Dates: 20th-27th January.
We’re onto our third country of the trip already and the one I’ve been most excited for. We have six weeks ahead of us in beautiful NEW ZEALAND!
Travelling here from Fiji wasn’t particularly drama free – our flight was grounded for ‘technical difficulties’ and we had a four hour delay… but we’e travelling for six months, we cant expect every flight to run smoothly…?!
Post-delay, we arrived into Auckland early evening and checked into Nomads hostel where we collected our bed hopper passes. After a short wander around the city we dined on some New Zealand blue lip mussels which were delicious. We continued our night with some travel ‘life admin’ (I’m talking washing, planning, shopping etc) and had an early-ish night in a dorm that we shared with 6 others… it wasn’t the best accommodation we’ve had due to a particular roomie who insisted on sleeping on the floor and begged me to open the curtain because he claimed he was suffocating (I didn’t give in) but all in all it was fine for the short period of time we were there.
FYI: we pre paid for a bed hopper pass which gives us 45 (+ 5 free) nights in Nomads and Base hostels at a reduced price. These hostels are most commonly used by the Kiwi Experience so they’re definitely worth paying for up front!
The next day we were up early and on our first leg of the Kiwi Experience. We purchased the ‘full kit and caboodle’ package which means we travel around all of the North and South islands of New Zealand.
The Bay of Islands
4 and a half hours later we arrived at our first destination – The Bay of Islands, which is made up of 144 islands at the northern most point of New Zealand. On the drive up we got to take in all the beautiful countryside, had a stop at a waterfall and gained lots of information from our Kiwi bus driver – it went by in a flash!
We stayed in the small seaside town of Paihia for two nights which has a beautiful harbour and beach. Here we spent our afternoon relaxing in the sun— Don’t worry, I have been warned plenty of times about the hole in the o zone layer above New Zealand, together with the recurring sunburn I keep inflicting on myself, I have applied multiple layers of factor 30 sun cream! I should be ok for the rest of the trip… (and I was!)
Later on we enjoyed a BBQ with our Kiwi bus group and played the ‘inappropriate’ bingo which the hostel, Pipi Patch, hosted. It got quite boozy with quite a few shots and it ended pretty late, but it was a lot of fun.
The next day, after only a few hours sleep, we were up very early to go on a day trip to Cape Reinga, the very top of the North island— it was quite a journey! On route, we stopped at the Puketi Kauri forest where we had a short walk around an elevated walkway to see some very old trees and the native bush. We also stopped at the giant sand dunes where we climbed to the top to body surf down, it was quite the climb and many of us could only go one time!
Next stop was the highlight of the trip— Cape Reinga. The views from this region were spectacular and the area seemed pretty untouched. The lighthouse was surrounded by panoramic blue skies and sea and looks over the point where the Tasman sea and the Pacific Ocean meet— its very scenic. On our way back to Paihia we cruised along the sands at 90 mile beach (which isn’t actually 90 miles long) and had a photo stop and a chance to dip our feet in the freezing (!!!) Pacific Ocean. We then made our final stop at a little fishing town for fish and chips, it was a great way to end the day.
On our last day of our Paihia stop we went on a dolphin cruise which took us around the Bay of Islands and all the way to the landmark hole in the rock, learning the history of the area and in search of some sea life. Unfortunately we did not have much luck here and saw no dolphins or whales, it was still a good trip and we were offered to go again for free but as we were leaving in the afternoon we could not take up this opportunity. That afternoon we headed back to Auckland for a stopover before we headed on the next leg of our Kiwi Experience.
Hot Water Beach
Our next destination was Hot Water Beach which is located in the beautiful Coromandel on the East coast of New Zealand. The beach gets its name from the underground hot springs that filter up and bubble through the sand, if you dig down you can make your own hot water pool— which makes the beach extremely popular!
We got there pretty late in the day so instead of digging we thought we might as well take advantage of the pools that were already there and we dotted about between a few pools testing out the temperatures, some of them were pretty hot!
