New Zealand – North Island 2020

 

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                                                    Our Itinerary

13/02/2020    Thurs Newcastle 7.30pm to Auckland 12.25 am Fri  
14/02/2020    Fri Auckland to Waiheke Island to Auckland  
15/02/2020    Sat Auckland to Rotarua  
16/02/2020    Sun Rotarua to Auckland  
17/02/2020    Mon Auckland 6.15am to Sydney 8am  

Thursday 13th February, 2020

 Newcastle to Auckland

We both work today, me till noon and Mark till 3.30pm. We drive our car to Newcastle West leaving it parked in the street near the TAFE. From here we drag our packs to Hunter Street to wait for the bus to Newcastle Airport. It’s a different viewpoint sitting high up in the bus on this familiar route.

After booking in we buy horrible and expensive airport chicken then stop to chat to Jeff Leonard who is on his way home to the Gold Coast.

Our Virgin flight leaves on time at 7.30pm. We only paid $215 each for this direct flight to Auckland so we’re surprised to be served a full meal on this budget airline. Not long after takeoff, the sun sets, glowing a golden red as it dips behind the clouds – beautiful.

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Luckily the plane is only about half full so we have three seats each. And because the flight is less than two hours, I make the most of the space straight away. I try to sleep but it doesn’t happen. Anyway it’s good to lie down the whole way.

We can finally see the lights of Auckland below us, landing at 12.30 am on Friday morning. Surprisingly the airport is full as other planes must have landed around the same time. Through immigration and customs, we line up for a taxi. Our driver is a Middle Eastern man who must have farted all the way in from the city so the inside of the taxi stinks like a toilet – welcome to New Zealand!

Anyway, we fly along the freeway into the city where we can see the Sky Tower all lit up in gorgeous rainbow colours. It seems that our guesthouse is not far from it. We pull up at Frienz Backpackers in Victoria Street right in the city centre. The owners had sent us an email telling us how to get in as the desk would be closed at this late/early hour.

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No trouble getting in and finding our room on the fourth floor – there’s a lift fortunately. Our room is basic and shabby but ok. The bathrooms are shared and around a few bends in the corridor – a bit of a rabbit-warren as lots of these places are. It just adds to the appeal for us.

Straight to sleep.

Friday 14th February, 2020

Auckland to Waiheke Island to Auckland

Mark doesn’t sleep well in a different bed and I’m tired as well so we don’t get up till nine o’clock. We ring Lauren and the Dollies as they’re two hours behind and wouldn’t have left for school. After showers we check in at the desk on the first floor where there is also a chill-out area where young travellers are hanging out on their phones.

The first thing we want to do is hire a car for tomorrow and Sunday. The guy at the desk tells us of a travel agent they use in the city. Just walk down the hill to Queen Street which is just two short blocks away. Queen Street is Auckland’s major commercial thoroughfare running almost three kilometres south from Queens Wharf on the waterfront.

The travel agent is off a small side street, but when we ask about hire cars we’re told that there aren’t any. They’d apparently tried other places but they were all out – ‘it’s busy here on the weekends’. What the fuuuuuuuuck?

Ok, don’t panic just yet. What about buses to Rotarua? She said she’d see if there were any seats left? I’m just about to explode (quietly) but Mark says ‘let’s just go and have breakfast and ring around.’

So we do. We walk to the end of Queen Street till we come to the harbour. Lots of construction down here and we can’t find a café and I’m getting more cheesed off by the minute. Finally we see the lovely old port building right on the ferry wharf and where we find a nice café to sit down and sort things out. Mark makes a phone call and finds a car we can pick up in the morning. So the silly bitch at the travel agent was only talking about the car hire places they use – she could have told us!

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Anyway, all good thanks to Mark’s calm nature and we enjoy a coffee and a hot chocolate while we wait for our 11.30am ferry to Waiheke Island – $45 each return (this is not Asia!). Hundreds are lining up and we wonder if we’ll get a seat. No worries and we easily find window seats inside.

