The North Island (in Pictures)

Hobbiton!

Hobbiton!

We made the conscious decision to split New Zealand into two separate trips.  On the South Island, which is more rugged and untamed, we would take it slower.  In contrast, the North Island was going to be busy.

We needed to roll up our sleeves and get serious if we had any hope of covering the North Island in the eight days we had allotted.  I’m happy to report that we were successful — so successful that writing about it in detail would leave me with too much to say.  Instead, here’s the abridged version to try and tell our story.

After stocking the fridge, we began our North Island tour by driving two hours out of Auckland to the Miranda Hot Springs.  We arrived that evening and had just enough time for a swim before nightfall.

picking up our camper van!

picking up our camper van

the Miranda Hot Springs

the Miranda Hot Springs

The next morning, we left immediately for the scenic Coromandel Peninsula.  After an obligatory stop for homemade popsicles, we hit the trail at Cathedral Cove.  The hike itself was beautiful, but the crystal blue water, white sand beaches, and eroded sandstone arches that awaited at the end of the trail were truly stunning.  It was Valentine’s Day and it was perfect.

local popsicles at Cathedral Cove

local popsicles at Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve

Cathedral Cove Hike

Cathedral Cove Hike

Cathedral Cove

the beach at Cathedral Cove

the sea arch connecting two white sand beaches

the sea arch connecting two white sand beaches

After a few more hours on the road, we parked Max at Orewa Beach.  I’d offered Mandy a Valentine’s day dinner out, but she preferred to cook together — that’s what seven months on the road will do to you.  We put together a super-fresh, healthy dinner of Israeli couscous, organic sausage, onion, chives, parsely, and grated paremsan, while we shared a bottle of wine and looked out over the advancing ocean.  As darkness fell, we eventually pulled ourselves away from the mesmerizing waters, climbing into bed and drifting off to sleep to the sounds of the incoming waves.

We were on the road again early the next day.  Our destination was Waipoa Forest to explore some of the last pristine NZ wilderness — including the towering Kauri trees.  Being in the forest felt immediately familiar, but gradually we began to appreciate how unique our surroundings actually were.  The songs of the birds were unlike anything we’d ever heard and most of the plants we’d never seen before.  Over seventy percent of the animals and vegetation are found only in NZ.  The forest is hauntingly beautiful, especially once you consider that this may be the real New Zealand’s last stand– most native NZ plant and bird species are endangered, if not already extinct.

Waipoa Forest

Waipoa Forest

a Kauri tree

a Kauri tree

Afterwards, we continued on to the picturesque Bay of Islands where we boarded an old-fashioned sailing ship, the R. Tucker Thompson, for an evening cruise.  For most of the year, the ship takes disadvantaged children on week-long voyages with the aim of teaching both seamanship, as well as leadership and teamwork.  For us, it just meant relaxing on the boat, plus a chance to pick up some basic sailing skills, along with the knowledge that we were contributing to a good cause.

setting the sails

setting the sails

...and manning the rigging (unlike a true sailor, I was wearing a safety harness).

…and manning the rigging (unlike a true sailor, I was wearing a safety harness).

Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands

The next day was one of the highlights of the trip for Mandy: Hobbiton.  Following the filming of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson’s set was kept intact.  Not only that, but it is maintained in a “lived-in” state: the gardens are full of fresh vegetables, hobbit clothes are hanging out to dry, and at times there is even smoke billowing from the chimneys.  The quality of the construction, level of detail, and accuracy with respect to the books is unbelievable (and so was the cost to build it).  It is so impressively cozy, it’s a shame no one actually gets to live there.

Hobbiton

a vegetable garden at Hobbiton

looks cozy

Mandy called dibs on this house

the mill across from the Green Dragon Pub

the mill across from the Green Dragon Pub

We followed up our visit to Hobbiton by stopping at the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves.  The caves are home to millions of glowworms, an insect that spends the majority of its life-cycle in the larval stage.  They’ve adapted to their environment by utilizing bioluminescence to attract other insects, which then become their meal.  We toured the first part of the cave on foot before returning to the surface via a small wooden boat on an underground lake.

We loved our NZ Park Service guide, a disciplinarian who didn’t tolerate any talking in the group.  The only noise was the occasional droplet of water falling from the roof of the cave into the lake below with a tiny splash that echoed through the silent cavern.  We drifted along slowly in the darkness, broken only by galaxies of twinkling light emitted by the glowworms overhead.

