New Zealand and The Colorful North Island
The colorful geothermal attractions add a special touch to the New Zealand North Island. We found a great RV rental deal for the road trip Christchurch to Auckland. It was a relocation for Wilderness. You have to take the vehicle to a specific location during a specific time frame. Basically, it’s a mutual favor: the company gets the relocation they need and you get a huge discount and perks. The price was $25 per day plus $50 insurance. They also paid for the ferry crossing from the South Island to the North Island covering $50 for the driver (we had to pay one of the two tickets) plus the expensive passage for a medium size RV which is around $200. The trip lasts around three hours.
We didn’t stay in Wellington. We drove until we reached Palmerston North and stayed at Almadale Recreational Area, a quiet green flat area for camping. We were the only ones and enjoyed the privacy. One of the main attractions in the North Island is the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. The entrance is $20 per person and the hike is around 75 min return. You’ll walk on paths built above boiling sulfur. The Champagne Pool, with its colorful shades, is one of the most photographed sulfur pools in the world. It's impressive, but I also loved the unique neon green of the Devil’s Bath. I was surprised to see a lush green forest growing next to the pools because usually, the surroundings of active volcanic areas don’t have plants. In my experience in Big Island in Hawaii and Teide in Tenerife, the landscape is rocky and dark. I think it’s amazing to see that nature thrives also in places that don't appear suitable for life. It made me think that earth was boiling hot millions of years ago and when it cooled down plants started to grow. In this park, it was like seeing the past and present of the earth’s history together in the same place and moment in time. Very special.
The Rainbow Mountain is a free attraction and I recommend it instead of standing with one hundred people in front of the Lady Knox Geyser. The hike lasts around one hour and the ideal time to start is 9 AM so you can get to the top when the Lady Knox Geyser starts at 10.15AM. Bring binoculars if you have them to better appreciate the view. The Mud Pool is also free and worth seeing. It's a unique scenery and it's interesting to mention here that the mud forms when geothermal features meet water. Be aware that the geothermal attractions are smelly so if you’re sensitive to bad smells don’t get too close.
If you want to discover the beauty of the countryside try Parkable, a new app. When we were there the service was about to get launched so we didn’t try it. Parkable is an app that helps you find parking, but they recently added a new service for tourists that offer the possibility to camp inside farmer’s land, get to know their work and taste the local life. We spent the Christmas week in a secluded house in Opuawhanga, in a lovely farm with horses, cows, ducks and dogs (found on Airbnb). It’s quiet spot, one hour drive from points of interest but cheaper than staying in the Bay of Islands/Russell area. From there you can take day trips to the Bay. I recommend to check out Elliot Bay, a scenic bay on private land (NZ$2 to pay for parking). The water is cold but the crystalline color is so inviting that we had to give it a try. We lasted not more than 15 min but it was fun to play with the waves.
In Auckland, we stayed at an Airbnb in Mission Bay (Marina area). The host, Belinda, is nice and welcoming. The area is the prettiest spot in the city, a bit removed from the center but it has all the services you need. There is promenade with cafes and restaurants. I recommend Cafe on Kohi for a fancy for breakfast/lunch.
Honestly, I think that the South Island has more to offer in terms of natural beauty, but it’s also good to check out the North Island to have a sense of the country as a whole.