The forty minute trip is lovely. We leave the Downtown Ferry Wharf then head out into the Hauraki Gulf cruising past the coastline and the small islands of Rangitoto, Motuihe and Motutapu. It’s nice to have a different view of the city and especially nice to be out on the water on this hot sunny day.

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Waiheke’s ferry terminal is at pretty Matiatia Bay at the western end of the island. As we disembark we see ducks paddling on the shore – yes, very pretty here. We thought we might hire a motor bike but it looks like it’s just pushbikes or electric bikes and anyway the island is much bigger, and hillier, than we expected.

Waiheke Island is actually the second-largest island in the Hauraki Gulf with the biggest population with 9,250 permanent residents – another estimated 3,400 have second or holiday homes on the island. Apparently it’s a playground for the rich and famous – well, not quite but it does seem to be fairly upmarket.

From the ferry wharf we catch a bus to the beachy village of Oneroa which is sort of the capital. This is lively with fashion boutiques, cafes, art galleries and designer shops. Day trippers and locals fill the street creating a happy holiday feel. We can see why this island is so popular.

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Lunch is at the lovely Oyster Inn, with its colonial/tropical feel – gabled roof, wide verandahs, louvred shutters, swirling ceiling fans and tall palm trees. We take in the great seaviews on the restaurant verandah while we order a beer for Mark and a champagne for me – it is Valentines Day after all. And being on an island, we must have seafood for lunch so Mark has fish, salad and chips while I have calamari and salad.

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Now we head back to the bus stop to catch a bus going who knows where. The island is only twenty kilometres long so we can’t get too lost. I sit next to a friendly lady from Wellington who has a holiday house here and a house in Auckland as well – yes, a wealthy person’s island. She tells us where to get off further down the hill but Mark has a map and we continue on. We get off at an intersection where we walk a long way in the sun to find one of the many vineyards around here.

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Now I hate wine, but visiting a vineyard is what everyone has to do on Waiheke. I don’t know the name of it but it has an open sided restaurant and bar – all very chic. We choose a wine tasting package with two whites and two reds. I hate them all so Mark has most of it.

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Back out on the road we wait for another bus to take us back to the ferry wharf. The scenery is very picturesque the whole way with a blend of vineyards, olive groves, beaches, farmland and forests.

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The ferry back to Auckland leaves every half hour but we manage to catch the one that is almost ready to leave. This trip we sit upstairs on the open sunny deck for even better views of the bay and islands.  Yachts and other boats sail past and we can see the city skyline in the distance.

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By the time we get back to Auckland, it’s four o’clock which means we still have time for a SCAN (Senior Citizens Afternoon Nap) or Mark’s favourite, SCAB (Senior Citizens Afternoon Bonk!). But walking up Queen Street we find a really cool first floor terrace restaurant. Pavement trees and lots of verandah plants create a cool and cooling atmosphere. Great people watching as we order tapas and drinks.

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On the walk back to our guesthouse we find a fabulous area behind Queen Street. The very narrow High Street neighbourhood is the best with lots of laneways lined with cafes, trendy shops, bars, book shops and coffee houses. We’ll definitely be back here tonight and it’s just a stone’s throw from the Frienz.

After showers, we do have a nanna nap – both exhausted after a very late night. At six thirty we head out for food and drinks in Vulcans Lane. Here is the atmospheric Occidental Hotel that we saw this afternoon but it’s packed out. Next door though we find a table at Vulcan’s Inn and settle in for a few drinks.

Never content to stay in the one place, we soon go in search of The Bluestone Room just a few streets away. We find it hidden away in an alleyway with lots of people milling around outside. They’re all males so definitely a gay bar. Lots of exposed stone and thick wooden beams create a rustic atmosphere in the dark moody interior. We snack on chicken wings then stay for a few more drinks.

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Walk home beneath the Sky Tower looking stunning as it changes colours like a kaleidoscope.

Thursday 15th February, 2020

 Auckland to Rotarua

Today we’re off on our road trip – the long way to Rotarua. After showers we pull our packs across the city to the hire car place. For some reason we can’t have the car we’d booked yesterday but if we wait fifteen minutes we can have an upgrade – okay.

