(The New Zealand road trip entry is broken down into two parts: North and South Island. This entry is for the the north Island. For South Island, please see here)After months of preparation and planning, we (my wife and I) were finally in Maori land! The road trip was a year in the making, I had looked for tickets before they were available online (well, airlines don’t provide booking for tickets a year in advance). The trip also coincided (not exactly coincided but planned :)) with the Cricket World Cup 2015 which was taking place in Australia and New Zealand. The plan was to start from Auckland with a rental car, traverse through the North Island, and enter South Island through Wellington, cover South Island’s West Coast and return via Christchurch.
Auckland and Northland
Our Auckland stay was around an hour drive from the airport, we reached around 2 pm. After the introductions with the hosts, we decided to take some rest and then proceed to see the black sand Piha Beach, which was around 45 minutes drive from where we were in West Auckland. We reached Piha right in time for the Sunset and boy! we were not disappointed. The sunset was gorgeous, the sky presented itself with various dashes of colour as the sun went down the horizon. Having blessed with such beautiful scenes on our first day in New Zealand, we were even more excited and couldn’t wait for what the Kiwi land had to offer in the coming weeks. Post sunset we returned back to our accommodation and enjoyed homemade soup for Dinner (our hosts were very kind and provided us dinner the first night). I am still looking for the recipe of that soup.
Second day was our trip to some 250 km North of Auckland to Bay of Islands, Northland. Our first stop there was Paihia, often regarded as the Jewel of the Bay of Islands, a good starting point and we decided to take a boat ride to Urupukapuka Island from there, which was some 45 minutes into the Bay of Islands. This calm and serene island had a very relaxed feel to it. We spent the day walking the tracks and unwinding.
On our way back from The Bay of Islands, we made a couple of pit stops. First was One Tree point overlooking the Marsden Bay, a small coastal community. Second was the beautiful Anchor Bay, inside the Tāwharanui Regional Park. To enter the Regional Park, one has to go through the automatic gates, specially designed to keep the predators out and protecting its inhabitants, especially the birds. We reached late in the evening when the sun was going down. We took a walk along the beautiful white beaches, would have loved to have spent some more time in the area.
Next day, we were booked for a day-night cricket world cup encounter between India and Zimbabwe. In the morning, we went to a couple of touristy spots in Auckland. First, Mount Eden, a dormant volcano whose summit is the highest natural point in Auckland City. Second, was the famous One Tree Hill Point, another volcanic peak. Both the spots were perfect for enthralling views of Auckland City and its harbours.
Watching a world cup match live, that too in New Zealand was almost a dream come true. Though the match was in New Zealand, the atmosphere inside the stadium was purely Indian, with a lot of noise and chatter. All we could see was Indian flags waving all across the stadium. India managed to secure a win, pulling itself out of a slightly tricky situation. Raina and Dhoni carried India across the line. Couple of shots from the cricket match below.
Next day we were off to Waiheke Island, also know as the Island of Wines for its wineries and vineyards. Some 35 minutes by ferry ride from Auckland’s CBD, Waiheke houses some of the best wineries in the world. On reaching the Island, we took a quick 30 minutes trip of the Island via a bus and the bus driver dropped us of at the Mudbrick Winery. We spent the next couple of hours at the Mudbrick and Cable Bay vineyards, relaxing and trying the Wines – Savignon Blanc, Sheperds Pt Merlot and Pino Gris. Waiheke is a must do if you are in Auckland, the wineries set among the hilly terrain takes you some place else!
While we were enjoying the wine, Cyclone Pam, the most intense tropical cyclone in Southern hemisphere in 2015, was fast approaching New Zealand and it was getting windier and darker. We were advised against staying for long. We came back in the afternoon and spent the rest of the evening at Mission Bay in the drizzle, had dinner and retired for the day. The below shots are from Waiheke Island and Mission Bay area.
Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity and features geysers. Based on the recommendations of our lovely host in Rotorua, we were off to the living Maori village Wakarewareware (smaller version of Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao) where we took a guided tour of the village.
