I landed in Auckland at midnight after a 10 hours flight from Kuala Lumpur and I passed through immigration without any questions asked. I was expecting an interview and strict security checks because of my Romanian passport, but that didn’t happen. My friend L that I met in the Philippines was waiting for me and we quickly left the airport.
New Zealand is the furthest country away from home I’ve ever been to. Twelve hours time zone difference and 17000 km away, which basically makes it “the other side of the world”. I’ve met many people who love New Zealand so much that my expectations bar went quite high up. I was excited to leave Asia after four months and discover something different, unique, with beautiful landscapes, cool cities and extreme adventures.
However, the north island was a bit of a disappointment. Other than the Hobbiton tour, that is an artificially created world, I was not very impressed by anything else. Maybe I’m too spoiled by the places I’ve seen before or maybe I decided to do New Zealand the wrong way. There are other factors that contributed to this. The hostels in New Zealand are probably the least sociable from all the countries I’ve been to, the food is as good as you cook it and the cultural part is nonexistent. All these made me feel a bit uncomfortable and lost.
Auckland and Coromandel
Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand with only 1.5 million people and it is located in the north island. It is not the capital as many people think, but the most developed and the usual entry point for many tourists. It is also called “the city of sails” because of the expensive sailing yachts anchored in the Auckland marinas. During my visit the city was getting ready for the 13th edition of Volvo Ocean Race, a sailing competition where 1M$ high tech yachts sail around the world usually faster than wind speed.
Not far from Auckland, Coromandel peninsula is a nice region on the east coast. One of the main attractions here is Cathedral Cove, a marine reserve that can only be accessed by boat or by foot. The hike takes around one hour after which you can chill at the beach and admire the photogenic rock formation. If the water is too cold or the weather not good, then the Hot Sand Beach is where you want to go. Rent a spade and dig your own hot water spa. The thermal water can get over 60 Celsius!
Rotorua and Hobbiton
There is not much to do in Rotorua, other than being a base point for visiting Hobbiton. It is one hour away from Alexander’s farm where Hobbiton Movie set was built.
This tour was my highlight in the north island. From the moment you step into the set you feel like you are in the Lord of the rings movie. You have a 360 view of a fantastic world that you’ve only seen on a screen. The attention to details in these 5 hectares of land is just crazy. Every tree that grows there, every flower, every stone on the path were carefully selected to match the Lord of the rings book. For the original movie, the hobbits’ houses were just temporary facades that were destroyed after the filming ended. It was later rebuilt in 2010 for The hobbit movie, this time using proper construction materials. It now consists of 44 hobbit holes and the Green Dragon Inn, a fully functional pub. However, the hobbit houses are empty on the inside and only a few have opening doors. These are built in different sizes for different filming perspectives.
Another interesting fact about Hobbiton is that the oak tree above Bilbo’s house is artificial. In the first LOTR movie, Sir Peter Jackson searched for a perfect oak tree that he has found a few km away and temporary planted above Bilbo’s house. Years later when Hobbiton was rebuild, another identical tree was not available and Jackson ordered an artificial one to be created. It is so well done that if the guide was not telling us about this detail, we wouldn’t have noticed.
Taupo and Wellington
After Rotorua I headed south to Taupo, a small city close to the famous Tongariro crossing. Unfortunately the weather was too bad while I was there and I didn’t do this 8 hours hike with spectacular views. Instead I chilled at some natural hot pools and explored the surroundings.
I then took a bus to the capital, Wellington. I only spent a few hours there because the driver crashed the back window of the bus into a tree while leaving a bus stop. I arrived in Wellington at 1am, slept a few hours and checked out at 10am. I only had time to visit the Te Papa museum and learn a bit about New Zealand’s history before getting a 3 hours ferry to the south island.
This ferry journey was an experience on it’s own. The weather was perfect and we were cruising in between mountains with dolphins following us. Definitely recommend it instead of flying.
How to survive in New Zealand on a budget
New Zealand is the most expensive country that I am visiting in this trip. Even with a budget of over 100 NZ$ (80 USD) per day I was living at the lowest limit of my comfort. And I am not even fussy! Accommodation is expensive and worse than in many countries in SE Asia. A bed in a dorm costs around 30-40NZ$ (20-30$) and many times you even have to pay for Wi-Fi, towel or to store your luggage for a couple of hours. Food is more expensive than in the UK and eating at a restaurant is out of the question. The biggest cost though is activities. Do you want to do kayaking? 100NZ$+. Hobbiton? 130NZ$. A skydive? 400NZ$. Bungee? 200NZ$. Compared to my daily budget, these are way to expensive and of course I had to prioritize and limit myself to the most interesting things.
The good thing about New Zealand is that all the hostels have properly equipped kitchens where you can cook your own food. In my almost one month in New Zealand I don’t think I ate out more than 5-6 times. When I say eat out, I mean eating a 15NZ$ burger or subway. This is however the best way to save some money and spend that on activities. Everyone is doing it so you don’t feel uncomfortable cooking. The problem is that you are on the move every 2-3 days and you can not carry too much food around. My diet mostly consisted in variations of pasta, hummus, eggs, sandwiches and cereals. I treated myself a couple of times with steak, because the meat in New Zealand is quite cheap and delicious. From time to time I bought a bottle of (cheapish) wine because I really missed it in Asia.
I will spend a bit more than two weeks in the south island tasting wine, doing extreme things and staying in remote places. Everyone says the south island is more beautiful than the north, so hopefully I will find here something more exciting.