New Zealand had been on our travel wishlist for a long time, and after constant prompting from our oldest son, we finally took the plunge and crossed the ditch. There are direct flights to get us there from Perth, but as usual, we went with the cheapest flights (how do you think we can afford to travel so much!), and flew via Brisbane to Auckland.

Departure day was Olive’s birthday. It is never very special to travel on your birthday, the best we could do was let her have a special airport lunch during our stopover of a few hours in Brisbane. We noticed a billboard for hot cross s’mores, and just had to have one. Then Rob remembered that we had a couple of passes to the airport lounge, so he took Olive in for some special birthday treatment (and a treat for himself too).

We have two weeks to explore New Zealand, not enough time to see it all. We have split our time between the north and south island. Here are details of our brief time in the north, mainly doing a loop from Auckland visiting Waitomo and Rotorua with a few adventures between.

North Island NZ

We arrived in Auckland at midnight after travelling all day, though fortunately, our Perth internal clock said it was only 8pm. The nearby airport hotel was all we needed, we planned to leave Auckland first thing in the morning because we’re not here for the cities! Our first destination was the small town of Waitomo, only a couple of hours drive away.

Hamilton Gardens
Hamilton Gardens

The town of Hamilton was a convenient stop along the way, and the Hamilton Gardens sounded like a good spot for a picnic lunch. Not expecting anything special, we were surprised at such an amazing place. There were heaps of gardens with different exotic themes, we could have spent hours here, which is literally quite possible if you get lost in one of the mazes.

toothbrush fence
Toothbrush fence

Leaving Hamilton, we decided on a short detour to the toothbrush fence. These quirky things usually appeal to us. Who knows how this thing started, but a length of wire fencing has been overtaken by thousands of old toothbrushes, simply tied to the fence giving us a short history of toothbrush evolution!

Rotorua Farmstay
Rotorua Farmstay

Waitomo Farm Stay was an excellent base for exploring this area. It was a basic but gorgeous farmhouse with a homely feel and tranquil surroundings. We started with a guided tour from the super friendly owner’s kids who were itching to show us the farm animals. There were the standard chickens, horses, pigs, and goats, but the highlights were the massive highland bull and the giant rabbit.

Waitomo cave entrance
Waitomo cave entrance

We are in Waitomo to see glowworms, and there are many cave tours to choose from. After a lot of research, we went with Spellbound, which provided a longer tour with smaller more personal groups, and included an underground raft cruise which is what we were really after.

There were only ten people on the tour, our five making up half of the group. A friendly Maori named ‘Hop’ was our guide. The tour started with a scenic drive along narrow roads and through rolling hills and picturesque farmland. We were dropped off before the first cave, so we could enjoy a short walk down to the cave entrance.

The first of two caves was the wet cave which had the glowworms. It was a spectacular sight to see the cave ceiling covered with thousands of glowing maggots (we learnt that they are not actually worms, but the larvae stage of flies), as we floated along in the boat. It was like looking up to a starry sky, so peaceful and quiet. The photos could never do it justice. An amazing experience

After a relaxed time exploring the cave, we had morning tea provided, then the dry cave, where we saw plenty of stalagmites and stalactites, and some bones of the extinct large flightless bird, the Moa.

NZ kiwi house
Otorohanga Kiwi House

About 10 minutes drive away from Waitomo is the Ortorahanga Kiwi bird house. Thankfully we got cheap tickets on the discount website. There was a large range of birds to see, but we were there primarily to see a kiwi, and we were fortunate that one of these shy birds came out of hiding so we got a good sighting.

Rotorua, our next stop was just a couple of hours drive from Waitomo, although it took an extra hour due to bad traffic. We were expecting to pass by an accident, but there was nothing that appeared to be causing the traffic jam – maybe just lots of extra cars on the narrow roads due to Easter. We stayed at the Rotorua Hideaway Lodge just outside of Rotorua.

Rotorua Lake

The focal point of Rotorua is the expansive lake. We arrived at the lakeside just as their Easter carnival was finishing. We watched a little of the finishing action on the water, then decided to visit Kuirau Park to see some thermal air vents, another thing Rotorua is famous for. We found the source of the smell that fills the air in Rotorua. It was fascinating to see all the sulphur smelling air coming up out of the ground, but the kids weren’t too impressed with the smell, which at times was overwhelming when you get too close.

Easter Egg Hunt

The next morning was Easter Sunday, and fortunately the Easter bunny found us at the hotel and had left some eggs out our front door.

Redwood Forest Rotorua
Redwood Forest Rotorua

We made the most of being up early to visit the Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest. Despite the chilly air, it was a wonderful walk among the tall trees. The time we were walking was so beautiful, with the early morning rays of light sneaking through the tall trees, just spectacular. We didn’t go on the elevated walkway, it seemed pretty expensive for what it is. Maybe the night visit would be worth it, where they light up the trees and hang lanterns around.

We visited the weekend markets, which required going back to the smelly park, much to the kids’ disapproval. It surprised us that they would organise a food market right next to the rising sulphur plumes, obviously, the locals are used to the smell, not noticing it as we do.

Kerosene Creek near Rotorua
Kerosene Creek near Rotorua

We spent the afternoon at Kerosene Creek, a short drive south of Rotorua. Wonderfully relaxing bathing in the geothermally heated stream surrounded by dense forest. There were lots of other people with the same idea, probably because it’s the Easter weekend, but it didn’t dampen the luxury of the warm water in the freezing air.

Whakarewarewa Maori village
Whakarewarewa Maori village

The next day in Rotorua we visited Whakarewarewa – The Living Maori Village. Its full name is Te Whakarewarewatanga-o-te-ope-a-Wahiao, but it is not surprisingly known as Whaka for short. We went on a guided tour, and learnt how they live among the hot springs as they have for generations. We tried corn that was cooked in the bubbling water of the geothermal hot pools. We enjoyed a geothermal hangi lunch which was prepared in in-ground steam boxes. Saw the Pōhutu geyser, boiling mud-pools, steam vents and bubbling pools. It was amazing to see how the locals adapt to the harsh environment with changes to where the steam vents pop up around the village, even in the middle of houses! The highlight of the day was the cultural show, where we got to see some Haka and tongue poking action.

Our time on the north island had come to an end. It was a three-hour drive back to Auckland airport, we left as early as we could in case we came across any traffic jams as it was Easter Monday. It was the only wet day we had experienced so far, it rained for part of the drive, which fortunately didn’t affect us at all. We arrived in good time (even though we had to backtrack to top up fuel which we forgot to do!).

It’s a short but spectacular flight to Queenstown on the south island, where we will continue our New Zealand adventure.

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