The Maori are indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. The Māori originated with settlers from eastern Polynesia, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves of canoe voyages some time between 1250 and 1300 CE. Over several centuries in isolation, the Polynesian settlers developed a unique culture that became known as the “Māori”. They had their own language, a rich mythology, distinctive crafts and performing arts. The arrival of Europeans to New Zealand starting from the 17th century, brought enormous change to the Māori way of life.
The village inhabitants have tried to keep the essence of Maori living still intact and have opened it up for visitors. First, we saw the famous Maori Hakka dance, performed for us by the New Zealand rugby team before a match. After the performance we chatted with a couple of performers and they mentioned that they are locals with day jobs and do this on a rotational basis, keeping the tradition (and tourism) alive. Shots from the tour of the village below.
After Wakarewareware, there was enough time to look around the city. We went straight to Rotorua lake, spent a couple of hours on the lake shore, enjoying the light breeze, had awesome kebabs at Mecca kebab (tutanekai street) and retired for the day.
Next day, we were off to Napier to spend a couple of days with our very close friends (friends who had introduced me to my better half! :)). On the way, we first stopped at Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland – an area in which the landscape has been sculptured by geothermal activity and where unique volcanic features can be viewed from well defined tracks.
We were just in time for The lady Knox geyser’s eruption, at 10:15 am each day. An informed guide explains the mechanics of the geyser. We were quite intrigued to learn how a geyser would erupt right at 10:15 am each day. On attending the presentation, we realised the eruption is not all natural but triggered by organic soap. The eruptions can go as high as 20m! After the Lady Knox geyser presentation, we made way to the the main Thermal Wonderland, named as “One of the 20 Most Surreal Places in the World”. The walking track took us around 2 hours to soak in nature’s beauty and we loved each and every second of it. Below shots are from our time at the Thermal Wonderland.
Next stop was Taupo Hukka falls – a spot to admire natural hydro power. More than 220, 000 litres of water per second falls through a narrow alley. The below shots will give you an idea. After the brief stop at Hukka falls we made way to Napier, met up with our friends, had Chole bathure for dinner at a local Indian joint and called it a day.
The next couple of days were spent in and around Napier. This time was more relaxed spent in the great company of our friends and their beautiful, cosy and comfortable home. We went for the sunrise on one of the days but the clouds spoilt the fun. We also had the chance to have dinner at Mission Estate, the oldest winery in New Zealand!
Post our wonderful stay in Napier, we made our way to the capital, Wellington. On the way, we first visited Oak Avenue on the fringes of Hastings city. It is a 1.4 km stretch with beautifully lined Oak trees, a treat for the eyes no photographer can miss. We made our next pit stop at Greytown and had lunch at a restaurant named Salute (good food!).
Post Greytown, we stopped at Martinborough (our Wellington Airbnb host had recommended to stop by on the way from Napier). Its a small town with some 1300 inhabitants but famous for its Pinot Noir. We grabbed a drink at Cool Change bar and discussed cricket with locals. Australia was playing Pakistan in the quarterfinals of the World Cup and I was rooting for Pakistan, that had a few Kiwis confused! (well if Pakistan had beaten Australia, India would have played a relatively weaker Pakistan in the Semi-finals, India eventually lost to Australia in the semi-final). We arrived at Wellington at time for sunset and headed straight to the scenic Mount Victoria, a perfect spot to catch the sun go down over Wellington city.
The following day afternoon was booked for a Cricket World Cup Quarterfinal match between New Zealand and West Indies. In the morning we went for a guided tour of Te Papa Museum of New Zealand. We also covered the amazing Air New Zealand exhibition, which was on display at Te Papa on the day. Post our museum tour, we roamed around Cuba street, New Zealand’s coolest street, a lively public space lined up with eateries on both sides. It was even more joyful that sunny Sunday, as the home country was facing West Indies to enter the Semi Finals. Walking distance from the stadium, Cuba street was resonating the spirit of the whole nation. We were glad to be there that day!
This brings an end to our North Island explorations! Part 2 (to be up soon) of the blog is about our South Island adventures.