Cruising New Zealand’s North Island

New Zealand is one of those places that has a lot of wow factor when people think about the possibility of traveling there, but often times when it comes down to it, folks really don’t know much about it.

There are two main islands: the North Island and the South Island. This post focuses on the North Island.

I was traveling on a Holland America Line cruise and the ship I was on, the Noordam, was stopping in a new port, just about every day.

The coast of Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, features windswept stretches of sand, not the lay out a towel and work on your tan kind of beaches. Even the Karori Rock lighthouse, has a lean to it. I’ve read some call it “Wellington’s leaning lighthouse.” At 79 feet tall, it apparently slopes to the east to give the structure more strength from the winds that can blow in the area.

Home to a fur seal colony, the seals really don’t think much of the folks that bounce along the beach in 4×4 vehicles just to take their picture, but they’ll let you know if you’re closer than they’d like.

Wildlife viewing opportunities in New Zealand can be unexpected. Napier has a great, well-marked trail system. It’s a great spot to rent bikes, electric bikes are easy to come by too. About an hour in to our ride, we met hundreds of sheep. Unbeknownst to us, the trail we were on runs through a working sheep farm. The guy at the bike store didn’t think to mention that to us, because that’s just the norm for them. Other than stopping to take pictures, the sheep didn’t slow us down.

Hiking trails were plentiful in many of the ports we stopped, and in many cases like Mount Maunganui, (known by locals as simply “The Mount”) an easy and scenic walk from the ship.

But if you’re the type that likes an adrenaline rush, and doesn’t mind getting wet. Very wet. River rafting in these parts comes with bragging rights. About an hour’s drive from Mount Maunganui, the brave can take on the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.

With a drop of nearly 23 feet, it’s intimidating. But it’s also doable, even for a first-time rafter. There are three waterfalls total, and you knock them out almost right off the bat, which makes the rest of your time on the river a lot more relaxing.

Did I have some nervous moments, sure. But I never felt unsafe. Guides walk you through the motions to paddle, and stay in the boat. If you’re interested in taking a dip, there are stretches where folks are allowed to jump in and swim in the rapids instead of going the traditional paddling route.

And when you survive a river adventure like that.. cure any muscle aches you may discover over the next few days with ice cream that doubles as art.

This is Giapo, in Auckland, New Zealand. Designs, heavy on chocolate, are constantly changing and evolving. But the ice cream is made from scratch daily, with flavors like creamy coconut with chocolate chip cookies, kiwifruit, honey and walnut, and chocolate hazelnut made with house made hazelnut spread. It’s almost too pretty to eat.

You can just get scoops, but the creations are tough to resist. I’d recommend sharing. But if flavor selections don’t work out, don’t hesitate to just go for it. Calories don’t count on vacation.

The base cruise price for a 14-day sailing round trip out of Sydney starts at $2000. That may sound pricey at first, but keep in mind that includes all your lodging and food. I’ve seen airfare to Sydney recently in the low $800 range.

Dana’s trip to New Zealand was hosted by Holland America Line, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. All photos by Dana Rebmann.

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