How to Spend Five Days in New Zealand's North Island

An Oceania Trip: Part 3

I want to preface this by saying that other than transportation and the Lord of the Rings tour, most of the places that we went to in New Zealand were free or very cheap to do. The most expensive part is getting around!

This is Part 3 of a series about our November 2017 trip to the South Pacific. Read about Sydney in Part 1 and Cairns in Part 2.

Five Days in Auckland and Rotorua


We pre-booked a shuttle bus using SuperShuttle to take us to our AirBnB in Auckland, as it was cheaper than a taxi. Our AirBnB was one of the few places we found that offered the "entire place", though it was basically a converted studio in the backyard.

The location wasn't too central, though it was close to Mount Eden. It was within walking distance of a street filled with all kinds of restaurants, and not too far from a subway station. After a busy itinerary in Cairns, we took it easy on our first night. We grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant and bought some groceries for the two days ahead.


We took an Uber to Budget in the morning, picked up our car for the next two days, and started heading towards our Lord of the Rings Hobbiton set tour in Matamata. Driving on the other side of the road took some getting used to, but the scenery made up for it. The rolling green hills and friendly trees were a nice change from the deadly Daintree Forest from days before. There are areas along the way where you can stop and park your car in case you wanted to take in the views.

On the way to Hobbiton.

We arrived at Shire’s Rest about two hours later for the Hobbiton tour. This tour was $79 NZD when we booked it, and it clearly said it was going up to $84 NZD in March 2018 when we purchased it. Talk about money grab!

View of Hobbiton.

 The tour itself was fine, stopping at various little hobbit houses that were shown in the movie. At the end of the tour, we got a complimentary “local” beer and were shuttled back to the initial pick-up point.

Frodo Baggins' house. Can I also just add - there is absolutely no filter on this picture! Yes, the weather was just THIS nice.

We checked out the souvenir shop briefly, but everything was insanely overpriced. Eugene bought one of the slightly cheaper items, a Gandalf keychain, and it came out to around $17 CAD. For a keychain!! Overall, if you’re a fan of the books and/or movies, it’s worth doing once. Otherwise, it’s a very overpriced 1.5 hour tour.

More hobbit homes. Because I paid A LOT of money to see this.

After the Hobbiton set tour, we continued our journey to Rotorua. You’ll definitely know when you’re there because it’ll start smelling like rotten eggs - it's geyser town!

Our first stop was Te Puia, although it was late in the day and not worth the $45 NZD entry fee. Instead, we used an online tip to park behind the Silver Oaks Geyserland Hotel and gaze over the fence to see the famous Pohutu Geyser. There were at least five other people with us, all perched patiently on the fence. I used my selfie stick to give my phone some additional height and got a decent view of Pohutu.

Pohutu Geyser erupting after about 30 minutes of waiting. Sped up as it was drawn out over 10 minutes.

Next, we walked around Kuirau Park, which had a lot of free and natural geothermal pools. We spent some time here checking out the bubbling and steaming mud pools.

Kuirau Park.

Our next stop was Rotorua Central, where we spent a bit of time walking around the waterfront and taking in the view. After that, we ended up at the Rotorua Museum / Government Gardens, and walked around the area for bit.

The well-manicured Rotorua Museum and Government Gardens.

We ended up wandering into Sulphur Point, an area that looked like another planet. There were plenty of steaming craters and bubbling pools. It looked like we had randomly stepped into a geothermal wasteland.

Geothermal park near the Government Gardens.

We then made our way to Lake Taupo, which is where our hostel was located (Haka Lodge). I wasn’t the biggest fan of this hostel as our room door was covered in bugs when we arrived late at night, so we had to be strategic about opening and closing the door.


In the morning, we went to walk around Lake Taupo area to soak in the sunshine and the view. The lake looked beautiful at night the previous day, but it definitely looks the best during the day.

Walking around Lake Taupo.

We arrived at the hostel pretty late the previous night, so there was no way we were able to wake up at the 4:00 AM start time to take the shuttle buses for the full 8 hour Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike. Since we were super late anyway, we decided to take our time and enjoy the scenic drive to Tongariro National Park (which I kept calling "Mount Doom" because it was way easier to pronounce).

