The Road Trip Travel Journal – Part One
7 Day North Island Guided Tour
The following travel journal was written by one of our guides Alex, about a tour with a lovely couple from the United States.
Day 1 Auckland to Whitianga via Coromandel
I arrive at the Novotel Auckland Airport at 9:30am and about 10 minutes later I recognize Eileen coming out of the lift as I have seen her photo which she has attached to all her emails. I introduce myself and also meet her husband Hal. After asking the usual questions about how their flight was, if they’ve been to New Zealand before and what area of the U.S they come from, we take off out of Auckland and head for the Coromandel, on the way discussing their trip to New Zealand 30 years ago and how much the area surrounding Auckland has changed. I gauge fairly well on the first day whether or not people are interested in general information about each area we pass through or not and also what other special interests they have and adapt my guiding style to that.
After more chatting and getting to know each other, we stop in Thames to get some supplies for our 2 hour walk through a native Kauri forest. I haven’t done this particular walk before so am looking forward to checking it out.
The drive to Coromandel is beautiful. Very windy but lovely coastline to my left. We are heading to Driving Creek Railway. This is a narrow gauge railway which has been designed, engineered and built by one very clever old man. The replica vintage train passes through a beautiful native forest which he has planted over the last 50 years to bring back species of native plants and trees that had been previously cleared from the area. The views from the top of the hill are stunning. Next is the picturesque drive to Whitianga on the East Coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. The last thing to organise today is a nice place for dinner. I want to give my clients the impression that New Zealand has good food, and it really really does as I know from travelling overseas. A restaurant named ‘Salt’ on the waterfront was the perfect choice to express this!
Day 2 Whitianga
It’s a reasonably fine day, definitely good enough weather to take the 90 minute return walk to Cathedral Cove. The drive is half an hour away and gets more picturesque as it goes on. Cathedral Cove is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand in my books, featuring amazing limestone formations not found anywhere else. There is an amazing cave which can be wandered through from one beach to another and there are several large pohutakawa trees clinging on to the cliffs and branching out in bizarre directions. There are several offshore islands which also look fantastic. Next on the cards today is Hot Water Beach. This is a beach which features hot springs located underneath the sand and if the sand is dug into, little spa pools can be created with temperatures up to 65 degrees celsius. The beach is always swarming with locals and tourists alike at low tide, which is the best time to come.
Unfortunately the weather takes a turn for the worse and any hopes of doing the glass-bottom boat trip around the coast have vanished, especially due to the strong winds battering the coast. The alternative after lunch today is a visit to the Mercury Bay museum, which has a great variety of displays of New Zealand history.
Day 3 Whitianga to Rotorua via Kiwi 360 and Hobbiton
Time to leave the Coromandel. Bummer! Once again, it is a beautiful drive down the coast and the first highlight is the twin kauri scenic reserve, featuring two ginormous kauri trees side by side, surrounded by other native forest. A couple of hours down the road and we reach Kiwi 360 which is a kiwifruit orchard which hosts tours of the property. We are very lucky today as the owner of the orchard offers to take us around on a private tour of the property. The knowledge he has about growing kiwifruit and the industry is astounding and very interesting.
Next we’re off to Hobbiton – the only remaining film set from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. It is a very beautiful area surrounded by rolling green hills in the Waikato area. This is my 5th time coming here and each time the weather has always been warm and perfect! We hit roadworks lots of times today – something that always has to be accounted into driving times between highlights. Tonight I take Eileen and Hal to the Lone Star in Rotorua where they begin to evaluate for themselves how authentically Texan the restaurant is!
Day 4 Rotorua
This morning we are booked in for a guided tour of Te Puia, which houses mudpools, geysers, kiwi birds in an enclosure, a weaving house and carving school. The guides here are local Maori who always provide a great experience and enlighten their crowds with vast knowledge. The rest of the day is free for Eileen and Hal to decide what they want to do with it. After some discussion, they decide they’d like to see the farm show at the Agrodome. This is a 1 hour long interactive show where the presenter shears a sheep, brings on stage 19 different breeds of sheep and has sheep-dogs jumping over top of all of them and doing tricks. The show is very humourous and entertaining. We then pop into an iconic cafe in Rotorua – ‘the fat dog,’ which serves up a huge range of things including burgers and nachos. After a wander round Kuirau Park’s hot pools, we call it a day. Hal and Eileen will tonight enjoy a 3 course Hangi (ground cooked traditional maori feast) along with a cultural performance by local Maori.
Day 5 Rotorua to Tongariro National Park
Off we head South down the road towards one of New Zealand’s 3 Unesco World Heritage Sites – Tongariro National Park. First stop is Wai-O-Tapu. Wai-O-Tapu is a beautiful nature reserve filled with bright colourful steaming hot pools. Some are red and blue, some are bright yellow, some are green and some are grey mud pools. We first sit in an outdoor amphitheatre and watch a geyser explode about 20 metres into the air and after we wander round the reserve for about 90 minutes to take in all the natural beauty in the area. Further down the road is Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. Today we are very lucky as the view of the 3 volcanoes in Tongariro National Park is the clearest I have ever seen it from that far away (around 90 minutes drive), so I am able to point them out and let Eileen and Hal enjoy the magnificent view of the volcanoes across the lake. This afternoon we will undertake a 2 hour walk in Tongariro National Park, featuring wonderful waterfalls, native NZ forest and a superb view of Mt. Ngaurauhoe (otherwise known as ‘Mt. Doom from The Lord of the Rings!). Tonight we will enjoy a nice meal at the Chateau Tongariro in the elegant dining hall.
Day 6 Tongariro National Park to Auckland
Today we will enjoy another 2 hour walk in the National Park before heading North back to where we started – Auckland. The bulk off the drive today is through Waikato which features stunning green rolling hills and several large and small dairy farms. We will stop for lunch in Te Kuiti – a small town which services dairy farmers and their families. Soon the landscape changes from rolling green hills to large wide motorways, telling us that we are almost back in New Zealand’s largest metropolis. The motorway traffic holds us up a bit but luckily we have no commitments this evening apart from enjoying a nice farewell dinner together and a journey to the top of the skytower.
Day 7 Auckland Departure Day
Today we enjoy a drive around the bays, including a stop at Mission Bay, a lovely inner city beach lined with beautiful pohutakawa trees. We wander along the beach in the morning and then head up to the summit of Mount Eden volcanic crater which provides fabulous views of Auckland City, the harbor bridge and offshore islands. We do a full loop of the crater and then decide spontaneously to check out the Victoria Park Markets – a quirky arts and crafts market situated in refurbished brick alleyways near the centre of the city. Following this, I drop Hal and Eileen at the Auckland international airport, wish them all the best for their travels and say farewell! Now it’s time to eat something, return the vehicle and prepare for my own (much shorter) journey home. In a few days I will start a new tour with entirely different people. Each tour is different and all of them provide me with great work stories and amazing travel experiences of my own country. I’m loving this.