Enough Time To… Visit New Zealand’s North Island (Part 1)

In April, Mr. ETT and I travelled to the New Zealand’s North Island. I won’t torture you with my daily musings on the trip – instead, I’ll be a gracious host and keep it to two posts, one for each week we were travelling. I’ll also have a summary post for the financially minded that will detail the ways we saved (and lost) money on the trip.

Why New Zealand’s North Island?

Originally, we had planned on travelling to Japan. In preparation, at the end of 2016, Mr. ETT and I both applied for annual leave. Unfortunately, a close family member was taken ill, then passed away early this year. It was, and still is, devastating. As time passed, we needed to sit down and consider – do we feel like going on a holiday? Is it appropriate? What about leaving the rest of the family for two weeks? Should we? Is it fair?

We decided it was something we still wanted to do, but neither of us felt quite comfortable travelling to Japan under the circumstances. While I love the challenge of negotiating travel to foreign countries, we didn’t feel we had capacity to do so at this time. We ended up with about 3 weeks to arrange everything, so opted for something easier – our neighbours across the pond, New Zealand! When we started to plan what we would see and do, we realised there was far too much available. We decided to restrict our visit to the north island only.

It’s faster to get to New Zealand than Perth (which is in our own country) so if the family needed us, we could just come back. They speak the same language (even the accent isn’t generally TOO different), have the same power points, and our $ is similar enough in value. We needed easy, and NZ fit the bill.

Day 1 Home – Auckland

Google Map of Sydney to New Zealand's North Island.

We flew into Auckland, arriving in the evening, and headed straight to our hotel near the airport. After you have flown a few times, you realise that every major airport and its surrounds are basically the same. We certainly didn’t get the smack in the face of a new country, which is what we wanted, really.

Hot travel tip when leaving Australia – don’t try to take “Up and Go” through customs, even if it is frozen. A most unhappy man will take them off you with a frown, either at the stupidity of someone not thinking they were liquid, or as I prefer to think, from a frugality viewpoint of the waste of throwing them away.

Day 2 Auckland – Taupo

Google Map of Auckland to Taupo Route.

We picked up our hire car, then set off for Lake Taupo. We pronounced it as it looks – “tau-poe”, but later learned that the proper Māori pronunciation was “toe-paw”, which took a little getting used to.

I could (and did) wax lyrical about the New Zealand countryside, but a blog post isn’t the right forum for that type of writing. Suffice to say, it is everything you have heard about, and more. Not to perpetuate the argument, but if the Eskimos have 50 words for snow, then NZ needs at least that many for the colour green. I tried to capture it in photos, but I couldn’t get the vibrancy or the sheer number of hues. Being early autumn, random splashes of yellow, orange and russet defined the colour even more.

Everything about the New Zealand countryside is softly curved and contoured. Suddenly as you round the next bend, a mountain vista opens up, or a river or pond appears, so full and glassy that if it wasn’t for a fence it felt as though we could have driven straight onto their surfaces.

A view of Taupo across Lake Taupo
Look at the softly curving hills.

Lake Taupo

We reached Taupo mid-afternoon, so stopped for the afternoon equivalent of brunch at Taste Cafe. We were able to sit there, cosy and warm, watching a driving storm roll in across the lake, sending tourists scrambling for whatever shelter they could find. In the aftermath, we were treated to a magnificent rainbow.

Once we reached the Loft B&B, we were warmly greeted by Mary and Ian, then shown to our room. Ian kindly offered to help carry our cases up the stairs. We went for a walk in the late afternoon around Acacia Bay, which has several public egresses down to the lakeside. The weather was dry and crisp, and the air so fresh you could taste it.

Our room at The Loft B&B.
Our room at The Loft B&B.

Day 3 Taupo – Wellington

Google Map of Taupo to Orakei Korako to Huka Falls Route.

I began the day with a walk around Acacia Bay. At home, our area is very flat, so it was great to walk up a big hill overlooking the lake, surrounded by fantastic scenery. The best thing about going up big hills is that you get to come down again. I jogged all the way back down, it was so much fun!

