Saying Goodbye

The last stop on our 5 week tour of New Zealand was a little trip to the north of Auckland. Sadly we never made it up to the Bay of Islands, which was the one thing I had to drop from the itinerary. It’s hard to believe that even with 5 weeks, it still wasn’t enough time. I would have loved to have 1 more week, but had I gone for 6 weeks I probably still would have said the same thing.

Instead of going the whole way north, we just did a few of the attractions near Auckland. We’d planned to go on a glass bottom boat ride at Goat Island Marine Reserve, but the weather decided to ruin one more thing for us and it was cancelled just as we were pulling out of our hotel in Auckland. It wasn’t raining, so we think it was due to wind? We’re not really sure. But we made the best of it and decided to drive out to Muriwai Gannet Colony instead.


Seth did his bachelors honours thesis on the gannets in Newfoundland, so this stop was mostly for him, but I ended up really enjoying it as well. The gannets have settled their colony right on the cliffside, which is a bit weird for seabirds as they usually stick to islands to avoid predators. It definitely smells like a bird colony, but it was surprisingly fun to watch all the birds interacting together and we ended up spending the better part of an hour just watching them flying around and fight among themselves.

Then we continued north to Tawharanui Provincial Park for our last hike of the trip. Turns out it’s pretty popular among the locals and there were a ton of families boogie boarding in the waves at the beach. We ate our lunch watching the water, but then headed a little more inland to go tramping through the fields. Tawharanui is interesting as far as parks go because it’s the first park where the government tried to have a blend of eco-sanctuary, farming, and recreation. So the park is gated with a predator fence going around the whole thing and is a popular place to release birds that they’re trying to re-introduce. But there’s also a ton of farmland and people can enter the park for recreational activities like going to the beach and hiking.


We drove past so many fields and rolling hills as we made our way around New Zealand and I always felt like the hills were calling to me. They just looked really fun to hike up with all the wide open grassy space – but I never got the chance because they’re almost all farmland and fenced off along the road. Since Tawharanui is a mix, I finally got my farmland hike! The hike starts off through field after field. It’s supposed to be a great place for birding, but we didn’t see a lot of birds out in the open space, so we just enjoyed the views. On the way back we took a different track through the woods in hopes of seeing more birds and it definitely paid off. Supposedly there are takahe wandering free in the park, sadly we didn’t see any of those, but we did see several North Island Saddleback! We’d seen the South Island Saddleback on Stewart Island and Seth really wanted to see one on the North Island, but they’re not very widespread. When we didn’t see one at Zealandia, he assumed he wouldn’t get to see one at all, but lucky for us, they had been released at Tawharanui as well and we were lucky enough to spot them.


It started to drizzle towards the end of the hike and we returned to the beach to find it completely empty. There was something really gorgeous about the lighting and the way the beach looked. The tide was out, but the sand was still wet from the rain, which gave beautiful reflections of the landscape. We took the opportunity to take some personal time at the beach to reflect about the trip and though I was looking forward to going home, it made me sad to leave. There’s a lot to love about New Zealand and I really felt that it was a place that fit our own personal values. Seth loved all the biodiversity and there’s a real appreciation of nature and wildlife. I just couldn’t get over all the gorgeous landscapes. I’m a sucker for beaches and mountains and I felt the country also had a real appreciation for it’s natural landscapes.

We spent one last night at a little cabin in Leigh. I’d really wanted to camp at Tawharanui for the last night, but it was full up. In the end it was for the best though because it really poured overnight and I can’t think of anything worse then trying to pack up wet gear and then having to fly back to Canada with it.


Our flight didn’t leave until 2pm, so we re-arranged and re-packed all our gear, leaving what remained of our food in the donations box in the hostel kitchen. We stopped at a car wash to give our rental a good cleaning and then dropped it off and made our way to the airport. Unfortunately the flight was delayed, but it was direct flight, so at least we didn’t have to worry about missing any connections. It was one of the weirder flights I’ve been on – it left at 3pm in the afternoon and we arrived in Vancouver at 7am in the morning… the same day! Gotta love crossing the dateline!

It was a Wednesday and I had to go back to work the next day, so we were glad to have the whole day to relax, but it ended up not being that relaxing because we arrived back to Vancouver right in time for a snowstorm! It’s no more than a 45 minute drive to our house from the airport, but it ended up taking us almost 3 hours to get home… in a cab! Vancouver doesn’t deal well with the snow and everything was stalled on the highways, but eventually we made it.

