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Ferry Picton – Wellington
To get to the Northern Island of New Zealand with a car or campervan, you have to take the ferry. Through the northern harbour town of Picton, we take the boat to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. They say this trip is one of the most beautiful boat trips in the world. So as soon as we have neatly parked the mobile home, we go onto the deck. And the views don’t disappoint. We admire the beautiful scenery for a while but it’s very cold so we go inside. Daddy is happy, they show Champions League football on TV. It takes a few moments before we realize that it is actually live, due to the large time difference. We watch for a while and the kids play in the kids’ corner. It is too beautiful outside, however, so not the time to stay in front of the TV. Once outside again, leaving the Southern Island, we have the same feeling of the last three weeks … a big wow feeling.
After three hours we sail into the bay of Wellington. Despite the clear weather, it seems as if we are sailing through a hurricane, resulting in strong gusts of wind and high waves. Fortunately, it is a large ferry and we do not get seasick. Wellington is known as windy Wellington for good reason. Because we only have three days left to deliver the mobile home back to Auckland (it is a repositioning deal), we skip Wellington. We immediately continue to the Tongariro National Park. Thanks to the self-contained mobile home, we can stay at one of the cheap nature campsites of DOC, close to the volcanoes.
Tongariro National Park
When we arrive at our campsite, there is a sign next to the road with ‘beware of kiwis’. Finally! Yuna has been looking for such a sign all through our New Zealand trip and here on the Northern Island, she finally finds one! A few pictures later, we go to our campsite. Kiwis are nocturnal and therefore very hard to see. But that evening, when it is already pitch dark and the children are just in bed to sleep, Jurgen shouts suddenly: a kiwi!! I (Heleen) quickly get the children out of bed, we storm out with the flashlights and there is a kiwi, the fruit that is … Daddy !!!
The next day it’s time to explore the park. The Northern Island of New Zealand is the only place here where you can see thermal activity. There are no fewer than three active volcanoes in this national park: the Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and the Tongariro. The Ruapehu is still one of the most active volcanoes in the world and the children are therefore very fascinated when we tell them that there are still eruptions. The last major activity was in 2012 when the Tongariro erupted.
Time to walk in between the volcanoes, but at a safe distance. There is a longer trek that you can do (the Tongariro Alpine crossing) but we have to skip it because it’s too long with the kids (19.4km). Much to our regret because then you see the crater lakes and volcanoes up close. We will have to come back someday for this. We do another 7 km long walk along waterfalls and the plains around the volcano. The landscape is breathtaking again. Luckily we brought enough water with us because today it is almost 30 degrees, which is quite a lot for NZ.
Tired but satisfied, we continue to Rotoroa. We pass Lake Taupo, the largest lake in NZ, with a stunning clear blue colour. It is actually a big crater lake, the result of a major eruption a long time ago. You can do a lot of water sports and other activities here, but we have no time left. We are mainly going to explore the area here for hot springs and geysers.
On our way to our destination, we smell more and more sulfur and we see steam everywhere. This thermal area is very active with geysers, mud pools and hot springs. We decide to visit Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, known for its champagne pool.
After a walk alongside the steam vents, we arrive at one of the highlights of New Zealand and certainly of the Northern Island, the champagne pool. The colours are amazing, it is hard not to take a thousand photos here. Just outside the park is the Lady Knox Geyser. And strange enough, every morning at 10 am it is active. We make sure we are in the first row (well, third …) and quickly realize that the eruption is triggered. Would have been strange anyway it erupted exactly at 10 am every day. They throw in a bag of powder that makes a hole in the surface. This causes all the water to be pushed upwards. Although it is triggered, it’s still amazing to see. And it would erupt anyway, even without the powder.
This region is also known for its many Maori villages and we choose one to visit.
Whakarewarewa Maori Village
When Peter Jackson was looking for a location for the Shire (home of the Hobbits in Lord of The Rings), they flew a helicopter above the landscape of the Northern Island. They discovered a beautiful farm surrounded by rolling green hills. After speaking with the owner, they agreed on making this the location of the Shire. They built the entire village, but after the films were recorded, everything was broken down again.
