Our stay in Auckland is easy, as public transportation is plentiful and for the most part, the city is clean with various neighborhoods to discover. Right away, I am impressed with how culturally diverse the city is, something I had not seen so far in New Zealand. Like many other large cities, there are lots of trendy restaurants and shops; western luxuries I feel very comfortable being around.
Ferry Building Now Full Of Restaurants
Holiday Cheer While Shopping
The city is nicknamed “City of Sails” because of all the yachts in the harbor. As we make our way to the Fish Market on foot, my attention alternates between the design details on the urban dwellings and the yachts that are bigger than my last apartment building. While I don’t fancy boats so much, I do wish some of that attention to design was shared in the waterfront homes in San Francisco.
Your Very Own Parking Spot
Enjoying Coffee At The Harbor
My second favorite stop in the North Island is Buckleton Beach (with Wai-O-Tapu being the first). It’s a short drive outside the city of Auckland and not much of a tourist attraction, but it is here that I come to understand why people love New Zealand so much. As I lay on the tree branch that afternoon looking at the kids jumping off the wooden platform and giggling amongst each other with their parents nearby, but not glued to their sides, I imagine what a safe, outdoor wonderland it is to grow up in New Zealand. There are so many different hikes to go on and get lost for hours or days. There are so many beaches where there is no one else. This is a place where you choose your pace of life. This is a place where you eat free oysters right on the beach rocks. This is a place where you go through the tolls and pay later. This is truly the great outdoors where you can be by yourself or with others. This is a lifestyle.
Me & Frenchie
Rocky Side Of The Beach
Free Oysters On The Beach (Up To 50 Per Person Daily)
So if you come to NZ looking to be wowed by everything, like myself, this may not be the place for you. However if you want to enjoy the outdoors and be able to hear yourself think, this is the perfect place.
So Young And In Love
Neat Rock Formation
With 3 other Frenchies, what better way to end our trip than to eat at The French Cafe in Auckland. We are here to celebrate Marie Hélène’s birthday and our meals are amazing.
Goat Cheese With Beets
Got To Have Fish
One Of the Best Dinners We Had
No Complaints About Auckland
Thank you Marie Hélène and Gérard for joining us on our world trip and always spoiling us with your love.
I head back to suburbia with our arrival in New Plymouth. In the middle of the city is Pukekura Park. I wish every city had something like this. We spend over three hours enjoying everything about this marvelous park. The botanical garden includes a collection of Japanese plants. I find a new beautiful flower, which I still don’t know the name of. The ponds are filled with ducks waiting for thoughtful visitors to bring bread. There is even an amphitheater where we spot a wild Takahē bird speeding by us. At the free zoo, I watch the cutest monkey entertain himself. I later find the funkiest white bird.
Pukekura Park in New Plymouth
Interesting White Flowers
Boris Sitting In The Amphitheatre
Funky White Baby Bird
In the morning we hike in Egmont National Park through an interesting young rainforest. With all the fog, we don’t see much of Mt Taranaki. Later in the afternoon, Boris is able to finally get a decent shot of the mountain for afar.
Hiking To Taranaki
Leaves In The Sunlight
Can't See The Top!
A short drive later brings us to the whitecliffs of Taranaki. Here we do a hike along the farmlands. Unfortunately because of the high tides, we are not able to do the shortcut along the beach. Alone with the dramatic views, it is a great spot to just chill out.
Enjoying The Afternoon Views
Along our road trip, a French custom I am acquainted to right away with is the mandatory coffee break every 2-4 hours, regardless how we travel, by foot or car.
Enjoying A Good Ol' Cup Of Joe
I do not regret any pounds I gained here in NZ. My favorite meats here are lamb and fish. It is so fresh and with every bite, I can taste how natural it is (without all that chemical they have in US meat). Snapper and Trevally are really good too. Some local recommendations that I did not get to try are Tarakihi and Red Gurnard. A great fishery to try all this would be at Thames Wholesale Fisheries.
