Oh my goodness!!!!! I can’t believe we’re moving on to our last country in our amazing RTW trip! Five months has gone so fast, and although we have loved NZ and wish we could stay longer, we are so excited to be flying to the land of Oz! It was a long day waiting for our flight, and after an hour and a half wait on the runway for our plane to sort out a mechanical fault, we were up and away. We arrived very tired at Cairns airport and smelling slightly of sick, as the guy sitting next to us on the plane had thrown up everywhere, but we grabbed a cab and reached our hostel just after midnight, crashing immediately into our bunks and falling into blissful blackout til the morning.
And with our final intercity bus trip, we ended our time in New Zealand in Auckland!!!!
However, our first day staying in Auckland was not actually spent there, but in Waitomo, at the glowworm caves!!!! It was a three hour bus ride to the caves, where we had a 45 minute guided tour of the cave on foot, seeing stalactites, stalagmites and columns formed by hundreds of years of dripping water. Then we ventured into another part of the cave which had a small jetty, in complete darkness, and got into small rowing boats. Our guide led the boat through the cave by pulling on a network of overhead cables, and as we went under an arch the most magical sight greeted us: glowworms. Thousands of glowworms hung from the ceiling, their threads lit up light blue at the ends to attract insects. It looks like the most beautiful night sky full of stars in another galaxy, and the sound of gently dripping water and lapping against the side of the boat helps makes the whole experience almost hypnotic, other-worldly. Photograpy was not allowed in the cave for obvious reasons (try telling the French guy in our tour group that) so no pictures for the blog, but this is from the tour company’s website, just to give you an idea:
After re-emerging above ground and into daylight, we got a bus back to Auckland, tucking into our packed lunch on the way. Back in the city, we headed straight to the famous sky tower, the iconic needle-shaped sky scraper that overlooks the whole of Auckland. We were worried that the view may be less than great as it was raining on and off all day, but as we reached the top deck, we couldn’t have wished for a better one:
Rain on one side of the city, sunshine on the other, creating a huge, bright rainbow arched over the whole city. It was the perfect view, and lasted for just a few minutes as we circled the tower. We also stopped for a coffee and ice cream at the sky high cafe before heading back down to ground level. It was a chilled evening and early night, ready for the next day’s sightseeing.
After a relaxed morning we strolled through town, eventually reaching the docks and harbour side. We ate sandwiches at the end of the pier and sheltered from a temporary shower, then walked back towards the shopping district. It was a really vibrant and cool few streets, with plenty of high street shops, restaurants and cafes frequented by tourists and city workers alike.
We spent part of the afternoon purchasing much-needed clothing replacements and coffee, before going back to the hostel to cook an early meal. Then it was back out to watch the rugby, a tense match between the Lions and Auckland Blues. The Lions lost, but our entertainment was found in the woman sat behind us at the pub, who had the dirtiest mouth, and I suspect the most-shrivelled liver, in the whole of Auckland. The city had been full of rugby supporters during the day, but as we walked home late that night, it felt oddly deserted and peaceful. We did not stay out to see the fans’ return, local or otherwise.
When choosing where to go next following Rotorua, we had hoped to catch a bus straight to the Coromandel Peninsula, only a 4/5hr drive north. However, the only bus our company offered between the two areas required leaving Rotorua at 3am, reaching Auckland (not the way to CP) early morning and then catching another bus to the east coast. Having had enough of difficult bus journeys, we looked at alternatives and found the town of Tauranga roughly halfway between Rotorua and Coromandel. A stroke of luck meant I found a beautiful, cosy boutique hotel in the town centre for almost half its usual cost on Booking.com and we decided to have a mini luxury break for a day there. We left Rotorua early evening and arrived not long after in Tauranga. The hotel was stunning, a refurbished and renovated 19th century house by the bay in a quiet neighbourhood, which provided us with a electrically heated Queensize bed and little ensuite.
