My recent trip to New Zealand was literally the trip of a lifetime. I planned it start to finish based on reading blogs and travel websites to ensure I was getting the best of New Zealand. In the process, I learned a lot about the history, people, and just what New Zealand is known for. Along the way, I found some hidden gems and even some areas to avoid. I’ve always been a planner but this trip took my love for travel and planning to a whole new level. I planned thirteen full days start to finish, which included the flights, hotels, transportation, activities, road stops. I know I sound like I am bragging and it’s because I totally am; a lot of love, frustration, planning and re-planning went into this trip to make sure it was perfect.
In 13 days, we saw so many beautiful places and did so many incredible things. There were things that I never thought I could do just based on the fact I have limited myself so much on past travels. I came up with the list of things that you must do while in New Zealand, which could be an activity, visiting a place, or just something you can’t miss. When you go to New Zealand, none of these things should disappoint. With New Zealand having so much to offer, I will be dedicating one post to the North Island and one post to the South Island. This post will be about the North Island and everything it has to offer.
Hahei is locate on the Coromandel Peninsula is located just a short 2.5 hours away from Auckland and the perfect beach paradise. White sand beaches, incredibly pleasant people, and beautiful weather will make sure that Coromandel will not disappoint. We spent an entire day exploring Hahei, one of the most popular towns on the peninsula.
- Gemstone Bay – Rent some snorkel gear from Cathedral Cove Dive & Snorkel and head down to the Gemstone Bay to have a chance at seeing some of the sea creatures of New Zealand! We unfortunately did not see much but we were able to spot some sea urchins. It was still Spring so the chance of it being too cold for a lot of the sea life is increased.
- Stingray Bay – Spot some stingrays swimming near the shore and enjoy the beautiful beach that is secluded from the rest of the attractions.
- Visit Cathedral Cove – A rock formation that looks like…you guessed it!… a cathedral! The beautiful spot makes for some dramatic photos and a place you just can’t miss if you visit Coromandel. It is quite the walk/hike as it takes about 40 minutes from the car park but I promise it is totally worth it. Pack a snack and water!
- Hot Water Beach – Rent or buy a spade and head over to Hot Water Beach on either side of low tide. The rule of thumb is 2 hours prior or after the low tide time. You can find that information online. You dig a hole in the sand and feel the naturally hot water. It is like a hot tub without the bubbles! Be sure to have good timing as it gets crowded and you also don’t want to miss the opportunity to soak up all the heat! In addition to the hot sand baths, the views from the beach are beautiful.
- Stay at Tahiti Lodge – the perfect accommodations for those staying a night or a week. The woman who owns the lodge also takes really great care of it. She keeps everything very clean and perfect and from what her staff was saying, she would not accept anything less! They have mostly 2 bedroom accommodations, which are great for couples or friends traveling together. They also provide a spade to use at Hot Water Beach!
- Eat at The Pour House Bar & the Coromandel Brewing Co. – They brew their own beer and they have magnificent food. We ate here our first night in New Zealand and it was fantastic.
- Grab Breakfast at Colenso. It is a family owned café with the most delicious food and the cutest gift shop. If you are one that cannot disconnect from the world while traveling, they offer complimentary WiFi too!
For any Lord of the Rings fan, this is a must do. I am not a huge fan as I watched the trilogy weeks before we left (should I even admit to this?) but Hobbiton was incredible. If you just close your eyes, you can imagine the scenes being brought back to life and you are standing right there. Who wouldn’t want to visit “Middle Earth”?!
- Take a movie set tour – it is the only way you get access to Hobbiton as it’s protected by the tour guides and there are strict rules about where you can and cannot go. Whether you are a big fan of the movies or not, the tour is really interesting. This movie set is so well done and permanent! They have real plants that sometimes need to be replaced on a regular basis during seasons when those plants can’t survive. They want the set looking just like it does in the movie and you can see the amount of care and time they spend to do just that.
- Have a drink at the Green Dragon Inn – Included with your admission ticket is a drink from the Green Dragon. They brew their own beer and have some delicious apple cider. If you aren’t a drinker, don’t worry! They have a non-alcoholic ginger beer.
