Travelling the Waikato Region

If you are visiting the North Island, it really does make sense to include travelling the Waikato region. And this is because the Waikato lies between Rotorua and Auckland (read more on those travel blogs). And for travellers, you will have so many key key attractions to see here.  For example, so many itineraries we do, include the Hobbiton Village and the Waitomo Caves. And for lovers of all things botanical, the Hamilton Gardens are a must-do.  Added to this list, is the truly magnificent Zealong Tea Estate.

Travelling the Waikato Region - Zealong Tea Estate

Zealong Tea Estate

Experiences in the Waikato region

Evening Banquet Dinner at Hobbiton

It is hard to believe that Sir Peter Jackson and his crew began filming for the LOTR in Dec 1999!  Since that time, the Hobbiton Village film set tours (blog) have really taken off. There are currently 30 tours running throughout the day every 15 minutes. But it is very well managed. I have actually done the village tour, but this time while travelling the Waikato Region, I wanted to give the Evening Banquet Dinner a try. I must say, it was very atmospheric with a crackling fire in the hearth and lots of candles.

 

Travelling the Waikato Region

Walking Tour before dinner

Now depending on the time of the year, departure times do vary – I did the banquet in mid-May, which is in the early winter.  The tour began at 5pm. Because you will be starting the tour later in the day, you will be will be leaving at a later hour as well – around 9.30.  So I can think of no better to stay overnight in the immediate area. Sure, Rotorua is about an hour’s drive away, but I would not recommend the drive there – the winter night driving can be hazardous on winding roads. Tours depart four times per week on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

As with all the Hobbiton Tours,  the starting point is at Shires Rest, which is a 15 min drive from the village of Matamata. You will quickly discover that the friendly local guides play a key part in the whole experience. Their knowledge and enthusiasm is unmatched! A short coach ride will deliver you to the Hobbiton village. For some travellers, it is almost like entering a holy shrine – especially when you step into the village and see those round entrance doors! You will get fabulous photo opportunities here.

 

Travelling the Waikato Region - Hobbiton Village tour

 

Dinner at Hobbiton is served!

The walk through the film-scene village took us about 1.5 hours. The time goes so quickly – and believe me, the guides make it so much fun. After the village tour, it is time to dine at the  ‘Green Dragon Inn’ (pub). The Green Dragon Inn was opened as a way of marking the wrapping up of the whole Tolkien project. In fact, you can actually feel the ‘Hobbiton vibe’ when you step in. After a refreshing local ‘brew’ (a selection on either ciders or beers) the moment has come to enter the grand dining hall. This part definitely has a ‘wow’ factor – with rustic oak tables laden with all the ‘goodies’ you have probably seen in the promotional videos.

 

Travelling the Waikato Region - Hobbiton Village evening feast

 

You will have a huge selection to choose from, which is just as well – most of us are pretty hungry after the walking tour. I guess every experience is what you make it.  The dining part of the tour is very communal scene and you will get a great chance to chat with other travellers.

 

Travelling the Waikato region with Zealong Tea Estate

I think it is fair to say that New Zealand is not really known for its tea-growing. But, it seems we Kiwis do have a can-do attitude to life.  The Zealong Tea Estate sits just outside Hamilton and still seems to be a bit of a hidden secret. But what a lot of folks do not know, is that Zealong is the only commercial tea estate in New Zealand. And it gets even better – the Zealong Eestate is a world-leading destination for tea, art and hospitality. And boy what a great setting it is!

 

 

Attractions like Zealong are great for giving you the chance to refresh before driving on to your next stay. You can stretch your legs by taking a wander through Zealong’s massive grounds. And on the way, you can enjoy the sight of hand-crafted copper statues and sculptures. There is also a some great Chinese and Western painting on show. I was delighted find out that Zealong offers  High Tea tours in the morning and afternoons. I will definitely keep this mind for the next time I visit.

Hamilton Gardens

Hamilton Gardens is pretty much an iconic attraction for the Waikato and particularly for Hamilton City.  And it is massive! The whole area encompasses 54-hectares of a beautiful park on the banks of the Waikato River. If you are a garden lover, you will be in heaven. There is so much variety to be found here. You will be able to enjoy enclosed gardens of every tradition, open lawns, a lake and a nursery. This really is a gorgeous landmark and brings in more than 1 million visitors per year.  Hamilton Gardens is definitely worthwhile if you are travelling the Waikato Region.

