Quick Stop in Auckland

I never really heard much about Auckland as a destination and unfortunately, I understand why.  Consider this city a stopover on your way to explore the nature and world renowned beaches its country has to offer.  In the heart of the city you will discover boutiques, restaurants, and cafes in the laneways, which are walking distance to the waterfront.  I loved that!  The waterfront is filled with vibrant restaurants serving award winning vino.

My husband and I arrived in Auckland in the afternoon and we walked around the entire central area.  There is another cool neighbourhood called, Ponsonby, which we toured through as well.  You will need to drive there as it is about 10 minutes away from the central area.  Oh…renting a car is a must and you may as well do that from the airport!  Read below for information that you can use to help you navigate better.

Tips Upon Arrival

Buy your SIM card at the airport.  We hoped to get a better price in the city, but we checked with all providers and the best price was $20 New Zealand Dollars for 1G Data and 200 minutes of talk from a company called 2 Degrees. The 2 Degrees SIM card was not available at the airport, so Spark may be your best option.  Upon arrival at the airport, you may find yourself a little frustrated.  It was slightly chaotic and there was no internet service.  The closest place for Wifi was a McDonalds nearby, but even that was lousy. That’s another good reason to get your SIM card before leaving the airport.  We are technology dependent and it does make all of our trips easier.  With little time, we have no time to spare trying to figure things out the old school way.  It’s very important that you have your mobile device already unlocked.

Renting a Car

We booked our car online from Apex and had a good experience. We called for a shuttle from a designated airport shuttle phone.  The shuttle picked us up outside and the wait was about 10 minutes.  The drive to the car rental place was another 10-15 minutes away.  Be sure to check with your credit card and know what coverage you have and what you need.  If you have never driven on the left side before this will be a cool experience for you.  Travelers from Canada and the US, do not need an international drivers license.

We only had a few days to do as much of the Northern region as possible and we chose the following sites and thanked God every step of the way:

Upper Nihotupu Walk, Piha Beach, Hot Water Beach, Rotorua, and the Coromandel area. Site seeing along the entire coast will have you captivated, but be careful the roads are tight and curvy with tons of hills and valleys.

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The path towards the Nihotupu Dam
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One of the waterfalls when you take your walk through Nihotupu towards the Dam. You can get in this water, but it is very cold.
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Piha Beach

 

 

 

Traveling with Fruit in Australia and New Zealand

My husband and I travel with only carry on luggage. We rarely purchase any liquids because we want to avoid checking our bag.  We don’t like to check bags because our trips are short and sweet and checking a bag usually adds another 30-60 minutes for check-ins and baggage collections.

While touring Australia, we heard about the honey and thought about bringing some back as a souvenir.  The honey was as good as everyone said and we literally scraped the edges to get every last drop.  The bananas were pretty awesome too.  Would you believe that traveling from Sydney to Cairns, we had our fruit confiscated at the airport.  I know that from country to country this can happen, but I never imagined that within the same country the agriculture restrictions would be so serious.  Apparently, Queensland has the best bananas in the country.  Also, good for you to know, is that Australia does not import bananas due to the plant pest and disease threats that would give way to their local farmers.  I suppose there is fear that even New South Wales grown bananas could carry pests that would harm the banana farms in the North (Queensland).  History tells us that Chinese migrants introduced the first banana to Australia back in the 1800s. Today, the tropical regions of Queensland produce most of Australia’s bananas.

So going back to the honey that we scraped out of the jar…

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Likely the best honey, Tasmanian Leatherwood, we have ever tasted.

We were so glad that we didn’t buy more as even honey was confiscated from state to state.

After Queensland, we flew to New Zealand and upon entry immigration and agriculture must confiscate fruits and honey.  I watched one family lose all their honey that they had in their carry ons.  I was so sad for them.  There is one trick that will likely work out for you if you have go from state to state with honey.  Buy the honey at the Duty Free Shop in the airport, but if you are going to another state after that and you still have that honey, it will be taken from you.  Only get the honey at the duty free shop if your final destination is outside of these regions.  So going from Melbourne straight to Vancouver, should work out for you.

 

Let Go of Fear

What are you afraid of when you travel?  Do you fear that you might get robbed? Are you nervous to take the public transit? Are you afraid of getting lost if you venture outside of the touristy zones?

I usually am not traveling alone, so I rarely have concern for my safety because it’s always feels safer with a companion.  Of course, I am mindful and live consciously in every moment.  Two people can still get caught up in a mess, like Dumb and Dumber.

