My first stop --three nights in Auckland-- were planned to catch up on sleep, adjust to the 18-hour time difference, and take care of business like getting cash. Much to my surprise, after 10 hours of rest, I felt pretty good so I ventured out to see highlights of this major city that accounts for nearly half of the country's population. While avoiding the commercial district, I did enjoy walking for hours along the harbors, and visiting Auckland Domain, the city’s oldest park based around an extinct volcano. Thankfully, I was also here long enough to get into the practice of "walk on the left, look to the right FIRST before crossing".
After much research, I had chosen to travel via the hop-on, hop-off Stray bus. It was definitely a good economic and social decision though there were days when I really wanted to be flying solo! The majority of riders were under 30, European, British and Asian, and many were on far longer travel itineraries than mine (like one year work/travel visas). While the hop-on, hop-off idea wasn't as flexible as expected (a busy spring!), I will say that I saw a great deal of this beautiful country, and enjoyed a number of experiences I would not have discovered on my own.
The first stop was fabulous Hahei (population near 300), which has views of Mahurangi Island, and a scenic walk north to a marine reserve, including Cathedral Cove. We also day-tripped to Hot Water Beach, known for natural hot springs beneath the sand. Hot, hot, hot! Sharing cabins, a group BBQ, and a very relaxed atmosphere made for a great start to the trip.
After two nights, it was on to Rotorua, a small city (72,000 people) on a lake that's known for its geothermal activity and Maori culture. I was told that nearly 85% of the Maori people live in this region. It was a comfortable little spot with much to do outdoors beside the lake, in the city park, and along trails in a redwood forest. Unfortunately, the gorgeous Rotorua Museum has been closed since 2016 following a building seismic risk assessment. Yes, New Zealand is on two faults.
From here, I jumped on the Stray "beach hopper" with a stop in Waitomo (famous for the glowworm caves), then on to Raglan and Tauranga. I loved Raglan along the Tasman Sea, and wish I had spent more than a night in this little Bohemian town of sweet families, surfers, and cheap food at the beach takeaway. Tauranga, in the Bay of Plenty region, is home to Mount Maunganui, an extinct volcano that rises above the town and offers two walking tracks with incredible views. Yes, I walked the base and to the summit, and one morning, I actually did absolutely nothing but lounge at the beach.
In case you can't tell, it was a busy itinerary with many one-to-two night stops, but there is so much to see and do! Next up, the remainder of the North Island tour. Do stay tuned!