Before we got to Hot Water Beach we were dropped off by Cathedral Cove which is only accessible by foot or boat and it is truly stunning. We took the walking option as it was free! It was an easy path to walk along but as we walked along the hilltops we were going up and down and up and down and trust me we got a sweat on but it was totally worth it! When you get to the bottom you are blown away by the sight in front of you, the cove outlines the beautiful beach and turquoise sea that lays before and after it. We managed to get some good pics so you can see what I’m talking about. The afternoon went too quickly here and we were sad to leave so soon— make sure you visit, it is a must!
We stayed at the Hot Water Beach campsite which was really pleasant and we shared a dorm with some lovely girls, we all cooked dinner and had a few drinks together and then got tucked up into bed as we had another early start.
Bags packed and on the bus we were on our way to Waitomo which is famous for the glow worms and scenic natural attractions above and below the ground. Zoe and I decided to not spend our money on the activities here as we have prioritised trips elsewhere in New Zealand.
A top tip from me if you do the Kiwi Experience is to plan the activities you’d like to do before you start your travels and book them once you’re on the bus as they can usually get you the best price. The bus driver will send round a clipboard where you can sign up to take part in the activities at each location. It is so tempting to sign up for every activity but if we did our sixth month budget would be blown in New Zealand! It is so important to avoid impulse spending.
On route the Kiwi bus driver will usually stop for a short walk and this time we stopped to see the Karangahake Gorge which takes you through an old gold mine and it’s tunnels. It was pretty interesting to learn about the area’s rich gold-mining history.
Once we arrived, we discovered that Waitomo is a fairly quiet town (as is most of New Zealand that we’ve visited so far) but there was a pleasant walk near the hostel and a little park which Zoe and I wandered round to occupy ourselves.
We moved on the next day to Rotarua (thankfully a two night stopover here, we have been moving on pretty frequently). On our way we were excited to stop at Hobbiton which is the movie set for Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit films. We enjoyed a guided tour where we strolled around The Shire which was idyllic with the little Hobbit-hole houses and the beautiful gardens. Each of the Hobbit-holes are built to a different size so that when filming they were able to create an illusion which made the hobbits look short and Bilbo Baggins look tall! Another fun fact—in the film sequence where Gandalf hits his head as he walks into the Hobbit hole, this was actually unintentional but they kept it in as it worked so well with the scene! I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Hobbiton and I think it is a must for any movie fan when visiting NZ.
After this we travelled the last hour to Rotarua and checked into our hostel. In the evening we visited the Tamaki Maori Village where you’re able to experience the history and culture that comes from the New Zealand ancestors.
From the moment we joined the group on our bus the driver began talking about the ancient traditions of the warriors and the tribes. He explained that chiefs are traditionally men and selected one of the men on our bus to act as our chief to the Weka tribe we had become. When disembarking we were lead to the entrance to the Tamaki Maori Village and each chief from the tribes had to engage in the traditional ritual with the chief of the village. It was really important for us to keep a straight face, as we had been warned not to laugh or smile as this would be regarded as being disrespectful. One woman from our tribe clearly had no idea what was about to happen and as the warriors came to warn and greet our chiefs doing the Hakka and making loud noises, she literally screamed and cowered! We weren’t allowed to laugh of course so I was covering my face and squeezing my cheeks to stop a snort from escaping! I have laughed a lot about it since.
The night continued with more interactive insights into the rituals, history and culture of the Tamaki Maori tribe and we were entertained with a performance of song and dance which included a great show of the Hakka.
The night ended perfectly with an entertaining journey back to our hostel. Our bus driver had us all singing songs from the international rugby teams he thought may have a good chance at this years World Cup— although he made it clear that the all blacks would, of course, win. They’re all pretty rugby mad in the Tamaki Mouri Village!
Our last day in Rotarua was spent walking around the Rotarua lake which is huge (79.8km squared) plus visiting the parks which had natural hot springs. There were areas we could dip our feet into and feel the natural hot water. It’s great having these hot springs but the sulphur that lingers round the town literally stinks of egg— especially not great when it wafts into our hostel rooms at night time!
We’ve had such a great first week in New Zealand and the highlights would definitely be visiting Hobbiton and the Maori tribe village. I’m looking forward to our last week on the North island before we get the ferry across to the South Island.
Thanks for reading,