North Island of New Zealand
The shift in our itinerary earlier in the trip gave us the chance to make an earlier ferry than originally planned. Since I was unable to switch our reservations online and our phone service was not cooperating, we decided to arrive to the ferry terminal early hoping they could accommodate us. With a two hour drive and a mandatory hour arrival before ferry departure time, we woke up early to get to Picton.
This early rise (5AM) meant that hopefully we would have no issues using the shared bathroom since the other two sets of tenants should still be sleeping. This bathroom had an entrance from the inside of our building and the outside of out building and we were instructed that while you need to lock both to ensure privacy, you must then also unlock both so everyone has access. One our first bathroom attempt, the inside door was locked. We gave it a firm jiggle and waited several minutes before attempting again, then again. The couple in the upstairs room had also come down to use the bathroom by that point. On a schedule, I got nervous we were going to have to forgo such an amenity. With a loud knocking sound, there was still no response from the inside of the bathroom. Kevin layered up for the cold and went around the outside where it was found someone had not unlocked both doors when finished using the bathroom. It was slightly aggravating given how instructive our host was to have guests that did not pay attention to a detail that disrupted 2/3 of the guests staying at this lovely place. Quickly using it and jumping in the car, we were on our way to the ferry.
Before we got back onto the highway, we took five minutes to see the sun coming up over the ocean horizon as it began to illuminate the water and the mountains.
We got to the Picton ferry terminal at 9AM hoping to get onto the 10:45AM ferry. I walked up to the ticket counter and while the staff mentioned how full the ferries, was able to switch us to the earlier ferry instructing us to drive the car into the check in lane. This was such a great adjustment for our schedule as we would now be gaining several hours in Wellington.
Driving the car onto the ferry was a fun ordeal- the dance of getting the vehicles (and even trains) off the ferry and the new set on was well orchestrated. Following the instructions of the crew, it was eventually our turn to drive onto the ferry.
The ferry had several parts to it once on the passenger deck. There was a lounge area that was filled with tons of couches, then a typical train/plane seating with rows and tray tables, and lastly a cafe area seating with picnic benches. It was clear that the first seats to go were once next to plugs to keep items charged for the three hour journey. Since passengers were on the ferry long before we were even able to drive the car onto the ferry, all of those seats were long gone. I really wanted to get blogging done so opted for the picnic tables- nice and uncomfortable with a surface for my computer- no chance for a nap.
Having popped my motion sickness medication roughly an hour before the departure, I was very productive in the three hour journey and felt minimal motion sickness from the bouncing of the ferry.
Before we pulled into the Wellington harbor, Kevin and I went to the front deck to see the city as we were pulling in. The Wellington Harbor surrounded the ferry and it was the first time in New Zealand we felt like we were in a major city- it is the capital after all!
And just where I was standing, a school of dolphins was spotted giving us a great show jumping high out of the water.
There was an announcement shortly after the dolphin encounter for any passengers with cars to return to them to disembark. We quickly made our way back to the car, prepared to drive off the ferry and in an orderly fashion, and instructed off the ferry single file. Welcome to Wellington! – dolphins of NZ.
Read all about Wellington’s adventure.
Walking back to Mount Victoria, we packed up the car and started our four hour journey to Tongariro National Park with the sun high in the sky. Many of the one lane roads lack lighting so it was definitely a strategic advantage driving in the day time.
We arrived safely and ahead of schedule at our accommodations, Adventure Lodge and Motel. This was our only place that was not booked with Airbnb since accommodations in around the National Park is limited. While our room was private, the bathrooms and other amenities are shared, including a full kitchen.
Our room was nice but in comparison to where we just were, it was hard to not see a college dorm room. It also didn’t help that our room was right across from the bathrooms and directly next to the common area- including a bar that many young folk were taking advantage of. There was definitely a rave in the vicinity as well. That’s what we get for picking the cheapest room!
We had bought the pasta and canned tomato puree with the intention of making it for dinner so we headed to the kitchen. Bringing the water to a boil proved to be a challenge as it took an eternity for the water to even bubble. I am not taking user error out of the equation entirely but the electric stove should have been sufficient. We also heated up the tomato puree and before adding it to the pasta gave it a taste. It was absolutely terrible! I tried to purchase the blandest tomato puree and this one tried to get fancy. While Kevin tolerated it, I ate my pasta dry. We were happy to have had a hearty pasta dish for lunch to carry us through this pathetic pasta. The kitchen was well equipped to make any dish you would want- we were ill-prepared to take advantage of the luxury.
What we could prepare for was the hike in the morning. We inventoried our food, allocating what we would need for the morning and throughout the estimated 7-8 hour hike as well as a weather check on what we should wear. Also, we each drank a full container of water before bed.
The shuttle taking guests to the park departs at 7AM so we wanted an early night sleep ahead of a long physical day. The rave was still going on to our disgruntlement. A sign clear as day on every door indicates it is quiet time after 9PM but unfortunately there is no enforcement. Not the lodge’s fault on who stays at the facility but it was annoying. The grumpy old people we are, we turned on the white noise I had downloaded for the flight- came in handy to rock us to sleep.
Read about our journey through the Tongariro Alpine Crossing!
Upon arriving at the lodge and after a well earned shower, we were in a vegetative state for several hours as our bodies recovered. Dinner was an excited three packets of Knor-like pasta packets which proved to be another kitchen debacle due to our lack of milk and butter. We just grabbed the packets off the shelf without reading what other ingredients were required to prepare the pasta packets- though to be fair it definitely had a ‘just add water!’ flare.
