Although we could have spent the entire time sailing with the Batterberrys, we decided to do a last minute road trip on the North Island. As you may recall, we had a 7-seater Kia Carnival. And now we were doing a road trip with 8 people. Hmmmmm. Troy did an awesome engineering job using Spectra line (stronger than steel) to harness a kid car seat to the floor between the front and middle seats. We loaded up and headed south. First stop Rotorua. I have to say, from a tourist perspective, New Zealand iSites are the best. In almost every town there is a center with extremely friendly and knowledgeable helpers. Rotorua is a beautiful although touristy town that smells like rotten eggs due to geothermal activity.
We made an agreement with the kids as we first drove into town that each person could only say “It stinks!” once and then they had to keep quiet the rest of the time. The kiddies decided to save theirs and it turns out, most of them never said a word about the overwhelming sulfur smell.
We followed the NZ Frenzy guide and hiked up a nearby trail to catch a glimpse of the geyser.
Most of the attractions in this area are geothermal and the geyser was just the beginning. Our next stop was Kerosene Creek, a 90 degree stream with waterfall. It’s amazing to just drive up to a place like this, walk two minutes from the car and hop in the warm water. Wonderful!
At lunch, Jamie taught the kids a few trick shots.
Then we headed to Wai-O-Tapu, the most colorful of the local geothermal attractions. Despite the entrance fee, I highly recommend stopping here. It was amazing. We crossed narrow wooden boardwalks and paths through an active volcanic site. The colors were out of this world and these photos hardly do it justice.
The fluorescent green Devil’s Pool is surreal.
Afterwards, Maureen, Troy and I hunted down a hidden waterfall while Jamie and the kids waited by a locked gate at the beginning of the road. We located an overgrown path, climbed through the brush and finally found the falls, along with a DOC sign warning of the risk of amoebic meningitis so we decided to stay out of the water. On the way out, we all stopped at the famous Mud Pools. This is a hilarious roadside mud splurting, blurping and belching extravaganza. We didn’t have high expectations, but just couldn’t stop laughing once we saw it first hand.
There’s nothing like 100 degree Celsius mud flying at you!
One of the primary reasons for our road trip was to do the Tongariro Crossing, considered the best day hike on the North Island. We were a little reticent at leaving the kids with a completely unknown babysitter for the day even though the iSite recommended her, but we dropped off the kids and a ton of food for them and off we went.
Troy and Maureen plus James and Maureen (Jamie’s college friends who also came to visit us in NZ) joined us for the hike. Here is a before picture on the bus ride to the start of the track:
Oh yeah, smiling faces all around. This was soon replaced by a few expletives when the hike transitioned from the relatively flat beginning to what’s known as the Devil’s staircase — 50 minutes nonstop uphill stair climbing, my favorite. The views were amazing though.
This hike was incredible and definitely lived up to all the hype we read in advance. We also had a spectacular day with mostly sunny weather.
We took a yoga break near the Mt. Tongariro summit.
It’s easy to put everything else into perspective when you’re surrounded by substantial beauty.
By this point in our road trip, we were accustomed to the boardwalks or barriers keeping us off or out of dangerous areas. This was entirely different. We literally slid down a gravel hillside in an active volcanic area.
Lake Taupo emerged in the distance as we began the climb down.
All in all, an exhilarating day came to a close with a long downhill trek through the forest. Troy and Maureen had finished the hike early so they picked up the kids then Troy FTW circled back with the car and cold beer.
Meanwhile, Maureen took the kids rock climbing.
On our way home, we stopped for snacks at a café on Lake Taupo and checked out the plane outside McDonalds. Lake Taupo is the biggest lake in New Zealand and home to many tourist attractions. We took in the view at Huka Falls, which according to guide books makes your heart sing. Yes, it does. It is also one of the many New Zealand rivers where you can ride a high speed jetboat through the rapids, but we didn’t see any during our short visit.
Craters of the Moon
Caroline and Johannes met up with us again for a tour through Craters of the Moon (aka Golum’s lair). This a mini version of the Tongariro Crossing for the kids, with plenty of geothermal activity.
While not as colorful as Wai-O-Tapu, Craters of the Moon was definitely worth the trip. The kids had so much fun exploring all the thermal jets steaming up around the path. Leo even did the optional hill climb near the end of the track.
And no NZ road trip would be complete without some unusual road side attractions and kids passed out in the car…
We had an incredible time on the road with the Batterberrys and loved sharing so much family time together.
To round out festivities in February, we celebrated Hazel’s 6th birthday in Auckland. We couldn’t be more proud of this little girl who is growing up right before our eyes.
After a breakfast of pikelets (mini pancakes) donuts and fruit, we headed to the Parnell Baths, large outdoor saltwater pools, then stopped in Remuera for lunch and some fun crafts at Seedlings.
In the evening, we walked over to the Silo Market for a low key party. The Silo Market runs every Friday night in the summer and is like the Roulottes in Papeete, Tahiti but with a wider variety of local gourmet food trucks and more dance music. Hazel assigned outfits (starting with herself) so that meant fancy dresses for most of us.
Thank you Misti for the delicious cake, and everyone for the gifts and most importantly joining us to celebrate. Hazel loved it!
The light during magic hour was perfect for these shots of Jamie and Hazel. Pure love. He’s even wearing her necklace. 🙂
An incredible finale to an extraordinary month. Have we mentioned lately how lucky we are?