Lamb With Blue Cheese And Goat Cheese Salad
As for wine, I usually drink red but here in NZ, I stick to the whites. Some of our favorite NZ Sauvignon Blancs are: Babich, Villa Maria, Tohu (on the floral side), Cloudy Bay, and Oyster Bay.
One of the things I am most looking forward to in the North Island is an active volcanic area, called Wai-O-Tapu. As we enter the park, it starts to smell like rotten eggs. This can only mean we are approaching the Champagne Pool. While the name sounds quite nice, you probably don’t want to actually sip this water. The carbon dioxide in the water creates the bubbles like in Champagne. The bright palette of colors in the pool is due to the sulfur mineral deposits. I just want to stare at the pool for hours, but the smell is so strong I have to move on.
MuiMui Walking Across Platform
The Champagne Pool
Me & Frenchie
Great Palette Of Colors
The park is pretty large. As we continue walking, the various geothermal landscapes vary from each other significantly. For a moment, I think I see the Incredible Hulk coming out of the neon green pool.
Neon Green Pool
Different Landscapes Within The Park
Hot Blue Pools
Pretty But Scorching Hot
Don't Fall In
Then I hear something start to bubble out of the mud pool and it’s interesting how the mud splatters. With Boris’ new zoom lens, we can accurately capture it.
Mud Splatter Looks Like A Head Of A Dog
Love The Zoom Lens
Throughout the park, there are various geysers that spew out at different times. The largest of them all is Lady Knox Geyser. As she blows, this fascinates the crowd. I found out later, this is the first geyser Boris has ever seen.
Geyser About To Go Off
Lady Knox Geyser
There She Blows
Being here just confirms how bad I need to visit Yellowstone National Park when I return to the states.
In our hot blue rental car, we drive to city of Taupo where we randomly come upon this luxury waterfront rental at Sacred Waters. For the next couple of days, Boris and I do not depart from the compound. We leave the sightseeing to Marie Hélène and Gérard while we enjoy the amenities, which include our own personal spa made out of stainless steel. It’s pretty cool as the hot water comes in from the natural springs. For our meals, Boris and I are the head chefs where I am the lamb expert and he is the side-dish-made-with-cheese expert. What a dynamic duo we are.
Boris Feeling Back At Home
Our Sweet Backyard
Personal Spa With Stainless Steel Seats
Our next post will highlight the white cliffs of Taranaki.
Joining us for the North Island is Boris’ mother and her boyfriend. They greet us French style, with lots of kisses and Champagne! We make a compromise with them. From this point on, we travel their style and in return, we cook for them when feasible. Thank you Marie Hélène and Gérard for giving us the better end of the deal.
Beautiful Natural Christmas Tree
We go for a road trip around the North Island and it reminds me a little of Maine because there is always some place to stop for delicious seafood. We stop at Coromandel Oyster Company for lunch. It is a small shack right off the road and they have a darn good seafood chowder.
Coromandel Oyster Company
Our lodging at The Church, in Coromandel, is one of the cutest accommodations. There are a handful of designer cottages all equipped for a relaxing night stay. With the four of us, we decide to go with “The House #12”, which gives us more space and amenities than we actually need.
More Champagne Please
We dine at the hotel restaurant the first night and the food and wine is excellent. The next night, we grill it up on our very own porch. Every French meal includes, at least, Champagne, wine, and delicious meat. With Gerard and me around, we also like to have the American delight called chips.
Fish In NZ Is Fabulous
Salmon Cooked At Perfection
Nearby are two popular attractions. At the Cathedral Cove, the hike in is an easy 30 minutes with wonderful views. At the end, we arrive at a great beach spot for pure relaxation. Don’t forget to bring your snorkel gear.
Not Permitted To Enter
The other attraction is called Hot Water Beach. During low tide, we enjoy this underground hot spring by creating a hot water pool, which we share with the other hundred folks that are here. We borrow a shovel and dig into the sand for some time to allow the hot water to escape to the surface. While enjoying the warmth, the cold tides come in and collapse all that hard work we put in to have us rebuild all over again.
Group Hot Water Pool
Stay tuned for our next post on our North Island favorites.
