I actually visited New Zealand 12 years ago, but as it’s top of Kate’s bucket list I thought I’d still share my New Zealand itinerary with you.
What’s the Story?
12 years ago I was asked to speak at a Government IT conference in New Zealand. At first I thought it was a bit far to go for a 20 minute speaking engagement. However as my travel expenses were paid for we decided that we might as well make a holiday of it! Although I was speaking for only a short period of time I thought it would only be polite to stay for the duration of the conference which was 3 days! However with it being such a long way we actually stayed for 17 days!
The conference was being held at Lake Taupo in the middle of the North Island so we decided to restrict our visit to just the North Island. We literally just got a flight to Auckland, booked 2 nights in a hotel, hired a car and then took to the road.
Days 1 and 2 – Auckland
I can always remember getting off the plane in Auckland. The first thing that struck me was the light. Somehow everywhere seemed brighter than anywhere I had ever traveled before and probably since.
Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand but its still small enough to get around and see in a few days. It is situated on the east coast and has two masssive harbours with several islands off shore.
These islands are popular with locals and tourists for beaches and recreational activities. Sailing is very popular, with Auckland’s nickname being “the City of Sails”.
Things to do
A Harbour Boat Trip – take a trip out to Waiheke Island famous for its beaches, vineyards and olive groves. You also get amazing views of Auckland from the sea.
Kelly Tarlton Sealife Aquarium – touristy but the Antarctic Ice Adventure is amazing and the penguins are so cute. There is also a Shark Zone, Stingray Bay and a Seahorse Kingdom. Its definitely worth a visit.
Ponsonby Road – one of the best areas for restaurants, bars, art galleries and specialist shops.
The Sky Tower – the tallest free-standing building in the southern hemisphere. The Sky Tower is situated in the city centre. There is an observation platform from where you get amazing views, and if you are brave enough you can take the sky jump – a 192 m bungee jump!
Viaduct Basin – also know as Viaduct Harbour, a great area for waterfront bars and restaurants.
Day 3 – Auckland to Rotorua
We could have spent longer in Auckland but I was conscious that we had to make it to Taupo! As we hadn’t planned a route we went to a New Zealand Tourist Office who were so friendly and helpful. The staff helped us plan the rest of our trip. They mapped out a route for us to Taupo and the rest of the North Island following the conference. They also recommended and booked our hotels along the way.
The journey from Auckland to Rotorua is about 250 kms and takes about 3 hours.
If we’d had time I would have loved to also explore the Coromondel Peninsula which has some of the best beaches in New Zealand.
En route you pass through Matamata, now home to the film set of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbiton, which obviously would now be worth a stop.
You know you have arrived in Rotorua a few miles before you get there as the smell of sulphur is all pervading!
Days 4 and 5 – Rotorua
Rotorua is situated on the lake of the same name. It is famous for its geothermal volcanic activity with its bubbling mud pools and spouting geysers, hence the smell of sulphur. Rotorua is also one of the main centres of Maori culture with New Zealand. As a town Rotorua is fairly unattractive and very touristy, but it is definitely somewhere you have to visit on a North Island Tour as there is so much to see and do.
Things to do
Te Puia – a Maori cultural centre and home to Pohutu or the Big Splash one of the country’s highest and most active geysers which erupts about 20 times a day.
Whakarewarewa – a traditional lived in Maori village. Tours are led by the Maori villagers themsleves. It was really interesting to hear how they live with the geothermal activity around them. The corn on the cob cooked freshly by the locals in the hot mineral pools was delicious too!
The Redwood Forest – situated about 3 kms out of the town, the Redwood Forest is definitely worth a visit. Lovely walking trails amongst the giant redwoods and the tree ferns with stunning lakes, it reminded me of Jurassic Park!
Traditional Maori Hangi Dinner – there are several of these available. We went to the village of Tamaki about 15 minutes out of Rotorua. You get the full Maori experience with the traditional welcome, haka song and dance. A delicious Hangi meal is served where the food is cooked in earth ovens below ground.
Polynesian Spa – this is one of New Zealand’s most famous spas. It is situated on the lakeside and consists of a series of hot pools and treatment areas. Jane went for the full works with a facial and hot stone massage whilst I relaxed in the outdoor hot pools (and got very sun burnt – so be careful).
