New Year. New Zealand.

Road Trip Day 1
January 1, 2014

Chasing Waterfalls: our first "Scenic Lookout" was well worth the stop!

Chasing Waterfalls: our first "Scenic Lookout" was well worth the stop!

What better way to start off the year than with a little adventure? This year I’d really like to try to go with the flow a bit more. Working as a project manager, while juggling a long distance relationship for the last 3 years, had consumed my life with constantly creating schedules and making plans. Taking an impromptu road trip was my first 2014 attempt at just going with the flow. Although Joe, Gabrielle and I grabbed a few pamphlets at the information center to set some general goals about what we wanted to see, overall we decided to fly by the seat of our pants, see what we saw, and sleep where we landed. New Zealand is the perfect place to do that! There are very few roads, and they seem to go on for miles. It’s difficult to make a wrong turn. You just head for the city you want to reach, follow the signs for city center and stop into the iSite information center when you arrive to find out what there is to do. This was as far as planning went for us.

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We packed our bags and hit the winding mountain roads in our blue Mazda 3 rental. Joe zipped up the mountain and around turns, as Gabrielle and I held on for dear life, while trying to take in the magnificent views and scenery along the way. At each “Scenic Lookout 400km ahead” sign, we stopped and were delighted by the treasures we found hidden in the mountains – waterfalls, geysers, lakes in the distance; I’m surprised I can’t add unicorns to the list! Throughout our car ride we tried to equate New Zealand to other places we’d been, but it was just so unique and magical, we couldn’t quite place it. One moment you’re on a mountaintop and the next you’re in a grassy terrain with sheep grazing in the fields, then you’re in the jungle and after that, a cluster of lakes.

By 4pm we reached Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. We stopped at the iSite information center to find out what we could see and do for free with our remaining hours of daylight. The woman at the counter was super friendly! I’ve experienced this with nearly every Kiwi I’ve met. Everyone is so welcoming and proud of their country. They are genuinely interested in what’s brought you to New Zealand and eager to share all there is to enjoy. After deciding on a trip to Huka Falls, the kind woman helped us book one of the last remaining hotel rooms in town, and I felt a sense of relief that we would have a place to rest our heads.

Stopping for a photo op with the Giant Bike in Lake Taupo.

Stopping for a photo op with the Giant Bike in Lake Taupo.

Next we headed toward Huka Falls. Huka Falls gushes 220,000 litres per second, generating nearly 15% of the country’s electricity. At the top of the falls is a natural hot spring that spills into the river, which then pours down the mountain into Huka Falls. So we suited up, packed a sack full of water and snacks and headed up the side of the mountain on a 2-hour hike to the falls. Peeking through the silver ferns you could see the clear deep blue water below and the towering mountain peaks reflecting on its surface. In the distance we could hear the sound of rushing water beckoning us to the end of the challenging climb. Finally we reached the falls. Tons of bright blue water came gushing between the rocks and under the bridge, as mist danced up into the air from below. As I stood there, I tried to fathom where I was, but it didn’t make sense to my brain that I was in New Zealand and that this will be my home for the next year. It’s so surreal.

The hot springs were seriously hot!! It took me about 10 minutes just to ease my way in.

The hot springs were seriously hot!! It took me about 10 minutes just to ease my way in.

On the way back, we rewarded ourselves with a dip in the natural hot springs, which were actually quite hot! You could see steam floating off the water and out of the holes in the earth where the water spilled. I’ve never seen anything like it. That evening we enjoyed dinner on Lake Taupo, as we watched the sun set behind the mountains — a picture-perfect evening and a successful first day of our road trip.

We decided to save hot springs for last. There are many natural hot springs around New Zealand. Definitely a must-do!

We decided to save hot springs for last. There are many natural hot springs around New Zealand. Definitely a must-do!