New Zealand’s North Island is compact enough, (not to mention abundantly laden with fabulous things to see and do), to justify that quick hop across the ditch for a long weekend. We’ve put together a itinerary of some of our favourite activities that will ensure you make the most of your time in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Due to the time difference, a civilised mid-morning departure from the East Coast of Australia will see you landing in Auckland mid-afternoon. We suggest you spend the night in one of Auckland’s city hotels, the closer to its buzzing waterfront quarters (Wynyard, Britomart or the Viaduct) the better.
From Auckland, Waitomo is an easy and scenic drive through impossibly pretty rural countryside, making it your logical first stop.
As the boat slowly pulls away from the jetty, even the whispers cease. This underground river is a place of almost complete silence, apart from the sound of the boat moving through water that is blacker than coal. But as your eyes adjust to the darkness, the cavern is lit from above by the bioluminescent posteriors of thousands of tiny glow worms.
The boat emerges from the cave all too quickly, its blinking like bats, as it makes its way to a sunlit bush track that leads back to the well stocked gift shop and ticket office. You may be tempted to take the tour all over again, but you wouldn’t want to miss out on the more adrenaline-pumping activities on offer, like quad biking and black water rafting.
Soon after you leave Waitomo, keep an eye out for the iconic giant apple Their gargantuan real fruit ice creams are legendary, and will set you up nicely for the two-hour drive to Rotorua.
Don’t be alarmed by the smell of sulphur that greets you in Rotorua: after a short while your nose will likely forget about it. That smell is due to the fact that Rotorua is built on and around an active geothermal area, so the pay-off for the pong is countless steaming fumeroles, hot springs and boiling mud pools.
Rotorua has long been a tourist mecca, so there is a plethora of activities to choose from, ranging from rafting the highest commercially-rafted waterfall in the world (its 7-metre drop will coax a squeal from even the most stoic of riders) to slathering yourself in volcanic mud or careering down the side of Mt Ngongotaha on what amounts to a boogie board equipped with brakes, wheels and handle bars. The views from up here are spectacular, so if you’re too timid to tackle the luge, it’s still well worth riding the gondola to the lookout.
After all that excitement, we recommend that you finish your day with a restful soak in the mineral hot pools at Polynesian Spa, which also offers a variety of mud wraps and massages and some of the best lake views in town.
As you head out of town on your way back to Auckland, you may spot very large inflatable balls rolling and bouncing down a hillside. Closer inspection will reveal that there are people inside the balls, channelling their inner hamster as the ball turns around them. If you’re tempted to join the madness (which is even more fun than it looks), we recommend you take the wet option.
A bit less than halfway back to Auckland you’ll find the picturesque town of Matamata. It may not look much, but it’s well known throughout the world for its stage name: Hobbiton. A nearby farm provided the location for the Shire in the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies, and when filming wrapped for the final time, the sets were left in place, including 44 hobbit holes and the Green Dragon Inn. Take the tour for the inside scoop on the filming of the movies, then head to the Green Dragon to lunch on Beef and Ale pie and Hobbit-approved beer or cider.
By now its time to head for the airport. But if time permits, we recommend you celebrate the end of a fun road trip by honouring the Kiwi tradition of a visit to Candyland at Taupiri. Watch the different candies being made and then stock up on treats to take home.
And that’s the end of our little road trip. If we have you feeling inspired, we suggest you round up some friends and/or family and start planning your own visit, with the help of your personal travel manager.