 

Travelling the Waikato region with Hamilton Gardens

 

Accommodation options Waikato region

Let’s face it, Hamilton Gardens and the Hobbiton Village are huge magnets for the whole region. But it is also very exciting to get new accommodation options popping up. I am talking about the ones that are owned and operated by the ‘locals’. These are the types of accommodations where you get to feel at home among friends.

Villa Walton Bed and Breakfast

Villa Walton Bed and Breakfast is a historical house which was originally build in 1904. I am pleased to say that it has been beautifully renovated to receive guests. As a travel agent I am constantly on the search for something special for my travellers. Villa Walton was such a love find.

 

Travelling the Waikato region with Villa Walton

 

What I like about it, is that it is so conveniently located for all the key activities of the Waikato Region. Of course, there is the added charm of staying in a small rural village. And speaking of charm, the owners clearly love what they do. The breakfast area feels more like an upmarket cafe place and soft background music is such a relaxing way to start your day.

 

Villa Walton B & B Breakfast Room

Villa Walton Breakfast Room

With  smaller properties like this one, you won’t have so many people milling around – plus you get to relax in a more intimate setting. There are 3 individually designed guest rooms in the main house. But if you are looking for extra space to yourself, there is a cottage apartment next door. Naturally all rooms come with ensuite bathrooms.

 

 

Guests have access to a bar area and to have the option of pre-ordering small meals. A lot of us just want to kick back after a long drive – to avoid going out again after a long drive. So pre-ordering a pizza or a platter is a great service to have. In my opinion, Walton Villa is a gorgeous  property is stunning. I would happily send my guests there for a couple of nights to explore the Waikato region.

Henley Hotel

You will find Henley Hotel just outside Cambridge.  And Cambridge is not only famous for its lush rural land, but for race horse breeding. Unlike Walton Villas, Henley Hotel is a much larger property and has 14 guests rooms. The grounds surrounding Henley are really huge.  As to the room types, I would put them into three categories – ‘Good Rooms’,  ‘Better Rooms’ and ‘Best Rooms’. Henley Hotel re-opened as an accommodation in October 2918. It is very clear that no expenses has been spared to make Henley look fabulous!

 

Henley Hotel entrance area

 

But what you need to know is that Henley is not operated by an owner on-site.  So you will get a different type of hospitality to that of Walton Villa. However, there is a great advantage to staying at Henley, and not just for its decor.  They do have a very good restaurant. And that means that you don’t have to go out again for the night.

 

Travelling the Waikato region with Henley Hotel

 

There are other attractions in the Waikato area like the Waitomo caves. The ones listed here, are just a few of them.  But as you can see, I think there is a pretty good case for travelling the Waikato Region.

For more travel planning the North Island see more at our Pure Places travel itinerary.

Happy travelling!

Exploring Taranaki – New Plymouth Attractions

Exploring Taranaki – New Plymouth Attractions is all about getting off the usual touristy route.  That, and having a relaxed breakfast overlooking a beautiful garden, has to be one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Hosking House B&B in New Plymouth

For this very reason, we chose to stay at Hosking House, a beautiful boutique B & B in New Plymouth. Each room at Hosking House is different and beautifully styled.  We also really liked being within walking distance to the town centre.

 

Hoskings House bed and breakfast in New Plymouth Taranaki

Pukekura Park

Virtually just across the road Hosking House is Pukekura Park, which happens to be one of New Zealand’s top botanical gardens. Pukekura Park is quite massive – being made up of 128 acres of lush greenery. Michael, pictured below,  is 6ft.3in – so you get some some idea as to how huge these Punga ferns are.

 

Exploring Taranaki - New Plymouth Attractions

 

This would have to be a favourite view in the gardens.  The sun filters so beautifully through the bush to the beautiful Tea House beyond.

