Immediately upon landing in New Zealand, we were blown away by:
1. How drop dead gorgeous the Island is.
2. How crazy expensive everything is (hello $3 Mcdonald’s cokes!)
3. How terrifying it is to drive on the left side of the road. In a paper thin van. That’s stick shift. And no, I did not drive. That’s what husbands are for.
We cruised around in a Hippie Camper for the week that we were there, specifically this exact model with the purple flowers on one side (my side, duh)
And however disgusting and embarrassing I found it to be on our first meeting, by the end of the week I had grown to love it an equal amount. Our intention was to do NZ as cheaply as possible, hence the van that doubled as our bed for the night.. But when we were picking up the van we learned that camper vans are not covered by Visa’s fabulous rental car coverage (if you didn’t already know about this, it’s the bomb.. just not for camper vans) so were pressured into the insurance that doubled the price of our rental. Yowch. And then we learned that it is illegal to park your van wherever you please if it has no toilet – you have to pay for a campsite every night (which averaged $40/night) if you want to avoid getting ticketed. Had we done even one ounce of research, we likely would have avoided the van entirely.. but like I said, we pointed at a map, bought tickets, and showed up. My point being.. if you plan on traveling around NZ and camping, I would rent the cheapest, most fuel efficient car you can (spoiler alert, camper vans get like 8 miles to the obscenely expensive gallon), bring a tent and pay $20 a night for an unpowered campsite. Oh, hindsight…
Cash flow aside, we absolutely loved the North Island. It rained our first night there and since we had nothing planned, we decided to drive south to Hamilton, to see the temple. It was pitch black and pouring rain when we got there, but we managed to sneak in the visitor’s center right before it closed – and our stay in NZ was completely transformed by that small decision. Inside we met the area mission president and his wife, the Rudds. Hands down, hanging out with them was the best part of our week. They invited us to sleep at their home across the street that night without knowing the first thing about us. Sister Rudd made us ham grilled cheese sandwiches at 10 at night and they broke out a map and helped us plan our route for the week. Because Hamilton is a pretty central location on the Island – and because we fell in love with the Rudds immediately – we ended up staying with them 3 different nights that week (sorry for mooching!) And each time we left in the morning, Sister Rudd made us an insane breakfast and sent us off with ziplocs full of pb&js, and brownies, and chocolate, and fruit. We loved playing cards with them and just … talking! They were an absolute crack up and some of the sweetest people I have ever met! We miss you guys!!!
Us with our favorite people :)
They literally live across the street from the temple. Here’s the view from their driveway. Not too shabby huh?
With the help of the Rudds, we planned our week and set off the next morning for Raglan, a small beachy town on the west coast known for its surf (stopping at Bridal Veil Falls on the way). After poking our heads around town and admiring the surf, we discovered Raglan Longboards, the only place around that we found a classic single fin for Chase to ride. And it was a beauty. We headed to Manu Bay, where Chase surfed sans wet suit and I froze just watching him. I love surfing but don’t be fooled, I am an ultimate sissy. Manu Bay was looking a little too big/cold/rocky for me.
My adorable husband who puts up with my picture taking.. but refuses to make any face other than this one in front of a camera.
Bridal Veil Falls & Chase surfing Manu Bay.
We ate fish & chips at Raglan Fish on the wharf and it was heaven. This was probably one of the only meals we ate out our entire week in New Zealand (not counting the dozens of Hokey Pokey ice cream cones, Magnum bars, and the ultimate find – Hokey Pokey Magnum bars) because real food was pretty pricey. We ended up buying some ramen and cooking it on the stove in our van a lot of nights. You can get meat pies for cheap at convenience stores but I was not a huge fan… I am sure there are lots of yummy ones but I had a bad first experience with some runny mince meat that turned me off to meat pies entirely. And what even is mince meat? I still don’t know.
We stuck around and Chase surfed again the next morning before we went to church at the Raglan branch. It was the tiniest church building I have ever been to and there were less than 20 people there (I think a family of 9 was out of town or something) but it was such a sweet fast & testimony meeting. Everyone was so kind to us and invited us for dinner but we had plans to head south to the Waitomo Caves that afternoon.
