NZ Holiday with my BFF (my Mum)
It began in New Zealand. Mum met me at Auckland Airport after almost 14 months apart! I think she decided that if I wasn’t coming home anytime soon that she was going to have to come and find me. I was more than thrilled of course and could hardly sleep the night before picking her up. We had planned 7 weeks together exploring NZ’s North Island, Broome in WA and Bali in Indonesia. As I am writing this, thoughts turn to how on earth I am managing to afford this. I feel like I have just had holiday after holiday. Well, truth be told, I am pretty penniless right now. I save up and then spend and repeat. Australia’s high minimum wage made both Thailand and this holiday possible; add in a lot of hard work, long hours and a mum who was willing to pay for a few things 🙂
At this point, I had been in New Zealand for almost 2 months already. Carol and Lauren both picked me up as I was due to be house-sitting at theirs whilst they were away on holiday in the UK. Lauren and I were old school friends from home but her family moved out here 12 years ago. A lot had changed but we fitted into a new friendship dynamic. I was pre-warned about New Zealand’s cold climate by literally everyone I had spoken to about my trip, therefore it didn’t come as a complete surprise to be blasted by the icy temperature when I touched down on a Saturday afternoon in mid-winter.
After a year of backpacking sleeping in beds from a mixture of hostels, hotels, airbnbs, campervans, friend’s houses and stranger’s couches, it was an absolute pleasure to be given my OWN ROOM for the duration of my stay. I was treated to a double bed, a fan heater, an electric blanket and working Wi-Fi!! It was of course so nice to be in a home environment again as well with home cooked food, an open fire, plenty of animals and a gorgeous view of the countryside.
The Stiles’ live in a place named Onewhero, an hour or so drive south of Auckland. The village is pretty tiny but has some exceptional views of the surrounding area (think lake district!) and is only a 20 minute drive to the beach. I spent time walking the dogs ( of which they have 3!), feeding the goats (3), petting the sheep (2), riding the horses (4), putting the chickens to bed (lots), tending to the rabbits (2) and snuggling up with the cats (2). Phew! What a zoo!
I also got the chance to meet a lot of neighbours and got to see first hand the simple lives of people who live out here. Main conclusion: everyone owns goats, sheep and dogs!
I stayed in Onewhero until Mum arrived in early September and that’s where the fun began!
NZ’s NORTH ISLAND IS MAGICAL! Carole and Tim’s place South of Auckland provided a great base for Mum to get over her jet lag, and seeing as Lauren had access to ponies, it was a great place to go riding on the beach. Actually one of my favourite days from this whole trip was a beach ride at Port Waikato with the dogs – Lauren took us down herself and we each took turns cantering on the black sand beach with a sturdy heifer mare named Amanda (organised especially for Mum’s arrival). Carole and Tim were due back from their holiday in the UK and I wanted to make ourselves scarce, as well as seeing the beautiful country. We had planned a trip around the North Island as I had already decided that the South would be far too cold and we’d be pushing ourselves too much to fit it all in (I was wanting a rather stress free environment too). The decision was made – starting in The bay of Islands and ending in Raglan, we made our way slowly around the top half of the country. Luckily we didn’t have to worry about renting a car, as that would have been a large expense, instead we were able to borrow Will’s car as he was away in Europe.
The weather started off pretty miserably, and actually remained so for the duration, but nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for the country. NZ is simply spectacular. You HAVE to see it. Around every twist and turn there seems to be another beautiful view. The landscape here is truly the highlight. NZ for me though screams SUMMER in a way that no other place has before. Even most of the people we met seemed pretty miserable, waiting for the warm weather to kick in.
It took a while for us to get up to The Bay of Islands – almost 5 hours in fact but it was quite beautiful up there and well worth the journey. We stayed in Paihia which seemed to be the main gateway for TBOI but I would have also liked to have made it to Cape Reinga right at the tip of the peninsula as I heard that was marvellous too. We took the ferry to Russell for tea and cake and enjoyed a private ferry charter back before checking out the town’s beautiful waterfall and enjoying some exquisite chocolate at a local factory. Tourists mostly come to the bay for whale or dolphin watching but we were happy just moseying around taking in the atmosphere. Even from the main coastline, the islands were a truly iconic sight, rising from the water in such a beautiful way. I can imagine the town is heaving in the summer, but lucky for us we didn’t have any queues to contend with at all.
The temperatures remained unseasonably low but never mind, we weren’t here for the sunshine – this was Mother and Daughter time and what fun we had! From Paihia we made it down to geothermal Rotorua, dunking ourselves in a magical hot pool (a place named Kerosene creek) – a free of charge hot pool down an unsealed track away from the main road. It’s the type of track you feel like you’re going to get murdered on (especially if you go on a cold, damp day like we did) but then it somehow turns into this small mystical stream that snakes around corners and eventually unveils the waist deep hot water pool of the creek. No murderers in sight!
