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Our epic New Zealand vacation

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” 
― Marcel Proust
This quote answers the question- Why have a New Zealand vacation when there such are beautiful unexplored places in India too?

This was our second international travel, my husband YD and I had spent more time just thinking about an overseas trip but had not had the time to plan it seriously until we realized it was high time we did! Our New Zealand vacation wouldn’t have been possible without Pick Your Trail. I liked the whole idea of someone helping us curate a personalized travel plan which could suit every traveller’s taste. They made our travel plan happen within a very short notice period! They made a skeleton framework of our trip itinerary which could fit in our budget and also the few days we could give for a holiday.

All set to start off on our New Zealand trip!
Kia Ora’ means ‘be well/healthy’ in Maori language. That is how a Kiwi will greet you. The Maoris are the early Polynesian settlers of New Zealand, responsible for the development of the unique culture and language there. The initial Maori settlers led the discovery of a lot of scenic spots and places in the country. They started naming every place simultaneously as and when they discovered; which is why we have such sweet sounding Maori names of places in New Zealand despite the European influence.
Aotearoa (Maori name for New Zealand) – A small beautiful country in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean which is divided into North Island( Te Ika-a-Māui)and South Island (Te Waipounamu) by the Cook Strait. This is a land of volcanoes, glaciers, numerous clean lakes, mountain ranges, thick lush- green national parks, beautiful long stretch of scenic routes through the countryside, fresh air, sparse population and of course the lovely Kiwis. 100%Pure New Zealand gives all the details that travellers would like to know. For a change, we decided to ditch the traditional research  that we carry out about the place and just went ahead with the basic plan we were provided with by PickYourTrail.
We were welcomed at the Auckland airport by this huge statue which can give one a feel of being in the ‘Home of Middle‑earth’.
At the Auckland Airport we headed to Budget travels for renting our pre-booked car to travel in the North Island. If one has a valid Indian driving license and one can drive well, then New Zealand is the place to be. Just a simple lesson given by a Morgan Freeman look-alike man from Budget rentals helped us in getting over the fear of driving an automatic car. I enjoyed driving it! I so loved the feel of the bright blue Toyota Yari against the colourful scenery of the North Island.

Auckland- Hahei-Coromandel- Thames- Cambridge-Waitomo-Rotorua

We covered this route in 4 days which obviously could never do justice to the place around but we had to make the best of what we had at hand. Our first stop was in Auckland for half a day, just enough to relax and get over the jet lag. That evening of Day 1 we spent by walking down the streets and lanes appreciating the calmness around and also wondering as to why all the restaurants were closed when it was just 7:00 PM and the streets were deserted even though when there was ample light in the sky. Thankfully, a Kashmiri restaurant was open where we could get a  warm and delicious meal. To be able to find an Indian restaurant which served vegetarian meal was a very promising start to our trip.
Day 2 – The bright sun was up sooner than we had expected. Waking up to the beautiful view from the garden and sitting by the window enjoying the mirth and the calmness in a beautiful New Zealand morning was something that I miss even now. After having a quick vegetarian breakfast( Uhhh… such a relief to find vegetarian food everywhere without much difficulty), we headed to Lake Pupuke, which is a heart shaped fresh water lake that occupies a volcanic crater and  provides  drinking water for the residents there.

Takapuna Beach  was clean, beautiful so serene in that bright morning. We could get a beautiful view of the volcanic island, Rangitoto from here.  If we had an extra day to spend in Auckland we would have surely made a visit to Rangitoto Island and also another day trip to Waiheke Islandmainly known for its beautiful beaches and the vineyards.  There are timed  ferry tours which take travellers to these places from DevonportIn order to take a quick look of the city we took a short ferry ride from Devonport.  To explore the city one needs time as there are many things to do in Auckland. One could go to the Art Gallery, attend the Maori cultural performance at the Auckland War Memorial, Sky Jump and Sky walk from the SkyTower etc… We headed off to leave for Hahei, Coromandel.