Orakei Korako

We set off to Orakei Korako, which is a “geothermal attraction”. As we were driving, there were clouds of steam rising from beside the road where hot streams were running. Once at Orakei Korako, there is an on-demand ferry that takes you to the other side of the lake, a trip of about 2 minutes. It’s then on to the boardwalk that meanders all around the site. Viewing takes about an hour, but that’s not because of the distance. It’s because every few steps you are stopping to say “Wow” and other adjectives to express surprise and admiration.

View of Orakei Korako from the opposite shore of the lake.
View of the ferry and the attraction from the visitor’s side of the lake.

The colours and visual texture of the silica landscape with algae are out of this world. There is a scent as you pass through clouds of steam, however it isn’t strong, nor is it particularly unpleasant. We found it changed as we walked around to the different pools. As you approach the stronger, more active pools, the sounds of bubbling appear. From quick bubbles like those from a wand, to deep, slow bubbles emerging from hollows and caves, to the unique blorb of molten mud. We were lucky enough to be at the Sacred Cave by ourselves, so got to experience true silence of the cave. It was magnificent.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Huka Falls

After leaving Orakei Korako, we quickly stopped to see Huka Falls. These are not a traditional waterfall coming from a height, but millions of litres of water funnelled through a 15m wide flume. We could hear it from the carpark, and standing on the bridge was awe-inspiring. You can’t really process the amount of water and raw strength it is flowing with. Even better, it was a beautiful light turquoise jade green.

Looking down onto the jade green water of Huka Falls.
Just look at the amazing colour of this water.

Google Map of Auckland to Taupo Route.

We then headed off for the long drive to Wellington – it became even longer because we got caught in the end of Easter long weekend traffic. From Levin to Otaki we averaged about 10 – 15km/hr. Still, we had food, drink, good music and the ability to look around. Everyone was also really polite, no pushing in, people even let each other in. After it finally broke, we had a great run on what looked like new highway. Driving in to Wellington was really easy, and we found the Capital View Motor Inn without any trouble. We had excellent views from the penultimate 5th floor, and the proprietor was very friendly and helpful, handing us a tourist map for downtown Wellington.

Looking over a field on New Zealand's North Island.
Mr. ETT could take this photograph because we were stopped in Easter traffic. Gorgeous!

Day 4 – Wellington

We started the day with breakfast at Leeds St Bakery, where I had sliced avocado with smoked cheese and pepper on toast, and Mr. ETT had the fig and goats cheese. It was totally delicious, and lasted all day.

We then walked through Wellington city. It’s a nice, clean city that I really enjoyed. We saw many people greeting each other as they walked down the streets. Also, there was hardly anyone smoking, but those that were actually used the provided bins to tap their ash and throw their butts away. Like in any big city, there were some beggars;c later in the day they had been replaced by buskers.

Wellington Cable Car and Zealandia

We walked an easy walk to the Wellington Cable Car, a short funicular up the hill. It passes through a tunnel that is lit with patterned, coloured lights. It was a nice touch. We looked in the cable car museum, then caught a free shuttle to Zealandia. This is a sanctuary for NZ birds and lizards. I didn’t realise that originally NZ didn’t have any mammals, so introduction of rats, possums and stoats devastated native wildlife, particularly all the flightless birds that had evolved to fill the ecological niche that mammals played in Australia. So many unique species were wiped out, or brought to the brink of extinction. What I really love is the thinking ahead – it will take 500 years for this land to renew itself, and the plan is to keep the organisation going for that long. Amazing to find an organisation thinking and planning more than 4 years (political term) ahead.

The Wellington Cable Car from the top of the hill.
You can look out over Wellington from up here.