At nine o’clock we’re packed up and heading south out of Auckland. The motorway passes from the city through suburbia then on to market gardens. Now farms dot the landscape which disappointingly isn’t lush and green as we expected New Zealand to be, but dry and yellow – no rain here for ages apparently.

We leave the motorway at the base of the Bombay Hills and head towards Hamilton. It’s time to find somewhere to eat as we still haven’t had breakfast. We like the sound of Te Kauwhata, imagining we’ll find an interesting little rural town with quaint cafes and shops. Wrong, it’s a sad, shitty place with a wide main street lined with empty shops and one take-away place.

I later googled ‘Best Things To Do in Te Kauwhata’. The only thing that came up was ‘There aren’t many things to do or attractions to visit in this town.’ No shit!

Anyway, we’re starving so we buy egg and bacon rolls from the nice Asian owners. Feels just like home.

On the road again we set off for Hamilton but we can see a long line of traffic stopped dead ahead so Mark does a quick u-ey at a roundabout and we take another route to Waitomo. Here we’ll visit the caves. The Waitomo Caves region seems much more fertile passing through prime Waikato farmland.

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At the entrance to the caves we line up for tickets. The next available tour isn’t for an hour and a half – sorry we can’t wait as we want to reach Rotarua in time to visit the hot springs, etc. Too bad but can’t be helped.

So far we’ve been on the road for two and a half hours and we still have a two hour drive to Rotarua. Despite the less than green landscape, what is really nice is the non-existence of the horrible eucalyptus trees we have in Australia – probably very unpatriotic of me but they’re bloody ugly! New Zealand’s vegetation is very different despite being ‘just across the ditch’ as they say.

Maybe it’s because of the cooler climate, just making this up, but the trees look more English – like the tall, sturdy spreading Tōtaras and the majestic Kauri.  Google says that the Kauri is among the world’s mightiest trees, growing to more than 50 metres tall, with trunk girths of up to 16 metres. They covered much of the top half of the North Island when the first people arrived around 1000 years ago. Māori used it for building waka (canoes) and burnt the gum for heat and light.

But if the vegetation is a nice surprise, the lack of sheep isn’t. Where the hell are they all? I thought we’d be beating them off with a stick but we haven’t seen one all day. Apparently the nation’s woolly flock has slumped to its lowest number since World War II as most sheep farmers have now switched to dairy farming – explains it all.

Finally we reach the outskirts of Rotarua. It seems to be the centre for lots of different outdoor activities – my worst nightmare – rafting, kayaking, cycling, walking, biking, zip lining …. We could also visit the Agrodome – a sort of huge fake farm where everyone has to go now to see a bloody sheep – ha.

Our accommodation tonight is at the Rotarua Thermal Park which is about four kilometres from the town centre but right next door to the geothermal park that we’ve come all this way to see. And because we’re right next door the smell is horrendous – like a gigantic fart that you can’t escape. What’s really cool though, is that we can see steam rising out of the ground all around here – why we came!

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At the entrance to the park we stop to get our key and to ask about the thermal pools inside the park itself. We’ll check them out later but first we need to dump our gear and head to Te Puia where we have tickets for this afternoon.

Thanks to Tripadvisor, where we can see photos of what we’re booking, we have the cutest little log cabin with a tiny verandah and a wood lined interior. No bathroom though which means walking down the hill to the communal showers and toilets – this could be an issue in the middle of the night.

Now we drive over to Te Puia. This is run by an extended Maori family and by the look of the place, they’re raking it in! The entrance is super impressive, dominated by a huge contemporary Māori artwork called Heketanga-ā-Rangi. Inside, we’re just in time for the tour which begins with a Maori ceremony in front of the marae, a traditional gathering place.

An elderly Maori lady welcomes us then people in traditional dress give us the customary pōwhiri. This was originally used to challenge a visiting party and find out their intentions so it involves stamping feet, thumping spears and sticking out of tongues.

