For a while now, it has been a dream to visit New Zealand. Andrew was kind enough to agree to make that dream a reality. (It didn’t hurt that he had to find a way to use up 2 weeks of saved up leave time from work before the end of the year, or it would disappear.) We figured that it would be easier to do the trip now (compared to later!) while we have one youngster and live relatively close in Singapore. Due to a few scheduling constraints we weren’t able to finalize the idea nor the flights for the trip until less than two weeks before we were to leave! But we decided short notice wouldn’t be enough to stop us from having a lovely time. The two goals for our itinerary were to pick something we could handle on a reasonable budget and with a budding toddler underfoot! Our itinerary in a nutshell would be to:
- Fly through Sydney to Aukland
- Spend about 1 week driving in a motorhome/campervan around the north/central part of the North Island.
- Fly from Auckland to Christchurch
- Spend another week, this time via a rental car, camping around the central/west coast regions of the South Island.
- Fly from Christchurch via Sydney back home to Singapore
(Note, click on the headings for links to websites/reviews of the sites visited.)
Day 1: Singapore – midair
Despite Singapore being closer than our homeland of the East Coast, it is still a bit away from New Zealand. This is especially true if you’re traveling on a budget and you travel through Sydney. We left late at night in Singapore…
Day 2: Sydney – Auckland
And 7 hours after we took off in Singapore, due to the time change we arrived early the next morning in Sydney.
Originally I would’ve liked to have traveled straight to New Zealand, but I think doing travel in spurts helped all three of us adjust to the time difference. And not to mention the layover gave Gideon a chance to not be cooped up in a plane!
After short-ish layover another 3 hour flight from SYD to AKL. Thankfully Gideon did splendidly! Even though he only slept a few short hours, he dutifully lounged in the basinet/chair in the airplane for most of our long flight. And during the second flight we had the blessing of a empty seat to help deal with the little guy. Even though the flight went well for all involved, it was nice to land and get settled in our new [motor]home. We spent the first afternoon doing grocery shopping and then driving a few hours before stopping in Miranda for our first night.
Day 3: Matamata – Rotorua
Amazingly Gideon slept through his first night in New Zealand and woke up pretty much on time. I think the combination of being tired from traveling and not sleeping a full night’s sleep the night before allowed his body to be flexible to the time change.
On our way to Matamata (the town where the Hobbiton was located) we stopped at a lovely quirky cafe, called the Corogate cafe. (It was really a play on words as it is the “gateway” to the “Coromandel Peninsula” – which we skipped due to time.)
I don’t know whether to take it as a compliment or not when the lady who was running the little shop wondered at the origin of our accents. She said, in a proud manner, how she could typically could figure out where someone was from based on their accents. But she hadn’t thought we were American (she even thought she would be able to tell what general area of the States we were from, but nope)! IN fact, she really couldn’t figure out where we were from, until she asked. I guess the Singaporean-ness has messed up with our American English? I never thought Americans had a nice accent anyways – go figure.
Though determined to see New Zealand in a laid back manner on a budget, we did want to see a few sites. At the top of the list was Hobbiton – home to the movie set where the scenes of the Shire in The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit are shot. We were worried it might be raining all day, but decided it was now or never. Thankfully, the Lord stopped the rain right as Andrew bought the tickets for the tour! We were guided around the Shire by a lovely young gal from the local town of Matamata who cheerful peppered us with neat trivia while giving us time and space to be tourists! Of course she dutifully brought us past Bilbo’s house:
(More hobbitton pictures to follow in a future post soon!) As we were ending our tour with a stop at the Green Dragon, the sun and blue skies broke forth.
Since the whole set is in the middle of a very large sheep farm, there were some fenced in sheep right next to the parking lot. Gideon had quite a bit of fun playing near them but didn’t understand why they didn’t come closer to him!
We stopped for lunch and some play time before making our way during Gideon’s nap to Rotorua to camp for the night.
Day 4: Rotorua – Taupo
We spent the morning at the Redwood Forest. (Yay for free site seeing!)
It was interesting to discover that these were the same type of Redwoods as in California, just younger. They had been planted along with several hundred types of trees long ago in an effort to see what types of trees would do well in the New Zealand environment, purposely for tree framing. But later, the forest was donated to the Department of Conservation.
Since I had always wanted to visit the forests in California, I found it especially neat that I was able to do so while in NZ!
While Gideon and Mommy took their naps, Andrew rented a bike and went blazing through some of the mountain bike trails associated with the forest.
If we had to do the trip again (we wouldn’t complain) – the mountain biking would go on the list of repeats for Andrew! But we couldn’t spend the rest of our two weeks mountain biking (Gideon voted against it) – so we moved on towards Taupo.
Right between Rotorua and Taupo was a Geothermal Wonderland. As the name suggests, this bizarre land area was filled with wonder.
