Aoteoroa, Land of the Long White Cloud, God’s Own. New Zealand is known by many names, including ‘home’ for me. At least once in your life, you must do a North Island road trip. With gorgeous waterfalls, geothermic oddities, amazing beaches, snoozing volcanoes – the North Island is gorgeous, but it often plays second fiddle to the glory of the South Island.
What qualifies me as an insider? I’m a born and bred North Island lass of New Zealand. I’ve lived in gorgeous cities from Auckland all the way down to Wellington, and beautiful places in between like the Art Deco capital of the world Napier and spent a lot of time the beautiful shores of Tauranga.
There is nothing more precious than time. When I’m home in New Zealand, my main focus is spending quality time with my family and friends, but they are sweet enough to indulge my insatiable curiosity about our nation and we end up exploring in between coffees.
My home country is astonishingly beautiful, exceedingly friendly, full of easy-going locals and, unfortunately, literally on the other side of the world from my adopted home, so every moment, every peal of laughter seems even more precious.
In all these years of blogging, I’ve left one massive hole in my travel secret sharing. An insiders view of my very own home country – the beautiful shores of Aoteoroa, land of the ‘Long White Cloud’. New Zealand is an incredible place to explore – it’s beautiful, friendly and the brunches are world class – and I never really discovered that until I moved to the other side of the world.
I’ve written tasters here and there, snippets of fun that we’ve had between visiting family, celebrating weddings and snuggling with new nephews, but I’ve never actually put them all together in one place. I usually just patch together emails to friends and readers who have asked for recommendations as they have travelled – and who have probably seen more of my home then I have. So, when Flight Centre contacted me to about writing a bit of an insiders guide to New Zealand Holidays, I dusted off this post and filled it with a bit of home wonder.
We drifted silently through a pitch black cave on a boat we hadn’t seen except for swift flashes of a torch. One by one as the luminescent cave dwellers winked on, the ceiling began to resemble a galaxy of twinkling stars. Still sat with arms clutched tightly and our necks craned as we tried to absorb the moment, floating along a 30 million year old subterranean limestone grotto.
Our escort hand pulled us along the cave river, feeling her way along with a guide line mounted just above head level, calling out softly at one point laughingly to a fellow guide who decided to take a strange shortcut.
Honestly, I could almost just write this post as ‘wild baby dolphins’ ad finitum. Wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins. There, got it out of my system. Wild baby dolphins. Ok, now I have.
(Ps. If you don’t want to read about a dolphin love-in, keep scrolling down for the travel linkup widget that opens the 1st of Feb – we’ve all got that lovin’ feeling this month…)
We woke one morning before Christmas to calm grey skies that cleared to an endless cloudless horizon over turquoise waves, and breathed with relief. It was my third attempt to spot these elusive creatures in New Zealand coastal waters.
Our last two tries to see wild dolphins off the coast of New Zealand (in Tauranga and Kaikoura respectively) were thwarted with freak storms rending the seas dangerously high to take boats out, and I knew that if this attempt didn’t succeed that I was fated never to do it. (A bit dramatic I know…)
This time however we launched the boat from Tauranga wharf loaded with muffins and wetsuits, the plan being for us to spend an hour or so getting away from the coast into more open water (we sat back, drank coffee and tried not to get our hopes up).
Before we knew it a shout came down from the crows nest and we were sat along the bow of the boat dangling our shoeless feet (apparently the dolphins are attracted to playing with them). A pod of around 30 then a second pod of 50-70 dolphins had found us in the midst of feeding and were shadowing the boat.
Our captain told us all kinds of interesting facts – we were hanging with the common dolphin, who grow to a maximum of about 2.6 metres and have beautiful colouration of cream/grey/black and yellow in a kind of hourglass pattern on their sides. Both the pods we discovered had quite new babies swimming alongside their families, so we couldn’t swim with them this time, but honestly by that point I couldn’t care less.
LOOK ANOTHER BABY!! We were told if a little ‘un is being naughty, the Mumma dolphin will actually nip it lightly in the tail,
reminding the youngster to behave.
If your day is in any way stressful, you HAVE to watch this video right to the end, it gets better and better. Use it as a
meditation. I have, several times.
Then, with one last flick of a dolphin’s tail (and our boat’s time allocation up – the New Zealand Department of Conservation allow the boats one hour of time only to keep from stressing them out – though like our captain said he adores them because they come up to the boats and start scratching their backs and getting up to mischief alongside) we headed back to shore.
So, yeah, it was love at first sight.
We stopped in afterwards to Phil’s Place, a restaurant owned by the severely misbehaving Phil Rudd (the drummer from ACDC) for some ridiculously good lunch and a few marina-side beers.