New Zealand Adventure: Exploring the North Island

Welcome to post #4 in my New Zealand Adventure travel series. I’m the vicarious traveler and mom of Chris, my son who decided that college and a career were good, but it was time for new experiences.

So a few months back he resigned from his job, got a year work visa to New Zealand, and ever since has been pretty fun to travel vicariously through!

This post has OVER 50 FUN PHOTOS plus a couple videos of his adventures in exploring New Zealand’s North Island.

If you haven’t been privy to the previous posts, they’re all linked at the bottom of this post so be sure to check them out.

Left behind the familiar to venture out into the unknown…

I have to say how much I admire my son for having the guts to live his dream. He packed his things (after getting rid of pretty much everything other than his fishing poles) and took off for a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far away from home, and has never looked back.

He went with a general plan, and now just lets the pieces fall in place as he meets people and sees sights. He lives within his means, and focuses his life around experiences rather than things that can be bought. Life is supposed to be fun, and he’s doing a good job at that!

Amazing sunset in Napier, New Zealand.
Amazing New Zealand sunset brought to you by Mother Nature.

Exploration Continues – Keeping Up With Chris

Lots of changes since the last post that described his work at a vineyard in Blenheim and life at the hostel.

First, he had a bit of a fender bender that totaled his backpacker vehicle. It doesn’t take much damage to cause more than the $2,000 the car was worth, thus it was as deemed totaled by his insurance company. He really liked his car because he could camp in it when exploring different areas. So he wasn’t real thrilled to have to search for a new car to buy. However, he found a van that is “even more sweet.”

The van is a 4wd Toyota Estima. The previous owner had a cabinet maker create a large storage area that also acted as the base for a mattress. In the far back (behind the back seat) there is a meal prep area. He can stand outside and chop up ingredients for gourmet meals…or in his case, it’s a bench.

Backpacker van camping in New Zealand

The next big change is that he put in his notice at the vineyard. He decided to join a group of 6 Germans who were heading out to explore the north island. His travel mates are friends he met while staying at the hostile in Blenheim. As the trip continued, a few more people joined the group and some dropped out.

Whirlwind Road Trip of New Zealand’s North Island

The self-drive tour began on March 9, about 1 1/2 months after Chris left the U.S. They left from Blenheim, which is located in the northern area of New Zealand’s South Island. The group had a total of 4 cars, and they got on a ferry to get to the North Island.

Ferry going from the South Island to North Island of New Zealand

Gorgeous mountain view on New Zealand ferry

Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington was their first stop. His impression of the city was that it was similar to San Francisco. There were lots of houses built on big hills along a big bay. According to Wikipedia, “Wellington  is the capital city and second most populous urban area of New Zealand, with 412,500 residents. It is at the south-western tip of the North Island.”

In Wellington, some of the group got a room in a hostel, and the ones with sleeping cars slept in their car. The hostile charged $20 NZD per night to “camp” in the parking lot, but then you got use of their bathroom and facilities.

Beautiful view of Wellington, New Zealand
Taking in the beautiful view of Wellington, New Zealand.
Traveling in Wellington, NZ
The original 7 travelers in their group coined as “the squad.” One American and 6 Germans.
Wellington waterfront
Wellington waterfront

City view on the water in Wellington, New Zealand

Napier, New Zealand

Their next main destination was Napier. The city of Napier is located on the east coast of the North Island. Its long hot summers and mild sunny winters helps make the area a fertile agricultural ‘food bowl’ and known as one of New Zealand’s leading food and wine regions.

Sunset in Napier, New Zealand

Crossing the water in Napier, New Zealand

Lord of The Rings Filmed Here sign

Napier, New Zealand sight

Beach in Napier, New Zealand

Taupo, New Zealand

The town of Taupo is near the center of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s known for Lake Taupo that was created nearly 2,000 years ago by a massive volcanic eruption.

The lake drains into Huka Falls, which as you can see in the photos below has amazing crystal-blue, rushing waters that are said to have 200,000 liters of water plummet through the narrow gap every second. Surrounding Taupo are hot springs like the one in the video below.

Huka Falls in Taupo, New Zealand


Tongariro Crossing and Mount Doom

Like several places in New Zealand, Tongariro National Park was made more famous by its appearance in The Lord of The Rings trilogy. Tongariro National Park is located in the North Island, 50 km south of Lake Taupo.

