Adventures on the North Island of New Zealand

Enjoying our tasting at Tir Hana Winery.

Adventures on the North Island of New Zealand

One of the greatest adventures I have had in my lifetime occurred while traveling on the North Island of New Zealand almost three years ago. My cousin, Michelle, who is from Ireland, was spending her summer vacation traveling between Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, and I decided to join her on the last leg of her trip. It would be an experience that would bind us together as sisters from day one.

Self-portrait with Huka Falls.

Because Michelle grew up in Ireland and I grew up in the States, we didn’t even meet until I was sixteen and Michelle was fourteen. The few visits we had over the years had been nice, and we knew we got along, however, we never really had an opportunity to bond. But, that was exactly what New Zealand enabled us to do.

Luckily, our grand-uncle, Uncle Dom, is a priest on the North Island, and he graciously allowed us to stay with him during our visit. Little did we know, that staying with him would mean one room of warmth, while we could see our breathe in every other room of his home. We made the best of it with our electric blankets and drank wine to keep our body temperatures up, but nothing could help us.

Me. Uncle Dom. Michelle.

After less than a day, he told us that he would give us his car, and he encouraged us to go out and explore, not worrying when we’d be back. I had to learn to drive on the opposite side of the road, and Michelle had to learn to drive automatic. To say it was entertaining is an understatement.

Attempting to drive on the opposite side of the road.

And so, we headed out on the open road with open minds. But, we also had empty bellies, so the first thing we did was stop at the nearest restaurant that our uncle suggested. It was here that we shared a meal that would continue to be a staple along our future journeys, the toastie, and here at The Hub Cafe at Mangaweka International Airport Adventure Center, they dub theirs as being “World Famous.”

 The Hub Cafe at Mangaweka International Airport.

Full of food and energy, we grabbed a free tourist map and headed out for the journey of our lives, and although a more detailed map would have made the adventure easier, smooth sailing isn’t what adventure is about.

We headed first to the Desert Road, part of Route 1 that cuts through the Rangipo Desert. From the beginning, each and every view was absolutely picturesque, right out of a dream. You could immediately understand why the country was chosen as the location for Lord of the Rings.

Our first view of Mt Ruapehu.

Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Tongariro.

Mt. Ruapehu.

We even got to see some snow!

Michelle and the snow!

From there, it was a trip to Huka Falls and night’s rest in Taupo.


Warming up with a fire and sav blanc.

Enjoying New Zealand's famous hokey pokey ice cream.

The next morning, we headed out in search of the Bridge to Nowhere, but using our small little map, we actually ended up in the middle of nowhere.

Good thing we got gas before we left.

After many bridges, twists, and turns along dirt roads and edges of cliffs, we actually arrived at the site that could take us to our destination, but it was closed.

Road to nowhere?

Better late than never doesn't work here...

With a warning to “Get off the mountain before dark,” we were back on our way down on what would wind up being the most terrifying drive in both of our lives. Smaller dirt roads than our previous drive and cliffs that dropped off directly to the Whanganui River.

Michelle's photo of the never-ending road.

Dirt roads and cliffs that drop off to rivers.

Somehow, with singing along to our Ellie Goulding cd and talking ourselves through the never-ending drive, we made it off the “Road of Death” before dark, but we would never quite be the same.

It was after that adventure, that we decided instead to head for city life. So, off to Wellington we went. That was, of course, after we made a pitstop in Martinborough, where the vineyards of the North Island were located.

Enjoying our tasting at Tir Hana Winery.

And once we arrived in Wellington, we shopped…

Shopaholics on Cuba Street.

Warmed up with Starbucks…

Warmth at last!

Enjoyed the nightlife…

J.J. Murphy's.

Kitty O'Shea's.

Made new friends…

New friends at Public.

Explored the harbor…

Michelle and the big bird.

The don't call it Windy Welly for nothing!

Went on a Lord of the Rings Tour and played the roles, even though I have yet to read the books or see the films, though Michelle is an expert…

Get off the road!

Always a good sport, I played along.

Adventured a bit…


And, rode the Cable Car…

Up to the top in the rain.

But, as our time in New Zealand slowly came to an end, we headed back up North to our Uncle Dom’s house. It would be here where we would say our good-byes, only to meet up in Fiji a day later. The few days that Michelle and I had together were some of the best I’ve had on any trip I’ve ever been on, but they will forever be important to me because of the bond we’ve built over the years because of it.

Since then, we make an constant effort to always keep in touch and meet up around the world any chance we can. Sure, being able to explore New Zealand was special enough, but the fact that I was able to build an unbreakable bound with my cousin while doing it means more than words can say.

Me and Michelle the following November in Ireland.

This post is part of BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge 2012.
Week seventeen’s topic: For a small country, New Zealand has lots to offer travelers – including two distinct islands. Imagine you have to convince someone to stay on just ONE island for the duration of their one-month stay in New Zealand. Make your case – North Island or South Island?

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Comments (14)

  1. Eileen

    Lovevthis! Funny thing, her mom is my “sister”!

    1. The World Wanderer

      Haha, guess that’s what happens over the years, right??

  2. Loni Found Herself

    Tell me you’ve since seen/read LOTR!? 😉

    Your trip looks amazing and how lovely that you and your cousin were able to share it with one another.

    1. The World Wanderer

      NO!! My cousin STILL yells at me all the time. One of these weekends, I am going to have to just sit and watch them all. 🙂

      It was wonderful, I’d love to get back to NZ sometime very soon.

  3. Uncle Kevin

    GREAT photos! I love the Desert Road, the two of you clowning around, and the final HIGH GLAMOUR shot in Ireland the following November.

    1. The World Wanderer

      Why thank you! 🙂 It’s a very cool place, definitely suggest a visit! You know, you have a place to stay there too! 🙂

  4. Paula

    Lovely sentiment and fantastic pics Erin, great job! Easy to see that you guys had a brilliant time together 😀

    1. The World Wanderer

      Thank you so much, Paula! Yes, Michelle is just wonderful. 🙂

  5. Michelle Corrigan

    I love love love this post!!!!!And you really have to watch LOTR!!!I think that’s a date when I get to Nu Joisy during the summer!!!x

    1. The World Wanderer

      Aww, thanks, Michelle! Figured you would love it! 🙂

      So grateful we are able to spend so much time together now, what in the world would I do without you??? Yes, LOTR, I’m the absolute worst! Cannot wait for July! xxx

  6. Pete Buckley

    I know a few of those places you visited there! NZ is just one of my favourite places in the world – nice to read about it again!

    1. The World Wanderer

      Thanks for reading! Yes, it is one of my favorite places too, I must make it back there one day soon.

  7. Road Trip Essentials | The World Wanderer

    […] summer festivals, down to Tennessee for Bonnaroo, driving around Europe with my family, or the North Island of New Zealand with my cousin, Michelle, road trips are one of my favorite ways to […]

  8. Eileen

    Starting my research for April right here!

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