After the horseback riding adventure, Kelly and I spent the next three days making our way back up to Auckland. Our first stop was Taupo (sounds like taw-poe), known for Lake Taupo and Huka Falls. We dropped our stuff off at the hostel and found a great little french cafe in town for brunch. After roughing it for a whole day and night we indulged in a little retail therapy in the well laid-out little town. It turned out to be a successful shopping trip despite the rainy weather. Huka falls was next on our list for the day, and it did not disappoint!
Brilliant, turquiose rapids ending in a spectacular falls. Walking right over the top of the rapids was the best part.
After the falls, we headed over to the park to find the natural hot springs. I had heard about them since they can be found in lots of other places around NZ, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect. We found natural hot tubs, basically. That are free for everyone! Flowing hot water winding down a hill, filling mini pools that spill into other mini pools, finally meeting with the river at the bottom. It was hard to believe it was real.
We soaked our feet for awhile and enjoyed the steam mixing with the cool breeze. The rest of the day we spent exploring the lake and ended with a great meal at Ploughmans, which was actually decorated with ploughing tools.
Day number two saw us at Mount Maunganui (sounds like mang-ah-newie). The air was still a bit cold, however the rain stayed away for the rest of the day. After dropping our stuff off at our new hostel, we headed straight for the Mount. A now extinct volcano (thank you wikipedia), Mount Maunganui now serves as a hiking trail with a sheep pasture at its base. We climbed for 45 minutes, which included lots of breaks to admire the scenery. The view from the top was superb.
I found some bunnies up there too, they were pretty cute.
After lunch, we made our way out to the beach that Mount Maunganui is famous for. Lots of surfers were in the water, however the waves were pretty low. Kelly found lots of great shells to take home and I found lots of sand that got everywhere. Totally worth it, though. Our hostel gave us some coupons for a free beer tasting at Mount Brewing Company and a recommendation for dinner at Barrio Brothers. Both were spot on. We each got our own paddle with six beers to try at the Brewing Co., and our mexican dinner at Barrio Brothers was one of the best I’ve ever had! The tacos were seriously amazing.
On day three of our northbound adventure, we arrived in Whitianga (sounds like Wit-ee-anga). The weather had warmed up a bit, and the sun was finally peeking out from behind the clouds. Once again, we dropped our stuff off at the new hostel and found a bite to eat in town. Our hostel recommended a boat tour instead of a kayak tour like I originally planned and it turned out to be a great decision! We booked our tour with the Cave Cruiser and we met our guide Steve on the dock. It turned out that Kelly and I were the only passengers for this trip so we got a private tour! Steve had a great sense of humor and knew a lot about the area. We got to go into caves and blowholes and we even saw a seal playing in the water!
Plus, I got to drive the boat!
After two hours of bliss on the boat, we docked and said our farewells to Steve. Next on the list was Hot Water Beach, but we still had an hour before the tide went down. We stopped at a small winery for a tasting to kill some time, and it ended up as one of the more memorable moments of our trip. Danny, the sommelier, was quite a character. He talked non-stop and had the craziest things to say. I guess he meets a lot of people from lots of places, so he really enjoyed guessing where me and Kelly were from in the States. He was spot on with Kelly, but it took him a little while to figure me out. It might be the NZ accent I’ve picked up. As the sun was going down, we arrived at Hot Water Beach. ”What is Hot Water Beach?”, you might be asking. Well, at Hot Water Beach, geothermal activity heats up the water that bubbles up from the sand. So, you can dig a hole in the sand that fills with hot water. Like a hot tub at the beach. Seriously, it’s like the coolest thing ever.
To top off a great day I ate one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life. No joke. It wasn’t just the food that was amazing, it was the quaint little house converted into a restaurant plus humble service by a local.
Those three days had a lot stuffed in them that I don’t have time to mention. The rest of Kelly’s visit was spent mostly around Auckland, but I’ll save that for my next post.