We have been here in New Zealand over a year and a half now (2 years in September) and haven’t actually explored that much. Last year over Easter (a 4 day weekend here) we went down to Dunedin, but haven’t seen that much of the North Island.
Realizing that my antenatal classes started pretty soon and that I have midwife appointments to schedule around and that soon traveling would be impractical or impossible we planned out our trip.
We had some friends we wanted to see in Auckland, but also wanted to check out the other towns up in the North just in case we wanted to move there some day.
We flew into Auckland, picked up our rental car (flying is cheaper than taking our own car on the ferry, plus it’s probably an 8 hour drive from the ferry to Auckland, not to mention 4+ hours on the ferry and 5 hours drive to get to the ferry port on the South Island) and headed out to Hamilton.
Hamilton is about an hour south of Auckland. It’s something like the 4th largest city in NZ (Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton) at around 200k people.
Our motel was disappointing to say the least. It turned out to be a hostel type place with private rooms. I think I had picked that one as there just wasn’t anything really available in Hamilton. Still we had the worst room there and the place was totally full as well. This meant we had backpackers kibitzing in the lounge and someone smoking outside our window every few hours at night. And we really wanted the window open as the room was very stuffy. The climate is the most muggy I’ve experienced. Needless to say I was glad it was only one night. Hamilton was also quite racially divided. The most I’ve seen out of any NZ city. Basically there was a brown side of the river and a white side of the river. And all along the river, giant riverfront mansions. On the white side (where our hostel was) there were no children playing and everyone seemed more or less shut up in their houses that had giant fences and walls around them. We couldn’t figure out what people did for entertainment. We saw a lot of runners and joggers but that’s about it. On the brown side, lots of kids playing, people out in their yards and people hanging out in front of the liquor store. I’ve heard there is a lot of P (meth) in the area but didn’t see obvious signs of it. Still, as bad as it was in contrast to what else we’ve seen here it wasn’t that bad by US standards.
Even though apparently Hamilton has food shops and a ‘thriving cafe culture’ (so says wikipedia) we ended up having to eat at a mall food court because we couldn’t find anything else. Finding the mall was a bit of a trick too.
There is a racetrack going literally right through Hamilton. It’s NZ’s equivalent of wherever they hold the Indy 500 in Indiana (Speedway). There were bleachers by some of the highways (in some cases we drove under them) and barriers with ads on them. They shut that part down to regular traffic when there is a race on (we saw it on TV later on on our trip!).
We woke up at 6 am and got the hell out of there.
The only thing I regret was not getting a picture of a …sculpture at a local Maori historic site that was near our hostel. It was literally a giant penis made of 3 dudes who also had prominent penii. It’s interesting to me how different the Maori art is in the different regions. I couldn’t find any pictures of it, though the site was called Miropiko.
Though technically Hamilton is in the Waikato region (somewhat similar to states or possibly counties) the rest of the Waikato region was really pretty and nice.
We drove on down the river (the Waikato river, longest in NZ) to Cambridge and waited until something opened (a coffee shop) for breakfast. At this point we got the camera out and put it somewhere accessible.
This is the Waikato in Cambridge
The country is very much cow, sheep and horse country. There were lots of saddle and farm supply stores. Lots of rolling green hills and lovely blue sky. Looks a lot like the green hills in the Windows desktop.
We drove on East as we were staying the next two nights in Rotorua. We stopped a bit on the way in Tirau, the home of corrugated everything. It was actually kind of hilarious how corrugated everything was. Almost every store sign was corrugated. Also, this is what made us stop:
In addition, we got pictures of a corrugated wise man, dog and some odd plastic sculptures that were poop themed.
Yup, Rotorua smells like a giant fart or possibly a stink bomb. You get a bit used to it and the town is so nice we didn’t mind, but it can get really smelly in parts.
We were there for two nights and found the town really well set up for things for locals to do, tourists to do and fairly easy to get around in. The town and lake is in a volcanic caldera and is one of the most geologically active places on earth. The majority of the Maori population also lives in the region (mainly involved in the tourism industry these days) and it was really interesting to see the difference. The sculptures around town all had figures holding their bellies.
We checked out a free geological park (Kuirau) that had bubbling mud pits and stinky mineral pools.
I wore the wrong shoes (and we walked a bit much for me and my annoying pubic bone pain) so I ended up barefoot at this park. In addition to the fenced off pools and pits there were a lot of hotspots around. Basically the grass had died and the ground was a bit warmer. You could tell the hotspots moved around and new ones formed all the time as there were a lot of impromptu fences expanding from the fenced areas and in new ones.
