182. Giving New Zealand’s North Island a Chance

Giving New Zealand’s North Island a Chance: With every previous visitor we know telling us to skip the North Island and dive into the blinding natural glory of the South, we were easily swayed to plan most of our time that way. But could we come all this way and not see any goings on in the North? No, and while five days driving down the middle left out the shimmering tropical bays of the far north and all the coastline of the east and west, we still got a healthy whiff of the geothermal highway and all the sputtering volcanic mud puddles we could manage. And staying in a gaseous town like Rotorura does have its advantages when dressing for dinner.

Amy: Does my hair look ok?
Me: Yes, great.
Amy: Should I put on flats or sneakers? What kind of place are we eating in?
Me: Amy this whole town smells like rotten eggs, no one’s going to notice your footwear.

Volcanic trappings aside, most of the drive from Auckland to Taupo was uninspired (save for a roadside feud sign erected by a farmer which read, “Greg Fosters owes me $300. Pay up Greg!”) and we were happy for the dramatic shift beyond Tongariro. Here the scenery turns blindingly green and sheep-speckled, so reminiscent of the rolling farm country of Ireland that we found ourselves craving a pint of Guinness but settling happily for Tui ale, smooth as a shearling.

We also got a chance to start honing our road trip repartee and old habits quickly resurfaced. Signage tends to be poor, roads are narrow and fast and everything seems to happens backwards on account of the driving on the left. It’s good that we’re working out the kinks now with our wee Hyundai rental car before we pick up the camper van full of pots and pans to rattle through the Fiordlands. Still, five days of practice is no help with the tongue twisting Maori names for everything in this country, like Karangahake, Paraparaumu and Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateat- uripukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu. That last one is real, Google it. Anyway, all I’m saying is that navigating with Amy sure would be easier if there were clear signs for things and every town was named something like “Jeff,” or “New Jeff.”

And then finally, one last stop before the South Island in windy Wellington, smack dab in the roaring forties and surrounded by whitecaps and storm clouds. We only had time for lunch in town and a free tour of Parliament, opting to stay instead in the coastal suburb of Plimmerton, where we found a private hostel room with a view and free Chinese takeout left in the free section of the communal fridge. Thanks North Island!

Photos left to right, top to bottom: Hot pies and souvenirs at Huka Falls; bungy spectators at Gravity Canyon; terrific hostel room with a view in Plimmerton; classic Kiwi camper; road sign; Craters of the Moon geothermal park; hot pools in Rotorua; corrugated sheep head; pedestrians on Wellington’s Cuba Street; our North Island chariot/Hyundai; a dire warning in Rotorua; Huka Falls before the fall.


  1. Michael says:

    Yummy! I love me some Tui ale. Don't forget when you're cruising the south island to stop in small towns and fill up your jugs with glorious nut brown ales for the road! Watch out for the Kia's when you get in the alpine areas. I had one attack me and then he/she started pecking on the camper van. Good times!

  2. Kevin says:

    "The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one." The souvenirs must be awesome.