 

Pukekura Park tearoom views

Puke Ariki Complex

I would thoroughly recommend that every visitor to New Plymouth take a few hours to visit the Puke Ariki complex  For a smaller city, New Plymouth really punches above its weight here. Not only is the Puke Ariki complex a fantastic museum, but it also is multi-functional. This complex also houses a a library and Information Centre – so much under the same roof.  What we found stunning was the Museum’s collection and display of precious Maori Taonga (cultural treasures). It is arguably the best in New Zealand. For cultural reasons, you cannot take photos. But you will probably agree that this is a good thing. It really is a mind-tingling atmospheric and the audio visuals really require your full attention.

 

Exploring Taranaki - New Plymouth Attractions - Puke Ariki

Eating out in Plymouth

Exploring Taranaki – New Plymouth Attractions. No matter how leisurely your pace of travel, exploring new places can be tiring. And that’s when we all seem to make a ‘beeline’ for the cafes.  Since our last visit, New Plymouth has become quite the trendsetter with its vast array of cafes to choose from. You’ll get fair share of organic and gluten-free options.  And believe me, the coffee is serious. Night dining is also pretty darn special, being a coastal town with sea views.

Chaos Cafe 2

 

New Plymouth Coastal Walkway

There is no better way of walking off brunch than a leisurely meander along the award-winning Coastal Walkway And you can walk the full 11km  if you wish.  Actually, this coastal walkway pretty much covers an expansive sea-edge promenade. The great thing about promenade walks, is that you are sure to meet many friendly locals along the way. But with sea views like this, you can also choose to be alone with your own private thoughts. Either way, it is very therapeutic.

Exploring Taranaki - New Plymouth Attractions - Coastal Walkway

 

Pukeiti Rhododendron Park

Make sure you set aside some time to visit the Pukeiti Rhododendron Park. The drive out to the park will take you about 25 mins. But believe me, a drive out to the famous Pukeiti Rhododendron Park is a definite must-do. And if you are travelling in New Zealand’s Spring months, the Rhododendrons are just dripping with bright coloured blooms. Most visitors here really enjoy the easy tracks and find it refreshes their spirits. Like most botanical gardens in New Zealand, you can get a map to help you find your way around.

 

Rhododendrons New Plymouth

Festival of Lights

If you are travelling New Plymouth between 15 Dec and 25 Jan, you will be able to enjoy the Festival of Lights.  This is such a spectacular visual extravaganza – and it actually involves the whole city.  There is no better inducement for romance and celebrating life!

 

festival of lights new plymouth

 

After New Plymouth we went through the Forgotten Highway into the central North Island district. Then from the famous Tongariro National through Lake Taupo and to Rotorua. On another trip we visited Orakei Korako Thermal Valley, yet another highlight in the North Island.

For your travel planing on New Zealand’s North Island check out this sample 12 Day North Island itinerary with many hidden spots often missed by other travellers.

Happy travelling in New Plymouth/ Taranaki.

Auckland Walking Tours with Aucky Walky

Most international travellers to New Zealand, will arrive in the City of Auckland. And after a long flight, it is a good idea to get out and explore the city, before you get that well earned sleep.  If you love boutique tours – or a private tour for just the two of you, then Auckland walking tours with Aucky Walky is a must-do.

Auckland Walking Tours with Aucky Walky

Liz, the owner guide of Aucky Walky, is a 4th generation local and she knows all the award-winning eateries. Plus she will take you up those gorgeous little back lanes to the real hidden gems. We chose the Taste Auckland Food Tour and believe me, it was a pure experience. BTW, check out the best time to visit New Zealand.

What Happens on the Aucky Walky Taste Auckland Tour?

Mouth-watering New Zealand Game

Liz doesn’t really see her guiding as just a job. She clearly enjoys showing off food made with love, beautiful art and especially those people wanting to experience the real deal. The Taste Auckland Tour is a progressive lunch tour where good food and cool vibes are everything. Our first stop was an eatery owned by award-winning chef Al Brown. This is where you will get taste plates galore – and this is real ‘nosh’ folks.  Our lamb spare ribs were mouth-wateringly tender and delicious!

Auckland Walking Tours with Aucky Walky - The depot in Auckland

One happy customer with Liz

History & helpful info

There is not a lot of ‘trekking’ that goes on with this tour.  In fact, most eateries are within a short distance to each other. But it really is all about what you see along the way, that makes this tour pretty darn special. For example, a lot of travellers don’t actually know that New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote.  There is a story behind this historical mural – it commemorates the collection of over 32,000 signatures supporting the right for women to vote.