There are some excellent displays and videos before you enter the park. The park consists of walking tracks, where you keep an eye and ear out for birds and lizards. We took the main, easy level track. This takes between 1 – 2 hours to walk. You get to see a couple of feeding stations for Kaka parrots, and Takahē, which were once thought to be extinct. We also saw the native pigeons, shags, ducks, and This with their beautiful song and white pom-poms under their chins. We walked across the top of the dam, across a suspension bridge, and looked at the pump-house, then caught the shuttle back to the cable car, had a coffee at The Hangar.

A New Zealand Kaka sitting on a branch.
A protected Kaka in Zealandia.

Dinner was at Grill Meats Beer (with a name like that, of course we had to try it!) I had the hamburger of the week, which unfortunately came cooked too rare for my taste. I like steak nearly blue, but when it comes to meat patties I prefer them to be medium rare at the least. The kitchen took it back and cooked it some more for me, though. They have a large range of craft beer, so I tried a black IPA, which was very tasty, and a black cherry saison, which was enjoyable enough, but too fruity for me to choose again.

Day 5 – Wellington

We left it too late to book into tours at Weta Workshop, however we decided to visit anyway and see the Weta Cave. It was mainly geared for the paid tours. If you aren’t touring, it’s really just a shop with some prop displays. It’s free, so it was worth the quick visit, but next time we’ll plan ahead better and see behind the scenes.

Life sized sculpture of a troll outside Weta Studios
This was realistic (well, for a fantasy creature) down to the snot running from its nose!

After the Weta Cave, we headed to Wellington Zoo. Some of the animals were having their midday snooze, and we couldn’t see the Kiwi or a Weta. We did see the otters (so playful!) and capybara (so stolid!). We also felt sorry for the poor meerkats, who were desperately huddling in a pile to get warm, as well as the chimpanzees who had goosebumps! Each had shelter available to hide from the cold, but it felt a bit sad.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We then headed up to Mt. Victoria to look out over the city. Mr. ETT commented on all the houses propped on the hillsides, higgledy-piggledy. Some of them are very steep – so steep that they have their own tiny cable cars to get down to the street from the house! We also noticed that the road system isn’t laid out in strict grids, it’s curvy like the rest of New Zealand.

Part of Wellington city from the top of Mt. Victoria.
Wellington stretches further than we realised.

Our day finished with dinner at Logan Brown – more on that in our NZ Save/Waste upcoming post. We realised that 3 days wasn’t long enough to do justice to Wellington – we could easily have done a week just here.

Day 6 Wellington – New Plymouth

Google Map of Wellington to One Burgess Hill Route.

We started by driving the two and a half hours to Whanganui. When entering through the centre of town, potted colour surrounds the main roundabout, with baskets of flowers also hanging from the verandahs of shops on each corner. It’s really pretty.

We stopped for lunch at the Ambrosia Delicatessen and Cafe. We were lucky enough to snare a small table in the window. The food was delicious, my chai latte tasty and hot, and they have an array of sweet and savoury offerings from the deli. I came away with a caramel oat slice for later, yum!

One of the things that had been puzzling me was the spelling of Whanganui. All through the town and on various signs (and Google!), it was spelled both with and without the ‘h’ – Whanganui vs. Wanganui. I asked at the café, and was told that adding the ‘h’ better represents the Maori language, so this is something that has been decided to implement. I also suspect it may help stop we-of-the-flat-Aussie-accent emphasising the “Wang!” It should be pronounced more like “wHonganui”, with the w dropped a little and the emphasis on the H.

National Art Glass Museum

After the café we went to the National Art Glass Museum. Art glass is a weakness of mine – there’s just something about the medium that calls to me. I love the range of colour, transparency, texture, delicacy/solidity and size that amazing people can wrest from it. I can spend hours looking at art glassworks. Luckily here, it is also a working studio, so we were able to watch glass-blowing in action. We then hopped back into the car for the rest of our trip to New Plymouth.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At some point on the way, we passed through a town named Bulls. This little town has decided to have some fun with its name, so have murals and signs containing puns all along the main street. Unfortunately we didn’t stop, and I was driving so couldn’t get them all, but a selection of examples are:

  • Rent-a-bull (for a hire place)
  • Const-a-bull (for the Police Station)
  • Un-believe-a-bull (can’t remember)
  • Recycle-a-bull (thrift shop)
  • Delect-a-bull (for a cafe)
  • Many, many more.

