To celebrate the New Year we traveled to Auckland to catch up with buddies we hadn't seen in around 10 years. We instantly slipped straight back into hanging out as though no time had passed and, as luck would have it, their baby girl was born just 3 months after Rosie, so our kids were able to become fast friends too. We hired an RV, and rang in 2018 camping together in Waipu.
Waipu township has a really fun holiday vibe, and the beach is one of the most beautiful on New Zealand's North coast. We mixed cocktails and grilled sausages, played on the beach, picked wild strawberries, had a delicious lunch at The Cove Cafe, and even set off some fireworks. It was the best new year's celebration we've had in years.
After a fabulous few days of fun by the beach, we said farewell to our friends (hopefully not for so long this time) and set off on our road trip.
We didn't plan a lot of this trip in advance, but we knew we wanted to make our first stop Rotorua, a town famous for its geothermal activity and Maori culture.
My Kiwi cousins recommended we visit Whakarewarewa, a living Maori village, where all the tourist dollars spent go straight back to the community.
Members of the Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao tribe, who live in Whakarewarewa, organize and facilitate the tours, giving visitors an authentic taste of traditional Maori life.
We explored their geothermal treasures, including Pohutu, New Zealand's largest geyser which erupts up to 130 feet in the air.
We learned about traditional cooking techniques, and saw local kids bathing in the communal thermal baths.
We ate cobs of corn cooked in the naturally boiling spring waters, and watched performances of the Haka and various Maori love songs. I was worried Rosie might be scared watching the Haka (it is a warrior chant, after all) but she was absolutely mesmerized. She even started instinctively poking her tongue out in time with the performers, a facial expression known in Maori as a 'pūkana'.
The weather wasn't on our side, but we braved it and headed to Wai-O-Tapu to explore the aptly named 'Thermal Wonderland'.
There's a lot to see at Wai-O-Tapu, with a couple of different walks lasting between 30 and 70 minutes depending on which one you choose.
There is so much variety in the landscape over a relatively short area; with bubbling mud, sink holes, moon-like craters, steaming pools, and incredible colors that you don't expect to see in nature.
A lot of the bright colors are caused by sulfur, so there's often an egg-y smell in the air in Rotorua. Locals don't seem to notice it, but it's quite pungent if you're not used to it.
A short drive South from Wai-O-Tapu is the magnificent Kerosene Creek. The water is hot like a bath, and totally invigorating.
You walk down a little trail to the most picturesque river, until you reach a waterfall.
The mud is meant to have a high concentration of natural minerals, making it extremely therapeutic and detoxifying.
We spent one night in a campground, but it just wasn't our vibe. There were too many people all squashed together, while we had imagined being surrounded by nature. So the following night we decided to go on a little adventure and explore some roads off the beaten track. After about half an hour of driving, we found the most beautiful lake without a soul to be seen nearby.
We parked up, listened to music, splashed in the water, and cooked a delicious dinner of succulent prawns followed by juicy New Zealand lamb.
In the morning we awoke to a pair of black swans and their babies swimming on the lake outside our window. The natural beauty and quietude was exactly what we had hoped to find.
The next day we headed back North, through the Bay of Plenty, to the harbourside city of Tauranga.
As it happens, Tauranga is the home of the celebrated author Dame Lynley Dodd, the woman behind Rosie's all-time favorite book series, Hairy Maclary. In honor of her wonderful children's stories, Tauranga commissioned sculptures of the storybook characters to be made, and they're on display on the waterfront downtown.
I can imagine Tauranga would be gorgeous on a clear day, with it's picturesque bay full of boats, and rows of fun bars and restaurants along The Strand. However, on the day we were in town there was a severe weather warning and we didn't get out of the RV... But we couldn't leave without showing Rosie the Hairy Maclary and friends sculptures.
With little else to do on such a wet day, we settled in for a long, leisurely lunch at the Mills Reef Winery and Restaurant, and then got a head start on our drive back to Auckland.
We didn't realize it at the time, but we ended up following the eye of the storm through the Bay of Plenty to Auckland. The winds were insane, at times it felt like the RV was going to fall over, and we did actually see one caravan that had been flipped over by the wind on the highway. Fortunately no one was injured. The whole experiece reminded me a bit of when we found ourselves in a hurricane in Montevideo, Uruguay during our South American road trip.
One of the things I was enjoying most about New Zealand was the people; they're often well-traveled and worldly, but utterly down-to-earth at the same time. Along the way we met lots of interesting people, and so many of them told me that we couldn't leave New Zealand without eating a gas station pie.
Given the extreme conditions, we didn't want to continue driving through the night, but we'd deviated from our itinerary and didn't have a place to stay. We decided to drive until we found a nice roadside tavern with a rural aspect, and ask the proprietor if we could park for the night in exchange for a handsome bar spend. Success! It was such a random night, but an absolute hoot, and added to our overall sense of being on a crazy adventure.
The following morning we made it Auckland, where waves were coming over the sea wall and into the road. We needed an indoor activity, so we headed to the Museum of Transport and Technology.
Rosie was in her element. She loves all modes of transport, and there were lots of buttons to push and levers to pull. Perfect for kids!
For lunch I thought I'd experiment further with the whole New Zealand pie phenomenon, and I ordered a gourmet pie at a gastro pub. It was superior to the gas station variety, but there's a time and place for everything and I enjoyed both for different reasons.
It was time to say good bye to the RV, and head to the airport for the next part of our road trip in the South Island. Parting with our motor-home was bittersweet; we'd shared a very memorable adventure, but I was totally ready to wash my hair in a proper shower, and hopefully find some sunshine further South!