Hot Water Beach is one of the most famous beaches in New Zealand. It is often listed as a guide book ‘must-do’ due to the hot water bubbling through the sand, where if you dig in the right spot you can make your own spa pool right there on the beach!
Some planning is required when visiting Hot Water Beach as you should aim to visit two hours either side of low tide if you’re wanting to take advantage of this unique attraction. When we arrived at the beach in the morning, armed with some spades we had borrowed from our accommodation, there was already a coach-load of tourists digging and wallowing in one small area of the beach – some were even sipping champagne while soaking themselves in the natural hot springs!
It’s quite an unusual experience BUT you can’t just dig anywhere on the beach and expect glorious hot water to bubble up through. Although the large group of tourists had shown us where we could find the hot water, there didn’t appear to be many hot spots left for us, and when we did find some potential hot spots, the tide came in and filled the hole we’d dug full of cold sea water much quicker than we could dig!
Eventually, we kind of muscled our way in and got chatting to a group of American tourists who had found a hot spot but weren’t fast enough to create a little sand barrier wall to stop the cold water rushing in. 6 people are better than 2! So we managed to make ourselves a nice little hot water pool but to be honest by this point I was kind of over it.
So is Hot Water Beach a Tourist Trap or a Must Do Experience?
In my opinion, I would edge towards voting it as a tourist trap. Don’t get me wrong, if you want the quirky experience of digging your own sandy spa and wallowing in a bath on the beach, then by all means check out the low tide times, grab a shovel and get digging! However, if you want a pretty and relaxing beach, then try Hahei or Cathedral Cove. And don’t be disappointed if you don’t manage to find a hot spot!
One of my favourite stops on our New Zealand road trip was in The Coromandel Peninsula on the east coast of the North Island. We stayed in a charming accommodation called The Church in the small settlement of Hahei – the perfect base for soaking up the local beach life.
The Church was one of the nicest accommodations we stayed at during our time in New Zealand as we were on a budget, yet the prices were very reasonable here. We stayed in the Garden Studios which included a private bathroom, basic kitchen facilities such as a fridge, kettle and microwave, as well as a veranda where we could sit and enjoy the beautiful garden right outside.
Hahei itself was very quiet and pretty but because we were planning our road trip a couple of days in advance, as opposed to 100% winging it, we unfortunately were only able to stay in Hahei for one night, so we didn’t get to enjoy the pristine white sands of Hahei Beach as much as we would have liked. AND I made friends with a dog on that beach!
Anyway, we did however visit two of the most well-known tourist spots on The Coromandel – Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.
We visited Cathedral Cove during the late afternoon. We drove to the car park from our accommodation and then took the 45 minute walk from there, taking in the stunning sea views and saying hello to the cows in the field as we passed. On the walk back from the beach I even witnessed (from a respectable distance I might add) two people getting engaged! Awww!
It is sensible to wear trainers or walking shoes on the way there and then change into your flip flops or go barefoot once your feet touch the sand.
We arrived at Cathedral Cove as the sun was setting and the tide was coming in to slowly fill the arch between the two beaches at Cathedral Cove with sea water. We didn’t stay too long as we didn’t want to trek back in the dark but it was really peaceful down there.
Unfortunately there wasn’t a glorious sunset, so no instagram-worthy sunset pictures, but Cathedral Cove is worth the walk regardless. Maybe it was the blue skies and sunshine but Cathedral Cove and Hahei were so pretty it makes me want to cry when I see our beaches back home!
If you’re in the North Island then you must pay a visit to Hahei and linger a little longer than I did. Hahei is around a two and a half hour drive from Auckland.
What’s the prettiest beach you’ve been to? And if you liked this, stay tuned for my post about Hot Water Beach!
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – New Zealand make the best burgers I’ve ever tasted. Infact I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many in the space of three and a half weeks!
So without further ado here are my best burgers in New Zealand…
3. The World’s Coolest McDonalds, Taupo
I kept reading in all the leaflets I picked up in the i-site tourist offices that the McDonald’s restaurant in Taupo was a must-visit attraction. Now to name Maccy D’s as a tourist attraction I thought was quite odd so figured it must be pretty special, so naturally when we arrived in Taupo at lunchtime we headed straight there.
Just what makes the Taupo McDonald’s claim to be the “world’s coolest”?
The massive aeroplane outside it, that’s what!
