Two weeks ago we left New Zealand after driving more than 5,000 kilometers and spending almost eight weeks exploring. We experienced stunning scenery, curvy roads, friendly and laid back Kiwis, millions of sheep, and have a long list of places and experiences we will never forget.
Here are nine of our North Island favorites:
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
Without a doubt one of our favorite days in New Zealand took place in the caves near Waitomo. We spent a good portion of our time in the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves with our eyes directed toward the cave ceiling as we took in the incredible sight sparkling glow worms. The views were only improved by the knowledgeable and entertaining Maori guide that we had. Although we weren’t allowed to take pictures, there are some incredible pictures of the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves found here.
Black Water Rafting
An hour after we left the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, we were changing into swimsuits and wetsuits for our Black Water Rafting adventure in another cave just down the road. We were fortunate to have just two other people on our tour so our guides catered a special tour for the four of us. We jumped off waterfalls, squeezed through small tunnels, explored the Ruakuri Cave and tubed down rivers all while we were more than 200 feet under ground.
Visiting Cape Reinga
While planning our time in New Zealand, we almost bypassed Cape Reinga. Although New Zealand is a relatively small country, we wanted to make sure we had enough time to see the things on our list and we weren’t sure we could afford to spend the time it would take to get up to Cape Reinga and back. Boy are we glad we changed our minds! While it is a long journey on State Highway 1 up to Cape Reinga, it would’ve been a shame to miss the scenery along the way, not to mention Cape Reinga itself. We stayed at a Department of Conservation (DOC) camping site the night before we visited Cape Reinga and after 45 nights of camping it remains in our top two camping locations of the trip. Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) DOC site is at the end of a slightly intense unpaved road but the incredible location and private beach that you find upon arrival is well worth it. Cape Reinga is stunning, with views of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean merging and mixing their two different colors, the lighthouse, and coastline with so much Maori mythology.
Admiring Tāne Mahuta
On our return trip from Cape Reinga, we also got to experience another of our favorite places in New Zealand, the Waipoua Forest which is filled with Kauri trees and home to Tane Mahuta, the largest Kuari tree known to stand today. Known as The Lord of the Forest, it’s estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years old and has a height of 168 feet (51.2 meters) and a trunk girth of 45 feet (13.77 meters). While its size and age are impressive, it was the mythology of Tāne Mahuta that we were really captured by. According to Maori myth, Tāne Mahuta is the offspring of the Sky Father and Earth Mother. Before light existed, Sky and Earth were bound together in a marital embrace, but their children felt trapped in the darkness. Tāne Mahtua put his feet onto his mother and pressed his back onto his father, pushing up as he grew and giving light to the world. This legend was mentioned frequently during our time in New Zealand and it was awesome to see what they were referring to.
We’ve been to our fair share of large cities around the world and Wellington might just have become one of our favorites. In keeping with the rest of New Zealand, it has a wonderful cafe culture and Cuba Street is just the right amount of funky fun. It also seems to be the epicenter of New Zealand’s craft breweries. We timed our visit so that we were in Wellington for an All Blacks game, a definite must-do while you are in New Zealand.
Tramping the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
A Day at Piha Beach
On our first day in New Zealand, we went to Piha Beach with family and it remains one of our favorite New Zealand memories. It was Ben’s first black sand beach and we spent time collecting interesting white shells, searching for wildlife in the rocks, and climbing Lion Rock.
Hanging with the Hobbits
Another highlight for me, but less so for Ben, was Hobbiton. Unfortunately this can only be done on a guided tour and we happened to be on a tour that had a number of disrespectful tourists which soured our experience a bit. However, learning more about Director Peter Jackson’s reasons for doing things and standing in front of the hobbit doors amongst the rolling New Zeland hills of The Shire was very cool.
Auckland with Family
We were fortunate enough to start and end our time in New Zealand in Auckland with my family. We loved spending time with my cousin, his wife and their three kiddos, and even got to see my aunt and uncle from New Hampshire! There is nothing better than time with family and since we were on the other side of the world, it was even more special. Some of our favorite memories include a Michael Jackson dance off, french market in Parnell, dinner at Elliott Stables, dessert at Milse, dinner at Orbit in the Auckland SkyTower, and fishing in the Hauraki Gulf off the coast of Auckland.
Don’t miss our favorite South Island adventures here.