Far distances away, a journey most won’t trek, you’ll find the untouched beauty of New Zealand…at least that’s what it feels like anyway. There, you’ll find endless fields of green. If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble upon sheep, which honestly shouldn’t be too hard. Why you ask? Well, there are more sheep than there are people in New Zealand and this country has less people than the state of Maryland. If that’s not insane, then I don’t know what is.
The journey took two days to get here from LA; one because of the physical distance and two due the time difference.
Being that this would be my first time visiting New Zealand, I really wanted to visit South Island because I heard it was the most beautiful. Due to time constraint, I was convinced to visit North island instead. When you have someone who’s willing to drive the entire time, can you really dispute that?
11 days sounds like sufficient time to explore one island but the reality of the situation is that it wasn’t nearly enough. There’s so much that I missed out on but for all that I was able to catch, it outweighed that feeling to the point that I’m 100% satisfied with my routing.
Here’s how I spent my time:
Piha Beach — Miranda Hot Springs — Thames
Hot Water Beach — Cathedral Cove — Williamson Park, Whangamata — Te Anga/Waitomo
Glow Worm Cave — Tararua Tramping Tracks — The National Bridge — Piripiri Cave — Marokopa Falls
Tongariro National Park — Taranaki Falls — Wellington
Mt. Victoria — Oriental Bay — Cuba Street
Napier — Clearview Winery — Te Mata Peak — Lake Taupo
Huka Falls — Polynesian Spa in Rotorua — Auckland
Rainbow Falls — Whangarei Falls
Auckland — Mt. Eden Summit
Parnell — Mission Bay Beach — Western Springs Stadium
Takapuna Beach — Auckland CBD
Day 1 —
After leaving the airport, we decided to make a pit stop at a local grocery store to stock up on snacks…I quickly learned how fruits are expensive here, as are most things. Thankfully the American dollar is stronger, so that helped take the edge of expenses a bit.
Naturally I love the beach, so a Piha Beach (1hr drive from the airport) stop only made sense. If you’ve never experienced black sand before, this would be a great place to start. I felt like you could get lost exploring and soaking in all the natural goodness. There were different streams leading into the ocean…tiny little caves and more. They also have killer waves here, making it a surfer’s dream.
Making our way over to the small town of Thames to rest our heads, I discovered Miranda Hot Springs. It’s also kind of hard to miss when you see sign after sign for hot springs; they sure know how to tempt you out here. So we headed over only to realized they closed earlier (6pm) for summer hours. Bummer.
Day 2 —
Rising up early, we headed to Hot Water Beach to try to beat the crowd but it was already packed.
The interesting thing is that there’s an ocean but people crowd around the sand to dig holes to get to the hot water. You heard that right: no one cares about the ocean because they are concerned with the sand that gets them to the true treasure of hot water. Welcome to Hot Water Beach.
Make sure you get there early because people will camp out in their freshly dug out holes. I was able to find a hole where I could borrow the space for a second, just to experience, and it was most definitely hot…but you really have to walk around to find the perfect spot.
Recommendation: go at night (that way you’re not fighting over holes)
Not too far is the stunning Cathedral Cove. MUST VISIT…it’s the most scenic walk that leads to a breathtaking cove. Bonus is the cave at the bottom.
If you’re driving, there’s no parking at the top; free parking is nearby but you have to pay about $7 NZ roundtrip to take the shuttle bus. Once you arrive at the starting point, which is at the top of the hill, the walk down to Cathedral Cove is about 55 minutes of sun and endless hills. Another option would be to take a 10 minute water taxi from Hahei Beach ($15 NZ/adult one way). Note that it can be very crowded and don’t expect any food vendors or restrooms.
If I didn’t mention already, this trip had no breaks because there’s so much to see. Who needs free time anyway, right?
So for our next stop was Williamson Park, Whangamata. You can kayak around the islands but make sure you don’t want until the afternoon. Lifeguards leave around 5pm and the persons in charge of the activities were gone way before. How do I know? Because that’s around the time that I arrived. I’m sure it would’ve been a dope experience though.