The aeroplane is genuine vintage too, not just some fake model fashioned to make McDonald’s a bit quirkier. The plane was built in 1943 and after serving time with South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand, among others, it eventually retired and has been at McDonald’s since 1990.
We decided we wanted to sit in the plane to enjoy our meal so thinking that it would be quite busy up there, I headed off to grab us a table while my husband ordered. Turns out I was the only one up there because it was so hot! Everyone else was taking advantage of the air-conditioning in the main restaurant.
Well, I wasn’t completely alone, this sparrow kept flying in and out, grabbing a few fries left behind by previous diners.
The plane still has its original cockpit that you can peer into and there are also story boards on the walls just outside the cockpit for aviation buffs to learn about the aeroplane’s history.
The food itself I have to say is pretty standard. Typical McDonald’s really, I enjoyed it but the main reason Taupo McDonald’s makes the list is because of its fun factor!
2. Fergburger, Queenstown
Fergburger is world famous, quite a feat considering it only has one branch and that is located in Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand. Cited by many as a tourist attraction in its own right and featured in the likes of Lonely Planet, you will see the queue for Fergburger before you see the restaurant itself!
Curious to see what all the fuss was about we headed there for lunch one day. We were queuing for around half an hour and then our order came about 15 minutes after that. Crazy! We were there around 2pm so had anticipated that we could be waiting a while. If you don’t fancy the wait, then Fergburger is open 21 hours a day so you can get your Ferg fix at a slightly less busy time.
Fergburger started in 2001 as a hole-in-the-wall on Cow Lane, it is now located on Shotover Street and has expanded with two businesses next door – Fergbaker, a bakery selling pies, pastries and cakes etc (which also happens to be where they bake the buns used for the burgers) and also Mrs Ferg, a gelateria.
We didn’t try the bakery but we did visit the gelateria twice, once for hot chocolate and once for gelato. There aren’t really any queues for Fergbaker or Mrs Ferg so some people queueing for a Fergburger did end up dropping out and opting for a pie or something instead.
Was it worth the wait? Well we did end up going there twice. But note – there aren’t many places to sit so be prepared to dine alfresco. Plus the burgers are also pretty huge so we shared fries between the two of us.
1. BurgerFuel, all over NZ
BurgerFuel is a New Zealand gourmet burger chain that began in Auckland in 1995 and can be found all over New Zealand’s North Island (with a handful of stores in the South Island). They also have branches in Australia, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but sadly not the United Kingdom.
BurgerFuel are particularly famous for their amazing aioli sauce and also the ‘doofer’ – a cardboard device for holding your juicy burger. The restaurants are kitted out in a funky purple theme and the burgers all have names like ‘Bastard’ and ‘Bio Fuel’.
We ate at one of the Auckland branches and one of the Wellington branches. My first BF was the ‘V-Dub Vege’ and I would go as far to say that it was the best veggie burger I’ve had to date! Normally I find veggie burgers quite dry but this was delish washed down with a bottle of New Zealand’s famous L&P Lemon & Paeroa and a side of spud fries with aioli – my mouth is watering just thinking about it! I can’t remember what my second BF was but no doubt it was something cheesy!
But seriously BurgerFuel, when are you coming to the UK??
There you have my best burgers in New Zealand of the fast food variety (if you can count Ferg as fast?!). Have you ever eaten at any of these places? Or if not, where in the world would you find your best burger?
We had arrived in sunny serene Wanaka after a 3 and a half hour drive from drizzly dreary Franz Josef (do you like my use of alliteration there?). We parked up, checked in at our hostel and took a short walk into town where we were greeted by scenes such as this…
It was gorgeously warm and sunny so we decided to have some lunch at one of the restaurants overlooking the lake. We ate at a place called Trout, where I had a chickpea, halloumi and pesto burger with chunky fries. I am telling you – New Zealand make the BEST burgers!
Unfortunately, we were only in Wanaka for 1 night but it was the perfect place for a little relaxation before we hit the crazy adrenalin capital of New Zealand aka Queenstown.
So what are the quirky things to do in Wanaka?
1. Cinema Paradiso
What’s so special about a cinema? I hear you ask. Well, this one has SOFAS and CARS inside it! Yup, hubby and I used to be quite avid cinema goers and always used to joke and say that we should have our own sofa at the cinema, well at Cinema Paradiso our wish came true. Before we even got to New Zealand, we decided that we’d go and see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – part 2 at some point during the trip and we found ourselves in Wanaka shortly after it’s release date. Perfect timing!