Art & objects of interest

As we passed through the lobby of the Skycity Grand Hotel, Liz didn’t really need to point out these stunning paintings.  In fact they are the first things you notice when walking through here.  At first, you may be mistaken into thinking that they are photographs.  But on closer inspection, you can see they are actually paintings.  These gorgeous works of art are by Karl Maughan, a New Zealand painter based in Wellington.

Auckland Walking Tours with Aucky Walky - paintings by Karl Maughan

As we made our way across to another eatery, we passed through the Britomart Shopping Precinct. And right through the middle and lined up in a large row, were these volcano sculptures.  And these actually represent some of the inactive volcanoes in the Auckland region.  Now if you look down the glass on top, you can clearly see the underground railway lines. We thought these were pretty cool.

Auckland’s exciting Asian-food scene

A major highlight on this tour, was a visit to an Asian food eatery. This restaurant really challenged our taste buds with its use of spice.  The thing is about some of these places, they can look so unassuming from the outside. It is only when you walk through to their ‘inner sanctum’ that you find some pretty spectacular layouts. In this eatery, we actually feel as though you are sitting in a huge glass house. There were gorgeous tropical plants everywhere and massive palm trees growing outside.

But really folks, it is all about the flavour, followed by the spice ‘kick’ at the end. Our tasting plates were so pretty and moorish.

Auckland Walking Tours with Aucky Walky - Asian Fusion

Sweet Treats?

The treats kept on coming.  Liz had heard of my chocolate cravings so it was no surprise when we entered the what can only be described as ‘chocolate heaven’. The culture in inner-Auckland is very diverse due to the rich history of immigration from around the world – and that has to be good for Auckland. We had the choice of 2 chocolates each to take away with us.  It was such a hard decision.

Auckland Walking Tours with Aucky Walky - Bohemein Chocolates

Desserts Divine

No Auckland Walking Tour is complete without a visit to the to an Icecream and Gelato shop – Liz introduced us to what can only be described as delicious works of art.  No room for guilt here folks – like everyone else we sat outside and savoured each mouthful.

Just before our last stop, we make a quick visit to a gorgeous little dessert shop down one of the lanes. Seriously, we would never have found this one by ourselves. Read more on why to use a locals in New Zealand.

Auckland Walking Tours with Aucky Walky -Dessert shop

But really, that’s the beauty of Auckland Walking Tours.  Liz will point the quality restaurants and hidden gems Auckland offers.  Then later on, you can find these yourself at your leisure – that way, you can make a booking at an eatery you already know something about.

Check out some New Zealand travel itineraries, which can include Aucky Walky Tours.

Waterfront Heritage Pub

Auckland Walking Tours are not complete without a visit to a pub – but not just any old pub. We thought it was a great way to finish our tour down at the wharf.  Liz did give us the choice of a beautiful rooftop bar, but we chose this option.  It was a fine thing to kick back in this beautiful historic building with a cider and enjoy the pub vibe.

Why choose Auckland Walking Tours with Aucky Walky?

The cool thing about Liz’s walking tours are that they are only for 2-3 hours. This means you stay engaged and excited and still have some spare time to revisit the ones you liked the most. Liz’s tours can either be done in the morning or in the afternoon. She told us that many travellers, who arrive with an early morning flight at 6-7am, are out and about walking with her at 10am. What a great way to get those tired legs moving!

To get your New Zealand travel planning started check out our sample nature & lifestyle itineraries.

Happy walking with Aucky Walky!

Visiting Orakei Korako Thermal Valley

If you are travelling the North Island between the Rotorua and Taupo region, you will probably visit some of the many geothermal locations there. Visiting Orakei Korako Thermal Valley is such a great option, especially if you want to get away from the main highways and mass tourism. The Orakei Valley is about 23 kms inland from state highway 5. So it is definitely worth a detour, as there are far less tourists stopping here.  Also you will get to see the ‘classic’ rolling hill country, that the North Island is so famous for. View also travel times and distances in New Zealand.

 

Visiting Orakei Korako Thermal Valley – rolling hill green landscapes

Where is Orakei Korako located?