We slept extremely well that night and woke to a fantastic breakfast spread in the dining room by the family who runs it. We spent the morning dozing in our room and lazily running through a few bits of admin, before taking a short walk through the town. One shop owner insisted we go to Mt Manganui, as she suggested it was the most beautiful part of Manganui, but for one day we were not tourists, we were on a quiet, happy break. Perhaps another time! So we circled back to the hotel and spent the afternoon reading books and having tea and biscuits in the cosy sitting room.
In the evening we went to the local thai restaurant and reminisced about all the delicious thai food we missed so much from our first month travelling, which seems so long ago now! Another heavenly night in our huge, soft bed and we were up early again to catch our next bus to the Coromandel peninsula!!!
We chose Whitianga as our base town to explore this area, a quaint and very friendly town by the sea which connects to two famous places for both tourists and locals: Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. On our first full day, however, both feeling a little drained for some reason, we stocked up on food, napped, and played pool on the hostel’s pool table. The next day, we were ready to see the beach and cove!
We had been told by our bus driver, hostel owner and a local shop keeper that the best way to visit these places was to scrap the shuttle and rental car idea and just to hitchhike, as it saved a lot of money and you were guaranteed to be picked up by the very friendly locals – everyone round here did it and it was so easy. So, with low tide ending at Hot Water Beach at 10am, we left the hostel at 7:30am to catch the ferry over and start hitchhiking. On the other side we stuck our thumbs out and began walking along the road side, lifting our arms whenever we heard a car coming. After an hour of walking and ten or so cars driving past, we thought maybe we were doing this hitchhiking thing wrong… but how else should we be doing it? After two hours of walking, we were worrying about how we looked – did we look dangerous, or smelly, and that’s why everyone just drove by? After three hours, we though maybe all locals had stayed inside for the bank holiday occurring that day and the tourists driving by us didn’t know the local tradition of picking up hikers. After four hours, I was fed up, and we had walked ourselves all the way to Hot Water Beach, sans lift. A couple finally stopped for us and drove us the last 3km to the beach, having seen us walking three hours previously as they drove the other way. We were grateful; I had blisters, Blake was hungry, and we had missed low tide by two hours, plonking ourselves on the sand at 12pm rather than 9am as we had hoped. We were too late to dig a hole in the sand and see it fill up with naturally hot water from underneath, but it was heaven to sit on the beach in the sun and watch the waves crash towards us, rather than still be trekking along roads and past fields.
After a short break I suggested we move on, in case no one picked us up again and we had to walk the two hours to Cathedral Cove. Blake insisted we stop for a newspaper of chips and an ice cream and I pretended we might see our hostel again before the end of the day. Walking once again back to the main road, and this time we were lucky! A couple stopped for us, and though not going in our direction, they drove us a short way to the intersection. Here, again, we were miraculously picked up after only a few hundred metres by another couple, who drove us all the way to Cathedral Cove – a drive of 15 minutes that would have taken us 1.5 hours otherwise to walk. I was giddy with gratitude, and torn between wondering why people would pick us up, and why they wouldn’t. I was also reevaluating my rehearsed speech to the hostel owner about “guaranteed” lifts in this area. Our third kind couple dropped us off and we hiked 45 minutes to the cove, following a coastal path up and down until some wooden steps led to a secluded beach and this wonderful consequence of wave erosion.
It was a bank holiday in NZ and lots of locals, as well as tourists, were making the most of this beautiful little beach with its waterfall and crashing waves. I finally relaxed and let myself sunbathe for a bit, as even if we had to walk all the way back to the ferry, maps.me promised it would only take four hours, and that was before the last ferry of the night.
Another 45 minute hike back to the top, and we began our walk/hitch-hike home. We walked for an hour, enjoying the attention of the cows – every herd we had passed today had stared at the two weirdos walking along the road and followed us for as long as they could. After about an hour of no luck hailing a car, another lovely couple stopped for us, and actually went out of their way to drop us off at the ferry landing, a 20 minute drive. It was great getting to talk to New Zealanders all four times we got a lift and I couldn’t believe their generosity and kindness in stopping to help two strangers. Because of them, we got back at 4pm, rather than 6:30pm (or even later), and even though I don’t ever think I will hitchhike again, I am so glad I got to try it and see just how kind people can be. Out of over 100 cars that passed us, 4 stopped, so it may not have been extremely successful (or as easy as we were lead to believe), but it was great fun and I have huge respect for anyone either hitching or picking up hikers. For the next two days we haven’t been able to walk properly without applying liberal amounts of tigerbalm all over our legs, but we have a great story to tell and a license to be lazy for a few more days!
