New Zealand is gorgeous. The two islands are actually pretty different. For instance, the north is incredibly green and hilly and beautiful everywhere you look. Every road is a scenic road and it gets hard to concentrate on driving because all you want to do is stare out the window at the rolling hills and the grazing sheep and cattle and the stunning grasslands. Or maybe that’s just me.
Anyways, here’s our amazing North Island itinerary:
Day 0: Auckland
We flew into Auckland in the late afternoon and spent the night at a hostel near the city center. We walked along the waterfront and the skyline was gorgeous! There was also an outdoor contemporary art exhibit going on so we took lots of cool photos there.
Day 1: Auckland – Mission Bay
Somehow our booking for our campervan was messed up so we were forced to spend nearly half the day getting it sorted out. We also had to buy plane tickets and reserve a car for the South Island since ferry tickets were sold out. In the afternoon, we went to Mission Bay which was, of course, stunning. Even with the weather being extra bipolar (changing between rain and shine literally every 5 minutes), the water was the prettiest blue. At night, we drove out to Coromandel Beach and met up with Ingrid and Aslak.
Day 2: Coromandel and Rotura
The next morning we went sea kayaking at Hahei beach and it was so fun! I had some trouble steering our double kayak but we still made it though a cave and landed at Cathedral Cove okay. We also got to see a seal and these really cool penguin-looking birds. Before leaving for Rotura, we also stopped by the hot water baths but unfortunately didn’t get to experience them ourselves since it was high tide… But the sand was pretty warm! Upon reaching Rotura, we also briefly stopped at their thermal springs (which smell exactly like the ones at Yellowstone).
Day 3: Hobbiton
One of the best days ever! We visited the Shire and learned how crazy perfectionist Peter Jackson is. We were so excited on the tour, we shamelessly took pictures at every hobbit hole, chimney, and grassy hill. Even Aslak, who isn’t even a LOTR fan, really enjoyed it! We got to see everything from Bagend to the Party Tree. At the end, we even got to try some drinks at the Green Dragon. I also, very briefly, lost our car keys when we got back to the parking lot but quickly got them returned. 🙂 At night, we stayed at Lake Taupo.
Day 4: Wellington
We drove down to Wellington the next morning and quickly realized how stressful city driving is. Without planning it, we had accidentally arrived in New Zealand’s movie capital on the day of the midnight premiere of The Hobbit 2. As a result, we were unable to go on the LOTR movie tour we’d originally planned (there are a lot of LOTR tour companies here). Instead, we took in some of the city sites by walking around the bustling city, including visiting Embassy Theater (where the LOTR world premiers took place).
Day 5: Wellington and Upper Hill
The next day we decided to conduct our own mini Lord of the Rings tour. We’d already seen Mount Doom driving down to Wellington so we were off to a good start. After struggling to find The Black Gate, our first stop was Weta Cave, the Academy Award studio responsible for making most of the props and digital effects for movies like LOTR, Avatar, and the Avengers. It was really cool looking at all the replicas and learning about all the care and attention that go into making a movie look good. We also visited the sites where they shot Isengard Gardens and Rivendell, but both had almost no trace of their movie glory. On the other hand, we ran into the official LOTR tour twice and sneakily listened in on the tour guides. Yay for saving $85?
Day 6: Waitoma and Christchurch
After driving up to Waitoma the previous day, we got to see the glow work caves in the morning! I decided to do the black water rafting adventure (Black Labyrinth) and I am SO HAPPY I did. Even though I accidentally missed my initial tour, I was able to go on the following one. As a result, our group was just me plus 11 Germans who were only so-so at English. Still, they were very nice and I had a blast! The water was freezing but our wetsuits kept all but our fingers warm. We got to jump off waterfalls and crawl through the openings, as well as, float along the stream with our heads back and mouths open, staring up at the beautiful, tiny blue lights glowing above us. The end was the coolest because they made us paddle in complete darkness without the guides saying anything. Our instructions were to just follow the glow worms. So cool.
As soon as that tour was over, I hopped in the shower and Marie and I sped up to Auckland to catch our 5pm flight to Christchurch. After switching Homer (our campervan) for Jess (our compact car), we managed to make it to the mall that same night and watch The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Which, personally, I found pretty disappointing but I’ve heard otherwise from others. Judge for yourself, but I suggest you read the book just to have a reference.