North –> South

Today was the day we left the North Island for the South Island. This involved a 3 hour ferry across the water between the two. I don’t know about you but I thought it would be a shorter journey than that!

We played cards for most of the journey to entertain ourselves. I decided to perk myself up with a latte, but Rhianna ordered a hot chocolate which came with marshmallows and I wish I’d ordered a mocha – the lady heard me say this to Rhianna and offered me a marshmallow and put some chocolate sauce in my drink too, what a legend.

Once safely back on dry land and back in the coach, we stopped off in Nelson to pick up some more travellers, and did another supermarket stop before continuing on to our destination – Kaiteri Lodge on the edge of Kaiteriteri National Park.

This was the SLOWEST check in experience of our whole trip. When we eventually got a room, we were lucky that we were in the same room as our mates and a guy called Stan. We headed straight to the busy kitchen to make a veggie chilli with the Harry’s, although they weren’t much help in the cooking! After dinner, James was able to plug his usb into the telly in the kitchen, so we were able to introduce the group to the brilliant film Hot Fuzz

No luck catching them swans then?

 

Here’s a pretty photo of the sky outside the Kaiteri Lodge:

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The world’s windiest city: Wellington

The road to Wellington delivered some winding roads and pretty views, with bright green rolling hills and sunset over the sea as we drove along the coast.

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We heard that there was a rugby match on that night in Wellington, so those of us that wanted to go, quickly checked into our hostel, dumped our bags and headed back out. Our bus driver Rhys very kindly offered to drop us as close as he could in the coach, so we piled back onto the coach and then walked over from the train station to the stadium. It was a great atmosphere as so many people were heading into the stadium.

Wellington’s own Hurricanes team were playing against the South African Stormers.  We all managed to successfully get tickets, buy a cider from the bar and pick up a Hurricanes flag before kick-off. Seeing a rugby match in New Zealand was definitely something ticked off my bucket list! The Hurricanes won too, so the locals were happy as well as us.

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The next day, we made the effort to get up and out relatively early, so a group of us headed out walking towards Mount Victoria, a great vantage point over the city. It was a lovely sunny day, rare in the Windy City according to the hostel receptionist. We walked up the steep streets and hill path, eventually reaching the top, all of us slightly sweaty and out of breath. But the 360 degree view was certainly worth it.

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After strolling back down the hill, we wandered along the waterfront, passing a very impressive fireman competition. They had 25kg worth of equipment and had to complete a course in the heat, which included dragging an 80kg dummy and running up and down stairs, all in 2 minutes! Again, there was a great friendly atomosphere. We all sat on a pub bench and had a drink in the sunshine on the harbourfront. Katie, Rhianna and I picked up Hawiian toasties for lunch (from a gelato shop, go figure) and we really oggled the ice cream as we were waiting – backpacker life, oops.

After our refreshment stop, we headed to the amazing Te Papa national museum. An especially moving exhibit was about the Gallapolli war in honour of ANZAC day. It included some incresible giant model figures that were so lifelike – even down to hairs on the man’s hands. It was so moving, and I found out a lot that I didn’t know about New Zealand and Australian involvement in the war.

They also had an exhibit on plate tectonice which included an earthquake room – pretty fitting for New Zealand.

After a good wander round the museum, we walked back to the hostel for our free evening meal – now that’s a decent hostel perk. We had veggie pasta bake, which was okay but fairly burnt so not the best, but it was a free meal nonetheless.

There was a street food market just around the corner so we headed there for dessert/ more dinner in the case of the boys. Kate and I had a delicious waffle – mine was ‘apple crumble’ and ice-cream, and hers was chocolate and banana.

The nine of us had planned a night on the town so we headed back to get ready and play some cars. The bar attached our hostel was shut(!) so we went another hostel bar which had $5 drinks. We stayed there for a couple of hours before moving on to another ‘trendy’ bar (Wellington had plenty of quirky bars to choose from). A great night was had by all.

Rafting in River Valley

Unfortunately we couldn’t stay longer in Taupo to attempt the Tongariro Crossing another day. Instead we were carrying on our journey to River Valley, so back on the bus we went, after the usual frantic packing and quickly eating breakfast routine of course.

We did manage to see some of the Tongariro National Park as we drove through it on our way out of Taupo to stop and visit the Taranaki Falls, which was great – except for the fact that it was pouring with rain…

Nevertheless, off we went on the walk across terrain that really reminded me of home. Seriously, I could have been walking in the Brecon Beacons, with the scrub, mounatins and rocky streams, but espeically with the rain!

