An Attempt to Conquer the North Island in 12 Days

Caroline Stratton
May 2, 2016

The University of Canterbury is not sparing on breaks.  We had 4 days off for Easter, (which I may have stretched to 10 days), 5 days of school, and then another three- weeks off for “mid-semester” break.  Anyone following me on social media probably questions whether or not I actually attend school.  I find myself asking the same question, too, from time to time. 

For two of the three weeks I had off for mid-semester break, 3 friends and I decided to rent a car and attempt to hit all of the major landmarks in the North Island of New Zealand.  For any future IES Abroad Christchurch students, or anyone traveling to New Zealand, I’ll make conquering the North Island a bit easier by letting you know where I think you should spend your time, and which places you should pass by. 

To start off this journey, we drove from Christchurch to Picton so that we could catch the ferry from Picton, (the tip of the North Island), to Wellington.  There is no need to stay in Picton for more than a night, the town was small, we rarely saw other people walking around, and the food is quite expensive. 

We had planned to stay in Wellington for two and a half days, but quickly realized we didn’t need more than one day there. The highlights in Wellington were the Zealandia Sanctuary, where we saw native birds and reptiles, and the Muesum of Te Papa, which holds the worlds largest ever colossal squid specimenI’ve heard from some friends who also visited Wellington that the night life there is great, but we never had the energy to get ready and go out for the night.  If you do spend a night in Wellington, definitely eat dinner at Wagamama’s.  The food is amazing! Also you’ll be seated looking out over the water. 

Next stop: Tongaririo.  The Tongariro Alpine Crossing was the first Great Walk I had done in New Zealand, and it definitely exceeded my expectations.  The beginning of the hike has a beautifully built walkway, but do not be deceived; the tramp is still challenging.  A few miles into the tramp, you will approach the bottom of Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom), and have the option to take a 2-3 hour detour from the actual tramp and climb to the top of this volcano.  I highly recommend doing this.  It was by far the most challenging part of the day for me, and I was completely out of breath, and almost out of energy, by the time I finished. The view from the top of the volcano was one of the most incredible scenes I’ve seen in all my time in New Zealand.  The rest of the hike offered some of the most diverse terrain I’d experienced on a single tramp.  Overall, I think it earned its title as a Great Walk.

Our next stop was at Lake Taupo.  Definitely spend at least a day here.  It has a small town feel, but was actually one of the larger cities we stopped in.  The weather was delightfully warm this day and we found a café that had a dock with beanbags at the end of it where we could eat brunch, and soak up some sun.  Even though the guy working here had to ask me what a chai tea was, he made me the best chai I’ve had in New Zealand so far.  He also rented us out one of his sailboats, so I got to go sailing for the first time.  I can’t say I saw that much of Lake Taupo since we spent the majority of our time there sitting on those beanbags, but I have no regrets about this. 

After another long drive, we arrived in Waitoma for our Glow Worm Cave tour.  That same day, we also visited Hobbiton and went on a tour of the Lord of the Rings set.  Between the two, my friends and I agreed that the Hobbiton tour was much more enjoyable. 

The glowworm caves were incredibly beautiful; the caves we were in were so dark and the glowworms lit up the ceiling like stars against a dark night sky.  However, our tour guide didn’t add any excitement to the day and at one point we were all in a boat and our guide was moving us forward in the cave, then back where we came from, and repeated this a few times.  It was nice staying in the cave for so long but it also felt like the tour could have been shortened and gone for a cheaper price. 

Our Hobbiton tour was magical.  The set looked just how it does in the films, and our tour guide, Glyn, had so many fun facts to share with the group.  Included in our tour was a stop at the “Green Dragon Inn,” where we were offered one free refreshment. 

Now we come to my new favorite city in New Zealand.  Before this, it was Wanaka, but Coromandel was absolutely flawless.  We were here to see Cathedral Cove, but had I known how much I would love Coromandel, I would have stayed for much longer.  It is the first true beach town I have seen in New Zealand.  Cathedral Cove was mind blowing, the cafe we went to after reminded me of my home in California, and I imagined the beaches being filled with people during the warmer seasons.  All of the houses were quaint and close to the water, and the people were particularly friendly.  If I ever move to New Zealand, I will live in Coromandel.  

We then drove to Rotorua and stayed at our friend’s aunt’s lakehouse.  The highlight here was Rotarua’s Redwood Forest.  Although, for some reason the pathway we took quickly led us away from the Redwoods and into another forest.  But I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find the correct pathway that will lead you onto a hike with the Redwoods.  Besides this, Rotarua was a beautiful city, but not somewhere I would spend too much time. 

From here we decided to commit to a 9-hour drive to Cape Reinga, the northwestern most tip of New Zealand.  This long car ride was definitely worth it.  First off, our campsite was basically on the beach.  We pitched our tent on the grass just 15 ft. from the sand.  We could hear the waves crashing on the beach while we drifted to sleep.  To have the best experience we could, we decided we wanted to get to Cape Reinga before sunrise.  This scene is hard to describe so I’ll just leave pictures. 

Just 20 minutes from Cape Reinga is 90-mile beach, which is known for it’s epic sand dunes, perfectly suitable for sand boarding.  These were the tallest sand dunes I had ever seen.  As for the 90-mile beach, I cannot attest, as it was exhausting repeatedly climbing to the top of the hills to sand board down them.  I could have spent an extra day in this area, hanging out at our beautiful campsite, or going on one of the many hikes by Cape Reinga. 

Our last stop was Auckland.  I stayed at my first real hostile, named Attic Backpackers.  It was ideally placed and had a great hangout/lounge area.  I ended up enjoying Auckland a lot more than I expected.  I think it was refreshing being in a big city again, and having access to stores that I hadn’t seen since leaving the states.  All of the restaurants looked amazing and you can go to the top of the Sky Tower and look out over the entire city   We only had half a day here but I would have been content staying for 2-3 days. 

I know this post was long, and if you have no interest in visiting New Zealand, it was probably irrelevant, but for those who are coming this way, I hope it was helpful.  There are so many places to go in the North Island, and different people will enjoy some places more than others, so this was my feedback on the places I was lucky enough to travel to. 

Caroline Stratton

<p>I&#39;m Caroline, a native to Southern California, and a student at Texas Christian University. &nbsp;I&#39;m studying Social Work and hope to eventually work in the field of child welfare, where I&#39;ll give children who haven&#39;t had the best start to their lives a chance to be successful. &nbsp;I love to play soccer, surf, go on backpacking trips, and eat delicious, healthy food. &nbsp;I&#39;m hoping to meet new people, explore as many places in New Zealand as I can, and gain cultural awareness through my experience abroad. &nbsp;I&#39;m ready for some new adventures and in New Zealand, those aren&#39;t hard to find.</p>

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