Following the welcoming party inside the Te Aronui-ā-rua (meeting house), Mark and I make a dash to grab the front seats. This is a good move as the meeting house is huge. Inside features stunning carvings, intricately decorated panels and weavings with a stage at the front.

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For the next half an hour we’re entertained with Maori dancing, singing and, of course, the fierce Haka. This was supposed to show a tribe’s pride and strength but now it’s mainly seen at football matches. The actions include violent foot-stamping, tongue protrusions and body slapping while yelling in a scary voice. Mark and a few other poor suckers are dragged up on stage to join in.

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Next is the tour of the park. A young Maori woman tells us about her family who are guardians of the land here and about their history. We follow her to the Pohutu Geyser which is currently blowing its stack. Mark wanders off to take photos of bubbling mud pools – not so much bubbling as letting off little farts now and again. All around us we see clouds of steam coming out of the earth – all because Rotarua sits within the Pacific Ring of Fire where volcanic activity has created this very distinctive landscape. But to be honest, and to steal a quote from Oscar Wilde, ‘it is not as majestic as I expected’ (he was talking about the Atlantic Ocean – ha, ha). Anyway, been there done that.

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Another gem of Te Puia is the Kiwi House but, of course, they’re asleep/hiding/not there – whatever, but we don’t see any. Near the entrance is the fake Maori Village – mildly interesting but let’s go.

At the shop we buy a bronze kiwi and some fridge magnets – spent up big!

Before heading back to our cabin we decide to head into town. The four kilometre drive is along a wide, straight road lined with the most hideous hotels we’ve ever seen. God this place is ugly!

It really could be a contender for that hilarious Facebook site, Shit Towns of New Zealand. While I think of it I’ll add some of my favourite posts – best laugh I’ve had for ages.

** Richmond, a town so packed with insufferable wankers that the council recently delivered a letter to residents addressed ‘Dear cunts’. (True story.)

** Update: Our Big Poo crowdfunder has closed, narrowly missing its $20,000 goal by $19,777 – so unfortunately we will be unable to build a gigantic turd for Huntly

** New Zealand’s Shittiest ‘Big Things’  Under New Zealand law, for a settlement to officially qualify as a town it must feature a giant replica of a food item, animal or object alongside its nearest highway or main road, mainly so tourists can take photos of themselves pretending to have sex with it.

** If it’s the people that make a town, then Cambridge is a Superloo of epic proportions. Like its British namesake, Cambridge houses one of the most pompous populations in the country. This poncey Ponsonby of the Waikato insists on calling itself ‘The Home of Champions’ because of its knack of producing athletes capable of snagging silver and bronze medals, otherwise known as New Zealand gold – which automatically qualifies them to advertise meat on television

** Ragitikei shit pit Marton is best known for having tap water the colour and consistency of a post-vindaloo bowel motion.

** The Dunedin Marathon finishes in Port Chalmers, mainly because most runners are unable to continue any further after being stabbed by a mad fisherman or mauled by a rabid dog.

Anyhoo, on the way home we stop at Countdown (Woolworths in Australia) to stock up on Coke Zero, soda water, beer and nibblies for tonight. Back at our place we check out the thermal pools which are a series of small cement baths fed by hot natural springs. We change into our swimmers and submerge ourselves in the very hot water. At first we’re the only ones there but then more and more people turn up so we leave.

About 6.30pm, we set off for a big night in Rotarua – just kidding! The city centre is actually a bit of an improvement and we find an appealing historical pub/restaurant called The Pig and Whistle. We line up for a table but there aren’t any available in the lovely old building at the front but we can have a table in the cement floored add-on at the back. With metal chairs and tables and a colorbond fence we take off.

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Further down the street is an old Irish pub with a cosy atmosphere and we settle in for hearty pub food and drinks – this is more like it! Don’t stay for too many though as Mark has to drive. At our cabin we set ourselves up on the verandah, taking a doona off the bed to keep warm. Ah, the serenity – except for the poo smell, it’s really lovely sitting out here.

