After not being sure about visiting New Zealand on our travels, which now we cannot believe, we arrived feeling really excited to see somewhere new. It was feeling like we had been in Australia for a while and we were both ready for something a bit different. Plus, after researching the North Island we found so many things we wanted to do and see.
We arrived late at night into Auckland airport after a relatively short (everything felt short after flying to Singapore from the UK!) three hour, 40 minute flight. We had also lost two hours as the time difference here is two hours ahead of Australia, now putting us 13 hours ahead of the UK.
We were staying in our own studio apartment about a 20 minute drive outside of the main city. It was such a lovely space and we were so comfortable there for a few days.
On our first day we decided to first head to the highest of the mainland volcanoes in Auckland – Mount Eden, which stands at 196m. Auckland is built on a volcanic field and there are 50 volcanoes in a 1,000km square radius, forming hills, lakes and basins of the city. The volcanic field is referred to as monogenetic, which means that each time there has been an eruption it has been in a new location and each eruption has been the result of a single batch of lava rising from its source in the mantle, 100km beneath the city. This means that in the event of an eruption it would unlikely be one of the volcanoes that has already erupted becoming active but that a new one would be formed.
The crater left from the eruption was impressive and the height of the volcano gave some great views of Auckland city, which we visited next.
Maybe because since deciding we were coming to New Zealand we’ve been thinking about Lord of the Rings, but walking around the volcano area reminded us of many of the scenes from the films including running through and down some of the hills.
Next we visited the city and were a little underwhelmed, although it was a nice city, there wasn’t really much to do. We wandered around and then stumbled across an interactive art installation called 1000 doors, which sounded quite interesting… how wrong we were. It was definitely the worst NZ$20 we’ve spent so far on the trip, maybe ever. It was sold as an immersive experience walking through each door like you were stepping into a different world and not knowing what exciting thing would be on the other side; it turns out really not a lot. Each room looked like part of an old derelict house and this didn’t change no matter what room you went through. So we paid NZ$20 to walk through a load of doors, which now feels pretty silly.
We headed home for dinner before making our way to the Stardome Observatory for a Summer night sky talk and viewing. It was really interesting in the observatory looking up at the sky projections and learning about our galaxy and further. We were also shown how to spot constellations including Orion, and his dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor), The Southern Cross, and Taurus. In addition we were shown how to find South using the Southern Cross and Orion’s belt.
After the presentation in the observatory we went outside to find these constellations and look through telescopes to get a closer look. We also used a telescope to look at Mars, which was in our path that evening. We had a great evening and it was something neither of us had done before.
We were carrying on the theme from yesterday and visiting the volcanic island of Rangitoto today, which stands 259m above sea level. It is Auckland’s youngest volcano erupting from the sea a mere 600 years ago. This volcano’s birth was witnessed by the neighbouring island of Motutapo, which had Maori people living on it at the time.
We arrived via ferry in 25 short minutes and once we arrived began our summit walk through lava fields and forests to reach the top. Again, this definitely felt like we were in Lord of the Rings territory but luckily we weren’t climbing up Mount Doom in Mordor.
As we had been doing so many coastal walks including big ascents, climbing summits, mountains and just walking in the bushland in Australia during our travelling, we felt like it really should be getting easier, but each one felt just as exhausting. Maybe they were getting harder, lets go with that!
We were very happy to reach the top and have some great views across the water to Auckland.
Then we climbed through some very tight and dark lava caves. This was something we had never done anything like before and after Lauren hesitating slightly at first, especially as we didn’t have proper torches, we decided to go for it, following a group ahead who had a decent torch. We did use our phone torches in the end, which weren’t too bad. The entrance into the caves was very narrow and tight and you had to crawl to get through. There were people around talking about spiders but luckily we didn’t see any, just lots of cobwebs, and to be honest, it was a pretty brisk climb through where we didn’t really look for them (well, Lauren didn’t).
We had a great day on Rangitoto Island, we were really glad we visited it!
Today we visited two of New Zealand’s black sand beaches – Piha and Karekare. These were both on the West coast of the North Island, just over an hours drive away. These beaches have black sand because the sand is composed of volcanic minerals and lava fragments and volcanic minerals and rocks are dark coloured.
