Auckland to Wellington, New Zealand (July 2013)
It’s strange how I seem to be drawn to foreign places far, far away, despite the fact that living in Australia we have some fantastic holiday destinations on our own doorstep.
However, in July 2013 I did arrange a trip closer to home. I had some work meetings scheduled in New Zealand’s Auckland and Wellington, so decided to take this opportunity to make a family holiday of it. We spent 9 days on the North Island, starting our tour at the top in Auckland and finishing up in the windy city of Wellington. The children were 10 and 6 at the time and loved this trip. They still talk about it today and ask when they can go back (and my daughter does a terrible NZ accent).
This was our itinerary: Auckland (2 nights) to Waitomo (1 night) to Hobbiton to Rotorua (2 nights) to Wellington (3 nights)
Where to stay
In Auckland and Wellington we stayed at the Grand Chancellor hotels. The locations of these hotels were great as a base to wander around the cities, they were comfortable for a family of 4 and had everything we needed to suit our budget. In Rotorua we chose the Novotel, again based on cost and location, again meeting our expectations. The real highlight of our trip though, was our one night stay at Waitomo where I found a place called Woodlyn Park. This is very unique motel accommodation located a couple of minutes from the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves; they have 10 motel units to choose from: you can stay in a boat, plane, train or hobbit units.
We chose the plane cockpit, which was converted from a real retired Bristol Freightor plane. It had a kitchenette, ensuite and slept up to 4 people. If you are up for a completely different experience, this is a fun place to stay. Being July (winter) it was very cold outside but we were toasty warm inside the plane. We had all the basic necessities including beds which were comfy enough for a one night stay.
Places to visit
We flew to Auckland on Saturday afternoon and were only staying 2 nights, so we really only had one full day (Sunday) to explore the city. Being limited to activities that young children would be interested in, we visited the Skycity Tower first. This stands 328 meters high and gives 360 degree panoramic views of the city and up to 80 kms away on a clear day. We went up to the main observation deck to enjoy the beautiful views. I admit I was a bit nervous standing on the see-through viewing platforms but the kids got a kick out of it. If you really dare, you can bungy jump off the tower – no way we were doing that! Next we walked down the main shopping street. Being Sunday it was fairly quiet. The shops were similar to what we have in Sydney, so we mainly checked out a couple of the touristy shops for souvenirs. Then we headed to the Viaduct Harbour, walked around a little, before finding a nice restaurant on one of the piers for an early dinner. Apparently there are also some great places outside town – beaches, vineyards and rainforests, for scenic walks and outdoor activities like kayaking – but we will have to save that for another time.
We left Auckland on Monday just before lunchtime (after my meeting) and took a leisurely drive in our rental car to Waitomo, approx. 2 & half hours away (plus stop for lunch), arriving at dusk to check in to our accommodation for the night. After a good night’s rest, we checked out the next morning and drove straight to Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. We spent a couple of hours there and enjoyed a boat tour through the caves, got some hot drinks and snacks at their café and spent some money in their gift shop.
Next stop, an hour & half away, was Hobbiton in Matamata for the afternoon where we took a bus tour around the shire with a very informative guide giving us lots of insight about the film location. This is an absolute ‘must’ for anyone who is a fan of the Lord of the Rings movies (like hubby) but in fact we all enjoyed this tour, even our youngest who hadn’t seen any of the movies. After our bus tour and a walk around the shire, we all stopped in at the Green Dragon Inn for a drink.
Finally we jumped back in the car and drove on another hour to Rotorua where we spent the next 2 nights. Rotorua is a very interesting place. As you get into town you will notice two things: (1) the steam drifting up from drains; and (2) the absolutely disgusting stink of sulphur. Rotorua is famous for its bubbling mud pools and geothermal landscape, due to its location in the Pacific Rim of Fire – a string of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity (earthquakes). It has spectacular geysers and hot springs, as well as cultural Maori displays. We packed a lot into one day, starting with a visit to Te Puia, where we explored geysers and boiling mud pools, saw cultural performances and learnt about some of the traditional Maori arts and crafts such as weaving.
After lunch, we headed over to the other side of Rotorua and took a ride up the Skyline Gondola, which provided spectacular views at the top. We also discovered they had a Luge up there and all had great fun, laughing as we steered ourselves at varying speeds down the winding track trying not to crash. It wasn’t cheap but was definately worth it. We finished the day with an evening Maori cultural performance and traditional hangi feast which we booked earlier. Rotorua is an amazing place to visit with lots of activities on offer – if you can cope with the smell. It was unfortunate we didn’t have long there (only one day/2 nights) as there was more we would have liked to see; although at the same time we were very glad to leave the smell!
On Thursday we left Rotorua for a long 6 & ½ hour drive to Wellington, via Lake Taupo. We drove though a little bit of snow at one point and at a fuel stop the kids enjoyed a short play and snowball fight; we also saw some magic scenery along the drive with snow capped mountains in the distance as we drove around Taupo. The Huka Falls – a powerful horizontal waterfall – was a great place to stop to stretch our legs. The gorgeous colour and enormous roar of the water was amazing.
Later in the afternoon, we also stopped at the giant gumboot in Taihape for a quick photo.
We reached our final destination at Wellington on Thursday night, and after a brief work meeting on Friday morning, spent the next couple of days wandering around the city. We checked out the Te Papa national museum (where we learnt all about their history of earthquakes), did some shopping, visited their Saturday morning underground market (arts, crafts and food) situated on the waterfront and also the famous Weta Cave workshop, which is not a cave at all, and is again highly recommended for fans of NZ made movies, like Lord of the Rings and Avatar. All of these were free activities, although you can pay extra to see the special exhibits at Te Papa museum and for a backstage tour around the workshop at Weta.
We did also attempt to drive to Martinborough on Saturday afternoon to check out the wine region however due to flooded roads we couldn’t get all the way there. At least it was a nice drive, although some of the tight turns through the misty mountains were a bit nerve-wracking!
If you want to see a lot of places in North Island, I recommend you travel by car to allow more flexibility. The main roads and highways between cities are good quality (unless flooded or snowed in) and the countryside views are spectacular.
Food was good, with lots of options everywhere we went. Families are easily catered for everywhere. Our kids got a giggle out of ordering fish ‘n chips and trying to copy the NZ accent!
No negatives on this trip. It was a little cold but to be honest we found this a nice change from our mild Sydney winter and in any case were well prepared, with plenty of warm clothing.
We missed out on seeing a lot of scenic and adventurous places around the coast, not to mention some great wine regions. Due to time constraints and two young children in tow, we designed our itinerary around family friendly activities and sites, plus had to fit in my work meetings on the Monday and Friday. One day we will take a trip back there when the kids are older … or perhaps without them. Although we also have the South Island to tour first!