New Zealand is a tiny country consisting of two remote islands (and many smaller ones) with a population of around four million people. It’s easy to find complete solitude in New Zealand since most of the population is concentrated in the five main cities. New Zealand has incredible scenery ranging from rainforests, beaches and cool islands on the northern island, to glaciers, lakes, snow-covered mountains and hot springs in the south.
We had two weeks to drive around and explore New Zealand. We planned to explore the North Island, before heading to the stunning South Island. We flew from LAX directly into Auckland on a looooooong 17 hour flight, and spent a couple of days in Auckland recovering from jetlag. New Zealand has some of the most diverse environments on earth, and displays perfectly how two completely different cultures can thrive in a peaceful yet vibrant society.
We spent an entire day wandering this stunning museum with the boys. This museum is located in a beautiful half deco-half modernist building on top of a hill in a peaceful neighborhood.
New Zealand was inhabited by local native people, the Maori before the arrival of Europeans in the 1700s. There were many wonderful exhibits sharing the history of New Zealand, and the impact it had on the Maori population. It is beautifully curated.
The Highlight for us was the Maori section on the bottom floor. The highlight was the traditional Maori Hut and warrior boat.
Waitematā Harbor is the main access by boat to Auckland, New Zealand. For this reason it’s often referred to as Auckland Harbor, despite the fact that it’s one of two harbors joining the city.
We wandered around and enjoyed beautiful views of the downtown area, clear blue waters, and many shops, restaurants, and cafes. It’s beautiful, clean, and not crowded at all.
After leaving Auckland we drove about 3 hours south to Rotarua. We visited the Skyline Rotarua for some action and adventure.
If you’ve never been on a luge before, you’re in for a treat. We took the gondola from the base to the top of the mountain. The views were incredible. At the top of the mountain, we were told to pick through a grotty container of helmets to find the perfect fit for our ride.
After researching this before we arrived, the boys were mortified when I made us all wear hairnets. (I’m sorry, I didn’t want to drive lice around New Zealand for two weeks with us!!!)
So the luge is a bit like a go-kart, except it has a plastic tray to sit in and you steer it with handlebars that look like a bicycle. You pull the handlebars towards you to brake and push forward if you want to go. Sounds easy right?!?
HOT TIP: Don’t let the handlebars go because the luge will stop instantly… no matter how fast you’re going. We learned the hard way and almost lost teeth! We had the option of three luge tracks with varying degrees of difficulty.
We opted for the beginner track, much to the disappointment of the boys, who, you guessed it…. wanted to head straight to the advanced track!
After the safety talk we were all ready to go. We sat in our luges and began the 2km decent down the hill.
We were able to control how fast (or slow) we felt comfortable riding, and after a few minutes we felt more comfortable to experiment with the speed. Such a fun experience and the views of Rotarua from the top of the mountain and the whole way down were breathtaking!
The Chief performs duties such as representing the group when requesting admission to the village and performing in the welcoming ceremony. Upon passing the test to enter their village, the interim Chief receives a hongi, which is the traditional Māori greeting where noses are rubbed together.
We spent an immersive evening beginning with a traditional welcome ceremony, learning the local customs, and watched a powerful display of song and dance. We ended the evening with a delicious hangi dinner that was traditionally cooked underground.
The first level (the Catacombs) is an extraordinary walkway within the limestone cave. The second level is displays the more prominent stalactites and stalagmites.
The final level is the Cathedral, with high ceilings and large (and growing) stalactites and stalagmites.
Our visit ended with a boat ride in the Glowworm Grotto.
Set with boiling and bubbling hot springs, mud pools and steaming lakes, we visited Rotorua’s only Living Maori Thermal Village. Here we learned about the Maori culture traditions, and their unique way of life.
We learned how the natives use geothermal activity in the village to cook, bath & preserve.
Full disclosure, since this is an active geothermal location, the smell is similar to rotting eggs, and it takes a while to get used to that.
We witnessed their display of traditional Marae song and dance at the cultural performance and it was interesting to see the natives walking around the village in their everyday lives.
After the cultural performance, we were able to walk around the village stores and observe the villagers performing their everyday tasks.
We learned these events and places may seem commercial, however they give the indigenous people a way to contribute to the economy of New Zealand and a chance to share their deeply rich and spiritual culture.
New Zealand is the PERFECT country to travel either with your family or solo. The spectacular scenery, interesting culture and relatively compact size, makes it the perfect spot to relax, explore, and try something a little outside of your comfort level.
I’m a travel and health writer, digital and brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two active boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising teenage boys, family life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.