Usually in North America, we rent cars when we visit a new city, especially if it is a less populated city with poor public transportation.  On a recent trip through Australia and New Zealand our car rental experience was the first of its kind because we both had never driven on the left side of the road before.  Fortunately, our American drivers licenses were acceptable.  Naturally, my husband usually does most of the driving, but I like to give him a break here and there.  After 2 days in Cairns, Australia I got behind the wheel for a quick test.  I only drove for about a block, just to give myself a taste of driving on the opposite side that I am used to.  It wasn’t much practice, yet I felt I was ready when we got to New Zealand, which was CRAZY because the terrain was extremely different than Cairns.  The road along the coast had more valleys, hills, tight turns, and shared one way bridges than I was ready for.  Many times I was driving so close to the edge of the mountain that one false move would send us down and out for life.  In that moment, I could not let fear creep up on me.  I had to trust that the road was engineered precisely and that the calculations for driving in the space were accurate.  I had to trust that God was with me and that nothing could go wrong. I had to believe that I was capable of driving like a champion. Maybe not as good as a Nascar driver, but at my slower speed I was getting a good test of patience and I was testing my husband’s too.  I trusted in that moment that I was experiencing the time of my life like no one else can but me and I had to enjoy it to the fullest. I didn’t allow fear to disrupt my joy.  I could not let it disrupt OUR joy.

When you travel, be sure to get the best experience you can and try something new. Even if something does freak you out a little bit, remember that you are exactly where you are supposed to be in that moment and you will get through it positively.  All things are for your good, so take it all in with joy.

 

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Black Sand

What picture do you have when you think of the beach?  We usually have the image of a beautiful hue of either pristine blue or green water with white or beige colored sand along the coast.  Have you ever stepped foot on a black sand beach?

I walked on black sand at Piha Beach in New Zealand.  This is one of the most beautiful destinations in the country, based on my short and sweet adventures in the northern region.

Every bare foot step that I took  along this beach felt like I was stepping on a hot plate.  I have never felt so inclined to keep my sandals on while walking along the beach.  I can say that I am not a fan of black sand, but it is worth seeing and this beach is a short drive from Auckland.

 

Coromandel, NZ is Sold Out? Stay in Hamilton.

One of the busiest times to visit Coromandel is in December.  Everyone is holidaying at their beach homes or renting a house.  Hotels get sold out early and you should not expect to find an airbnb to rent.  We traveled from Australia and we had no idea how crazy busy it was going to be after Christmas and before New Years.  Our plan was to drive the north coast and see as much as we could in only 3-4 days.  With no vacancy in resort towns, Coromandel, Rotorua, and Tauranga we discovered Hamilton. We spent our first night in Auckland, two nights in Hamilton, and our final night in Auckland again.  Driving to our desired destinations took an hour or two from where we went to rest our heads each day, but it was worth all of the driving.  In fact, all of the driving is part of the touring.

Hamilton is a quaint little city with a ton of overnight hotel/inns available.  I recommend staying at the award winning Argent Motor Lodge.  The owner, Graeme Hunt, welcomed us when we checked in and made us feel at home.  I didn’t know what to expect before we arrived and I’m please to report that I was blown away with the interior, its upkeep and the staff.

 

Unfortunately, the city shuts down quite early.  We were excited to see what was happening in the town and have a good meal.  We heard about restaurants like, Bluestone Steakhouse, but when we arrived at 9:30 they told us they were closed because they had not received any walk-ins for the last 30 minutes.  There were only about 3 restaurants open at this point, which included Sal’s Pizza, Kebabelicious and some other spot we had no interest in going into.  We loved Kebabelicious for the quality of the food, speed, hospitality and ambiance.

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Budget friendly side of Rotorua

So you made it to New Zealand and you’re on a budget.  With so much to do and so little time you must pick what’s most important to you.  Top of my list was Rotorua and I had to see the geothermal activity.  Get your geothermal thrills at the Kuirau Park as you stroll through this free destination, you will be amazed at the boiling lava coming from the ground and the steam hissing as you walk across a bridge.  This is a volcanic area and eruptions have occurred, so be smart and be safe.

There is a very small hot springs pool here, but don’t expect anything fancy. There were about 30 people cramming their feet in there and everyone was seriously shoulder to shoulder.  No thanks!  If you’re looking for hot springs go somewhere else.

Total time spent here: 45 minutes. Parking is free.

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Aaaaah Piha

If you love beaches and you have looked at possibly visiting New Zealand then you likely have heard of Piha Beach.  This is a world famous surfers beach 40 km west of Auckland.  A friend had told us to “hire a car”, that’s kiwi speak for “rent a car”, upon arrival in Auckland and start touring around as much as possible.  I absolutely loved the drive along the coast, but it wasn’t easy.  First off, we were driving on the left side of the road and the driver’s seat is on the right and to top it off we were driving up the mountain and many times we were so close to the edge, I feared for my life.  Be encouraged though, as the drive is worth the eye-popping experience.  You will see lush green hills and valleys with abundance of wildlife including sheep, cows, and alpacas.  You will make windy turns up and down the hills and finally come down to Piha.  When we arrived I felt my mind and spirit reach a state of calm.  I thought, “aaaaaaaaah, Piha”.

Piha Beach is a beautiful black sand beach surrounded by enormous cliffs.  I’m not a fan of black sand though, it was too hot and I had to keep my flip-flops on so I didn’t burn the soles of my feet. After spending some time on the beach, we took a hike up the rock to have a beautiful aerial view.  You will also find secluded beach areas.  Be careful though the sea here can be vicious and life threatening.

Visiting this place from Auckland is an easy short and sweet day trip.

 

 

 

I am so thankful that I connected with this part of the world.  All praises and glory to God.

 

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