As all my friends and family know I fell in love with New Zealand. The scenery, the people, and the drink. I say I’m lucky enough to have gone back to NZ recently for the Lion’s 2017 tour but we worked hard and have made the choice that travel is more important than other things. We wanted to go back to see this beautiful country again. And as expected it didn’t disappoint. I’ve decided to do a few blogs on this gorgeous country as I don’t want to bore you all with one big one, or make you too envious! I’ve put together my Top 10 of the North Island. This is definitely just a guide as I’m sure if you go yourselves you’ll find new and different things which would go on your own list. I’ve organised it geographical aside honestly don’t think I could put this in a true Top 10 List!
1. Cape Reinga
This is (nearly!) the top most point of New Zealand, where the Tanzanian Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. To get here we drove straight from Auckland, approximately a five and a half hour drive. A hard one but worth every second. The road has only recently become sealed which is great, makes the drive that bit more pleasant. There is also a campsite on the coast about a 10 minute drive from the car park.
Park up and take the 10 minute walk down to the lighthouse. Just walking down is gorgeous. The view is just incredible. It completely took my breath away. The blue sky (we were very lucky, especially as it was torrential rain the day before), the lighthouse and the closing sea. It gives an end of the world feel. You can understand why Maori legend be lives this is where the souls go to make it to the underworld. Just stand and take it all in, and I can tell you now that feeling of awe will never leave you.
One quarter of the population live in Auckland and you can see why. This might not be the reason why you go to New Zealand but it’s well worth a few days there. Start your morning by hitting up one of the amazing cafes – my recommendations are either Bluebells Cakery or Chuffed. Go for a cupcake at bluebells or the pilly steak sandwich at Chuffed. Neither will disappoint. And obviously the coffee at both are fantastic.
Head up Mt Eden, a dormant volcano. It gives some great views of the city. At the summit you can see both coasts at once. We actually climb the smaller peak first thinking that was it, till we got to the top and actually saw mount Eden behind! For more great views you have the sky tower which is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Auckland museum is a must! A few highlights – a Moa (now extinct) replica which was huge. The boy pointed out it was too tasty to the Maoris to survive. The section devoted to Maori culture is interesting though a little reparative and hard to follow. The paintings of some Maoris where incredible, the tattoos they have and the way they distinguished tribes was impressive.
3. Hot water beach
It’s up on the Coromandel Peninsula so a little out of the way but well worth the trip. Either hire a spade for $5 at your campsite or little shops on the way. Most places take a deposit of about $20 just so you’re aware, wouldn’t want you caught short and not be able to get digging!
There is a Top10 campsite near by to stay at which is incredibly useful as it’s only about a 10 minute walk to the beach. Plus, they are so helpful and lovely – they gave us a late check out for free as well as the facilities being clean and well kept. Oh and only an extra $2 for a powered sight, which I can tell you now makes all the difference when campervan-ing around. They also have up when low tide is. You want to head down two hours either side of low tide to be able to dig your pool.
It’s great fun! Find a hot patch and get digging. But watch out it can get burning hot. I was sceptical on my way down that it would only be a few degrees warmer than the sea but oh how wrong it was. We paired up with a few other Lion’s fans and created a pretty big hole, with a wall to protect to us from the sea and everything. It was great fun digging the springs and then relaxing in the water. Safe to say the boys had more fun digging the hole and protecting it with walls and even a moat , than relaxing! Not sure I’ve laughed so much at grown men effectively playing with sand like children.
4. Watimo caves
Drive down to Otorohanga for the Waitomo Caves! First you abseil 27m down into a stream, it’s a lot deeper than it looked. From here you walk into the caves which are incredible – the glow worms created what looked like a starry night. If you’re lucky you might get to see a weta! It’s an incredibly active time with lots of small holes to climb through – I have to admit I passed on the first as I couldn’t think of anything worse, the second I just followed everyone and guess what, I ended up stuck! I was not happy! Though our tour guide just laughed which in a way made me ease up and I clearly got out otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. You then get to do Black Water Rafting which is amazing: you turn your lights off so it’s pitch black apart from the glow worms – just beautiful! You’ve gone down so you’ve got to rock climb out!! It was hard I have to say, and scary but you really don’t have a choice as it’s the only way out.
Based on the outskirts of Matamata, you have Hobbiton, the real film set for both LOTR and the Hobbit films. Photos do describe this best (and I don’t want to ruin it too much for you!) so here are just a few facts –
- The hobbit holes were built to different perspectivesie50%-100% to make Gandolf look bigger and the hobbits smaller. Very cleverly done.
- Everything is real except the mould which was made using yogurt, and the oak tree in the hobbit.
- The original oak tree in the LOTR is real but Jackson needed a younger looking tree for the Hobbit so took it down, replanted it and replaced it with a fake tree with over 200,000 fake leaves on it.
