New Zealand's North Island is easily the most underrated place I've ever been. Tour books, DOC advertisements, and locals all tell you that everything worth seeing is in the south. They say the North Island is full of sheep, farmers, and Auckland. Down south, the hills are bigger, the roads are emptier, and there are more people shouting at you to go Bungy jumping. Thanks to all the hype, lots of southern towns have a hyper-developed tourist infrastructure. Buildings and street signs are Aspen-style rustic-plastic.
The towns up north (besides the cities) are tiny and dingy; the only people there during the off-season are locals and the occasional German traveler. But the scenery is on par with anything in the south.
On my first day, I took a bus tour from Paihia up to Cape Reinga, NZ's northernmost point - where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea collide. It was cold and rainy, the drive took 11 hours, and I hate bus tours. Still, our driver tried his best to make it bearable, and I got some nice moody lighthouse photos.
Getting to Raglan the next day was a relief.
I went surfing, drank some coffee, and hung out on the beach with a puppy. At night I slept at the Raglan Backpackers, one of the nicest hostels I've seen yet in NZ (free surf lessons, a hot tub, pizza night, and weekly massage classes? It doesn't get better than that). I could've easily stayed in Ragland for a week, but my bus ticket called me over to the Coromandel.
In Coromandel Town, I met some Germans who'd used their working-holiday visas to pack Kiwi fruit in Tauranga. They were a little cracked from staring at fruit for two months, but they were great company. I invited myself to drive around the Coromandel Peninsula with them. The hairpin turns on the one-lane gravel roads were terrifying, but the scenery was breathtaking.
I spent my last day on the bus back to Wellington, flipping through the hundreds of pictures I'd taken over the week and wondering why I didn't take this trip earlier.
Now I've got just two and a half more weeks left in New Zealand... sigh.