The whole area of Rotorua is very special. Clouds of steam rise from the horizon, making the town feel eery and mysterious. The large lake that nestles on the outskirts of town is vivid blue and a delight to the senses. I was just pleased we made it here in one piece to see it, as on the way down we had a scary accident in the car where I lost control on the slippery mountain roads. I was going far too fast for the dangerous conditions and the car turned 180 degrees to face the other way in one skid. Luckily nothing was coming and amazingly we or the car weren’t hurt. It could have been far worse but it still shook us up a lot.
After seeing the lake, we chose to take a walk through Hamurana Springs – a beautiful (and the deepest in NZ’s north island) natural fresh water spring which feeds into lake Rotorua. The spring is 920 feet above sea level and is around 15 metres deep. It produces around 4 million litres (!) of crystal clear water per hour at an almost constant temperature of 10 degrees. The rock surrounding this spring is volcanic and the water travels down from the rugged hills of Mamaku Plateau, taking 70 years to get here! Another spring on the walk is Dancing Sands spring, aptly named from the effect of the emerging water on the sand on the bottom of the spring. Hamurana spring flows about a km around the reserve through a patch of redwood forests, making this a truly wonderful, tranquil, impressive walk.
Whilst we were in Rotorua, we went to see Wai-O-Tapu (Mãori for “sacred waters”) – an active geothermal wonderland on the way towards Lake Taupo. Due to the dramatic geothermal conditions beneath the earth, the area boasts many hot springs noted for their bright colours and entertaining experience – Lady Knox Geyser in particular which is induced to erupt every morning by dropping a soap like substance into the opening of the vent. Eruptions produce a jet of water up to 20m high and can last for over an hour. Other hot springs in the wonderland include boiling mud pools, a lime green lake and champagne pool – a vivid orange and green, glimpsed through the enormous cloud of hot steam that swarms the entire pool. Definitely worth a visit if you can bear the hoards of tourists.
On to Lake Taupo and what a lake it is! The sheer size and colour is what blows you away at first (it stretches 193km! and is an impressive blue) and then the stunning snow capped mountain ranges in the distance. It really is a sight to behold. Throughout the trip, I had organised to stay in Airbnbs along the way and this one was perhaps the most lovely – owned by an athletic Welsh girl who had lived here for a number of years, her partner had died as a captain in the Iraq war four years ago. She morns her loss every single day but throws herself into the endless list of outdoor activities Taupo has to offer. When we arrived she introduced herself and said she had just got back from a couple of skydives that morning and was about to go off mountain biking with friends. Mum and I were rightly impressed but as soon as she left we snuggled down with a cup of tea and a book! Thea’s place was super clean and cosy and we were treated to the presence of a friendly cat named Jack who slept beside us all evening, making this a very special stay.
The day after we made it to Havelock North in the rain, bypassing Napier by accident OOPS (many people had said to go) but making it to wine tasting in the rolling hills in the early evening. Another day and another Airbnb, this time with a wonderful older lady named Isobel. She and her husband had a lovely house which sat on top of a hill and overlooked the pretty towns. We shared stories and a meal with her, impressed by the fact that despite approaching 70 she was off to Vietnam for a cycling holiday in a few weeks with some friends. You’re as young as you feel!
We had a large mountain to climb on the trip down to Wellington, full of twists and turns and undulating surfaces. It was misty up there and around each bend a new view unveiled itself. I took it slow, having learnt from my previous mishap but cars raced around the sharp corners and I figured that for many people this is probably their commuting road. Wellington itself was as I had imagined it – full of quirky shops and lovely views, it is a very pretty small city. Iconic, hipster Cuba street was where we spent most of our time but we also made a trip to Mount Victoria (oh so windy) to see the views of the harbour and also made a trip to the famous Te Papa Museum in the town centre.
I feel like the weather tainted our view of the city as it was incredibly cold and also foggy a lot of the time. The sun did not shine once so it was a little bit miserable. I was hoping that I would get a good vibe from the city as I had thought about it as a potential place for living and working. However after visiting I don’t actually yearn to return at all and instead think that Queenstown will be more my cup of tea. I guess we’ll see!
On the way back we visited Raglan to stay at a friend of a friend’s hippy holiday house. It was pure bliss even though it was still raining the entire time and we hardly saw a thing of Raglan’s supposedly beautiful coastline. Instead we made friends with their large comfy bed, snuggled up with our books and ate several packets of biscuits dunked in huge boiling cups of tea to while away the time. We made it out before we left to visit a charming cafe in town which served us tasty bowls of soup with crusty bread and homemade healthy cakes. Despite the horrendous weather, Raglan remains a firm favourite from my time in NZ’s North Island which as far as I’m concerned means it’s all about the atmosphere of a place and not what the weather is doing (and nothing to do with sitting in bed all weekend!)
So there you have it, our New Zealand experience all wrapped up! What a pleasure it was to see this truly magnificent country with my best friend by my side.
Plan a trip immediately, just make sure you go in the summer!