The Journey to Middle Earth – 100% Pure New Zealand (North Island)

Pop Quiz: What is the similarity among Lord of the rings, Vertical Limit, The Chronicles of Narnia, Avatar, The Hobbit, The Last Samurai, and X-Men: Wolverine? Answer: New Zealand. Yes, they filmed at the youngest place on earth ( in geological age – you may read this page)

My journey to this heaven on earth not started on March 23, 2012 but one year ahead. A small chit-chat night with my friend, Memei, lighted the dream to explore NZ. We just love this country for its beautiful scenery. Thanks to movies, magazines, books, national geographic, etc. Together with my other friend, Adrian, we wrote down our traveling destination for 2012: New Zealand or in Maori language: Aotearoa!


First thing we did was to buy NZ Lonely Planet. We don’t hate the travel agent nor experience traveler. We only shared the same traveling value: the most exciting part of traveling is arranging the trip itself! As our holy word for traveling is CHEAP, we did our best to get the cheapest but finest itinerary. We don’t want to waste the opportunity by exploring only view spots in NZ, so we decided to spend 16 days. Was that enough? Absolutely not!. 

Every Indonesian should apply tourist visa before entering NZ. The requirements and application form can be downloaded in NZ embassy webpage.  To prevent any disappointment being rejected by the NZ government, we already put some money as financial guarantee 6 months prior applying visa!. We even bought travel insurance to show the embassy how serious we are and desperately want to visit their country. We bought the flight ticket on June 2011, thanks to Lion Air and Jet Star for giving us the best deal! Unfortunately, we missed promo ticket from Air Asia.

Flight route Indonesia – NZ: Pekanbaru – Jakarta (by Lion Air); Jakarta – Singapore (by Lion Air); Singapore – Auckland (by Jet Star). Total flight time: 14 hours plus transit time almost 7 hours (in Jakarta and Singapore). Flight route NZ – Indonesia: Christchurch – KL (by Air Asia); KL – Pekanbaru (by Air Asia). Total flight time: +/- 14 hours as well! Note: We were in economy class. The bones cracked!

NZ is one of the friendly countries for travelers. You can reserve all transportation tickets online. All tourist information available in many travel websites. You may book the tours as well. So everything can be prepared before you enter this country. It’s help us to arrange the itinerary and apply the visa, since one of the requirement for visa is to attach the reservation confirmation from bus, train and hotel.  FYI, New Zealand Dollar quite hard to find in Indonesia, so it’s better to bring USD and change it to NZD in Singapore or NZ.

Visa checked, flight tickets checked, money checked, hostel reservation checked, train and bus tickets checked, tours reservation checked! Let the journey begins!

23 March 2012 (Day 1)

Actually the journey started on 22 March as we lived in Duri (almost 120km from Pekanbaru) so we have to stay overnight in Pekanbaru as we are using the first flight in the next day. We left Duri at 4 PM and stayed overnight at Rumbai camp. Our 1st flight was Lion Air, from Pekanbaru to Jakarta. After arriving in Terminal 1, we have to move to Terminal 2 for Lion Air to Singapore. Since our luggage was so heavy, we use taxi and must pay IDR 50,000 (soooo expensive since the distance between terminal 1 to terminal 2 only 5 mins drive). There is a shuttle among terminals but we don’t have enough energy to lift the luggage up to the bus. (Intermezzo: No immigration card needed for Indonesian). We have 4 – 5 hrs transit time in Changi before leaving for Auckland. Luckily, Jet star allows us to have early check in so we don’t have to keep our luggage with us! Do you want to know what we were doing in Changi in 4 – 5 hours? Visit apple store, eat, sleep, eat, sleep, eat, sleep. The best way to handle 10 hours flight: Get headache medicine or drink cough syrup. Trust me, I even could do some exercises to get relax with my eyes closed.

24 March 2012 (Day 2)

Touch down Auckland! We just can’t believe that we are in NZ! 1 year waiting paid off! It’s just like everybody were smiling when landed. Our luggage claim and immigration check were smooth. We changed our USD to NZD and bought 2-degree sim card as we will stay in this country for the next 2 weeks. We welcomed by freezing and windy weather, light jacket should be enough.

From airport to city, we use Airbus Express (16 NZD/pax) which take us to the sky tower, a landmark of Auckland. The distance from bus stop to sky tower almost 700m BUT we have to drag our luggage in steep upward sidewalk, and IT’S NOT STATED ON LONELY PLANET!!!!!!! (Remember that 14 + 7 hours of travel time?)