It was really strange to see and as we were getting a little bored of visiting lots of ‘normal’ sandy beaches, these were something different to experience. Looking at the sand it looked like soil, it wasn’t until you felt it under your feet that it felt like sand – it was pretty strange.
We had a fun afternoon walking around the beaches, especially as the scenery around them was so stunning with lots of rocks and mountains.
We were moving on from Auckland today and heading down the North Island making our way to Wellington. Our first stop was Matamata, aka Hobbiton. We were very excited that the day had arrived where we were visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set, both being Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fans.
Before we started our drive down we stopped at One Tree Hill in Cornwall Park, which is yet again another volcano in Auckland – we were starting to feel like enthusiasts!
It was another beautiful day and we started walking around the park and then up the summit for some more brilliant views of Auckland.
Then we started to make our way to Matamata, which was about two hours away. We checked in to our Airbnb and met our really nice hosts. Then we walked into the town centre, which was a five minute walk away, and found a late lunch/early dinner. We ate at a local eatery called Redoubt, and enjoyed some of the best burgers we’d ever eaten (even though Lauren could only eat half) and a ‘handle’ (pint) of Ale – a great Kiwi meal.
Next, it was time for Hobbiton! We made the short drive to the movie set, which was in the middle of wonderful rolling hills filled with sheep and cows. The set is actually part of a farmland, it is 12 and a half acres in total space, which is actually only around 1% of the farms total land – so the Alexander family own a huge amount of land!
We excitedly boarded the shuttle bus to the set and once we arrived it was really magical and completely like the Shire you see in the films. The paths were narrow and long and it was filled with green fields, trees and of course lots of hobbit holes. It was a guided tour, which meant we learnt lots of facts about the filming like how they achieved the height difference between Gandalf and the Hobbits using perspective shooting. We learnt that they used different sized Hobbit doors according to the actor and whether they wanted them to look small or tall. The scene where Gandalf walks into Frodo Baggins home and bangs his head near the beginning of the first LOTR is actually completely real and unscripted. We also learnt that the end scene with Sam and his daughter, is actually real, as it is his daughter in real life and they hadn’t seen each other for months, so the emotions are real. Sam’s wife is also holding her own baby in real life.
The last stop on the tour was across the bridge and into the Green Dragon for a complimentary drink of cider for Lauren and ale for Daniel. A great end to the tour!
All in all we had a great time. Walking around was fantastic and even though it was packed you managed to have time and space to take photos around the set. The only thing we were disappointed by was the lack of Hobbit hole to walk inside as the scenes in these were all filmed in studios and on the set it was just the doors built into the landscape.
At this point of being in New Zealand we were absolutely loving our time and what we’d seen of the country.
We were moving on from Matamata to visit Lake Taupo before our stay a further two hours South in Taihape.
We arrived in the Lake Taupo area planning to complete a walk to Huka Falls following up the Waikato River. We read that Huka Falls is the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand and it is where around 220,000 litres of water plunges over an 11 metre waterfall every second. The flow of the falls is so powerful that it prevents the upstream migration of trout and native fish.
We parked up and began our walk, although feeling like we had somehow turned the wrong way as we seemed to be heading away from the river. We were in fact going the wrong way as we discovered a sign telling us we were now another 1.5km from Huka Falls than when we started. So as we were already going to be pushing it a bit for time as Daniel had a Bungy jump booked for that afternoon, we turned back and drove to the falls. Luckily, there were some nice trails around the falls and also somewhere nice to sit and have our lunch.
Huka Falls were also awesome to see. The walk gave lots of different vantage points and we enjoyed about an hour wandering around.
Then it was time for Daniel’s Bungy jump, which I think Lauren was more nervous about. Doing a Bungy Jump was something that Daniel had wanted to do as we were in New Zealand, the home of the bungy and where the adventure sport was first invented. Tapuo bungy is the highest water touch bungy jump in New Zealand with the platform being 47 meters above the water of Waikato River. Daniel felt pretty relaxed while getting kitted up and was asked whether he “wanted to go for it” when jumping, asking how much he wanted to touch the water whether just hands reaching the water or more. Daniel opted for a full dive into the water as he thought it would be refreshing on another hot day in New Zealand.
