As a proud Aussie born and bred in our lucky country, it’s extremely tough for me to say the following statement – I love New Zealand.
Whether it’s battling it out on the sporting field or in the kitchen with the ongoing pavlova debate, the relationship between Australia and New Zealand has always had a competitive nature. We are raised to feel a certain disliking to our kiwi neighbours, as if they’re almost like our annoying younger sibling. As I’m sure any Aussie who’s had the chance to travel across the Tasman Sea to Kiwi land will agree, New Zealand is actually a pretty amazing country.
Although I’m yet to explore the South Island, what I’ve seen of the North has given me enough of a taste to understand the true beauty that our strange talking neighbours have to offer.
Stepping outside of Auckland airport, I was met with the sticky humidity New Zealand is quite often famous for. The car AC soon provided solace from the sweatiness I was experiencing, and it was time to begin a North Island road trip with new and old friends met during my travels overseas.
The first road trip destination was the Northern Bass music festival in the town of Mangawhai (pro tip: don’t even try to pronounce any names, you’ll just embarrass yourself). We spent three days at the festival, drinking, dancing and going on daily adventures to nearby beaches and waterfalls. Of course there was also an emergency visit to the hospital to treat my infected spider bite contracted in Mexico – what better way to spend my NYE!
The next few days were spent recuperating from the festival at our friend Emma’s house in Whangarei (again, don’t even try). She acted as our own personal tour guide and showed off some of the local hidden secrets her home had to offer. Our days were filled with surfing, swimming and sunbathing. One thing I learnt the hard way is that the New Zealand sun is an silent assassin. One minute it’s cloudy and raining, and the next minute you are experiencing the worst sunburn of your life from head to toe. The country definitely has the most bipolar weather I’ve ever experienced so make sure to pack and prepare for every climate possible when visiting.
Once I’d recovered from my sunburn, it was time to head further up north to begin the serious part of our road trip! After a few hours of driving through the windy countryside – and the odd emergency car sickness stop – we finally made it to our first campsite for the night. We camped at the cutest little farmhouse full of backpackers from around the world. The night consisted of drinking games and scary stories around the campfire, while the morning brought a beautiful hike up the hill to reveal a stunning view of the ocean.
Over the next couple days we made our way up to New Zealand’s northernmost destination, Cape Reinga. The cape is famous for being the meeting place of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, where they collide to make a pretty impressive spectacle. We once again found some perfect camping locations underneath the stars, and with waves crashing on the beach at the foot of our tents. One the way back home we stopped off at what ever beaches we could find. My favourite of all being Matauri bay, with it’s crystal blue waters and stunning views.
After roughing it camping through the countryside, it was a nice change of pace to return to the big smoke of Auckland for some retail therapy and a little bit of night life. Aside from being denied entry into one bar purely because I was Australian, the Auckland bar/club scene showed us a great time. Of course being an island surrounded by water, it also wasn’t hard to find more amazing ocean scenery just outside the city. The only thing to consider when visiting beaches in Auckland is that most of them have sizzling hot black sand. A tip shown by our local friend was to bring a pair of socks along to wear when walking along the beach and sand dunes. Another Auckland treat not to be missed is the strawberry farms that can be found alongside many of the highways. The natural strawberry ice cream is literally to die and totally worth the 30 minute wait in line!
The final half of our NZ adventure said goodbye to the Northlands and Auckland, and hello Hamilton and Mount Maunganui. Again, we were lucky enough to have a local to stay with and show us around. The highlight of Hamilton was definitely the award winning Hamilton Gardens, but more importantly, the donuts we devoured afterwards. If you’re ever passing through Hamilton, Mama’s Donuts is a must! Next up, Mount Maunganui – or as the locals call it, ‘The Mount’ – provided more stunning beaches and views, as well as some delicious fush ‘n chups on the beach.
Leaving New Zealand meant not only saying goodbye to some of my favourite people, but also to my eight months travelling overseas. It was a bitter sweet ending, but I was happy to be embraced by the perfectly temperate Australian sun and a Vegemite (another Aussie trademark New Zealand claims as their own) sandwich when I returned home. Although Australia will always be number one in my eyes, I’ll admit NZ comes a pretty close second – just like they do in cricket.