That´s the official marketing slogan of the Philippines. So was it true for us? Yes, we certainly had wonderful experiences and loads of fun. Fantastic people and breathtaking natural beauty are the two main contributing factors. 4 weeks felt like only a couple of days and there are many excuses to hopefully return one day!! So what comes to our minds upon second thought? By no means complete or in any order:
Just the beginning
After our 4 weeks in the Philippines, it is a good moment for a short reflection. This is, where we usually would have taken a flight home to return to work the next day. But instead of boarding an aeroplane bound to take us back to our usual rhythm of life, we felt strange and happy at the same time to go to the Qantas check-in counter in Manila to fly on to Sydney and from there further on to Auckland. We started to realize: This is just the beginning!
What??? You are not going to New Zealand?!?
When we shared our plans for the year off some time ago with a dear friend, he was in complete shock. How could we possibly NOT put New Zealand onto our trip schedule, while planning to stay for an extended period in Australia? That didn´t make any sense to him at all. And he had no problem stating that very clearly, either.
New Zealand is captivating. And confusing. Especially in autumn. In the most beautiful way, though. It almost does not seem to make any sense. On the one hand there is the full array of fall colours: yellow, orange and red in all imaginable shades. But on the other hand there are green palm trees and the freshest and brightest green grass you have ever seen in your life!
Bay of Islands
A magical day on a sailing boat. Perfect weather. Dolphins. Nice crew. Nice fellow travellers. Snorkeling. Kayaking. Setting foot on an uninhabited island for a small exploration. Can someone please pinch me? We seem to have been thrown into a dream. Thankfully a very nice one.
And by the way, whoever came up with the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” obviously has never been to New Zealand. Their grass is greener – always!! There is no other side!!
Walking amongst the giants
After having cut across Northland from the Bay of Islands towards the west coast, we have arrived at the Trounson Kauri Park. At night several possums were visible right at the campsite. They are cute but not indigenous and have developed into a real plague in New Zealand. Started the new day with a 2 hour walk amongst giant Kauri trees. One of them is 1.200 years old! But like the Kiwi bird, Kauri trees are threatened – in case of the Kauris by a mysterious disease, which scientists still research to gain a better understanding.
Otorohanga @ the Kiwi house. Learning about the Kiwi. The adorable national bird of New Zealand is threatened by extinction. Amongst other factors, many non-indigenous predators (e.g. possums) reduce the numbers of this adorable bird – either by killing it or eating its eggs. If it only would fight against them as bravely as it does against the caretakers at the Kiwi House. Every day, when they visit the sanctuary to put down a gourmet mix of worms and insects, the Kiwi bravely defends its territory. It runs towards the intruder, rams its beak into the (protective) pants and while holding onto the pants with its beak, kicks frantically with its legs. If they only applied the same technique against their other enemies out there…
Glowing in the dark
Just 20 minutes from the Kiwis, the next highlight is waiting: The Waitomo Glowworm Caves. And it seems that we somehow keep ending up on underground rivers. This time with the added benefit of thousands of glowworms (arachnocampa luminosa) being there to create an unique ambiance. They create their source of light in an entirely different way than fireflies, but are by no means less fascinating creatures. Examined during bright light conditions, they are maybe not love at first sight, but switch the lights off, and…wow!
Tongariro National Park
Dual Unesco World Heritage Site. Home to active volcano Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe. The world-famous alpine crossing hike unfortunately was closed due to severe weather conditions. Thankfully there is no shortage of hiking opportunities. Went for a short 4hr hike to the Taranaki Falls. Fresh air, exercise and beautiful sights guaranteed!
Lake Taupo region. Short drive from campsite and then a 10min walk to Huka Falls. My family is very patient with my photography. Thank you.
A 2 hour drive north from Taupo. Beautiful Waihi Beach! Campsite in walking distance. Why are we never getting tired of taking a walk along the beach?
Goldmine (but not mine)
On our drive to Withianga we stopped at the Karangahake goldmines. “In their heyday (1883-1933) the Karangahake mines were among the largest of their type in New Zealand. Together (…) they produced 4.000.000 oz of gold bullion.” (Source: information table at Karangahake). Now it´s a historic adventure site, where you can explore the leftovers: remaining foundations, tunnels, kilns, tramways and more.
Hot Water Beach
Only in New Zealand, only at Hot Water Beach: Build your own hot water pool with a small shovel. But not every spot works. We had dug a beautiful little pool for ourselves, it just wasn´t hot. So we retried a couple of meters to the left and voilà! Our own little spa. Oh, and make sure you come during low-tide, otherwise you can´t reach the hot spots. And be there early enough, too, otherwise all the good spots are taken!