The walk was around an hour and a half, so we were all completely soaked through by the end. We’d planned to have lunch in front of the falls, but it was raining to hard for that so we postponed our picnic until we were back on the bus in the dry. Without the rain, the walk would have been 10x more enjoyable…

But on we went to River Valley. Our accomodation was a secluded wooden lodge, surrounded by mountains and bright green grass. As we arrived, there was a roaring fire going. We stayed in one long bunk room which slept around 40 people with attresses all lined up next to each other. Minus the snoring of course, it was actually a lot of fun, and certainly something different!

That night we’d paid to have a roast dinner cooked for us, and it was so worth it! We devoured the roast beef, roasties, yorkshire puddings, sweet potato, pumpkin, cauliflower cheese and peas that was put infront of us, all doused with gravy of course. Like the roast we’d had in Rotorua, it tasted so good after all our simple hostel meals. After dinner we split into teams and played the Logo game and Cluedo (which Harry and I managed to win!)

 


The next morning we were up, dressed and ready to go white water rafting before 8am. We were all given a safety briefing before getting changed into all the gear. Unlike the black water rafting we’d done in Waitomo, we actually put on dry wet suits – so much easier! So we were all kitted out with thermals, wet suits and helmets, before getting a lift upstream to our starting point.

Split into groups of seven, the three of us grouped up with the other group of four we’d befriended, and met our hilarious guide Dan. Admittedly, I was a bit aprehensive about getting thrown into the water and loosing my glasses, but it was completely fine and I had so much fun!

Dan told us exaclty what to do and when to paddle forward and backwards, and even provided us with Whittakers chocolate along the way (NB: Whittakers is delicious!). As a group he made us laugh a lot which was awesome, especially as Jade and I were nervous about the rafting. We went down lots fo grade 5 rapids without anyone falling out so that was pretty awesome.

We were the first group back to our accomodation so we were also the first to have a nice, but very very quick, hot shower. We were jumping back on the coach that afternoon so there was just enough time to cook and woolf down some pasta before walking up the hill to meet the bus and be on our way to Wellington.

xo

T for Taupo and Tongariro Crossing

Arriving at the Base in Taupo, we checked in and somehow managed to get a 3 bed room to ourselves – result! It had an ensuite with an awesome power shower as well which was ideal. We settled in then headed for the hostel kitchen to make a quick lunch before going out to explore the town.

Through the Kiwi Experience we had signed up to trek the world-renowned Tongariro Crossing, an alpine crossing through New Zealand’s oldest national park. Of course, this meant a 4:30am start the next day. We had also been warned that it can get very cold due to the high altidude and winds. You’d have thought we had all the warm clothes we’d need by now but we bought some walking socks and gloves just in case anyway in preparation for the cold crossing.

The weather in the mountains had been bad for the few days before we got there, so it was touch and go whether we’d be able to set out. It was looking hopeful the night before, so we packed our bags the night before, set our alarms and had an early night.


Bleary-eyed, we got up and dressed, and headed down to the hostel lobby for 4:30am. We were waiting for a minibus to pick us up and drive the group to the starting point in the national park. We waited and waited. We waited until the hostel receptionist kindly rang through to the organisers, who then told us that the weather was still too bad in the mountains and therefore the trek was cancelled.

We were gutted, especially having heard all about the beautiful views along the hike as well as getting up so early! There was a group of about fifteen of us who were still keen to go for some type of walk, and we still had our sandwiches packed so we decided to go out to the other side of town for a walk as the sun rose where we had been told there are hot springs.

Lo and behold we did come across some hot springs so we got in our bathers and all had a dip in the hot water. It was a cold day but in the water I overheated surprisingly quickly so didn’t stay in too long.

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When we were all too hot and had subsequently dried off and wrapped ourselved back up in our layers, we set off again, walking along the river to the Huka falls. There were great views along the way, (see above) and you could see the water getting faster and faster as we headed downstream until we reached the falls. You can tell how fast the water is going here:

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At this point it wasn’t past midday, but considering we’d been up so early, we all had a picnic stop near the falls. Not far from the falls, we came across a cafe and dived in for a round of coffees/hot chocolates/mochas to warm ourselves up. Meandering back into town down the other side of the river, we realised when we got back to the hostel that we’d covered 12km, all by 2pm!

That day was also our new friend Demi’s birthday, so she’d booked a table for a big group of us at an Indian restaurant for that evening. I was very happy as I’d been craving a curry the whole time we were in Austrialia. I ordered my go-to chicken tikka masala and split a garlic naan with Rhianna. It was delicious and I’m now craving a curry as I write this. With a cider to drink it ammounted to the equivalent of £15 too, not bad at all. Waddling back to the hostel, we had a drink in the hostel bar and played a few rounds of beer pong. A great evening to make up for the disappointment of not being able to complete the crossing!