The picture doesn’t do justice to the sound that could be heard. In some areas the sound was hissing from the steam, and other areas evoked what you would imagine from a bubbling witches cauldron.
Although the sounds were intriguing, I think I liked best the colors.
Some areas were drab and grey, but others had pools filled with natural chemicals that brought about such odd colors!
It started to rain a bit steadily so we rushed by the artist’s pallet to get to some shelter. Thankfully the rain let up. In fact, when we got to the tip of the walking loop where the green lake was, it was sunny!
Depending on the area it seemed like you were walking through a wonderland shrouded in mist… except that the “mist” smelt strongly of sulfur.
Although the aroma was strong, you sort of got used to it. Indeed you were impressed by all the sites that you didn’t pay the smell too much mind.
At the end of the walk we were greeted by one of the most strongly colored spots yet.
Of course, this color was none other than Grandma’s favorite, so we had to stop for a pose!
As we left the park there was a separate area devoted to mud pools.
As bizarre as it was, I think the bubbling mud was one of favorites!
We followed some markings from off the highway to a little campground outside of Taupo. What greeted us was a campground complete with a mini petting zoo and some quiet walks through a geothermal area.
The little “campground” was filled with animals, including Adrielle’s favorite:
And probably because people, like us, had just come from a colorful thermal world, they included vibrant peacocks in their collection.
We took a nice walk to see the thermal activity in the area before settling in for dinner and sleep.
Day 5: Taupo – Waitomo – Kawhia
The next day we started off with Huka Falls.
Two things impressed us with this waterfall: the turquoise color and the volume! But as the walks around the falls/rapids were supposed to take a few hours, we decided just to look at the falls but not do the hike, especially with a little guy in tow! Instead we headed to:
Just a minute down the road from the falls, we stopped at the honey shop raved about online. What the reviews didn’t predict was how well Gideon would pose outside the shop!
But the place got even better as we went inside!
The little boutique had a little bit for everyone. It had a contained home for the busy bees where we could admire and appreciate them.
It had a few play areas for kids of different ages.
And it had a tasting section and a cafe to tantalize our tastebuds. On top of all this, their prices were reasonable (you could find something for any budget range) and the staff beyond friendly!
We stopped in the town to use the playground and get some lunch.
As we headed out of town a bicycle caught our eye. Not just any bicycle. A larger than life bicycle! The advantage of driving on our own is we could stop, just because we wanted to!
We drove to Waitomo and arrived just in time for the last tour at the glow worm caves. As it was at the end of the day, it was a nice small group. As our guide started he asked where everyone was from. Come to find out, all of us (two other groups for a total of 10 including the guide) were from Singapore!
Overpriced, perhaps, but really one of the highlights of New Zealand!
Unfortunately, they didn’t allow photographs until the end… (so as to not disturb the glow worms with the light from the cameras). Oh well, without a fancy camera it would be hard to capture them in their glory. It would be like trying to get the starlit sky to show up on a low budget camera – it just wouldn’t do it justice.
We drove a half hour after the adventure in the caves to see a local waterfall. For as little-known as this waterfall seemed to be, we were pretty impressed.
What we didn’t factor in was that there weren’t any nearby powered campsites. And my camera battery had died. So we really wanted a powered site so that we could recharge the batter before another day of site seeing. Andrew bravely plowed on in the motor home around bendy roads in the twilight until we finally made it to a motorhome camp site. Between a bendy road and a Gideon who was done with riding in a car, that was probably the hardest 30 minutes of the whole trip in New Zealand. But it was quickly forgot after a good warm meal and a sound night’s sleep.
Day 6: Ngarunui – Auckland
We traveled some more windy roads, some unpaved, in an effort to go see Bridal Veil Falls. At first we were discouraged as we came upon closure and detour signs. We gave up the hope of going to the falls, but were later rewarded when we saw that there was a different (and better) access point further down the road!
We figured we couldn’t leave the north island without visiting a beach. So we headed to the edge of the island to the black sands of Ngarunui beach.
Though summer seasons prevailed, we decided the water was too cold and to just admire the sights rather than the touch of the water!
Gideon didn’t know he was missing going in the water, he was just thrilled to be able to practice walking some more!
During afternoon nap we drove the rest of the way to Auckland. Amazingly, we had time to kill so we stopped at the botanical gardens.
Personally, my favorite part was the hydrangea garden, but then, I’m biased.
I think we all enjoyed the botanic gardens, and were only sorry we didn’t have more time to kill!
That night we stayed at a campsite right next to the airport so we wouldn’t have to worry about driving time before catching our flight.
Day 7: Auckland – Christchurch
We said goodbye to our home of the north island and headed to the airport to fly to south island.
There, I did it! I posted some of our pictures from New Zealand, before the end of 2013. Now, onto cataloguing our adventures in the South Island. I think it’ll have to wait till next year 😉