I am going to risk sounding cliché by saying that becoming SWISSGEAR’s 2018 Travel Ambassadors has been life-changing. Yes, quitting our jobs to travel the world in January 2017 was our first leap of faith. When we returned home for the holidays 27 countries later, filled with unparalleled memories, new friends across the globe, and a greater understanding of the world around us – I knew our journey wasn’t over. But my nearly depleted savings account begged to differ. I was begrudgingly in the middle of my job search (with the motivation to save up for future travels) when I got an email from SWISSGEAR stating that Matt and I had been chosen (out of 19,000 entrants!!) to be their Travel Ambassadors! To me, this was the green light to continue to chase after my dreams and the validation I needed to let me know I had chosen the right path.
When it was time to plan our first big adventure as SWISSGEAR Travel Ambassadors, the destination was entirely up to us. We knew we wanted to go somewhere we had never been but always wanted to go! In all our travels, our favorite way to get around has been with our own set of wheels, whether it was our own motorbike in Asia or a rental car in Europe, but we had never experienced the phenomenon of “van life.”
With some of the most scenic drives in the world, from majestic mountains to beautiful beaches, along brilliant blue lakes, through rolling green hills and lush forests, New Zealand made for the perfect destination, especially with a camper van. New Zealand’s North Island would be our first destination, boasting the largest Polynesian city in the world, famous coastal coves, geothermal wonders, waterfalls, glowworm caves and more.
Living the SWISSGEAR Life.
Once SWISSGEAR booked our flights and reserved our camper van, SWISSGEAR asked what we would need to bring to New Zealand and let us create an extensive wish list. They recommended a few of their most popular products and we had fun scouring SWISSGEAR.com for our favorite travel pieces, feeling almost greedy with all our selections. We added luggage sets, small & large travel backpacks, dopp kits, packing cubes, wallets, watches, belts, you name it. After hearing back, there was one problem with our list – we didn’t ask for enough! Ha! They would be sending us even more SWISSGEAR!
Four gigantic boxes appeared at our doorstep, and we opened them up to find our suitcase sets. I had mixed and matched the SWISSGEAR 7272 Energie Hardside Spinners 28” in pink and 19” with USB in gold. Matt selected the SWISSGEAR 6572 Hardside Spinners 27” and 19” in black. Each suitcase was packed full of more SWISSGEAR to unwrap. We were so giddy, we felt like little kids on Christmas morning, opening all of our shiny, new presents. We had never owned hard side luggage before and were pleasantly surprised to find how the main compartments were split into two larger sections, each featuring smaller compartments secured by zippers, buckled straps, or mesh and cinched pockets for easy organization.
To reach New Zealand, we took a short flight from Seattle to San Francisco and then a lengthy red-eye to Auckland, New Zealand. We slept soundly on our red-eye flights, which we give major credit to SWISSGEAR.
During our trip around the world, we had always eyed other travelers, envious of their neck pillows, knowing we didn’t have the space or budget to spare on such a travel luxury. After using the SWISSGEAR Memory Foam Pillows, I don’t know how we would ever travel without them! They are a step above the rest with memory foam that contours to your neck and head. We were tucked in with our SWISSGEAR Travel Blankets, which were so soft and kept us warm despite the airplane’s cool temperatures. And our SWISSGEAR Eye Shades & Earplugs let us sleep undisturbed.
Exploring the “City of Sails”.
Home to 1.5 million people, Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest city. We landed in Auckland as the sun rose and immediately got up close and personal with the city’s most recognizable landmark, the Sky Tower. Visible from the balcony of our Airbnb, the Sky Tower soars 1,076 feet in the air, can be seen from all points in Auckland (so make sure to look skyward while exploring this unique city), and boasts viewing decks, restaurants, and for the more adventurous traveler, bungee jumping.
We strolled down Queen Street with our backpack bags, which is known for its restaurants and shops, before heading to Albert Park. We admired the colorful flower beds and giant ombu trees with their endless branches and roots. Eying the intricate University of Auckland clock tower, Matt double checked that his SWISSGEAR Legacy Watch was set to the local time (19 hours ahead of home for us).
Ready to see where the nickname “City of Sails” came from, we headed to Waitemata Harbor, one of the two harbors situated around Auckland. The harbor was buzzing with activity with a docked cruise ship and several ferries whizzing in and out. We sat and soaked up the sun on the pier by a former lighthouse turned art installation, listening to a local’s boom box playing Maori music while watching fishermen lining the harbor’s edge reeling in their catches.
When it was time to cool off, we couldn’t think of a better way than with New Zealand’s most famous ice cream from Giapo. With lines out the door, we knew we had found the right place. We had been invited for a tour and were welcomed into the kitchen by the owners, Giapo Grazioli and his wife Annarosa. Giapo and Annarosa were originally from Italy and brought Italian gelato tradition to New Zealand, where they combine fresh, seasonal New Zealand ingredients with new technology and ingenuity to innovate the world of ice cream. The cones are edible artwork, brought to life from Giapo’s imagination by molds that are designed and printed with a 3D printer in the studio above the shop.