Another bus, another town! We reached Rotorua mid afternoon and spent our first half day exploring and planning our next few days. We tried the local specialties in alcohol, notably a craft beer and peach cider,(both delicious), but not until we had charged into Nandos to prevent further withdrawal symptons suffered over the last four months. We also sampled the Friday nightlife, which more closely resembled a quiet Tuesday after work.
The next day we went window shopping down the high street and to the natural hot springs and mud pools on the outskirts of town. Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity, which is really interesting, but also has an unfortunate side-effect of making the whole town occasionally smell like rotting eggs (this is not an exaggeration). This did not deter us from wandering amongst the vapours and watching the alternatively clear waters and gloopy mud bubbling in their pits.
That evening we couldn’t resist trying one of the fantastic looking restaurants on Eat Streat, having tried to confine ourselves to cheap, hostel-cooked meals for 2.5 weeks now. Great decision. I had the best curry of my life, in all seriousness, and we had a kind of spiritual experience during the whole meal. Go to Indian Star, Eat Streat if ever you are in Rotorua, it will be a tremendous life decision for you.
The next morning we got a shuttle bus to Wai O Tapu, an active geothermal area half hour from Rotorua. There are three walks to do round the park, taking you past various pits and hot springs bubbling with sulphuric water and mud. We saw the Artist’s Pallette…
Halfway through the morning we also watched the Lady Knoc Geyser erupt; with a natural eruption ever 2-3 days, for the sake of visitors it is helped along a few times a day with a box of soap, which breaks the surface tension between the upper and lower vault.
Returning to Rotorua, we spent the afternoon doing our research on The Hobbit films in preparation for the next day, and went to a local pub quiz in which we came a surprising last.
At last, the big day came, and having psyched ourselves up with a run along the bay we made our way to the Hobbiton movie set. An hour or so on the bus and we reached the Alexander farm, with a short video and anecdotes from the driver describing how Peter Jackson and his team came to find their perfect physical manifestation of Tolkien’s Shire. It was, honestly, stunning. I cannot admit to being a die hard LOTR or Hobbit fan, but the excitement of being somewhere from a world famous film collection and to see the detail that goes into film making is too much to describe.
Our guide took us through the whole village of Hobbiton, describing the process of finding, building and maintaining the set, pointing out how ridiculously meticulous yet important Jackson’s attention to detail was.
On our last full day in Rotorua we spent a morning at the Polynesian spa, built around and using the town’s natural hot springs and supposedly therapeutic waters. Tourists have been visitng Rotorua to use the hot springs as spa facilities since the 1800s, and it was fun to try out all the different pools and read about the original Priest pools, named after Father Mahoney, whose athiritis was supposedly cured after a soak in the spring.
Then that evening we visited the Mitai Maori village for an introduction to traditional Maori culture and a Hangi feast. There were talks about various aspects of old and modern Maori life such as food preparation, shelter, and tattoos; then a demonstration on the river of their tribal canoe, followed by a show of their tribal dances, songs and Haka; then the fantastic Hangi feast prepared for us as a mix of old and new village food. The night ended with a walk through the forest, our guide pointing out edible, useful and medicinal plants to us and helping us spot glow worms on the banks of the path. It was a really well-presented exhibit of Maori spirituality and culture, highly recommend and really not as gimmicky as I feared.
A long day awaited on our trip from Nelson, including a ferry crossing along the Cook Strait. A few hiccups later, including the bus breaking down and standing out in the cold for half an hour, meant we arrived in Wellington in the early evening. A short uphill trek with our backpacks and we arrived at our accommodation, The Dwellington, which we had been recommended all the way back in Queenstown. The place lived up to expectations with a nice homely feel (and heating in our room!).
