Having a little whip on loan meant we were able to hop around the North Island with relative ease.
We left Auckland, heading 3hrs south to Rotorua for a spot of R&R at the spas.
Price: $165 / £85 p/night
We stayed here mostly because it included parking, access to an off-site commercial gym, and breakfast. The hotel decor was a little dated, but the friendly Kiwi staff upgraded us on arrival, the grub was decent, and it’s only a 5-minute drive from the Polynesian Spa.
Saying that, you don’t need a map to track down the spa. Follow the pretty savage sulphur-eggy smell and you’ll soon find it.
If you can get past that, though, head in for a dip. We asked after a private pool but there was a wait, annoyingly. We had dinner to make, so we slummed it with a standard entry ticket ($55 / £29pp inc. locker) which gave us access to several thermal pools of varying temperatures.
Fair warning: this place is something of a tourist trap, and if you’re remotely into your personal space then we’d suggest getting there pretty early or pretty late to avoid the crowds. The spa itself is lovely – gorgeous views over the lake and absolutely worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Just before sunset we skipped across town to the Gondolas – dinner was waiting at the top!
Price $87 / £45 for Gondola & dinner
Stratosfare restaurant is a buffet situation with a side of cocktails and panoramic views over Rotorua. We bagged a window seat and happily dug in to watch the sun dip below the water.
Rotorua isn’t swimming with fine dining options- so this place is definitely worth a visit. The food is varied and the quality for a buffet really is very good- the cocktails were just ok, but there’s enough decent grub to distract you from a lack-luster espresso martini. We liked it enough that it was well into the night by the time we hopped on the cable cars back down to earth.
Only an hour away from our digs in Rotorua was the main event. *The* reason to visit NZ’s North Island.
Price: $120 / £63 inc. tour & lunch
3 guesses whose idea this was.
Your ticket includes a guided tour of the grounds and a drink in The Green Dragon (*squeal*).
Hobbiton is in the middle of nowhere, so you’ll either need to take snacks with you or opt-in for the buffet lunch package. A standard ticket is $84 / £44, but for an extra $36 / £18pp you get lunch provided. We went for it, not expecting much, but were thoroughly impressed with both quality & quantity of the grub. The dessert station was top-bloody-notch.
On to the main event: the tour.
You hop on a bus which shuttles you from the meeting point (Shire’s Rest) to Hobbiton. You’ll then be escorted on foot around Hobbiton’s 44 hobbit holes whilst the friendly guide chats you through the tiny finishing touches that’d escape your notice if she didn’t point them out.
Even if you’re not a Lord of the Rings nut, this place is beyond impressive.
The attention to detail is frankly mind-boggling.
We won’t share any spoilers, but there are intricate details that were hours in the making which appeared in the movies for mere seconds.
Start to finish, the tour will take you a couple of hours, a little longer if you plump for the lunch included option. You’d be silly not to make the journey if you’re in the area.
But maybe we’re biased. We made the journey from Brighton…
This was our last stop to round out our stay on the North Island – we picked up another Jet Park Hotel stay back at Auckland ($224 / £118 p/night) ready for an early flight to New Zealand’s South Island.
Which, somehow, turned out to be more spectacular than the North Island.
All but one of our air transfers on this trip were with Jetstar. We joined Club Jetstar for £27, which gave us 20% off bags & seat selection. We had 3 transfers to make, so this 20% discount saved us more than the joining fee. No brainer!
Our first leg, Auckland – Queenstown came to $234 / £122 total. inc. 20kg checked and 7kg hand baggage.