I wanted to go to New Zealand. I grew up in a place with four seasons, surrounded by mountains and crisp air. In college I watched snow fall, and even though the cold chilled me, it also was kind of beautiful. But now, I live in Florida. And the summers are unbearably hot. So, I decided to go to New Zealand.
I wanted to go to New Zealand because of a fellow (albeit way more successful) travel blogger. I was captivated by her photos and stories of New Zealand. As a result, in the midst of 100-degree Florida heat, palm trees, and waves, I found myself wanting those grand mountain peaks and snow-covered roads. And I went to New Zealand, and experienced some winter weather in the midst of a Florida summer.
Haka tours chauffeured me all around the North and South Islands of New Zealand. And I don’t think my experience could have been any better. When I show people photos of my trip, they remark that New Zealand looks like another planet, a kind of Avatar world, overgrown with leafy vegetation and mountains that disappear in the clouds.
I chose to travel New Zealand with Haka Tours for a few reasons. First, because one of my favorite travel bloggers had traveled with them in the past, and had good things to say. Two, they’ve won all sorts of awards for being the best travel company in New Zealand. Third, they make traveling around New Zealand so easy.
The basic tour package from Haka includes transportation, lodging, an amazing tour guide, a handful of meals, and a basic set of activities. The price is fantastic. Then, if you want to add on more activities, you can pick and choose which ones you would like to experience. Originally I signed up for about five or six activities (black water rafting, canyon swing, hobbiton, a glacier hike, and one or two more), but when we were on the road, I added some things, and deleted a few. It was nice being able to tailor my vacation, with no worries about making reservations, or finding out the best spot to do which activity, Haka does it all for you.
Andy was our tour guide (the guy in the middle with the Haka Tours hat). And he was incredible. He really tailored the trip to suit the interests of our group, and stopped at several spots that we would have never seen without a guide.
The other people pictured in this photo were with me during the first half of the 16 day Amplified New Zealand tour that I signed up for with Haka(the shortest and most affordable way to see all the must sees on both the North and South Islands). Right before we crossed into the South Island, one member left us. On the South Island we picked up 12 people-turning our little group of 5 into a group of 16-a full bus. But, more on that later.
These people were awesome. I don’t like traveling with other people, but they were such fun, and they really made the trip special. After all, we all decided to vacation in New Zealand, there was a sense of adventure in all of us.
Now, onto New Zealand!!!
Side note: I was a part of Haka Tours 16 day Amplified New Zealand Tour, which covers both the North and South Islands, but, because of the amount of content, this post will just focus on the North Island, and the next post will focus on the South island. Enjoy my experience of the North Island with Haka Tours!
First Stop: Cathedral Cove
Or better known as…Narnia…
Or, the sight of Macklemore’s music video…
We had quite a bit of time to just wander around Cathedral Cove. A couple of other members of our group chose to kayak out to Cathedral. Kayaking allowed one to see more of the crevices of the rock formations. I was glad I didn’t go. That water was freezing. And plus, I had the chance to take dozens of gorgeous photos of this gem of a place.
I could have explored this place for hours, there were so many wonderful aspects to Cathedral Cove: waterfalls, and cliffs to jump off of into the sea, rainbows, secret caves, rich vegetation, rocks to climb, a beautiful cliff side, and amazing rock formations that didn’t seem real.
I would believe I was in Narnia in a heartbeat.
Pit Stop: Hot Water Beach (in the wintertime it’s extra nice!)
While I’m sure Hot Water beach is wonderful in the summer, going there in the winter is a treat. When we went there, it was absolutely freezing. We made our way over the cold sand and through the ice water. “There is no way I’m taking my clothes off in this weather,” I thought to myself. But, of course, I’m not going to let an opportunity like this go to waste. Shivering, I abandon my clothes my a few big rocks, and run to the tennis court sized spot on the beach where the hot water resides.
In order to get to the hot water, you have to dig. Thankfully, the boys in our group had a few shovels, and put in the leg work. Some of the water is so hot it boils, in other areas, the water is quite cold, it takes a bit of maneuvering to find water that is just the right temperature. But when you do, its like being in a hot tub on a cold winter day.
Some people jumped into the cold ocean, just to appreciate the warmth of the pools a little bit more. But, I was content to just lay in the hot water until our guide told us we had to get going.
Pit Stop: Te Waihou Walkway and the Blue Spring
“The hike is about an hour and a half-I’ll meet you all on the other side.” Our group happily made our way through a small and easy hike, wandering and weaving through forests and fields.
It was a beautiful day. Although, every day felt beautiful to me. It made me happy that I didn’t have to deal with 90 degree temperatures and humidity. I had gorgeous fall weather in one of the most beautiful places on earth; I couldn’t have been happier. Hiking and walking is something that I love to do, no matter where I go. In New Zealand, I took walks and hikes through dream landscapes.
It was about at this point during the trip that I began jumping in my photos. The summer before in Iceland, my sister had us take jumping photos. And, looking back on the pictures, I realized that each photo had great energy. And, the photo captured the feeling of Iceland. Iceland was wild and untamed, rugged and raw, New Zealand was similar. I began jumping in a lot of my photos. And who wouldn’t want to jump? The hike was spectacular, and eventually led us to a beautiful spring filled with amazing streaks of crystal blue water.