I really admired how NZ honoured the handicapped people. The bus fully equipped to serve them. You may use Intercity bus or Naked bus to move to other cities. They are the biggest bus network in NZ. You may see the timetable and fares in their website. And believe it or not, the departure and arrival times are very punctual. If you are lucky, you can get limited promo ticket for only 1 NZD/pax for all routes. Why limited? Because they only give 1 seat per route!

We only transit in Auckland for less than 1 hour as we want to go northern to Paihia. We use Intercity bus to Paihia for another 4.5 hours! How’s jet lag? Trust me, when you see that hilly green prairie with THOUSANDS of sheep, no more jet lag! Food and drink are not allowed in the bus, especially the hot ones, to keep the bus clean. However, bus will stop once at Kaikawa to have refreshment.

We stayed at Peppertree Backpackers – Paihia. A clean, neat, and homey lodge. It was raining when we arrived, so I decided to go sleep…*bed is my only happiness after 25 hours of traveling time*. Mei and Adrian went to have dinner without umbrella. They finally showed up with cute plastic rain coat (tips: always bring umbrella when traveling).

25 March 2012 (Day 3)

Wake up early and kind of worried about the weather..and voila…The sun was shining brightly that morning! The beautiful Paihia welcomed us! Today’s agenda: Dolphin Cruise – Hole in The Rock, Bay of Island. Our initial plan was to skip Bay of Island as we have to go northern. However, Adrian’s friend who lived in Auckland highly recommends this spot “You guys have to go to Bay of Island, trust me, it worth”. Paihia is like the tourist spot, a holiday destination for Zealanders (NZ’s citizens). Everyday is a holiday in Paihia. Love it! The tour office located in Maritime Building, just across the intercity bus stop. The tour will end at 1 PM and our next bus back to Auckland will be at 1.30 PM. We checked out from Peppertree after having breakfast and drag our luggage to the Maritime Building (+/- 500m). During tour, you can store the luggage for free in tour’s office or in NZ tourist information center (i-site).

We were using medium ferry with 20 ++ pax (please take seasick medicine to prevent an embarrassing incident). A day with crazy wind and sunny blue sky. The scenery..amazing! We met 3-4 dolphins during the tour.

Actually, the tour also offer another package if you want to swim with dolphins. After 30 mins, we finally arrived in main spot, hole in the rock. Well, I have to admit, the hole in the rock in Flores sea is much more beautiful, but the way NZ promote it,two thumbs!. We stopped at Otohei Bay, a very stunning island!. I was screaming when I saw this picturesque scenery. It’s beyond word! We stopped for having lunch, and it was one of the most wonderful moment in my life. Sitting on the bench in front of the restaurant, with amazing view of sea in your left and stunning green prairie and hill in your right. Along with clear sky..Thank you God! (Intermezzo: We met 3 women from Canada and I adore them so much since they still have passion of traveling in their retired age. It’s been 2 weeks since they left Canada).


It was 5.30 PM when we safely arrived at Auckland. Adrian’s friend, Tejo, welcomed and treat us a dinner in sky tower! What a wonderful life! The meals were great as well as the view from the observation deck. We got the opportunity to capture Auckland’s sunset. Mei and Adrian have an idea to end the day by watching Hunger Games, Ms. Jennifer Lawrence’s movie! I never read the book though, but great movie by the way (make me want to try archery).

Our lodge in Auckland was Princeton Apartment. This lodge is the cheapest among all lodges we ever chosen during our stay in NZ. How’s the place? HORRIBLE. 1st of all, they sold our room to others. We pick 2 bedroom apartment, and yes we got the replacement of 2 bedroom apartment but with very limited space. How limited? 1 tiny room with 2 beds. So tiny! Even no space for our luggage inside the room! As I am a clean freak, I just want to cry all night long when seeing this room. Thank God it’s only 1 night. Originally, we plan to store our luggage in the receptionist while we strolling Auckland.I rather pay 3 NZD to store my luggage in i-site instead.

26 March 2012 (Day 4)

So, here we are, first day in the morning, 3 amateur travelers dragged their luggage in steep hilly sidewalk for over 1.4km! Morning exercise! We plan to have Auckland city tour today. We decided to use Auckland Explorer Bus (40 NZD for one day pass), a hop on – hop off bus which makes your life easier. Our next destination after Auckland will be Rotorua and the bus will leave at 4 PM. As the tour started at 9 AM, we decided to choose only few best spots.

