Whereas the South Island has jaw dropping scenery, the North Island is just plain beautiful.
Despite being subjected to vast suburban sprawl, we found Auckland a hip town with a pleasant vibe. For a city of 1.4 million people you can imagine our surprise and delight when people exiting public buses thanked the bus drivers. We did, too.
We took a couple of local ferries visiting the Davenport neighborhood and a beautiful wine vineyard-rich island called Waiheke.
It was a weekend so Waiheke Island was quite busy hosting weddings, bridal showers and lots of wine-tastings. We had to be very careful when walking roadside as there seemed to be a few tipsy drivers.
After Auckland, Cindy and I headed south. Rotorua was originally conceived and developed as a tourist town with its many thermal springs. The refurbished Elizabethan-style museum was originally built as a ‘medicinal’ bathhouse around the turn of the 20th century.
Another unique geologic feature of Rotorua is that it sits in a 22 kilometer wide caldera.
The population is about 50% Maori –the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand– and we took advantage by finding bnb accommodations with a Maori couple, Heni and Stu. It was a rich and rewarding experience learning about Maori history and culture. Heni was a former guide at the museum and she was kind enough to take us on a free guided tour.
The Maori comprise about 17% of New Zealand’s population. Whereas most of the indigenous populations of the colonized world suffered immensely, the Maori certainly had their tribulations but over time they adapted so well to European settlement that today they comprise a disproportionately large number of representatives in government. Over the past 10-15 years they’ve regained the rights to a lot of the lands they lost during colonial settlement. They have a lot of political power.
We enjoyed a hike in the local redwood forest.
Back in Rotorua we took a 3-hour city bike tour which didn’t involve a lot of biking but covered a great deal of history, geology, and more about Maori culture.
Moving on, we worked our way south staying the night in Taupo. The Waikato River, the longest in New Zealand, gets squeezed from 100 meters wide into a narrow set of falls about 15 meters resulting in a raging torrent of water at Huka Falls.
Next up was the K2K or the Kawakawa Track (trail). During the approximately 20 kilometers round trip hike from the town of Kinloch, we got treated to a wonderful view of Kawakawa bay.
K2K is a multi-use trail. I thoroughly enjoyed our hike but as bikes passed us I pined a bit to be riding one.
This was the start of a hike-fest. We continued south to the center of the North Island and Tongariro National Park. Tongariro was the country’s first national park and the 4th in the world. It is also an area of active volcanos.
The first day there we did a two-hour hike around Lake Rotopaunamu. The second day was a more ambitious 5-hour hike to Tama (crater) Lakes. It was so windy going from lower Tama to upper Tama, Cindy held on to me thinking she might get blown off the ridge.
We double-backed through Rotorua where I spent a couple of hours tooling around the well-groomed mountain bike trails in the redwood forest.