New Zealand is a tiny country consisting of two remote islands (and many smaller ones) with a population of around four million people. It is easy to find complete solitude in New Zealand since most of the population is concentrated in the five main cities. New Zealand has incredible scenery ranging from rainforests, beaches and cool islands on the northern island, to glaciers, lakes, snow-covered mountains and hot springs in the south.
We had two weeks to drive around and explore New Zealand. We wanted to explore the north island, before heading to visit the stunning south island, and spent about a week driving around each island. We flew from LAX directly into Auckland on a looooooong 17 hour flight and spent a couple of days there recovering from jetlag. New Zealand is a fascinating blend of some of the most diverse environments on earth, and is a master-class showing how two completely different cultures can thrive in a peaceful yet vibrant society.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum
We spent an entire day wandering this gorgeous museum with the boys. This museum is located in a beautiful half deco-half modernist building on a hill in a peaceful neighborhood.
New Zealand was inhabited by local native people, the Maori before the arrival of the Europeans in the 1700s. There were so many wonderful exhibits to learn about the history of New Zealand, and the impact it had on the Maori population. It is beautifully curated.
The Highlight for us was the Maori section on the bottom floor, and it shows a traditional Maori Hut and warrior boat.
Waitematā Harbor is the main access by sea to Auckland, New Zealand. For this reason it is often referred to as Auckland Harbor, despite the fact that it is one of two harbors joining the city.
We wandered around and enjoyed the beautiful views of the downtown area, clear blue waters, and the many shops, restaurants, and cafes. It’s a pleasant way to enjoy the afternoon.
We left Auckland and drove about 3 hours south to Rotarua. We were heading to Skyline Rotarua for some action and adventure.
If you’ve never been on a luge before, you are in for a treat. We took a gondola from the base of the mountain to the top pf the mountain. The views were incredible. At the top of the mountain, we needed to pick through a grotty container of helmets to find that perfect fit for our ride.
They do provide optional hairnets if you’d like one, and the boys were mortified when I made us all wear them. (I’m sorry, I didn’t want to drive lice around New Zealand for two weeks with us!!!)
I could only imagine the critters the group of backpackers before us left behind in the helmets!
So luge are a bit like a go-kart except it has a plastic tray to sit in and you steer it with handlebars that look like a bicycle. You pull the handlebars towards you to brake and push forward if you want to go. Sounds easy right?!?
HOT TIP: Don’t let the handlebars go because the luge will stop instantly… no matter how fast you’re going. We learned the hard way and almost lost teeth!
We had the option of three luge tracks with varying degrees of difficulty. We opted for the beginner track, much to the disappointment of the boys, who, you guessed it, wanted to head straight to the sheer drop advanced track!
After the safety talk we were all ready to go. We sat in our luges and began the 2km decent down the hill.
You can control how fast (or slow) you feel comfortable riding, and after a few minutes you feel more comfortable and experiment with the speed. Such a fun experience and the views of Rotarua from the top and the whole way down were priceless.
At first we thought this village would be a bit cheesy, but realized we couldn’t leave New Zealand without taking part in a traditional Maori ‘hangi’ feast. Tamaki felt welcoming and warm, and they genuinely seemed to enjoy sharing the history and culture of the Maori people with us.
Driving to the village, our group needed to choose a chief for the night, and we were excited when Hot Hubby was chosen.
The chief has to perform chiefly duties such as representing the group when requesting admission to the village and performing in the welcoming ceremony. When we passed the test to enter their village, the interim chief receives a hongi, a traditional Māori greeting where noses are rubbed together.
We then spent an immersive evening beginning with a traditional welcome ceremony, we learned about local customs, and watched a powerful display of song and dance. We ended the evening with a delicious hangi dinner that was cooked underground.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The first level or the Catacombs is an extraordinary walkway within a limestone cave. The second level is where you start seeing more prominent stalactites and stalagmites.
The final level is the Cathedral, with high ceilings and large (and growing) stalactites and stalagmites.
Whakarewarewa Thermal Village
Set with boiling and bubbling hot springs, mud pools and steaming lakes, we visited Rotorua’s only Living Maori Thermal Village. This was a fascinating day and we learned about the Maori culture traditions and their unique way of life.
Full disclosure, since this is an active geothermal location, the smell is similar to rotting eggs, and it takes a while to get used to that.
We witnessed the cultural performance which is a gorgeous display of traditional Marae song and dance. It was interesting to see the performers walking around the village in their everyday lives, compared to the traditional roles they played onstage.
After the cultural performance, we walked around the village stores and saw the villagers performing their everyday tasks.
We learned these events and places may seem commercial, however they give the indigenous people a way to contribute to the economy of New Zealand and a chance to share their deeply rich and spiritual culture.
New Zealand is the PERFECT country to travel either with your family or solo. The spectacular scenery, interesting culture and relatively compact size, makes it the perfect spot to relax, explore, and try something a little outside of your comfort level.