Week Two – North Island, Part 1

Update: **For those of you who have not been reading the full posts (we completely understand) you may have missed our photos page which has heaps more photos than are on this post. Head to our Week 2 InFocus page for a look at even more photos related to the post below!**

We’re finally getting to another post… in our little bit of free time that we’ve had to work on the blog in the past few weeks Malcolm has been struggling with photo management and Jess has been typing away on her little iPad to make sure we had words to go with the pictures.

In this week’s adventures we left Auckland in search for more sunshine. After some debate we decided to stick to our original plan and head to the Coromandel Peninsula which worked out great as we were rewarded with a day of mostly sunny driving and a beautiful beach to hang out at all afternoon till sundown. After an exciting ‘alternate route’ drive to the other side of the Peninsula we arrived at our second NZ hostel (much nicer than the first) a little past 9pm. From there we enjoyed another beach day before a good drive to the Central North Island where we would visit the Hobbiton movie set and Waitomo glow worm caves. From there we headed back to Auckland to drop off Joe so he could continue his crazy adventure in New Orleans for Mardis Gras while Jessica and Malcolm headed north to Paihia for a quick adventure in the Bay of Islands and Northland. The last day we headed back to Auckland yet again for our 3rd NZ flight, this time back to the South Island and Te Anau. Below are daily summaries with a few pictures. See the link below for the weekly photo dump.

Day 8 – We woke up and checked out of our Auckland hostel and headed east. determined to find sun. On our way to the Coromandel Peninsula we stopped by yet another waterfall, Hunua Falls, to check it out – massive amounts of water thrashing into a huge pond. Unfortunately it was too cold to swim in. From there we drove 2.5 hours to Te Mata where we stopped for some coffee, this is where Joe learned an iced coffee in NZ is not your Seattle iced coffee – instead it is a shot of espresso mixed with ice cream, vanilla syrup and then blended all together. Also ice is not a common thing here in NZ. They stare at you blankly and say they can only blend it with ice cream – pretty funny. And forget it if you want cold brew coffee, almost impossible to find. Anyway, we continued on in search of sunshine, now on the Coromandel Peninsula. The drive north took us on one of the the most beautiful rides of our combined lives. The drive between Te Mata and the town of Coromandel it is extremely picturesque with small windy roads hugging turquoise blue water on one side with lush green valleys and tropical flora on the other. Of course, being New Zealand, any clearing in trees revealed beautiful green fields scattered with sheep and cows. Once we reached Coromandel (the town) we grab some lunch to go (takeaway) and headed to the beach. We found the perfect gem of a spot, a little bay of beautiful blue water with islands of green pastures scattered in the distance and a floating dock for us to hang out on. We also made our first friend who was traveling from France doing small odd jobs as a a carpenter. After we watched the beautiful sunset we headed on our way to our destination for the night, Whitianga. We drove a crazy dirt road between the two towns and came across a boar farm which didn’t believe in fences (read: boars in the middle of the road) and then sleepily found our way into our 6 bunk room.

Day 9 – We woke up, packed our bags again, and then set off. We went to a nice coffee shop across the road from Buffalo Beach before driving to the Shakespeare Cliff Scenic and Historic Reserve to take in panoramic views of the surrounding bay and countryside. This place had an awesome lookout over all of Mercury Bay (near where we stayed) and also revealed a nice little beach called Lonely Bay. We liked it so much we spent nearly half our day there. We had to leave at 1:30p to head to our next city, Cambridge, in order to check in and shower for our biggest event of Joe’s trip: the Hobbiton Dinner Tour! This was pretty amazing as you can see from pictures. The place felt magical, just like you were in the movie and our dinner was pretty delicious, we ate far more than we should have but we had to get our money’s worth! Words would be hard to find to describe the experience better than pictures so check out the link below and we’ll save you from any more reading.

