Top Things to Do in Rotorua

A lot of visitors to New Zealand’s North Island go to Rotorua, known as the country’s geothermal headquarters. Centrally located with so many attractions, it’s a few hours south of Auckland and a big part of North Island itineraries. Known as “Sulphur City” for the smell produced by the geothermals, we spent a couple of days there ourselves, which is about the right amount of time. Here are our top things to do in Rotorua, New Zealand.

About Rotorua

Rotorua, pronounced Row – tuh – roo – uh, is a couple of hours south of Auckland, in the heart of the North Island’s volcanic valley. The Maori meaning is ‘Two” or “second” lake, and is named for the adjacent lake.

It reminded me of Iceland, with the bubbling hot springs, geysers, and colorful volcanic walkways. Rotorua felt like a cross between an adventure town and a family fun zone. So many of the tourists we saw there were with children. And a lot of the activities in Rotorua, like zip lines and mini golf, seemed catered to families. But there’s still a lot of cool things to do in Rotorua for adults without kids. Here are our favorites.

Mountain Bike Park

One of our top things to do in Rotorua is spend time at the mountain bike park. This place is amazing, and these two North Americans were shocked that it was completely free. We spent hours with our two dinky bikes on the easy trails, often being passed by tiny children on big wheeled mountain bikes, and we had a ball. Our bodies were sore the next day, but we’re always happy to get on our bikes and explore new places.

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Living Aboard in Whangarei

We sailed from Fiji to New Zealand in early November. After checking in at Marsden Cove and completing the formalities, we moved up the river to the Whangarei Town Basin marina. Here’s what it was like spending almost two months living aboard in Whangarei.

About Whangarei

Whangarei is not pronounced how it looks. Unless you speak Maori. In that case you know that the WH is pronounced as F, so it’s pronounced Fang-Ah-Ray.

We enjoyed living aboard in Whangarei. It’s the biggest town in the Northland region of New Zealand, with all the amenities we’ve missed since Tahiti. Whangarei’s population is almost 57,000 and it is 155km north of Auckland, which is said to have almost 1.7mm people.

marina, town basin Whangarei
The marina and town basin in Whangarei

The Town Basin Marina is located on the Hatea river and is walkable to groceries, shops, restaurants and more.

The supermarket across the street is huge and overwhelmingly good. After being in Tonga, where you couldn’t get basic rice, and Fiji, with no cat food or kitty litter, we consider New Zealand the land of plenty. On our first visit to the supermarket, we were overjoyed upon seeing the varieties of lettuce, berries, and yogurt, and the glow hasn’t faded. It doesn’t hurt that we arrived in springtime.

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The Best of Vavau

After a year in French Polynesia and a lovely but too short visit to Niue, we sailed to Tonga. Only a week after we arrived in Vavau, Tonga, we got stuck! Our starting motor died so while we waited for a replacement, we had a lot of time to explore and enjoy the best of Vavau Tonga.

About Vavau

Vava’u (pronounced va-vuh-ooh) is an island group in The Kingdom of Tonga, and the most popular area of the country for sailing. It consists of 50+ islands, the biggest of which is Utu Vava’u. This is where we spent several weeks on a mooring ball waiting for a new starting motor. On a boat, there’s always something that needs fixing! We maximized our waiting time by seeing the sights and visiting the bars and restaurants, discovering the best of Vavau.

You should know: In Tonga, churches are everywhere and Sunday rules are strict. No working. No tours on the water and no noise aside from singing in church. Fortunately, resorts and bars catering to tourists are open on Sundays, but not much else.

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Huahine Highlights

We are being spoilt by French Polynesian paradise. Case in point is the island of Huahine, one of the Society islands. Located less than a day’s sail from Tahiti, Huahine offers fun on land and water. We spent a week exploring and discovering the Huahine highlights.

About Huahine

Huahine, pronounced “Hoo-a-he-nay” by locals, is part of French Polynesia’s Society islands, with Moorea, Tahiti, Raiatea, and Bora Bora, most notably. The island’s population is around 6,000, bigger than any of the Tuamotus. Since it is close to Tahiti, only 100 miles, the island is easy to visit, accessible by regular flights and ferries from Tahiti.

Sailboat moored in turquoise water, Huahine highlights, French Polynesia
Sava moored in Avea Bay, Huahine

Huahine consists of two islands, Huahine Nui (Big Huahine) and Huahine Iti (Little Huahine), surrounded by fringing coral reefs and little motus. We spent a little over a week exploring this lovely island, visiting three different bays by boat, and cycling around the big island.

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Tuamotus Favorites

We spent a few months in the Tuamotus, and would gladly return, because the water is beautiful and the living is easy. We visited several islands in the archipelago, enjoying our experiences in each. Read on for our Tuamotus favorites: where to anchor and eat and fun activities to enjoy.

Favorite Anchorages

This is for the sailors out there, and is based on our limited knowledge of only a handful of motus. We barely scratched the surface in this archipelago. Still, we can’t talk about our Tuamotus favorites without mentioning our favorite spots to stay on the boat for a while and these are definitely worth mentioning.

anchorage, sailboats, Fakarava, Tuamotus
Boats at anchor in Hirifa, Fakarava

Hirifa, Fakarava

Hirifa is paradise for liveaboards. It has almost everything a cruiser needs: good internet, calm water for swimming and paddling, nice beaches for chill time, and for the kiteboarders, a sandbar for launching and consistent winds. Friends spent so much time there, they started a cruisers net.

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