Friday, February 17, 2017

Trip to Middle-Earth (aka New Zealand) - North Island

It's been over 2 years since I returned from New Zealand so why bother talking about it now.  Well, my baby brother told me he wants to go there with his girlfriend after Easter 2017.  You have no idea how worried my mom and I have been since he dropped the news!  According to my brother, New Zealand went from a "10" to an "8" every time he comes and asks me for trip tips.  (My mom never felt that way about me traveling and I am planning a trip to the Middle East... LOL)

Thinking back, I still get goose bumps on how on earth did I manage to drive around in New Zealand for 10 days, some days as long as 10+ hours!  If I were to do it again, I would probably take the bus for the longer drives between cities/towns, especially in the South Island.  It is a beautiful places and my eyes should not be wasted watching the roads instead of watching the scenery.

The yellow stars were roughly all the places I went my last trip

Below are the places I told my brother about if he is determined to go.  I am breaking the post into North and South Island for an easier read.

Auckland - Giapo sells great ice creams
Be prepared to queue at Giapo
Waiheke Island - great oysters from Te Matuku Bay
Fresh, sweet, and delicious!
While Hobbiton is worth the drive, I will say the Waitomo Cave is overrated.  (Disclaimer: I have been to limestone caves in other places in the world before so that was nothing new to me.  However, I do appreciate NZ keeping the caves as natural as it could be.)

Hobbiton is built for a movie set so every where is great for pictures!
Don't expect to see this when you go
(This is the promotional picture I saw on the Internet which sold me in the first place)
This is closer to what you will actually be and take a picture of.
But first off, you need a good camera.
The other cave (Ruakuri) was actually nicer, we did not go to Aranui.
Reminds me of the staircase at the Vatican.
If you are physically fit, you may want to consider the Blackwater Rafting instead.

Inside the Ruakuri Cave

The Te Puia was a nice experience but don't waste your money at the Polynesian Spa.  And you certainly don't need to make a special stop at the Agrodome for sheep.  There are plenty of sheep at Hobbiton.
If you've been to Yellowstone National Park (which I've been),
this geyser will be mild compared to the Old Faithful
We did the Te Po Experience
Dance was interesting and the food was good
The Polynesia Spa.  Save your money for a real onsen in Japan.
It was spring so baby sheep were everywhere when we went
But they runaway from you if you try to get too close.
So, don't think you will be able to take a selfie while hugging a sheep, mom or baby.
Lake Taupo is a nice lake but not a must see in my opinion if you have the limited time.  Go back to Auckland and take a flight down to the South Island.  My co-worker would probably disagree with me since he went there with his family a while back and had a fabulous time relaxing at the resort.  So again, everyone is different.

Our close encounter with a black swan at Lake Taupo
Martinborough is nice if the boutique wineries are open but the roads are windy.  For non-wine enthusiast, aka my brother, skip.  The Martinborough Hotel was very nice though.

A nice boutique hotel we stayed in Martinborough

Poppies, a boutique winery recommended to us by many locals.
Unfortunately, it was closed when we went.
Wellington is a nice town but driving there wasn't fun.  It's very windy and lot of hills.  If you are not a big LOTR or special effects fan, I say skip.

No kidding
The weather literally went from this... this in a matter of minutes...
@ the Weta Cave
Book tickets ahead if you plan to visit
Interislander - ferry from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island).  This ferry made my 2 island driving trip possible.  We took a late afternoon ferry and saw one of the most beautiful sunsets in my life.

Go to the passenger deck after you park your car.
It's not a bad idea to pick up dinner in Wellington and eat on the ferry.
The deck is open to public.
It's a 3 hours ride but the sunset made it worthwhile.
Continue reading about my trip report on the South Island here.


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