Thursday, January 9, 2014

North Island, New Zealand: Auckland, Waitomo, Tauranga, Coromandel!

We headed to the North Island and flew into Auckland on December 26th. We had pretty limited time here, so we rented a car and made the absolute most out of the little time we did have: approximately 4 days. And surprisingly (not to toot my own horn), we did pretty well.

We got lots of expert advice from other travelers and residents of the country and made a tentative plan before we arrived. There was only one problem though. We had no idea where the eff we were going.

After discovering we were gps-less, and somehow had to make our way into the city and around the country by ourselves, we used one stop at the petrol (gas) station, a little common sense, and a good ol map for the rest of the trip. And guess what? WE DID IT! And if you know anything about our trip to Europe in 2011, you know what a major accomplishment this is. It's amazing how far your sense of direction can come in 2 years. Also, it's amazing how well following signs works :).

Auckland itself was just another city in my opinion. There wasn't a whole lot to see or do, and frankly I just wanted to get moving and see some nature. Don't get me wrong. Auckland has lots to offer as far as things to see and do nearby goes, but as for the city itself, as far as I can see, it's a pretty standard city.

BUT, with that being said, the Skytower was kind of cool. Plus we felt like bad asses watching the people jumping off of the building, only to know we just threw ourselves out of a plane, 15 times higher than the height of the building. SUCKAS.

Here's an up close and personal pic... incase you're into that kind of thing.

And here she is, our beautiful Toyota something or another. I'm convinced you're not a real adult until you rent your own car and navigate a country successfully with nothing but a map and your own worn out brain. And thus, I finally reached adulthood on this trip, at the ripe age of 25. GO ME.

ANYWAY, What a joy she was to ride on the windiest mountain roads of death. Note: A little practice on the left side of the road is encouraged before braving NZ! P.S. gas is $ 2.16 a liter.. or nearly $ 9 a gallon, for any of you who are interested. So, let me just say, I will never EVER complain about gas prices in America again. 

And so, with our pockets open and ready to spend, we headed down to Waitomo, home of the infamous glowworm caves. When I signed up for a caving tour, I had no idea I'd reallllllly be caving. I sort of imagined walking into a big cave opening and walking through a dark, closed, yet somewhat open space. But boy, was I in for a surprise. See.. look at how excited I was beforehand. dun dun dun.

We get to the cave and I see a rickety ladder leading into from what I can tell is, a pretty fricken small space, not quite big enough for my huge ass to fit through. And I am SCARED. 1. I hate ladders. 2. I HATE small enclosed spaces. and 3. I'm not too keen on pitch black scary places either.

I know what you're thinking.. "so why would you go caving?"

Because clearly, I am a freaking genius, that's why

But really, it was a good test for me, and what better place to do it than in New Zealand, one of the only caves in the world with GLOWWORMS.

And truly, what a once in a lifetime experience. We got to swim, tube, climb, and drag ourselves through some pretty rough terrain down in that cave. We turned our lights off, trusted each other, and trekked through pitch blackness for 15 minutes, admiring the glowworms. And the other 3 hours and 45 minutes, I was focused on not bashing my head on stalactites.

And for some reason, whatever fear I had going into the thing, left me as I realized how empowered I felt. I was doing it. I was really doing it. The level of physicality required, and mental toughness from me, was something I didn't really realize I had in me. And I proved myself to myself yet again. See my post on skydiving for my 1st proud moment of the trip. What a feeling it is when you kick life's ass, and prove yourself wrong.

After 4 hours of awesomeness and exhaustion, we ended the night in Waitomo, eating pizza and drinking beer, and headed off to Tauranga the next day.

I'll be honest when I say, I had no idea what to expect of this place. It was suggested that I go here, from a guy living in Wellington, so I thought, "what the hell, might as well".. and we went. It was a cute little shopping city, with nice beaches, and a creepy hostel that I will never think about or mention again after this post. 

ANYWAY, we headed toward Mt Maunganui nearby, did some hiking, sightseeing and beach gazing. Thankfully, this made the trip there kind of worth it. But we were really, reallllly excited for what tomorrow had to bring. 

Except that what tomorrow would bring was a HUGE rainstorm and some cranky ass travelers, as this would undoubtedly ruin our entire plans. And because we felt SUPER uncomfortable at our hostel, we got out of there as soon as we woke up, and then had nowhere to go and nothing to do. We decided to head back to Auckland early, because we intended to sleep there that night anyway. We were barely speaking and pissed off at the world for being so cruel to us. That is, until we reached the turn off, looked at each other, and decided completely out of the blue to just go for it.

I was worried about driving on slippery mountains roads while barely being able to see out of the windshield, in a baby Toyota. But we knew we wanted to see what all of the fuss was about, and trying our luck sure as hell beat moping around our hotel room being moody bitches. AND SO, we drove to Coromandel. 

And guess what? It was worth it. Because this is what we saw!

Okay, first it was this. Just a random beach in the rain. Not that cool. But we just knew that up the coast, there was something really worth driving for. And we were right!

Because as we were driving, the clouds opened up and we saw SUN! Something that from looking at the forecast, wasn't supposed to remotely exist the entire day. In fact, it said 100% chance rain until we left the country.

But, for whatever reason, the universe decided to work in our favor. And it was a pretty magical moment, because this is what we saw: A clear sky, and pure crisp and clean natural beauty. 

We heard about this place called Cathedral Cove, that was a "must do" according to fellow travelers. And so we made our way. On our hike, we made many stops. Some due to wanting to pass out, and some due to places like this: Stingray Bay. 

And yes. We had the whole island to ourselves! The water was SO beautiful. And if this was anything like the place we were headed, we were in for a big surprise!

Not a bad place for a little rest

And then we were back at it.

By the way, has anyone hiked in muddy terrain in old navy flip flops before? I wouldn't recommend it. Slipping, sliding, and falling everywhere, but DAMN those suckers held up nice.

Truthfully though, I had no idea this place was 5 miles away, or that it would be a completely muddy massacre. Otherwise some hiking shoes would have been a good idea.

But somehow, in our 2 dollar shoes, WE MADE IT! To the beautiful, Cathedral Cove.

Where I decided to take these beautiful pictures, and send this heart to all of my boyfriends all around the world! Sorry, but I couldn't choose just one of you. Too much Jerrica love to throw around :).

And then.. to the right of us was this beautifully, hidden away waterfall. Remember how annoyingly I've been talking about them throughout the last few posts? Well good news everyone, here's another.

But seriously. How beautiful is it?!?!

And after the long day and emotional rollercoaster of combating the rain, hiking, and seeing this beautiful little beach, we made our way back to Auckland, for one semi decent night of sleep before the big trip to Australia. Gas topped out at only $ 60 dollars each (which is a steal when gas is triple the prices of America), and we got to see a decent bit of the upper North Island.

And that my friends, essentially concludes my posts about my time in New Zealand!! Overall, I loved the remoteness, the adventure, the friendly people, and the sheer natural beauty of the place. I loved the mountains, the beaches, and of course the waterfalls. Until next time New Zealand.

Next posts: Back to Australia!!! Off to some other beautiful capital cities, Sydney and Melbourne!

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