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

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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

Vietnamese visas and a pitstop in Phnom Penh

When you’re travelling on as tight a schedule as we are, you’re continually being forced to think of the next place you’re going – how are you going to get there? How much does it cost? How many nights can I spend there? What’s there that I want to see? 

At this point in Siem Reap we were thinking about our next port of call, the capital Phnom Penh. Whilst we had planned to spend a couple of days there, some research and fellow traveller advice made us come to the decision that we’d rather get to Vietnam sooner and just use the capital as a stopover to break the journey between Siem Reap and Saigon. This meant we wouldn’t be hanging about in Cambodia for the sake of waiting until we could cross the border into Vietnam. Our orignal plan was to utilise the 15 day visa exemption for British nationals, but with a pretty tight schedule, even a couple more days in Vietnam would allow us slightly more breathing room. So we decided to pay the $45 (incidentally much cheaper than the £70 the Vietnamese embassy wanted back home!) and spend an extra day in Siem Reap until this was ready. And writing from Vietnam now, I’m glad we made this decision! 

Naturally we filled this extra day with a lazy breakfast, swimming in the pool and researching things to do in Phnom Penh and Vietnam.We booked our bus to The Cambodian capital through our hostel too so we would be all ready to go the next morning. 


This bus was a bit of an adventure as it was our first long distance bus journey of the trip and it turned out to be minibus rather then a full sized coach, and we’d been assigned specific seats – this wasn’t too bad for us but the two poor German guys who were over six foot and squashed in the back with the bags felt a bit hard done by – especially as the lady firmly refused to let them switch seats! It wasn’t too bad of a journey really, though it did take longer than the expected five hours because we stopped twice for a break. It was funny because everyone else seemed to get what was happening and how long the breaks were supposed to be, we just had to guess! 

So finally we made it to our destination, and bartered hard for a cheap tuk tuk for us and the two German guys who it turned out were staying near us. Fitting five people plus all our baggage in a tiny tuk tuk was a hilarious challenge, I wish someone took a photo as I was clinging to my bag for dear life! We arrived and checked in at our histel, Happy House Zone, dumped our bags and headed out to explore and find something to eat as we were ravenous. We ended up in a cafe having some delicious noodle soup and ice tea – Rhianna and Katie were determined to master their use of chopsticks so that was pretty amusing to watch 🙂 

We wanted to see the killing fields but in the end we didn’t have time as they were outside the city and would have been too difficult to get to under our own stream rather than as part of a tour. Instead we went to the just as significant S-21 for the afternoon: a school that was turned into a prison by the Khmer regime to house their enemies who wanted to revolt against them. The fact it was built as a school where children learnt and played really emphasised how harrowing it was. So many people were treated horrendously, tortured for information and killed. We got an audio tour which was really worth getting as it told you a lot of information as you walked round, including accounts from survivors. By all means it was a very heavy activity for the afternoon but really really interesting. Another thing that was lovely was a youth dance class going on in the grounds. It looked like contemporary to me but I could be wrong! It seemed fitting for the space to be used by the community again.

None of us were very hungry afterwards even though it was dinner time, and we’d had a late lunch, so we walked back across town to the hostel, showered, sorted ourselves out and booked our bus to Saigon for the next morning. We ended up going to a nearby restaurant and sharing a pizza between us and playing some pool in the hostel before hitting the hay ready for our 7 hour bus.

Street food, The Grand Palace and three potential cases of heat exhaustion

So we arrived fresh off the plane ready to explore Bangkok, but DEFINITELY not ready for the heat. It was a mere 35c in the shade and with it being pretty cold back in Blighty it’s safe to say it was a bit of a shock to the system. Amen for air con! 