Years later, when filming The Hobbit trilogy, they chose this location again. However, they decided to use sustainable materials this time and keep the set permanently. Now, this has become one of the largest attractions in NZ. We try to surprise the kids, but Yuna soon understands the GPS settings … The only way to visit Hobbiton and the Shire is by booking a tour. They take you by bus from the parking to the Shire and the guide shows you around. The location is absolutely breathtaking. It’s like walking through a real fairy tale. Flowers, green grass, butterflies, water, … We could live here! The children love it! To conclude, they offer us a home-brewed butterbeer in the “café”, unique in the world. Despite the early hour, it tastes excellent and our visit to Hobbiton comes to an end.
We have a fairly long drive to Auckland ahead of us where we have to deliver the campervan safely before 3 pm. It will be a rush to get there on time because we first have to go to Auckland centre to drop off all of our camping gear in our guesthouse. To reduce the costs, we stay in a lovely and affordable youth hostel in the town centre. We are just in time and feel relieved when we are back in our guesthouse in the evening.
Auckland turns out to be one of the most livable cities in the world and it’s noticeable as soon as you walk the streets of the city. After camping for 5 weeks in New Zealand, we need to get used again to the crowds but also to have everything available right outside our doorstep. There is good WiFi in the hostel, we can eat anything we want closeby and all the larger shops are a stone’s throw from us. It makes us realize again how much nature there is in NZ, how sparsely populated it is and especially where most of the 4 million New Zealanders live, indeed … on the Northern Island of New Zealand in Auckland.
Because we want to recover from our trip and just relax, we are not planning too much in Auckland. There is a lot to see and do but there is also a lot of work to be done. School for Yuna and Hanne, writing for the blog, finishing webshops for Jurgen, etc … After a few days of very hard work, the children deserve a well-deserved trip to the Auckland Zoo because there is 1 animal that we have not seen in the wild, the symbol of NZ … the kiwi!
At the zoo, we get another overview of all the amazing animals we have seen in recent months. We realize again how incredibly lucky we are to discover this side of the globe. After the African part of the zoo, Yuna wants to leave immediately for Namibia to see the big 5.
But the highlight of our visit is undoubtedly the encounter with the kiwi. This bird is only active at night and, due to possums and rats, has become very rare in NZ. But after waiting in the dark pavilion for a while, the moment is finally there! We see the symbol of NZ, the kiwi. He is bigger than we thought but looks very fluffy and cute! It is difficult to get Yuna out of the pavilion, but we have to move on. Now we can check the kiwi off our bucket list and the only thing that remains is a visit to the museum. There they will explain to us where those volcanoes come from…
In this beautiful museum, there is a complete section on the Maori culture, volcanoes and the many wars that the British and New Zealanders fought together. An ideal school trip for the children. Only they seem to be tired from the last few weeks and we have to make an effort to keep them attentive in the end. They do love the kids’ explorer space, however, where they can test and try everything.
The Maori department is particularly instructive, and the other Pacific people and cultures also receive extensive attention. Before we came to New Zealand, we didn’t realize how close we are to Fiji, Tonga and the Cook Islands. And how much of the Maori culture is related to the pacific one. Another reason to come back and discover those islands!
Thanks to the amazing section about thermal activity, we learn that Auckland is built on top of nine volcanoes. And those will erupt again and again in the future. Thanks to simulations we can see what will or could happen then. Luckily it is not too scary so the kids can still sleep comfortably in the evening. Yet incredible to realize what is brewing under the city!
What do we think about New Zealand
Our journey through New Zealand is over! We had 5 exhausting but fantastic weeks on the Southern and Northern Island of New Zealand! What a country! It has surpassed all our dreams! Nature in general and the landscapes are breathtaking, beautiful, fantastic, actually too good for words. We can recommend everyone to come here. It is not a cheap country, but definitely worth it! The children have learned so much about volcanoes, earthquakes, minerals, gold diggers, geysers, mud pools, …
However, if we come back again, we will not travel around with a tent anymore. Even in summer, it was cold and often it rained too much or was too windy to be able to camp. Now we understand why we saw so few people travelling around in a tent. Next time, we’ll hire or buy a campervan.
And finally, the culture of New Zealand was very interesting. The Maori have a beautiful history that still lives on. We did not know that it was so closely associated with the people of the Pacific and would love to learn more about it in the future!
New Zealand, you were fantastic! Hope to see you soon, it is not a farewell!