New Zealand was not a destination on my original itinerary as I deemed the voyage to the archipelago too long to be stuck in coach for. Then I found a route from New York through Hawaii with a generous 22 hour layover. This split the travel time almost in two halves: 11 hours to Hawaii and then 9 to Auckland. I didn’t know what to expect other than the gorgeous landscapes that you see online or the scenery from Lord of the Rings. Obviously, like many things, seeing the landscapes online or in a movie didn’t compare with the physical experience.
The first thing that I noticed after landing was the smell. The air smelled natural, clean and fresh. Maybe I’m just used to heavily-dense cities like my hometown, New York. Even in the city center in Auckland, a metropolis like any other in a developed country, the air feels lighter.
The constant flow of air from the oceans gives New Zealand a lot of rain. It rained 3 of the 5 days I was there. It kind of ruined a lot of my pictures:( But the sky isn’t constantly gray all the time like London in winter: rather, the rain lasts moments and let’s the sun come out. This abundant rain however, is what makes New Zealand so picturesque.
I have never seen green like I have in New Zealand. This deep, lively green pops out at you in the land, the mountains, leaves on the trees and flowers. This may sound crazy, but the sky looks like a richer blue as well. The water is great, but I have seen clearer water in Maldives and Cambodia. What it lacks in that pure turquoise clarity, it makes up for in fun, as the waves are very active, even aggressive.
I wish I could have seen more of New Zealand. I didn’t because the country is vastly sparse. To get from one point to another takes many, many hours. In order to do New Zealand justice, you need to give it a minimum of 10-15 days and be prepared to sleep in many different cities so as to not waste time backtracking the same locations. Because of my budget and time limitations, I stuck to having Auckland as my home and bearing traveling out to sightseeing locations and back. This meant a minimum of 5 hours daily on a bus. This also meant I only did two one-day tours: Hobbiton and Coromandel. Coromandel is host to three main attractions: Hot Water Beach, Hahei Beach and Cathedral Cove—apparently made famous by the second Narnia movie. I didn’t see it.
Hot Water Beach literally has hot water. It is not ocean water—that water is cold—but water heated by a rock formation beneath the beach that was formed millions of years ago and is constantly heated by lava from a nearby volcano. Water that sinks low through the sand into the rocks becomes hot and bubbles back up as a hot spring. This means of course, that the water has to be dugged up through the sand and it’s really hot! It’s quite an interesting experience to dig your feet beneath the sand and have hot water on your feet while a rush of cold water is brought by unfriendly waves. People will usually dig up mini-pools in the sand and it will come up with hot water and voila, a natural jacuzzi! Overall, the beach doesn’t feel that special other than the hot water novelty.
Hahei Beach is more fulfilling of your New Zealand expectations. The waves are fun without being brutal, the sand is soft and the surrounding islands make the vistas unique. The water is colder than I would’ve liked, but not enough to keep this hot-water-shower-taker away.
The real standout in Coromandel is Cathedral Cove. Even with a 3 hour drive from Auckland, plus a 40 minute hike to the location, it was totally worth it. Yes, that means a 40 minute hike return plus the 3 hour drive back. But with towering rocks surrounding the small beach, and a few more scattered throughout, you feel like you’ve found a corner of this world untouched by men. The waves can be quite brutal, so unless you’re a strong swimmer, you won’t enjoy the waters. But there is nothing wrong with just taking all the beauty while sitting on the sand.
If I were to return to New Zealand, I would give myself 15 days, and stay in Auckland only 1-2 nights maximum after my arrival. The city doesn’t have any faults, it’s just that the true beauty of New Zealand is outside the cities. For some reason, Auckland reminded me of Canada, including the “weird spoken English.” 🙂 Most of the time in New Zealand should be spent touring the whole country hiking—you will walk a lot in New Zealand—and cooling off at the beach in the late afternoon. When you’re starving from all that walking and swimming, have yourself a nice, locally grown Angus-beef burger; or if you’re the fancy type, a steak. If you’re into fish, get fish and chips with Hake or Hoki fish. I prefer the Hake.