Roads along Hahei

Absolutely flawless roads, clear road signs, hardly anyone seen breaking traffic rules even on highways, rarely get to hear honks and if you are slow everyone behind waits for you to give way at the slow bay area. There are designated places with roads signs that inform travellers about scenic locations of interest that they should look out for. All cars go speeding and only reduce speed when the sign boards tells them to do so. We were in awe of the roads and the scanty population that helped the government in implementing such fine work and road rules. Every traveller is handed over the ‘ Driving in NZ’ rule book when they approach the car rentals.
There were huge pine trees for a pretty long stretch during our journey. Travelling to the Coromandel route is a must do activity during NZ winters.

Since the route was so beautiful we stopped whenever and wherever possible to click pictures and relish our moments. We started in the morning and reached only late afternoon. The location of our stay was perfect. We could take a short drive to the parking lot to start the Cathedral Cove walk and Hahei explorer and also the way to the Hot water beach at night.

We parked our vehicle and headed over to the Cathedral Cove walking track. It took us around 1.5 hours to reach the Cove – our last stop on this route. There were multiple bays which we one could visit while walking to the main cove. The view was scenic, the walk perfect with a clear sky well lit by the bright sun & breathtaking views. To reach the Cathedral Cove we had to cross  Gemstone Bay, Stingray Bay, Champagne bay and the Mares Leg Cove. The Gemstone bay has a Snorkel trail which attracts a lot of marine adventure enthusiast. The Maori name for Cathedral Cove is Motauhi which means “a place to debate in“. Above the Cathedral Archway was once a Pa site which is where local Maori gathered to discuss matters of Te Whanganui-a-Hei (the great bay of Hei). Cathedral Cove is also called as Te Whanganui-A-Hei. 

en route to Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove

Hot water beach, Hahei

We drove to Hot water beach Hahei at around 9:00 PM. It was a funny situation for us ; we had worn shorts with slippers, had a thick rain-jacket on,  warm skull caps and were walking to a beach at 9:00 PM in pitch darkness with a spade in hand to enjoy in a hot water beach. We used our mobile lights to spot the location where all we could see was people in small groups huddled together in one place lazing around, lying down and enjoying the hot water springs. We were a little sad thinking that we had missed that crucial time of the low tide. But little did we know that the magic of that night was yet to unfold. We found a place for us where we made a huge moist sand mound and sat on it barefoot dipping our feet in a pit  full of cold sea water. We dug a bit with the spade when warm water started coming in slowly. In few minutes the temperature of the water increased and our legs were dipped in adequately warm water. Then the sea water suddenly started retreating and hot water started replacing it.
Our feet were soaked in warm mud and suddenly hot water seeped in. It was so hot that we were doing a hop-skip and jump, unable to stand there even more that a second. Finally, we found the perfect spot to sit at around 10:30 PM  where the hot water and the sea water started mixing. The temperature was just perfect and the place was perfect for us to sit in the open wearing raincoat and cap because the breeze was too cold to bear. It was a natural pedicure with warm sand around and water just enough to soak our feet till the ankle.
Yd had set his tripod and camera by then and was getting his timed shots searching for something that could make his day worthwhile. Slowly, people started moving away and we were on our own. The sky had cleared up and it was pitch dark with a million stars scattered around. Nothing could beat the 360 degree view that we were getting. I had never seen so many stars in the sky. At a point in the night, Yd noticed a bright light where the stars seemed more concentrated and the light seemed bright at only one place. He felt that it could be the milky way which was ready to pop up any time. We waited and waited for almost an hour and more, and then we noticed the milky way which was radiating its aura but was stuck to the horizon and had decided not to show its face to the thirsty eyes of the camera and the anxious photographer. This picture was one among those 50 odd pictures that YD clicked in his attempt to capture the milky way.

We spent a couple of hours enjoying in the freezing cold Pacific Ocean after the Hahei explore tour. Adair and Rick were so cool about us walking into our rooms with sand all over. In fact, they suggested that we shouldn’t go without having a swim in the Pacific ocean.  The experience was just out of the world, with no one to bother us and no valuables to take care off. We were so relaxed in the beach that we did not want to leave Hahei soon.

