The Changing Landscape Of New Zealand's North Island

26 December 2016

My heart is racing. My legs have left the floor and my seatbelt is the only thing stopping me from flying upwards. 

I look out the window to see the runway dead ahead, we’re flying in a right angle. The engines are loud, the wind is howling and the plane suddenly turns, wheels hit the tarmac and we’re there. “Welcome to Wellington!” a voice comes over the loudspeaker enthusiastically.

Wellington might have one of the most precarious airports in the world, (they don’t lie when they say it’s the ‘Windy City’), but it is an apt entrance to New Zealand.

In a country where the landscape dictates lifestyle and the weather can be calm and callous in the same day, the locals have a can-do, care-free attitude. It’s not that they’ve mastered the land so much as learned to live in harmony with it. It’s almost as though the landing is a taster for the adrenaline-pumping activities and epic landscapes the country is famous for. Immediately, I’m excited to be here.

We’re here for just over a week and already I wish it were longer. The plan was to drive from Wellington to Auckland via Napier on the east coast, but quickly that plan changes. Lake Taupo and the lure of catching a trout and a heart-racing luge ride in Rotorua have us taking a different route. The Art Deco architecture and vineyards of Hawkes Bay will have to wait for another trip.We spend a few days in Wellington, exploring the capital's cultural and culinary attributes and admiring the expansive harbour views, before setting off on the State Highway heading north. Soon enough the villages wedged between cliffs and shoreline on Wellington Harbour and the sparkling city lights from Mount Victoria are a distant memory. The Desert Road, with vast open plains and looming Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Tongariro, are all we can see for miles. We stop to watch the sun disappear behind Mount Ruapehu, still capped in snow despite the mid-January warmth.

The lake is in fact in a huge crater, a distant reminder of what was once New Zealand's largest volcano. Cruising on the lake, we go in search of trout, Maori rock carvings and a secluded cove for a swim in the inviting crystal-clear waters.

You know it’s fresh when the boat alarm sounds, warning you the water has dropped below 10 degrees Celsius.

An incredible contrast to the crisp waters of Lake Taupo, a short drive further north we enter a geothermal landscape dotted with bubbling thermal pools and steaming vents. The vibrantly coloured pools, soothing waters of the thermal baths and spectacular views from mountain tops surrounding Rotorua almost make me forget the distinct sulphur smell.

Sunset here is more incredible than I had imagined too – the candy floss hues of the sky reflected in the milky, sulphuric waters of Lake Rotorua, broken only by a flock of birds skimming the lake just in front of us.

After a quick stop to see the glowworm caves of Waitomo, we arrive in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, where boutique bars and burger joints, quirky art galleries and sweet treats at the French Markets in Parnell dictate our days. The food tour has definitely begun.

The highlight is, of course, a day trip to the wineries of Waiheke Island, where wine tasting in rustic cellar doors and lunching beneath the shade of wisteria vines is just the start of the culinary journey. Gourmet fish and chips overlooking the water and a cocktail as the sun sets round out the palate.

There is one last trip out of the city before jetting home though, the black volcanic sands of Piha. At this wild surf beach on Auckland’s west coast surrounded by lush tropical rainforest, I’m reminded of my initial impression of the New Zealand locals.

The burning black sands, jagged cliffs and arctic waters are no hindrance to life here, they’re a stunningly beautiful landscape to be admired and enjoyed. As I pluck up the courage to wade into the crisp waves and the cold water takes my breath away, I look back on the week we’ve had. How vastly different the landscapes we’ve driven through have been, yet how beautiful each one is.

New Zealand certainly is a land of epic scenery and adrenaline-pumping activities. I’m definitely not ready to go home.


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Vicki Fletcher

A writer and photographer for Flight Centre, Vicki loves road trips down unknown tracks, hiking into mountain ranges, following locals to the best food in town, and spending long afternoons people watching in city squares. She's written for publications across Australia and Europe. Top travel tip: always look up. Follow Vicki on Instagram @vickijanefletcher.