New Zealand travel series: North Island
A honeymoon that includes whimsy, relaxation, adventure, and new experiences was our mission for this once in a lifetime trip after we said “I do”. After lots of researching and planning, as most trips do, we were packing our bags for two weeks in New Zealand with much anticipation to be a married couple and travel halfway across the world as Mr. and Mrs.
It started with a 17 hour plane ride, which you can read about here, then we were off to explore the country. New Zealand is in a fairly remote location and we knew we would not be back anytime soon, so we really wanted to explore as much of the country as possible. We debated renting a car and driving from the north tip to the south tip, but that would have taken roughly 26 hours of driving. We narrowed it down to flying into Auckland, renting a car there and exploring the northern area first, then taking a flight to Queenstown and renting a car there to explore the southern region.
When traveling internationally, I err on the side of disconnection from cell phones, so airplane mode with wifi connection is my best friend. We knew that we would need some sort of navigation around the country as well as a way to look up restaurants or things to do on the fly, so we rented a portable hotspot in order to get wifi connection in the car. They come at a daily rate and we picked and dropped ours off at the Auckland airport when arriving and leaving the country. I would say it worked about 90% of the time when traveling around and was well worth the cost to be able to do a google search in the car. We used POCwifi and were very pleased with the experience.
Like I said before, we rented a car in the north island and the south island each time with GO Rentals. Mainly because they were the cheapest we could find, but we had no qualms and we were happy with their service each time. Keep in mind, people drive on the left side of the rode in New Zealand, which is quite the change if you’ve never done it before. The car rentals only make you watch a 10 min video before you get on the road if you have never driven on the left side, so I would recommend researching some road rules to help you feel a little more prepared.
As many brides can attest, after months of planning a wedding the first thing you want to do is nothing. I told D that the first couple days I wanted to be on a beach and not plan anything that would stress us out.
Our first day included driving to Paihia, which you can see on the map above in the northeast corner of the island. It was the perfect little town to relax in while we stayed at Paihia Beach Resort and Spa Hotel right by the ocean. The hot tubs were phenomenal and the restaurant attached to the hotel had some exquisite food. The hotel is a short 5 minute walk from the main part of town where there are more restaurants and attractions.
Photos curtesy of Paihia Beach Resort and Spa Hotel
Bay of Islands
On our second day, we planned an excursion through viator. Normally we do not opt for guided tours, however this experience was sailing around the Bay of Islands, a stop on a private island, and a home cooked meal, which all sounded relaxing (my only requirement). The Bay of Islands is located just a short boat ride away from Paihia and holds around 140 subtropical islands that have hardly been touched. We stopped at one during the excursion where we had free reign to explore and get in the water.
Te Henga Walkway
After spending time in Paihia, we were headed south for some fun adventures in Waitomo which included a 5 hour drive that passed through Auckland. We wanted to do something active with all the driving, so we stopped at the Te Henga Walkway which was about half way into our drive on the west side of Auckland. The plan was to walk along the trail and get some fresh air since in the middle of our drive. Admittedly we drove right past the trailhead and straight to the beach that the trail overlooked and didn’t even realize it. Oops. However, we got to walk along this secluded beach that had an amazing cave and was fairly secluded.
If you have not discovered the greatness of Airbnb then you are truly missing out. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive myself when booking my first trip, however, I have had only positive experiences. I always look for excellent ratings and reviews and typically book an entire place rather then a shared space. This time we stayed at Ohaupo Olives that had the most beautiful sunrise over their olive farm and their place was about an hour away from the caves we were going to the next morning. We booked it through Airbnb and you can get $20 off your booking here!
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
A common tourist attraction for most visitors to New Zealand are the glowworm caves in Waitomo because there are only a few like it and New Zealand holds the best in the world. The caves are filled with worms that emit a glow from their sticky threads they spin to catch food. I would compare it to looking at a bright starry night sky, but in a cave.
Our Airbnb was about an hour away from the caves where we booked an experience online through The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. They have many different choices that vary in length and types of excursions, but we chose their Black Abyss package which included abseiling, a zip line, black water rafting, and experiencing glowworms. We were given wetsuits, helmets, and boots along with our bathing suits we wore there. In the spirit of transparency, I did not have the best time on this experience for the sole reason that I was freezing. The abseiling into the cave was a fun new experience and zip lining through glowworm darkness was exciting, but we then jumped into the frigid cold water to use our rafts to float the inside of the cave and walk through them. In total, we were in the close to freezing water for about three hours. Wetsuits are designed to let the cold water in and then keep it close to your body to warm up. The upper half of my body suit was slightly too big, which let the freezing cold water freely flow in and out of my suit. In short terms: I was not a happy camper.
My advice would be to take the same tour we did if you are okay with being cold and maybe opt out to find a better suited tour that lets you walk through the caves in your own clothes if you know this would make you miserable.
After some major fun around the north island, we headed to the capital of New Zealand: Auckland. Auckland is a bustling city that requires traffic about anywhere you go. We stayed in an airbnb again and explored the city with all of its major attractions including the Sky Tower, which gave some epic views of the city. As we wrapped up our time in Auckland, we were preparing for our adventures that the South Island would bring. Check it out here.