After one month of “getmyshittogether” Far North separation (just joking.. I hated it, but now.. now everything is changed) I gifted myself a two week holiday in New Zealand: actually a road trip on the North Island. I was not keen to visit the South Island, simply just wanted to enjoy my time, the drive, my loud music with my bad singing voice, and the beautiful scenery around. I took it easy (had only a few stops I wanted to see) and feel perfectly happy with my kiwi experience.
I caught an early morning bus from Whangarei to Auckland, where I picked up my little car. One footnote about the busses: if it’s on your route, choose Skip! They are way cheaper than any other, comfortable, arrive on time and as I said: very cheap!
For the first day I just wanted to stop by somewhere not too far away. Unfortunately, my trip didn’t start in the best way; I saw a pretty bad accident just before arriving in the city and this determined my thoughts and feelings for that day. It made me think about my connections and the very first question that formed in my mind was: “If I died today, who would I call to talk with for the last time in this life?” I was not able to answer my own question. There are many I would call, but not a particular person I want to hear as the last human voice. If this matters or not.. I don’t know.
Hamilton is known as the “Chlamydia Capital” but this is not why I came here. Instead, I have to highlight two places that make this city worthy of a visit.
The first one is the Hamilton Gardens, probably the main tourist attraction and with good reason. These thematic gardens are beautiful, have a very good vibe, and there are also some hidden chill spots, so it’s easy to spend here a few hours. My favourite was the Chinese Garden (funny, that this was the only place where I haven’t seen any Chinese) with an incredibly amazing bamboo walk. The second favourite was the Sustainable Backyard; it had an aroma and composition that reminded me exactly to my grandparents’ countryside home. Entering this gem took me back to my childhood, completely unexpectedly.. and for some strange reason it felt really, really good.
The other memorable place in Hamilton is The Chilli House. The reason why I like to use Couchsurfing, that the locals usually know the good places; even if you don’t have the same interest, they can give you some recommendations. I wanted to eat good noodles.. I asked for it and I got it. Maaan, this Chinese restaurant is a must-do! They are always busy, we had to wait for our meals almost an hour, but it’s totally worth it. I had the Youpo noodles, then some mochi (glutinous rice balls), and my belly was so happy and satisfied that I went to sleep with a huge smile.
From Hamilton my first stop was at the Waitomo Caves. If you are in New Zealand this is definitely on your list, so was it on mine too. I was searching for alternate, less touristy etc. options, but then decided to visit the most popular Glowworm Cave. One of my best decisions! Do you know that feeling, when it doesn’t matter that you are part of a guided tour that happens every 10 minutes, but the guide and the environment is just so good that you enjoy it as it is? If not, then go to Waitomo and you will understand what I’m talking about. All 45 minutes were so lovely and perfect: the singing guides and the final boat trip under the bioluminescent larvae made it all magical.
After the cave I drove to the Marokopa Falls. As I said, no waterfalls interesting enough for me in New Zealand, but this one looks pretty cool. The only problem was the rain – that also made me skip the Mangapohue Natural Bridge Walk -, but the curvy empty road there and the view make it a good pin on the road map.
THE FORGOTTEN WORLD HIGHWAY
Here comes the big guy. :) After my research it was no question that I will choose the scenic route to go down to New Plymouth.
First of all: raise my hand, who starts a 150 km mountain road with a half-full tank. There’s a reason why everyone stops at the petrol station in Taumarunui. Well, I stopped too, stretched my legs and went to the toilet, but can’t explain why did I not even check the fuel level in my car.
Everything went fine until I reached my destination on this road: Whangamomona. If you haven’t heard about this town, it’s famous for calling itself a republic and they elected a goat as president (and a dog too). Something stupid and nonsensical? Of course, it’s immediately on my trip list.. and hey, now I have a new stamp in my passport too.
But.. I had to realize, that even in the only town where people stop by, there’s not a single gas station or petrol in vodka bottles or anything. Fun fun fun. The closest town from here, Stratford, was for another 62 km. On the final 20 km the last line on the fuel display was blinking like crazy. I felt a bit worried in the middle of nowhere and tried to drive as eco-friendly as I could, but at last I made it to the gas station. It felt never so good to fill my car and pay $70 for it.
The mountain road itself is really cool (despite some roadworks), mostly empty, not the best for vans (or just some guys don’t know how to turn the wheel) and if you haven’t seen enough NZ valleys yet, there are many lookout spots to feed your eyes.
I was stressed about the petrol, thus I didn’t stop at the Bridge to Somewhere.. I love the name, so please if you are there do it for me.
I arrived in New Plymouth in the afternoon so had a lot of time to walk around the CBD – I still can’t get used to this: how can you call a one-shopping-street-wide part of a town (sorry, city) “central business district”?
The first thing that caught me is the pretty cool street art collection; these walls are really nice ones, I was a bit surprised, but of course I loved it. The Coastal Walkway was nothing special, the best part of it was when a Chinese girl passed by and recommended to visit the food trucks at Huatoki Plaza. Actually, the Vietnamese noodle salad I got was just right (can’t help it, I’m dying for Asian food). Btw it’s fun that in the pool by the plaza you can feed not fish but black eels.
As I was on the West Coast I wanted to catch the sunset and decided to follow the coast to a more western point, so I ended up in Oakura. Sometimes I have amazing spontaneous ideas. This small town is really nice, obviously full with campers and surfers, but also there’s the Holy Guacamole with burritos and with random live music every Friday, and a long beach with the sun going down in the background. What else do you need to feel a good vibe?
Nevertheless, the best of the best was to leave and head back to NP while the sunset was still happening. Catching these lights and the view with Mt. Taranaki in the background is priceless:
I started the next day in the Pukekura Park, where I have seen my first wingless duck, that was super cute (especially when he jumped in the lake) and looked to be okay with this life. I wanted to come back later in the evening for the Festival of Lights, unfortunately the rain thought differently.
The city has many art galleries and the Puke Ariki: one of the coolest museums I’ve visited lately. It also had an Illusion exhibition that was simple fun – it’s not always the size that makes a collection memorable, sometimes less is more.
It was my Name Day, I felt a bit lonely, oh and just decided that I didn’t want to drive this day (I needed some rest), so I drove to the Three Sisters and the Elephant Rock (69 km to the North). What can I say, I’m a maniac and was bored.. but hey, here’s a good song:
The sisters are actually two, but they have many cousins and the Elephant Rock has already lost its trunk. I came here only because I had nothing else to do, so did not have big expectations, but also my mind didn’t blow away either. Walking to the rocks, then crossing a mini pool to more rocks and then back to the car took 3 hours. Footnote: if you don’t have your bikini with, make your walk before the high tides!
On the way I stopped by the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, which seems to be a tourist attraction, but it’s pretty much just a bridge among the harakeke.
After arriving back to the city I went up to Mount Moturoa in the hope of a nice view. Well.. the shape of the Paritutu Rock reminds me of the Sugarloaf in Rio, but kiwis f*cked it up with the factory (it could have been a cool tourist attraction, just sayin’).
This first 3 days of my trip felt much better than expected; I have already seen some awesome things, drove on beautiful roads, had a badass playlist and trained my car to 160 km/h – oh yes, speed limits in New Zealand are bit more flexible (mostly 110 and not only 100 km/h) and as speed cameras are not too common, it gives you much more freedom to push those limits (Australia – New Zealand 1:3).
Last, but not least this is my route map: