When my best friend Amy moved to Auckland in September 2016 I was determined to go and visit her at the earliest opportunity. I would have loved to have spent a lot longer in NZ, but with flight date restrictions and limited time I could take off work, I had to settle on a whirlwind ten days, in which I was determined, not only catch up with my best friend, but also to pack in as much exploring as possible.
I had pre-booked a car from Auckland airport and, after spending my first night at Auckland airport after a fairly middle of the night arrival, I grabbed the keys from the Thrifty kiosk and was off to explore. I fell so in love with this car I actually went out and bought one the same when I got back to the UK. Amy had to work whilst I was there having not been there long enough to have earned annual leave yet, so I spent the weekends with her and set out on my own during the week.
Here’s my itinerary
Friday 17th February 2017
Arrive at Auckland airport and stay in ibis Budget Hotel Auckland Airport overnight. This was a very basic hotel. However, after 24 hours of flying I had never been happier to see a bed in my life.
Look online for flight deals as early as possibly and get booked.
Book your hire car as early as possible. Prices quickly go up as availability goes down and I met several people who hadn’t pre-booked and had arrived in New Zealand only to find there were no cars available.
Be prepared to drive an automatic (everywhere else in the world drives automatics, it’s only the English who have a ridiculous obsession with driving with a manual gearbox!).
Bring a sat-nav from home to save hire fees and pre-download the maps you will need on to it.
Saturday 18th February 2017 – Takapuna
My friend had suggested I spend the day in Takapuna as it is only a short drive from Auckland and would give me a nice chilled out first day to recover from my flight and get used to my hire car. Takapuna has a lovely relaxed vibe, beautiful beach overlooking Rangitoto Volcano and a pretty town centre with lots of pavement cafes.
Met Amy from work and stayed overnight at her house in Auckland.
Take it easy for a couple of days on arrival to get over any jet lag so you can enjoy the rest of the week without feeling exhausted.
Sunday 19th February 2017 – Waiheke Island
Caught the morning ferry from Auckland to Waiheke, home to stunning beaches and many wineries. We spent two days exploring the island and relaxing on the beaches whilst I recovered from my jet lag and we caught up on each others lives. We explored Oneroa which is a lovely little town before catching the bus to Onetangi where we were staying overnight. Onetangi is a much smaller town with fewer retaurants or shops but has a much nicer beach than Oneroa.
Stayed overnight at Waiheke Backpackers Hostel. $90 NZD (about £52) for two in a two bed dorm. This is a nice hostel with excellent bathroom and kitchen facilities and a lovely view over the bay. Cons were it had poor beds and was noisy at night despite an alleged curfew.
Book the ferry from Auckland to Waiheke in advance at fullers.co.nz.
You can also use an AT HOP card to pay for the ferry if you have one. An AT HOP card can also be used on the buses in Waiheke and is a great option if you plan on using a lot of public transport whilst staying in New Zealand.
Eat lunch/dinner at a lovely little Italian restaurant in Oneroa called Fenice. We had an excellent filling lunch here for a reasonable price.
Monday 20th February 2017 – Waiheke Island
We spent a lovely morning on Waiheke exploring Oneroa before catching the ferry back to Auckland.
We explored the Auckland waterfront and CBD and popped in a few shops before catching the bus back to Amy’s where I stayed the night.
Enjoy brunch at “Café Delight“, just off the main road in Oneroa and overlooking the ocean. I had delicious scrambled eggs on toast here.
The view of the Auckland skyline whilst travelling back on the ferry is excellent. Go up on deck to enjoy the view!
If you have friends living abroad take every opportunity to go and see them and explore the country. My friend also works in travel so she was very understanding and encouraged me to see as much as I could.
Tuesday 21st February 2017 – Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Drive to Taupo
Drive to Taupo and check into hostel for the next two days, Haka Lodge. This was my favourite hostel I stayed in. The sturdy bunk beds were built in wooden frames so no wobbling as my bunk mate moved around and each had a privacy curtain so I really had my own little pod, complete with a light and two plugs.
Walk by Lake Taupo. This is a wonderful lake, with striking blue waters, families playing on the shoreline, skydive planes buzzing overhead, lots of activities going on and the misty mountains in the far distance.
Overnight stay at Haka Lodge was $60 NZD (about £34) for two nights in a four-bed female only dormitory and included Wi-Fi.
On days when you have a lot of driving make sure you stop regularly to stretch your legs. Ensure you have plenty of food and drink to keep you going and get petrol whenever you can. Petrol stations aren’t generally just stumbled open along the way in New Zealand and tend to be in the main towns. Don’t leave it too late to fill up!
Make friends with your dorm mates, especially if you are staying a few nights. They will be a lot more respectful of your sleep pattern if you are a nice person! They are also a wealth of information of what to see and do if they have been in the area a while.
Get a New Zealand sim if you are travelling around alone. Roaming charges on U.K. plans are expensive in NZ and I picked up a pay as you go sim for about £20 which gave me loads of call time, texts and data so I could stay in touch with people back home and Amy. As well as if I had any problems along the way…. fortunately I didn’t.