The cinema is small (it only has 2 screens) so advance booking is recommended. We popped in there before lunch to book our tickets for the 5pm showing and we got the last 2 tickets! You aren’t allocated seats so it’s pretty much first come first served.
Top tip: If you’re planning on a cosy movie experience with your significant other, choose a two-seater sofa because you may find your romantic evening for two will be gatecrashed by a third randomer when they try to squeeze the latecomers in!
My favourite thing: Besides the obvious, I loved how cheap the drinks were here, especially compared to cinema prices back home.
Something to note: There is an interval halfway through each film where you can go and buy freshly baked cookies (which are apparently very good). I found this a bit annoying as I was getting into the film and wasn’t hungry enough for a cookie.
2. Puzzling World
Puzzling World is kind of hard to describe, it’s like a bizarre museum of optical illusions and madness and describes itself as Wanaka’s Wonderful World of Weirdness. You can kind of tell from how the building itself looks!
There are holograms and optical illusions dotted about on the walls throughout the experience. One of the first rooms you enter is the Tilted House where the floor is at one angle, the walls appear to be slanting at another angle. There’s a chair lift which seemingly travels uphill and all sorts of other mind boggling oddities. I couldn’t actually spend too long in this room as it made me feel quite sick!
Puzzling World is one of those places that is better seen than described. It doesn’t take too long to walk around, but it is fun and interesting, and a decent way to spend a morning (which we did before we left for Queenstown!). Even the toilets here have optical illusions on the floor and the cafe has puzzles to play with.
Top tip: Keep your eyes open in some of the tourist magazines for discount coupons. They come in pretty handy when you’re on a budget!
My favourite thing: The Ames Room is awesome. You enter one door, your friend enters the other. You are both standing in the same room yet due to some illusion and trickery, one of you appears to be a giant and the other one appears to be teeny tiny! You can get a passer-by to take a photo for you, or you can watch yourself back on the tv they have there. Check out my video at the bottom of this post to see what I’m talking about!
Something to note: There are several entry options for Puzzling World – $16 for the Illusion Rooms, $16 for the maze or $20 for both. We decided that as we had other plans later on in the day, we would just pay for the entry to the Illusion Rooms as we weren’t too sure how long we could end up in the maze for!
Here’s a short and sweet video we made at Puzzling World. The Ames Room is at the end. Enjoy!
As it is Pancake Day in the UK today (also known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras depending on where in the world you are) I thought I would I write about the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes in Punakaiki, New Zealand.
Punakaiki is a small town situated on the West Coast of the South Island and it is famous for its pancake rocks and blowholes. The pancake rocks are so called because they basically look like giant stacks of pancakes!
The curious rocks are limestone formations that were formed 30 million years ago. Remnants of dead marine creatures and plants settled on the sea bed and solidified. A combination of water pressure and seismic activity, along with the elements, created what you see today.
The best time to visit the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes is at high tide when you can watch the sea churn up waves below that crash into the rocks and spout water upwards through the blow holes (which you can watch in my video at the bottom of this post).
The walk to view the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes is a pleasant 20 minute loop (although much longer if you linger to take photos and videos like we did) and much much more impressive to view in person than in a photograph. It’s also fun to pose next to the tall plants that look like giant blades of grass and pretend that you have been shrunk!
Of course, you can’t come all the way to Punakaiki and not indulge in some pancakes of the edible variety. Right opposite the entrance to the Pancake Rocks walk is the Pancake Rocks Cafe. We decided to go there for breakfast the following day, although the pancakes are available all day. There is alot more than just pancakes on the menu, but surprisingly only two types of pancakes – streaky bacon served with maple syrup and caramelised banana or berries and cream. Not that cheap but probably the best breakfast we ate in New Zealand!
Top tips for travelling to Punakaiki
Bring supplies. You are limited for food options in Punakaiki and if you are planning on cooking at your hostel, the nearest supermarket is in Westport or Greymouth, both of which are around a 40 minute drive.
Similarly, if you are driving, make sure you have enough petrol because again, the nearest petrol stations are in Westport or Greymouth.
Check the tides times, the blowholes are much more dramatic and exciting at high tide. You can find out more on the Met Service website.
Here’s a short video of the Pancake rocks and blowholes – enjoy!