As we crossed Cook Strait on the Interislander Ferry to go back from the South Island to the North Island, the realization that our New Zealand journey is drawing to a close dawned upon us… However we still had a few precious weeks (and one precious guest!) left and we were determined to make the most out of them.
We drove back north to Auckland via the east coast (as opposed to the west coast we took at the beginning of our trip, travelling south). Despite being on a rushed schedule, we still discovered and enjoyed beautiful beaches, crazy volcanic villages, and – this being New Zealand – wine.
Once we were back on the North Island we started trying to sell our car. Long, unfun story, that also involved washing & vacuuming the car multiple times. We were delighted to discover the New Car Smell is just a coin away!
Heading northeast, we stayed at the lovely coastal town of Napier for one night. A last-minute booking, Parkside Lodge, was a wonderful hipster-ish surprise – vintage furniture, home baked cookies, and fresh herbs in the kitchen. We went for a jog in a small park near the lodge that was a miniature copy of London’s Serpentine Park (only this one topped it with a miniature train model all around the lake).
The next day we toured Art Deco Napier. The town was completely ruined in a 1931 earthquake, and the whole city was re-built in the Art Deco style. A small but yummy farmers market also contributed to our favorable impression of Napier.
Napier is part of the Hawkes Bay region, the second largest wine producing area in New Zealand. We sampled wine at a couple of wineries including Mission Bay, the oldest winery in New Zealand, dating back to 1851 (pictured here).
Next on our itinerary was lovely lake Taupo, part of an active geothermal region. We visited the impressive Huka river and enjoyed great weather and the famous “Huka Blue”.
We also helped some tourists take photos.
And took some photos ourselves.
We visited the “Craters of the Moon” park, where rotten-eggs-smelling (aka sulfur) steam comes out of the ground. The craters are created when something blocks the steam for too long, building pressure, until it blows it away.
Sometimes getting a bit out of control…
Next up was Rotorua – a small town smack in the middle of this very active geothermal region. A lovely byproduct of that is the strong rotten eggs smell that accompanies you wherever you go in Rotorua and the vicinity. Appetizing!
We visited Whakarewarewa – a Maori village in the outskirts of Rotorua. This village has many cool things going for it: First, it has one of the longest geographical names in the world (full name is “Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao”), and second, it’s a real live village right next to active thermal steam holes, mud pools and hot springs. Here you can see a house with steam coming out from multiple holes in its back yard.
Some houses in the village right next to a boiling thermal pool. Every once in a while the steam holes might shift their locations, turning up too close to someone’s house and forcing the residents to evacuate.
Residents use the hot water for bathing, and the steam for cooking – this is an old steam oven built around a steam hole. We tasted their traditional (well, very non-traditional for us!) geothermal-cooked-corn which they sell in the village’s restaurant. It was nice, just like any other corn.
Another attraction in the village is a couple of geysers that erupt every hour or so.
We watched a Maori cultural show which included some dancing and singing – we were afraid it was going to be an uber-commercial, fake tourist trap – but it ended up being really charming and low-key. (Plus we have some killer shots with the guy on the right! The big tongue and wide open eyes are the two sought-after features in a good warrior.)
Continuing north, our next stop was Taurengua (great coffee) and Mount Manganui. Good coffee, great bakery, awesome beach, inactive volcano – what else can you ask for? Oh yeah, they are known for teaching surfing at school there. Sweet as!
Lots of pebbles!
We may or may not have taken one as a souvenir.