I have so much to write about so I’m just going to jump right into it. Here is what happened these past three weekends.
Weekend #1: The Coromandel Peninsula
My travel companions for this trip were the same four from the Rotorua weekend with the addition of California native Will and local Kiwi Kate. Kate’s parents were nice enough to let us borrow their 7 person car for the weekend and fully equip it with a first-aid kit, groceries, and a tin full of lollies. So Friday after classes we all piled in and began the 6 hour drive north to the peninsula. Well, it would have taken 6 hours, but we took a wrong turn down a gravel road and ended up taking a huge detour. Eventually we got back on track, but ended up arriving at our motel in Coromandel at 2am.
At 5:45am, just 3 hours after falling asleep, we all packed up our gear and headed out to Cathedral Cove to catch an early morning sunrise. This cove is known for being one of the filming locations for The Chronicles of Narnia—and I can understand why. The beach and rock formations there were amazing! We got to the beach just before the sun rose over the horizon and it really did feel as if we were in another world.
Our next destination was the Shakespeare Cliffs. From a small beach side town, we took a little ferry across an inlet from the ocean and then hiked up to the top of the cliffs. The views were spectacular; a huge expansion of the ocean sat before us at the top.
After the cliffs we set our sights on Hot Water Beach. Like the name suggests, this beach is known for having hot water created by underground geothermal activity. But you have dig down to reach it so we rented a shovel and got digging. It didn’t take long for our hole to start filling up with water and after about 15 minutes we had our very own hot tub! However, some parts of the water were extremely hot… almost to the point where you would get burned if you sat there too long. Still, it was a very unique experience.
The only destination for the next day was a place known as ‘The Pinnacles’. The hike to them took a couple hours and it was mostly uphill, but there was incredible scenery the whole way. The trail ended at the top of a mountain that was literally a pinnacle with 360 degree views of valleys and hills that stretched all the way to the ocean. The wind at the top was a bit strong, but that didn’t stop us from moving towards the edge to get a better view.
Weekend #2: Lake Taupo
In the middle of the North Island of New Zealand there is a huge lake called Lake Taupo. So one Saturday, the original 5 from the Rotorua weekend set out to see what it had to offer. We got a late start on this weekend because we spent Saturday morning shopping for used cars. Renting cars for weekend trips is okay, but we figured having our own car would give us more freedom and save money in the long run. By the time we reached Taupo though it was nearly dark. We checked into our hostel for the night and then drove/hiked to a local stream that was supposed to be a natural hot spring. We were amazed to find it beneath a bridge where there was a waterfall that emptied into pools of steaming water. I thought the hot stream in Rotorua was cool, but this one was incredible! We all laid back in the pools and spent the night looking up at the millions of stars that dotted the sky.
The next day we drove through the nearby Tongariro National Park on the way to do some caving. This park is home to desert like terrain and snowcapped mountains—a very stunning mix. We only had time to take some pictures from the side of the road, but hiking in this area is definitely on my list of things to do.
After driving down some gravel roads and into a more forested area, we reached the caves. We read about these caves in a guide book and it said that without a guide it was easy to get lost in the labyrinth of underground passages. But that didn’t stop us! Honestly though, we explored most of the cave system and finding a way out was never a problem. The only tricky part was that a stream ran through the base of the cave, so we had to maneuver ourselves over stepping stones the entire way. The coolest part of the cave though was the glow worms! When we turned off all our lights, the ceiling of the cave became dotted with glowing blue specs. It looked just like the night sky.
This is the best picture I could get of the glow worms. But trust me, they were much brighter!
Our final destination of the weekend was the thermal hot pools of Tokaanu. Again, we read about this place in a guide book and the author claimed to have boiled eggs in a natural geyser there. And of course, we had to give it a try too! Me not being a fan of eggs, I decided to try boiling a sweet potato instead. So we took our eggs and my potato, stuffed them in some socks, tied them to a stick, and submerged them in the boiling water.
After about 15 minutes our food was ready to eat. And I got to say, it ended up tasting pretty good.
Weekend #3: Southern Region near Wellington
For this weekend our destination was the Aorangi Forest Park just east of Wellington. Again, we had the same 5 people from last weekend and set out on Saturday morning. On the way to the forest, we had two stops planned. The first was the location of the longest place name in the world. Off the side of the highway, there is a bluff that is known in the Maori language as Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu. This location is part of Maori legend and roughly means, “The hilltop where Tamatea with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, traveler over land and sea, played his koauau (flute) to his beloved.”
Our next stop was a local waterfall out in the middle of the country. It was a bit rainy when we went there, but the falls themselves were impressive.
The next day we visited another place called “The Pinnacles”, only these were not at the top of a mountain. Instead, these pinnacles were unique rock formations that were used for one of the filming locations in The Lord of the Rings. We took a short hike up and down some hilly forest trails and finally emerged at the base of these tall rock towers. The setting was a bit eerie, with the combination of the rainy weather and dark alley ways between the pinnacles. We decided to explore some of these alleys and then ate a quick lunch before heading back.
Last on the agenda for the weekend was a lighthouse that marked the farthest southern point on the north island. Our drive to this location hugged the coastline and gave us incredible views of the ocean on one side and rugged landscapes on the other. Unfortunately the road leading up to the lighthouse was closed due to dangerous road conditions, but we got out and explored the black sand beaches.
Overall, these weekends were filled with amazing places and amazing people. Thinking about these trips made it hard not to go anywhere last weekend due to the piling up of school work. But there are things to look forward to; this Saturday marks the start of our two week mid-semester break. We also bought a car this past week and are currently making plans for driving through the South Island. I’ll be sure to have a lot to write about when I get back.