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After our stay in Melbourne, we took a short flight over to the land of the kiwis, New Zealand. Being a country made up of not one, but two islands — North and South — we had a difficult decision to make on which to visit. This time around, the North Island’s warmer temperatures and geothermic activity appealed to us, and we opted for this one (saving the South for another vacation, of course).
What they say is true — New Zealand is absolutely stunning. Narrow winding roads give way to gorgeous peaks and valleys, the people are gentle and kind, and the sheep – they’re everywhere. Fun fact: New Zealand has a population of roughly 4 million people and 40 million sheep!
The South Island offers adventure, sight-seeing and relaxation. Extending roughly eleven hours from Auckland to Wellington by car, we made a road trip out of it, setting up camp in the centrally-located Lake Taupo.
The drive was breathtaking — it allowed us to experience New Zealand’s picturesque countryside first hand. Once we arrived in Lake Taupo, we took the occasion to take it easy and unwind. While Taupo was charming, the best had yet to come.
About an hour’s drive from Taupo is a town called Rotorua, known for its geothermic activity and Maori culture. But that’s only part of the fun — New Zealand is renown for its adventurous, adrenaline-charged activities. Yes, I mean white water rafting, bungee jumping and skydiving!
Although I didn’t have a chance to skydive (it’s a priority item on the bucket list), I did go bungee jumping.
And I had the time of my life.
What to do:
Rotorua: Sure, the city smells a bit like rotten eggs because of the sulphur, but that’s part of the charm (and the reason why we chose not to stay there!). Check out Eat Street for a collection of charming restaurants.
Wai-o-Tapu: Walk through a thermal wonderland and colourful volcanic area. Find bubbling mud pools and natural springs unlike anything you’ve seen before. Highly recommend.
Te Po Indigenous Experience: We weren’t sure what to expect but turned out to be great! We were more than satisfied. Learned about the Maori culture – ceremonies, customs, and dances – and then were served a traditional “hangi” feast (meat and vegetables are “cooked” underground). It was a fantastic experience and the team was excellent. A genuine and heartfelt performance. We also got to see the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere, called Pohutu. Insider tip: Book in advance for the evening (at least a day or two).
Kaitiaki Adventures: Go rafting down the world’s highest commercial rafted waterfall – seven meters! Lots of fun, they’re a great bunch!
Taupo Tandem Skydive: Skydive over Lake Taupo from over 15,000 feet. Insider tip: there’s a weight limit of 100-110kg.
Taupo Bungy: Bungee jump over Lake Taupo. If you can, challenge yourself and go for it. You won’t regret it!
Hobbiton and Waitomo: Visit the original set used in the Lord of the Rings film! Go black water rafting through the glow-worm filled Waitomo caves.
Day hikes: The Mount Tongariro day hike is reputed to be one of the best in the world. Mount Ruapeha is shown below.
Where to stay:
Staying in New Zealand is all about lodge-style living. Some of the most luxurious lodges are found here — like the Huka Lodge — but if you’re looking for something on the more reasonable side, check out the Hilton Lake Taupo. Built in 2007, this accommodation is basically brand new and clean. The wood interiors and white decor perfectly captured the country-style essence of Taupo. Insider tip: Ask to stay on the main floor, you get a lovely private terrasse with your room.
Where to eat:
This list is quite short — with all the adventure awaiting us, food was not a top priority! We spent much of our time eating on the road or packing light lunches and snacks.
Replete Cafe & Store: Thankfully, we found this gem! Best coffee you could find in Taupo, great atmosphere and their fabulous open-faced sandwiches. Don’t forget to stop by their small shop. Such delightful and trendy kitchenwares for your home.
Bistro Lago, The Hilton Lake Taupo: The hotel had very good food and was probably one of the better places to eat around the area! Salt and pepper fried squid was delicious.
Te Arawa Fresh Fish: This place is not quite in Lake Taupo, but on our way to white rater rafting with the Kaituna group. From the outside, you would never tell that it was this good. Fish and chips were incredible — and portion generous!
Where to find coffee:
Replete Cafe & Store: Best coffee in Taupo. See above.