You’ll find Orakei Korako right in the middle of Rotorua and Lake Taupo in the North Island. If you are travelling with a rental car, you will find it very easily to incorporate this route into your itinerary.  And of course, there is so much to love about travelling the lush green farming countryside! View some sample itineraries.

Why visit Orakei Korako Thermal Valley?

However, you should be aware that Orakei Korako is not the only thermal valley.  In fact, there are a number of thermal valleys between Rotorua and Taupo. A good example would be the Te Puia, Waiotapu and Waimangu Valley. They are all so beautiful and in easy reach from the main road SH5. But, because there are far more visitors coming to these ones, you might find the experience doesn’t quite live up to your expectations. You will be much more likely to have plenty of space yourself at Orakei Korako.

Visiting Orakei Korako Thermal Valley - visitors entrance

Visiting Orakei Korako Thermal Valley – visitors entrance

The track is very well maintained. Once you get walking, you will have very clear instructions –  especially with regard to safety issues. There is a clearly marked path to follow plus a lot of signage indicating all the different mud and water pools. I guess that is probably just as well – you will be so distracted by the breathtaking scenery. To be sure, the smell of ‘rotten eggs’ follows you pretty much everywhere. But let’s face it, you will get in any geo-thermal area. View overall NZ travel experiences.

How much time do I need to plan?

Visiting Orakei Korako Thermal Valley takes quite a bit more time. Firstly, you will need to travel from the main road SH 5 inland for about 25 minutes (or 23 kms). And because the drive is stunning, you will be stopping for photos.

Once you arrive, you will have to calculate on another full hour for the boat ride across – plus a good walk of sightseeing. Some folks will take longer, while others will do it in 45 min. In any case, take your time and absorb the energy of mother nature! The Orakei Korako Info Centre also offers a cafe with food and drinks. Note, there are no toilets on the track. Do remember to take a water bottle with you, especially if you are travelling in the summer season.

 

What can I see while doing the Orakei Korako walk?

With any thermal valley in New Zealand you’ll see a moon-like landscape with bubbling mud and water holes.  The natural fault-stepped silica terraces actually form the base of the Orakei-Korako Geyserland and Thermal Park. In fact, they are believed to be the largest of their kind since the destruction of the famous Pink and White Terraces in 1886.

Summary on Visiting Orakei Korako Thermal Valley

If you are travelling between Lake Taupo and Rotorua, looking for a less touristy thermal area and have a couple of hours spare time, then Orakei Korako is a fantastic option.. Rotorua is only a 45 min drive away, with Lake Taupo being about 30 min. The site is open between 8.30am – 4.30pm daily. The entrance fee (May 2019 prices) is NZ$39 per adult and NZ$15 per child. A family pass is also available.

As an alternative, there is also a flight with the Volcanic Air floatplane from Rotorua with a landing on the lake.

To get your travel planning started check out our nature & lifestyle travel itineraries.

Happy travelling the North Island of New Zealand!

Hokitika must do for travellers

Hokitika has always had a certain small town charm. Up until recently, the surrounding area of Hokitika has remained fairly undiscovered by a lot of tourists. And to some extent, it still is. But travellers are beginning to find new and exciting attractions – like the Hokitika Gorge and the Southern Alps glaciers. It is actually quite hard to imagine the complete contrast that lies beyond the bush-clad hills of Hokitika. We discovered a fantastic Six Glacier Helicopter trip that stands out as one of the best in New Zealand – and we found some new and very funky accommodation.

Hokitika must-do for travellers - Precision Helicopters snowfields trip

Hokitika must do for travellers – Glacier helicopter flights

When travellers think of New Zealand glaciers, they usually have Fox or Franz Glaciers in mind. And that usually involves a quick survey of a glacier and before you know it, you are back on the ground. But for something more bespoke, there is a new helicopter company now operating near Hokitika – this one is guaranteed to give you an exquisite adventure. In fact, it will blow your mind!

Matt Newton from Precision Helicopters is not interested in a factory-type turn-over of his customers.  In fact, what he provides, is a boutique experience like no other. And rest assured you will get to see more than just glaciers. Flying pass these majestic alps will open your eyes to the most beautiful snowfields of the Southern Alps – where the famous main divide sits between separating the East from the West.