Hahei Beach, the Coromandel Coast and Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove is a landmark and must-visit on the Coromandel Peninsula. Go to Hahei (just a couple of kilometers north from Hot Water Beach), hike from Hahei Beach to Cathedral Cove and be mesmerized, all the way through by the coastline. And then of course Cathedral Cove: Water, wind and erosion have done their work and have left us with some awesome beauty there!
Daytrip to Te Puke from Tauranga. Famous for its Kiwi plantations (this time the fruit!), but also home of Comvita. A company specialised in making special Manuka Honey and other bee-related products (ever heard of Propolis or Royal Jelly?). Also a great place to learn about the bees and their amazing way of doing things. Just a small selection: When they have found a good spot with flowers, they come back to the hive and give direction to the other bees by dancing a navigational pattern. And did you know they have 5 eyes?
Rotorua: Lakes, geysers, Maori culture and ice-cream
Stunning day trip with Heather´s uncle Paul and family including Leo, the dog! First a brief stop at the green and blue lake, then on to the geothermal valley in Rotorua with the Pohutu Geysir and many background infos on the Maori culture. An extra-spoil for the kids: ice-cream, yeah. When we were back home, we not only had gone once around Lake Rotorua, we still had enough energy to climb up Mt Manganui in Tauranga to witness a sublime sunset. Suggest you look at the pictures! Not enough however, the evening was closed by a great fish babotie and excellent wines. Thanks Paul, Lisa, Lydia, Eden and Leo! Not to mention your hospitality of hosting us for a couple of nights at your wonderful home!
Farewell visit at Auckland Sky Tower
Our little roadtrip of the North Island is coming to an end. New Zealand is definitely a country to come back to! But you will never see it all! One of the last “High”lights of this leg of the trip was a visit to the Auckland Sky Tower. Magnificent views!
Travelling backwards through time
I always have been fascinated with the concept of time-travelling. Now it has become a reality. We left Auckland on May 26 (Thursday) and arrived on the Cook Islands on May 25 (Wednesday). Thanks to the eastward crossing of the dateline – how cool is that? Readers of “Around the World in 80 days” will be familiar with the concept.
A childhood dream location
Books like Robert Louis Stevenson´s “Treasure Island” and having grown up with a South Sea picture on the wall of my bedroom in teenage years are likely to have influenced me on this one. Visiting Polynesia (“many islands”) is the fulfilment of a childhood dream. As Polynesia has many destinations to offer, we had to pick one and went for the Cook Islands. The B777 we landed in seemed higher than the control tower. We immediately liked the Cook Islands.
Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga
There are two main operators, that offer cruises to the beautiful Muri Lagoon: Captain Tama´s and Koka´s. Both seem ok, so no worries. The Lagoon itself is located to the South East of Rarotonga. The tours offer an entertaining and educational mix about the local culture, coconuts, sarongs (there are 374 ways to wear them) – and of course you can snorkel to your hearts content. Food is superb (fresh tuna steaks) and there is always the happy tune of Cook Island music. Just don´t be bothered to be sharing a glass bottom boat with 20+ people.
Pa´s cross-island hike
Famous 6km-cross-island (or cross-mountain) trek, preferably done with Pa´s Treks, which is something like an institution on Rarotonga. It takes approx. 3hrs and will take you from the North to the South. Rewards? Learning about the local Flora and Fauna as well as getting spoiled by beautiful nature and views from “The Needle” – a high pointy rock in the middle of the island.
Rarotonga bus services – you can´t get it wrong
The bus schedule is explained easily. There are two buses, one drives clockwise, the other counter-clockwise. So if in doubt, just hop on, you will always arrive at your destination! It takes approx. 1 hour to get around the island. The fare system is similarly easy: you always pay 5 NZD per ride – or get a slightly cheaper multi-trip ticket.
From the doorstep of our accommodation, we took the canoes out to Motutapu, a sand island in Muri Lagoon, where palm trees and beautiful sandbanks seemed like an attractive destination. After our little excursion we found out that this quaint little island is also called Mosquito Island. Needless to say that by then we already knew why.
Flying as it was meant to be
Taking a domestic flight on Air Rarotonga is a good reminder, what flying was supposed to be like. No security checks, no restrictions on liquid, no baggage tags, just give them your luggage, get on and enjoy the flight. It´s a short 45min hop to Aitutaki, but you arrive in a different world. If Rarotonga already offers a different rhythm, the one on Aitutaki is even more relaxed.
Mountaineers we are…
…not really. Even if we now can claim that we made it up to the highest point on Aitutaki: Maunga Pu Summit (124m above sea level). Most TV towers around the world are higher – but they certainly do not offer a comparable view!
188 years ago!
In 1828. That´s when the oldest church on the Cook Islands was built! We got a free ride with the cook of our accommodation to Arutanga, where this church is located. As it was renovated in 2010 it doesn´t look its age! Arutanga by the way is also the largest village on Aitutaki and also has a shop, an ATM and a police-station.