Wednesday 22nd February 2017 – Taupo
Bungee Jump at Taupo Bungy. Read all about my jump experience and watch my video here.
Orakei Korako Geothermal Experience. I visited two thermal parks during my trip, read my blog here to find out which I liked best and my tips on visiting them.
Huka Falls river cruise which departs from a pontoon at the Aratiatia Dam car park. The ticket cost me $39 NZD (approx £22) and the cruise lasted around an hour and 20 minutes. Whilst this is by no means the highest waterfall in New Zealand at only 11 metres high, it is phenomenally powerful, making it the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand. Our captain spun the boat round several times so everyone could get a good look, takes photos and video and get a nice refreshing spray!
We arrived back at the dam a few minutes after it had been opened to release the rapids downstream. This happens four times a day at 10am, 12noon, 2pm and 4pm, purely for tourist purposes on spews out at around 80,000 litres per second so is quite a sight to behold. The rapids here are the ones famously used in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug where the dwarves are escaping the elves in barrels.
Stock up on petrol, food and drink. Overnight stay at Haka Lodge, Taupo.
If setting out on the Huka Falls river cruise try and board first and get an outside seat at the back of the boat. This will give you the best view and opportunity for pictures.
It is probably advisable to buy your Huka Falls ticket in advance as spaces are limited, I wasn’t sure what time to would be there, but was fortunate there were spaces. Cruises sail at 10:30, 12:30 and 2:30 daily but check their website first.
Explore the local towns you visit and take advantage of supermarkets like Pak’n’save to buy food to prepare rather than eating out all the time… It will save you a lot of money. Eating out is expensive in New Zealand… in fact everything is pretty expensive in New Zealand!
Thursday 23rd February 2017 – Rotorua
Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland. Read all about my Wai-O-Tapu experience here.
Drive to Rotorua.
Rotorua Skyline Gondola and luge attraction. This was another highlight of my trip and I enjoyed myself immensely. Read all about it on this blog post.
Check into my next hostel, The Backyard Inn. This was very basic. I was in a 5-bed female only dorm which fortunately was only housing three of us that night. The beds were comfortable, but there was only one socket for the whole room, it was not terribly clean and there were no lockers so I left most of my stuff in my car for the night. The bathrooms, whilst separated by gender, were also of questionable cleanliness and there were no sockets here either. Still I only paid $25 NZD (about £14) for the night, plus $5 for 24 hours of Wi-Fi, so I couldn’t complain too much!
Kuirau Park which has lots of Geothermal Activity going on and you can enjoy it for free. I wandered through, looking at the various mud pools and steaming vents and came across the parks foot pools. These are purpose built pools over the hot springs and I sat with my feet in the hot water for a while and felt my aches drift away.
I decided to explore Rotorua town and wandered down through the streets and along Tutanekai Street. Here there are lots of bars and restaurants and looks to attract a lot of tourists.
I walked down the lake area and watched the tour helicopters go out a couple of times. This is not as busy lake as in Taupo, with less activity going on, but is still very picturesque and enjoyable.
Try the ice cream at “Lady Janes”. They have a kaleidoscope of different flavours to choose from and it took me a long time to decide. In the end I went for Maple Fudge and Walnut and Salted Caramel and they were both delicious.
Always have an external battery pack ready for if a lack of sockets befalls you. Make use of your car charging sockets if you have one too. Not all hostels have the facilities you would like.
Friday 24th February 2017 – Hobbiton and Drive to Coromandel
The Hobbiton Movie Set. Read all about my set tour here.
Following a a wonderful couple of hours at Hobbiton I hit the road to Coromandel to meet back up with Amy.
When driving the coast road to Coromandel make sure you have got your concentration on. These roads are very winding and big logging trucks are often coming round bends in the opposite direction. There are many places to stop for a break if you need to. Use them!
If you are meeting someone from the Auckland Ferry in Coromandel don’t follow the sat nav! The ferry stops at Hannafords Wharf which is slightly further along the coast road than where the sat nav suggests. These roads are slightly precarious, especially in the dark, so take extra care.
Saturday 25th – Sunday 26th February 2017 – Coromandel West Coast
You can read all about our wonderful weekend in Coromandel, and watch my video here.
Over the weekend we toured the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, explored Coromandel town, spent a lazy afternoon at Waiau Falls and visited Whittianga, before experiencing the famed beaches of Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.
We stopped off in beautiful Tairau before heading back to Auckland for my final night
The west coast of Coromandel is much more interesting than the east coast. I would recommend spending more time on the east coast on your trip than I did.
Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach were very busy as we visited on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Try and visit on a weekday if possible but be sure to visit both at low tide.
Monday 27th February 2017 – Fly home
Drop hire car back to the airport and fly home.
I had a 13 hour lay over here so I had pre-booked an overnight transit hotel room at the Sama Sama Express. I was very happy to see a massive double bed, nice bathroom and free internet and quickly collapsed into bed for a decent nights sleep.