The cities of the north island – Auckland, Kawakawa and Wellington

Colorful buildings in Kawakawa.

Our tour of New Zealand was naturally divided into two stages. We first drove the car around the north island and then did the same on the south island. There is no hiding that in both cases the greatest joy was to see the beautiful nature. Sometimes, however, we also stopped in the cities for a few moments, which is why we will start our story with them. Here are the cities of the North Island where we stopped for a while: Auckland, Kawakawa, and Wellington.

Auckland

After the adventures at Nadi airport (you can read about them in the post How we almost didn’t see New Zealand, with great relief we got off the plane in Auckland. Finally New Zealand!!! Our adventure continued, and the next few weeks were going to be very exciting! We were even more excited because we were starting the next stage of our trip around the world with the New Year. It was 31.12.2015 and only a few hours left till midnight.

The first accommodation we had couchsurfing at Anna’s place, so this evening we spent with other Couchsurfers. Shortly before midnight, we all went to the marina. From here, we had the best view of New Year’s fireworks that flashed right in front of the Sky Tower. Unfortunately, right here – at midnight – we had our first “that is not what I expected…” moment.

New Years fireworks
New Year’s fireworks

It was neither a long nor a too impressive show of fireworks. The fireworks during the last New Year’s Eve in the hometown of Patrycja (7,500 inhabitants) were more spectacular. The only thing that spoke in favor of Auckland was the ships’ sirens that started to sound loudly in the entire port at midnight. These definitely did add the “WOW” effect to the start of the New Year. After the New Year’s greetings, we went back to Anne’s apartment.

As far as the city itself is concerned, you could write a lot about it. Although not the capital, it is the largest city in New Zealand, with one-third of the country population living here. You can see various museums, planetariums or go shopping to one of the many shopping centers. But Auckland did not impress us – big and busy business city, just like many others in the world. We did not want to spend too much time here.

Auckland at night
Auckland at night

Certainly, the lousy weather had a big impact on our impressions of the city. During our short stay in Auckland almost all the time it was cloudy and raining. So we did not go out too much. We preferred to focus on planning our trip around New Zealand. Here we smile, remembering Anne, who helped us by suggesting top attractions.

On the maps of the northern and southern islands we took from the airport, she pointed out the most interesting (in her opinion) places to visit, briefly describing them. We also asked her about the places from the lists that we got on Fiji from other travelers. After doing this, the idea of New Zealand trip has clarified in our heads (and on paper).

Our car and tent in New Zealand
Our car and tent in New Zealand

The only thing we had to plan was transportation. It was in Auckland that we finally decided we would not be hitchhiking around, which a lot of people suggested. They claimed that such travel is fast, hassle-free and of course the cheapest. But we value freedom and independence, so we decided to rent a car for a few weeks. And to minimize budget for accommodations we bought a tent and inflatable mattresses – and that helped us save a lot. Prepared like that, with a trunk full of food, we headed out of Auckland towards far north.

Kawakawa

Kawakawa was supposed to be one of the many small towns we just had to pass by. But it was totally different, and finally, by the coincidence of events and the need to visit a doctor, we spent 3 days here. And although the weather here also did not spoil us, we think about Kawakawa with a smile on our faces.

At first glance, this is a small town. One main street and several smaller ones. Hospital, police station, some small shops, and restaurants. A small museum and historic railway, which runs along the center of the town’s main street. What distinguishes Kawakawa from other small towns in New Zealand is an exceptional public toilet. Definitely one of the main tourist attractions in the area! And we’re completely serious 😉

Hundertwasser public toilet
Hundertwasser public toilet

The designer of this toilet was none other than Friedensreich Hundertwasser himself. This Austrian artist is known worldwide for being the creator of the famous Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna. In 1975 he moved to New Zealand, near Kawakawa in the Bay of Islands. This is where he spent the last 25 years of his life, during which he created, among other things, Bottle House a.k.a. Hundertwasser’s Toilet.

Hundertwasser public toilet
Hundertwasser public toilet

Exceptional public restrooms, as well as their surroundings, look much different from “normal” toilets. Combinations of materials used, including many recycled materials, interesting colors and a wealth of forms and shapes – it all makes people quite interested (certainly more than in any other toilet). Fortunately, the functionality and all the facilities in the toilet operate according to general standards and without any surprises. To be honest – using Hundretwasser’s toilet is a pleasure 😉

Wellington

During our entire trip around New Zealand, we only had 3 places where we had to be at a specific day or time. These were: Auckland (where our plane from Fiji landed), Christchurch (from which we flew to Australia) and Wellington – from where departed our ferry to the south island. So when we arrived in the capital, why not take the opportunity and not see some of the most interesting places? 😉 Unfortunately, the weather was bad again and almost all the time it was raining heavily. What is the best thing to see on rainy days? Of course museums 😉 Especially if you are in the city, which houses the most important museum and art gallery in New Zealand.

Te Papa Museum
Te Papa Museum

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is the largest museum in New Zealand and one of the largest national museums in the world. In a modern building, on 6 floors, a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions have been created regarding the nature, culture, and history of the country, and more. You can spend hours here without getting bored for a moment. It took us almost 4 hours to see what we wanted, and it could easily take much longer.

The Gallipoli exhibition, which is open from April 2015 to April 2019, is by far the most interesting (in our opinion). It depicts the course of the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War, in which the New Zealanders participated. Maps, animations, and mock-ups show exactly the stages of the battle, and numerous exhibits are the perfect complement to the tales of the most bloody battle in New Zealand history.

