After 2 flights and a time shift of +6 hours we found ourselves in Auckland, New Zealand. Stepping off the plane what hit me first was the temperature; it was pleasant, in fact I was almost tempted to put on a jumper. It wasn’t long however before we were reminiscing about the sunshine of Thailand; by the time we reached our car hire office the heavens had opened and the roads were awash with water. Thankfully it was only one of New Zealand’s short, sharp showers and before we knew it the sun was shining and we were set loose on the rush hour roads of Auckland.
Feels just like home
Having some form of transport was important for us; with 2 months in New Zealand we wanted the freedom to move at our own pace and visit areas off the beaten track. Initially we had romantic notions of travelling around in a campervan, however the cost and the practicality of a car outweighed that of a van, and we are now the proud drivers of a Nissan Tiida.
Our hot new ride
Being a country which drives on the left side of the road we anticipated few issues, yet despite requesting a manual drive car we found ourselves in an automatic – easier to drive some would say, yet it took us both a while to accept that we really didn’t need to do anything with our left legs.
Whilst Auckland isn’t the capital of New Zealand it is the most populous city, containing a third of the national population. Despite this, it doesn’t have a city feel – the pace is relaxed, and its many volcanic cones provide islands of green within the sea of suburbs. We didn’t have long in Auckland, and so we split what time we did have between exploring the city centre, home to the iconic Sky Tower, and walking up Mt Eden, Auckland’s highest volcanic cone, for an stunning panorama.
View of Auckland, over the crater of Mt Eden
Visiting New Zealand’s cities isn’t what we came for and we were happy to hit the road, especially having mastered the art of no gears. Our first destination was the Tawharanui peninsula, about an hours drive north of Auckland and slightly off the main tourist trail. It is also the site of New Zealand’s first marine park and it was here that we got our first taste of New Zealand’s epic coastline. Beautiful white beaches with sapphire blue water; not quite as warm as the Andaman Sea but definitely not cold by British standards.
An extra treat was our hostels own microbrewery. New Zealand’s wines are celebrated but what is less documented is the booming craft-beer scene, and so after an afternoon of jumping through waves, we relaxed with a refreshing home brew.
Like the UK’s YHA, New Zealand has a similar network (‘BBH’) of self catered hostel accommodation, offering a range of rooms with communal cooking facilities. Having spent the last 6 months eating out for breakfast, lunch and tea we are enjoying cooking for ourselves again. Despite some initial hiccups involving mistaken vegetable identities, we have brushed away the cobwebs and look forward to meal times.
Better than your average bus stop
It was always going to be impossible to see all that New Zealand has to offer yet avoid the crowds, and this was the case of our next destination, the Bay of Islands. Ranked as one of New Zealand’s top sights, The Bay of Islands is famed for its breathtaking scenery, as well as being the site of New Zealand’s first permanent British settlement. It was here that the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document of New Zealand and a linchpin of race relations, was drawn up.
In an attempt to reduce the number of tourists we came into contact with we found ourselves a small family run hostel, where comfy sofas and amazing views over the bay made it difficult to leave. We did however make it out and spent a couple of days exploring the local area. A particular highlight was a boardwalk trail which led through forest, mangrove swamps and along the banks of a river to a thundering waterfall.
Another busy morning
From the Bay of Islands our journey through New Zealand will continue south, down the length of the North Island and then onto the South Island.