If you are following along, a little over a week ago I covered the first week of a two week holiday I took in New Zealand last year.
Part two of my trip took me on a fast and furious 7-day tour of the rest of the North Island with an award-winning, NZ based contiki-style tour company, Haka Tours. I’ll be honest, I was pretty apprehensive about whether to join a tour or go this week on my own. But after some pretty extensive research, I thought I could pack more in if I went with a group and Haka Tours seemed to offer something a little different. They weren’t your average tour company, and I really liked the fact that they were local. Suffice to say, it was a fantastic decision. I met some pretty amazing people, had some wild adventures, and made some pretty great memories.
I first met up with my small group a hostel in Auckland where we quickly covered the administrative things and hit the road in the van we would call home for the next 7-28 days. First stop was the Coromandel peninsula, a stop dedicated to showcasing the phenomenal beaches of the east coast. Just when I thought the beaches couldn’t get better; swoon.
Cathedral Cove, with its renowned stone archway, sits in a marine reserve accessible only by foot, boat or kayak. The goldish, white sands, pumping waves and warm weather indicated this was going to be the start of something good.
Not to far away from Cathedral Cove, still in the Coromandel, is the infamous Hot Water Beach. Thanks to the remnants of volcanic activity in the area, if you make it there on either side of low tide, you can find hot water bubbling through the soft, golden sand.
After leaving the land of beautiful beaches, we headed west towards Waitomo for a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ style day in the Waitomo Caves, famous for its limestone formations and population of glowworms. I planned my day around the ‘easy’ route which took me on a walking tour of the ancient underground labyrinth of limestone caves and grottos. The tour ended with a boat ride through the pitch dark caves illuminated only by the effervescent worms.
Our next stop took us to Rotorua, a town filled with geothermal activity, volcanic landscapes, thermal wonders and an unforgettable stench of sulphur. Upon arriving, we took in an evening featuring a “hangi” feast, where the food is cooked below the ground, and topped the night off with a traditional Maori cultural performance.
While in Rotorua, it was hard not to indulge in the beauty and tranquility of the mineral pools. A handful of us spent an afternoon at the Polynesian Day Spa, one of New Zealand’s oldest international spas. The hot mineral pools are fed with water from both the Priest and Rachel Springs and overlook Lake Rotorua, it was truly spectacular.
Heading to Taupo for a few days, we hit up Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park on the way. Named as “One of the 20 Most Surreal Places in the World” the park is bubbling with geothermal activity and isn’t complete without a stop at the Champagne Pool. It is said that the hot springs formed 900 years ago by a hydrothermal eruption.
Next up, was one of my favourite days in NZ. Most of our crew started out at an ungodly hour to trek the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a nearly 20 km hike that has been voted one of the world’s best day walk.
The 7 hour trek was filled with beautiful panoramic views, smouldering volcanos, emerald lakes, red lava piles, alpine plateaus, craters filled with water and everything in between.
The terrain, particularly descending the peak of Mt. Tongariro and approaching the monstrous red lava piles, is what I believe it would be like to walk on Mars. It was like nothing I had experienced before.
The last few days of my stay with this rad group, were spent in Wellington. Known as Windy Wellington, the small seaside city felt, oddly, a lot like home. Though Wellington may be compact, it still packs a punch in the stunning department. It’s vibrant, exciting, cultured and all around fun. It has a big city feel with the same quirkiness I find back in St. John’s, NL.
Coincidently, on my last night in NZ, Wellington’s own Rugby League team, the Warriors were kicking off. As I mentioned in my previous post, when in Rome!
I left the group in Wellington the next day to take an inter-island flight back to Auckland before departing for Vancouver that night. I had a brief moment where the lustre of NZ pulled on my heartstrings and tried to get me to stay, but the logistics just wouldn’t work out as the ferry to the South Island was full. I took it as a sign that my time in NZ had come to an end (for now).
To me, New Zealand resembles a lot of my two favourite parts of Canada. The beautiful scenery and beaches of the west coast married with the quirky yet welcoming people of the east coast. It has been quite some time since my trip there, yet it still pops in my head often. Something in my soul feels it’s not the last time the little South Pacific country and I make each others acquaintance.