Saturday, October 22, 2016

North Island Itinerary: Tiritiri Matangi Island

With one day left in Auckland, I was scouring the internet for things to do besides the Zoo or Museum of Transport and Technology, which I had already been to before. It seems to be a misconception that New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland, will have a lot to do for tourists -- it's the place for jobs and industry and such, but not so much tourism. However, there are several islands that you can get to via ferry from the downtown harbor, and I am so glad I stumbled across the overwhelmingly positive reviews online for Tiritiri Matangi Island and decided to check it out. It is a predator-free island that is home to many bird species, including several at-risk ones, and relies on volunteers to keep the conservation going.

It's a bit steep for a return ferry fare at $70 (ferry run by Fullers 360 Discovery Cruises) and then another $10 for a guided walk, but the reviews recommended it and it's worth the extra money (and funds go to conservation efforts). They drop passengers off in the morning and then pick them up in the early afternoon, giving a nice amount of time to enjoy and explore. We also were treated to seeing some dolphins and diving birds hunting for food on the way over.

Our guide led us on a gradual journey up one of the paths to the lighthouse on the top of the island (and then we took the other back by ourselves), and we stopped whenever there was birdsong and birds close by, and he identified them for us and gave us some info about them. You are enveloped by birdsong almost the whole time you are in the trees, which is just wonderful and something you don't often experience in the world anymore, at least not if you're a city dweller. I saw and heard plenty of my favorite bird, the tui, and there were several of them grouped at the feeders at the little store near the lighthouse. There were also three takahe (bigger cousin of the pukeko), one of which is a youngling - they are endangered. The top of the island has 360-degree views out to Auckland and the other islands. It was a great day out overall and I'd definitely go again.
dolphins and driving birds on the ferry over were an added treat

A random bridge in Auckland, seen on the way home

Friday, October 21, 2016

North Island Itinerary: Hobbiton and Waitomo Glowworms

Flying back to New Zealand from Sydney, we arrived in Auckland and had two days to explore around before the trip was over. The first day, we chose a long day driving down to the Hobbiton Movie Set and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and then back to Auckland. It was a beautiful, sunny day for Hobbiton, and it was lambing season, so there were lots of sheep and their lambs on the green hillsides. We even saw a lamb that had just been born a few minutes prior, which the bus driver had seen on her way to pick everyone one up.

My phone battery died on the way to Waitomo, so we were left without navigation and got lost, which was not fun. We had to use the old-fashioned paper map from AA and stick to the main highway so we wouldn't lose more time. But this was my first time seeing the glowworms and they were very cool. They take you into the caves and then on a boat so your eyes can adjust to the darkness and see the thousands of glowworm larvae above and around you. Since you can't take photos down there (which is nice - frees you to actually enjoy the experience), I've only got one of the exit of the caves.

The recreation of Hobbiton in The Shire

Bilbo Baggins' house

The Hobbiton cat had the best seat in The Green Dragon Inn, next to the fire

Exiting the Waitomo Glowworm Caves