Next stop, River Valley

xo

Maori cultural experience and geothermal spas in Rotorua

The next morning we were up and at ’em to get on the bus to our next destination, Rotorua. On the way we stopped to do another lovely rainforest walk guided by our driver Bods. We also stopped off at Hobbiton for all the people who wanted to see the set – I contemplated going but as I’m not a megafan (sorry readers!) I decided to save my money and we carried on to check into the hostel in Rotorua, another Base hostel. When we got there though – disaster had struck with our food bag….the milk had leaked!

I honestly have no idea how the bus driver (who had warned us about having milk!) didn’t see. As I got the bag down from the overhead storage, some milk leaked out of the bag onto the floor. Frantically trying to clean this up with tissues, we managed to get the bag off the bus onto the grass outside the bus. Milk was still coming out of the bag onto the grass at this point. We tried to wait for the bus to leave before we moved the bag, so pretended to be looking for something in my bag, but the driver was not leaving! Eventually we just had to make a break for it and walked as quickly round the corner and into the hostel as we could! Phew!

Once #milkgate was over we checked into our room, which had a balcony and ensuite so we were happy. It was nice and quiet when we made lunch in the kitchen and chilled out in the hostel for the afternoon. All that coach travel tires you out, especially when taking travel sickness tablets so you get all drowsy!

That evening we went on a Maori Cultural experience which was one of the best evenings I had in New Zealand. We were taken to a replica of a traditional Maori village on the outskirts of the city. Each group was considered a tribe and on the way there we had to elect a leader to take part in the welcoming ceremony. Of course, this had to be a man so one of the guys Blake volunteered to be our Chief. It had been emphasised to us that we must take the opening ceremony very seriously and that as it was meant to be intimidating, to laugh would be very offensive. Seeing all the men performing the haka, bulging their eyes, sticking out their tongues and brandishing spears was definitely a scary experience! After the tribe decided we were okay, we were welcomed into the village. We were now split into smaller groups to visit different ‘stations’ at different huts.

Each station demonstrated various aspects of traditional Maori life – telling us about their history, playing traditional games, showing us traditional art, and most excitingly, teaching the boys the haka.

Apart from the food (don’t worry I’ll tell you about that soon) my favourite part of the evening was the haka that the tribe performed – see blurry photo below. The men kicked off with their very intimidating haka, followed by an equally intimidating female haka, and some amazing singing.

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We also got to see the hāngī , which is essentially a pit in the ground where our dinner was being cooked. The food is cooked on hot stones at the bottom of the pit which is then covered with damp cloths and sealed with earth to keep the heat in. The food had been cooking for around four hours – it’s basically and old school slow cooker.

It was the most incredible buffet roast dinner. You could tell the backpacker corner of the room by the piled high plates at the start and the sparkling clean plates at the end! For us Brits, a roast dinners are such a home comfort so it was a real treat. Not to mention the pillowy soft passionfruit pavlova there was for dessert.

Safe to say we all headed back to the hostel having learnt a lot about Maori traditions but also very full!


The next day half the bus moved on to their next destination but we had decided to stay longer in Rotorua. We had a lie in and went off to explore the town. I bought a fleece to keep me warm as it was starting to get colder the further south we headed.

To warm us up we headed to the Geothermal spas with our new friends. We used a discount voucher we had been given on the bus to relax in the eight geothermal spa pools. All were different temperatures and all felt like bath water, although you couldn’t stay in the hottest one for too long. There was also the distinctive smell of sulphur but the experience was worth the smell – if only we’d had pegs to put on our noses!

// here’s a snap of the spa which also had lush lake views:

On the way back to the hostel we swung by our favourite supermarket Pak and Save to pick up ingredients for dinner – we had burritos, yum! The rest of our evening was spent in the hostel bar for a casual drink.

Overall, I really enjoyed Rotura and would thoroughly recommend both the Maori cultural experience and the geothermal spas if you’re in NZ!


The next day was time to move on again towards Taupo. We had a new driver and a new bus load of people. Funnily enough one of the people on the bus was a girl called Charlotte that we’d met in Aus! We knew she was heading to NZ but had no idea she’d catch up with us.

Anyway, on our way out of Rotorua we stopped and went for a walk in a beautiful Redwood forest:

It was amazing to see such huge, old trees and come across pockets of thermal activity – even seeing the bubbling mud was fascinating! After we’d got some fresh air and taken in the forest, we hopped back in the bus and got on the road to Taupo.

The adventures continue in the next installment…

xo

Hot tub beach digging and black water rafting

We only stayed the night in the capital before heading back back out on the road in the Kiwi bus, this time our driver was a great guy called Bods who said ‘sweet as!’ a lot. Unlike our bus to and from the Bay of Islands, this bus was completely full and we were lucky to get seats near the front (Yeah, we did a LOT of bus travel on this trip despite me not being great with coaches). We set off on our journey through the flattest part of New Zealand to a place called Hot Water Beach, with a couple of comfort and supermarket stops along the way. Bods had told us that there was an oven in our accommodation so we got excited and bought some Linda McCartney sausages and veg to roast with microwave rice for dinner. Side note: having an oven may not sound that exciting but practically every hostel only has hobs and a microwave, limiting what you can have for dinner every night. Anyway, you might be wondering why the place was called Hot Water Beach… well it’s exactly that as the water underneath the beach is geothermally heated so when the tide is out you can dig your own hot tub.

