Crossing over to the North Island after 7 months on the South Island was like arriving in a different country. While the lush deep greens, rolling picturesque hills, endless waterfalls and snow-capped mountain peaks stole my heart on the South Island, it was the open-hearted, loving kindness and generosity of the people who captured me in the second half of our trip around New Zealand. You can read about the first half here.
The ferry from South to North is a comfortable 3 hour ride that ends in the centre of Wellington, which is where this story begins.
This windy city, makes up for its unfortunate weather, with ultimate ‘coolness’. It’s hipster central, with some of the most fascinating decor in bars; alluring cafés, art galleries and museums, and enough shops to keep you amused for at least a day or two. And the food is to live for! Julien was particularly obsessed with a very authentic Chinese restaurant called K C Cafe, that he made us return to every single day.
I spent my first day in Wellington catching up on work and running 1:1 client calls from the beautiful Wellington National Library, complete with the most friendly and helpful librarians I have ever encountered and a cafe inside, making it the perfect workspace. We also visited the Te Papa Museum and learned all about the history of New Zealand, went shopping for shoes, saw the parliament building (picture above) and ate as much sushi as possible, to make up for the lack of it on the South Island.
Raetihi / Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Raetihi holds a special place in our hearts, as it was here that we spent our first few weeks in New Zealand and made friends with Sandy and her family, who run and own Snowy Waters Lodge. In fact this was a place filled with firsts: the first time I ever went mountain biking, to the Bridge to Nowhere, and climbed the 19 kilometres return up a freaking huge volcano; Mount Ngauruhoe at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, also known as Mount Doom from Lord Of The Rings. As we are coming into winter, everyone at Snowy Waters and surrounds were holding their breath for the first snow falls, so that the ski field could open. The nights were cold and the weather was starting to get fierce, and I spent most of my time writing and reading in front of the fire.
New Zealand is famous for its geysers and thermal mud pools fueled by geothermal activity and Rotorua is the cultural and indigenous centre for exactly that. We spent a full day at the Te Puia cultural centre, guided by a gentle Maori elder learning about the nature, watching the Pohutu geyser erupt, exploring the walks and discovering indigenous talents at the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. Rotorua is very, very touristic which diluted much of its magic for me, but it was definitely worth seeing the thermal mud pools and watching the geyser erupt, which was short of spectacular. (I also had fun teasing Julien that he was at fault for the sulphur smells in the air.)
Gisborne / Bay of Plenty
Arriving in Gisborne we were greeted by the lovely Marg at the Waikanae Beach Motel who very kindly upgraded us to her best room, complete with ocean views. Heaven! Gisborne’s beaches look like they come out of a catalogue about Thailand, and I can imagine that in the height of summer, it feels like it too. As we moved further up the North Island, people become friendlier, the land greener and the beaches more inviting. Gisborne had a cute small-town feel with quirky cafes and shops, and a skate park that Julien couldn’t get enough of. It was one of the few places that I wish we had more time in.
Mount Manganui / Bay of Plenty
By the time we made it Mount Managanui the weather had turned and we only had snippets of sunshine, which we made advantage of with walks on the beach whenever we could. Trish and her husband who run The Terraces complex, where we stayed, made our time at Mount Manganui special with their attentive care and recommendations of places to go to work in and relax, since the weather wasn’t on our side. (They also wanted me to tell you that they have really affordable specials running when you stay a week or more, and the fully equipped apartments can sleep up to 6 people. Contact Trish directly to get their special deal.) Mount Manganui is a bustling city, and the most populated place to be found in the Bay of Plenty, with beautiful beaches, located very centrally for folks spending a couple of weeks exploring the northern east coast. Due to the weather, we didn’t get to indulge much in sightseeing, but noticed that there were tonnes of things to do, if we had more time.
I was particularly excited to get to the Coromandel, not only because I had heard that it was one of the most beautiful, secluded and magical places in the whole of New Zealand, but even more so, because our friend and madly talented artist and illustrator Helinor organised for us to stay in her quirky boutique apartment built into — wait for it — a moored ferry! It was the best thing ever! We drove up to the Marina, and there it was, all white with red and blue stripes, the SS Ngoiro, waiting for us in all its glory. Staying in the ferry for two nights literally made my trip. We also visited the infamous (to the locals) and divine Luke’s Kitchen and gallery, where we had coffee and shared delicious sugared vegan donuts and hazelnut bliss balls while catching up on work, and Hot Water Beach where you can dig a hole into the sand and let it fill up with hot water to bathe in. (I totally didn’t do it because it was cold and windy, but I came and I saw.) And of course went on lots of walks. Glorious!
The last stop on our 5 week road-trip around New Zealand was Raglan, and nuzzled right beside Coromandel, was my ultimate favourite place on the North Island. The chilled surfer vibe is moreish and the people matchless in their kindness, warmth and welcoming attitude. As soon as we arrived I deeply regretted not having lived in Raglan for a few months. We were lucky enough to spend 2 nights in a quirky old train caboose at Solscape, a sustainable eco-lodge set up high on the hill a short walk from the world-famous surf of Manu Bay and Ngarunui Beach with breathtaking views over the Tasman Sea. I had a jam-packed day of client calls on the first day, but as soon as I was finished, wandered the streets in awe of the creativity and self-expression oozing from the locals, and the endless choice of amazing coffee shops in the little streets that make up Raglan. We also met up with online holistic business coach Sabrina from Hello Freedom Lifestyle and her husband Sam, who very kindly and generously offered us their comfortable AirBnB room in their incredibly beautiful tree house set in the hinterland of Raglan. Leaving Raglan was hard in two facets: because 3 days simply wasn’t enough time to really feel into the beauty and magic of Raglan; and because this was the beginning of the end.
Auckland is far from a favourite city, but it does create full circle in this particular story that is my experience for New Zealand, and duly, I hold a certain fondness for it. We spent the entire time organising ourselves to leave this part of the world behind, changing money, packing bags, closing bank accounts, selling the car, tying up loose ends and catching up with friends.
Right now, we find ourselves en-route to the airport. I want to leave you with some inspiring words that summarise the past 10 months in New Zealand. And as I ponder the immensity of it all, I realise that the hidden gems are yet to reveal themselves to me. It is often with hindsight and introspection, that I receive the greatest gifts that any experience and country gives me.