- Take a picture with/of Bilbao Baggin’s House – You can’t go on this tour and not take a picture with the infamous green door. Since you are with a tour everyone else wants their picture taken too, so just be patient… Your turn will come!
I do not have a whole list of things to do in Waitomo, but you can’t miss what is available.
- Book a Glowworm Cave Tour – We booked the Black Labyrinth tour, which was 3 hours long and involved tubing through a cave. We got all geared up in super smelly wetsuits with squishy shoes and then got into a van that brought us to our tubing location. You MUST be in decent shape to do this particular tour. You also must be okay with tight spaces and listen to the tour guides as parts of the tour can be dangerous. With this being said, this was one of the highlights of our two week trip. These glowworms illuminate the caves and it’s breathtaking. Not to mention the tour is a lot of fun; you get to jump over waterfalls and tube through a cave. The tour is well worth the time and the money. For those who want to see the glowworms and do not want to tube and walk through the caves, you can take a little boat and see the glowworms without much work.
- Buy the photos taken by your guide – Don’t plan on bringing any type of camera with you as you will more than likely lose it. They take photos for you that you can buy at the end.
You can do and see so much in Rotorua. Culture, education, and adventure awaits you. Rotorua is a city you could spend days doing all there is to offer.
- Whakarewarewa Forest – A redwood forest offering a few different trails that you can hike. The trail you choose should depend on your activity level and time. We chose a moderate trail that was expected to take about 3 hours. We ended up finding some shortcuts as the forest turned into a mountain bike trail and looked like a dead forest. There are aspects of the forest that are breathtaking and worth the visit. If you have time to kill and want to get some hiking or mountain biking in, this is your place, but if you are there just to see the trees, you don’t need to go far once entering.
- Skyline Luge – SO MUCH FUN. This is one way to get in some excitement without too much work. You have to buy a lift ticket and then a luge ticket based on the number of times you would like to ride down the mountain. We did 3 and felt like it was not enough but time was also limited. I don’t want to say too much because this is something you would need to experience for yourself, but just know it’s a lot of fun by yourself or with friends.
- Visit a Geothermal Park – This is why the city smells like rotten eggs (or Sulfur). There are multiple parks throughout the city but the one that will be most convenient is Kuirau Park, which is located right in the city center. You will be able to get your fix of bubbling mud. You can also visit Waimango Volcanic Valley. I personally did not visit a park with thermal activity as we already experienced a lot of it while visiting Iceland! If you have never seen it, I highly recommend you take the time to visit a park.
- Go Whitewater Rafting with Rotorua Rafting – The crew was excellent and the fun was never ending. Never in a million years did I see myself whitewater rafting, but it was such a great experience. You even get to raft down the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world! You can purchase photos taken by professionals at the end of the tour that capture some of the best moments of your time on the raft.
- Tamaki Maori Village – This is a must-do if you are interested in learning about the Maori culture and history. While the Tamaki Maori Village is a bit touristy, they could not do a better job of educating you on everything there is to know while giving you the Hangi Dinner experience that is so important to their culture. They do a traditional dance and song performance, teach you the games kids played, and tell you the meaning behind their tattoos that cover their faces & bodies.
- Eat at Terrace Kitchen – We had the best breakfast and dinner here. It was close to our hotel, which is how we stumbled upon it, but the food was also amazing. The acai breakfast bowl was incredible and had so many flavors; I am still craving it 4 months later! For dinner, we each got something different and we all enjoyed what we ordered (the french-fries are delicious!).
- Devonport – Take the ferry from Downtown Auckland and walk the streets of the quaint coastal town. From cute little cafés to independently owned shops, it makes the perfect day trip on a beautiful day. You also get the perfect skyline shot of Auckland from a distance, and unfortunately it happened to be foggy and ready to rain when I was able to capture this shot.
- Queen St – Walk the main street in the city and check out the shops and restaurants. You will find a lot of the country’s chain stores that you won’t find in most others.
- Stroll on the North Wharf – Create a relaxing aspect of your day by admiring the beautiful boats in the harbor and eating at one of the best restaurants in the city. Not to mention you get to eat with a view of the water.