We met lovely people for the UK and Toronto in the kitchen and enjoyed our meals together. All of them were doing the Crossing in the morning so it was fun to relive the day, suddenly become experts on the hike. I can see why people enjoy the hostel life- you get to meet people in these common areas all the time. This night was so different than the previous. It was quiet and everyone seemed civilized, not looking for a college party. Our room was silent as silent could be and we enjoyed another early night’s sleep.
After a long and well rested sleep, it was time to leave the Tongariro National Park. We made our oatmeal breakfast as we did the morning before, once again graced with morning stars. Dropped off the key, packed up the car, and we were off just an hour away to Taupo.
Lake Taupo is actually a caldera – not a lake but the result of water filling into a collapsed area of a very active volcano. This volcanic eruption formed the Tongaririo Mountains and one of the largest eruptions in history (second to the dinosaur meteor!).
There is a lot to do around Taupo but we drove along the lake with a single objective- sky diving with Skydive Taupo.
Read all the details from our first sky dive!
We jumped out of a plane. It seemed hard to move onto the next part of our day. But the show must continue on!
Less than fifteen minutes was Spa Thermal Park where a natural hot spring mixes with the cold stream to provide a temperate area for swimmers. With a few benches in the car park, we ate lunch under a tree- other cans of chicken and tuna with tortilla and crackers- before walking down to the river.
We changed into bathing suits and went in for a dip. The parts where you enter are nicely lukewarm with a periodic wave of cool water mixing in. As you make your way to the right where the falls are, the water becomes scorching hot- my perfect temperature of water. It was easy to sit and relax here for an extended period but we chose to continue to Huka Falls.
The hike was a three hour return from Huka Falls from where we were at Spa Thermal Park. The sun was high and hot with our legs were still adjusting from Tongariro and sky diving so we opted to drive to the overlook area which was only another ten minute drive.
This may have been our best lazy decision of the trip! We got to a big parking lot that is directly next to the falls. I think we stayed for less than five minutes- took some photos, watched the water plunging down below us, and then continued on. It would have been a big effort with a three hour return for these falls next to a car park!
Onward to Rotorua where we would be for the next three days. Our Airbnb was a detached studio situated on the host’s property. We opened the door and were all smiles. The Airbnb’s have been great on this trip! A full kitchen and bathroom and… washing machine! We were is desperate need after the Tongariro hike (took half our clothes out of commission) and there was a proper clothes line. This was a great place to settle into for a few nights.
Read about our time in and around Rotorua!
A two hour drive ahead of us, we ate our oatmeal breakfast and departed around 7AM west to Waitomo, famous for the glowworm caves.
But we would not just be doing any old way to see the glowworms- walking tour, boat ride, even black tubing experience- oh no, never. We chose the seven hour Lost World Epic Cave Tour that started with a 100 meter free hanging abseil into the cave then hiking, climbing, swimming, crawling through the cave to get out. Oh, and see the glowworms of course.
Read about this epic adventure through the glow worm caves!
What a day! It was then time to head north to Auckland- a two and a half hour journey. We had debated staying nearby Waitomo, expecting to be tired from the physical activity but we decided to get it over with. Luckily once past a certain point, the drive turned into actual highway driving and made it to Auckland just over two hours. Our Airbnb host greeted us and showed us to our room- another wonderfully appointed Airbnb. For having stayed in so many on this trip, the fact that they were all amazing is quite an achievement! We had no problem falling asleep after an exhilarating day.
Read about Auckland exploration!
Alas, the time has come to gather our things and make our way to the airport. There are several ways to get to the airport but since it is far out of town, a cab or uber is expensive as are the shuttles. SkyBus is offered by the airport and is the cheapest way- buy online and it saves a few bucks as well. From our Airbnb, there was a SkyBus stop a convenient a ten minute walk away. They advise to leave at least an hour on the bus to the airport.
Arriving at the airport in fifteen minutes on the shuttle and a very quick trip through security, we had lots of time to ourselves in the airport. Kevin did some digging and realized our travel credit card allows us priority access to some airport lounges. Our travel life has forever changed.
This lounge has full bathrooms and showers, a complete buffet line of food and drinks, plenty of spots to get comfortable with outlets galore. I am sure this was an experience to spoil us for life and I am sure not all lounges are as luxurious but what a treat! We munched on cheese, pasta, salad, cookies, drank wine and relaxed as we waited for our boarding time.
Another smooth flight out of Auckland as we slept, ate, slept, and ate- not a bad way to spend an overnight haul. I am so happy to have had this long flight experience be such a positive one. I know they aren’t all like this but it is good to know they are tolerable- certainly wouldn’t stop us from travel far in the future.
We had a long layover at Los Angeles airport and were hoping to strike gold twice. We found a lounge to let us in but it was not nearly as extravagant as our first experience. Like I thought- instantly spoiled! At least we now know this benefit.
Landing home, we grabbed an uber delivering us back to where we started. Our home seemed sterile and the air stagnant. We had just traveled to the other side of the world, done things we never dreamed of, growing a little more. It was just a whirlwind of a trip, enjoying the moments but the time still flew. Looking back, we really accomplished so much into these two weeks.
This trip was about pushing boundaries and limits we set on ourselves, exploring a new part of the world and taking advantage of all it has to offer being open to it, to learning new things about ourselves and the people in this world. We travel for trips like this and I know this will not be our last time to New Zealand.
I still cannot believe how quick this trip went and how much we were able to squeeze in. We really were able to hit all of our points on interest in the North Island though there is so much more to see north of Auckland that we did not get to. I think our next trip will focus on the west side of the South Island as we missed the most items there and would make a great return trip.
Thank you New Zealand, your country and your people are an incredible part of this world and we will see you again soon.
Read all the details about the first half of the trip on the South Island!