A logo that says ‘OP&C’

New Zealand trip (2024)

In which we visit NZ—the very first time for Little H, and the first time in 8 years for the other two H’s.

The goals for this trip (for me, anyway) were to catch up with as much of the NZ fam and buds as possible, and to take travel companions W-W-F to see some of NZ’s scenic highlights.

For Little H, the goal was “go to the beach every day”. After she got a taste of NZ ice cream the mission scope was expanded to include eating as much ice cream as allowed.

Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake, Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake, Tongariro National Park.

Main places visited

Photos: Leica D-LUX 5, iPhone SE OG, and various phone photos pinched from the trip group chat. This post is mostly photos. I also include some factual information.

Auckland (part 1)

Auckland fact sheet

  • Settled since about 1350 AD, it was New Zealand’s capital from 1841–1865
  • The urban area now has about 1.5 million residents. It’s by far the largest city in New Zealand. More people live in Auckland than in all of the South Island
  • The city sits on the Auckland Volcanic Field, which is still active. The most recent eruption was in 1450 AD, from the Rangitoto volcano in the Hauraki Gulf
  • Basically the best city in New Zealand
Auckland Airport
Arriving at Auckland Airport.

Main things on the list for Auckland (part 1)

  • Visit & BBQ at M-O-R’s new place
  • Piha
  • Auckland War Memorial Museum and domain
  • Figure out if I can still drive? (My license had expired, and it had only been about 15 years since I last tried driving a car)

Official inspection of the new M-O-R residence

M-O-R abode
White picket fence and all.
Dinner on the benchtop
BBQ dinner.

Out to Piha

Piha is a black sand beach on the coast west of Auckland, a drive of about 45 minutes from the city centre. The black sand is because of high iron content; the high iron content is because of volcanoes.

Driving in car
On the way to Piha.
Kids in the backseat of the car
Stay out of ‘baby jail’, girls.
Overlook of Piha
An overlook of Piha and Lion Rock.
On the beach at Piha, by Lion Rock
On the beach, by Lion Rock.
In the shallows
We said “Don’t get too wet, we didn’t bring you a change of clothes.” This is just before the not-too-wet phase shifted to the okay-I-guess-we’re-swimming-now phase.
Lion Rock cliff lurkers
M-O-R lurking staying out of the sun.
Views of west Auckland
Looking back towards Auckland from a view point in the Waitakeres.

Out and about in Auckland

Wellesley Street West, Auckland
Walking on Wellesley Street.
“Odette’s” restaurant
We did lunch at Odette’s. The last time I was here it was a table-tennis themed brewpub type thing named Miss Ping’s.
The steps in front of the Auckland War Memorial Museum
The Auckland War Memorial Museum.
In a tree at the Auckland Domain
At the Auckland Domain, by the museum.

Also in Auckland (part 1) but no photos

  • What’s up Bill Bixby

And then we were off to Tauranga …

In a car
Can I still drive? Apparently yes.


Tauranga fact sheet

  • Located at the top end of the middle of the North Island’s east coast, settled since the late 1300s
  • Legally made a city for the second time in March 2004, which suggests a period of illegal civitas (or a disqualification)
  • The Port of Tauranga is New Zealand’s largest “in terms of gross export tonnage and efficiency” and is a regular stop for container ships and luxury cruises
  • The surrounding land is mainly horticultural
  • Maybe the second-best city in New Zealand?

We drove down via Paeroa and the Karangahake Gorge.

The big Lemon and Paeroa bottle
Obligatory L&P bottle photo. (It’s World Famous in New Zealand)
Owharoa Falls
Owharoa Falls. (I think …)
Owharoa Falls
Owharoa Falls

Main things on the list for Tauranga

  • Visit G&A at the new place
  • Visits with K-JO and fam. (Our first time to meet the cuzzies on this side of the family)
  • Hike the Mount
  • Meet MaC and The Boat
The girls at the Garden Centre
The girls at the Garden Centre, after a traditional garden centre café lunch.
Jam donut
Jam and cream ‘donut’ from the One Tree Bakery, also traditional.

