My New Zealand trip is one from the archives, but still holds a very warm place in my heart.
That particular trip had come at the end of a tumultuous few years and was a symbol of new beginnings for me. It re-ignited a passion for travel and adventure that has been smouldering inside me for quite some time.
I booked this trip on a bit of a whim, if I’m being honest. I had come into a little money from selling some jewelry that had lost significant sentimental value and made an impulsive (and drunken) decision to bypass a trip home for Christmas one year and head half-way around the earth for cheaper. This trip symbolized closing the door on one chapter of my life and opening my heart and mind to what life would lay out for me going forward.
In March 2014, I packed my bags and headed on one of my first solo, non-work related trips to New Zealand’s North Island. Week one of the trip was spent visiting a close Newfie girlfriend and her husband in a quaint surf town on the islands west coast. Here’s a little look into their backyard and why I fell in love with New Zealand.
NEW PLYMOUTH | TARANAKI
Shortly after landing in Auckland, I hopped on a domestic flight headed for New Plymouth to stay with my friends for the week. New Plymouth, although quite small, is the major city in the Taranaki Region. It’s major draw is it’s reputation for being a big wave area with some of the country’s best surf spots. Though surfing isn’t my jam, I knew this trip promised beaches, warm weather and an escape from the frigid Canadian winter.
My initial impression of NZ were as follows: the general vibe had an island/laid back feel; shoes were always optional, even in the grocery store; the beaches are pretty spectacular; the mountainous aren’t bad either; if beaches and mountains don’t wow you, the lush rainforest-type greenery will; kiwis love adventure activities; and flat whites are amazing.
My trip happened to coincided with a large, well-known festival of music, art, dance and delicious, delicious food. New Plymouth was hosting its 10th Anniversary of WOMAD, an international festival co-founded by Peter Gabriel. The day was filled with music from all over the globe, more dubstep than I ever knew existed and was headlined by, a blast from the 90’s past, Arrested Development.
I spent a fair bit of time running, walking and biking the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway. Not to dissimilar to Vancouver’s own seawall, this award-winning 10km walkway lining the beautiful coast of New Plymouth is a great way to see the sights, if beaches and mountains are your thing. If you follow the walkway long enough, and the weather is just right, you can get a great shot of Mt. Taranaki through Te Rewa Rewa Bridge.
The areas surrounding Mount Taranaki offer pretty great, and well maintained hiking (or tramping) trails for any ability. Dawson Falls, an 18-metre high waterfall, is a short and easy walk through the lush rainforest in Egmont National Park.
Pouakai Hut trail, also within Mount Egmont National Park, was a bit more challenging and normally offers stunning views of the Taranaki coastline. The day we ventured up was wet and blustery, limiting us to not see much further than the nearby parts of Pouakai Ridge. That being said, the lush surrounds, trails covered with silver ferns and an absence of predators that can out run and eat you, make it a very enjoyable hike.
The beaches….sigh. Back beach was, by far, one of my favourites in the region, although Fitzroy put up a pretty good fight for top contender. But the black volcanic sands, distinctive rock formations and pounding waves made for trifecta of awesomeness and beauty.
New Plymouth showcased its slightly modest but vibrant art scene with colourful and abstract murals the size of most buildings sprinkled all over town.
MOUNT MAUNGANUI | BAY OF PLENTY
My friend Sarah and I hit the winding, bumpy road out of New Plymouth so I could make it to Auckland in time to meet up with the group I was joining for the second week. We made a pit stop at one of her favourite places on the island’s east coast.
Just when I thought the beaches couldn’t get better, we hit the main beach in Mount Maunganui. Voted #1 in Tripadvisors Travel’s Choice Awards for best beaches in NZ, the beach offered golden stretches of shoreline favoured by surfers and swimmers. I spent two days there to see if it truly earned the accreditation. Soft, white sand and a coastline scattered with surfers, I had to agree with the internet on this one.
A trip to this beachy town wouldn’t have been complete without hiking to the top of a dormant volcano, 232 metres above sea level. Another quirk about NZ was that the estimated time to complete the hike, outlined on the trail’s signage, must have been for someone intending to crawl the route and the “difficult” route tended to be easier than the “easy” route, go figure.
My last night with Sarah was spent in Auckland as I had a bright and early start the next day. We arrived in town pretty late and didn’t have time to take in many sights, which I knew I would have time to cover at the end of my trip.
WHEN IN ROME. We looked for something to do for the evening that was authentically kiwi, so we picked up tickets to an Auckland Blues home game. A team that fielded many of the NZ All Blacks, one simply can’t come all the way to NZ and not watch rugby match. For those that know me, it goes without saying I had a grin from ear-to-ear the entire game.
Stay tuned for part-two where I met up with a contiki-style group to do a fast and furious tour of the rest of the North Island.
Check out New Zealand | Part 2 here!