A short, solo journey throughout New Zealand, discovering the magnificence of one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Before I start telling you all about my journey, I would like to share the absolute jewel that is this website. Robin and Laura spent a gap year in New Zealand, doing pretty much everything the country has to offer. Although they are far more adventurous than I am – you will find me at the spa, not jumping off a plane – I have planned most of my journey based on their tips and advice. From itinerary to activities, their website was a significant source of inspiration.
Another thing you may want to know before we go any further: I am an unrepentant Lord of the Rings fan – if the title hadn’t given it away. Lots of the places I visited were more or less linked to Tolkien’s universe, one way or another.
With that said, let’s get into the good stuff!
For the sake of context, I spent a few days in Melbourne before my trip to New Zealand because of work. I took two pieces of luggage with me: a trolley case with my professional clothes and my neutral clothes – that means clothing that can be dressed up for work or dressed down to wear on my holiday – and a backpack with my outdoor/sports gear – and by that I mean swimsuit, hiking trousers, hiking shoes, etc. I left the trolley case in Australia and took only the backpack with me to New Zealand with a mix of outdoor clothing and neutral clothing.
I first landed in Auckland on 12 October at 5 AM. First impression? Early morning bio-security procedures are no fun, my friends! New Zealand is cautious about what comes inside the country, and I think it is brilliant that they seek to protect the fantastic flora and fauna they have. However, you better be prepared for the onslaught of questions coming your way. You should be particularly careful about not bringing any food with you and do make sure that your outdoor gear is squeaky clean before you get on that plane! That being said, the staff was extremely helpful and patient – especially considering they were up and working at 5 AM.
Second impression? How cold! How can it be so cold! Isn’t it spring? I was told it would be springtime. The rain on my first day was no joke. After leaving my bag at the hostel, I raided second-hand shops for a scarf and a heavy knit jumper. Those included:
Funnily enough, all the shops I visited are on Karangahape Road, which was minutes away from the place I stayed at. I did find a great, white and grey checkered scarf that kept me warm throughout my journey, but no jumper.
After that, I walked around the city, getting a taste of the ambience. My favourite bits of architecture were all Art Déco – I love this type of architecture. If you are like me, you will enjoy the cities in New Zealand. I saw a lot of two-storey houses with delicate overhangs. Napier (North Island) is particularly famous for its Art Déco architecture. I didn’t visit it, I will definitely do this on my next trip.
I particularly liked St Kevins Arcade, where there was a lovely traditional sake’n’ soba shop, vegan restaurants, and an adorable coffee shop. I got to try one of the best vegan burgers I have had in a while. After that, I shamefully fell asleep around 5 PM, because my crazy work hours of the previous days finally caught up with me.
My goal was to see as much as I could in the 13 days I had to do so. This is why I landed in Auckland and went pretty far up the North Island to the Bay of Islands as soon as possible. I got a first taste of the Kiwi countryside while riding the bus to Paihia. As a side note, I did most of my travelling by bus. It is one of the best ways to go around both islands if you travel alone and/or don’t want to drive on the left side of the road. Several bus companies offer different types of services. Some are really tourism-oriented. That means that you will get full commentary while you ride the bus and the driver will often stop to let you take photos. In a way, it is very much about the journey and less about the destination. I decided to use the national bus services because that would allow me to visit both islands. You can find more information about these options as well as their pros and cons here.
I rode the bus to Paihia, and I quickly understood that I was already falling in love with New Zealand. The one reason being: the landscapes are majestic and out of this world. I admit that I was listening to the LOTR soundtrack for most of my journey, and that put me in a great mood, but the country itself is frankly magnificent. The thing about New Zealand is that it is home to amazingly diverse micro-countries. What I mean by that is that as you travel from one place to another, the whole landscape transforms before your very eyes. One valley may remind you of Yellowstone, the next of the North of Italy, and the next harbours a tropical forest. You never know what’s the next wonder and it is magical!
I took a cruise around the Bay of Islands and saw the famous Hole in the Rock. We didn’t go through the tunnel because, as you can see in the picture, the weather was quite unstable.
We didn’t get to see any dolphins, but the landscapes were so entrancing that I barely noticed. Some of these islands are private, others aren’t. There are some great hikes in the area, and I would love to do more hiking next time I visit.
We were fed on the boat – lucky us! The skipper was great and she provided us with very interesting comments on the geological, environmental and historical aspects of the Bay. There are lots of volcanoes around the island, which makes it a very interesting place to see. She let us know about the Manuka Tree (you may have heard of Manuka Honey), which grows extremely slowly. They are actually endangered by the proliferation of possums in the country. The Kiwis are doing their best to protect Manuka trees. We also heard about Captain Cook – although he wasn’t a captain at the time! – first arriving in New Zealand. We then proceeded back to Auckland. I tried my best to take a good picture of the city during sunset, but I failed. Please enjoy this much-better photo by Dan Freeman.
Stay tuned for my third day in New Zealand, where I fulfilled a childhood dream!