1st pit stop: Bastion Lookout Point. This place was not in our list, but once the bus stopped, Mei just said “We can’t miss this view, let’s go!”. Few minutes later, we were lying down in the green grass with stunning view of Auckland’s skyscraper.

2nd pit stop: Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World. In Indonesia, we do have Sea World, but we don’t have Penguin. With 31 NZD, you can see cute penguins and other sea creatures. Ride this small train like we have in the mall and the penguins will welcomed you!

3rd pit stop: Parnell Village. We stopped here for lunch. This district is so cute. There are so many boutique and restaurants. We had lunch in Italian Restaurant, expensive? It’s only 15 NZD. The place called La Bocca, owned by Italian guy and he served the best spaghetti ever!

4th pit stop: Auckland Museum. Well I’m not a big fans of museum, but when I entered this museum, I just love it. This is not haunted yet dusty museum, it’s so majestic! We can learn everything about Maori in this museum.  You may spend half day only to explore this museum.

Final pit stop: Skyline.

Our bus to Rotorua departed from this skyline area and arrived at Rotorua at 8 PM with quick stop at Hamilton city. Rotorua located southern to Auckland with 4 – 5 hours drive distance and well-known with its Maori’s souvenir and geothermal area. We stayed at Astray Backpacker and Motel, about 500m from intercity bus stop. That’s a lovely place, we booked family room with 2 bedrooms. Frank the owner, taught me how to use the laundry machine, it’s my first time! Thanks Frank.

27 March 2012 (Day 5)

Today’s theme: Sulphur Poisoned. Rotorua’s main attraction is geothermal site. It’s better to take a tour as most site located outside the city. There will be 3 sites planned visited today, and I never thought that was not a good idea. Let me tell you why…

1st site: Wai-O-tapu

We use Affordable Adventure to guide us to Wai-O-tapu (Maori language for Sacred Water) which famous for its Lady Knox Geyser and Champagne Pool. Our guide/bus driver named Nata, he’s sooo funny! The thing that I remember how he introduced each passenger. We have 2 japanese girls in our bus and they were adorable not because how they look but they always laugh whatever Nata says. The tourism website stated, the Lady Knox Geyser only erupt at 10 AM, so everybody seems in rush to get there on time. We can’t play with mother nature, right? The lady Knox is just like tiny volcano surrounded by benches staged. At 10 AM, a man came to the center and explained to us about how the Lady Knox works. And 5 mins later, he put surfactants into the lady and it erupted! One word: disappointed!

From the lady, we went to Wai-O-tapu thermal wonderland. Since we have to drop off Jonas (he is not one of Jonas brothers, but that Germany man way more cute than them) at 1 PM for bus leaving Rotorua, we only have short time to explore Wai-O-tapu. The site was very stunning yet smelly. Yes, full of H2S. If you can’t stand it, just walk fast. However, this site offers the most beautiful colorful lake!

2nd site: Te Puia

Memei decided to go to Agroventure, a place for adrenaline junkie. From Zorb to Shwebb, you can boost your adrenaline to the maximum point. As Adrian and I are very calm person (not coward!), we choose to go to Te Puia. An integrated tourism site with geyser, museum, Maori traditional house, Maori Carving School or even Kiwi’s house! In this site, we saw the geyser which erupt naturally, yey finally! It’s called Pohutu geyser. I also visit Maori Carving School, well actually the main attraction is not those carving stuffs but the carver. It’s like I saw dozens of Keanu Reeves.

3rd site: Hell’s Gate

I never go to hell, so I’m not sure whether Hell’s Gate represent the hell or not. The best time to visit this site is in the afternoon, because it’s like visiting the giant field with full of craters and still stunning by the way. I had opportunity to try Mahaka tea, an original tea of Maori. The lady in cafeteria of Hell’s gate gave us the tea while we are waiting for our bus to pick us up.

Before visiting Hell’s Gate, I went back to Astray since I feel nausea and got very bad headache. Adrian said, I got sulphur poisoned. It feels like we are volcanic mutants. My super power is to turn everything out become ash. Even I still can smell sulphur in Adrian’s sweater after washed several times!

28 March 2012 (Day 6)

Before heading to Wellington, we decided to stop by at Napier, the art-deco city in New Zealand. Actually, Napier devastated by earthquake in 1931 and the government decided to rebuild Napier in different style, the art-deco (in my imagination, it’s like in 1950’s movies).