- Visit the Sky Tower – Auckland’s tallest building that you can suit up and jump off! We already had quite our adrenaline rush in Queenstown so we did not take part in this but it is one of the top attractions. If you do not feel like jumping, they also have the SkyWalk where you walk around the outer room and see all of Auckland below your feet. If you make reservations ahead of time, you can even dine in the rotating restaurants towards the top.
- Eat at Depot – Known for the oysters but has delicious food in general. They offer small plates to be shared with friends or family. This works out for those who want to try different things off the menu. You really cannot go wrong with anything you order as everything was delicious. The staff was efficient and super friendly. Make sure you get there earlier rather than later as they do not take reservations.
I wish I had the opportunity to spend some time in Wellington and to hike Tongariro National Park, but with New Zealand, you have so much do and so little time. The North Island had so much to offer and soon you will see what the South Island brought to the table. Stay tuned for part 2 for all must-do’s on the South Island!
I have planned two incredible trips in the past six months. One to New Zealand for 13 days (posts Coming Soon!) and one to Spain & Portugal for 10 days for a family friend. I started planning trips when I was studying abroad and I have since advanced in learning what works (and doesn’t work) when planning a trip. A lot of my family and friends always question how I know what to do and how overwhelmed they would be if they had to plan a trip. Now, I can’t give away all my secrets but let me give you a few tips to get you started.
- Know the general time frame you want to travel. The more flexibility you have, the more options that you will be presented with. If you have strict travel dates then you may be limited but it will take a lot of guess work out of your whereabouts.
- Determine your budget. You may have all these tours and activities you may want to complete but you need to make sure you are not going to break the bank. Once you have a budget, STICK TO IT. You do not want to find yourself in tons of debt when you get back. With this being said, keep an open mind because you do not want to give up something you were really looking forward to because you went $20 over. Track ever dollar you spend.
- Book your flights first. A lot people think this is obvious but you wouldn’t believe the number of people that book their hotels first. Once you book your flights, you know the dates of travel and can plan anything and everything from there. If you book something else first, you are confining yourself to that date, in that specific place. I recommend watching travel deal websites for flight deals (which will also help with your budget).
- Use Pinterest and travel blogs to research where you are traveling. You will get firsthand accounts of people who already traveled to this region or locals who may have some insider tips. The big travel tip companies are great but those tend to lead you towards the most touristy things possible. Thousands of people are reading the same thing which means you are not the only one to have this “idea”. Obviously visiting the major landmarks is part of a trip but you can still get into a local mindset and find hidden gems by avoiding these sites. Make a Pinterest board for each trip to keep everything in one place and allow you go back if you need to for more information.
- Plan the bare bones of your itinerary before booking hotels and activities. Make sure you are seeing the most important things before allocating your time to the next stop on your trip. You do not want to travel to a specific city or country and not see the one thing you went there for in the first place all due to bad planning (or lack of).
This is just a start to all the tips that go along with planning a trip. It can be as easy or as hard as you make it. Your trip can be as planned out or as bare boned as you make it. Traveling is a passion, a way of life. Everyone has a different way of preparing for a trip but knowing the steps to make the most of your time is extremely important.
Booking your next trip and still need help? Contact me here and I will be happy to assist. I can plan an entire tour start to finish or fill in the blanks and make sure nothing was missed.
Iceland is so diverse in terms of weather, temperature, and activities that you can’t just pack a basic bag and leave. There is so much thought that goes into planning the perfect Icelandic trip that I wanted to make sure I was spreading the knowledge as best I can. Our trip was amazing and I want to share my tips and tricks with you in hopes I can make your trip just a little bit better!
- Stay in a hostel or AirBnb that will allow you access to a full kitchen. Eating in Iceland is incredibly expensive so if you are trying to save money, eating in is one of the best ways you can do it. Shop at Bonus (Icelandic grocery store with the creepy pig) for the best deals. The food is still great quality but you are shopping at a discount. We ended up staying in an AirBnB which was so clean, welcoming, and convenient.
- Rent a car. Do not rely on day trips or others to drive you all over the country. Renting a car is easy and you are in charge of everything. Gas is expensive so be mindful of the car you are renting. It cost us about $120 USD to fill our 14 gallon tank. We had a Mazda 6 which was great on gas so in our 5.5 days we were in Iceland, we didn’t spend too much money filling up.