While we observed the mold and chocolate making process, Annarosa brought us their famous colossal squid cone with tentacles and a squid head made entirely of chocolate, in addition to deep friend Maori bread and “hot chips in a cone,” which mimics French fries in an ice cream cone. Giapo explained the science behind how he prepares the chips so they retain the perfect consistency without getting soggy in a specially designed cone with ice cream. Matt and I both loved the salty and sweet combination of the fries in caramel gelato.
Cruising to the coast and soaking up the sea breeze.
After a day of exploring the city, it was time to pick up our campervan and head to the coast! The first destination on our list was the famous Cathedral Cove. Located in the Coromandel Peninsula a few hours from Auckland, Cathedral Cove is a giant natural archway that divides two secluded sandy coves, each with their own unique and impressive rock formations offshore. The cove can only be reached by foot or boat, so be sure to wear walking shoes if you don’t book a boat tour.
We weren’t expecting the long walk, so we ended up enjoying extra time relaxing on the beach and taking in the breathtaking views before making the trek back to our van.
We worked up an appetite from our long trek so we treated ourselves to fresh caught fish & chips in the coastal village of Hahei, home to Cathedral Cove. We loved the local fish, Hoki – not to be confused with hokey pokey, which is honeycomb toffee, and is commonly mixed in New Zealand desserts and snacks. Hokey Pokey is also a popular ice cream flavor, where the honeycomb crunch is mixed into vanilla ice cream (we first tried Hokey Pokey at Giapo, inside the fried Maori bread).
We headed further south to the city of Tauranga where we parked our van at the base of Mount Manaugi, in preparation to hike to the peak for sunrise. That evening, with our gorgeous beach front spot, we were treated to a sky full of stars from the comfort of our van. This was the first opportunity we had to experience New Zealand’s lustrous southern hemisphere constellations.
As the twinkling sky gave way to the dawn of a new day, we hiked to the top of Mount Maunanaugi just in time to watch as the bright pink sun emerged from the ocean, painting the clouds and illuminating the earth with a golden glow.
Admiring New Zealand’s natural wonders.
Leaving the coast behind, we headed inland to explore more of New Zealand’s natural wonders. Our first stop was in Rotorua to visit New Zealand’s most colorful and diverse geothermal wonderland, Wai-O-Tapu. Within Wai-O-Tapu, the Lady Knox geyser erupts promptly at 10:15 a.m. everyday. Be warned that while the colorful pools are visually appealing, they can be considerably less friendly on your nose, as some of these natural wonders fill the air with strong, unpleasant odors. Our favorite part of the park was Devil’s Bath, with its fluorescent green pool that appears to be consumed with slime. As we explored further within Wai-O-Tapu, our SWISSGEAR 1651 City Pack ensured that we had snacks and water as well as our camera equipment to capture the majestic environment and film the natural pools bubbling and steaming in action. Don’t be fooled by its name, the City Pack gets the job done in nature as well! We were pleasantly surprised by how much this sturdy pack can hold.
Chasing waterfalls was next on our itinerary. We visited Okere Falls in Rotorua, which is well-known for its white water rafting. After that, we made our way to the brilliantly blue Huka falls in Taupo, where we spent the night in town in our campervan. We saved the most impressive waterfall on the North Island of New Zealand for last; Marokopa Falls. We had the supreme privilege of viewing this natural wonder in complete solitude on what was our last day on the North Island. When we arrived to an empty parking lot early in the morning, I took a few photos of the lush green scenery on the road and then ran to catch up with Matt. The path led downward and my legs kept running past him and further, I felt the thrill of running into the unknown, alone in the forest. My excitement grew as I began to hear the roar of the falls. The path cleared and the view of Marokopa Falls took my breath away. The sky was blue overhead but the falls were moving ferociously, misting me all the way back on the platform. I turned around to see Matt behind me (guess he decided to make a run for it too), equally amazed by Mother Nature’s grandeur.
In an effort to glean as much adventure as we could from our days on the North Island, one of our final explorations was at the Waitomo glowworm caves. New Zealand is the only locale in the world that claims this fascinating species.
After embarking on a walking tour through the cave, we then hopped onto a boat where we observed thousands of tiny glowworms as they radiated their luminescence like stars in the night sky. We weren’t able to capture the experience as no photos are allowed inside Waitomo cave to preserve the species, but the experience was truly incredible.
We were absolutely blown away by the beauty and splendor of the North Island, but had been told by Kiwis and tourists alike to just wait until we arrived on the South Island…the adventures would be even more awe-inspiring. Stay tuned to follow our South Island adventures in New Zealand next!
Stay tuned to follow our South Island adventures in New Zealand next!
New Zealand is a breathtaking country where countless adventures await.We are so grateful SWISSGEAR gave us the opportunity to explore New Zealand and hope to return one day.
We can’t wait for our next exciting adventure, follow along to see where we are headed next with SWISSGEAR!