When my husband and I decided in early 2016 to book a trip to New Zealand for 2017, we knew very little about the country besides the fact that it has two main islands, is insanely beautiful, and has tons of great spots for hiking. After 11 months of planning and waiting, the day finally arrived. We headed to New Zealand to find out what all the fuss was about.
Like most international tourists, we landed in Auckland, which is located on the North Island, after about 26 hours of travel. While that might seem totally miserable, it was actually fine. Our longest flight was 12 hours, from San Francisco to Auckland. Having traveled together for a few years, we made sure to build in a few days on the North Island to allow my husband to adjust to the time change before the more adventurous parts of our trip down South. I’m a firm believer that the best way to see a new place is on foot, so while my husband took a nap the day we arrived, I set out for a run around New Zealand’s biggest city!
We then decided to hike Mount Eden, which is located near Auckland’s city center and provides great views of the city and the water. We walked about half an hour from our hostel and began the moderately steep climb to the top of the extinct volcano. The views at the top were everything we’d hoped.
Although I really didn’t know where to start planning, I got lucky. My best friend had lived in Auckland for two months while she was student teaching, and she had some great recommendations. First on her list? An “adventure cruise” in the Bay of Islands.
The Bay of Islands is a highly recommended place to visit in New Zealand, but it’s not super close to anything. We met up with some of our other friends who also happened to be in New Zealand at the time and made the three hour drive from Auckland to the Bay of Islands at 4:30 am in order to make it to our day cruise – ouch! It was worth it.
The day adventure cruise includes snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and of course, cruising! The first activity on tap was snorkeling. This was not ideal since it was still relatively early in the morning, cool, and overcast. Still, I jumped in the water bound and determined to make the most of the experience and go snorkeling in New Zealand.
Well, that lasted about 30 seconds, literally! I was so cold when I jumped in that I couldn’t breathe – my lungs literally would not expand – and although I tried to force myself to stay in and move around a bit, I was miserable. Back on the boat I went!
Next up was kayaking to a small island for a hike. There are nearly 150 islands in the Bay of Islands, and while we only explored one, we got to see many others. By this point, the weather had warmed up and the sun had come out.
The picture above, taken from the trail, shows how stunningly blue the water and skies are and how green everything is. New Zealand gets a lot of rain, especially in the summer (the Northern hemisphere’s winter months). We were constantly amazed by the diversity of plant and animal life. New Zealand is home to a large number of species that are found only there and nowhere else. Biodiversity is extremely important to New Zealand – so important, in fact, that our hiking gear, including our boots, was thoroughly washed at Customs by government officials. There are also many trails that feature cleaning stations so hikers do not track non-native dirt and insects into sensitive areas.
Although the hike was only a few miles and it was our first full day in the country, I was already in love with New Zealand. The landscape seemed too good to be true everywhere we looked, but the longer we spent there, the more I realized it was all real.
My favorite part of the cruise came at the end. One of our guides caught sea urchins while we were snorkeling, and he cut one open for us to try. We ate the meaty portion of the sea urchin (the part used in sushi), and it was absolutely delicious. He then asked for volunteers, and my hand immediately shot up. As it turns out, he was about to crack open another sea urchin and swirl all of the insides around so it made a sea urchin ‘soup.’ The volunteers got to drink it! You only live once – so I did it! It basically just tasted like sandy salt water.
After a very successful first day in New Zealand, our appetites for adventure and hiking were raging. We had one more full day on the North Island before departing for the South, so we headed to nearby Waiheke Island from Auckland. Waiheke Island is rated Auckland’s best day trip and is covered in hiking trails, cycling routes, and wineries! We took a 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland’s city center and headed over.
After what initially seemed like a brilliant idea to rent bikes and travel all over the island, we quickly realized that Waiheke Island, like most of New Zealand, is not exactly flat. We found ourselves huffing and puffing our way up the hills on heavy rented bikes and nearly collapsed by the time we got to the first winery. That glass of wine was well earned! As we took in the beautiful views, we also strategized about how best to explore the rest of the island, since biking was not going to cut it.
My husband and I decided to try our luck at hiking instead – hey, we know we’re good at that! We had no idea what was in store for us as the landscape seemed to change by the minute on our hike. We went through sheep farms, into rain forests, along jagged coasts, and onto black sandy beaches in the course of just a few miles.
Throughout all of this activity, I was wearing some of my favorite KÜHL gear – the MØVA Skinny Pant, which I basically live in, and the Belmont 3/4 Shirt. Although the weather was on the cool side and the skies were overcast, the steep hills and long hike had me working up a sweat! I loved the moisture-wicking fabric in both pieces, and I absolutely loved how the color of the shirt pops in all of my photos from the trip.