We arrived in Auckland at midnight in August 2015. It was cold and drizzling.
After spending that night in the airport Novotel – most conveniently located across the road, we jumped into our rental car (from Jucy rentals) and drove off onto the highway headed for our B&B that we had booked for 3 nights in Birkenhead, Auckland.
As we drove, the sky was clear and the city was bright. The roads were clean and traffic flowed smoothly. The sheer number of yachts in the Auckland harbor was a sight to behold!
We spent the next 3 days walking the city streets, visiting the University gardens, going up the Sky Tower (like the tourists we were), and just doing a lot of driving around. Small things that appeared “normal” completely blew our minds and I remember texting family back home about them: Things like seeing droves of children walking home from school. Things like no fences, no gates, no security whatsoever! We saw a car parked near the university grounds that had its boot completely open and all the doors unlocked – so that the pet dog in the back of the car could get some air while the owner ran into wherever they needed to go… I took a photo!!!
Auckland was lovely and it had a nice vibe. It was obvious that it was a bustling city centre that attracted many foreigners. We wished we had a little more time to spend there.
Instead, to make the most of our time we had to head off to our next stop: Hamilton. Approximately a 2 hour drive from Auckland, Hamilton was much less busy! It was beautiful and green and the botanical gardens were absolutely gorgeous!! We only stayed one night, basically just passing through so didn’t get to see too much of it.
The next morning we left early and started what would be a long drive through to Wellington. Along the way we made an impromptu stop in Rotorua to get a glimpse of the thermal activity at one of the well known Thermal parks. Wow!! Now we knew we were in another world! I highly recommend this visit to anyone who hasn’t been! Nature is amazing, terrifying and definitely deserving of respect! Something that is difficult to describe until you see it for yourself are these masses of thermal volcanic activity right here on our doorstep…
The drive to Wellington, alongside Lake Taupo is one that every New Zealander should take! The beauty of the land is almost unspeakable. The lake is massive and a stunningly beautiful turquoise, with snow covered mountains as the backdrop, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen (I’ll take back those words when I describe the South Island)…
Being treated by this picturesque landscape for almost 9 hours, we finally arrived in Wellington wearing 4 layers of clothing (yes, it was THAT cold)! We were welcomed by some friends living on the Kapiti Coast with a cooked meal and a glass of red wine. This is where we’d be staying for the next 3 nights.
It was at this point in our trip where we got to experience (as much as possible), real “Kiwi life”. Apart from one afternoon & evening on Cuba street for a bit of fun, we stayed in a regular house, we commuted – took the train to the city (alongside resident Kiwi’s) and shopped at local supermarkets and farmers markets. We continued to be surprised at the lack of security, the freedom of children, how friendly the local people were towards us & how almost everything is honesty based!
My personal favourite was a DVD rental vending machine! Say what??? That’s right: Choose your movie, put in the cash, remove the movie…and oh, “Please be sure to return your DVD tomorrow into the slot provided”!
Put that same vending machine in SA?
Self-service check out counters at the supermarkets. Yup, when you get to the counter (where there is no cashier), just ring up your goodies, swipe your card to pay – and leave?!
When you park in a public parking lot: Park your car, pay for your parking and display the receipt in your window – in case maybe someone comes to check if you paid or not.
In some cafe windows: Pay for 2 cups of coffee. We will give you your cup and the other cup we will keep and give to someone who is cold, hungry and less fortunate than you. “Pay it forward” in other words, seemed like a common practice here in NZ.
After 3 very chilly nights in Wellington it was time to say goodbye to our friends – and to our North Island rental car and head off to the South Island…