor. However, our time was cut short, but I guess it’s all the more reason to go back!
Our last big journey on the north island ended with an early morning ferry ride from Wellington to Picton in the south island. All was going so well at this point that I had forgotten all about our mishaps the first few days, until this ferry ride. Turns out I managed to book and pay for the ferry, it just wasn’t for December 29th…it was for September 29th!?! How I managed that I have no idea. The kiwi running the desk was super nice about it, but told us the next available ferry wasn’t until 2:30am on December 31st (panic mode much!!!). Thankfully, his manager was able to override their system and let these desperate americans onto their boat. Thanks kiwi’s always good lookin’ out!
Well that’s a wrap for the north island. All I can say is the north island was stunning, but guys wait until you hear about the south island. Totally and completely spectacular! Hopefully, I will have it out in the next day or so!
To be continued…
P.s. I now have the ability to add video to this blog, so for those interested here is a short video I took while driving around the north island. This was basically our entire road trip, except the scenery would change. To be honest, it was just down right breathtaking (I think I need a new adjective).