Our bus to Napier will depart at 11 AM, so we have time explore Rotorua. We checked out at 9 AM and proceed to i-site to store our luggage by paying 2 NZD. In Rotorua, I had my favourite breakfast, scramble egg and hash brown. The café owner is Malaysian lady, she is very friendly and helpful. The i-site is the same place with intercity bus stop. Rotorua in the morning: Extremely beautiful! The sun was shining brightly, fresh air, clear blue sky, green grass park, and lovely flower garden where lots of people play cricket. We took city tour by visiting government garden, museum, and stop by at largest souvenir store called Koha (It means a gift in Maori).

What I like from NZ transportation is their bus driver. They are mostly in almost retired age but still enthusiastic. They are so friendly, always ask us where are we come from, and said “Oh, Indonesia…apa kabar?”. They also always taking care of our luggage even those are heavy! Before depart, they always remind all passengers about the bus destination, buckle up seat belt, how long will be the journey is, and where or when we are going to have bus stop for refreshment. And the best part is they always do commentary along the journey! (Note: my favourite bus drivers will be Malcolm and George!) .

Our journey to Napier about 4 hours and I was having a dilemma, whether to open my eyes for picturesque scenery or having sleep. And the winner was that scenery!. We had refreshment stop at Lake Taupo, a beautiful lake. We arrive at 3.30 PM and drag our luggage for 500m to our lodge, Archie’s bunker. Let me tell you, it’s really a bunker, no window but very clean and great air ventilation.

Apparently, Napier is not a true art-deco city. Some buildings are built with art-deco architecture but most buildings are half modern (lower level) and half art-deco (upper level). When we were taking city tour, most stores or buildings closed. The operating hours only until 5 PM. However, the night shot in Napier is recommended.

29 March 2012 (Day 7)

Our bus to Wellington departs at 8 AM, so we have to check out at 7 AM. In New Zealand, the sun rise at 7.30 AM, so we dragged our luggage in the dark. No restaurants were opened, so I was having my last two slices of last night pizza. The journey took 5.5 hours with refreshment stop at Palmers north. The more you go southern, the more beautiful scenery you will get.

Intermezzo: The journey among cities mostly take more than 4 hours, and all bus operators don’t provide toilet in their buses. So, 2 weeks in New Zealand, you will learn how to control that nature’s calling. Just pay attention when/where you are going to have refreshment stop. Like it or not, you have to go to toilet otherwise you will suffer for the rest of the journey.

Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand and it’s very windy. We were having 13 deg with quite strong wind. Our hotel, Downtown Backpacker, located just cross from the bus terminal. It’s an old building but hey it just few step from the harbour. It’s a perfect place to stay as we want to leave Wellington for Picton using ferry in the early morning of the next day.

After check in and store our luggage, we took city tour started with having lunch in trade kitchen (great duck menu). Most buildings in Wellington are modern. Wellington’ers mostly live in hilly side of the city. We went to Te Papa museum (not exploring, just passing by tough) and proceed to Lambton Quay to have cable car which took us to peak point of Wellington. We went to Beehive Parliament Building, Cathedral and many more historical buildings.

Intermezzo: I got to admit that New Zealanders have a very good physical condition. They always walk no matter how far it is. Every time we ask for direction, they always said “’s only 10 mins walk, just go that way”..actually 10 mins walk equals to 30 mins of our walk!

30 March 2012 (Day 8)

Today is the time to cross the Cook strait to leave North Island for South Island. The ferry scheduled at 8 AM and arrived at Picton at 11.45 AM. We took Blubridge Ferry for 51 NZD. The journey took 3.5 hours. The ferry has comfortable couch (where I continued my sleep) and great observation deck. A bus took us from ferry to train station. We did not stay at Picton but continued our journey to Christchurch by using one of the most beautiful scenery train, Coastal Pacific Train. The scenery when crossing the strait was so amazing! And the view along the train journey even much more stunning! The 136 NZD train ticket was paid off! The train quite sophisticated with observation deck in front of the carriages. Fortunately, our carriage was the next of the deck. So we can easily back and forth to feel breezy yet fresh wind. What a wonderful life!

The train station located 4.4 km from our hotel, so we took shuttle with other 6 people. We stayed at Dorset House, the place was so lovely and homey, love it! According to Memei, dorset is the closest hostel from city center that survive from major earthquake in 2011. NZ government still trying their best to bring Christchurch back at the time we were there.

To be continued with the story from South Island

– More stories illustrated in my web album “An Illustrated Journey” –

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