Once we passed the half way mark of our road trip around the South Island, we realized we were ahead of schedule so it was time to wind things down. The next couple of stops we made are the most memorable for me because there is nothing more beautiful than seeing animals in their natural environment.
When we arrived in the Petrified Forest, we were bummed out that we missed the sunset. As we walked down onto the rocks, a sudden silence came upon us and people were frozen in front of their cameras. As I walked around to see what was going on, I was told to move out of the way by this old man. I was kind of upset as he could have asked in a nicer manner. Then I saw this little fat figure wobbling side to side and then hopping over the rocks. OMG, it was a Yellow-Eyed penguin and I was standing on his path home. I moved right away and for the next 5 minutes, I was back in high school looking at my first crush and my heart was beating so fast I was sure everyone could hear it.
I later learned Yellow-Eyed penguins like to nest in the forest or in shrubs. In the month of November, the chicks start to hatch. The parents will take turns foraging at the ocean and return usually at noon and in the evening, while the other stays, caring their helpless chicks. Upon their way home onshore, if frighten, they would go back into the waters which is dangerous for them because of the strong currents. It is vital that we were are always at least 5 meters away from them and if you see a penguin standing still near you, you need to move out of the way.
Basking In The Glorious Sun
That night, we parked at a campsite for the first time. It was great since we had power for the first time. We charged all our electronics and I caught up on my Twilight series. In the morning, we did laundry, lunched right outside our caravan, and enjoyed the cliff views overlooking the vast ocean. We didn’t see any dolphins but when we returned back to the Petrified Forest at noon, we were once again very lucky to spot an endangered Yellow-Eyed penguin sunbathing on the rocks. Yellow-eyed penguins are very territorial and like to be spread out. This penguin had not been accepted by the clan yet, therefore had no home at this point in time.
Doing Laundry @ Campsite
For our next rare animal encounter, we headed to the Royal Albatross Centre in Otago Peninsula. While we were standing outside debating on the hefty entrance fee, there were many birds flying around. Someone once told me if I ever saw an Albatross, I would know right away. At that exact moment, I knew I was looking at an albatross as it soared right above us. With its friendly face smiling down at us and its magnificent wingspan breaking all records, I was feeling that high school crush again but this time, I was screaming, “It’s an albatross.”
Albatross Sighting For Free
Oh Magnificent Albatross
Nearby, there was a group of people, growing in numbers, looking out onto the beach. As I made my way towards the crowd, I bumped into a friendly park ranger. He informed me the Little Blue Penguins were going to make their way home around 7pm. I walked to the sand to see what everyone was excited about. In front of me, behind a fence, was a blue penguin in its burrow. Ever so often, it would pop out as if it was anxiously waiting for someone. We waited until dark and then the most unbelievable thing happened. In the water, there was a group of torpedoes making its way closer to the shore. Then these tiny things hopped onto the beach and wobbled their way towards us. It was the world’s smallest blue penguin after another. When they made their way back home, the sounds they made were the joyous sounds I have ever heard. I felt bliss, hope, and love for these little creatures that take risks all the time when they leave their homes to feed.
Little Blue Penguin
Now that I was satisfied with my penguin sightings, I had no expectations of SandFly Beach. After 2 hours of walking in the hot sand dunes, we finally made it to the beach. We later realized there was a road that would have brought us directly to the beach without all that hiking. I just wanted to jump into that freezing cold water and lay on the beach. While I tried to embrace the sun, I saw large mounts of sand randomly across the beach. I went for a walk and as I got closer to one of the large mounts, it started to move. When I saw what it was, my face stood frozen and I was suddenly unable to talk or move. It was a remarkable moment and it felt as if I went exploring on the wild beaches of New Zealand and found a new subspecie. It turned out to be a sea lion, a male Hooker’s Sea Lion to be exact.
Hike Into Sandfly Beach
Fattest Sea Lion Ever
Frontal View Of A Hooker's Sea Lion
Which One Is The Sea Lion Again?
Now this was something I could not find back home. If time is limited on your visit to the South Island, head straight for the Otago Peninsula.