Day 10 – We hung out in the town of Cambridge just exploring the downtown and grabbing some breakfast before heading off to Waitomo glow worm caves. We did the Black Laybrinth raft tour of the glow worm caves. This tour involved us wearing full wet suits, a helmet and headlamp, and boots with individual little rafts (inner-tubes). We were taken down into the caves where we walk/crawled through small sections to an opening where the river was big enough for us to wade and float in. A little side note, there was an eel swimming in the water minutes before they told us to jump in… pretty comforting. During the adventure we jumped backwards off of two waterfalls and at times shut off of our headlights to learn about these interesting creatures, glow worms. Glow worm life cycle: hatch from larvae, kill siblings for food, and then poop to trap baited mosquitoes and flies which they then eat so they have the energy to go mate before giving birth to another larvae and dying. Let the cycle repeat. Wondering how their poop traps these other miserable insects? It’s the glowing part we came to see which also happens to be a sticky neurotoxin and it’s the light that confuses lost insects inside the cave that are simply trying to find their way out. Can’t say we feel bad for the mosquitoes or flies, in fact we could use more of these glow worms in the world! Very very interesting life cycle. After about 3 hours of cave exploring we enjoyed our free lunch of bagels and tomato soup and then drove to Hamilton where we went out for dinner and drinks.

Day 11- Today included lots of driving. We drove to Auckland and sadly dropped Joe at the airport and then headed to our next destination Paihia, 4 hours north of Auckland on the east coast of the ‘Northland’ and home to the beautiful Bay of Islands. We checked into our hostel and then went and had dinner at Green Leaf where I had a Thai dish and Malcolm an Indian dish – both were petty delicious. We did our second load of laundry of the trip, hung our clothes to dry in the 85 degree night heat and headed to bed (if you can sleep in that temperature anyway… no AC in the hostel).

Day 12 – We woke up at 6:30a, made a quick breakfast, then headed to Kaitaia to meet up with our tour group for the day, Ultimate Sand Safaris. The tour was a full-day tour of the Aupouri Peninsula from the east side to the west side of the great ‘Northland’ region. It included driving on the famous 90-Mile Beach, a stop at Great Exhibition Bay, and a chance to go “sand surfing” at the largest sand dunes we’ve ever seen. It also included a tasty BBQ lunch at Tapotupotu beach and a stop at Cape Reinga where we witnessed the Tasman Sea clashing with the Pacific Ocean which made for a pretty neat sight – whitecaps seemingly out of nowhere as the two currents collided. We lucked out with a great tour guide who obviously loved her job and grew up in the area her whole life; she made our trip very enjoyable and gave us some great laughs. We’d highly recommend this tour if you ever get the chance. Later that night we grabbed take away fish burgers and ate dinner as we watched the sun set over the Haruru falls just outside of Paihia.

Day 13 – We woke up a little later this day, made breakfast and made some last minute plans to explore the Bay of Islands. We caught a 12:30p water taxi from Paihia to Urupukapuka Island, the largest island in the Bay of Islands. The island is 514 acres (208 hectors) full of hiking trails, small secluded beaches, sheep and one single store/cafe owned by the taxi company. The only way around the island was by kayak or walking. We decided to try and do as many as the tracks as possible before finding a beautiful beach to relax and have our lunch. The hike has amazing views, just look at the pictures! The water was super warm too and nice for swimming. If we had enough time we would have totally camped there over night but that wasn’t in the books so we took our 6:30p water taxi back to the “city” and made a nice dinner back at the hostel; ‘spaghetti’ with cabbage noodles and beef mince.

Day 14 – Back to Auckland. We drove 4.5hrs to the airport in Auckland – it took longer than we thought due to NZ repaving all of their roads this summer so we were a little nervous to make our flight. We go to check in and it says flight unavailable… oh great. We went up to customer service to see what the deal was and apparently we had booked the flight for March instead of February and we both missed catching it… whoops. Luckily there was another flight in an hour that we were able to get only for $50NZD more. Thankfully we landed in Queenstown only an hour behind schedule and picked up our 3rd rental car of the trip (another Yaris, Malcolm’s new favorite budget car) and drove for 2.5 hours to Te Anau. We checked into our hostel and went out to find some dinner. Malcolm and I were really craving nachos and were super excited when we saw it on the menu at The Ranch Bar and Grill. Well to our great disappointment nachos in NZ means flavored corn chips covered in beef chili, with more sour cream than we’ve ever seen and just a bit of cheese to top it off.  Yuck and extremely expensive for what it was. Lesson learned: New Zealand has no idea what any US style Mexican food is. Opportunity: come back and start a Mexican food truck and save the people of New Zealand!

Take a look at the pictures above for a quick visual summary of the notes above and head to our Week 2 InFocus page for a look at even more photos! Enjoy

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