We checked into the holiday park we were staying in before changing into our swimmers and walking down to the beach as the tide was already out. There were lots of pools there already so we didn’t actually have to dig a hot tub ourselves, but I was surprised just how hot the water was – there were even warning signs up in some places so you didn’t burn yourself. We stayed for a while and relaxed in the pools with some other people from the bus, before drying off and heading back up to the campsite; Bods had promised to take anyone interested on a walk down to a pretty spot called Cathedral Cove:

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As we didn’t have much time at the beach, we debated whether to go back down to the beach at the next high tide, which was between 1-3am (no ta!) I was determined that sleep was more important so was content with having our yummy oven-cooked dinner, playing cards with Demi, Beth, Jade and James and finishing off a internship application before hitting the hay. Katie and Rhianna however, had sweepingly promised to go in the middle of the night with another girl from the bus, but as the evening went on were less and less sure. In the end they went down to the beach around 11pm, but didn’t get far as they met some people on the way coming back from the shore saying don’t bother as the tide was too far in. So they came back after all, getting less sleep than I did. No regrets.

We were only here for one night, so the next morning we checked out of the holiday park and clambered back on the bus after a quick round of toast for breakfast. After an hour or so in the bus we stopped off for a walk, guided by Bods. We even went through some glowworm caves in some old mining tunnels where we had to hold onto the shoulder of the person in front to guide us through as it was so dark – an incredible experience! Walking through the forest, Bods told us lots of cool facts about the landscape and woodland which was awesome to have a tour guide and bus driver all in one.

After a refreshing walk, we got back on the bus with our muddy boots to continue our journey to Waitomo, our next destination.

We signed up for Black Water Rafting on the bus for that afternoon, which turned out to be an amazing experience! We were staying in another lodge which was lush because there were no bunk beds and rooms of four – dreamy. The three of us shared with Emily who we’d met on our first day on the bus up to Piahia. We had time to chill out for a couple of hours before it was time for us to head down to the caves – our group was the last of the day. We got picked up in a minibus and taken to the centre where we got given a long wetsuit, thermal fleece, wetsuit jacket, wetsuit socks, white boots and a helmet with a light to change into – the main wetsuit was the hardest to get on because it was cold and wet! We also got given a rubber ring before we were back in the minibus to the cave entrance. We had two guides to lead us as we waded down into the cave.

We clambered through the caves, taking care of footing due to the running stream of water on the cave floor. At points there was so much water we even jumped backwards off two waterfalls – except I didn’t have proper grip on my rubber ring the second time before the guide pushed me so I just fell straight into the water – luckily I was unscathed! The best part was when turned off our head torches and all linked up together by holding onto the person behind’s feet; we floated down the river in the cave just looking at all the glowworms. There were so many of them they looked like constellations of stars. To say it was magical is an understatement.

When we got to the end of the cave tour we were taken back to the centre for a quick shower to warm up, with hot tomato soup and bagels as we were freezing by the end of the tour. We got dropped back at the hostel where we got changed and made dinner in the kitchen – unfortunately we’d picked that evening to have soup and crusty bread for dinner so we were full up on soup!

Our only option for entertainment that evening was to head down to the bar so after dinner we met a group of people from the bus there. We got there just in time for the end of happy hour and managed to draw some tables together and sit by our new mates Jade, James, Beth and Demi which was great fun. However, when it was time to walk back up to the lodge, the heavens had opened. We stayed longer in the bar to see if it eased up but it was still raining so hard that we just had to get utterly soaked. Thankfully the room was warm enough, with a radiator to dry our wet clothes.

We only stayed in Waitomo for one night, preparing to head on to Rotorua for a couple of nights early the next morning – this moving on everyday thing is tiring!

 

Exploring the Bay of Islands – dolphins and Cape Reinga

Our second day in the Bay of Islands was a day trip to the tip of the North Island, Cape Reinga. This was included in the Kiwi Experience ticket we’d bought, even though we didn’t realise at the time. Although it was a lot of driving I had a really good day. Our bus driver and guide was a Maori and told us some interesting stories about the land, the Maori people, and how New Zealand as we know it was discovered. We drove up through the beautiful rural scenery of the island to the most northerly point of the island, Cape Reinga.