I don’t have any pictures of the caves but they were pretty rad.. We just went on a short walking/boat tour with this company. It felt a little tourist trappy and cost nearly $100 for both of our tickets.. but it was cool nonetheless. The last five minutes of the tour they take you on a little boat to an area that is completely dark, and you get to see thousands of glowworms light up. It was a surreal last five minutes as we all sat silently with our eyes turned upwards.. It felt a lot like we were camping and looking up at the stars in the sky. Here’s a picture I pilfered from Trip Advisor:
The next day we headed east towards Matamata and stopped to see The Shire! Haha. Another pricey tour but it turned out to be totally worth it for us. I am not a huge LOTR fan by any means.. I actually grew up making fun of my older sister who would wait for the extended versions to come out on DVD before buying and who had all day marathons with friends watching the movies (but I totally watched with them). Chase was weirdly excited to go to Hobbiton though so I obliged and it ended up being one of our favorite things we did in NZ. A guide walks you around the 12-acre site and tell you fun facts about filming as you explore the village of 44 hobbit holes (you can’t go inside any of the holes.. they don’t have insides). The tour ends at the Green Dragon Inn where you get a free beer, or, in our case, apple cider & ginger beer. Good times were had all around. And I took a million pics. Sooooo here you go…
On the way to Hobbiton we stopped at Strawberry Fields in Cambridge. The Rudds tipped us off to this ice cream shop that scoops creamy vanilla ice cream into this cone-shaped contraption and then dumps a ton of fresh berries in with it. The machine blends them together and churns out the smoothest, creamiest, fresh fruit soft-serve I have ever had! Oh. My. Gosh. It’s soooooo good. We went to a few different places on the Island that make fresh-fruit soft serve like this but Strawberry Fields’ strawberry was the very best. And now I’m sad just thinking about how much I want some. I didn’t take any pictures so here’s another stolen one to illustrate:
After Hobbiton we passed through Rotorua and took a short hike in the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest. (I just really wanted to say Whakarewarewa). We had been forewarned that Rotorua is stinky because of the sulphur from all of the geothermal activity, and it was. We ducked out after a couple of hours because of the smell.
We kept on driving all the way to Tauranga, which was one of our favorite places on the Island. Our campsite was right on the beach and we woke up early the next morning to hike Mt. Manganui. It’s a short hike (like I like ‘em) and just beautiful. The mountain is right on the water so you are just looking out over beautiful blue water the entire way up! Chase became obsessed with iPhone panoramas on our trip so here’s a pretty one from the start of the hike.
Tauranga’s beaches were beautiful with white sand, insanely clear water and some really fun surf.
The waves were pretty small but Chase was freaking because it was a sand-bottom beach break that broke like a point break.. which, as he kept repeating, “Those don’t exist!”
We also frequented Copenhagen Cones ice cream shop at the base of Mt. Manganui too many times for how long we were actually in town.. But they make homemade waffle cones and it smells like heaven two blocks in every direction from the shop.
We were bummed to leave Tauranga but had one more place we wanted to visit before making our way back to Auckland that weekend. We spent hours and hours driving to go everywhere we did in just a week, and we pulled over countless times to watch the sunset or say hi to the millions of sheep. We (falsely) likened ourselves unto pioneers in our beat up van, driving with no radio and no google maps. I literally sat with an atlas of New Zealand on my lap and told Chase where to go. For a good portion of our driving, I pretended I was the radio and sang Chase every song I have ever committed to memory. There are thousands. I was digging way back – I’m talking Sublime, Green Day, Britney, Usher… all of my childhood classics. Chase does not know all the words to a single song. It’s incredible. And sad. I also spent a good amount of time wondering how much smarter I would be if I had never memorized any lyrics but instead spent my time reading science books or something.. but then our drive would have been much more boring.
Unreal sunsets every night.
So. Many. Sheep.
Our last couples days were spent in the Coromandel, specifically in Hahei. It was raining the night we arrived so we were worried we wouldn’t be able to do much.. but the next morning we woke up to the most gorgeous sunny day. We hiked into Cathedral Cove twice while we were there – it is still the most stunning beach I have ever been in all my life.
We wanted to kayak to the cove, but we couldn’t find anyone who would rent a kayak to us since a law passed recently making gear rental places liable for your safety. Instead, you can take a kayak tour with a group, but it would have been a few hundred dollars for the two of us. So we just hiked in. The hike isn’t bad somewhere around 30-45 min. if I remember correctly.. and there are some beautiful views along the way.
Before we left Hahei, we also went to Hot Water Beach. This place is crazy and kind of hilarious. When the tide is low, herds of people go to Hot Water Beach with shovels and start digging. Once you get a foot or so deep, water from underground hot springs starts to fill your hole from below, creating a little hot tub for you to sit in. We didn’t want to pay to rent a shovel, so we just showed up hoping to hop in an abandoned hole. As we began looking, I was immediately catapulted back to my middle school cafeteria, looking for a table to set down my tray. We learned quickly that any hole that was, in fact, empty was that way for a reason – some of the water was just WAY too hot and would leave you with second degree burns if you tried to lay in it. So we found ourselves circling like hawks just waiting for someone to leave, and eventually asking strangers if we might join them in their holes. It was mildly comforting at least that the people we were asking were half naked, laying flat in a pool of 5 or 6″ of water. Made everyone a little less intimidating.
This picture is omitting the 200 people to the left of us. It was CROWDED.
Welp, that novel pretty much sums up our week in New Zealand. We got to go back to the Hamilton temple on our last day when it was actually open which was beautiful, and then drove back to Auckland at night to fly out early the next morning. If you are thinking about visiting New Zealand, go!!! I still can’t get over how gorgeous it is.