North Island Before the True North

Well, here we are in the our last 10 hours of New Zealand life. So much to digest and think through, with countless days of processing ahead as we reflect on our time.

I will need to work backwards a little bit with some of my posts, but thought on such a significant day… I should share our adventures from our final few days on the North Island – our kiwi home.


The Tongariro Alpine Crossing for years has been considered one of the top day hikes in New Zealand. Joel and I had heard about it even on our first trips here all those years ago, but neither of us had had a chance to walk it. Due to altitude and the danger factor, the trail in winter can be treacherous and is recommended only with a guide, so we wanted to book our crossing with optimal weather conditions.

Weeks ago now, we had booked our accommodations when I found a place that bundled our hiking needs – it included a couple nights stay, breakfasts, wifi and a packed lunch – and since we would be coming from the airport essentially, I felt this was a good option for us. We booked and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, as we checked the weather forecast in the days leading up to the hike, it became clear our planned hike day would be less-than ideal. In the end, the trail that day was closed and no shuttles were operating due to the risks involved with weather – which was great in the end, because the forecast included rain, snow and gale-force winds.

So rather than hiking in the rain, we wandered. We went to a great cafe in Turangi, meandered around Taupo, did a couple mini walks around Whakapapa and just sort of rested up and got ourselves ready for the next day.






The Crossing

The day after our hoped hike was the day we were actually able to walk, and we could not have asked for a better day. The sky was clear and blue for the better part of our trek, the temperatures were ideal and despite having 2 days worth of foot traffic (that was painfully obvious at moments) on the trail we had the best day!

The track is just over 19 kms long, and our bus driver said he figured it’s actually closer to 21 with your hike out. It typically takes about 7-8 hours to walk and you do as the name implies… cross alpine terrain. There are options to drive yourself and simply arrange a ride back, but you basically get dropped off at one side of the trail and get picked up on the other – whether by bus of car or whatever.

Joel and I packed our bags with a load of stuff (maybe a little too much, but I was able to use all but the gloves and spare socks that I packed) and were on the bus at 6:30 to get going.



The trail starts with a zoo of people and a boardwalk that follows a valley up towards a little waterfall and some springs. The landscape is impressive even at the beginning. Huge, unusual rock formations and evidence of volcanic activity surround you.





From the base of the springs you start your ascent and for someone recovering from a cold like myself at the time… it had it’s challenging moments.


Thankfully, within 2 hours you’re at the top and along the way there are so many spectacular views (and vegetation that look like alpine hedgehogs) to reward you.















We stopped at Blue Lake to have our lunch and re-sunscreen before starting our descent. We could have stayed at the top and taken pictures for the full day – there were not shortage of views or stunning surroundings. The colours were simply something else.

The last 8 or so kilometres were pretty easy with the biggest challenge, mentally, coming in the last kilometre or so when you really couldn’t believe the trail through bush hadn’t ended – it messed with our minds a bit as we expected to see the carpark around each bend… with continued disappointment.

Fortunately, the majority of the descent had more of the same incredible views. There were geothermal hotspots we could see steaming, lakes and unbelievable colours reaching in every direction.












Tired, but feeling happy and accomplished we boarded our bus, then loaded our car and headed toward Papamoa for our last couple precious days with friends.

Our Home

Joel and I kept commenting how comfortable it felt to be back on the North Island, we’ve spent so much time and so many miles exploring that it’s really started to feel like home. Specifically the Tauranga area.

These are some hills on our way East that have always reminded Joel of Mario, it’s fun to have revisited so many cool spots in our months here.

We were thrilled to be travelling back to our little piece of New Zealand before venturing towards Auckland for our flight to Canada. We had less than 48 hours in the Bay of Plenty, but we loved every minute.

We had a chance to go back to Henry and Ted before meeting the owner of our beach house. She was sweet enough to invite us over for tea and snacks, we chatted for two hours and loved hearing more about the lady who provided our piece of paradise while absorbing that time in what became our home, too!



Here’s Joel on our beach for the last time… well, until we’re reunited one day!

Even though we were pleased to soak up all we remember about the town and natural beauty of the place… our favourite part of our stay was seeing our friends.


Since arriving, I’d prayed for good community and meaningful connections.  Our friends were the truest answer to those prayers. We didn’t make a load of friends, but we certainly made the best ones.

We met Jason while touring some churches in our area, and became fast-friends. We loved how inclusive he was and how good he was (and is) and coming up with fun ways to spend time together. We spent late nights watching obscure Japanese game shoes on youtube, going for desserts and ‘tight ass Tuesdays’ for burger… really whatever we did together was fun and full (thanks also to him for this great photo)!


Jason introduced us to our pals, Aaron and Britt who were part of the church we attended for most of our stay in the area as well. We were continually inspired and in awe of their generosity and thoughtfulness – always including us in plans, up to hang out and making some unforgettable New Zealand memories with us (from Thanksgiving here, to barbecues delivered to our door, longline fishing and walks around the Mount area). Legends!