On the plus side we had our first taste of Thai street food on our it’s night which was heavenly 👌 Pad Thai which they cook in front of you was incredible, as was this fried shrimp we all enjoyed 🍤🍜

Yummy fried shrimp

After dinner we meandered through the shopping centre to cool off (shocker, it’s the same as a shopping centre anywhere else) and visited the very busy Chinatown which was also filled with so much yummy looking street food we were sad we already ate. Getting to Chinatown was our first tuk tuk ride and it didn’t disappoint! There are seemingly no rules or lanes, yet everyone appears to know what they’re doing, zipping in and out between cars and motorbikes, the traffic is like nothing I’ve ever seen! You can tell that pollution is an issue here because the air is so thick and the fumes so strong, especially when you’re flying along in an open tuk tuk. My clothes even smell of fumes (ew).

Busy Chinatown
After our first afternoon in Bangkok we were all tired and jet lagged so an early night was needed! After a night’s rest in our cosy hostel we were ready to explore further afield as we decided to visit the Grand Palace, arguably the jewel in Bangkok’s crown and the no. 1 tourist destination. We grabbed a delicious smoothie from the hostel for brekkie and headed out into the heat.
To get to the Palace from where we were staying we walked to Pratunam pier and got a busy barge boat to the end of the river which was cool. There was a bit of a walk to the Palace in the blazing heat and the sun came out just for this leg of the journey, ramping up the difficulty. But we made it there and strolled into the Palace so it was all good right? Well… It would have been if we’d realised we needed our passports to get in 🙈 

So back to the hostel we went in a tuk tuk and had major deja vu repeating the same boat journey all the way back again. What idiots ey?

But it was totally worth it when we got inside the palace grounds. The amount of gold and shimmering mosaics was just so impressive. So much grandeur glinting in the midday sun with tourists swarming round to take photos. Here’s one this tourist took:

Grand Palace complex – Photos don’t do this justice
Unfortunately for these three Brits eventually the stifling heat was getting to us and with faces getting redder and redder we headed in search of refreshments and air con. We stumbled across a cafe called Favour which was perfect for this and had a bite to eat and iced tea – I went adventurous and had matcha green tea! They even sold clothes too, so cute.
Favour Cafe, Bangkok
From here we chilled out and did some travel planning for the next few days as we’re heading to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand tomorrow. 

Whilst we we in the area we thought we better visit Bangkok’s famous Khaosan Road, essentially a tourist strip with market stalls, street food, bars, and people trying to sell you those lasers you see anywhere you go on holiday! It was a vibrant hectic jumble and the atmosphere was awesome. We soaked it all in from a bar with a bucket of sex on the beach (classy ladies) and perused the market stalls 

Khaosan road bar

And that brings us to our first two days in Thailand! Thanks for reading folks! 💕

Watch Rhianna’s vlog of our adventures here: https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCNfFKgik9T0BuJOcnYEU_9A

Hurray we’ve arrived in Bangkok!

After seventeen-ish hours of travelling, two planes, little sleep and my first experience of taxi driving in south east Asia (this was a little traumatic but we made it safe and sound) we’ve arrived in Bangkok 🙌

We’re staying in the cutest place called Good Day hostel in the centre of the city. It’s small but feels so bright and homely – anything with bunting and kitch floral cushions gets my seal of approval! Plus it even has a coffee shop attached.

Now to get over the jet lag and figure out where to go first. I think the plan is to see what the night market has to offer.


A little introduction

Hey there, as this is my first blog (as well as my first huge adventure outside Europe sans family) I thought I’d write a little intro to start us off.

I’m Sarah, born and bred in Cardiff and a recent English graduate trying to figure out what to do next in life, so naturally I’m packing my bags and jetting off to the other side of the world with my friends Rhianna and Katie. Let’s call it my post-uni crisis/gap year.

This humble blog is intended to be a documentation of my travels for curious friends and family, as well as something for me to look back on in the future. My intentions are to keep this updated as often as possible so I’ll try my best to stick at it.

Starting in Thailand, the plan is to travel through Cambodia and up the Vietnamese coast, before flying to Sydney and making our way up the East coast to Cairns, then hopping over to New Zealand and exploring both North and South islands.

Right now I’m off to start packing!

x