On our first day of two, after our free breakfast, we went to explore the town. We started our day with a walk along the waterfront, taking in the sights and gawking at the first high-rise buildings we had seen in a long time.
Wellington is one of those places that clearly doesn’t rely on tourism but is a rather large self-sufficient city. After a few kilometres of walking past very inviting cafés we decided to look for a spot to eat. We were told the place to look was near Cuba Street, the main food and shopping area. We decided a Japanese would be best.
One of the most highly suggested things to do in Wellington is to have freshly roasted coffee. Apparently, Wellington is the 8th best coffee location in the world. So, with that in the back of my mind I thought a trip to the museum (Te Papa) and a coffee to end the day would do nicely!
We looped round Cuba Street and onto Leeds Street, which played host to Hannah’s laneway – beautiful little street that played host to a shop called the Chocolate Factory, so naturally we went in to see what we could find!
With a promise to Hannah that we would return, we left the Chocolate Factory empty-handed and made our way to The Museum of New Zealand: Te Papa. The exhibits were fascinating and this, I think, is where we learnt the most about the history of NZ, including its natural history, the traditions and lifestyle of Moari settlers, the European colonisation, and its war history too. We spent several hours roaming the many exhibits, and only left at 5pm as the museum was about to close.
Time for that coffee! However, cafés in Wellington shut at 5pm. We found this very bizarre, being as cafés back home can stay open to late hours and Wellington being a capital city, however it was later explained to us that the locals would rather go for a beer – which we agreed did make sense. Instead, I kept true to my promise and took Hannah back to the Chocolate Factory, as they make their hot chocolate fresh with bars of 70% cocao chocolate made in-house. It was delicious.
Day 2! Another great day of adventure! To start with we made good use of the hostel’s facilities by playing tennis on their courts for a good 2 hours. It’s been a while since either of us have played tennis so needless to say our John McEnroe impressions were better than our serves but nonetheless we had a lot of fun and some much needed fitness.
After our morning of pretending to be at Wimbledon, we booked our tour to Weta Studios! We were lucky as we almost missed the booking deadline, yet managed to get late afternoon tickets after the bus strike (the world didn’t want to help us out today). After fish and chips (ah, it was so goood) we caught a bus to Weta Studios in the Wellington suburbs. We looked around the shop and then were taken around the workshop by one of the artists who specialises in silicone props.
Everything in the tour was very well explained due to this guy’s extensive hands-on knowledge. There were props of every sort, from guns, faces, hands, and wigs to full size cars, gorillas, and even power ranger masks. Considering a lot of work had been done for Lord of the Rings and District 9 (alien film) a lot of the props were large and intimidating, although what was scariest (or most impressive) was the accuracy and detail.
The tour wasn’t long but we got to play with a load of props including guns from District 9 and swords from The Hobbit. The skill that went into everything blew us away and it won’t be something we’ll forget in a hurry.
Another early morning began our second day of travel to Nelson, taking us through some breathtaking mountainous terrain and arriving mid afternoon. We took a trip to the supermarket, made dinner and had a film night in our fancy private double bed room with decent free wifi. We treated ourselves to a long lie in before heading out for breakfast, which proved hard to find; Nelson pretty much shuts down in off season, and on Sunday hardly anything was open to grab a coffee from. We perservered until we found one cafe open, and then made our way downtown to the Queens Gardens.
It is a really lovely park to walk around, and we spent an hour enjoying the lake, sculpture and japanese gardens and watching the local orienteering competition taking place. Then we walked back up to the Cathedral, a rather odd and imposing structure in the centre of town that overlooked a small green area. After a quick shower and chill back at the hostel, we decided on a local activity: unfortunately, the wine tours offered were a little pricey for us, so instead we found a wine bar and made our own little ‘tour’ of NZ wines and craft beers. Four hours of sitting by a fire, with three delicious wines, a local beer, and the best arancini outside of Italy, made our hearts and cheeks glow rosy and was a great way to spend our time in Nelson. We mistakenly tried to eat dinner after returning to the hostel and were forced to recline in bed for hours watching Netflix, nursing cloudy heads and over-full stomachs.
