After Sydney, my travel continues in New-Zealand and more precisely in the North Island. I heard several times that there is not much to do there, and 1 week is enough to see everything. Well, I decided to spend 1 month on this island and verify by myself if it’s true or not! (Spoiler: it’s not, there is so much to do and to see!!)
Step 1: Whangarei
Whangarei is a small city in the North of the island. In this city, there are many places to visit and one, in particular, I wanted to see more than anything else: Waipu Cave. This cave has a specificity: it has glowworms. To see them, you just have to enter in the cave walk around a hundred meters. Don’t forget to take a flash lamp and don’t be afraid to have wet shoes. The moment you don’t see the natural light from the entrance, turn off your flash lamp and wait a few seconds. When you are used to the dark, you will see them. I loved watching the glowworms. I felt like I was watching the stars in the sky even though I knew I was in the cave.
Other caves which are nice to see are Abbey Caves. These are much closer from Whangarei city center. You can also see glowworms there, but what is more interesting in these caves is the stalactites and stalagmites.
The main reason why tourists come to visit this city is its waterfalls. Likes the caves, waterfalls are more or less close to the city center. The access is free and there are even walks around them. Sometimes, you can even bath with the foot of the cascades.
The emblematic walk of Whangarei is one of its marinas. You walk along the marina and can admire sculptures and arts during the walk. To walk the entire loop, it takes around one hour.
Whangarei is a small city. It’s not easy to find cheap accommodation. The best solution I found is the YHA Whangarei waterfalls. It’s a camping site but it has also some rooms if you don’t have a tent or a camping car. All the facilities are available and the camping is located just next to the Whangarei waterfalls.
Step 2: Auckland
Auckland is the second biggest city in New Zealand, little sister but also a rival of Wellington. Yet, it’s possible and easy to visit the city on foot.
The symbol of the city is, of course, the Sky Tower. From the top of the Sky Tower, you have a 360° view of Auckland. For those who like adrenaline, it’s possible to try several activities at the Sky Tower, like to abseil along to tower for example. If you like views of the city, another nice place is Mount Eden. I recommend you to go there during the sunset.
The biggest and most famous park in Auckland is Domain Park. It’s the perfect place to relax during an afternoon. You have to know that in New Zealand it’s allowed to sit and lay down in the grass. And this is even more relaxing. It’s also in this park that you find the War Museum. I’m not a fan of museums, at all. It’s the only museum I visited in Auckland (because it was raining). Yet, I really recommend it. This museum is really interesting if you want to discover Moaris culture as well as country history.
Like in all cities, you also have to visit Auckland districts. The most famous and visited in the city center, also known as CBD (Central Business District). Here, you will find all the shops you need but also the harbor to go to the islands close to Auckland. Yet, this district wasn’t my favorite. Parnell Village was the district I loved the most. I really enjoyed wandering there. I felt like I was walking in a village yet I was a few minutes walking from the CBD!
There are dozens of hostels in Auckland and many of them are certainly good. Personally, I chose Nomads Auckland Backpackers. This hostel is located in the city center and has a rooftop with a small pool. The kitchen is spacious, clean and on the rooftop. Thus, I recommend it.
Step 3: Hobbiton
The fans of “Lord of the rings” trilogy probably dream to visit it. Personally, this place is the second reason why I chose the Northern Island instead of the Southern Island. I love the 3 movies and I really wanted to see the film set.
Hobbiton is the reconstitution of the village of the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. You can visit the village and some of the film set. You will easily recognize Bilbo’s House and fans the most observer will also recognize Sam’s house.
The guide is mandatory during the visit and it lasts around 2h. The guides know the movies by heart and tell a lot of anecdotes about the film shooting. It can be about the field modifications, where were filmed some scenes, the difficulties of the film shooting or the details which have been careful and hard work. At the end of the visit, you will receive a free drink at the Green Dragon: a beer from the Shire or a fruit juice also from the Shire.
According to our guide, 40% of Hobbiton visitors never saw one of the movies or read one of the books before coming here. In my group, most of the people haven’t read or see anything. Thus, they liked the visit even they didn’t understand all the references. So, if you’re a big fan of the trilogy or if you know nothing about the Shire, I advise you to visit Hobbiton in both cases.