- The Green Dragon pub’s exterior was real but the interior was built after they came back to film the Hobbit which means you canhave a drink in it. You can also purchase these in the shop to take home!
This is a little town on the edge of Lake Taupo (in case you couldn’t work that out!) The view over the lake is gorgeous. You can see as far as the mountain range on a clear day. Here you can take a tour to the Maori rock carvings which are pretty cool.
In the morning we got a great coffee and toasties from Stir Cafe. We took it back to the van which we parked up next to the lake and just admired the view. It was a crisp morning which really just added to the whole experience.
Just north of here, about a 15 minute drive, are the Huka Falls. 900 litres of water pouring over every second is definitely worth a visit. They are beautifully clear blue and the sound is pretty intense! There are a few walks you can do but to be honest we just went to look at the falls.
There are some great little pubs just set back from the lake which do great food and beer. If there is a rugby match on I highly recommend you go to Pub n Grub. They have a great atmosphere and great hospitality (even to the opposition!!). Watching rugby is a must in NZ and where better than at this place with a great view too.
7. Mt Ngauruhoe and the National Park
This is perrfect for those that love some good walks! The first one we did was to the Taranaki waterfalls which was great. It’s a really scenic walk and the falls were beautiful. This is only about an hour round walk.
But my favouirte walk, which I really think if you can you should do… 5 – 6 hours, 17 kilometres return to the Tama Lakes! There is a view of the lower lake before climbing a steep slope to the upper lake view point. Make sure you take windproof clothing! It can get cold! Don’t forget your camera, you’re going to want it.
When you’ve finished all your walking go for a cuppa in the Grand Chateau it gives an incredible view, plus you can say you’ve had tea where the LOTR cast did!
The Capital of Art Deco, Napier is a must for people who love architecture and a bit of history. This whole city was flattered by an earthquake in 1929 which meant that when it came to rebuilding the city it was built in the gorgeous art deco style, popular with that period. Take it all in with a walk around the city. Check out the Telegraph Building and the what is actually now the Lone Star. Stop off at Hopi for a coffee before mooching round a bit more. The opossum world is worth a visit, though only because you won’t see this anywhere else. The hate of opossums in NZ is summed up in this one shop!
Head out of town to Silky Chocolate Cafe. Go via the National Tobacco Company. Another great building demonstrating the 1920s decor. Have the chocolate extravaganza. It’s a warm melted chocolate pot topped with cream with the option of chilli flakes. It’s incredibly sickly but brilliant all the same. For $8 there is a museum you can do too. It’s pretty interesting learning about the origin or chocolate and some of the biggest chocolate factories of today.
This has a cute village feel, it actually reminded me of my home town!. It’s full of those nick nack shops and of course wine! The whole area is full of vineyards. This wine region, for me, is the best in New Zealand. It’s a bold shout I know. Go for either a Pinot Noir which they specialise in or the classic Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling all made in the area. The Rieslings are one of my top choices, lovely and a little sweet. Plus not badly priced – two glasses $16 (£9/€10) wouldn’t get that here anymore. So spend a couple of days here ether visiting the vineyards or the bars, both will give you lots of different wines to choose from.
The first stop in Wellington has to be the Weta Cave Workshop. It’s the company co-founded by Peter Jackson who made a lot of the costumes ie armour for LOTR as well as working on projects like Tintin and Avatar! You get to see the way technology has developed and shaped the film industry. It’s really interesting, even for those who aren’t big film nerds. For those Hobbit fans, you get to see the troll statues used – they are huge and so detailed! For lunch, head to the Chocolate Fish Cafe. Food and coffee were beautiful and the staff were so helpful. Plus, drinks also came with a marshmallow chocolate fish!
Head to Te Papa which is one of the top museums in NewZealand. You’ll learn a lot about the history of the country and it answers loads of questions that we had ie why New Zealand was involved in the Vietnam war. Plus it was free which is always great for the purse strings.
There are a lot of beer places to pick from but I would recommend heading slightly out of the main town and go to the Garage Project. It’s pretty small and can get very busy but the beer is worth it. And the service is great so even though it’s busy you’re not waiting long to be served. If you enjoy the beer, you can head down to their brewery and off licence and pick up a bottle…or can…or growler!
Do the cable car, and admire the views! It’s not too expensive and it’s good fun. It also takes you up right near the botanical gardens which are always nice in any city.
It was hard to just pick 10 so here are a cheeky few other places I would recommend – Rotorua (Thermal Activity), Whakarewarewa (Redwood Froest), New Plymouth (Seaside town), Surf Highway, Mt Taranaki, Ohakune (Mount Rauapehu), Palmerston North (New Zealand Rugby Museum).
What are your favourite place in New Zealand? Or where have you always wanted to go?