Things were certainly a bit tourist-trappy, but we avoided paying for too much. The motel we stayed at (nicest of the bunch) was down the hill from the Pohutu Geyser ($40 to get in) so we climbed the hill and watched it spout for free. Not sure we saw it ‘going off’ as it were. We did hear loud rumblings intermittently but when we saw it it was consistently shooting about 10-15 feet in the air. We didn’t see the buried village, but we would certainly visit again.
From Rotorua we went on a few part day trips to Tauranga and Taupo. Both were about an hour away in different directions.
Was very nice. Actually had a bit of a west side Santa Cruz feeling to it. A fairly resort-like semi-retirement type community. Still, near the ocean and the surrounding areas grow corn and kiwifruit.
Also very pretty. More of a resort town with slightly less for locals to do than Rotorua. The lake is the largest in NZ and looked a bit ocean-like with waves and such when we were there.
The beach was covered in pumice bits. It must still be volcanic, though not nearly as volcanic as Rotorua.
I had originally planned to stay one night in either Tauranga or Taupo but was unable to find a reasonable hotel. Since they were an hour away from Rotorua we just stayed there for two nights. Since we did only day trips we just had a bit of driving around and maybe lunch in each place.
Here is our trip map. Orange is the first 2 days, we overnighted in Hamilton then continued on to Rotorua. Green is our day trips while staying in Rotorua and then blue is the trip we took back up to Auckland.
I regret not getting down from Hamilton to the Waitomo glow worm caves. By the time we got internet and found out where it was, it was too late to go. Still, it will be there and it’s something we can do with a baby or small child so we will do it someday!
We spent 3 days or so up there. The first day we mainly spent driving. We took the long way back from Rotorua by going up to Tauranga then west via Paeroa.
This is Paeroa’s claim to fame:
Did I mention NZ likes large roadside things? I bet somewhere there is a giant ball of twine…
Anyhow once we got to Auckland we met the traffic. We are sooo spoiled in Christchurch with our 30 minute rush hour. Even Riccarton road, the busiest apparently in New Zealand (though it is only a 2 lane road) isn’t like Auckland traffic. Basically 3:30 pm on Friday and it was like San Francisco traffic. It took us several hours to get to our motel in the middle of town. Literally every time we went out it took us an hour to get places. We didn’t think much of the area it was in. It was the Newmarket/Greenlane/Remuera area and there are apparently only two ways in or out of the area (by freeway) and one main grocery store. The edges of Auckland, North, East and West are much more navigable and not nearly as busy.
On Saturday we had intended to meet friends and go to the zoo. Unfortunately, there was a pacific food/culture/music festival on that day right next to the zoo (Pasifika festival). So, even though we were there at 9:30am there was no free parking and lots of officious yellow vested people not letting anyone park without paying. Since I wasn’t walking up or down any serious hills, which would have been necessary to go to the zoo that day, we ran away to the grocery store/coffee shop near our motel and made other plans. We got a bit of a tour of Eastern Auckland shopping. Once again I’m doubting Riccarton Mall near us being the second largest in New Zealand. We did drive past the largest in Auckland, and yes, very large indeed. However, we went to another shopping area and it seemed pretty big too. We drove out a bit and saw some scenery and then went our separate ways.
On the third day we made another effort to go to the zoo. Success! No festival for one, and the zoo had nice close parking.
We spent around 3 hours in the zoo, made sure we had a look at everything (much better viewing than the Wellington Zoo), and then went off to the northern part of Auckland.
That’s Devonport from the beach. It was nice and mellow there, though I hear it’s kind of where wealthy British and South African immigrants end up. Houses are generally around 1 million NZD and up.
Commuting probably isn’t a whole lot of fun either as there is one bridge connecting North Auckland/Northshore with the rest. Otherwise you kind of have to drive around via West Auckland. I think basically it takes the same amount of time if there is traffic, though it only takes 20 minutes over the bridge if there isn’t traffic.
We had intended to go some places and look at the shops, but a surprising number of things were closed on Sunday. We drove back to the motel, lay around a bit and flew home on Monday morning.
We still like Christchurch best of the places we’ve been. Maybe it’s just that we know where everything is now, but even when we were first here we liked it. Most of the other towns over 50k people don’t have what we think of (after having lived here) as reasonable infrastructure. Not enough grocery stores (we lived somewhere where we had to plan out when we would go to the store to beat the crowds. No fun), things for locals to do etc. Plus Christchurch has very tasty water out of the tap. And a good income to cost of living ratio etc etc. The only thing we are vaguely worried about is the sustainability of programming jobs in that Christchurch isn’t really a technology center as such. It does have more companies like that all the time, but not as many as Auckland or Wellington. So far we’ll be staying here if we can.