Daniel reached the edge of the platform and on the count of three he jumped. The jump itself lasted approximately 11 seconds before hitting the water below. The freefall was awesome. After bouncing up and down a few times he was lowered into a boat and released from the harness. Daniel loved this experience and would most certainly do it again, and would go higher next time.
After Daniels exciting experience we found a cafe in Taupo to relax in for a while. Then we went for a gorgeous walk around the lake, which is the largest in New Zealand, and is also around the same size as Singapore.
Whilst walking around we came across a Hole in One Challenge to a floating green in the lake, which Daniel was eager to complete. Unfortunately he didn’t get a hole in one but a lot of close shots, and it was good fun.
At the end of our day we treated ourselves to a lovely Thai meal in Taupo before making our way to Taihape, where we were staying on a farm.
We arrived on the farm and met our lovey hosts. We sat with them and had a cup of tea and some Hokey Pokey ice cream, which we learnt is a bit of a New Zealand delicacy they said we had to try whilst over there – it was pretty tasty.
As part of our stay on the farm we had breakfast included, which was an impressive spread including some dairy free muffins the host had baked especially for Lauren. We spent a lovely hour or so enjoying our breakfast and chatting to our hosts. Then it was time to make our way to Wellington.
We didn’t arrive in Wellington till around 4pm. We checked into our place, did a quick shop nearby and relaxed for the rest of the evening. We were staying about 15 minutes outside of the centre and in an area called Johnsonville.
As it was our first day in Wellington we thought it would be a good plan to head into the city. We got the bus from pretty near our place and after arriving in Wellington, walked along the harbour and to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. We were pleasantly surprised with this museum and really enjoyed spending a few hours here.
We then began to make our way to the Botanic Gardens and after walking uphill for what felt like an eternity and still being miles away from the Botanic Gardens we gave up and decided we would maybe drive there another day.
We were a little unsure what to do today, with a few things we fancied in and around Wellington but none we were completely sold on.
We settled on first going to the Botanic Gardens and this time we made it there! We enjoyed a short walk around and then our lunch.
Then it was on to Mount Victoria, which is the highest point in Wellington and did have spectacular views across the city.
We also decided to go to Mount Victoria because there was a LOTR filming location there – Hobbits Hideaway. This was about half way up the hill and was luckily signposted. It was the part of the film where Frodo shouts to the others to, “Get off the road” when the Ringwraiths appear looking for the ring. The Hobbits run and hide under a tree root, which we discovered was actually added for the film and all that stands there is the shape of the hideaway. We had a go at some (I’m sure very bad) acting for a few minutes before moving on.
Next and very much keeping it theme with LOTR, we visited the WETA studios who produced the LOTR and Hobbit films. We booked in for a guided tour and were shown around the studios hearing lots of stories, learning about production and seeing lots of props. We learnt about the time taken to produce some of their models, which was pretty unbelievable. For example, they created a war exhibition at the local museum where they created soldiers and we were told to create the lifelike appearance that just for the persons hair someone would spend six weeks individually placing hairs on the models head. A lot of the weapons would take hours and hours to make with casting, shaping, painting and then even battering a bit to give the effect it had been in battle. We were also told when working during filming working around 100 hour weeks was not uncommon. It was an interesting tour and we enjoyed seeing lots of the props and learning more about the production process.
We had an early start to make our way to Tongariro National Park where we were pretty excited to first discover is where Mount Doom is from LOTR, obviously without the spouting lava. The mountain is actually called Mount Ngauruhoe and was awesome to see up close.
We began the 9km return walk to the foot of Mount Ngauruhoe and we were so impressed with the views and how spectacular the mountain looked. It was probably our favourite walk we had done since we’d been away. It was a lovely morning and the views around the whole area were incredible.
After this we made our way to Tawhai Falls, aka Gollum’s Pool and were impressed with this area too.
Overall an awesome geeky day!
Next it was off to Rotorua. We had been warned that Rotorua was very smelly being an active volcanic area and it definitely was! The sulphur in the air was pretty poignant and we could smell it on some of our clothes even days after we left.