At a lookout on the way to Tongariro National Park.

We arrived at the Mangatepopo side of the Alpine Crossing in the afternoon and started the hike backwards. We decided to do as much as we could within the 4 hour parking limit. If you decide to visit Tongariro, do wear actual hiking boots - I did this in regular running shoes and didn't find it too inconvenient, but it definitely would have been easier with the proper footwear.

Hiking from the Mangatepopo side of Tongariro National Park.

Soda Springs is not too far from where you start, though you have to hop through a bunch of small streams and rocky areas as it's not really on the main path. It's more of a side trip, and one of the first real interesting stops on the path (other than the landscape).

The Soda Springs waterfall.

Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings) becomes more and more visible the further you get into your hike, and is quite impressive. The gloomy skies really emphasized the dramatic landscape, making it quite "doom-y".

Mount Doom, indeed.

We hiked and climbed as much as we could in four hours, and then started heading back up to Auckland. On the way, we stopped by the Waikato River to check out the coursing waters pouring into Huka Falls. The deafening noise really tells you how powerful the currents are!

Waikato River flowing into Huka Falls in Taupo.

We managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Spa Thermal Park, where a bunch of tourists were taking a dip in the naturally toasty waters. By the time we finished up at the Spa Park, it was getting quite dark, and we spent most of the way back driving under night skies. I would recommend spending an extra day in this area to avoid this, as there aren't too many lights on the road and our schedule was quite rushed. It was still nice to have an adrenaline-fueled whirl through the southern part of the North Island.

Geothermal hot spring in the Spa Thermal Park.


Since we had done so much sightseeing and covered so much area in the previous two days, we decided to sleep in and have a more relaxed day. We managed to get out of the AirBnB in the early afternoon and decided to hike up Mount Eden, which was a short bus trip away.

After walking 7 kilometres mostly uphill at Bondi Beach, the hike up Mount Eden was a breeze by comparison. From the top of Mount Eden, you can get nice aerial views of Auckland and nearby islands.

View of Auckland atop Mount Eden.

I have a thing where I judge cities by how nice their financial districts are (because Toronto's financial district is so fancy), so we headed over to Britomart, aka Auckland's business district. There were a bunch of bean bags in front of the EY building for some reason, but we didn’t question it and took turns napping in the late afternoon sun (with sunscreen on, of course).

Bean bags in front of EY.

We headed over a nearby bar and had a cold beer, which got the boyfriend pretty excited. Then, it was back to our AirBnB to rest.


On our last full day in Auckland, we decided to visit Waiheke Island, which is a short ferry ride away.  Make sure you take your camera out on the ride there, as it is extremely beautiful.

The view on the way to Waiheke Island.

The first scenic stop, Oneroa Beach, is a short walk away from where the ferry drops you off.

Oneroa Beach.

On the way to Oneroa, we found this seashell statue (?) made of flip flops, presumably as a not-so-subtle homage to the beach. We also found this cute little tree throne, which was unexpected but adorable nonetheless.

We had a brunch at a nearby restaurant before heading over to the bike rental. We went slightly later in the day, around 11AM, so we had to settle for regular bikes instead of e-bikes, which were around $40 NZD a day.

From the bike rental place (a few minutes way from Oneroa), we biked around the island to various beaches. At Onetangi Beach, we cooled off by changing into our swimsuits and swimming in the water.

Unfortunately, because most wine tours end at around 4:00 PM, we weren’t able to catch any. We compromised by going to the grocery store and picking up a few bottles of local wine to take home.

Once we circled back to Oneroa and returned our bikes, we went to have dinner at a local seafood restaurant, where we watched the sky slowly darken over the horizon.

Watching the sunset on Waiheke Island.

Overall, our trip to Auckland was exciting and eventful! I think we had a pretty jam-packed schedule, which is probably why we kept sleeping in towards the end of the trip. New Zealand is definitely a place you need to spend a lot of time in, even if it’s just the North Island.

To be continued in Fiji...