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Thursday 16th February, 2020

Rotarua to Auckland

This morning the sky is low and heavy with clouds and I can’t drag myself out of bed till 9am. I really should have got up earlier as we only have four hours to get back to Auckland where we need to drop the car off by 1pm – 1.30pm at the latest.

Throw everything into our packs we’re gone in minutes. Mark says we really should see Lake Rotarua before we leave so we do a quick detour down to the water. With still a slight drizzle, it’s a grey world but I’m sure it would look really nice when the sun is out.

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Soon we come to the quirky town of Tirau dubbed as the Corrugated Iron Capital of the World. Yes, you guessed it, it definitely qualifies as one of the Shit Towns of New Zealand which notes that Tirau’s star attraction is its roadside procession of metal monsters – the scariest thing on State Highway 1. A giant dog-shaped information centre, a wool shop shaped like two giant sheep, and a giant biblical shepherd all loom menacingly over the town. It’s hideous but entertaining and it seems to attract visitors who fill all the roadside cafes and shops – good on them.

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But Tirau is set amongst some of New Zealand’s most fertile farmland and we like this route much more than yesterday. And besides that, the weather is once again warm and sunny.

The next big town is Cambridge – a pretty town of tree-lined street, parks and gardens. It sits on the ‘mighty’ Waikato River and is surrounded by dairy farms and horse studs. We want to stop for breakfast but the main streets have been blocked off for some sort of event so we decide to head for Hamilton instead.

Hamilton, too, is situated on the banks of the Waikato River and seems to be a pretty place as well. Sadly, with still 130 kilometres to go we’re running late and race into McDonalds for quick takeaways and get back on the road.

Before we take the car back in Auckland we fill it with petrol – more money on top of the fucking ridiculous price we’ve already paid – $700 for less than two days – more than our return airfares! Never again!

For some reason, we decide to walk to our next guesthouse, a backpacker place called Tmacs on the other side of the city. Mainly uphill and in the hot sun, we finally find it in a sort of remodelled warehouse. It’s a slick operation compared to Frienz with several lounge areas, terraces and a busy shared kitchen.

We really should get back out and explore more of Auckland but we can’t be bothered and lie around reading for the next few hours. About five o’clock we call an Uber to take us to Ponsonby. This is the trendy area of the city so obviously we must see it.

Janet has told us of a restaurant we’d love called SPQR so we get dropped off outside. This is Italian so we order a pizza to share. Mark has a beer or two while I have a strawberry margarita – very expensive.  A lot of people are dressed in lurex and other over-the-top clothes – all off to the Elton John concert that’s happening here in Auckland tonight. A very tall tranny with a big bouncy wig, a mini-skirt and high heels is prancing around, rushing to the toilet every couple of minutes for some reason.

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From here we move on to Ponsonby Central recommended on the net. It doesn’t look much from the street but inside is a cavern of food stalls, restaurants and bars. We find an interesting spot for more drinks then cross the street to our next drinking spot. This is a mix of contemporary and vintage with lots of old fashioned lamps spread throughout creating a cosy atmosphere. We find an interesting nook surrounded by book cases and stay for a couple more drinks.

An Uber home at nine o’clock as we need to get up very, very early in the morning.

Thursday 17th February, 2020

Auckland to Sydney

Our alarm wakes us at 3am and we’re soon outside meeting our Uber driver. At this time of night the traffic is almost non-existent and we make record time to the airport.

Check-in only takes a few minutes. Mark finds some cute fluffy toy sheep so we buy one each for the Dollies as a souvenir of New Zealand.

Unlike our flight from Newcastle this Jetstar flight to Sydney is packed. This means no chance of extra seats so no chance of lying down. Somehow we both manage an hour or two sleep using the toy sheep as pillows! So by the time we land in Sydney three hours after take-off, we feel pretty good.

It’s now 8am and we’re in a hurry to get the train to Newcastle as soon as we can as we both have to get to work this afternoon. We eventually manage to catch the 9.15 am making it to Broadmeadow Station in time for Lauren to pick us up.

About virginiascott

I'm an interior decorator, travel writer and blogger
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