You can’t study abroad in Australia without visiting New Zealand. It’s common to do a week-long road trip around NZ’s South Island while studying abroad Down Under, but unfortunately I ran out of time (and money) during my semester abroad to do this. I did, however, manage to squeeze in a three day trip to New Zealand’s North Island during my semester abroad, and was lucky enough to do it with my boyfriend Nathaniel! A trip to the South Island is now at the top of my bucket list, but for now, here’s everything we did in the North Island:
Fun fact: Auckland is NOT the capital of New Zealand, Wellington is. BUT Auckland is NZ’s largest and most populous city, meaning that there is plenty to do! Auckland is a really clean and modern city with many chain restaurants and stores, but plenty of charm. There are a lot of hilly, quaint streets and parks. I think Auckland is a great home-base for day trips all around the North Island. There’s a ton of things to do in Auckland! One of the best day trips you can take is a Mangawhai day trip. We stayed at the Copthorne Hotel in Auckland.
The Auckland Domain was our favorite park to walk through, and is home to the Auckland Museum. It covered everything from WWI & WWII to animals to tornadoes to art. Nathaniel fulfilled his life-long dream of seeing a life-size Giant Moa (lol he did a project on them in 5th grade and has been fascinated since) and I really enjoyed learning about the New Zealand Māori culture. We also got brunch at the Wintergreen Cafe and walked around the gardens in the park!
Auckland has an impressive harbor with lots of seafood restaurants and the SkyTower which you can pay to climb or even bungee jump off of!
I could not recommend a visit to this island more. Situated in Auckland’s harbor, it is only a 40 minute ferry ride from downtown and is known as “Wine Island” because it has over 30 wineries on it! Talk about paradise!
Nathaniel and I spent our afternoon here on a Hop Off Hop On bus tour. The first place we chose to get off at was Mudbrick Restaurant and Vineyard and this was by far the highlight of the trip for us! We had such an incredible tasting of whites & reds, and even got to try a dessert wine! The grounds were so beautiful. We were able to take our glasses and go for a walk through the vineyards, and ended up at the top of a hill that overlooked surrounding vineyards and the harbor, with views of Auckland’s skyline in the distance. This moment- being reunited after over 100 days apart and in one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen- is one we will cherish forever.
We proceeded on the bus for the rest of the route- stopping a few more times for fish and chips and to try more wine! We ended the day with reds and soaked up the scenic Waiheke views before boarding our ferry back to Auckland.
I have to preface this by admitting that neither of us have seen Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, BUT neither have over 30% of the people who do this tour! Even though we haven’t seen the movies, we really enjoyed the scenery and learning about how all the Hobbit holes were built. The farm in Matamata, NZ where the set is located is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen! Also, our tour ended with a complimentary cider at the Green Dragon!
Fun fact: The hobbits in the film weren’t actually 3 feet tall- the cinematographers just positioned regular-sized people in front of giant hobbit holes to make them appear small!
We visited Rotorua for a few hours as part of a Hobbiton, Rotorua, and Waitomo day tour. Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity and Māori culture. We visited a traditional Māori village, had lunch at the Te Puia cultural site, and enjoyed checking out Rotorua’s various mud pools and geysers. Nathaniel saw a geyser erupt for the first time!
Our final excursion on New Zealand’s North Island was a visit to the village of Waitomo, which is known for its extensive underground cave system and glowworms. The caves were neat to walk through, and at the end, there was a cave beautifully lit by glowworm poop. Yes poop. But it was beautiful! We sat took a rowboat ride through the caves, which were pitch black except for the glowworms above. The cave looked like a galaxy full of millions of stars. This was such a unique experience!
We loved our time exploring New Zealand’s North Island and truly thought it was the most beautiful place either of us have seen. The landscapes were so green and scenic, and I’m really looking forward to visiting the South Island one day.
I want to end this post by saying thank you, Nathaniel. I would not be where I am today without your love and unconditional support. Even though my love for travel means more time apart, you are constantly encouraging me to pursue my dreams. You are my rock, and I am so grateful we got to visit Australia and New Zealand together! I look forward to many more adventures with you. I love you!
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