One of the biggest problem about visiting New Zealand is the lack of time 🙂 I had a hard time on deciding what to do with 8 days on the North Island. We started and returned to Auckland, drove a total of around 1,300 kilometers with the campervan.
We also spent one day in Wellington too, but I would not recommend that. As I mentioned before, I think New Zealand should be all about nature 🙂 Here are my favorite things to do:
Experience of a life time, the Legendary Black Water Rafting.
Woitomo is unique due to its million larvas in the cave which light it up, in a beautiful blue color. You can go to this cave in a little boat (not getting wet) or dress up in wet suit and jump off the cliffs in the cave and form a human tube by floating in it. We went to Woitomo in the beginning of February which is considered summer, but the water temperature was around 10 degrees. Luckily we had the swimsuits to keep us warm. You are not allowed to take pictures inside, but the photos are not even close to how magical it is in reality. I recommend to go for the first tour of the today. The experience took around three hours and we were only 8 people including the guides, it was amazing. Spaces might fill up quickly, so be sure to book your time here.
Maori cultural village
Even before visiting the village, we noticed how cool the local people are. I think the massive fields around, the distance from other countries and the closeness to nature all adds up to who they are today. You can still see people walk in barefoot rather than wearing high heels.
Maoris came to New Zealand 1000 years ago from their mythical Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. Today Māori make up 14% of our population and their history, language and traditions are central to New Zealand’s identity. As the sign of their tribes, they used to have their faces tattooed, nowadays they still have many tattoos but not on the face 🙂 Their way of showing the traditional tribes lifestyle, songs and games are so funny. We loved the show and dinner in the Tamaki Maori Village. The people were welcoming, energetic, funny and you can’t avoid the stage to join the show! This is the way of greeting visitors who want to enter their village:
White Water Rafting
If you only have one chance in New Zealand to go for white water rafting, go to Kaitune fall, where you can slide down on the world tallest commercially rafted waterfall, the Tutea falls! It is 7 meters tall (21 feet) and is an experience that brings together everybody in the small floating boat. This activity takes around 3 hours and as a warm up, we went down on many smaller waterfalls before approaching Tutea falls. Altough this Tutea falls is very popular, it wasn’t crowded, we only saw the 20 people from our group. Prior to the rafting they provide you with equipment and safety instructions. In the little floating boat there was the six of us plus an instructor, which was really necessary. He told us when to paddle, when to stop and when to brace ourselves! Going down on Tutea falls was scary a bit, especially because we flipped. I was terrified, but there were some lifeguards on the bottom of the fall, so they will come and save you. Do this experience if you enjoy rafting and also if you are afraid (like me), because it is really safe, the cool Kiwis will come and save you 🙂
I am not a big fan of Lord of the rings or Hobbiton. I think the movies are quiet boring. However, the Hobbiton Movie Set is really worth a visit! You can only visit it with a tour group, but it is great because they ensure that it is not crowded and also the tour guide is extremely knowledgable. The Hobbition village doesn’t feel like a movie set, it is naturally blending into it’s surrounding sheep farms. Moreover, the director was very particular about creating every single detail exactly as in the book, so the big fans will feel as if the books materialized into reality.
Be aware that this place is extremely popular, you must buy tickets in at least a week in advance. For the fans out there, you can also enjoy a dinner in the Hobbiton village, see more information here.
This 19.4km hike is one of the most popular in all New Zealand. Lava flows, an active crater, steam vents, emerald-coloured lakes and magnificent views combine to make this an unforgettable walking journey. You may see beautiful pictures online about this hike, but you must know that this hike is very much weather dependent. This trail can be very challenging not because it is a particularly hard hike, but because the wind is very strong and the temperature can be very low. You cannot park your car nearby. When booking an accommodation, you need to ask whether they offer shuttle bus services to the beginning and the end of the trail. Moreover, you really need to prepare for this hike!
See my full adventure about this hike in the next post 🙂
Huka Falls (with helicopter)
Huka Falls has the color of blue that we never saw in our lives before, it is so unreal. The Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest river, moves gracefully north from Lake Taupo between banks 100 metres apart. Just before the Huka Falls it enters a shallow ravine of hard volcanic rock. The effect is nature’s large-scale equivalent of a fire hose feeding into a very fine nozzle. We didn’t plan it, but just next to the waterfall there was an opportunity to go for a Helicopter ride! We went for the shortest, 20 minutes option and the view from above, seeing the beautiful forest and the Hula Falls between was spectacular.
Wai O Tapu
New Zealand’s most colourful geothermal attraction, Wai O Tapu is an area in which the landscape has been sculptured by geothermal activity and where unique volcanic features can be viewed from well-defined tracks. Wai O Tapu has been named as one of the 20 most surreal places in the world, and the natural bush setting around adds another dimension to the naturally coloured springs, bubbling mud, steaming ground, expansive vistas, huge volcanic craters and sinter terrace formations.
The walk can take from 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending which trail you choose to go through.
Flight from the North Island to the South Island
The ferry between south and north is very famous, it takes about 3.5 hours and the views are beautiful, but I preferred to fly. The flight from Wellington to Nelson was 40 minutes only with a small airplane. We were around 10 passengers and one flight attendant. The flight had stunning views all the way, it felt to us as a helicopter ride. I never flew with such a small airplane before, it was a nice experience.
We also went to Skyline Rotorua with zipline, luge ride and gondola trip, it was fun too! Another cool experience was clay target shooting.
+1: Driving with the camper van and staying in Campsites
Camping: I don’t know if we were lucky with the camping sites or they are always this nice. We used Campermate app (which showed the camping sites and they never disappointed us. Clean facilities, friendly people, plenty of place to cook. The nicest experience of all camping sites was definitely the one with the large swimming pool cinema. The camping sites were of course surrounded by nature and once we also slept like 30 meters away from the ocean. If you really want to go on budget, you can just stay anywhere with a self-contained campervan, but I do not regret spending $20-$40/night and have facilities around. We really loved to stay in camping sites and see the perfectly dark sky and as New Zealand has one of the best star watching spots, you can see the stars really well all around the country. The air quality is so excellent, you wish to take it away with you.
The fellow campers were nice and everybody went to sleep early, as there is not much to do after dinner. This is another reason why we really loved New Zealand.
Getting close to the nature also means that you pick up this old fashion lifestyle: go to sleep early and wake up early.