The only good thing about friends and family moving to far-flung destinations is that you have an excuse to travel and (hopefully) a bed to crash in. Last week, we took advantage of such a situation!
Last year, one of Naomi’s best friends took off to Auckland on an 18 month New Zealand adventure thanks to a change in her working arrangements. Having never been to New Zealand, I knew that at some point during their stay over there we’d visit and I was excited! I had never been to the land of the long white cloud.
Not long before our trip, I had read an article that posted a series of expectation vs real-life shots of picturesque places around the world lamenting the disappointment that often ensues when a destination doesn’t live up to the hype. I was worried NZ would be the same, but I needn’t have. It is truly a spectacular place!
We only did a small part of the North Island but it was plenty for a small family holiday. The last 4 days of our trip were going to be spent hanging out with our friends and their kids, the first 4 days were for adventure!
And that adventure started with tiredness! We woke at 4.35am to drive to Sydney Airport under the budget-conscious plan of saving a night’s accommodation cost. The minute the alarm went off we regretted our uncharacteristic financial savvy.
By the time we reached our Airbnb accommodation in Te Kuiti at 9pm, we had been on the go for 14 hours! We were exhausted. It could have been from the travel (and the murderous, pitch black route through the NZ countryside Google Maps took us on) or the incessant chatter from a chipper 5 year old who refused to fall back asleep on the drive to the airport or on the plane and who came out with gems like “Yes, that’s why I’m talking about all the things we are doing,” when asked if he was excited.
So what did we get up to?
My sister had a glowworm when we were young. It was green and had a cute face that lit up when you squeezed it. These glowworms are not like those glowworms!
The Caves were beautiful. Limestone rock formations, 30 million years in the making. The boat ride through the pitch-black bowels of the cave was truly amazing. The roof of the dark cave glowed blue and looked like it was vibrating as the glowworms hung around minding their own business. Knowing that I was marvelling at a sight that is essentially caused by a chemical reaction in a glowworm’s butt didn’t make it any less of an amazing experience!
Seriously, this is what I was here for! From the minute we decided we’d go I couldn’t wait. Could the set really look as picturesque and tranquil as the LOTR movies made it look with all it’s fancy camera’s and technical whatnots? Yes it could!
The Little Dude was not a fan of Hobbiton. He stated repeatedly “This is not interesting for me” increasing the volume each time hoping we’d up and leave. Poor thing! I spent half my time explaining that no, we wouldn’t see Hobbits because they aren’t real, they are characters from a movie (I dared not mention the books), and that no, they weren’t hiding, didn’t go out and didn’t ‘get deaded’. It was all in vain. He is still wondering why we didn’t see any.
Hobbiton made me wish we could easily live like that. Cute little underground dwellings with round doors, pub across the lake! The serenity was broken for Naomi for a few moments while she hiked up a hill and unhooked an electric fence so the Little Dude could pee somewhere appropriate! Kids.
We enjoyed our complimentary beverage at the Green Dragon Pub, the name of which had the little dude on the look out for dragons! Sheesh. He had a ginger beer, I had a cider and Naomi had an ale. The Little Dude has since been reminding me “I’m allowed to have beer now. I’m 5.”
Located in the Whakarewarewa Forest (yep, say that six times fast), I think this was overall our favourite place. I suggested The Redwoods in our planning phase because it was right up Naomi’s alley. I figured if we couldn’t mountain bike (which we couldn’t in the end due to rain) we could still do the Tree Walk. We arrived, bought our ticket, listened to the safety info, climbed the stairs to the first of the 23 suspension bridges amongst the trees and it was only at that point I thought “Hold the phone – I hate heights!”
The height of the bridges ranged from 6-12m. Naomi and the Little Dude didn’t seem to notice the height. I was so tense crossing them that my feet hurt but I made it through all 23 bridges!
We returned the next day for a short walk along one of the tracks. Maybe it was because the weather was crappy and it was dark and wet but it was probably the most beautiful walk I’ve ever taken! Watching the locals ride their bikes and take their walk/run through there made us very jealous!
We had to do thermal pools somewhere! We picked this place 30 minutes outside of Rotorua. By this time the rainy weather had set in so we figured even if it rained, we’d still be warm.
It was such a relaxing experience, even with the Little Dude in tow. Some of the pools overlooked the springs below, steam rising up from I don’t know how far down. We only stayed for two hours because it looked like heavy rain was on its way and because with an ileostomy I have to be careful about dehydration. Not to mention slight paranoia about sustained heat affecting my bag!
Snow Planet is an indoor snow centre north of Auckland. Naomi had been looking forward to trying this out! Whilst the ski gear and some of the customer service left a bit to be desired (they originally gave Naomi boots with a gaping hole in it, and broken bindings that were the wrong size) the facility is a great place. The Little Dude learnt to use the pully-uppy thing (which Naomi tells me is a platter) and I got to sit in a heated area drinking coffee and watching on!
It is the highlight of the Little Dude’s trip! If you asked him what his favourite parts of NZ were he screams “Snow boarding and playing with the kids”!
On our free day in Auckland we avoided the city. Our first stop was Mt Victoria in Devonport for a view of the Auckland city skyline. I’d Googled the best place to see it from and this seemed as good as any! There was a road to the top and a small carpark which thankfully wasn’t full so we were able to get out and have a walk around. Naomi and the Little Dude walked around a canon bunker and we took a few pictures.
Then we headed south of the city to Mt Eden, the highest natural point in Auckland. I knew this one would be a walk, and honestly I didn’t know if I could do it. My fitness is returning but anything up can be a struggle.
Of course, we took the hard way up, which we didn’t know until we took the easy way down. With each new set of stairs we faced I swore under my breath. I told Naomi to go ahead with the Little Dude and if I made it, I made it.
The higher we walked, the more my vertigo kicked in and the faster the slope to my left seemed to whizz past. I was sucking in air just wanting to reach the top. When I did, my pride was short lived as I looked at the crater ahead of me and felt dizzy! The way the grass has grown in the crater forms an optical illusion almost and I felt like I was spinning.
Naomi took the Little Dude up to the look out and I headed to the low side of the crater where I could see a seat, a safe distance from the edge, beckoning me! The volcano itself was beautiful and it was a fantastic view of the city. It was this walk that tipped me into exhaustion but I was happy and extremely proud of doing it!
The rest of the time was spent in Auckland hanging out with friends. We went to parks and had BBQ’s and the boys kicked a ball. There were games of hide and seek and the kids ran on the beach. NZ have much better parks than we have here so the Little Dude was in heaven. The school our friend’s kids go to has amazing equipment and parents are encouraged to take their kids there outside school hours!
We had a great time on our first overseas family holiday. I’m lucky to have a girlfriend who doesn’t mind me sleeping while she drives because I needed to rest up on a few of the days. Hopefully next time we go, we can take a little longer.