I’d like to stop in one day for more puns!

One Burgess Hill

A view from One Burgess Hill accommodation down to the river.
The view from our verandah.

We arrived at One Burgess Hill very tired after the day of driving. One Burgess Hill was an instant antidote to that. We were in a small valley, surrounded by trees, green hills and silence but for the birds. We look out over manicured gardens to clusters of forest and the Waiwhakaiho River. The setting sun was lighting shadows and fields in gold. I cannot share the freshness of the air, nor the magnificent scent of nature that literally made me stop where I was, just to breathe deeply. There is an easy, marked walk around the property looking over the river, which is a constant rushing hum in the background.

View of a room at One Burgess Hill.
There was also a kitchen and large bathroom. I loved this room.

Rabbits and blackbirds darted away as I walked past a row of feijoa trees. Later sheep in a high paddock also cast startled glances at me before turning their backs to run. Sheep here are so white, fat and fluffy. I know nothing about sheep breeds, but they look very different to the dirty, skinny, bedraggled ones I see at home. Probably the difference between living on grass, and dry, dusty paddocks.

A picture of the accommodation at One Burgess Hill.
Looking back to the accommodation. Ours was the third room from the left.

This was my favourite accommodation on our trip. It would make an excellent retreat for someone needing mental time out to heal. It would also be an amazing writer’s retreat (or perhaps an Australia/New Zealand PF Bloggers get-together?!)

We felt too tired to eat dinner, so just went to bed in utter peace and quiet.

Stay tuned for the second half of our holiday to New Zealand’s North Island!

10 thoughts on “Enough Time To… Visit New Zealand’s North Island (Part 1)

  1. Your post makes me homesick Mrs ETT. I use to travel extensively driving around NZ with work so know exactly what you are talking about and the descriptions of the places you’ve visited. As small as NZ is compared to Australia, there is just so much to see and do. You’re right, a week in Welly is hardly enough to see and do everything it has to offer. In fact, Wellington is one of my favorite places in the world.

    If I’d known you were heading over, I would have suggested a whole heap of places to see that are the hidden gems and off the tourist track. Let me know when you plan to head back and do the South Island.

    Funny you picked up on the Whanganui with or without an ‘h’. In the Maori language, ‘wh’ is pronounced as an ‘f’. Except in Whanganui where it’s kind of silent. Another quirky local thing.

    Looking forward to part 2.

    • Honestly Martin, we just didn’t have enough time to do even the most basic of tourist things! It will be at least 3 years now before we head to South Island, because we have some other holidays planned. I’ve learned from the North Island, though. We’ve decided that when we do go, we will break it into two holidays – the top of the South Island, and then another holiday for the bottom of the South Island. I really would like to go back to Wellington. We might start there and then ferry it down to the top of the South. We’ll see, but we are definitely looking forward to going back. It must be difficult to be away.

      • A wise choice Mrs ETT. Like I said, it’s not a huge landmass but there’s so much to see and do. The beauty of being compact is that you don’t waste days just driving al la Australia. And yes, fly into Welly for a few days. Hire a car and see that region then fly to Christchurch and hire a camper for your South Island trip. Tell you what, let me know when you’re going and I’ll be your tour guide. I don’t eat much.

  2. Glad to hear you had a nice time in my home country Mrs ETT. I particularly enjoyed your descriptions of Wellington – my hometown. I think you could easily spend a week eating your way around the city!

    And, how funny is Bulls? I always get a laugh when driving through there.

    • Another New Zealander! I didn’t realise you were from across the pond as well, Miss Money Box. We really are all brothers and sisters, aren’t we? I really do want to stop and walk through Bulls one day. I appreciate the amount of effort that they have gone to – it’s a bit of fun and we can all do with more of that.

Activate Communications!