Although there’s no oceanfront in Kerikeri, just riverfront, it’s a beautiful town! We loved the drive there and our motel was nice as well. We had breakfast at Zest Cafe (so far, New Zealand has the best breakfasts we’ve ever had – and coffee) and drove a few minutes to Rainbow Falls before leaving town. A really pretty area!
Today was one of our longest drives – over six hours starting from Kerikeri near the Bay of Islands and going to Rotorua. We drove through beautiful countryside and spotted the ocean before descending into the town of Matakana. We realized a few days before that it was a long weekend for New Zealanders – which meant crowds everywhere we went! It was the coolest town – surrounded by farmlands but within a couple minutes, a long street filled with unique shops, markets, coffee, food and ice cream. Randy had researched a restaurant called “Matakana Village Pub” and it apparently is the place to eat while you’re in Matakana.
No lie, it was the best food and beer we’ve had since we arrived in NZ. Randy ordered bangers and mash and I had chicken skewers with coconut crumb and a side of the loveliest roasted vegetables – pumpkin, sweet potato and purple cauliflower – all local. We loved it! After lunch, even though we had a long driving day, we took thirty minutes and walked through some of the farmer’s markets and picked up some organic ice cream and sorbet – mine was made from blueberries grown and harvested in Matakana Valley. We for sure could have spend a full day in the town. If you go, be sure to go on a weekend! So many neat things happening.
Next on the list was a quick detour off of our main driving path to Hobbiton. Apparently many of the Lord of the Rings scenes were filmed in the area – we didn’t know what to expect, but we pulled into the Hobbiton “Tourist Farm” and looked at the prices. Would have been $150 for us both to go! And a two-hour tour. Well, our day was busy… and I’ve never seen any of the movies or read any books, Randy has seen one or two movies but safe to say, neither of us are “big fans.” It was actually so cute seeing everyone in the gift shop (yeah we parked and walked through the gift shop – free fun) geeking out over their LOTR maps and posters and hats. I had this insane urge to stand in the middle and yell, “I’ve never ever seen any of the moooooooviess!!!!” But was afraid of being stoned.
We checked into Victoria Lodge in Rotorua an hour or so later and was greeted by the sweetest staff person. She was from Poland – moved to New Zealand five years ago to work and travel and met someone and never went home! Randy asked her the best recommendations for our short time in Rotorua, basically from 6PM to 10AM the next morning. She started handing us maps and flyers and marking very clearly on the map the two or three things we HAD to see! “It’s such a shame you’re only in Rotorua one night, there are so many things to see! Makes me sad!” (Picture that in a Polish accent, it was cute.)
Rotorua highlights: there are a ton of spots with geothermal activity in and around the city. They have a walk-way near the lake where all these areas are fenced off. You can see mud and water boiling and steaming naturally, due to the temperature of the earth! We also saw black swans for the first time in the lake! We paid way too much for tapas and drinks at Atticus Finch on Eat Streat, but it was a cool atmosphere. (Eat Streat is section of restaurants all in a row downtown Rotorua.)
The other spot recommended was the Redwood forest. Now, our time was running short. It was eight o’clock, the sun was definitely setting, but we raced over in our car to the park. There was a half-hour loop, great, let’s do it. We both felt like we needed a walk after our long day in the car. Turns out I don’t like forests at night. They are pretty scary. And guess what, if it’s dusk outside the forest, it’s DARK IN THE FOREST. Basically, we held hands and speed-walked and got that trail done in 20 minutes flat. Been there, done that. (It was beautiful, I only wish we had had time to see it in the day.)
After the Redwoods, we heard the Polynesian spa would be a great place to unwind at night but when we pulled up and saw six tour buses and hundreds of eager loud tourists with their beach towels in hand, we thought, “Um, NOPE” and went back to the motel. There was nothing special about our motel room at Victoria Lodge, it was clean but cramped and definitely an “old” building. But two things made our stay: 1) Cute polish lady passionate about her town and 2) Our personal hot water spa! Let me explain. In every room, next to the bathroom, is a window – a window that leads to an outdoor square area, no more than 4 feet by 4 feet, with a stone floor. You can fill up your rustic hot tub with hot water from the actual hot springs! That was kinda fun.
Good job, motel. You did it.