Step 4: Waitomo Cave – Glowworms cave
Waitomo cave is a glowworms cave like Waipu cave. The difference is that Waitomo cave is adapted for tourism. This means you have to pay for the entrance and the guide is mandatory. However, this cave is unique because you will see glowworms from a boat. And honestly, it was magic for me. You are sitting on a boat, in the dark and complete silence and when you look up, you see hundreds of glowworms. You think you’re seeing the stars in the sky, but you know you’re in a cave.
Step 5: Rotorua
Rotorua is the city I loved the most. I felt like home there. This city has its own atmosphere. When you arrived, the first thing you notice, is the smell. Rotorua is known for the geothermal sources and sulfur sources. And yes, it stinks. But after a moment, few days, you get use to it and after some days, you don’t smell it anymore.
Then, what I liked in this city is the small city center and that everything is a walking distance. In a few minutes, you are in the city center and everything you need is available: restaurants, cafe, shops, parks, and even a lake. Every Thursday’s evening, there is a night market. This is the perfect place to find a good and cheap dinner. Everyone finds something to eat: Asian, middle east or European food or other places from all around the world!
If you wish to have a quick overview of the Maori culture, geothermal sources and hope to see kiwi animals, I advise you to visit the Te Puia museum. In this open-air museum, you will see geysers and geothermal sources. You will also admire traditional Maori dances and a traditional village. And for those who want to see kiwis, there is a small zoo inside the museum. To sum up, if you don’t have much time, Te Puia is an excellent solution to discover quickly the region beauties.
If you want to see something original and unique, go to Wai-o-Tapu. Here, you will see geothermal sources of all colors and all sizes. To visit this exceptional place, there are several circuits of different length according to the time you have. This place is impressive and mysterious. So mysterious that some places were named from biblical references: devil’s bath, devil’s home, devil’s ink pots or inferno crater. Other places have more funny names like the champagne pool. Wai-o-Tapu is perfect for those who want to be surprised.
Want a forest walk? In this case, Redwoods treewalks is the ideal place. You can choose between several circuits more or less long but all of them are easy. The forest is impressive with the gigantic threes. If you don’t suffer from vertigo, you can also walk in the threes. The walk lasts around 30-45mins and is accessible to everyone. I just give you one piece of advice: this walk is illuminated during the night. You will see lights in the threes and this gives a magic atmosphere to the walk.
Rotorua is known for its geothermal sources and it’s also the main attraction for the tourists. Thus, you will find many spas in this city. There is one I can advise you, the Polynesian Spa. This spa has external baths from 37°C to 41°C, a therapeutic bath and a cold bath. All of them with a view of the lake. It’s also possible to have private baths for the couples, an indoor pool for family, etc. Everyone will find something to enjoy and relax.
The Crash Palace Backpackers is a new hostel, so new that there are still some constructions works in some parts. However, all you need is here and new. The hostel has a big garden, a pool, a common room, all you need to enjoy.
Step 6: Taupo
Taupo is a small city next to a lake. There is not much to do or to see. However, I loved the few things I’ve done here.
I started to admire the Huka Falls. You can see the falls really close and even cross it thanks to a bridge. To access to the Huka Falls, you can walk from the hot springs, next to the bungee jumping place. The walk lasts around 45min. Or, you can go there by car, the car park is just next to the falls.
There is one must-see attraction on the lake: the Moari Rock Carvings. You can see it from a boat, a kayak or a paddleboard. You can’t see the carving from the ground, only when you are on the water. To see it, you have the choice: by boat or kayak with a tour, or you can rent a kayak or a paddleboard and go there by yourself.
From Taupo, it’s possible to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This trek is one of the most beautiful in New Zealand, and even the most beautiful one day trek. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing deserves one article on his own, so I’ve decided to write one about it.
Tiki Lodge is located 2 mins from the lake and 5mins from the city center. There are a terrace, a big common room, and a nice kitchen. Plus, from the reception, you can book the shuttle for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and get all the information for the other activities. Moreover, for the first time in New-Zealand, the breakfast was included.
Step 7: Napier – Hawke’s bay
Hawke’s bay is known for its winery. Wine lovers will be glad to visit this region. From Napier or Hasting, several tours are available to visit wineries, with of course a wine tasting.