We started our day visiting the Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-O-Tapu, which they induce to erupt at 10.15 every morning with surfactant. The geyser would erupt naturally everyday but unpredictability, which is why they induce it for tourist purposes. Adding the surfactant, which acts like a detergent causes the geyser to bubble and then spurt upwards. This can be up to 20 metres and can last up to an hour. It didn’t reach heights of that when we saw it but it was very impressive to see.
Next, we walked around the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park. It has been sculpted over years of volcanic activity and it was stunning to see. It is also known as New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse geothermal area. It was surprising how true this was with so many colours including one steaming hot spring they had called the Artists Palette, which had yellows, oranges and greens in it. The colours are caused by the mineral deposits that streak its surface and are then distributed by the wind. These included yellow/green from Sulphur/Arsenic, orange from Antimony/Arsenic, and grey from Carbon.
We saw lots of steaming craters, hot springs, lakes and mud pools. All the while being very smelly, it was a great thing to walk around and see and learn about.
Next for the day was a visit to a traditional Maori village. The one we visited was an actual village where people lived and the people there had been showing people their way of life for around 100 years. We were keen to visit an authentic village as when we looked into different ones around the area, we found that most were actually set up purely for tourism purposes.
The village was called Te Whakarewarewatanga-o-te-ope-a-Wāhiao, which we were taught how to pronounce, although would have no hope in doing that now!
We started our visit with a steam box cooked lunch, which is a traditional method of cooking they use in the village facilitating the natural steam from the hot springs. It consisted of chicken, beef, potatoes, stuffing, vegetables and a corn on the cob, followed by a steam pudding for dessert. We were really impressed with the food, it tasted really fresh.
The visit also included a guided tour around the village, which was really interesting to hear about their way of life and also how it is changing and has changed with Western influences over the years.
There was also a cultural performance from a family living there, although our guide did say that everyone living in the village was related in one way or another! It featured chants, dances and songs, including the well known Haka.
The last thing for our volcanic day was to visit Hells Gate Geothermal Park for a mud bath and sulphur spa package. This involved covering ourselves in mud and soaking in the mud water, which is meant to have lots of natural healing properties. This was followed by three sulphur hot spring baths you could soak in, which were really relaxing. It was a strange but really cool experience, even though after a shower we still smelt of sulphur, which only subsided after a couple more showers over the next couple of days.
We were both really excited to be completing a zip lining canopy tour through the forest today. We had opted for the ultimate tour, having more zip lines, more height and other experiences such as bridge walks and descents. It was brilliant! Lauren was pretty nervous before beginning but the experience built up gradually with the zip lines getting higher and higher and faster and faster and after the first one down, the nerves were gone and it was just so much fun! The zip lines sped through the forest in some places and then above the forest canopy on others where the views were spectacular. The highest was 50 metres above the forest floor. After completing the first zip line and asking how high we were, to be told nine metres (thinking we were at least around 20) was pretty scary to then think we were getting to heights of 50 metres!
We even had the opportunity to race each other, where Daniel won, but we all know the more mass something has the more speed it will pick up, so it was an unfair race really!
The last zip line we both went off backwards, which was awesome and then the final challenge was a controlled descent that involved falling backwards off the edge of the platform before being lowered down. Pretty terrifying to start with but then the descent down wasn’t as bad as we thought!
Overall we had a great time! The guides were great, the forest was stunning and it was so much fun flying through an ancient forest.
After our action packed morning we headed to the Redwood forest in Rotorua known for its gorgeous towering Californian Coast Redwoods. We went for a walk around before hitting the road for Auckland. The forest was beautiful and the redwoods were really special to see.
This had been our final day in New Zealand and we then hit the road to begin our three hour drive to Auckland before flying back to Perth, Australia.
We had both been surprised as to how much we loved New Zealand. We found the scenery stunning and did so many things that we absolutely loved. The environment and nature was wonderful and we both felt that we would have liked to stay longer and also gutted we hadn’t visited the South Island, which just means we’ll have to come back one day!
We met some really lovely people through our Airbnb stays and found the New Zealander’s really friendly overall.
Daniel’s favourite thing – Hiking to the foot of Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom)
Lauren’s favourite thing – Our zip lining forest canopy tour
We couldn’t believe that we were now heading to Perth for the last leg of our adventure…