It was a beautifully sunny day so the walk down to the headland was perfect. Here are some snaps of the headland – it was amazing to see two seas meet:

 

On the way back we drove along 90 mile beach which was pretty cool, and reminded me of Fraser Island in Straya. We also stopped off in the sand dunes and the group did some sandboarding – basically skidding down the dunes on bodyboards. I’d taken my travel sickness tablets so by this point the drowsiness had really set in, so I sat this one out and watched everyone slide down the dunes.

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After everyone had worn themselves out, we tried to get as much sand off as possible before getting back on the bus. On the way back down to Piahia, we stopped off at a fish and chip place on the waterfront for proper NZ ‘fush and chups’, which I have to say were delicious! We were persuaded to share one portion between the three of us and I’m glad we did. After feeding our faces, we then all hopped back on the coach for the remaining drive to our accommodation.

That evening after dinner we headed to the bar for a pub quiz. We joined forces with a couple of other people to make a team, including the girl Emily we met on our first bus ride, as well as another girl who loved karaoke. Unfortunately our team didn’t win the bar tab prize but a quiz is always great fun.


The next morning was a relaxed one as we went to explore the town. We pottered around the shops and I bought a postcard to send to home. For lunch we bought pies from a cute veggie cafe to take away and ate them on the seafront in the sunshine whilst I wrote my postcard. We also did a bit of travel admin and planned out the rest of our Kiwi buses. We weighed up whether we should spend the money on a dolphin cruise and went to the two travel companies in Piahia to weigh up prices. In the end we decided to go for it and book a boat trip called ‘The hole in the rock tour’ (which would hopefully encounter some dolphins too) for the next morning before our bus back to Auckland. Pleased with our decision, we then bought food for dinner from the supermarket and headed back along the beachfront to the hostel as the sun was setting.

That evening we watched the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach and as their wasn’t anything planned in the hostel for that evening, one of the workers Connor asked us all if we wanted to do something, so we played his namesake game ‘Connorball’ in the bar. It was basically like boules with different weighted pucks, and turned out to be a very dramatic game. This was when we met the lovely Jade, James, Beth and Demi, who we hit it off with and ended travelling most of New Zealand with, along with another two friends, both called Harry. That was one thing brilliant about the Kiwi Experience, you kept bumping into the same people along the way, depending on everyone’s schedules.

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Our final day in the Bay of Islands was certainly a good’un. We were up bright and early, checking out of our hostel, storing our rucksacks in luggage storage room and heading into the town for our boat tour. We boarded the boat and sailed off out of the harbour. It was another beautiful day in the North Island so the sea wasn’t very rough. We were so luck to see a pod of dolphins! This included two babies, one of which was called French Toast – they were born on a day where the All Blacks beat France at rubgy! It was amazing to see such playful creatures, one even showing off as they jumped right out of the water nearby!

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We sailed past some islands whilst the captain told us all about their history, and showed us the spot that Captain Cook first moored up on the North Island and how he met the Maori’s for the first time. We eventually stopped off at a pretty bay and got off the boat. The captain also told the best place for a great view on the island so we walked up to the top of the hill; he was right as we had 360 degree views of the bright green grass and surrounding deep blue sea: bliss. I didn’t want to leave but we’d been given a strict amount of time before the boat would leave –  I wasn’t being left stranded on an island!

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When we finally got back on dry land we headed back to the hostel, had time for a quick lunch before the bus journey back to the capital. The journey seemed quicker this time, probably because I napped more… We stayed at Base again in Auckland, where we bought the ingredients for dinner and made a cracking spag bol and had an early night.

 

Watch this space for more action packed NZ adventures xoxo

Winter is here: a shock to the system in Auckland

Although we set off from Sydney at 9am, due to a slight flight delay, the time difference and the three hour flight time, we arrived in Auckland mid afternoon. We ordered a taxi to take us to the hostel as we’d been told that was cheaper than getting in one at the airport. We had booked to stay at the Base hostel in the centre of the main shopping street. We checked in and went for a wander down towards the harbour. We kept seeing groups of people dressed as superheroes and we were slightly perplexed why so many people were in the same fancy dress. It turned out to be after the opening ceremony of the Masters Games (like the Olympics but for all ages) and we’d stumbled across all the athletes having a bit of a party in fancy dress! It was a great atmosphere even though we were very confused for a while. We bought food from the supermarket for dinner and I prepped myself for the upcoming bus journeys with healthy snacks – there are these amazing protein energy balls similar to bounce balls over here: a blend of dates, cocoa, nuts, dried fruit/vanilla/other flavours like peanut butter, all rolled in desiccated coconut and they are delicious! I also splashed out on an $11 big bag of dried fruit and nuts (with dark chocolate pieces) and some apples. That evening we also went for a drink in a place in the harbour. We tried to get into an Irish Pub but had left our passports at the hostel and they understandably wouldn’t recognise our British driving licences. Fortunately there was a bar nearby that we could get into and order a round of ciders without any question of ID! All in all, a pleasant first evening in Auckland.

