I want to share our 12-day self drive itinerary in New Zealand Part I. It’s going to be divided into two parts – North and South Island. In this post I’ll cover just the North Island. I will cover South Island later in Part II.
We bought our return flight tickets Kuala Lumpur – Auckland – Kuala Lumpur at the MATTA Fair 2017 in March for RM2,200/pax (normal price is around RM3000-RM4000/pax) , Malaysia Airlines, economy class.
Weeks before taking off to Auckland we checked the weather forecast frequently and were very optimistic about it. Unfortunately, 2 days before taking off, we were warned by a friend of mine that cyclone Donna will hit the north island. Deng! So first reminder guys, weather in NZ is unpredictable! You need to pack clothes for all 4 seasons – rain coat and umbrella are a must!
Secondly, this is an advice that was given to us by a staff of Tourism New Zealand, who we met when we went to their office in CBD. There is a limited number of domestic flights in a day. For example, there were only two flights on Sundays from Rotorua to Queenstown. Having said that, if you’re travelling via domestic flight within NZ, always and always take the earliest flight out. As mentioned earlier, the weather can be unpredictable. If you booked the first flight out and it got cancelled, at least you still have a chance to board on a later flight. Otherwise, you might end up sleeping at the airport waiting for the next day’s flight. Be warned.
Third reminder, I am sure most of you will be driving in New Zealand. Before you do…
- Familiarise yourself with their road signages here.
- Book your rental car from a reputable company. We booked ours via Avis throughout our stay in New Zealand.
- Always have at least two designated drivers for each car. If you were unlucky or driving recklessly on the road, someone may report your driving to the police. This happened to Mifa’s family on their trip in NZ. A police officer pulled his aunt over and gave her a warning after he received a complaint about her driving. The police didn’t let her drive anymore, lucky Mifa’s dad was there to take over as the driver. The warning letter was then sent to her Malaysian address. Yikes!
- If you’re travelling in autumn or winter, I would suggest to include snow chain in your rental. We learn this the hard way.
- It is important to make sure your rental car company provides 24/7 road assistance and emergency road assist number that’s available 24 hours.
- It doesn’t matter if you’re from a Commonwealth country, your driving license MUST be in English! For Malaysians, if you’re already using the new license like this one, then you are good to go!
Day 1: Auckland to Te Kuiti
As expected, we were greeted with pouring rain as soon as we landed at Auckland Airport. Immigration clearance was quick! There was nobody in line so we got through it literally in 2 minutes! We were lucky I guess, as we proceeded to custom, I turned back and saw the line started to build up – fewwhh! Dodged a bullet there. We brought along some instant cooking paste with us so we had to declare them at the custom. That didn’t take long as well – about 15 minutes or so. Of course, it also depends on how organised you are. What I did was, I placed all cooking pastes in a large food container and printed out a detailed list of those pastes – name, weight, quantity. The custom officer was quite pleased with us and it was barely a 5-minute inspection before he cleared us to go. Some poor souls had all their luggages searched for food.
We performed jamak Zuhur/Asar prayer at the airport’s prayer room (located at International Terminal, Level 1, next to McDonald’s) then picked our rental car up at the car park. We cancelled our plan to enjoy the city’s view from Skytower and headed straight to our accommodation for the night – the Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge, northwest of Te Kuiti. It was a miserable 2.5-hour drive. Both of us were exhausted from travelling and the rain (accompanied by strong wind too) was not helping.
We arrived around 4.30pm, settled down and bought dinner (some chips and parmesan bread) from a restaurant across the road. There’s a convenient store next to our lodge but it was closed. We just slept through the night, hoping the rain would stop by tomorrow’s morning.
Day 2: Waitomo Caves & Hobbiton Movie Set Tour
It was a 2-minute drive from our lodge to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Very convenient indeed! We booked the 9.00am tour but we ended up joining the 9.30am tour instead. I guess there were not many people early in the morning.
It was still windy and rain hadn’t stop since yesterday so both of us were a bit cranky. LOL. The glow worm tour was ok. Our tour guide was the great, great, great grandchild of the founder so in a way that made us feel privileged to have her guiding the tour. Sadly, no photographs were allowed in the caves so can’t show you what’s happening inside.
Anywhooooo….do you know that their cafe serves halal option?! OMG! Finally! After last night’s so-called dinner we both need real food! We ordered angus burger (so sedap, guys!!!!) – it’s humongous! I could only stomach half of it for lunch and kept the rest for tea.
From Waitomo Glowworm Caves we drove to Matamata for the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour – about an hour and 20 minutes. By the time we got there, the rain has gotten worst. Almost stormy-like. This is where our rain coats came in handy. And yes, the tour still went on despite the bad weather.
Frankly, I was expecting this to be the worst day I had in NZ with the rain and all but noooooo…it is the BEST! No kidding! I am not a fan of LOTR or The Hobbiton, but our tour guide, Anthony, managed to turn it around despite the mini storm we had during the tour! He shared countless movie trivia with us (Mifa got a prize leaf for answering one of his question correctly). By the end of the tour, everyone and everything were soaking wet – including my passport which I had kept in my shopping bag. Duh!
We then went on an hour drive to BK’s Rotorua Motor Lodge for the night. Checked in, did some groceries shopping at Countdown, bought dinner at Ali Baba’s Tunisian Kebab nearby Eat Streat, cooked some lunch for tomorrow then dozed off. Here and here are some helpful lists of halal restaurants in Rotorua if you’re interested.
P/S: I just found out via Google Map there’s a halal butcher 3 minutes away from our lodge. The name is Marhaba Halal Meat. I didn’t know about it during our trip, but maybe it’s worth checking it out if you’re in the area – definitely a great opportunity to stock up on halal meat if you’re a self catered muslim.
Day 3: Waiotapu, Huka Falls, Lake Taupo, Lake Taupo Jetty & Aratiatia Dam
Lo and behold…we woke up to a bright sunny day! Alhamdulillah! One thing though, it’s COLD! But whatever, sun is always better than rain when you’re on a holiday!
The lodge was just about half an hour drive to Waiotapu. When we got there, we were just in time for the Lady Knox Geyser eruption presentation. Honestly, I think it was just ok, nothing to be excited for. In fact, Waiotapu itself is meh! I like Owakudani better.
Before we headed off to Huka Falls, we unpacked our lunch and dine at a picnic table near the car park. Frankly, today was rather uneventful. We just drove around enjoying the scenary and would stop by anywhere with insta worthy view. LOL! After a short visit at Huka Falls, we took a scenic drive along Lake Taupo and stop by the lake to perform Zuhur prayer before heading off to Aratiatia Dam. Along the way we saw this nice jetty overlooking Taupo town and we just had to stop to take pictures. It was amazing!!!
Day 4: Rotorua to Queenstown
We did not have anything planned for today other than to get ourselves on board the plane to Queenstown. So we decided to sleep in, enjoyed a rather relaxing morning. Journey to Rotorua Airport took merely 10 minutes from our motel so no rush!
We arrived Queenstown at 4pm and checked into Hurley’s of Queenstown, about 10 minutes from Queenstown Airport.
Frankly, North Island is a bit boring for me. All the fun stuff is on the South Island, which I’ll be sharing more on Part II later!