Hiking Mount Maunganui

The proper name of this dormant volcano is Mauao, with Mount Maunganui being the name of the adjacent suburb. A walking track circles the base of the volcano, with more trails leading up to the 232m summit. On a good day the views are spectacular the whole way.

Mount Maunganui track
Starting out.
Mount Maunganui track
Mount Maunganui track
Mount Maunganui track
Mount Maunganui track
Mount Maunganui track - view to Matakana
Views of Matakana Island over the water.
Mount Maunganui summit track
Starting on the summit track.
Mount Maunganui summit track
Mount Maunganui summit track
More of Matakana Island, and a helicopter.
Mount Maunganui summit track
Little H posing near the peak.
Mount Maunganui summit
We caught up with the buddies.
Mount Maunganui summit
Mount Maunganui track
Back down to the beach.
Mount Maunganui track
I’m not 100% sure what we did next, but I am 99% sure it involved ice cream.

G&A’s new place

A new place for Dad and Anne since the last NZ trip, located near the intriguingly named Cheese Factory Lane. We made several visits, and enjoyed a magnificent dinner.

Playing outside
Chalk drawings on concrete
At the table
Little H on camera duty.

Arataki Beach

We stayed a week in a super-basic rental that could fairly be described as spartan. The good part: just a short walk from Arataki Beach (and the excellent lower-case-on-purpose special mention café).

Surfer at Arataki Beach
Surveying the waves.
Beach scene
The big bump in the distance is Mauao.
Arataki Beach
From here it’s nothing but ocean all the way to Chile.
Blue bottle / Portuguese man o' war
We always called these ‘bluebottles’, and used to jump on them to pop them. What I didn’t know is that bluebottle is the other name for ‘Portuguese man o’ war’, which has a much more fearsome reputation.
Chinese ‘smorgasbord’ at the local fish and chip shop
The Girven Road Takeaways smorgasboard, for a “succulent Chinese meal”.

Meetup at the Mt.

As part of Mother’s [REDACTED] birthday celebrations she and C took on a two-week Australia-NZ cruise, and it just so happened that they docked at the Port of Tauranga while we were in town.

C and J
We timed it just right to meet up with the big MaC combo as they arrived on a cruise ship …
Group shot on grass
… and then headed around the corner to Pilot Bay to meet up with K-JO and the cuzzies for fish and chips.
Pilot Bay Beach, Tauranga, New Zealand
Pilot Bay Beach.

Kaiate Falls visit

We wanted to visit Blue Spring, one of the famous short walks near Tauranga, but that track was closed due to a rockfall and related safety issues. So we took a look instead at Kaiate Falls.

Kaiate Falls track
Coming down the Kaiate Falls track.
Kaiate Falls track
The first of the waterfalls.
Kaiate Falls track
HJ by the waterfall.
Kaiate Falls track
Down the track
Kaiate Falls track
The tallest of the waterfalls.
Kaiate Falls track
Native bush and Mt Maunganui
Looking back towards Tauranga.

K-JO’s place

We helped put on a hotpot dinner for fam and friends at the palatial K-JO estate.

Dinner table
Group shot
The one shot that didn’t need censorship.
Turntable set up
Afters at Mazzo’s. Back in the day this would surely have turned into an epic session, but … yeah nah.

Also Tauranga but no photos

Side trips

  • We headed over to Hamilton for a day, visiting the Hamilton Car Museum and the Hamilton Zoo. It was a rainy day with minimal photography opportunities.
Hamilton Classic Car Museum
Hamilton Classic Car Museum.
Hamilton Classic Car Museum
We had a Hillman when I was little … though maybe not this model.

And then we were off to Ohakune …


Ohakune fact sheet

  • “New Zealand’s Carrot Capital”
  • Maybe a couple of thousand permanent residents?
  • Close to the skifields on Ruapehu and the trails in the Tongariro National Park
  • The location of Mother’s last major birthday event as well as the current major birthday event

On the way down to Ohakune we stopped by the Agrodome, the Craters of the Moon, and Huka Falls.