We took in meals together and hung out while we were in Papamoa and we got to take Aaron’s parents’ boat out one evening which will forever be a special memory. The day we met Aaron and Britt, they mentioned how much they would love to take us to Lake Rotoiti to boat, go to the hot springs and wake board. On a whim, as we reminisced about our time together, we realized we hadn’t made it out on the lake, and rather than forgetting the idea as an “oh well” these guys made it happen.

We couldn’t be more grateful! In a rush and a great team-effort, we were able to eat quick before heading out to Te Puke to grab the boat and onward to catch the last hours of daylight.

A few of us were able to wakeboard – which was so dreamy for me as it’s been too long and exceptionally cool for Joel as it was the first time he was able to get up on a wakeboard- and he totally rocked it – before heading to the hot pools on the lake to unwind. So, so, so amazing. The only thing that would have made it more perfect would have been the addition of Brandon and Stacey!







Forever in my memory is me and all our NZ friends cheering Joel on. He was tired from the crossing and the water wasn’t the most warm…but after only a couple attempts he was up and rockin’ the wakeboard!!



Here we are at the Hot Springs, just on the dock as you can only boat or kayak to visit (I have crazy wakeboard hair, lol).



Such wonderful friends we have! They were so kind to take us out, and dedicated to making the most of our evening as we used the last bits of daylight soaking in springs before having to go back and load the boat up in the dark.

Words cannot describe the blessings here!


The next morning, we organized the last of our stuff and we headed out for our final moments in the area. Despite busy schedules, Britt and Aaron made the time to meet up for lunch. How sweet it was!


Despite being happy and full our hearts were sad to break from our crew. It’s amazing the bonds that can be built in a short time. We are so grateful for you guys!! Thanks for being all we could have dreamed of and more.

After lunch, Jason was able to hang out for a little while longer. We had some quiet time in a park by an inlet before hopping on the bus Auckland-bound.

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Now, here we wait… just a few hours before we go to the airport and countless hours ahead trying to unpack the impact of these 8 months. Simply unforgettable.

New Zealand made an impression on us all those years ago when Joel and I separately visited and fell under its spell. We thought nearly a year here would somehow cure us of it’s wonder, but it’s done the opposite.

Time will tell the things that we remember and hold most dear, but it’s an understatement to say it’s been the trip of a lifetime.

The Beat Goes On

Beyond BOP

Once we rolled out of our Papamoa driveway, we set our sights on the many adventures ahead. Knowing we had to meet up with Evan who was arriving in Auckland after the weekend, we mapped our route based on that.

The first stop was in the Coromandel. Our Airbnb was a beautiful spot that had a lot more in store than we could have imagined.

We wound our way up and around to the Eastern side of the Peninsula to Pauanui – a sleeping town with some stunning views. Our holiday home had one wickedly steep driveway, with something we’d never seen before – a car carousel (which in theory is fabulous, but the parking on a little wooden lazy Susan to be twirled around in close quarters can be a bit ridiculous).

The driveway was one story-making experience that this steep Peninsula town offered us, providing all sorts of insight like: how to keep calm when your car is rolling backwards into trees and fence despite giving it gas in gear, how to somehow us a pedal e-break to stop such rolling to commence, how to park your car with only 3 wheels touching solid ground and how to do some sick burnouts in a Nissan Tilda. All in all we figured out the parking situation with only a few raw nerves.

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As we enjoyed the deck and some had a round of tic-tac-toe, I did a little research to figure out dinner plans. To my surprise, during my internet perusing, I found a 100% gluten free restaurant just down the road and eagerly made a call for reservations!


Things were pretty sweet. As we were organizing ourselves with trips to the cars for luggage, we began a different experience. Although most of the property couldn’t be faulted… it did have one terrifying death trap.

The garden steps that lead from the deck to the grassy parking area.

They were overgrown and unkempt and as Charles was going down to retrieve some things from the car, one loose step unexpectedly gave out and put him in a tailspin. Grasping for something to stop his fall, he reached for the only thing around- a post likely left over from some sort of railing, and instead of helping it just caused more trouble!

Sadly, this split-second tumble had us making a hasty phone call for medical attention which lead to a frantic 1 hour car ride to a clinic we hoped would still be open when we arrived, a sprained ankle and several stitches.


Ugh. What a time to be had! We had such high hopes for our stay, and though our trip wasn’t ruined, it really put a damper on things for a couple days. We had a sympathetic host who didn’t offer much more than an apology, but this incident lead to a very different few days as sprained ankles don’t tend to like hikes and strain.

Thankfully, we’re a crew of people who aren’t willing to let a rough start ruin an amazing country. A country that covers a large part of medical costs associated with accidents, a place that offers diverse landscapes, fabulous coffees, kind people, wonderful meals and generally allows you to enjoy your stay.

SO having met some of the most lovely medical professionals, we were on our way back to Pauanui for a GF feast.

