Today we exit Auckland and enter the wilderness of New Zealand. We picked up our rental car from Jucy Rentals and away we went! Note to travelers – if your time is short (like ours) renting a car is the best way to see the most of New Zealand – however, gas is more expensive here ($1.67/L NZ) so be sure to factor that into your budget.
We head south and drive around the Coromandel Peninsula. There is breathtaking views of the ocean and rolling hills here. Worth the drive around, but it takes a lot longer than you might think judging at the distance.
The roads are very windy and steep – but who’s in a rush anyway with this view? We spend all night driving and end up in Rotorua for the evening. This is a good place to stop over on your drive – a good size town with lots of restaurants and lodging options – however, since the Rotorua district is in the middle of one of the most geothermal areas in the world – there is a lot of sulphur in the air – think rotten eggs smell ewww! The main part of town isn’t bad, but when you enter and leave the town be prepared, the smell will almost knock you out at times!
We stayed at the YHA hostel, Treks in Rotorua, a beautiful hostel, it has a 5 star rating (one of the few) for YHA hostels. Make sure you pick up a YHA membership card at some point if you are going to be staying in hostels – cost is $40 for the year, and you save $3/room/night/person, plus you get discounts on a lot of popular attractions both in NZ and Aus, worth the investment.
Next morning we head out to explore some of the geothermal attractions in the area. There are many places to choose from – we went to the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, cost is $30, but good value for your money. Here we saw the Lady Geyser erupt (they time it for 10:15 am everyday), and then spent about 1.5 hours walking through the area. Pictures will not do this place justice -hot springs, mud pools and sulfur mix to make an eerie bubbling landscape rich in different colours.
Next stop, Taupo. This is a beautiful beach side town, not yet overrun with tourists. Lots of amazing vacation homes line the waterfront area. I would recommend having an outside picnic on the grass and enjoying the view of Lake Taupo. (Beware of ducks here – they will eat your food!). Stopped in to see the largest underground wine cellar in NZ (and maybe all of the southern hemisphere!). The place was huge and done up beautifully, had to buy a bottle of wine here.
Checked out the Huku falls – small but pretty. Went to the Volcanic Activity Center – informative, but not sure if it was worth the $10 admission fee. There are lots of nice walks in the area if time and weather permits.
We decided to drive on, we want to get to Wellington early the next day, so we decide to drive a bit more before calling it a night. WARNING – there really is not much in the way of nice towns/accommodations between Taupo and Wellington, if you do keep driving, be prepared. We spent the night at a sketchy hostel in Okahaua – my standards seem to be sliding down a slippery slope here! Thank god we had the bottle of wine (and our own sleeping bags), it really helped! Anyways, we are getting up early to continue our journey to Wellington, stay tuned for more updates!