For the sportsmen, I advise you to rent a bike. There are many bike path in the region and along the ocean. The land is flat and the signs are clear, you can’t get lost. And for those who want to combine the pleasure and the usefulness, you can ride, visit the region and taste New Zealander wine!
Step 8: Wellington
Wellington is New Zealand capital, located in the south or the Norther Island. It’s the last stop of my trip, but it can also be the crossing point to go the South Island. After days of hikes, bike and kayak, Wellington was the perfect place to stay some days and relax while I was discovering it.
The visit starts with the city center, the CBD (Central Business District). The shopping and pedestrian street to see are Cuba Street. Its multicolored pedestrian crossing, its shops, restaurants, and its night market every Friday nights are part of its charm and interest. Like Auckland, the harbor is located next to the CBD. The harbor is particularly well adapted for a walk, to relax or enjoy restaurants, cafes and even a park. Moreover, if you wish you can try kayak or paddleboard in the harbor if the weather is good and not too windy.
Next to the harbor and the CBD, there is the Te Papa museum. This museum, with the entrance, is base on donation, exposes the country history and the Maori culture. I loved visiting it because one of the exposition was about the First World War and how the New Zealander were affected. I found this subject fascinating. But, each of you has to decide if you want to visit it or not.
Located in the heights of Wellington, the Botanic garden is huge and you can easily spend hours here. The access is free and you will find a rosery, many places to relax, art sculptures and several circuits will show you all you have to discover. To access to the garden, you can choose to take the cable car. You will have a nice view of the capital.
If you want to have another view of the city, let’s go to Mount Victoria. This hill is on the other side of the city compare to the botanic garden. You can go there by foot (it takes around 20mins), by car or even by bus. This place is perfect to watch the sunset on Wellington.
Wellington is the city where I spent the most time. I discovered the city in several ways and one which marked me the most is the food. There are dozens of restaurants, food trucks, and street food. You will find whatever you’re looking for: Asian, European, veggie, etc. You just have to choose!
Like in every big cities, there are many hostels in Wellington. This time, I chose the X Base Backpackers Wellington. This hostel is huge and the dorms are on 5 levels. However, the hostel is well arranged and you will quickly forget the size. It’s located in the city center, 2 mins from the harbor and 25mins from Mount Victoria. If you choose to stay in Wellington, I recommend it.
The best way to discover New-Zealand is to rent a car or a camping car. Yet, I’m traveling alone and it is also the most expensive solution for me. This is why, I choose the economic solution: the bus. You can see the main attractions and cities. And, between all the bus companies, I chose Intercity. The reason is simple: this company offers a pass. A particular pass, you buy hours of transportation. Then, each time you take the bus, the hours of the journey are deduced from your pass. If needed, you can recharge your pass by buying more hours.
Good places to eat
Burger fuel: It’s a restaurant chain and they are present in several cities: Taupo, Auckland; Wellington, etc. You can eat excellent burgers (in case you didn’t guess with the name) but the best is the sweet potatoes fries: Kumara, a local specialty.
Wellington: Lido Of course, I couldn’t tell you about the food in Wellington without recommending you some addresses: one cafe and two restaurants. Lido is a restaurant. A good place for a good lunch. The cuisine is simple but fine and you will find mainly vegetarian food.
Wellington: Felix The second restaurant, I went for dinner. It is located just at the entrance of Cuba street, in front of the I-Site. It’s also a perfect place for a coffee during the day, even if I preferred to go to another place.
Wellington: Karaka Café This cafe has the best terrace of Wellington (to my opinion). The terrace as a view on the lagoon and the cafe lends pillows so you can sit on the stairs to the lagoon. Honestly, sitting on the pillows, a coffee in one hand, a book in the other one with the view of the lagoon, it’s so relaxing and pleasant.
New-Zealand is an expensive country. Thus, I’ll give you one tip to save money. When you arrived at the airport, take the free magazine Arrival. It’s free and inside you will find lots of discounts for many activities for both islands. It’s perfect for saving money and still enjoy your travel in New-Zealand.
To sum up, thanks to the pass hours with the bus and the magazine, I have respected my budget and even save money:
Aim budget: 90NZ$/day (~54€/day in February 2019)
real budget: 77NZ$/day (~45€/day in February 2019)
My next destination is a country famous for the sushi, the sumos and the green tea, any guess?