An early morning start again greeted us as we started a day trip to the Abel Tasman national park. Once reaching the park by minibus ride we took a two hour boat ride up and down the coast, with the famous Split Apple rock, fur seal colony, and ‘cathedral’ arches pointed out to us by our guide and skipper. Halfway through our return down the coast, we were dropped off on Medlands beach and began a four hour walk along the coastal track. The views were amazing and our surroundings seemed to change every five minutes, from dense and humid forest to sparse vegetation to open tracks overlooking the bays and sea below. We walked the extra bits to South Head point, Swing Bridge and Cleopatra’s Pool, making it back just in time to catch the return ferry. After a quick meal back in town we warmed up in the hostel’s sauna (more of a smelly wardrobe) and tucked ourselves into bed in record time, ending a fun few days in Nelson and our time on NZ’s South Island.
It’s a three hour bus ride from Christchurch to Kaikoura and having left painfully early we arrived just before 10. We stayed in the lovely Albatross Inn, which felt very homely, apart from one hour in the day where the whole place was on lockdown for military-precision cleaning. We chilled on our first day, grabbing a book each from the shelf and snuggling under blankets close to the fire. It was freezing, as a short walk to the convenience store proved. Our first night the hostel hosted a pizza party, providing delicious homemade pizza and apple crumble and a great way to get to know other guests. Our beds here were really comfy so it was difficult getting up the next morning, early, even though we had a fantastic day ahead. At 8:30 we were down by the beach, kitting ourselves out in 10mm wetsuits for swimming with dolphins! Due to the rough weather heading in we were lucky enough to find a pod only 15 minutes from shore. After a quick scramble to get ready we jumped into the choppy water and stuck our snorkelled heads under the waves. Dolphins everywhere!!!
The freezing water took my breath away initially, and I never recovered before these amazing marine acrobats appeared and took what was left away as well. It was incredible to watch them sprint and twist through the water, swimming circles around our small group and darting past us so close you could have reached out and touched them if you had been fast enough. They were very playful and keen to show off, and we got terrific views of their swimming styles, colours of blue and grey on their skin, and unique scarring all over their bodies.
We were in the water for about 18 minutes before the dolphins disappeared and we hopped back onto the end of the boat. A quick motor along and we rejoined them in the water; I should note that all the time we were in the water we were told to sing or make noise to keep the dolphin’s interested and get their attention if we wanted to interact. It must have sounded hilarious to anyone on the boat – most chose to squeal or blow through their snorkel, I alternated between humming ‘Under the sea’ and ‘Beyond the sea’ (so original).
You could also try and keep up with turning to face them as they circled you as a form of play, but this may have contributed to my seasickness. Yep, due to the choppy waters both floating in the sea and retreating to the boat most of the group were sick by the third dive, and personally I’ve never felt worse at sea. However, this can’t detract from what was an incredible experience, we were so lucky to get to see so many and have them so close to watch and enjoy.
On our last day we spent the morning planning our onward travel, as the earthquake last November is still causing problems for much of this area’s infrastructure and the road north from Kaikoura remains closed. We found we had to go back south to Christchurch and take a bus from there the next day to Nelson. With buses and hostels booked, we walked into town to have a look around. It’s relatively small but with a great selection of cafes and views of the sea and mountains. We bought some baking ingredients from the supermarket and spent the afternoon making brownies (and eating them), which seemed the perfect thing to do when it’s cold outside and toasty inside.
On our last morning we went for a run to the nearby seal colony and enjoyed watching some Asian tourists desperately trying to get close to some very large, intimidating fur seals lounging on the rocks. It was a great road to enjoy the scenery in general and read a bit about the old fishing wharf and whaling industry. Then it was back on the bus to Christchurch, technically on our way to next stop Nelson!