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First New Zealand Roadtrip

Written by Cathy Siegismund
January 2002

Having been in New Zealand for a couple of months, we decided it was time to take our new car out for some exploration of the North Island. We decided to meet Drew and Vernita in Napier. Napier is a small town in the Hawke's Bay area, wine country on the North Island.

Map of North Island and our Roadtrip route

We got a late start leaving Auckland, so we decided to make our first stop in Tauranga. Tauranga is a small coastal town on the east coast. It has a nice marina and boat yard. A number of cruising boats choose to spend the summer at the marina in Tauranga and have boat repairs made there. We arrived in Tauranga in the early evening, and wandered around the marina. We saw a number of familiar boats we had met on our way across the Pacific both in the marina and on the hard and on the hard.

The Strand in Tauranga

Our friends Sue and Brian on Nepenthe were onboard their boat. We hadn't seen them since Tahiti, so it was a real treat to sit in their cockpit and catch up over a few beers.

After dinner in town, we went to look for an inexpensive hotel for the night. We stopped at a small motel, where we were checked in by an elderly woman wearing her bathrobe. We didn't have very high expectations for the motel, which only cost $85 Kiwi/night - is less than $40 USD/night.

We were, however, pleasantly surprised by a 2 bedroom room complete with a kitchenette, Sky-TV (Kiwi cable TV), and a huge Jacuzzi tub. You don't get a chance to relax in a tub very often while living on a boat, so the next morning, I decided to treat myself to a luxuriously long bath, complete with a facial mask and my novel. I filled the enormous tub using all of the bubble bath provided by the hotel in a small glass jar. I had a few bubbles after I filled the tub, but once I turned on the jets it looked like I was going to fill the whole bathroom with bubbles.

Cath taking advantage of the Jacuzzi

The next day we set off for Napier. Outside of the largest cities in New Zealand, there aren't any freeways. The roads are in good shape, but are mostly two lane roads with the occasional passing lane. With that said, you drive through all sorts of beautiful country and small towns.


Kiwi Country - a local attraction in the farm country

We decided to go through Rotorua on the way to Napier. Rotorua is inland and a popular vacation spot for North Islanders. It is best known for the surrounding thermal pools and geysers and its large Maori (the indigenous Polynesian inhabitants of New Zealand) population including several cultural and art centers.

We made a short stop in Rotorua to check out the town, stop in tourist information and on the way out of town we stopped at a Maori cultural center. They have built a traditional Maori village where they have tours and presentations about Maori life and culture. We didn't have time for a tour, but we wandered around the village and bought some souvenirs.



Maori Cultural Centre

After leaving Rotorua, we made one more stop in Lake Taupo before continuing on to Napier. Lake Taupo is a huge lake that was created by a volcanic eruption several thousand years ago. The view is stunning around Taupo with the enormous lake surrounded by volcanic mountains. Lake Taupo and the town reminded Ken and I very much of Lake Chelan in Eastern Washington. The towns are a similar size and a popular weekend vacation spot and lake playground for Aucklanders.

River leading to Huka Falls

After brief stop in Taupo, we continued on to Napier. Napier is a small town on Hawke's Bay. We arrived in Napier a few hours before Drew and Vernita, so we went to tourist information and had them find the four of us a hotel. As it was a holiday weekend, we couldn't find a room downtown, but we did find a nice hotel over a marina.

View of the marina from our hotel

We had a studio with a sitting room, and the odd configuration of a large Jacuzzi tub in the sitting room.

Drew stretching out in our sitting room tub

We had dinner with Drew and Vernita and planned our wine tour for the following day. We didn't have any expectations for the wineries, only having wine tasted in Napa and Sonoma. By comparison, the New Zealand wineries were not as huge and extravagant, but they were also less crowded and the wines were quite good and much more reasonably priced. Hawke's Bay is known for its reds, where the Marlborough area on South Island is known for its whites. Ken and I are red lovers, so we enjoyed the wineries, and came home with a few bottles.

View of Hawke Bay from a winery

Drew and Vernita at the tasting counter


Vernita is always ready with her camera

Drew, Vernita and Ken at the Bradshaw Winery

Aside from being in the middle of North Island's wine country, Napier is also renowned for its unusual architecture. New Zealand is seismically active with a history of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. In 1931, the town of Napier was completely destroyed by an earthquake. The town was completely rebuilt in 1932 and 1933. As this was the height of the Art Deco style of art and architecture, the entire town was rebuilt in the Art Deco style, and remains so today, down to an Art Deco, McDonalds.

On our second day of Napier, Vernita and I took a walking tour of the Art Deco town.

The Dome, a landmark pub in Napier














We drove home in on, rather long day, taking a different route home through Hamilton. We wanted to be home in time to see the Volvo Ocean Race boats leave Auckland at the end of the month.

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