Note: This journey was done in Jan/Feb 2018.
I flew into Auckland from Sydney, which took about 3.5 hours. There wasn’t very much in Auckland itself, being a small city. There was a harbor which had several massive cruise ships parked and its passengers alighting for a day off their vessels.
During one of the evenings I was there, I took a walk up to Mount Eden for a panoramic scenic view of the city. The hill is basically a dormant volcano with a grass-covered crater.
After 2 nights in Auckland, I quickly moved on to places that interested me most about New Zealand; Hobbiton and Rotorua.
To go to Hobbiton (located in tiny Matamata), I stayed in Rotorua and booked a tour which took up half a day. Was it everything I imagined it to be? Yes and no. It was fun to see the homes of Bilbo, Frodo, Sam Gamgee etc. However, the number of tourists, which is expected, me being one of them as well, was too many which resulted in tour groups rushing everyone to move from spot to spot.
Back in Rotorua, I spend part of a day visiting “Hell’s Gate”, an area filled with many sulfuric pools of boiling mud. The gray-ish landscape, complete with the smell of sulphur in the air and smokey plumes ascending from many holes in the ground, did make it seem like some kind of hell. However, there was about 15 minutes where I found myself walking all alone. It was serene and I thought for a split second, “Hell’s not so bad. It’s nice and quiet and oddly beautiful in its own grotesque way.” To round off my visit, I went for a mud bath. The drawback to this fun activity is that one will smell of sulphur for a few days. It was mildly annoying to shower with soap each day and still smell like sulphur after a week.
During my last evening in Rotorua, I went on a tour of the Tamaki Maori Village. It was a staged experience of course as the Maoris are a modern bunch now. Many of the Maori tattoos on the people hosting us were fake. The “hangi” dinner we ate was delicious, the “haka chants” were catchy and motivational (I’d definitely be doing that dance on the eve of any battle), the songs sung were lovely, and the main host was hilarious. Overall, an entertaining evening that provided a little bit of insight into the former Maori way of life, even if it was all a performance.
After Rotorua, I made stops in Taopo and Turangi. Nothing of note in those cities. The main aim of mine moving southward was to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 19.4 km hike that would take 6-7 hours. During the hike, we passed Mount Doom (of Lord of the Rings fame), as well as hiking up and down smaller mountains, surrounded by many different kinds of scenery. The hike itself was quite exhausting. The wet weather did not help matters. But overall, a good day of physical fun.
I had originally wanted to fly across to South Island from Wellington but I had some personal reasons that I wanted to be back in Malaysia for. With some time left before needing to be in Wellington, I decided I’d re-route and head back northward with the intention to fly from Auckland to Wellington (flights were cheap) and then taking a plane from Wellington back to Malaysia.
During my northward journey, I took a detour to Tauranga and Whitianga. What drew me to those spots were the famous Cathedral Cove and the fun Hot Water Beach. Although Cathedral Cove was nothing more than a hole in a hill shaped like a cathedral, Hot Water Beach was where people had to show up at certain hours of the day (low-tide), spade in hand, to dig themselves a hot water pool in the sand. Not all spots emitted a nice source of hot water so one had to dig in multiple spots until hitting a vein of water which was heated underneath by the geothermal activity below.
After Whitianga, I took a bus back to Auckland because I had another thing on my to-visit list that was originally out of the way and I was going to skip; Waitomo Caves, home of the famous glow-worms. What I had read was that the inside of Waitomo was supposed to look like twinkling stars in a pitch-dark night. In reality, it was a crowded 1 hour tour that comprised mostly of tour guides spewing info about rock formations in the cave was uninteresting and at times, corny. (They made us sing songs to test the acoustics of the cave. No thanks!) The glow-worm exhibition itself lasted 10 minutes but I will say, it was a wonderful 10 minutes. I still think the tour was overpriced and I regretted going. Since I missed South Island this time, I have it in my sights for another day.
For a few more pictures of New Zealand, click here.