Continuing on with our adventure, we went to stay at a Airbnb farm in Waitomo, which was a lot more cozy than I expected. Although we were close to the animals, we had our shed/room (really nice and homey), that was separate from the house. Their rustic bathroom wasn’t connected but it was just a 10 step walk outside, right across the way. The best thing about stay here was that you could see the stars so clearly at night. That’s also when I noticed that we had neighbors who had pitched tents right outside. They came from the UK and would be exploring for months.
Day 3 —
Today I experienced one of my most exhilarating memories of NZ where I went to Waitomo Glow Worm Caves to do cave tubing. While you’re jumping around in two small waterfalls, you get to experience colorful worms glowing on the ceiling of the cave. It’s quite magnificent…it feels like you’re on a Disney ride until you then learn that the reason why they glow is essentially because they’re covered in their own shit, for a lack of better words…and oh yeah, they’re also really maggots. Despite learning the truth, you should really experience this for yourself. It’s quite the sight if you can look past the technicalities and the freezing water temps that New Zealand has to offer.
Experiences start at $55 NZ
Remember when I mentioned the crazy amount of sheep here? Well, it would only make sense to indulge in some lamb. I would think it would be pretty legit and boy was I not disappointed. Around the corner from the glow worm caves was The General Store, where they had the most delectable pulled lamb sandwich.
For one, I’ve never heard of pulled lamb and two, it was everything I imagined but more.
Before leaving Waitomo, we returned for dinner at HUHU Cafe, which was recommended to us by one of our glow worm cave guides. This place has won awards and really amazing food. Get their lamb shank,
Waitomo has some other highlights here. Personally, you have to stop by Marokopa Falls — my favorite waterfall in NZ. Unreal. Being that I was lucky enough to catch a rainbow, I honestly did not want to leave and had I known I could swim here, I would’ve gladly gotten in the stream. (It’s an easy 10–15min walk in the shade.)
You can also try your hand at visiting:
The Natural Bridge — 10 minute walk to a massive cave
Piripiri Cave — 10 minute walk into the forest, on an easy uphill path that leads you to the dark and cool temperate cave
Tawarua Tramping Tracks — not advisable from my experience. The drive up was treacherous, scratching the side of the car. Needless to say, we didn’t make it to the top, afraid of more car damage and no goal in sight on this one lane road.
Day 4 —
Tongariro National Park is quite interesting when you consider that there’s an inactive volcano on one side with the sight of snowy mountains in the next glance. While there, we hiked to Taranaki Waterfall (one hour each way). You’re able to view the it from below or climb your way up top. It’s pretty cool. Also, Lord of the rings was filmed here.
Day 5 —
After being in small towns, it was refreshing to visit the city of Wellington. Leaving our car parked, we could walk to anywhere in the city, 30 — 40 minutes tops. It was much cooler here than everywhere else we had gone so far but it was perfect for walking around and sightseeing.
If you only had time to do one thing, it better be a great 360 degree view of the city at Victoria’s Point. It’s a strenuous 25 min walk up but worth it. You can also cheat and cab it up.
Oriental Bay was cool too. Finding any body of water is really all I need. Here, you have a little sand action and a lifeguard on duty. There’s also a fountain in the middle of the bay, too.
Another blessing about Wellington is that you can grab great food here. Fidel’s was a good brunch spot and was recommended by different sites. On Cuba Street, which has a cool rainbow crosswalk, you can find a lot of food options. I had some good Italian food at 1154, all while feeling like I was on an awkward first date with the couple sitting right next to me. He was telling her all his flaws.
Day 6 —
I had to eat one more time before we left at Hippopotamus, an upscale restaurant in a hotel. Very cute and contemporary setup. The breakfast buffet was $30 NZ, which sounds like a lot but it’s actually average for breakfast in NZ. So why not eat to your heart’s content?
Stopping by Napier, the Art Deco area, we hit up Clearview winery for some award winning wine. I was slightly disappointed there wasn’t anything to see but at least the wine and charcuterie were great.
On this trip, every time I thought New Zealand couldn’t get any better, it kept surprising me. Please go to Te Mata Peak — AMAZING VIEWS!! I felt like I was on a movie set because the views were too unreal. (Can walk up or drive.)
Lake Taupo was dope too. Getting a hotel along the water was so relaxing. I wish I could’ve stayed longer.