I tracked all our stats while we were on the road and at the end of the day, we drove 4600km, hiked 150km, kayaked 26km, and biked 25km! I’m probably a little biased because I spent so much time there and it was my honeymoon, but I would definitely say New Zealand was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken! Hope to go back again some day!


Cathedral Cove and Waiheke Island

After Hobbiton, it really felt like our trip was starting to come to a close, but we still had a few fun activities left. One that I was really looking forward to was a day at the beach at Cathedral Cove and had my fingers crossed for nice weather. We stayed in a small town called Hahei at this lovely backpackers lodge and spent the afternoon exploring around the town – getting ice cream, walking along the beach, and having a few local beers. Beach towns always have a great vibe and we felt really relaxed.


The next day the weather was great and we decided to skip the water taxi and hike out to Cathedral Cove, but not before renting some snorkeling gear at the local dive shop. It’s not too long a walk to Cathedral Cove, about an hour, and there are gorgeous views of the ocean and cliffside all along the trail. We took our time on the way there and decided to stop at the first beach to do the Gemstone Snorkel Trail. It’s basically a series of buoys in the water that you can snorkel between and there’s supposed to be all kinds of cool fish.

I ended up having a great time, but I’d advise that if you’re visiting Cathedral Cove, the snorkel trail is really better off done by boat. It is a little bit of a swim to get out to the buoys. I’m a strong swimmer and a former lifeguard, so I thought it was fine, but I was concerned about Seth and would really have felt better if we had lifejackets, which we didn’t. Seth swam out to the first buoy, but it was his first time snorkeling and he couldn’t really get used to it and had no where to stand up, so he bailed, but I had a great time swimming around. I didn’t end up following the buoys, but rather just swam around inside them until I found the fish. I did a bit of research after and I’m pretty sure I saw some blue maomao, red moki, banded wrasse, and maybe some snapper. The red moki was my favourite and looks like a zebra fish.


We continued on along the trail until we finally arrived at Cathedral Cove! It was a weekend, so it was a bit on the busy side, but we found a nice little spot at the back of the beach to hang out for the day. The main feature of Cathedral Cove is the archway/cave that goes through the rock from the first beach to the second beach. There are several sea stacks around and beautiful golden sand, so it makes for a really picturesque location. Plus the water is really warm, so I had a blast swimming and we spent a ton of time in the water since it was so hot. Seth tried out the snorkel again and had a lot more fun with it in the shallows. We found some more fish swimming around and Seth was way more interested (then I would have been) in all the organisms growing on the rocks.

We planned to take a water taxi back, but there were so many people using them that it was a 2 hour wait to get on one, so we just walked back to Hahei instead and grabbed another ice cream before hitting the road for the last part of our road trip.


It was back to Auckland for round 2. Although we didn’t actually end up spending that much time in the city. We wanted to finish up most of our food, so we had dinner at the hostel and had a lazy evening. The hostel was pretty interesting actually, it’s basically an old train station that has been reconverted into a hotel/boarding accommodation. So half the people actually live there for months at a time and the lobby is a huge train station entrance.

Our next day was devoted to a trip to the nearby island, Waiheke, which is known for it’s wine. It’s about a 45 minute boat ride to get there and we had booked a hop-on hop-off tour for the day. It was still a bit too early for wine, so we did the first part of the bus tour, stopping for an hour at the local beach, before starting our wine trail for the day. New Zealand definitely has some good wine, but it also makes for a pretty expensive day. Very few places do free tastings, so you usually have to pay $10-15 for a tasting. We each had our own for the first few places, but the more liquored up we got, we started sharing the tastings instead.


I think we ended up doing 5 wineries. We had a light lunch at the first one, Wild Estate, and Seth went for a beer tasting since it was also a brewery. We stopped briefly into Stonyridge, which is one of the island’s most well known and most widely found wines. It was one of my least favourites though and I only ended up doing a small sample. Gorgeous views though! Next we went to Tantalus, which was probably my favourite of the day. It has this gorgeous building and the truffle fries were TO DIE FOR. The wine was great too and we each did a taste, but I still dream about those truffle fries.

