New Zealand is just one of those countries. Fantasy and reality blur together and make you unsure what you have just experienced. After a 7 day exhilarating road trip - beginning and ending in the most populated city of Auckland - the perfect vacation is just now beginning to settle in.
Day 1: Dine in Auckland
I have read too many blogs that discount what Auckland has to offer. In reality, it always depends on who you talk to and where you go. In our case, we had a few Kiwi residents help shape our itinerary which included a couple nights in this misunderstood city. A popular destination for super yachts and with $25+ million dollar homes seemingly on private islands, I truly do not understand why this place is not more frequently trafficked. After landing, if you can muster it, head over to the organic restaurant Little Bird. It is illegal to grow genetically-modified crops in New Zealand, meaning healthy food is easy to find - this restaurant is the cream of the crop.
Day 2: Take a boat to a private beach paradise
Remember how I mentioned how important it is to know locals? Well, that is particularly true for Day 2 on our itinerary. With more coastline than the U.S. and one boat for every three residents, it is no wonder why being on the water is a widespread activity. But what is a wonder is the miles and miles of completely empty water and pristine beaches - entirely yours to explore. Public ferry boats also run between a number of the islands, including $30 NZD (about $22 USD) round-trip to Rangitoto Island.
Day 3: Black Water Rafting at Waitomo Caves
In full disclosure, the above picture is not of the Waitomo Caves - this little gem was just a quick rest stop on the 3+ hour drive from Auckland. Still reading? Okay, good. Because the true Black Water Rafting is an exhilarating experience which includes cave repelling, waterfall jumps and tubing under glowworms. Not a fan of small spaces? Then Taupo Tandem Skydiving offers all the space you need at 15,000 feet (and is also on the drive down).
Day 4: Hike a volcano (that erupted in 2012)
Perhaps the best of our days on the North Island, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a challenging 19 kilometer day hike through two volcanos, one of which erupted in 2012 after a century being dormant. If that isn't thrilling enough, Lord of the Rings fans get the added benefit of knowing that Mordor was filmed at this location, including the fabled Mount Doom. Which brings us to our next point...
Day 5: Stroll through The Shire at Hobbiton
Here comes another big disclosure: I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan. The books, the movies, the creatures - I love them all. So in big bold letters my bucket list read "THE SHIRE" for as long as I can remember. Mind you, when I first wrote it down I didn't realize it is an actual place. The Shire, also known as Hobbiton, is located about 45 minutes from Hamilton and the two-hour tour is well worth it for fans and non-fans alike.
Day 6: Spend a day at the beach
This is another long drive, checking it at just under three hours from Tongariro. But once there, you will quickly forget about cars, driving, or anything else for that matter. The coastlines in New Zealand are uniquely beautiful due to just how empty they are. So get there and soak in the pure, natural beauty with few in sight. We chose Bay of Plenty for proximity, but the locals prefer Hahei - a good choice to have.
Day 7: Fly back to reality
And, whoosh, just like that your week in heaven is over. Whether you take another week and explore the scenic South Island, fly to some other faraway place - for us, it was 10 hours to Bangkok - or fly back home, the 7 day road trip from Auckland is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In perhaps the only place in the world you can hike a volcano and be at a uninhabited beach in the same day, New Zealand is easily a favorite country on earth for me.
Have you been to New Zealand? Completed your own road trip in a different way? Comment below as I would love to hear other suggestions.