It was a Tuesday in late May when I jumped on the Kiwi Experience bus to explore New Zealand's beautiful north island with a bunch of strangers; little did I know that I would probably know these people a little too well by the end of the 5 days...
Full of excitement and anticipation we left the city of Auckland towards our first destination on the tour - the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula. Upon arrival we stocked up on food and booze for the night, before beginning our first walk to Cathedral Cove. Now for those who have seen this stunning natural wonder you will know how beautiful this little beach is! For those who don't know, you must go! The Cove is only reachable by water or by a 30 minute walk (or run... which I was talked into on the way back). Kiwi Experience also offer a Kayak trip to Cathedral Cove which is meant to be AMAZING, but due to the bad weather the tour wasn't running on the day.
Having sprinted (jogged) back to the bus we were now on our way to Hot Water Beach, and the clue really is in the name... grab a spade and start digging until the hot water starts filling your little man made hot tub, be warned this water really is hot hot hot!
After a relatively chilled and well behaved night all round with a few games and beers, we were on to our next destination: Waitomo, which literally translates from Maori to Water Hole. The reason Waitomo is so popular is for the Glowworms that live in the caves. There is no where else like this place in New Zealand! Where else can you grab a tube a float through a cave system with a roof sparkling in worms above you?
Again due to the weather and high water levels our group could only participate in the Odyssey tour, an extreme dry climbing adventure on offer by the guys at The Black Water Rafting Company; now I'm not too great with tight spaces but I was assured the team would look after me and that they did – it was a challenging experience but it was so much fun making our way through the twists and turns of the Ruakuri Cave, sometimes at some pretty mind-blowing heights! Add in some zip lining and abseiling and you can only imagine the fun we had! Afterwards we finished up with some hot soups and bagels.
After being hosted by Curly at his self named bar the night before and with a couple of sore heads in the morning we were back on the road - first stop Hobbiton! With the group in some what of a playful mood we had a whistle-stop tour of the movie set which in my opinion really doesn't disappoint and provides some excellent photo opps.
Next stop was the Kiwi Encounter in Rotorua, which is New Zealand’s largest and most successful kiwi conservation centre, and we were lucky enough to see a Kiwi bird which are much bigger than I thought, up close and personal as it was receiving its medication from one of the Vets – it is always great to visit a place like this and you can see the passion in their work in helping to conserve New Zealand’s iconic bird.
This jam packed day was far from over as we made our way to Tamaki Maori Village, where we would be partaking in a cultural experience including the famous Hangi meal and then also getting the chance to stay over night in one of the Maraes (Maori for meeting house) and enjoy the onsite hot tubs!
The next day was a struggle for us all with plenty of wine provided for us the previous night, but being the eager individuals we were, we powered through to our next stop in Rotorua: Te Puia – to be honest much of this was a blur to me but I do remember our eggs being boiled in the thermally heated water and that they were delicious! Te Puia is a great cultural experience and home to the Pohutu Geyser. Read our Top 10 things to do in Rotorua here.
We now made our way to Taupo where we checked into the excellent BASE!!! No time to hang around though as we made our way to the Taupo Bungy site and most of us were lucky enough to either bungy or do the swing; I did the latter… my face in the video says it all! Next up was Barbary Sailing where we taken out on the huge Taupo lake (as big as Singapore don’t you know) to check out some Maori rock carvings and generally have a good ol' time and with the BYO option that we did! Read our Top 10 things to do in Taupo here.
We woke up the following morning and after scoffing a few bacon sandwiches, made our way to River Valley. The heavens opened which put a stop to our 2 hour walk in the National Park but the rain stopped briefly enough for us to enjoy a little stroll down to the waterfall made famous by a certain fishing Gollum. It is here that you can hike the infamous Tongariro Crossing (home of Mt Doom).
Back on the bus we were full speed ahead for River Valley where warmth and the comfiest beds I have experienced in a long time were in store and also a roast dinner with, wait for it… YORKSHIRE PUDS. Ok, if you’re not British or Irish you may not get the significance of this but believe me it was a big deal for a lot of us... especially those who have been away from home for a while! Food led to wine, which led to bed and then the new morning which meant our final hog back to Auckland.
Finally, we arrived back into the City of Sails on Sunday night as a family with stories to tell and some not to tell and no longer mere strangers on a Big Green Bus. A huge shout out and thanks to Kiwi Experience for the trip (especially Leo and Karen) and for Base Auckland for letting me slip off for the week and for all of the tour companies in between – it was an absolute blast!!