Inside Waitomo Glow Worm Cave

Inside Waitomo Glow Worm Cave.  Photo Credit 

Our guide taking the boat back into the Waitomo Glow Worm Cave

Our guide taking the boat back into the Waitomo Glow Worm Cave

No visit to the North Island would be complete without a visit to the Agrodome.  NZ is one of the biggest producers of wool in the world and the Agrodome is the Epcot Center of sheep.  Want to feed them, learn how to shear them, meet the different breeds (and their relatives, like alpacas), and watch a sheep dog demonstration?  Yes, you do.  Mandy even earned extra credit by going on stage to milk a cow.

Rasta Sheep

Rasta Sheep

feeding the alpacas

feeding the alpacas

a three-week-old alpaca

a three-week-old alpaca

Let's learn about sheep!

Let’s learn about sheep!

star of the show

star of the show

Near the Agrodome is the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Area.  As a result of NZ’s volcanic activity, boiling hot water rises from deep underground forming hot springs and pools of boiling mud.  The intense colors are courtesy of naturally-occurring chemicals and mineral deposits that produce an unearthly landscape.

Wai-O-Tapu geothermal area.

Wai-O-Tapu geothermal area

Steam rising off the Champagne pool

Steam rising off the Champagne pool

Wai-O-Tapu

Wai-O-Tapu mud pool

Finally, we visited a traditional Maori Village for some cultural enlightenment.  Like most people, we felt fairly knowledgable regarding New Zealand’s history (the country was initially settled by hobbits before evil forces grew in power, culminating in a great war against elves and men), however, we still learned quite a bit.  Unfortunately, the other the tourists were complete duds when it came to the interactive demonstrations, meaning that Mandy and I ended up “volunteering” for just about everything.  Oh well.  The food, a traditional Maori hangi (a whole pig plus assorted vegetables roasted underground in a pit for an entire day), easily made up for it.

Mandy participates in a traditional Maori game designed to develop fast reflexes

Mandy participates in a traditional Maori game designed to develop quick reflexes

Learning a traditional Maori "dance"

Learning a traditional Maori dance

...but it was all worth it for the food

…but it was all worth it for the food

As we continued to head south, the scenery became more and more breathtaking.  We stopped for ice cream (I dropped mine in the water and it was promptly eaten by a black swan, which is clearly some sort of good luck omen) and lunch at Lake Taupo, NZ’s largest lake, before driving past Mt. Doom.  That night was our last on the North Island and we ended up at my favorite campground, an ultra-relaxed spot along the Whanganui River with a pet goat (to keep the grass trimmed) and plenty of ducks for company.

getting our feet wet in Lake Taupo

getting our feet wet in beautiful Lake Taupo

Mt. Doom from the camper van

Mt. Doom (Mt. Ngauruhoe) from the camper van

kicking back at the campground

kicking back at the campground

all the lovely lady ducks had a thing for Max

all the lovely lady ducks had a thing for Max

Unfortunately, our hectic schedule and non-stop driving wasn’t without consequence.  Time wasn’t on our side as we drove to catch the ferry that would take us across the Cook Strait to the South Island, and I was pushing Max to the limit.  I was a bit stressed, Mandy a bit defensive about the scheduling, and we had our first real argument of the trip.

Maybe it was fate, but minutes later we passed a bakery named “Kiss and Bake Up.”  Despite the fact that we were behind schedule, it was clearly pre-ordained for us to stop.  Three desert bars later and we were on the ferry (barely, we were the last van on, right before they loaded the semis hauling sheep), smiling, back in love, and headed to the South Island.

Kiss & Bake Up

Kiss & Bake Up

it's nothing a little sugar can't fix

nothing a little sugar can’t fix

the Interislander Ferry

The Interislander Ferry.  South Island here we come!

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4 thoughts on “The North Island (in Pictures)

  1. you take amazing photos. i just got back from NZ. wish we had weather as amazing as you did… it rained just about every day for me 😦 would love to go back soon.

    • Thanks! We were very lucky, it didn’t rain at all. In fact, I think it was one of the worst droughts NZ has ever had. People even told us that we’d have to come back and see NZ in the rain because it would be greener and the waterfalls would be so much better.

      I hope you had a good trip anyway and that your next travels come with sunnier weather.
      -Chris

      • We landed the first day of rain after the drought. And the rain kept coming and coming, it was crazy! It is true – the waterfalls were great and it was certainly lush! It was a great time. Just wish it would’ve been warmer! But I’ll be back for sure!! What month did you guys visit?

      • Arrived mid-February and stayed for almost one month. I’d love to go back one day too. I think if I did, I would spend more time in the backcountry (if Mandy agrees to it!) and I’d really like to do the Routeburn Track next time.

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