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!

 

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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.