As part of my round-the-world trip, I arrived in New Zealand on January 2. My boyfriend and I drove straight from Auckland to the Coromandel Peninsula. The scenery was spectacular. We saw beautiful coastline, rolling hills, farmland, and lots of small towns along the way. We even got chased down a hill by a gigantic sheep!

We stopped in Thames and Coromandel before taking the 309 road, a one-lane gravel shortcut, to Hahei. On the way we came across two adorable hedgehogs and a possum, all of whom I was tempted to bring along with us.

We stayed in a cute B&B in Hahei and went to Hot Water Beach in the morning. As the name implies, there is hot water beneath the surface of the sand. During low tide you can dig pools to make your own hot tub. Luckily for us someone had already dug and deserted a perfect tub, so we took it over and enjoyed a bath before heading south for Tauranga.

After stops in Whangamata and Katikati, we arrived in Tauranga with enough time to go hiking to the Kaite Falls and drive through more pastoral farmland before dark. The next morning we hiked around Mount Manganui where we saw adorable baby birds and lots of sea creatures in the tide pools.

Back on the road, we headed for the geothermal epicenter of Rotorua. We stayed at a B&B in nearby Ngongotaha, and headed straight for the Kiwi Encounter as soon as our bags were down. We immediately fell in love with the adorable endangered birds, and were able to see some one and two-day old kiwis in the nursery.

We made our way through Rotorua, exploring the hot geothermal pools and boiling mud ponds as well as some beautiful parks and a small zoo where we were able to pet baby lions. My list of animals I wanted to take home with me was growing steadily.

Our next stop was Napier. We visited three wineries in the Hawkes Bay area for a little wine tasting before checking into our hotel downtown. Napier is known for its great Art Deco architecture, so we walked around the city and hit up the aquarium, where they randomly had more kiwis.

From Napier we drove up to Tongariro National Park, the site where much of the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed. We took a great hike up to the Taranaki Falls, soaking up the scenery and the great views of ‘Mordor.’ The next morning we stopped for another amazing hike in Ohinetonga before driving to Waitomo to see the glowworm caves.

Waitomo was a great stopping point on our way back up to Auckland. The caves were beautiful and the glowworms fun to see in the dark (in the light they’re rather creepy-looking). We stayed in a B&B with great views of the surrounding area and found a great restaurant nearby where we feasted on roasted vegetables and the famous New Zealand Pavlova for dessert.

Our final day in New Zealand was spent in Auckland. Unfortunately it was raining, but we made the best of the weather and spent time exploring bookstores and eating great seafood (all this happened after we stopped at two different Dunkin’ Donuts locations so that my boyfriend could get his beloved iced coffee. Alas, they don’t seem to carry ice at Dunkin’ Donuts in New Zealand, so he settled for a raspberry jelly-filled doughnut instead).

We waved good-bye to New Zealand with heavy hearts yesterday morning and flew to Hong Kong. Sadly, some genius on the flight before ours had flushed a bag down the toilet so our flight to Hong Kong was delayed for an hour and a half and we missed our connection to Tokyo. More on that later…

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