- Get out of Reykjavik. Spend a day there but the countryside has so much to offer. You have glaciers, geysers, and mountains everywhere. You have national parks with waterfalls and tectonic plates that you can see.
- Plan to wear layers everyday. We would start our days early and end them relatively late. It is chilly in the morning and evenings but would often find ourselves getting a little warmer as the day went on. We did go in May so we had 24 hours of sunlight which was helpful when attempting to get all our activities in but would throw us for a loop with the change of temperatures. The top articles of clothing I brought were my North Face hiking boots, my fleece-lined Columbia leggings, my Columbia fleece jacket, my North Face Tomales Bay rain jacket, and my Columbia waterproof pants. Don’t forget wool socks and thermals, especially if you plan on snorkeling in Silfra.
- Bring lotion! The air is incredibly dry in Iceland so make sure you pack a bottle of lotion, you WILL need it. I am not one to use lotion on a regular basis and I used it multiple times a day while traveling.
- Bring your own reusable water bottle. The tap water is clean & pure. To buy bottled water is relatively expensive. Just fill up before you leave and fill up at different stops along the way. You will save money and drink some of the purest water ever.
- Book your excursions in advance. There were a few times when we were so thankful we planned our days out to ensure we could do everything we wanted. Even Blue Lagoon needs to be booked in advance.
- Pack your own snacks. We brought about 50 granola bars with us and had maybe 10 left and the end of the trip. They come in handy often. They do add weight to your bag but the more you eat, the more you have room for souvenirs on your return home!
- Take a walking tour of Reykjavik. Yes, the city is small but you learn so much by going on a tour. You learn of places to eat, shop, and go. If residing in Reykjavik for more than a day, knowing your way around the quaint city is going to be helpful.
- Bring credit and debit cards only. No cash is needed unless you want to tip (which is not required or requested but appreciated). Make sure you know the PIN for your credit cards as some of places (especially gas stations) require a PIN.
- With the amount of international transactions you will be making, I highly encourage you to have a credit card that voids international fees.
- Gas stations and stores close relatively early so make sure you get your grocery shopping done and the car filled up with gas.
- Fill up on gas whenever you can when venturing out of Reykjavik. You never know when you will see another gas station.
- Do your research in regards to the season in which you are traveling to Iceland. It could change your mind in the type of car you rent, the clothes you bring, and even your accommodations. You also don’t want to go to Iceland during midnight sun if you want to see the Northern Lights (cause you won’t see them).
- Everyone speaks English but it is nice for you to say thank you in the native language. A simple ‘takk’ will do.
- Keep in mind you are on an island where cows are not common and you see sheep and water everywhere. Common Icelandic foods include lamb, fish, and seafood. If you are picky, bring your own food or make sure you have a kitchen to cook what you like to eat. You will be able to find burgers but they aren’t common so they don’t taste as good.
- Go to Blue Lagoon on your way back to the airport. It ends your trip in a relaxing manner and allows you to leave Iceland feeling refreshed even after a long active trip. I recommend upgrading to the next package they offer as it will give you a robe, a towel, and flip flops. There are showers with frosted doors for those a little concerned with being naked in front of other women. It is extremely common and there are other Icelandic people there who will be walking around naked.
- Put conditioner in your hair when showering before you enter the lagoon. Do not rinse it out until you shower off after you have spent your time in the Lagoon. Put it up in a bun or ponytail. This will avoid any part of your hair getting super dry and hay-like because the minerals in the water destroy your hair.
- Always travel with an extra SD card. I unfortunately learned this while on my trip but my sister happened to have an extra card! I would have missed about 2.5 days worth of pictures!
- You don’t have to try Brennivin. It’s pretty awful and makes you feel like your throat might have a hole in it.
- Look up from your camera. Take the time to take a picture or two but no matter what you do, the picture will never look like the real deal. Just enjoy it. Take a deep breath and be thankful that you get to experience so beautiful.
I am sure with each trip to Iceland one would learn something new. How to do something better, what to avoid for future trips. The thing is, all we have is now. Enjoy your trip to Iceland!