The Gallipoli Exhibition at Te Papa museum
The Gallipoli Exhibition at Te Papa museum

Permanent displays are no less interesting. On the second level, there are all about the natural diversity of the country. From animals living in the water, the land and the air, to the richness of the vegetation – a total of over 2,500 native species of plants and animals in various expositions. An exceptional exhibit is a giant squid caught in 2007 by fishermen in the Antarctic waters of the Ross Sea. It measures 4.2 m, weighs 495 kg and is the largest cephalopod ever caught in the world.

The Colossal Squid Exhibition
The Colossal Squid Exhibition

There is another interesting exhibition in the part of the displays devoted to the forces of nature that shaped New Zealand.
It is a small wooden house where you can experience a magnitude 6.6 (Richter) earthquake simulation. Fantastic and very awareness-raising presentation, especially for people who have never before experienced an earthquake.

On the next floor (level 3) the displays show how the country landscape has changed. From the unspoiled bush, untouched by man to country pasture and farmland. New Zealand has changed very much under the influence of colonists from Europe, who since the mid-XVII century have started to settle in the islands.

The Cultural Diversity of New Zealand Excibition
The Cultural Diversity of New Zealand Excibition

This history is covered by the expositions on the 4th level of the museum – devoted to the cultural diversity of New Zealand. Here you can find information about Maori and Pacific culture. You can see the traditional elements of these cultures, such as tools, decorations, clothing or everyday items. Read or watch their stories and passings, see the warriors dance or enter the meeting house.

Maori meeting house
Maori meeting house

There are also other stories of people who have been migrating to NZ for the past 200 years and stories of young immigrants who are now choosing this country as their place on Earth.

When the exhibition Whiti Te Rā! The story of Ngāti Toa Rangatira was opened, members of the tribe perform their haka Ka Mate in front of the Te Papa Museum building.

The top floors (level 5 and 6) covers the art gallery. The exhibitions in the gallery are constantly changing and there are no permanent displays. Here you can see both paintings and pictures of nature, people and the surrounding world at the turn of the century. They are not only dedicated to New Zealand. There are often exhibitions from around the world, such as those about European culture in the years 1500-1800.

And some other …

Although we only focused on the three cities of the North Island, they were not the only ones we visited. There will always be a reason to come out of the “wild” return to civilization! Whether it’s shopping, using the internet in the library or just sleeping in a bed or doing the laundry…

In Waipu we stayed at a very nice campsite, where a hot shower was literally salvation from the cold outside.

While traveling to the Bay of Islands, we had to go about 40 km to buy anything for dinner at Okiato. It was the nearest place to our campsite with shops and gas station.

In Kaitaia, we stopped to use the free internet and recharge our electronics in the city library. You can’t imagine how surprised we were when it turned out that a significant part of the population of this village/town comes from Croatia (Dalmatia). In the library, we found a lot of information on this subject, with pictures, and all info was in two languages – English and Croatian.

In Palmerston North, for a good half hour, we were looking for information whether the parking lot was paid or free. As soon as we found this information, we had to wait another half an hour… this time for a shower. The managing woman just happened to have breakfast break so there was none to hand us the key.

Rotorua – but we’ll cover this city in a separate post! Although we liked the city and its surroundings, Dawid has very mixed feelings about these few days. All “thanks to” the beautiful British cat named Zeus, who was the cause for Dawid accidentally stepping on his phone, destroying its display completely.

In general – cities were in fact quite interesting, but in New Zealand, we liked nature more!

Practical tips:

  • When going to New Zealand, it is best to plan your way around the country in the first place. Hop On-Hop Off tickets can be handy. The cost of this ticket will vary depending on the company and the number of stops. For more information, visit the carrier’s web pages, such as Kiwi Experience or Stay Travel.
  • Another option is to rent a car or a camper. Such solutions are offered by every New Zealand rental and most of them allow you to return the car in another city, and sometimes even include ferry tickets between the islands. We will not recommend any of the rental companies because we chose the one that was the cheapest. We spent a couple of hours in Auckland walking from one company to the other, comparing prices and cars available.
  • What we can certainly recommend car relocation option – we ourselves regret that we came with this idea too late. Some rental companies offer, for example, two weeks in a comfortable camper for free or for low rate (e.g. 1-5NZD per day), if you can “deliver” that car from place A to place B within the time they want (usually between week or two, sometimes even more). Relocation programs are offered by all major car rental companies, and most of them are mentioned on www.rentalcarrelocation.co.nz. There are also special sites that aggregate all rental options like this. For more information go to www.imoova.com or www.transfercar
  • It is also an interesting option to buy your own minivan with a mattress and mini kitchen, and sell it after your trip to New Zealand. It’s the cheapest to buy it after the tourist season and the optimal to sell right before the next one. However, if the journey would take less than 1-2 months, and in addition in the high season, then renting a car may prove to be more profitable (and certainly much less problematic). We were considering buying a car, but a quick cost calculation always helps make the right decision 😉
  • Regardless of what way of traveling in New Zealand you choose, there’s one thing your luggage cannot miss – a sunscreen with high UV filter. Because of the ozone hole here, it does not matter if the sun is shining, is cloudy or even raining – the sunscreen should always be with you and rationally applied to the skin!
  • The use of the Hundertwasser public toilet in Kawakawa is free.
  • Te Papa Museum in Wellington entrance is free. Some additional exhibitions may require a ticket and there’s guide fee if you want a guided tour (16 NZD or 11 USD). All important information about the museum can be found on the official website www.tepapa.govt.nz. Here you can find a museum plan with all the exhibitions schedule.
  • Car parking near the Te Papa museum is not free. Open parking and indoor parking are available. The cost is 3.50NZD (2.50USD) for every hour of parking, up to 28 NZD (20 USD) of total charge.

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