The first thing we saw welcoming us to Auckland airport was a giant advertisement for New Zealand Air that depicted a pilot and crew member who were hobbits with long red hair and beards and hobbit ears.
The second was a very cool Maori archway over the entrance to the baggage reclaim area. I immediately knew we were in what has been a long awaited destination for both of us- and it felt MAGICAL.
After our shuttle ride to the hotel where I left my passport in the shuttle..Oops- we settled in for the night to rest up to explore Auckland the next day, which would be Christmas eve but a day ahead of the states. The holidays in the city were very mellow. Most of the businesses were closed for the days we were in Auckland, but we were able to do some shopping, eating and exploring on Boxing Day.
We are both big breakfast people- and I am a big coffee person, so this is always one of the most interesting things when we arrive somewhere new. The standard big Kiwi breakfast- I hope this is correct, is eggs poached, toast, sausage, roasted tomatoes, baked beans, and sauteed mushrooms. This ends up being pretty much what you see on every menu- or some variation of this. The coffee in New Zealand is incredible also. You can go to just about any road side gas station or cafe and get the freshest made espresso drinks. No old, burnt sitting on the pot coffee for the Kiwis, and they seem to drink coffee all day every day. I understand- as the climate in most of New Zealand is similar to that of Seattle, or England… with the exception of summertime in some parts of the islands it is pretty damp and chilly a lot of the time. However- I will say that everyone was telling us that we had some of the worst weather that they have seen in a long time, so I wont attribute the coffee drinking only to the weather. Flat white, long black anyway your order it, its good.
We spent 3 days in Auckland, obtained our campervan, and set out on the road- left side, right drive style.
The first night in our campervean was awesome. We went north as far as we could make it and it was the beginning of the most gorgeous green rolling field scenery that we would enjoy the entire 3 weeks of our road trip from the north island to the south. That night we landed in one of the Department of Conservation campsites at the beaches of Uretitti. It was a big open hilly plot of land, where there were no boundary lines, and camps set up randomly all over the property up to the back side of the sand dunes, and on the other side of the dunes was an incredible beach with white soft sand.
This would never fly in the states. There would be so many rules and lines and assigned spots- so for us it was truly an eye-opener into different ways of doing things like camping even.
In the days that followed, we made our way south toward Wellington. Along the way, we explored the Waitomo Caves, Lake Taupo and our favorite, the coastal surfy town of Raglan. Raglan is a special little town that you have to drive through a long stretch of farms to get to on the central west coast of the north island. Raglan is known for one of the longest rolling left breaking waves in the world. And, since Alex prefers going left, this was like a Mecca for him to at least check out. I fell in love with the hippie mellow arty vibe of the town. We contemplated going and staying there for a couple of months- but decided that it is too far and remote for us to make our lives.. right now- so why tempt our selves. Anyway, if you get a chance- go to Raglan sometime. Its awesome. The caves in Waitomo were also a unique experience. These wonders of nature stretch miles and miles under un assuming green pastures with sheep grazing up over the top. We were lowered down into the caverns via climbing ropes, and spent the day in wetsuits with rubber boots, headlamps and hard hats. Tubing down the cave rivers in the pitch blackness, we saw lots of glow worms and small cave tunnels. We then had to climb a full on rock wall to get up out of the cave which was very scary for me- I froze on a concaved part of the wall and thought I wouldnt make it back out! Alex, with his long limbs- spider-manned his way up in no time.
We spent a total of 7 days on the north island, and took the Inter Island Ferry across to the south island from Wellington over to Picton. We spent 2 days in Blenheim in the Marlborough wine region which was amazing. The wine in New Zealand is incredible, and the scenery was just as beautiful. The fertile, abundant farm lands were covered with vineyards and various organic farms. It was one of MY favorite spots in New Zealand. We then went west to Nelson which was a very cool city, Abel Tasman national park- which was gorgeous almost tropical ocean setting and one of the best hikes we did in NZ. From there continued south through glacier lands and Fox Glacier to the Fjordlands of Milford Sound. Seeing all kinds of incredible dramatic scenery along the way- and of course the sheep that NZ is so well known for with the current statistic being about 8 sheep to every 1 person in the country!
We crossed over to Queenstown which is like an alpine kingdom in the middle of the island surrounded by the most beautiful lakes, homes and a very cool town center that reminds me of what I imagine Aspen to be like. Queenstown is also famous for its ADVENTURE sports and where Alex decided to go bungee jumping off a bridge.
We made our way up the east side of the south island-through Dunedin, Timaru, and on to Christchurch where we would depart to Sydney from. We visited a very cool Maori rock art museum in Timaru and got to learn about the native people of New Zealand, who are fascinating if you ever get time to learn about. I wont attempt to explain here for reasons of lack of accurate info, I am not a cultural anthropologist, and the fact that I could write all day about New Zealand- but am also pretty sure you dont want to read all day about New Zealand… Plus, the Maori have such a rich and interesting culture and history that it would need its own post. This is just about our personal excursion.
It was eye opening to see the the devastation of the 2011 earthquake that hit Christchurch.
We had so many sights and experiences I know I have left some things out and could go on and on about New Zealand. To say it is beautiful- which I did several times.. is a huge understatement. I am a little hesitant to admit that I am not a Lord of the Rings fan- but if you are, it is even more magical and breathtaking than the movies even show. It is very easy to travel around by car, and camping is honestly I believe the BEST way to explore and really see this incredible country. The Kiwi people, from what I observed and experienced -are friendly, laid back, and enjoy the benefits of their green gorgeous home. The holiday parks and camp grounds are full of Kiwi families, European, American and various other foreign travelers. They are very traveler friendly and easy to find as well as last minute pull in for the night. I HIGHLY recommend the trip that we did in New Zealand for any ones bucket list. It is indescribable in so many ways, and the experience is so unique that I have had a hard time even trying to explain it. Alex captured some great moments and a lot of the essence of the natural wonder and beauty that we experienced. It was a truly transforming and humbling trip for us and we are so glad we made it there. If you have ever wanted to go to New Zealand, just go- it will exceed any of your expectations and dramatically shift and spoil your perception of natural beauty.
Up next is Australia!