North Island carries about 75% of New Zealand’s total population, with a majority in Auckland. The rain was relentless, which made it challenging to explore as much as we would have liked. That doesn’t mean we don’t have some interesting stories for you though!
Our favorite place that we visited in the North Island. It was a perfect blend of New Zealand small-town charm with metropolitan fashion and trendy dinning. You could almost walk from one end of the city to the other, but a short drive out of it offered you the rolling hills with their kaleidoscope of colors that is New Zealand’s signature mark. Cuba Street definitely had it going on. Every restaurant we passed by with amazement. Some were designed with 1920s décor, some with an Americana-vintage feeling, one was an old converted laundromat and another had lit-up neon umbrellas hanging from the ceiling. Cuba was all sorts of cool. Off Cuba Street we stumbled upon a night market offering almost any exotic street food you could dream of. The street hustle bustle was included as well as we shimmied our way through the crowd to the other end. And this awesome city happens to be located on a gorgeous, but rather windy, port. Lined with architectural-savvy bridges, innovative sculptures and a beautiful marina this seaside town won us over.
So this little town is known for their Art Deco architecture, after a post-earthquake rebuild. Honestly, we didn’t see a lot of 20s style buildings, maybe we should have looked harder. We stopped by a couple wineries with beautiful estates, but not so great grapes. This was a quick one-night stay and quite frankly, we wish we had more to say about this town.
Oh man, we were (well Leah was) so excited about the natural thermal springs!!! Then the rain came, and didn’t go away. With only a one-night stop over, we debated whether it was worth the admittance fee to experience these sulfuric pools. As the moon and stars came out, the rain gave us a break and we ran over to the Polynesian Spa to get our hot springs on! We’re so glad we did, as we tried out all the different lagoons, from various springs offering different temperatures and minerals. We also met a cool group of locals barely in their early 20s; we swapped stories from logging massive trees (them) to Hollywood movies and shows to see (us).
Major bucket list item!! Having emailed people and researched so much about the glow worm caves in Waitomo, we were both so excited to see them. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside because the noise and light really disturbs those magical young insects, so we’ll do our best to describe this super cool experience. To get to the glow worms, we walked through a dimly-lit limestone cave that resembled numerous inverted sand castles pieced all throughout these caverns. Our guide was a woman of indigenous decent, who was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about these caves and creatures. We should note that she was easily into her fifth decade and not very big in stature. More on that later. As she led us through the pristine grottos with only her words and subtle drops of moisture from these melting cone-shaped rocks, we were finally led to a wooden boat. As soon as the last person got in we were off. Nearly as impressive as the shimmering worms was our guide and how she navigated this pulley system up above with her bare hands, towing a dozen of us through the water with absolute ease. Her eagle eye in this state of complete darkness was only matched by the brightly sprinkled caves. Just imagine looking up to find the starriest sky you have ever seen only 6 feet above you with slightly blinking lights just centimeters away from the next iridescent glow… by the thousands.
Psssst…. Friend to friend, this stop was for a pillow and a hotel room.
An interesting city, so out of place among the pristine beauty that surrounds most of NZ. It is larger and more established than Wellington, but less vintage charm. It reminds you of San Francisco in a way, with all the hilly, yet walkable streets, leading to the CBD and eventually pointing towards the bay. In truth, we had a lot planned in Auckland with some great recommendations to visit Waiheke Island, but the weather did not cooperate. We still had our $1 a day 25+ year old Nissan bat mobile that struggled driving through some gravel roads, which left us with a high pitched screaming ride. Was it embarrassing rolling up to Leah’s all-time favorite Sav Blanc vineyard, Kim Crawford, in a screeching (we are NOT exaggerating) vehicle? Yes, but also quite humbling. We hope we’re not breaking a lot of hearts here, but Kim let us down in so many ways. The vineyard was owned by eccentric MALE (doesn’t everyone think our friend Kim is a woman too??) Kim Crawford, but he sold out to a huge alcohol distributor and now owns Love Block. So after we practically risked our lives to get there in our barley-hanging-in-there-ride, the wine tasting room was basically closed down and handing discounted bottles to ex-employees and we were not wanted. It did get better. We did a ton of walking and explored the main streets. Our highlight meal was at an IN-N-OUT copy-cat and let us tell you, that is the highest form of flattery! Those cheap, delicious burgers tasted of home and there might have been three double doubles plus two fries shared between us. We know there is more to do than we experienced, so as the Kiwis say, we’ll have to give it another go.
Thanks New Zealand for a couple of amazing weeks! We were constantly awe-struck by the natural beauty and greenery, which we now know is facilitated by a lot of rain. On a serious note, some of our coolest memories are from this country, camping our way through, wine tasting, heaps of prairies and cows, pristine lakes and some cool locals along the way.