The last two wineries were more memorable for the views. We went up the hill to Batch Winery, which has an amazing view looking out over the island, and then finished at Mudbrick (another really popular winery) for one last taster. In terms of decor and landscaping, Mudbrick was probably my favourite, It’s on the west side of the island and had a great view looking out over the water to Auckland. Plus the buildings are all made of a pretty red mud brick and there were flowers and a lavender garden sprucing the place up! We did stop briefly in the village to do a little shopping around before heading back across the water to Auckland.


An Adventure in the Shire

As you might have guessed, I’m a bit of a Lord of the Rings fan. I read the books for the first time when I was 10 years old and before we went on the trip, I re-read the series and re-watched all the movies. Growing up my friends and I were totally obsessed with the Fellowship of the Ring movie, which came out when I was 11. A bit odd for a group of girls maybe, but we found a copy of the script on the internet somewhere and used to act it out as we watched it. The movies are 100% what inspired me to want to visit New Zealand and it was so exciting to finally travel around the islands after so many years of dreaming of going there.


When we first started planning the trip, I figured the most time we’d be able to get away from work would be 3 weeks. I hate not having enough time to do a place justice and after a bit of research I had to admit that visiting both islands in 3 weeks would be a bit too ambitious. The South Island was the island that was really calling to me as an avid adventurer and hiker, but I couldn’t bear to not visit the North Island and see Peter Jackson’s Hobbiton set. I had to make it happen, so I revisited all my ideas and somehow we were able to make it work that we could both skip town for 5 weeks to explore New Zealand.

It felt fitting to visit Hobbiton towards the end of the trip. We had a beautiful day for it and it really had a feeling of closing out the trip. We still had a few activities left, but after Hobbiton I felt that I could leave feeling happy and accomplished. I’m sure there’s some people that look at the Hobbiton tour and think, “nah, that’s too kitschy and expensive, I won’t bother,” while I was like, “only $30 more for the Hobbit feast? We must do that!”


It was about an hour drive out of Rotorua and we had a 10am tour booked. They run the tours like a smooth sailing ship and we departed promptly on a bus that took us into the heart of the Alexander Farm in Matamata. Our guide took us on a tour to all the little hobbit holes and Bag End, before finishing in the village with a pint at The Green Dragon (okay, it wasn’t pint sized, but it was still craft Southfarthing beer!). He shared all kinds of interesting tidbits of information with us, some of which I already knew and lots of which I didn’t, before we settled down for a feast fit for a Hobbit.

Apparently Peter Jackson scouted the countryside for the perfect place to build the Shire. He had up to 10 different locations he was considering before ultimately deciding on its current location on a small piece of the Alexander Family’s large farm. He took a helicopter tour of the farm to scout out locations and it was the party tree that’s described in the book that ultimately drew him to that location. It was mostly swamp at the time, so he requested some funding from the government to get his project started. They turned him down, but sent him a division of the New Zealand army to help him bring his vision to life.


Th original set was sadly demolished after the Lord of the Rings movies, but they had to be reconstructed again for the Hobbit, so this time Peter made it a permanent enterprise. They currently employ 7 full time gardeners to maintain the set and you couldn’t help but marvel at all the vegetation and flowers and Peter Jackson’s almost fanatic attention to detail. Everything you see on the set is completely real with the exception of the tree growing on top of Bag End, which is 100% fake, but had every single leaf hand painted.

It really was a dream to get to explore around the set and see a beloved world from your childhood completely brought to life. I do wish the group sizes were a bit smaller – it’s a lot of people per tour and it gets a bit overwhelming. We ran off a few times to take some pictures; I understand they can’t have hundreds of tourists running around the set, but there’s so many little details I felt I needed a bit more time to explore them all. Although truth be told, I can’t imagine ever having enough time to hang out there. After dinner we snuck back to the lake to admire the scenery and almost got left behind (we didn’t realize our tour group would be leaving from a different exit and were waiting for them to make an appearance).


Admittedly, the party tree was a bit of a highlight for me too. Before I’d learned of the significance of the party tree to Peter Jackson as well, I’d been looking around the set trying to find it. It’s centered in the middle of the field, with coloured flags hanging from it and Sam Gamgee’s house just around the corner. We were also super impressed with the commitment to the village and the craft beer they brew just to sell in the Green Dragon. The only thing missing were little hobbits getting into mischief! If you ever go to New Zealand, don’t skip Hobbiton, trust me, it is so worth it!!