Chris and his travel mates made it to the top of Mount Doom located in Tongariro National Park – not an easy climb! It’s really called Mount Ngauruhoe, but it was coined Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings that was partially filmed there. In the movie, it’s the mountain Frodo imagined doom to be like.

Mount Doom is very steep and difficult climb because of the loose rock that moves underfoot.

Mt Doom in New Zealand
And there is Mount Doom! It has a classic conical-shaped volcano that usually has low-hanging clouds giving it a special effect.

Having fun with Lord of The Rings on Mount Doom.Will he drop the One Ring?

For the entire Lord of The Rings trilogy, Frodo and Sam are trying to get to Mt Doom in order to destroy the infamous ring. Here’s their fun video remake that shows off the “moonscape” like ground:

New Zealand’s Tongariro Alpine Crossing is known as the world’s greatest single day hike.

Beautiful view in Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

Emerald Lakes, Tongariro, New Zealand
Taking in the gorgeous view of one of the Emerald Lakes.

Hiking in Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike difficulty rating is “Strenuous”


New Plymouth

Onward to New Plymouth located on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

“The city of New Plymouth is known for its sunny climate, art galleries and beautiful parks. It is also New Zealand’s ‘oil town’, with offshore rigs extracting natural gas and oil. The conical shape of Mount Taranaki provides a dramatic backdrop to the city, a constant reminder that the hiking trails of Egmont National Park are just a short drive away.” (Source:

They wanted to climb Mt. Taranaki but the weather didn’t cooperate and they got rained out. They did manage to take in some beautiful views at a few roadstops.

Travel group in New Zealand North Island
Happy campers!
New Plymouth, New Zealand
They arrived in New Plymouth. Chris’ van is the middle one.
New Plymouth area in New Zealand (North Island)
Views in the  New Plymouth area.


New Plymouth located in New Zealand's North Island

Rotorua, New Zealand

Rotorua is home to the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, Tutea Falls.

Welcome to Fabulous Rotovegas New Zealand. Sign in Rotorua.
Taken at the top of Mt Ngongotaha

Sky view of Rotorua, New Zealand

Travel mates in zipline gear in Rotorua, New Zealand
Ziplining in New Zealand’s native forest in Rotorua.

Scenery in Rotorua, New Zealand

Waterfalls in Rotorua, New Zealand


Matamata: Home of the Hobbiton Movie Set

Are any words needed?

Welcome to Hobbiton signLooking at Hobbiton movie set


Travel mates having fun at Hobbiton movie set

Hobbiton movie set in New Zealand

Travel mates at Hobbiton movie set

Double arched bridge in Hobbiton, New Zealand
Double arched bridge

A hill of hobbit holes in Hobbiton, New Zealand

Looking down at the movie set in Hobbiton, New Zealand

Hobbit hole in the movie set in Hobbiton, New Zealand

Hobbiton movie set in New Zealand
The Green Dragon Pub

Tauranga, New Zealand

The city of Tauranga is located on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, and is surrounded by amazing waterfalls. Tauranga is New Zealand’s fifth largest city and is one of the country’s main centers for business and international trade.

Travel mates in Tauranga, New Zealand
Nine of the core travel mates. Four people stayed in Tauranga and got a job picking kiwis.
Eagle's view of Tauranga, New Zealand
Epic view from the Mount at Mt Maunganui

Distant waterfall in Tauranga, New Zealand

Beautiful Omanawa Falls near Tauranga, New Zealand

Omanawa Falls, hidden waterfall near Tauranga, New Zealand

Coramandel, New Zealand

“Renowned for its natural beauty, green pastures, misty rainforests and pristine golden beaches, The Coromandel is blessed with hundreds of natural hideaways, making it an ideal place to escape. ” (Source:

Caught fish in Coramandel, New Zealand
In Coramandel, they went fishing and caught these little fish. Chris’ German friend sent thisSnapChat. The German word Selbstversorger. translates to self-sufficient person lol.

Overlooking Coramandel, NZ


Coastal view in Coramandel, New Zealand


Beach scene in Coramandel, New Zealand

Gorgeous natural waterfall in Coramandel, New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

The city of Auckland, New Zealand

As you can see in his SnapChat, he arrived in Auckland. However, this is where I’m going to stop this post.

In the map below you’ll see that Auckland is located in the northern part of New Zealand’s North Island.  All of the travels described above (from Wellington in the southern-most area of the North Island to Auckland in the northern area) took the group a good three weeks.