Floatplane Tour – one of the highlights of our trip was the floatplane trip we took from Rotorua Lake over whats known as Volcano Valley. You fly over active volcanoes and you can definitely feel the geothermal activity! Its not for the faint hearted but an incredible experience.
Day 6 – Rotorua to Taupo
The journey from Rotorua to Taupo is about 80 kms and takes about an hour along the Thermal Highway. There is loads to see along the way particularly more geysers and other geothermal activity.
Lake Taupo is the largest freshwater lake in Australasia. The lake is surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery. The area is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the North Island. Its particularly popular for activity breaks including jet boating, white water rafting, sky diving and bungee jumping. During the New Zealand winter Taupo is also a popular centre for skiing and snowboarding.
Days 7 to 9 – Taupo
As it happens the conference was very good, particularly the speaker from North Wales!!! Whilst I attended the conference Jane made the most of the hotel facilities, pool, spa etc.
On the afternoon of the second day, the conference organisers arranged a trip for us to Huka Falls. The falls are spectacular. Although not as high as other world famous waterfalls the force and volume of water is incredible, 220,000 litres of water per second. The best way to capture the splendour and majesty of the Huka Falls is to take a ride on a Jet Boat!
The speed of the boat and the spectacular scenery is awsome, but its the 360 degree turns you make without any warning which really made this an experience we will never forget.
Day 10 – Taupo to Russell
The conference over, it was time to make our way to the the far north of New Zealand to the town of Russell and the Bay of Islands. The journey from Taupo to Russell is over 500 kms and with comfort breaks took about 7 hours. If you have the time I would recommend an overnight stop on the way. We did it in one journey, it was a long drive but the roads in New Zealand are excellent and traffic light except near major cities such as Auckland.
Days 11-16 – Russell
The best way to get to Russell is via the ferry from Opua, the road route requires a considerable detour. Although Russell was once the largest town in New Zealand and the main port of entry, today it is a small elegant town catering for tourists and New Zealanders with holiday homes.
We stayed in a small bed and breakfast called Pukematu Lodge. It was without a doubt the best accommodation we stayed in during our trip. Located on Flagstaff Hill above the town the lodge had just 3 luxury suites. The views were amazing, across the Bay of Islands and the town of Russell. There were rare kiwis in the garden, just listening to their song whilst drinking a glass of wine on the terrace with the amazing views was something I will never forget. Hopefully we will return one day!
Things to do
The Cream Trip – a boat trip from Russell around the Bay of Islands. The trip has been operating since 1927 and as well as being for tourists makes deliveries of mail and groceries to homes on the islands. Its a great day with stunning scenery, and an opportunity to swim with dolphins and if you are very lucky you may spot a whale.
Waitangi – one of New Zealand’s most historic sites – this is where the original treaty was signed with the Maori people that gave British sovereignty over New Zealand. It is now a museum and Maori cultural centre and is definitely worth a visit.
Kerikeri – a must for lovers of food and wine. A pretty town situated north of Russell. Kerikeri has a great selection of restaurants, cafes and shops selling local produce. The town also has a wine trail. We visited the Marsden estate, a great spot for lunch and a chance to sample some of the famous New Zealand Wines.
The Duke of Marlborough – New Zealand’s oldest licensed establishment situated on the waterfront in Russell. The Duke is a great place to while away a few hours with a drink on the sunny deck with great views, the food is good too.
Day 17 – Russell to Auckland
We drove back to Auckland from Russell along the coastal road. If you have the time I would definitely recommend it. It probably adds an hour or two to your journey depending on how many photo stops you make. The scenery is awsome. We were travelling back on a Sunday so expected a fair bit of traffic as it was such a scenic route. However we travelled 40 miles without passing one car or seeing a single person. If this had been on the coast in the UK it would have been gridlocked!
Back on the main highway we motored back to Auckland at the end of a truly memorable trip. I just wish they’d ask me back to speak at another conference, perhaps this time on the South Island!
The Guestbook’s Comment: “New Zealand is a wonderful country to visit but don’t try and cram everything in. If you want to do the whole country justice I would suggest you need a minimum of 3 weeks or ideally a month.”