 

One big thing that we had realised about New Zealand as soon as we stepped off the plane, was that the temperature was significantly lower than Aus! The next day we had a well-sought after lie-in and a leisurely breakfast/brunch, before getting the train out to a big shopping centre.  The three of us needed more layers as it was only going to get colder as we travelled down to the south island and we were still in light summer clothes. After a long but successful shopping mission, we returned to the hostel to regroup, get ourselves ready for a nice meal out for my birthday celebrations and have a couple of illicit drinks in our hostel room.

It was the day before my birthday but we decided to celebrate in Auckland as we didn’t know what the Bay of Islands would be like. We headed to a place we’d been recommended by the hostel reception called Mexico but unfortunately when we got there they said they were just about to close (bear in mind it was only 9pm!) so we headed back towards the harbour where there were lots of eateries. We managed to find another Mexican place on the waterfront which the owner said he would keep the kitchen open for us as they were just about to close too! The food was delicious, not too spicy for Rhianna, and we got given sombreros to wear whilst we were eating – I didn’t realise how heavy they were.

 

After our meal we walked past another Irish bar that was blasting out live music so we decided to head in. The place was packed, mainly with a 50th birthday party, so although we felt pretty young everyone was having a whale of a time. It was hilarious watching the drunk middle-aged party goers dancing, and the band were good too, playing lots of old songs. We only stayed for one drink as we had to be up super early the next day but it was a fun evening.


The next morning we were up mega early for our first bus of the Kiwi Experience and it was hard to get going. After checking out, Rhianna and Katie kindly gave me some birthday pressies: a little wooden koala keyring from Aus, a mini Lush shower gel and a carrot cake. So cute! Fair play to their stealthiness getting the gifts too – an impossible task when you’re spending 24 hours a day together. Anyway, we hopped on the Kiwi bus for our first journey north to Piahia in the Bay of Islands.

Our driver was a guy called Martin and the drive to Piahia was five hours with a comfort stop to see a waterfall. On the way we booked an excursion through the bus driver to go kayaking that afternoon as my birthday activity. We checked into the hostel, somehow managing to get near the front of the whole bus and headed to our room which was full of other travellers on the Kiwi Experience too.

It was sunny enough to eat lunch in the outside seating area by the hostel kitchen so we sat there and chatted to the other travellers. I had treated myself to Falafels and hummus and we shared out my birthday cake too. It wasn’t long before it was time to go kayaking so we quickly got changed into ‘waterproof clothing’ (swimmers and shorts) and waited at the front of the hostel to be picked up.

We to the kayak centre/hut and got introduced to the rest of the group going on the water – turns out they were the Canadian volleyball team here for the Masters Games and therefore had strong arms for kayaking. We got familiar with the sea kayaks – they have proper steering, who knew? – and headed out into the sea. We had two guides with us who, once we were out on the sea, directed us towards an estuary which had a waterfall upstream. This water was significantly calmer than the sea that’s for sure. Katie and I shared a kayak, with Rhianna drawing the short straw and being partnered with another guy who ended up making her do all the work (sorry Rhi!). Our group slowly paddled up the river towards a fast-flowing waterfall (see below)

On the way back down the river we played some games in the kayaks, which mostly included the guides shooting us with water guns. Somehow that was fair. We rafted up and as it was my birthday I had to walk all over the other kayaks to the end and back. I’m so proud that I managed to do it and didn’t fall over. Here’s a few snaps of us in some very fetching life jackets:

 

I’d had a great time kayaking but I was tired and missing home so that evening we went out for fish and chips in a nearby bar in an attempt to make me feel better. Because of the time difference and having just arrived in NZ it didn’t really feel like my birthday. It feels silly typing that now as I was in such a beautiful place but I felt homesick. At the restaurant I managed to have a quick call to my boyfriend using their wifi and message my Mum. After dinner I was exhausted so I was pathetically in bed by 9pm whilst Katie and Rhianna went to the hostel bar for a bit. That’s the end of my wallowing, promise!

Watch this space for Bay of Islands adventures part 2, including  visiting the most Northerly point on the north island and Dolphin watching.

Great Barrier Reef snorkeling and Atherton Tableland waterfall swimming

Rising early, we caught the 7am bus from Townsville to Cairns. The journey wasn’t too long so we arrived in Cairns for lunchtime. We used our trusty maps.me to locate our hostel and walked along the beach front to get there and check in. The accommodation was basic but we were upgraded from the four bed that we’d booked to a three bed at no extra cost which was handy. We walked through the on and off rain to the supermarket to pick up some grub for lunch and ate it on a bench outside the supermarket (classy I know). I bought some cheesy bread from the bakery, a pot of hummus and crackers and an apple.

