New Zealand Holiday – North Island Highlights

For a long time I’ve held a romantic view about travelling around New Zealand.  When flights were advertised by Jetstar for $149.00-199.00 from Adelaide to Auckland I had to take advantage of it.  Scott and I also celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary on 19 February 2014 and so I wanted to do something special.

When booking and planning a holiday I like to spend time researching and working through different activities, places to visit and consider recommendations from friends, family and colleagues.  I booked most of the accommodation from Australia but not car hire or any of the activities. I also contacted a couple of business networks with events sourced via Eventbrite to make arrangements to connect in New Zealand.


Arriving in Auckland late (after 11.00 pm) on Wednesday night (26.2.14) we picked up a hire car from the airport and drove to our Auckland CBD based apartment sleeping in til late morning the next day.

On Thursday we spent the day exploring Auckland particularly Viaduct Harbour with all the pop-ups as well as Mount Eden which is a dormant volcano not far from the city with fantastic views.Tower view

That night we attended an event called A Few Quiet Yarns with mostly entrepreneurs (150+ people) and contacts in the IT sector.  Ryan who hosted the event went around twice during the night and introduced everyone by name and organisation – no mean feat!

The next day we checked out of the hotel and went to the Auckland Sky Tower – something that I had seen photos of but I didn’t realise it was 60 storeys high and it partly reminded me of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  People bungee (or sky jump) off this tower and there are groups that walk around the top of the tower strap to the tower with a safety cord.  There is a screen that counts down how long til the next jumper, although they go by the tower very quickly the expressions and gasps from people watching is hilarious.

Driving north from Auckland we headed to Whangarei (Wh is pronounced F and it takes a while to get used to this!) where we stopped to see the marina and have wood oven pizza for lunch at a local brewery.  The drive is pretty, although windy in parts and the countryside was very green – very much like Tasmania.

Bay of Islands

We drove into Paihia where we were staying for a few days and it so reminded me of far north Queensland – it looks very similar too and it was hot (even though it as actually only 25 or so – a different kind of humid!)

This seaside town is very cute with a touch of style too especially the 35 degrees waterside deck bar and restaurants. Visit places like the Thai restaurant on the esplanade for dinner, the Splash Bar for a casual drink or to watch the rugby, Movenpick for ice-cream and you must have fish n chips one night from Vinnies.

Saturday and Sunday was spent in and around the Bay of Islands region including exploring Haruru Falls, travelling across on the ferry to adorable Russell, visiting the oldest stone building and house in KeriKeri plus breakfast at the local farmers markets.  The views are endless, stunning in fact and I guess in NZ you get used to seeing such epic sights with islands dotting the ocean not far from the shore.

On the Sunday afternoon we bought tickets for the Fullers Great Sights Dolphin Cruise to Hole in the Rock cruise and I can’t recommend this enough.  Imagine dolphins surrounding the boat, 2, 3 and 4 dolphins jumping up into the air and showing off for the tour boats. Loads of birds, schools of fish moving across the surface of the sea and with the possibility of seeing whales depending on the time of year.

Past numerous islands the finale of the cruise is seeing the hole in the rock, getting as close as the captain can and the possibility of going through the hole.  On the day that we were out here the swell was too high however the captain did steer the boat partially into a next door cave and these structures are quite pointed, very high and give the impression of something like an iceberg.  This is a must do experience if you are in the Bay of Islands area and I loved it!

Hamilton and Waitomo

Monday saw us check out of the Scenic Hotel in Paihia and drive south past Auckland to Hamilton which is much more of an economic hub, a focus for transport, logistics and heavier industry.  Essentially an overnight stop to break the journey we found some time for shopping and stayed in a upmarket motor lodge that was quite new and had a very friendly, helpful couple managing it – the Astra Motor Lodge.

That night we enjoyed a dinner in a funky venue that was the old bank in the main street with a quirky dimly lit interior and a great meal.  The next morning Jessica had a couple of videos to upload for a client’s social media campaign so we found an internet café in the town square where we had to put our hands over our ears because of some of the colourful language with gamers focused on their task at hand.

The drive to Waitomo took about an hour and arriving around lunch time we grabbed a bite to eat at Florences Kitchen before boarding the mini bus for the 3.25 hour Spellbound Glowworm Cave tour (thanks for the recommendation Miriam).  The fellow who hosted the tour knew the region and the caves very well pointing out sink holes and how things had changed since he was young.  At the entrance to the first cave we donned our white helmets, turned on our lamps and wandered past the water into the cave.

