Digging hot springs on the beach, visiting a water powered mom-and-pop theme park, touring a thermal Maori village with a resident, meeting the friendly airbnb hosts, and being guided into a massive glowworm cave by a guy who grew up exploring the caverns…
Nowhere else in the world can you take part in such a diverse range of activities, all within two hours of each other. Mom and Dad agreed that the time flew by, but at the same time, they marveled at how much we experienced in just two weeks.
The highlight of the trip for me was getting a guided tour of the Whakarewarewa Maori village. I loved imagining people cooking food, bathing and generally enjoying the steaming hot water hundreds of years ago, when almost no civilizations on earth had easy access to such large quantities of hot water. It was also amazing to hear about how the people of the village established the guide service, and didn’t sell out despite aggressive pressure from the New Zealand government. Our guide still goes to the community baths every morning to bathe and hang out with his family and friends.
Our winter trip paid off with mild weather and no crowds, despite visiting some of the most popular places on the north island. At Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula we dug our own hot spring in the sand and listened to the waves as we soaked. The Tongariro Crossing, a 12-mile hike across an active volcano, is described as a traffic jam in the summer. On July 20, however, it was totally deserted. Although our views were hampered by clouds, we did get to feel hot steam rising from the top of the volcano and see great lake Taupo shimmering as we descended below the cloud layer.
The marquee names were incredible and totally worthy of our time, but the little surprises are what really made the trip. Leaving Turangi (a small town near Tongariro) we once again followed the advice of Scott Cook, via his NZ Frenzy guidebook. Upon arriving at the small thermal area, we put six eggs into a couple socks, tied them to the end of a stick and lowered them into a small thermal geyser; Dad set a timer and we slipped into the geyser’s runoff which was collected by cement basins downstream. Ten minutes later Dad pulled the eggs and we cracked one open to find a perfectly cooked hard boiled egg! Check out the picture step-by-step from our previous blog. Not bad for a tiny, completely unadvertised thermal park just off the highway.
In planning the trip, my parents discussed renting a travel van, but eventually went with booking Airbnbs. This decision turned out to be a great one. It was awesome to be greeted by a local with the Kiwi accent, figures of speech, and warmth within an hour of picking them up from the airport. Throughout the trip, we enjoyed the uniqueness of the places and the universally welcoming nature of our hosts. Dad got to chat with a fellow classic car collector at one house and we even stayed in the renovated hay loft of a barn, complete with a candle light chandelier.
All in all the trip was a great success. We got to see all of the best places on New Zealand’s north island with none of the crowds. The people we met were welcoming, as we’ve come to expect from Kiwis. The most special part was getting to hang out with my two awesome folks that we absolutely love!