We didn’t know quite what to do for the afternoon so we headed to the nearby shopping centre to peruse the shops, picking up a couple of extra things for the NZ winter – you’d have thought we’d have everything by now ey? I also managed to exchange the water bottle I had bought in Typo in Brisbane, as sadly the gold letter ‘S’ on the front had become scratched off.

We arranged to meet up with Sophie and Charlotte at their hostel Mad Monkey and ended up watching a film in their fab communal area. Along with a couple of other girls we watched ‘How to be Single’, which is a light, feel-good film, snacking on chocolate shared out by someone amazing who had been sent an Easter care package by her mum and insisted we help her eat it (what an angel). It was exactly what we needed, especially as it was so miserable outside. After the film, the five of us made a supermarket trip for dinner and parted ways until the Barrier Reef trip we were all going on the following day.

Great Barrier Reef day trip

Another early start to go and snorkel in the reef, we were up and walking to the ferry terminal to check in for the day. Our boat which was the opposite of our Whitsundays experience in that the vessel was significantly bigger than anticipated! As we boarded we were offered free tea, coffee and biscuits, and warned to take sea sickness tablets as it was going to be rough out there, even the crew had taken them…

Let me tell you now that they were not messing around – it was chaos! People were flying everywhere as they staggered up and down the boat clinging onto the rails as the boat rocked, plowing through the waves. The back deck was the designated ‘sick’ zone where a smug crew member handed out sick bags to those looking green.  I wasn’t feeling amazing but Rhianna was not feeling well at all so we sat on this deck, occasionally getting covered in ocean spray and clinging on to stop us being thrown about the rocky boat. It was ROUGH. People were dropping like flies. At one point Rhianna had a very close call but managed to hold it together and came back from the brink vom-free (so proud!). Once we finally reached our destination everything thankfully calmed down. We decided to hire stinger suits just in case and were given flippers and goggles too. Incredibly, the boat had prescription goggles that you could hire for free with the warning of a $50 damage fee if anything happened to them – this meant I could see the coral and fish really clearly – result!

Although we were traumatised getting there, and you could tell the only reason we had to travel as far out as we did was because the poor reef is dying, it was so beautiful. Thanks to my camera’s waterproof case I was able to take photos and videos in the water as you can see below:

We had two snorkelling sessions with a break for lunch in the middle. It was a light bbq with fish and lots of fresh salads so nothing too heavy for the rocky journey back to shore! I’m so glad I managed to see the reef before it’s gone but at the same time I felt conflicted contributing to it’s harm by visiting in a huge boat (I was not expecting it to be that big!) But nevertheless it was an amazing day.

Atherton Tablelands

The next day was another excursion! We were doing a day trip to the tablelands with Barefoot Tours as the final part of our Oz Experience package. We were picked up from our hostel in a cool minibus – had fake grass carpet and lots of flowers inside. driven out of the city and into the rainforest. Our guide for the day was super charismatic and great at his job – even jumping in Lake Eacham at the first stop to encourage us to do the same (it was a cool and grey day so you can see why we needed encouraging). Although it wasn’t the ideal weather for jumping in and out of lakes and waterfalls, you’re only in the Peter Andre’s mysterious girl waterfall once right?

We swam in the lake for a while before drying off and heading back to the van where our guide had prepped morning coffee and snacks of fruit and cake. Lamingtons are delicious by the way. We headed to our next stop, seeing a super cool parasitic tree that had engulfed it’s neighbouring tree as well as another fallen tree:

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Next stop was the Millaa Millaa Falls, the famous Petre Andre waterfall which was also used in a Herbal Essences Advert. The water was freezing cold but we did swim out to the rocks near the waterfall and did the classic ‘hair flick’ from the advert.

We had sandwiches provided for us for lunch which was great and after we’d had our fill we continued to explore the tablelands, walking through the rainforest to see some more beautiful waterfalls. There was a lot of getting cold and wet then trying to dry off and warm up unsuccessfully – Katie’s lips even went blue! We were only there once so were determined to swim at every opportunity but I just couldn’t manage the last waterfall – which had it’s own natural rock slide – so I watched the others do it whilst keeping warm in all my layers!

The whole day was such a laugh and we experienced some really cool things. We even got Tim Tams for the journey back to Cairns (for those of you unfamiliar with Tim Tams, they’re just like Penguins without the joke on the wrapper and arguably better tasting). Conveniently we got dropped off at the hostel, and Katie and Rhianna went to the shop to pick up some bits whilst I started on dinner.