The Agrodome

Part of an actual farm, the Agrodome offers a Farm Show (sheep, shearing demo, sheep dog) and a Farm Tour (tractor ride around part of the farm to see alpacas, deer, beehives, and more). We were able to use WeChat Pay to purchase our tickets here.

At the Agrodome, Rotorua
The lineup of sheep at the Agrodome, Rotorua.
Sheep with long fringe
Cool haircut Mister Sheep.
Little H and alpacas
Agrodome farm tour.
Little H and alpaca
Little H and alpaca

Craters of the Moon

The walkways at the Craters of the Moon take you around a few of the vents of a geothermal field in the Taupo Volcanic Zone. This visit wasn’t super exciting; might try out Orakei Korako next time.

Overview of the ‘Craters of the Moon’.
An overview of the geothermal field at the ‘Craters of the Moon’.
Craters of the Moon
Bubbling mud pools.
Craters of the Moon, Rotorua.
Little H on the boardwalk
Craters of the Moon boardwalk
The most active vent. (Sound on for hissing)
Overlook of the Craters of the Moon, Rotorua
An overlook from the ridge, with the vent from the preceding video at bottom left.

Huka Falls

Allegedly New Zealand’s most-visited natural attraction. I could have stayed all day to watch the water.

Huka Falls, Taupo
Looking downstream from the bridge.
Huka Falls, Taupo
Looking upstream from the bridge.
Huka Falls, Taupo
The bridge.
Huka Falls, Taupo
The falls.
The falls. (Sound on for roaring water)
Huka Falls, Taupo
The wash of the falls, and the jetboat.

We continued to Ohakune via Taupo and the Desert Road, encountering flooded roads south of Taupo and rain storms on the Desert Road.

Main things on the list for Ohakune

  • Hangs with MaC, and the Big Birthday Dinner
  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing
  • Other nearby attractions (Mt. Ruapehu and the Sky Waka, Waiouru National Army Museum, Carrot Park)
Ohakune Carrot Adventure Park.
At the parsnip section of the Ohakune Carrot Adventure Park.

Waiouru National Army Museum

We always used to stop here on the way through to Tauranga or Auckland or wherever. The museum is at the southern end of the Desert Road (which I love driving) and there’s an army training ground in the area as well. Didn’t take a lot of photos here. Mother was here to look up the service records for Granddad Mac, who served in North Africa and Italy.

Old photo of soldiers
You can spot Granddad Mac in the photo at far right.
Girls and C
The ladies and Mr. C at the museum café.

Mt. Ruapehu and the Sky Waka

The Sky Waka is a gondola that goes up to the café and restaurant at the Knoll Ridge Chalet (2020m elevation) on Mt. Ruapehu. I was hoping to hike up to the Skyline Ridge for views of the Central Plateau, but skipped that plan when the clouds didn’t clear. There are several hiking tracks that begin at the Knoll Ridge Chalet, including the Waterfall Descent trail.

Mountains and mist
Near the top of the Waterfall Descent trail on Mt. Ruapehu.
Rocks and mist
Starting down.
Waterfall Track
Waterfall Descent trail views
The clouds cleared a little.
Little H at the Top of the Bruce car park

Chateau Tongariro

We stopped by the Chateau Tongariro on the way back to Ohakune. It was all shut up and emanating a palpable Overlook Hotel vibe. Turns out it would close permanently just a few days later, “due to seismic risks […] with parapets and chimneys at risk of falling, inadequate bracing, unreinforced masonry infill, and under-strength foundations”, probably nothing to do with hauntings or anything like that.

Chateau Tongariro
The Chateau Tongariro.
Little H at the Chateau
Big H at the Chateau

Ohakune mountain weather

Sometimes clear, sometimes cloudy.

A timelapse of Ohakune mountain weather.
Views of Mt. Ruapehu
What it looks like on a clear day. Weather like this would have been nice for the Sky Waka trip.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is variously known as New Zealand’s Best One-Day Trek / New Zealand’s Greatest Day Walk / a Top Ten Single-Day Trek in The World, and I’d been wanting to get back on this trail ever since a school trip, during my first last year of college, on which we became separated from adult supervision during a blizzard and went on to do an unsupervised Northern Circuit.

