This is the final part of our road trip in New Zealand! Don’t forget to read the first 3 parts before, so you can get the full story:
- 1/4 – South Island: From Christchurch to Te Anau
- 2/4 – South Island: From Te Anau to Picton
- 3/4 – North Island: From Wellington to Rotorua
- 4/4 – North Island: From Rotorua to Auckland
On the outskirts of Rotorua, we went to a living Maori village called…
Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopatauawahiao (no, I swear I haven’t just made that up). It means “The uprising of the war parties of Wahiao“. It’s been shortened to Whakarewarewa to make it easier to pronounce.
During our tour, one of us in the group asked the guide (one of the locals) what it was like to live in a village constantly full of tourists. He replied they got used to it during business hours. But they become a lot more territorial after 5pm when outsiders are not welcome anymore. They see the positive side of tourism though, as it helps them preserve their culture. It smells very strongly of sulphur in the air, like rotten eggs. They use the heat of the earth to cook their meals, which they also sell to tourists.
It was a real immersive experience! We also saw a Haka, traditional Maori dance performed by a local group living in the village. Close by, there is the largest geyser in New Zealand which naturally erupts at least once every hour: the Pohutu Geyser.
Our last geothermal activity in Rotorua was the Hell’s Gate Geothermal Park where we saw mud pools at a temperature over 100°C, hot pools even hotter than that, a sulphur lake and Kakahi falls among other things. The hottest pool in Hell’s Gate is at 122°C at the surface and 144°C at 1 metre deep:
We even tried Maori carving and pushed the experience even further by getting a private mud bath, followed by a sulphur spa. Yes, we basically bathed in a stinky substance but it’s known to be good for you (or at least that’s what they say). We only found out later we should have kept our sunglasses on when bathing though. Our eyes were crying a lot and at some point we had to get out, it was hurting too much. We obviously couldn’t touch our eyes with our hands full of sulphur… Our swimsuits still smell like rotten eggs but I don’t want to throw them away because it reminds me of Rotorua. I’m not sure we’ll ever use them again though.
Hobbiton Movie Set
Rotorua is also the closest big city to Hobbiton Movie Set. It was just amazing to see a place where great actors filmed world famous movies! Hobbiton was set up in 1999 to film The Lord of the Rings trilogy but was then taken down. It’s only in 2009 that they rebuilt it for The Hobbit trilogy, this time with permanent material. There are 39 hobbit holes with different dimensions based on the needs for the camera angle. This is one of the top things to do in New Zealand’s North Island so it gets very busy. The experience gets fully immersive when they offer you handcrafted drinks at the Green Dragon Inn!
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
We also visited the Waitomo Glowworm Caves but it’s worth knowing you will not be allowed to take any pictures there. I was a bit disappointed at first but then realised I wouldn’t have been able to get any decent pictures anyway as you need professional equipment to capture the beauty of it in the dark. I remember feeling a bit claustrophobic down in the cave as it gets quite deep – 45 metres underground! – and there is no way to escape easily. But I would say it was worth the ride, even if you don’t get to see the worms glowing for very long (only at the end of the tour).
Bay of Islands
For the last part of our trip in North Island, we decided to go to Paihia so we could take a cruise from there and visit the Bay of Islands (which is a collection of more than 140 subtropical islands in total!). We navigated to Motukokako (also known as “The Hole in the Rock“) but we couldn’t pass through due to rough seas. The Captain said it was only possible for 30-40% of cruises.
It was not a big deal for us as what happened soon after was amazing: we first spotted a dolphin and already felt lucky… Until we saw more and more tagging along and playing with the waves created by our boat, hundreds of them! There were wild dolphins (not fed by humans) so they were here because they chose to say “Hi”. Magical… No picture would capture the moment better than our memories.
Finally, we spent our last day of our road trip in Auckland so we went on top of the Sky Tower to look at the city from above. It’s the tallest free standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere but it’s actually not that tall… just a little bit taller than the Eiffel Tower. Up there at 220 metres high above street level, the floor is transparent so you better not have vertigo. There are various options to eat and drink too, we chilled for a bit at the Sky Café with a Lemon & Paeroa drink (aka L&P).
That ends our road trip in New Zealand! We stayed in no less than 17 places across both islands and drove more than 5,000 kilometres via the most scenic routes we’ve ever seen. Now it’s fair to say it was exhausting to be on the road and sometimes we would have needed some days just to rest. There is so much to see in a limited period of time that it’s easy to forget about the importance of “doing nothing”, we felt like we had to make the most of it no matter what.
When we arrived in New Zealand in February 2020, there were no cases of coronavirus. But then a lot can happen in a few weeks… When we left 6 weeks later, people were asked to self-isolate and some couldn’t even enter the country. I think it shows how important it is to always prioritise projects that make you happy, don’t postpone for too long as you never know!
So… What country will you go to first when all travel restrictions are lifted? New Zealand?
Big Girl x