Day 7 —
Continuing on the hunt for bodies of water, you can find Huka Falls, not too far from Lake Taupo. It’s a quick walk from the parking lot and is quite stunning. You also have the option of walking along it if you’d like.
The best part of my day though was stopping by the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua for the mineral hot springs. The healing powers were incredible and you had so many pools to choose from.
$30 NZ for adults only pools. No time limit. Absolutely worth it!
Now nearing the end of the trip, we closed it out with a trip to Auckland for friends and food.
Day 8 —
Right by the place I was staying in Mt. Eden was a great local French spot called Petit Bocal, owned by two French women. The food was pretty authentic aside from the fact they don’t use baguettes. I enjoyed it so much that I ended going back there for a second time. Also, you know it’s legit when the prime minister dines there.
Since today was the last day with a car, we thought it would be best to chase a couple more waterfalls nearby:
Rainbow Falls. Before entering, you must wipe down and sanitize shoes. Not the most alluring body of water but it was clean enough to swim in…at least I think. (10 minute walk.)
Whangarei Falls. Can park next to falls and enjoy it for a second. Seeing a good number of waterfalls, I didn’t find this one too special but it was still nice.
Day 9 —
Despite the fact that I was staying in Mt. Eden, I didn’t actually get to grasp it’s beauty until I went to Mt. Eden Summit for sunset. It’s an inactive volcano crate that is a MUST DO for this time of day. You will get the most incredible view of Auckland with the prettiest sky.
Day 10 —
This particular day started off pretty chill at the farmer’s market in Parnell that had a great selection of food. Saturday is the day to go.
Not too long after, I headed to Mission Bay Beach by myself since my friend had to work a concert that day. Being so close to CBD (downtown), the beach was super crowded but it wasn’t a bad vibe for a solo traveler.
At the last minute, my friend hits me up telling me she got an extra ticket to the Gentlemen of the Road Tour: Mumford & Sons and Leon Bridges. Obviously I said yes cause who doesn’t love a free concert? I headed over as fast as I could to try not to miss Leon Bridges, who was great. I’m not a huge fan of Mumford & Sons but they did their thing.
Day 11 —
My last day was well spent. I had the chance to go to the beach one last time and Takapuna Beach was the perfect place being so close to Auckland. The only downfall was that places were closed in the area, maybe because it was Sunday. In comparison to Mission Bay Beach, it’s nicer and much more secluded since you have to take a bus here from the city. At Takapuna, you can see Rangitoto (inactive volcano), where you can go hiking. Had I had more time, I would’ve explored this option.
I ended Sunday Funday at an outdoor restaurant and bar in CBD. I really wish I could’ve remembered all the places that I went to after the beach but just know that you really can’t go wrong anywhere here.
Reflecting back on the entirety of this trip, I can honestly say that New Zealand is the most beautiful country I have ever been to. After all, when there are more sheep than people, I can only imagine that this has to be the closest to natural beauty we may ever get…and I hope that never changes.
Time of Year: January (their summer)
Duration: 11 days
Place of Stay: Airbnbs, hotels, friend’s
Average Spent Per Day: $75 USD
- Customs at AKL is easy and they’re super chill — just make sure you report correctly or they’ll fine you $400 NZ
- The weather is fickle and it really just depends on your location
- Hours of operation for establishments are suggestive; places will close earlier than listed time…depending on how they feel about business that day. Beware: establishments will close for holidays for extended periods
- Driving is easy especially when some areas will have signs on the ground to make sure you’re driving on the right side. If you see someone in a rush, let them pass and then continue on with your day
- Speaking of signage, there will also be signs to point you in the direction of a school, for example
- If you plan on visiting for an extended period of time, it is most cost-effective to purchase a camper van. When you are done with your journey, sell it back
- If you love stargazing, New Zealand is the place for you
- The ocean is freezing; feels like you’re taking an ice bath
- Wh makes an f sound
- Sunscreen! Since there is no ozone layer here, you won’t feel the sun penetrating but you’ll get burnt easily!
- Public buses are immaculately clean and pretty. If you get a $10 card and load money that way, it’ll be cheaper than pay cash if you’re planning on using it more than once. AT Mobile app will give you routes and bus whereabouts
Let me know which places you want to hear about next!