Glowworm cave

I’ve never been caving before and this was a fabulous first experience.  Once our sight adjusted we could see the glow worms on the ceiling of the cave and the highlight was boarding a rubbery dingy, floating out over the water course and hearing a distant waterfall inside the cave in pitch black darkness.  The tour guide asked us to be quiet and hone our senses which became heightened especially our sight changing from seeing nothing in the blackness to seeing outlines, a ceiling where the glow worms looked like a peppered starry night sky.  Such a great activity that gave me an appreciation of where I was and I found it very reflective.

Once out of the first cave, with a coffee and biscuit break we walked across the property to a second dry cave.  In this cave there were boardwalks and lights throughout with a cathedral like opening up to the surface with lots of lush growth that looked like palms and ferns to me.  Needless to say this tour sat alongside the hole in the rock cruise – different but equally spectacular.

Bay of Plenty

A little bit more driving ahead of us as we headed east to Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty.  Staying in the Hotel on Devonport in the centre of town and one street back from the water this was definitely “Jess Perry approved”!

For Wednesday we slept in, went to the local gym, and explored the city and Mount Maunganui which has a cool main street/shopping strip.  That night we attended the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce business networking event that night at a local business – a funeral home!  Interesting to say the least… however we made some really good connections.  After a late dinner at a bar/restaurant on the water’s edge with local business people we headed back to the hotel and relaxed as the next day was going to be an adventurous day.


Thursday was all about Rotorua, the adventure capital of the North Island and having researched a bunch of different activities we called in to the visitors centre to make a decision on what to do.  Before we arrived in the town centre we could see some of the crazy things that you could do and we could smell the sulphur.  Be prepared for something that is like hair removal cream or perming lotion.  Steam rises from fissures around Lake Rotorua, the parks and gardens, even the storm drains – a very unusual sight!  The lake is far bigger than what I imagined and the museum is very popular with sulphur fields just behind it.

I went into the visitors centre and so got to decide what we would do and buy the tickets – 3 activities including a choice of 2 at theAgroventures Adventure Park and then Zorb balls.  It is far more cost effective to buy a 3 adventure ticket from the visitors centre rather than paying for the individual activities.

Scott had heard about the Swoop from his mate Steve who had been in NZ just a few weeks before and so we thought we’d give this a go.  One group went ahead of us so it didn’t really give much time to prepare as I Iike to see how others react.  So up onto the platform and strapped into the ‘bag’ that looked like 3 golf club bags put together a crane started to pull us up higher and higher.  My face went from haha smiley to absolute horror and a go pro captured the whole thing!  I was in the middle with Scott to my left and Jess on my right.  My dearest husband Scott pretended that he couldn’t pull the rip cord… and when he did we dropped, I screamed continuously and ear piercingly, and then we swung, long swings or swoops back and forth.  As we came closer to the ground I felt much more relaxed and could enjoy the motion.

Swoop photo

A very scary experience and so then going on the Agrojet (jet sprint boat) around a muddy, tight, figure 8 track seemed easy.  Back towards Rotorua the final activity was Zorb balls where in our bathers and a zorb ball filled with water, Jess and I raced Scott in a separate ball down a straight hill track at OGO.  So much fun, it’s like being on a waterslide, laughing all the way this was so funny especially capturing it on video (thanks Jess for holding the go pro) and with the reward of a warm spa at the finish.

Back into town we had dinner at the historic Pig & Whistle Historic pub and then wandered around the Rotorua Night Market.  A tiring day but loads of fun we drove back to Tauranga via Hells Gate but the scent wasn’t something that we could manage and so we gave the mud baths a miss.

Friday morning saw us have coffee with Anne from the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce and a chat about business opportunities in this fast growing region.  Heading north towards Auckland for our final night we stooped for lunch in Matamata the home of theHobbiton with a very cute looking visitors’ information centre – called icentres in NZ.

On Friday night we checked into a hotel near the airport and we went to hippest strip in Auckland called Ponsonby, for dinners and drinks – fish n chips plus cider at Ponsonby Central.  A very cool NZ way to top off an awesome holiday which I really enjoyed.  The next morning we got to the airport, chilled out in the Qantas club, and then flew home to Adelaide departing Auckland at 1.05 pm.  Arriving in Adelaide at 3.25 pm we met our family and shared our stories including the side splitting Swoop and Zorb balls videos!

Check out the photos here.

Written by Wendy Perry, 2 April 2014.

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