Hi, my name is Clara. I am a 22 year old student at Western Washington University and last month I had the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world and explore New Zealand’s North Island after winning the StudentUniverse New Zealand trip contest (which included two roundtrip flights to New Zealand on Air New Zealand AND two spots on the New Zealand – North Island Encompassed tour). Mid September, my sister Emma and I left Seattle, Washington, bound for New Zealand’s Auckland city. Throughout the two weeks of our travels, we found the best things to do in New Zealand.
Upon arriving, Emma and I were starving and in search of a good cup of coffee. We stopped and asked a local if they could point us in the direction of a coffee shop. The woman chuckled and told us that we would find at least ten coffee shops any direction we went. This was our first encounter with the fact that Kiwis love their coffee; especially their flat whites (though you may have recently seen a flat white as the newest addition to Starbucks drink menu, the flat white was originally a New Zealand specialty). However, after asking several locals, the only difference we were able to discern between a latte and a flat white is the amount of microfoam (or tiny bubbles) found in the steamed milk.
After a day of exploring Auckland by ourselves, we finally joined our group and met our spirited and quirky tour guides at G Adventures who we would spend the next eleven days with. Anxious to get out of the city, we departed Auckland bright and early the next morning, headed north to the Bay of Islands. Throughout our several hour drive, Auto, the lead tour guide, began educating us on all things Maori (the indigenous people and culture of New Zealand). We soon had several Maori expressions under our belt. We learned that Kia Ora, which means to be well/healthy, is a suitable way to say hello, goodbye, thank you, you’re welcome, and pretty much just about anything else.
We arrived in Paihia where we boarded the Rock, a converted ferry turned houseboat. Despite what you would normally picture the New Zealand tropics to look like, the Bay of Islands in wintertime is rainy, windy and cold. But that didn’t stop us from fishing, snorkeling with wild dolphins and night kayaking to see fluorescent algae off the boat. We were lucky enough to catch ourselves a few small snapper and surprisingly a baby Hammerhead shark, which we posed for a few photos with and then threw back into the ocean. Regardless of the weather, the crew members of the Rock made our time up north unforgettable.
Making our way South, we stopped briefly for the night in Auckland on our way to Raglan, a small surfing town on the west coast, world famous for its huge swells. We got there around midday and boarded a boat, which took us on a cruise around the bay to check out the unique limestone rock formations and magnificent a view of the Tasman Sea. That night, we had the luxury of staying in a large, two-story house with a view of the ocean. It was quite a nice change from the various hostels we had previously stayed in.
The next day Emma and I woke early. It was September 21st, which meant that Emma turned 20 and I turned 22! Although it was our birthday, we were separating to each check things off our bucket lists. For me, that meant surfing the world famous Raglan swell. For Emma, a Lord of the Rings fan, that meant heading east to Matamata and visiting the Hobbit Holes. That night, we returned to to the house where our tour guides had planned us a little birthday celebration, complete with a homemade cake and card for each of us. We had a fun night with the group, enjoying a delicious potluck dinner and a few shandys (beers). Afterwards, a few of the local Maori men demonstrated a haka, a traditional ancestral war dance which in more recent times has also been performed in gatherings of peace. They also helped us practice a waiata, the Maori word for song, which we would be performing the next day. Overall we had a great night celebrating our birthdays New Zealand style.
The following day we rose early and drove to Rotorua, a town famous for its geothermal activity as well as the Marae (sacred Maori meeting place) where we would be performing our waiata. We met with Shaloh Mitchell, whose family has lived in the same house on the Marae for many generations. After singing our Waiata, Shaloh gave us a traditional Maori welcome, which entailed pressing foreheads and noses together while taking a deep breath. After this exchange, Shaloh pronounced that we were all thereafter a member of his whanau (family) and would be welcomed onto the Marae anytime. Our stop in Rotorua really gave us a deeper look at the Maori culture, and made us feel truly welcome in New Zealand.
Tutira mai nga iwi tatou tatou e
Tutira mai nga iwi tatou tatou e
Whai-a te marama-tanga
Me te aroha-e nga iwi
Ki-a ko tapa tahi
Ki-a tahi ra
Tatou tatou e
We woke up the next day to get back on the road (again), this time headed to Tongariro National Park. Along the way, we made stops to see the largest mud pool in New Zealand and the Lady Knox Geyser. Our drive took us around Lake Taupo, the largest crater lake in the world. Late afternoon we arrived in Tongariro, giving us just enough time to do a short hike around the Taranaki falls.
Our second to last day in New Zealand was spent mostly in the van, driving past rolling green hills covered in sheep and tons of lambs (it was lambing season). Although we were saddened by the fact that our trip was finally coming to an end, our last night was spent dancing the night away front row at one of our favorite Seattle based bands, ODESZA, who happened to be playing in Wellington the night we arrived.
Emma and I could not have asked for a better way to end our summer, exploring New Zealand’s North Island. Our G Adventures tour allowed us to see so much of the country and learn so much about the culture, all the while doing it with the best group and guides we could’ve asked for. Now that we are back at school and summer has come to an end, we look back at our two weeks in paradise and feel nothing but gratitude for all of the memories we made and all of the beautiful people we met.
A big thank you to StudentUniverse for the opportunity to travel abroad, and those at G Adventures who made our trip extra special. As the Kiwis would say, “Sweet as, cuz and chur chur!”