My next post will be about Chris’ travels in Auckland and further north into the region called the Northland. I know there has been some changes in how the group is traveling, but I’m not sure of the specifics. Because they’ve been in more remote areas, reception has been spotty and we haven’t communicated with Chris much this past week. His inchoate plan always seems to turn out filled with fun!

Frequently Asked Question: Where does Chris stay at night?

About 5 nights out of the first 3 weeks of travel the group stayed in a hostel. At their stop in New Plymouth, they stayed at the home of a local Kiwi who they had met at the hostel in Blenheim.

Most of the time the group camped. The guys with cars (like Chris) slept in their backpacker-modified vans, while the others pitched a tent. They were usually able to find  a free campsite but sometimes paid $10-15 NZD ($8-13 USD) per night. Some were better than others, but free is nice when you’re exploring on a budget!

The most important thing (in this momma’s mind)  is that they managed to get some sleep between what seems like an awful lot of fun.

Moving On

Ellen with her son, Chris who is traveling in New Zealand
While I miss Chris A LOT, I’m happy for him to be soaking up life experiences.

Thanks to Chris for sharing his photos. Every so often he finds a library with free WiFi to upload them so I can share them with all of you as he continues his adventure.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I hope you enjoyed traveling vicariously through Chris while he explored New Zealand’s North Island. Check back soon for the adventures in New Zealand’s Northland.

Please feel free to leave questions for Chris or comments below – your comments mean the world to me and I appreciate each and every one!

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Recommended items to pack for your New Zealand Backpacker Trip
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Read More Posts in this New Zealand Adventure Travel Series:

  1. New Zealand Travel Adventures as Told by Mom
  2. New Zealand Work Visa: First Few Weeks
  3. New Zealand Adventure: Working at a Vineyard
  4. This post! New Zealand Adventure: Exploring the North Island
  5.  New Zealand’s Northland: Hiking & Picking Kiwi
  6. Omanawa Falls, New Zealand Captured on Video
  7. Mt. Ruapehu: New Zealand’s Epic Winter Playground
  8. New Zealand Travel Adventure: It’s a Wrap!

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Four beautiful locations in the North Island of New Zealand

29 Replies to “New Zealand Adventure: Exploring the North Island”

    1. Thanks, Lisa! It’s a fun way for me to “follow” him and learn about the places he visits. Happy Saturday!

  1. I just love the little movie! That really shows just what a good time he is having and the great friends he has made! Love the little village too. What a beautiful place the island looks like. Jealous.

    1. Oh thanks for mentioning the video as I really loved it, too! It seems he has made some good friends which always makes life more fun. Thanks for dropping the comment, my friend.

  2. Thanks for sharing Ellen! I am loving this adventure from your vicarious perspective and my even “vicariouser” one! Some of those photos could be sold as they are beautiful!

  3. Thank you to Chris for sharing his pics and travels. And to you for sending them on facebook. There is some beautiful scenery.
    He looks like he is enjoying his travels with friends.

    Tell him we are thinking of him…,

  4. Ellen! You shoved so much into this one post! It’s such fun though! And guess what? My son has also done a similar thing. He put off going to university for one year and went for the backpacker life in Thailand and Australia. He only just returned home after 7 months. He’s so grown up, having to fend for himself and all! He also made a lot of friends, worked a bit and did some volunteering. I’m sure both our boys will have great memories for a lifetime! Apart from the pics once every 2 weeks or so, he left me longing to know where he was and what he was up to! Now, I don’t worry about him, he’s come back a man!

    1. Hi Joleisa, I’m so glad you left your comment. Our sons most certainly have chosen a similar experience. Chris has mentioned possibly trying to get to both Thailand and Australia before he comes home, but I don’t even attempt to guess what his next move will be! Love your story, and happy for you and your son that his experience was so positive. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  5. Good for him for having the guts to follow his heart and his bliss, and live life to the fullest! I actually have a college friend who just did something similar, in her mid-40s! (quit job, went to New Zealand – only in her case it was just for a few months…)

  6. New Zealand my Tangata Whenua and homeland is undoubtedly a place to visit, and one we ventured around in our motorhome for many years. Pleased to see he went to the North Island!

    1. Although I really feel as if I traveled vicariously, I definitely would love to get to New Zealand some day!

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