Arriving into Auckland at 5:30 am (see our itinerary here), two days after we left the U.S., we felt surprisingly awake though badly in need of a shower. Much to our surprise, there are free showers available at Auckland airport for anyone to use. Of course, we were not prepared at all and had to purchase a towel and toiletries. It was totally worth it! There is no better feeling than having a hot shower after such a long flight. We picked up our rental car, and were ready to explore the North Island, all before sunrise!
We began our drive by heading southeast towards Pokeno. I mapped out our drive for the day here. I have found that driving on the left side of the road and right side of the car (to clarify: the opposite of left, and not “correct”) is just like riding a bike, and within a few minutes, I had no issues at all becoming quickly adjusted.
For those who don't know why I'm used to driving on the right side on the road, here's a quick flashback. I spent half a year studying in Bath, UK. I love to drive so I was excited to explore England by car. Forced to learn to drive on the left side of the road, I learned very quickly, despite having the stick shift on the wrong side of the driver's seat!
For the first few hours of our drive, it was raining and cloudy, but as we came over the hills near Hikuai, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine. We were immediately taken aback by the wonders of the North Island.
We stopped at a local grocery store to pick up road trip snacks, which is Bettina's favourite part about road trips. It turns out, every country seems to have their own unique chips flavours. Switzerland has Bettina's favourite paprika flavour, Canada has ketchup and all-dressed chips, and New Zealand has *drum roll* chicken flavoured chips! Adventurous as we are, we had to try them and they surprisingly taste just like chicken.
Mount Paku stands proud over the Tairua Harbour, and the top is easily reached by a short hike. We couldn't pass it up and had to stop there to hike to the top. Other than the birds chirping, everything was completely silent, and almost magical. We definitely felt like we were somewhere special – a place directly taken from a movie scene.
The views on the way up were excellent.
The views from the top were even better!
After a short hike back down to the car, we continued our road trip to the famous Hot Water Beach on Mercury Bay.
We found out that the sea water is just as cold as everywhere else but if you dig in the sand, you will find puddles of hot water.
After almost getting our feet burned by stepping in the wrong water pool, we can confidently say that the water is indeed hot!
Our main destination for the day was the Cathedral Cove - a must see if you're exploring the North Island.
As we walked the 2KM path from the parking lot, dark clouds were rapidly approaching.
About 500 metres from the beach the skies opened and we got soaking wet as we ran to the caves for shelter. Were weren’t the only ones taking refuge from the rain in these caves.
A short 15 minutes later, the clouds had passed and the sun again began to shine down on the beach, leaving us with the most breathtaking views!
Photo credit to our new Canadian friend whom we met on the Cathedral Cove beach: @ekklesia_kofi
We spent a lot of time wandering around the beach and enjoying the views before embarking on the final drive for the day - the drive to Rotorua.
We always expected New Zealand to beautiful but didn't expect it to be this magical. What movie do these hills remind you of?
What about these ones?