The route all along the Coromandel was so scenic that I was too excited to drive. Yd and I were competing for the steering wheel, just to get the feel of driving on one of the most picturesque routes all along our trip. We were romancing our company, the bright sunny sky with strong chilling breeze and stopping by wherever we wanted. There were hardly people around, which is what made us even more excited. It was a respite to our eyes and our soul to find places with very less people around. Yd picked up some beautiful shells from here, one of them being the Paua shell, which was available for more than 20 NZ dollars. I was lucky to have got a gift from nature directly.  We stopped by at places like these, to have our meal for the day, which was bread slices with cheese and chips. Simple and filling meal with water and fresh fruits. We had to cover a long distance  so we tried hurrying up by around 2:00 PM. We had to reach Cambridge , where our next Airbnb stay was booked.
We had our Waitomo Glowworm cave expedition booked by PYT beforehand. The advantage of staying in Cambridge was that , it was very near to Waitomo and Rotorua, which was our next destination. It was a quaint little town. After fuelling up our tank we reached our home stay. The Coromandel – Thames route was so captivating that we were delayed by almost 4-5 hours. Only one Indian restaurant was open at 10:00 PM, NZ timing, Cardamom restaurant which turned out to be a desi restaurant with desi staff .
Day 4 – The Glowworm Cave experience started and lasted for an hour. What we saw was nothing less that getting into the world of the movie’ Avatar’. The experience was phenomenal, with a lady guiding us initially through the age old caves from where the water entered. The name Waitomo, means ‘water entering a hole in the ground.’ It is home to an awesome underground world that has captivated millions of visitors for more than a century. The ancient labyrinth is made of limestone caves and formations. A silent boat tour takes us along the dark caves only to unfold this magic.
Getting set for the Waitamo Caves
There is also an Aranui Cave just around this cave, which is also open for exploration. We went to  the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park, which was one of the better things to do.  After taking a power nap in the car we left for this place, which was just a short drive from the Glowworm cave. The main reason that we came here was to have a closer look at the Kiwi, which is the National bird as well as the most endangered species there. Their population has been depleting so much because of the trouble-making possum’s.  The best part of the experience was that I could hold the Kakariki or the parakeet on my palm and allow it to have its feed. One delicate and beautiful experience it was for the day!!!
Once, we were back from Cambridge, we left for Rotorua, which was just an hour and half drive from Cambridge town, Waikato. We wanted to reach there before afternoon so that we go spend time in exploring the place there.  Our accommodation was booked at the Bella Vista Motel, Rotorua by Pickyourtrail, which was really comfortable and good for staying. We were to visit Wai -O -Tapu, The Thermal Wonderland in Rotorua. It is a part of a scenic reserve administered by the Department of Conservation and has the largest area of surface thermal activity of any hydrothermal system, in the Taupo Volcanic Zone.
 
The zone is located right on the edge of the largest volcanic caldera( depression) within the active Taupo volcanic Zone , covering around 18 sq.km. The volcanic activity dates back about 160,000 years. The Wai-O – Tapu stream forms an integral part of the drainage system which later flows into the Waikato river and to the Tasman Sea. Boiling springs and volcanic gases introduce numerous minerals into the water which account for no fish life in the stream. The water is boiling at around 300 degree Celsius. It seemed like a large scale Chemistry Lab with the pungent odour, rotten egg smell of hyrdogen sulfide and a wide range of colours from orange, yellow, green, purple, red-brown to black. With the extremely high thermal activity underneath the liquefied mud was bursting out in spurts, rising and falling in patterns only to amaze the eyes of the spectators. This mud is used as face-pack and has high cosmetic value; it is sold as the Rotorua mud.
When in Rotorua, the Polynesian Spa is a must where we can enjoy a relaxed bath in the hot water mineral bath and spa therapy. We were so exhausted by the walk in Wai-O-Tapu, that all we wanted to do was to eat and sleep.We had to take the early morning flight to Christchurch the next day. Air New Zealand’s small flight was ready for us the next day to take us to the beautiful South Island of NZ.
Coming up next – Archana and YD Nathan’s journey to the South Island of New Zealand, follow them on their blog. Inspired to go on a New Zealand Vacation – we are just a note away!