Our trip on the North Island followed more than 2 weeks of traveling on the South Island. Since both of us prefer nature, wilderness and bushwalks, we knew that the North Island will be more civilized and more crowdy. However, the map seemed interesting with words like “lakes”, “hot springs” and “alpine crossings”. We took the Interislander ferry from the South to North Island and landed in Wellington on the last day of 2017.
For those not in the know, Wellington is a capital of New Zealand. It became a capital in the past when the situation regarding population on the islands was reversed – when there were more people on the South Island than on the North one. Those days, they decided to move the capital closer to the South Island, and more to the center of the country for various reasons, also to avoid potential separation of the 2 islands into 2 different countries.
Anyway: after landing in Wellington, we had a really short stay there. We visited the New Year’s ceremony in the waterfront area, which was quite peaceful. In our country Slovenia, there would be bottles everywhere, and people would party on the street until early morning. In Wellington, quickly after the midnight, everything settled to the clubs which were jaming close to the waterfront venue.
The next day, we did a walk around the waterfront, and it was a very interesting experience. That part of the city is vibrant with interesting art, and walk by the beach is pleasing. There is also plenty of boards from which you can learn about the history of New Zealand.
Te Mata Peak and Waimarama
From Wellington, we ventured up north, first on the western side, but we quickly learned that probably a more interesting way is on the east side. The point on our schedule was Te Mata Peak, which is definitely worth a hike. More by the way, or because of the wish to surf New Zealand, we headed to Waimarama, a village with a beautiful beach. And from the experience, we can only recommend you to go there. The beach is beautiful for both swimming and surfing, there is a camping in the village, and the landscape is really great.
If you are driving northwards from Waimarama towards Napier (what we did), you pass exactly by the walk which takes you to the mountain range that consists of a few peaks, one of them being Te Mata. As the walk from that direction goes mainly on the exposed land, we suggest you do it on a cloudy day, or early in the morning or later in the evening. It’s quite short, but since you gain quite a lot of vertical, it can be tiring as well. There is an alternative option of driving up higher from the other side as well. From the peak, there are beautiful views on both the Bay of Plenty and in the direction of Waimarama. Very recommended!
The area of Bay of Plenty is also very full of wineries which can be visited for wine tasting, and offer amazing wines.
Taupo area: Huka Falls, and Wairakei Terraces Spa
From there, we headed up northeast towards Taupo area. Taupo is a lake with a resort town just beside the lake. We were unfortunate with the weather in that area, as it was raining cats and dogs – so we put up the ponchos, and went for a few shorter walks. And since Taupo is so resort-oriented, it is not difficult to find those around there.
One of the most famous free walks around there is a walk to Huka Falls – well, there are 2 options, you may simply drive to the bridge where you see the falls, or Park a bit further away and walk there. If you feel like walking, like we did, then going there on foot is a nice easy walk which can be done in literally any weather. We were, however, a bit disappointed by the falls themselves, as they seemed more like a narrowed river, with a relatively very small vertical drop. Spoiled from the South Island, we expected more glorious falls.
Because Taupo is a geothermal land, there are other options to explore really beautiful and special effects that Nature has to offer: such as geysers, craters, and an area which was formed by geothermal activity. There is a “moon walk” and Wairakei Geothermal walk in the vicinity, but both of them are paid self-guided walks. Since we saw similar things already in the Azores, we didn’t go in, but on the pictures, it seems very good.
Another thing we did – and can only say that it’s well worth the money – is visiting the Wairakei Terraces Spa. The spa offers multiple pools, filled directly by the natural hot water, originating from the natural hot springs above the spa, through a hot river. Pools are stacked one above the other, with gradually falling temperatures, as the water is flowing among them. A one-time-entry pass without time limit is 25 NZD and it’s more than worth it. There are some leaves and natural matter swimming in the hot water, so it really feels like natural hot pools – even though everything is made in a way to be safe and tourist-friendly. We went there quite early, which has proven to be a good idea because later on, the pools fill up with more people.