The Lime Room is a 100% gluten free restaurant set on a picturesque golf course. The food is fabulous. The owner is thoughtful and kind (extending concern for Charles as soon as we arrived- having heard of the ordeal while the rest of the crew was there in time for the reservation). If ever you find yourself in the area, do give the place a try- whether or not your gluten intolerant… you’ll love it. Fresh, tasty, local and all around fab.

Day 2 in Coromandel was filled with all the touristy things. On a sunny Sunday, we weren’t the only ones with the idea and had trouble finding parking to hike down to Cathedral Cove. Instead of hiking, in the end we all went on the water taxi and were able to take in some of the beauty from the ocean.


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Once through with the cove, we headed to the Pour House for our last meal with just parents and us. Having been diverted on our tour of White Island, my dad and I were to head back towards Whakatane for the night before our tour while everyone else went up to get settled in our Auckland Airbnb before Evan’s early morning arrival.

As we parted ways, Joel was able to make a quick stop on Hot Water beach for the moms to invite themselves into other people’s pools 😛 and dig around with their feet for springs along on the beach. I think they had fun!


Whakatane and the Island

My dad and I had been hoping to visit White Island for some time. It’s an active marine volcano that we could often see pluming from our Papamoa house. We hit a bit of a speed-bump with our plans when we weren’t able to do the tour on the day we’d planned (due to conditions) or our 1 flex-day (due to a fully booked tour), so it took a little maneuvering to make it work.

Thankfully, we’re travelling with flexible people who are so sweet and encouraged us to find a time to go. Both my dad and I were really happy to have made the trek.

We arrived on Sunday evening, and went up to a look out to take in the view and have a fast food picnic.

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With confirmation from the tour company, we were set to depart the next morning at 9:30am.

We packed up our supplies, loaded up the car for a long drive post-volcano, grabbed a quick breakfast and a few seasick prevention items before checking in… with the 25 Junior High kids on our boat. Ha…


We left the dock on a catamaran headed for the smoking mass and thoroughly enjoyed our ocean voyage. Dad was eager to chat up the skipper, who had some Canadian connections and I appreciated the sight of the island slowly becoming more clear as time passed. The anticipation was mounting!

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It’s pretty incredible to come upon such a force of nature. This was something on my NZ bucket list, so I was thrilled to have had the chance to set foot on the island.

We were transferred from the catamaran onto an inflatable to taxi us to the island, and it’s tough to describe the sights. It was otherworldly, surreal and beautiful all at once.

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We were assigned a guide and instructed to follow closely in their footsteps as part of the land’s crust is deceitfully thin, and could easily result in your foot boiling off. The colours were remarkable and the history of the place- having housed a sulphur mine year before, where workers signed on to 3 month contracts where they were required to camp on the island- was intriguing.

We were given hard hats, gas masks and ‘lollies’ to keep us safe and to appease our hacking lunges as we breathed in hell’s exhaust. Real cool.

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Once we’d taken in all we could, we had a bumpy trek back to the main land where a hefty drive awaited. We broke up our trip with mixed-berry ice cream at a fruit stand (fresh and fab) and an impromptu stop at a little big market event at the Mount.

They had set up food and craft stalls to celebrate the arrival of the first overnight cruise ship (a ship we ended up following as we met up with them again in the Bay of Islands a few days later), and I took the chance to introduce dad to Johney’s dumplings (a BOP must).

Once refuelled in every sense of the word, we headed towards Auckland to meet up with the now 5 others. Exhausted, we arrived to our odd little Airbnb to explore the largest city in the country.

Aca-Awesome Auckland

Joel had retrieved Evan the morning dad and I were on White Island, and was a fantastic tour guide, showing off some of our favourite city spots- many that have become tradition: One Tree Hill, Mt. Eden, Giapo & Kushi Japanese Kitchen.

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Once we were all together again, we had some warm days to enjoy together. We were able to hang out on Takapuna Beach, rock jumping, beach-combing and finally enjoyed a lovely lunch break on the patio at Takapuna Beach Cafe.

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My dad was really pleased to have a view of military ships coming into port as we had lunch, too (it’s like they knew he was gonna be there).


From the beach we headed to Takapuna’s strand of cute shops and cafes. We parted ways for a little while to allow for some shopping and wandering, we enjoyed the eclectic vibe of the neighbourhood as well as some treats at Bluebell’s cakery.

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We then revisited Mt. Eden so my dad could check it out, and finally we headed to Achilles Point for a view of the city from high atop a cliff (which somehow I didn’t get a picture of, but here’s my dad posing with some Maori carvings at the point- he thought they were pretty great).


Our time in Auckland was rounded off with the memory of some incredibly hard beds, sunshine, traffic jams and going to see “Arrival”. We packed up the cars to go 2 separate directions yet again!

Joel and Evan went to see White Island for themselves before circling back for a caving epic in Waitomo. Me and the parents went to enjoy the Northern sunshine in a really lovely bach overlooking the sea. We all planned to meet up in Taranaki after a few days.

I think I’ll leave those adventures to another post, though 🙂