Done it? Good. You may now proceed.
Auckland → Paihia → Coromandel → Rotorua → Waitomo → Taupo → Wellington
So our route around the North Island of New Zealand was planned to maximise how much we could see in a very short space of time: under two weeks, in fact. From Auckland we drove a couple of hours north to Paihia, the gateway to the Bay of Islands, only slightly traumatised from our first stressful experience with an automatic car. I know it’s meant to be easier, but indicators on the other side? A random ‘L’ on our gear box? The recipe for chaos. Thankfully we survived to tell the tale and to enjoy the stunning drive. Although there wasn’t too much to do in the town of Paihia itself, we enjoyed the afternoon mooching around, culminating in a traditional fish and chips dinner on the beach.
The next day we were off to the Coromandel Peninsula which was honestly just amazing. Highlights have to be the ridiculously photogenic Cathedral Cove and the hour we spent digging at Hot Water Beach, where geothermal currents under the sand mean that if you are lucky enough, at certain times of the day, you can create your own spa pool. Obviously I don’t need to point out that, because it was us, we most certainly did not succeed.
From Coromandel we ventured down to Rotorua for a day and a night. We didn’t pay to go into any of the fancy geothermal pools (which was good because we got to do that for free in Taupo later on), but we did enjoy a walk around the town to learn about the infamous geothermal activity. Less enjoyable was the smell of sulphur everywhere, but Rotorua was actually a really big and fun town and our trips to the Redwood Forest and local lakes meant that we could avoid expensive charges to get into any of the fancy/expensive attractions.
In Waitomo I adventured in the Glow Worm Caves, spending three hours clambering through the rocks, jumping into waterfalls and floating in a rubber ring with the glow worms twinkling above. In Taupo we celebrated St Patrick’s Day, visited Huka Waterfalls, and hiked the 20km Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I can’t really describe how surreal that day was – tramping through Mordor, passing Mt Doom (Mt Ngauruhoe), crawling up volcanoes and skidding down the ash on the other side. It was certainly one of the hardest walks I’ve ever done, but after seven hours, plenty of stops – some planned, some under the pretence of ‘I’m taking a picture’ when I was really dying – and lots and lots of sweat, finally I made it to the other side, exhausted but happy.
Looking back, I can’t really believe how much we managed to cram into just a few days, not to mention the drives in between which were always longer than we anticipated. New Zealand’s North Island is just the most beautiful place, yet as sick as we were of people telling us that it was nothing in comparison with the South Island, I can also testify that things only get better…