Hokitika must-do for travellers - Precision Helicopter glacier tour

Landing on the snow

Garden of Allah premium option

You can choose 1 of 4 options.  We chose the the Garden of Allah premium trip which takes about 1 hour. Believe me, you will get so much bang for your buck – this trip is not just about glaciers. The Precision Helicopter departs from the Hokitika Gorge, about 35 kms from Hokitika township. The actual helicopter was brought over from the States after a complete revamp and it is a beautiful, smooth machine. You will get so incredibly close to a number of glaciers. There is nothing quite like soaring through these majestic alps.  Being part of this untouched wilderness is pure magic!

Hokitika must-do for travellers Ivory Lake

Ivory Lake

Before heading out to areas named The Garden of Eden and The Garden of Allah, we landed on the snow. You can never be quite the same after landing on a pristine snowfield. And that is because the only footprints you will see here, will be your own. It is worth noting that Matt is pretty flexible when it comes to tailoring a trip to your requirements Here we are with Chief Pilot, Matt Newton and his daughter. What a way to celebrate an untouched New Zealand wilderness!

Where to stay in Hokitika

Hokitika Fire Station Apartments

In the very heart of the Hokitika township, we discovered some very funky and stylish apartments. In fact, the Hokitika Fire Station Apartments had only just opened a few days before our stay here.  I can tell you, there is a lot clever styling and attention to history that has made these apartments just a little bit different and unique. Each apartment is named after a Fire Chief from a bygone era – that adds a nice touch.

Hokitika must-do for travellers - Hokitika Firestation Apartments

We just love that antique firefighting equipment has been reworked into the decor.  There is no finer example of this, than the ladder which provides a framework for the light fittings. On the open shelving sits an original fire hose attachment – and boy, does it weigh a ton!  The old sepia photos really take you back in time – when life was harder but more simpler. The kitchen is well equipped and although there is no stove top as such, there is a microwave. And it is always so nice to see a good coffee machine. But, if you are not keen on preparing your own breakfast, just pop across the road to The Kitchen restaurant – they serve a great breakfast.

Just by way of interest, the fireman’s pole in the photo below is original. And the fireman’s helmet is definitely real. You can try it on for size, but of course, you can’t take it with you! We loved staying here and were pretty stoked that we had the back apartment.  It was very quiet at night. What a great little find!

Theatre Royal Hotel – Kumara

If you want to stay outside of Hokitika, just 28kms north is the historical settlement of Kumara. And folks, when it comes to accommodation, this was another great find.  A large part of the town has been bought and totally renovated by a family with a lot of vision. Talk about a one-stop shop!  The Theatre Royal Hotel at Kumara has been given a total new lease of life. A certain amount of sophistication has been added, but the local ‘vibe’ remains the same.

Hokitika must-do for travellers - Theatre Royal Hotel Kumara

Just wait until you step inside to the main bar and kitchen area (yes, there is a full dining restaurant option).  You do feel as though you have stepped back into a more gracious era.  The antique beer taps are just beautiful and you can smell the old restored timber.

Hokitika must-do for travellers - restored country pub in Kumara

What a lot of folks don’t know is that the Theatre Royal Hotel does have a number affordable accommodation options.  You can choose one of the en-suite rooms in the hotel itself, or you can nip behind the hotel to one of the spacious and modern cottages.  But if you really want to go back in time, just across the road you will find a total authentic experience.  Here is a panoramic shot of what we are talking about. In many ways, this restored cottage apartment is like stepping into a museum.  We understand that it could be a little off-putting for some.  On the the other hand, there are a lot of travellers who would love it!

Beautiful rooms with historic outfit and charm at Royal Hotel Kumara

 

Mahinapua Pub & Lakeside Walk

After a time of closure, the Mahinapua Hotel has reopened.  As a tourist attraction, this historic old pub is worth a visit.  It is only about 10 mins from Hokitika so it is one of those things you could do, if you are time-short. Some years ago now, this very same hotel was used in an iconic TV ad for Mainland Cheese. You might even meet one of the old-timers that featured in that ad.

Hokitika must-do for travellers - Lake Mahinapua Hotel

Interested to check out some sample travel itinerary? View them right here for the South Island of New Zealand.

Happy travelling Hokitika West Coast!

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