We had much better weather this time, and I took way too many photos. Here’s a small selection, and I’ll eventually make a separate post for all the rest of them.

Ngauruhoe, New Zealand
By Mt. Ngauruhoe. (Mount Doom in the movies, if you’re a LOTR fan)
Up the ridge to Red Crater.
Up the ridge to Red Crater, with the summit ridge of Tongariro in the back.
HJ at the Emerald Lakes Lookout
At the Emerald Lakes Lookout, 1868m.
Emerald Lakes, Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Blue Lake, Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Hiking by Blue Lake.
Views down to Lake Rotoaira.
Views down to Lake Rotoaira, with Lake Taupo way in the back.

Also in Ohakune but no photos

  • We did the birthday dinner at the Powderkeg—highly recommended
  • Indoor walls at Vertigo Climbing
  • Mangawhero River track
  • HJ and W-F did a side trip to Wanganui on a rainy day

After a week in Ohakune we headed back north, passing through Otorohanga to visit the Kiwi House, and then a straight shot back to Auckland …

Auckland again

We’d gone back up to Auckland to welcome the second W of the W-W-F team. The W-W-F team would go on to travel in the South Island, while us H’s would soon be heading back to Beijing.

Main things in Auckland (part 2)

  • Sky Tower
  • Tiritiri Matangi
  • Meetups and shopping
A view from Auckland’s Sky Tower.
The view south from the Sky Tower.

Tiritiri Matangi Scientific Reserve

Tiritiri Matangi is an island nature reserve that’s home to a variety of native New Zealand flora and fauna.

You get there by ferry—a journey of about 80 minutes from Viaduct Harbour— and after arrival you’re free to look about until the ferry comes back in the afternoon. It’s not a large island, and there’s plenty of time to walk the trails along beaches, through forest, and up to the lighthouse.

The lighthouse on the island was built in 1864 and was once “the most powerful in the Southern Hemisphere”. During the Second World War the island hosted an observation post set up to signal nearby gun emplacements if enemies were spotted.

Ferries to Tiritiri Matangi are operated by Explore Group, and you can also book in a guided walk for a more in-depth experience.

North Head, Devonport
North Head, Devonport. (One of the World War II-era gun emplacements)
The wharf at Tiritri Matangi.
The wharf at Tiritri Matangi.
Rock pools near the wharf at Tiritri Matangi
Stones and rock pools near the wharf.
Hobbs Beach, Tiritiri Matangi
Looking over Hobbs Beach.
The giant pohutukawa at Hobbs Beach
The giant pohutukawa at Hobbs Beach.
Into the forest on the Kawerau Track.
Into the forest on the Kawerau Track.
At the highest point on the island.
At the highest point on the island. (79m above sea level)
Pines and lighthouse
Tiritiri Matangi bunkhouse
The island’s bunkhouse, with Rangitoto in the distance.
Takehe near the visitor centre.
Views of Auckland Harbour
Views of Auckland Harbour.
The lighthouse.
Lighthouse on Tiritiri Matangi
Auckland Harbour
Forest track
Back down to the beach for a dip before the ferry departure.

The last few days in Auckland

Inside Real Groovy Records
The new Real Groovy. New for me, anyway—had been a while between visits.
Albert Park.
Albert Park.
AUT Upper Queen St campus
Back at the Upper Queen St. campus of the Auckland University of Technology.

Also Auckland (part 2) but no photos

  • What’s up old Beijing buddy J
  • We met up with BigUncleB from the Kashgar trip
  • We were supposed to meet up with Actual Uncle B for the Tiritiri Matangi outing, but he caught The Covid
  • Auckland Art Gallery
  • Auckland Library

Planning a trip to New Zealand?

For trip planning, the Department of Conservation website, the NZ Tourism website, and the various i-Sites (phone, email, or in-person) are super-helpful for finding fun places to visit.