Tongariro Alpine crossing
From hot pools, we headed to Tongariro crossing and did a hike there. The Crossing, which is supposed to take you around 5-6 hours is one of the most beautiful day walks on Earth and takes you through volcanic mountains and land from one side of Tongariro to another. You may only do it with a pre-booked transfer in one direction because you can not park on the parking at the start of the trail for more than 4 hours. Which means that you park somewhere else, then a bus takes you to the start of the crossing, and you walk your way over the hills. Well, another option – if you have enough time – is probably that you go both ways and park further away, but most of the hikers opt for one of the shuttles.
The walk was at the time we were there very busy. Literally, people were walking in a line. The path is well-formed, but proper equipment is necessary. You may also park for 4 hours close to the crossing, and just do one part of the track. There are interesting things, like falls and views, on the way, to which you can get in both directions in 4 hours.
Kawhia hot water beach and Pirongia Forest Park
There are multiple hot water springs on the North Island – and as far as we know, there are 2 hot water beaches. The hot water beaches in New Zealand are sandy beaches in which you can feel hot water coming from the sand, usually at the low tide when the spring is not covered by seawater (in that case, you don’t feel it). Actually, to get the actual feeling of hot water, you must dig a hole in the sand, which is then flooded by hot water from the underground spring. You may visit one of those beaches in Coromandel park, but we went all the way to the west side of the island, to Kawhia area. It looked interesting on the map.
To enjoy a hot water beach in New Zealand, you need:
(1) an information when the tide is right – low tide, so the hot water springs are not flooded
(2) a shovel to dig a pool for yourself, and your loved ones
You can get both in a camping, or probably some other accommodation provider. In Kawhia, they have them, as the hot water beach is the thing which is driving tourists to this otherwise beautiful, but a calm village.
If you don’t fancy that option, you may find tide information on the Internet (just search for it), and get your own shovel. But there are normally some people who already dug something before you came, so you may use one of those little pools if you don’t plan to enjoy there for a few hours.
Since we drove so far to the west side, we had to make a hike, and Pirongia Forest Park seemed to have the potential. And it did have it. There is a number of walks that take between 1 and 3 hours and take you to the peaks with amazing views. The path can be a bit more difficult than in the areas which are the main attractions, but if you are into hiking, and in that area, it’s without the slightest doubt worth to walk to one of the peaks there.
Rotorua is a touristy town near Lake Rotorua. There are plenty of hikes around the town, as well as the famous Skyline gondola with the bike park which hosts Crankworx Rotorua event. Kinda big thing in mountain biking, with a well-developed scene. Close to Rotorua, which offers a beautiful lake and high tourist offerings such as scenic flights with a floatplane from the lake, there are many smaller lakes which are perfect to dip in during the summer.
In Rotorua, we can suggest you to take a walk around the town and discover their “Eat Streat” and it’s story, take one of the hikes from the town’s vicinity about which you can get well informed in a DOC Info Center in the center of the city – it’s hard to not see it.
You may also visit the Blue and Green lake, and have a look at them from a viewpoint in the middle of the 2 lakes: just look up lakes Tikitapu and Lake Rotokakahi on the map, and navigate to the point where they are the closest together. Why one is blue and another is green? Discover for yourself on the spot. The Blue Lake has a very beautiful beach on which we also enjoyed cooking a meal and swimming – like many locals – in the open, freely available area with barbeques.
Mount Maunganui and Coromandel Forest Park
After Lake Rotorua, we headed north and wanted to visit Mount Maunganui, but due to itinerary restrictions, we decided to skip it. Based on the pictures, it’s something we believe a traveler should definitely look into.
Anyway, we proceeded further to Coromandel Forest Park, which was a great finish of our amazing trip in the wild. The park has a number of campsites, and from most of the campsites, the walks start. When you are entering the park, you will pass by, and register with, the DOC office, and they will be able to suggest you what campsite fits your wishes regarding hiking, swimming, camping, and so on.
In Coromandel Forest Park, the road goes through the valley, which was formed by the river – and that river is clean enough so you can swim in it. There are certain areas like Hoffmans pool which are just perfect for a swim and even jumping in the water if you like (they are deep), and there are places close to some of the camps which are just good enough to take a dip in the evening instead of a shower. Coromandel is a really nice forest park to enjoy camping, hiking, and swimming in the river.
From Coromandel, we headed to a camping at the outskirts of Auckland.
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