Second Stop: Rotorua
Or, the geothermal land…
Or, what is that smell?…
Rotorua was one of my favorite places in New Zealand. I liked the little town, the geothermal activity everywhere, steam rising in the sky, and all of the cool activities we did while we were there. Rotorua is a fun little city, there is a park that you can walk around, and pools built right into the ground, where you can soak your cold feet. It feels quite delicious.
While in Rotorua, we attended a traditional Maori dinner. While waiting for dinner to be cooked, you are treated to a performance, which showcases songs, dancing, the haka, and a weapons demonstration. It is quite spectacular. After a fantastic buffet-style dinner, you take a short walk through the woods where you see a magical river, filled with fairies, and even a few glow worms.
Glow worms side note!
Yes, I went to Waitomo and saw the glow worms. Here is a picture:
You see, you aren’t allowed to take pictures in the caves. Whenever I can’t take photos of a place, I usually buy a postcard. But let me assure you, the glow worms are beautiful. Because our tour group was so early in the day, our Maori guide, whose family discovered the caves generations ago, and considers herself a keeper of the caves, sang us a traditional Maorio love song. Which was quite chilling, especially when you’re underground and the acoustics are phenomenal.
Anyway, back to Rotorua!
My camera skills once again failed me. The camera I had did not do well in the dark, and I was about five rows back from the action. But I highly recommend this activity, even if it does seem “touristy”. Sometimes, the touristy stuff is fun, and worth it. And, you’re learning about a different culture…totally worth it.
Rotorua was also where I kicked off my adventure to Hobbiton!
Stop Four: Hobbiton
Or, A Lord of the Rings Adventure…
Or, Can I live in a hobbit hole?…
Being a lover of the English language, fantasy, imagination, and an English teacher to boot, it would make sense that I would love “The Lord of the Rings”. And, while its true I loved Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and adored the original Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, I just never got into the three-part book series. I know, its horrible. I tried and tried and just couldn’t get past the first quarter of the first book. But I still love Bilbo Baggins (having read all about his adventures in “The Hobbit”), and I was very excited to see the place where he calls home.
The hobbit holes are absolutely adorable. Quick quiz: can you remember how you can tell a hobbit’s occupation? And, what are the two signs of wealth of this little town?
Besides wandering around Hobbiton and taking more than a socially acceptable amount of pictures, my little group and I made our way into the Green Dragon for a complimentary glass of alcohol, and a few minutes away from our tour group to wander and take a few more photos.
As you can see, I clearly wasn’t at the height of my jumping game-I’m still getting used to the timing of the jumping shot. This was after that free cider by the way…
Hobbiton was fantastic. If you’re even a small fan of the books or movies, I highly recommend a visit! Say hello to the hobbits for me!
Stop Five: Lake Taupo
Or, New Zealand is exhausting…
Or, I spent way too much money on souvenirs…
Lake Taupo was a good place to rest. When you’re constantly on the move (and if you couldn’t tell, Haka Tours keeps you on the move), you get tired. Your body hurts, you’re tired, and part of you just wants to sit inside and watch a movie. That might sound weird to some people, but travel is exhausting.
I didn’t sign up for a lot of activities in Lake Taupo (none in fact). So I had quite a bit of time to wander around and relax. Most of my time in this city was spent souvenir shopping. They have several souvenir shops, and I bought inexpensive, interesting stuff for my friends and family.
The area around Lake Taupo and Rotorua is littered with geothermal activity. Andy (tour guide) actually took us to Craters of the Moon, a low-key walk around an area littered with craters and steam.
It was pretty steamy. And the smell of rotting eggs filled the air. But, I hadn’t ever seen anything like it, it was fascinating. It was a cool little pit stop.
Pit Stop: Military Training grounds
The point of these pictures is to show you what you will be driving through in New Zealand. This. Landscapes like this.
This is where New Zealand’s military practices. Andy told us that the military usually just play games. I’m not sure if he was being serious or joking around. But anyhow I loved the scenery. I wish this was where I went to work every day.
Stop Six: Wellington
Or, the world’s coolest little capital…
Or, the windy city…
I didn’t go to New Zealand for the cities. In fact, I would have been content to just wander aimlessly though nature, hike mountains, explore forests, and glaciers, and fjords. If I didn’t see a single building I would have been content. That being said, Wellington is a cool little capitol, and I had fun visiting there.
Pit Stop: Weta Workshop!
We got to see the Weta workshop, where creatures and machines, hair and helmets, and all assortment of oddities are made for world-famous movies. I got to see armor from the Hunger Games trilogy, and Elf hair from the Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, everything is copyrighted, so they don’t allow cameras. But, I got a photo with these guys right outside the shop.
Wellington is also home to Te Papa, a free museum of arts and history. I’m not a huge museum person, but it was free and I had time. The museum is really interesting, and showcases a lot of New Zealand’s culture, history, artwork, and social activity. They had a really neat display, explaining how everyone is an artist, and lots of interactive art to do. My friends and I had fun playing with the mirror.
There is another side to Wellington, a quieter, more natural side. If I lived in Wellington, I would want to live here, by the water.
There are some moments when you travel that you feel so at peace, so content. Being by this water was one of those times. It was just our small group. You couldn’t hear anything besides the gentle waves crashing, and the wing whipping by. The scenery was breathtaking, and I had to take a minute to just say thank you. During moments like this, you say thank you to whoever or whatever you believe in, God, mother earth, the infinite within you, thank you for allowing such beautiful places to exist.
Until next time, Wellington.
After Wellington, we made our way to the South Island. There was more jaw dropping scenery, new adventures, new stories, and new friends. I can’t wait to show you New Zealand’s South Island.