Auckland and the North Island of New Zealand
02.01.2011 - 18.01.2011 25 °C
After spending a very hot and humid holiday in Fiji, it was a welcome change to arrive in Auckland which was still sunny and warm but “only” 25 degrees and significantly less humid. It took two plane connections and 4 hours of flying to arrive in Auckland, located on the North Island. With a total population of 1.3 million it is by far the largest city in New Zealand which only has a total population of 4.1 million. After making it through customs, we joined up with two more of Jacq’s family members – her older sister Christina and her husband Aaron who flew in a few hours earlier from Calgary.
At this point our total group consisted of 10 adults and 2 children. From there we all piled into an 11 passenger van and made our way to the house we were be staying in which was located in Manuwera, a suburb just south of Auckland.
After coming into contact with geckos, cockroaches, giant spiders, and mosquitoes on a daily and nightly basis in Fiji, we were relieved to see that we would likely not have any problems in what was, by far, the most luxurious accommodations we’ve had since first starting our trip over 2 months ago.
During the first two weeks, we’ve done a lot of things in and around Auckland.
We headed to downtown Auckland to check out the beautiful harbour and shopping areas. With the world rugby coming in September of this year, the whole city was ramping up for the event.
While in Auckland we spent our time drinking coffee near the harbour, shopping, and visiting the Auckland Art Gallery and Auckland Museum.
Christina’s birthday - Kelly Tartons/Sushi
For Christina’s birthday, we went to Kelly Tarlton’s underwater world to see king penguins, sting rays and of course sharks! Jacq, Jen, Christina and Aaron decided that seeing them through the safety of the glass aquarium wasn’t quite good enough so they decided to take the plunge into the aquarium and get a little closer.
They headed into the shark cage equipped with snorkelling equipment and their underwater cameras. After surviving her experience, Jacq tells us that the sharks were not shy and would swim very close and if they splashed around they would even rub up right against the cage! Afterwards, we headed out for a delish sushi dinner! When you are this close to the ocean, the sushi is amazing!
As a birthday gift, we gave Jacq’s mom a day to do anything she’d like. No, we weren’t her slaves for the day (ha ha) but we headed out to Devonport, a quaint sub division of Auckland that is across the harbour from the downtown core and can be reached by either ferry or driving across the harbour bridge. In Devonport, we spent the day checking out art galleries, shops and stopped for a picnic lunch. It was a cute little place which reminded us of Niagara-on-the- lake.
We took a 30 min ferry from downtown Auckland across the harbour to Rangitoto Island, the newest volcano in the Auckland area.
It erupted 600 years ago from the ocean sea and is now a beautiful lush island rising out of the sea. We read in our tour books to wear sturdy shoes – and there was a reason!
It was very rugged terrain – crumbly hot black volcanic rock which would give out under you – in one case Jacq fell down! Volcanic rock sure gives you nice cuts and bruises!
It was about a 1 hour climb up to the summit for some breath taking views.
On our way down, we headed to the lava caves, which Jesse loved!
By the time we headed back to the ferry, we figured it was about an 8 km hike!
While staying in the Auckland area, we also did a number of day trips and a few overnight trips as well.
We headed out to the Coromandel peninsula and home of the famous hot water beach. New Zealand is home to many volcanoes and some volcanoes develop huge underground reservoirs of superheated water. Over time, this water will escape to the surface — cooling on the way. There are two fissures at Hot Water Beach – this means that if you dig in the sand, hot water will come up and you can have your very own hot tub on the beach!
We headed out to Muriwai Beach, a beach on the western coast. The beach had black sand (hot...very hot on the feet!) and it had some amazing waves. Jen, Andy and Jesse decided to try out surfing again, while Jacq decided that she didn’t want to drink a lot of sea water that day, so a boogie board would do just fine! Jacq’s mom lounged on the beach while the rest of the crew heading to check out a few wineries in the area. Later that afternoon, Christina and Aaron joined everyone in the ocean for a swim. It would have been a perfect day at the beach, except that in the last 20 minutes when we were swimming, Jacq and Christina suddenly got pulled away in a rip current. When waves push water towards the shore, that water is forced sideways by the oncoming waves. This water streams along the shoreline until it finds an exit back to the sea. The resulting rip current is usually narrow and is very strong, pulling the seawater back to the ocean. We learned about the rip curl in our surfing lesson, so Jacq knew to keep calm and not to swim while in the rip curl. The current is too strong and you’ll tire out and are likely to drown from exhaustion. Soon after we were rescued by the life guards on the beach through their zodiac motor boats – not a fun boat trip as one wave almost threw Jacq out of the boat. In the end Jacq and Christina both made it to the beach, a bit shaken, but fine.
Waitomo Caves – Black water rafting
On our next road trip, we headed south, to Waitomo, which is home to numerous underground caves. Jim, Bonnie, Christina and Aaron opted to do the walking and boat tours of two caves while Jesse, Jacq, Jen and Andy opted to try black water rafting – checking out the caves in a full body wetsuit on an inner tube through the dark, wet and cold caves. It was quite the experience! The water was a chilly 10-14 degrees, but was almost bearable in our sweet wet suits. Jesse is showing it off nicely here.
In the dark cave, we walked through the rushing cold water, cruised down the cave in the tubes and took a “leap of faith” off two waterfalls which involved jumping backwards onto our tubes into the dark abyss.
Our favourite was cruising through the cave linked to each other as you looked at the glow worms on the ceiling. OK so we learned they aren’t really “worms” they are maggots and the glow is actually their faeces but Maggot poop really doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Bay of islands
We headed out north, through the endless windy roads to the Bay of Islands.
On our way there, we stopped at Goat`s Island - a popular beach and snorkelling area.
Coined the “winterless north” – the Bay of Islands has a sub tropical climate with beautiful beaches and a landscape of lush green islands. We stayed in Paihia, a quaint beach town with great access to the bay.
The highlight of the trip was the Dolphin sightseeing boat cruise through the Bay of Islands. At times it was also the lowlight of the trip – that is when the water was rough and you started to turn the colour of the lush green islands. When the crew is handing out puke bags to everyone – it’s probably not a good sign! However, we survived, and enjoyed the large pod of dolphins which swam near and under our boat, jumping in the air.
As there were baby dolphins in the pod, we weren’t able to swim with them – but it was amazing to see these graceful mammals in the wild. We didn’t see any other dolphins that day, so near the end of the trip Jacq, Jesse and Jen jumped into the “boom net” – a large net they attach to the side of the boat where you need to hold on tight!
We are heading out for a road trip to Rotorua and Lake Taupo to celebrate Jacq and Jen’s birthday. Then we head to Christchurch for a few days before heading further south to Queenstown where we’ll celebrate Jesse’s birthday. Stay tuned!