As it was our last night in Cairns we headed to the infamous Gilligans hostel bar which is more bar than hostel! It also happened to be ladies night where we managed to get some free pink drinks, result. Here’s a snap of us with Charlotte, Sophie and some new friends. We had a fab night and were sad to go back to the hostel as that meant our time in Oz was up! 😦

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Finally our time in Oz was over and it was time for our flight to Auckland (via Sydney) for the third and final leg of our adventures! We booked and paid for a shuttle bus to the airport not realising how close it was to the city so we arrived with tons of time to spare before our first flight back down to Sydney. We had splurged on a hotel room for the night at Sydney airport as it was about the same price of a last-minute hostel in the city plus the cost of getting there and back. It was luxury to be in a proper bed and watch TV and the beds were so soft and comfy, much better than trying to avoid the springs in old hostel beds!

And that was our time in Australia complete. Thanks for reading folks! My next posts will be all about New Zealand adventures, how exciting xoxo

Easter on Magnetic Island

We arrived late into Townsville on Easter Saturday, and thankfully the hostel we’d booked wasn’t far away from where the Greyhound drop-off point was.

The next morning the three of us took the ferry to Magnetic Island with Charlotte and Sophie. Both the ferry and night at the hostel were all included as part of our Oz Experience package which was handy. Once on the island after the short boat journey, we caught a bus from the ferry terminal to Base hostel which had a beautiful beach view. We left our bags in the luggage room as our rooms weren’t ready yet, then we got the bus back over to the other side of the island to see the weekend market – which was not exactly what we were expecting. I think it’s fair to say after the incredible markets in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam we were slightly disappointed by this particular market! Nothing can live up to that standard. There were arts and crafts on sale as well as some odd bric-a-brac, and people giving massages on the beach. It didn’t take us long to walk through and continue along the waterfront to take in the beach views. As it was Easter Bank Holiday the island was teeming with families on holiday but it didn’t feel overcrowded.

After our beach walk we decided to treat ourselves to lunch in a cafe called The Early Bird (not the same as the one in Cardiff!) and we had some really nice food with a sea view – I had Mexican pulled pork and a green smoothie that tasted mostly of pears, yum. Sophie and Charlotte are vegan too so it was lucky we found somewhere that they could easily find something to eat. Considering we had mainly been living off homemade sandwiches and cooking for ourselves to save money, it was really nice to indulge in some proper food made by someone else.

After deciding to buy an ice cream for dessert (a delicious honeycomb Magnum) next we headed to another part of the island on the bus to go and feed the rock wallabies. They are as they sound – wallabies that live in the rocks! Admittedly they were quite hard to find, especially as they’d probably had a lot of visitors that day, but eventually after patiently waiting, a couple came out of hiding and we even got to feed one with wallaby food we’d bought between us.

It was getting late in the day so it was the perfect time to head for the most popular walk on the island, the ‘fort walk’, as dusk is the best time to spot the wild koalas. We were concentrating so hard on trying to see the koalas and thankfully it finally paid off and we actually saw a few, including a baby one! It also helped that people had made arrows with sticks where they had seen a koala, and considering these animals don’t tend to move very far or very fast, there was usually still a creature to spot in the tree above.

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After reaching the fort at the track’s summit and admiring the view, we managed to walk back to the road in relative lightness as the sun was going down. By the time we reached the bus stop however, it was dark. Unfortunately, we had only just missed the bus by a few minutes and had to wait almost an hour for the next one. The roads were country lanes so it wouldn’t be a good idea to walk at night, particularly as it would be a long journey across the island with no lights. When the bus finally arrived and we got back to the the hostel we made a beeline straight for the kitchen to make the pasta and sauce (aka meal of kings) we had brought with us. It was lucky we had brought food with us as we would have been pretty stuck without it as the supermarket was shut and near the ferry terminal, not near the hostel. For the rest of the evening we just hung out chatting on a picnic bench outside the kitchen and agreed to reconvene early the next morning to make the most of the day and go on a hike.

Having asked the hostel receptionist about walks around the island, we set off on the bus first of all to the supermarket to get picnic supplies for lunch, before walking to the start of the track we had planned to follow. By this point it was already pretty hot and humid, making the hilly track a lot more challenging, particularly for myself and Rhianna as we do not cope well in the heat!

The views around the island make it worth it though – this was the view from our lunch spot. Not bad at all!

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After our picnic with a view, we continued down the hill to the end of the trail and caught the bus back to the hostel, picked up our bags and caught the ferry back to the mainland. Sophie and Charlotte had a bus to Queensland that afternoon so headed back earlier than us. When we got back to Townsville it was dinner time but as it was Easter Monday and therefore a bank holiday, nothing was open! Even restaurants! So we looked up the nearest Dominoes and walked out of town on the hunt for $5 pizza (Don’t know why we don’t have the same deal/topping options over here!). We didn’t want it to get cold walking back to the hostel so we sat on the stools in Dominoes and shamelessly ate our pizzas. So worth it. When we had demolished our food we headed back to our hostel. It was one of the very few hostels that had free WiFi with no time restrictions so we had an internet session and chilled out watching telly.

Not a bad way to spend the Easter holidays!

xoxo