Tuesday, 3 February 2015

New Zealand - North Island Highlights!

We spent almost 6 weeks travelling around New Zealand, starting on the north island. We flew into Auckland, which is New Zealand’s biggest city, and spent the first few days there. From the airport we got the airbus into the city, which was cheap and the bus driver chatted to us the whole journey about things to see and do! We stayed at Attic backpackers, which a girl recommended to us in Fiji, and it was a perfect location to walk to the places we wanted to see.
After checking in, we went to get some dinner and got excited when we found Nando’s but it was so different and really disappointing!!!

The next morning though we went to McDonalds and had a “Massive Mcmuffin” each, which was like a bacon and double sausage and egg Mcmuffin in one!! We then walked to the Auckland Museum, kind of got lost on the way as my phone wouldn’t pick up where we were! But once we got closer it was huge so we couldn’t miss it!

We got tickets which also included a Maori performance, which was great, the best bit was the haka at the end! The museum was huge so we spent a little while looking around all the floors. There was a section with lots of animals and a couple of war planes which were pretty cool, also a whole Maori section.

The next day the weather was a bit rubbish and we didn’t really know what to do, so the staff in the hostel suggested we head down to the wharf as there were things going on for the Queen’s birthday. (We didn’t even realise but the Queen’s birthday is like a bank holiday in New Zealand, we don’t even celebrate it in England!) Anyway, we headed down there, and the theme was ‘Best of British’ which was quite weird for us to see as they were selling British food, there was a man on a penny farthing bike, people with bagpipes, classic cars, morris dancers! We also had high tea!

That evening we went to watch Maleficent at the cinema. I got a message from my brother to say that their friends Ted and Barbara lived in Auckland and sent their contact details so that we could try and meet up with them! We tried to phone them the following day but couldn’t get hold of them, so we went up the Skytower which was right by the hostel. We paid an extra $2 which meant we could go up again at night.

The next day we picked up our hire car, which we had hired for the whole time we were in New Zealand, from a place called Apex. We got to pick it up in Auckland and drop it off in Christchurch, and the hire cost included the ferry ticket from the North to the South island, and a sat nav, woop!!
Our first plan was to head up north, right to the very top of the country. We drove to a place called Pukenui, which was a long but really pretty drive, and booked a cabin at the Pukenui holiday park for 2 nights.

The following morning we drove about 45 minutes to the very top of the North Island, to a place called Cape Reinga. It was so beautiful and there was a lighthouse we walked along a path to, taking lots of pictures!

After that we headed to the Te Paki giant sand dunes, which were just down the road, and we went sand boarding! It cost $15 to hire a board, and it was so much fun! The hardest part was climbing back up the dunes afterwards! We got told to steer with our feet, which I totally messed up on my 2nd go and crashed! We went up and down the dunes a few times, until we were too worn out to go back up again!

The next place we visited was the Bay of Islands, again it was beautiful!! We stayed at Peppertree Lodge backpackers in Paihia. From the wharf in Paihia we went on a dolphin spotting boat trip! We left on the boat at 9am, and they said that if you’re interested in swimming with dolphins (if we get the chance to) then go and put your name down, so Damo did. I didn’t because I’m not a very strong swimmer!

We travelled out to the ‘Hole in the rock’ and got some really nice photos of the  islands, but no dolphins to be seen! We then travelled back down and stopped at an island on the way where we had time to walk to the top and take some photos.

We got back on the boat and travelled back down and there were still no dolphins to be seen! Luckily they offer a guarantee of seeing dolphins, so if you don’t see any you get to go again for free! We got off the boat at a different place called Russell and re-booked on the trip for that afternoon, before having a look around Russell for a bit, which was a cute little village.

The boat that afternoon was a lot busier than it had been that morning as there was a huge Chinese tour group! We set off and within a few minutes we spotted some dolphins, wohoo!!

The dolphins were swimming around the boat, and they then announced for the people who had put their names down to go and get changed! So Damo went and got a wetsuit and snorkel gear on, it was only him and 5 other people. He took the underwater camera in with him and got loads of photos and videos of the dolphins swimming around him! I watched from the boat and took photos from there!

It was amazing, even for me just watching Damo swimming with them from the boat! After the trip we went and found a pub that was showing the All Blacks vs England rugby game! It was mainly New Zealand fans obviously and the atmosphere was great! We had originally tried to get tickets but they all sold out by the time we had internet, boo!

The next day we visited a town called Kerikeri which is also in the Bay of Islands. First off we went to ‘Parrot Place’ where a load of birds come and land on you and you can feed them peanuts, we also held a talking parrot and saw lots of other different types of birds!

When we left there we went to Rainbow Falls, a waterfall just down the road. We took a couple of photos, then saw a young boy climbing over the rocks to get behind the waterfall so Damo decided to do the same! After Rainbow Falls we visited the oldest building in New Zealand called the Stone Store. When we arrived in the car park it was full of chickens, Damo threw them a handful of doritos and loads of them came from every direction to eat them!
On the way home we saw a sign for another waterfall called Haruru Falls so we stopped and looked at that one too.

The next day we headed back to Auckland, and we had arranged to meet my brothers friends Ted and Barbara, and they even let us stay with them for the night! They were so lovely and we chatted for ages, looked at photos of when they visited England, and made a fuss of their ragdoll cat, Casper! They cooked us a yummy dinner too! We wished we could have stayed longer but we had already booked our next hostel!

Our next stop was Waitomo, where there are glow worm caves, and we had booked 2 nights staying at a backpackers called Kiwi Paka. The first day we did the normal cave trip, where we walked down and were told about things like stalactites and stalagmites. Carried on down to a large part of the cave called the cathedral, where Katy Perry and Joss Stone have done concerts, and people have even got married! We then all got into a boat and went through to see all the glow worms on the ceiling, which was cool. The tour was good but kind of expensive for what you got, we thought. You weren’t allowed to take photos either.

(Photo courtesy of www.waitomo.com)

Ted had told us that he had done something called ‘Black Water Rafting’ at the caves which sounded great, so we did that the following day! 
We had to get into wetsuits, boots and helmets, then a minibus took us to the caves! First we walked through a farmers field full of cows, and we were told that the caves were directly below us.
When we reached the cave entrance we were given a tube each. The trip consisted of walking through, floating in a long line holding onto the feet of the person behind, jumping backwards off a waterfall! Floating through looking at the glow worms, and even going down a slide!
The water was freezing!! It was loads of fun and we saw just as many glow worms as the day before, maybe even more. After the trip we had hot showers, hot chocolate and got to look at all the photos and buy them on a CD! We did the trip with a company called Tube It and would definitely recommend them!

Our next destination after leaving Waitomo was the Hobbiton movie set! This was amazing and one of the highlights of our New Zealand trip!
The tour started by us getting on a bus and the driver gave us a commentary as he drove us through the farmland that was all part of Hobbiton. Originally there were going to be 12 different locations used for the movies, until they found the farmland and decided it was perfect.

We got off the bus and entered Hobbiton right next to the vegetable patch, and the path where Gandalf first enters Hobbiton in the first Lord of the Rings movie, known as ‘Gandalf’s cutting’. We then walked up past the tree where he lets his fireworks off, and arrived at a pond which had hobbit holes all around it!

We carried on up past some hobbit holes over the other side of the hill, used for shots from far away to make it look like Hobbiton carries on and doesn’t just end! We then went to a hobbit hole with a life-sized door which was great for photos, then carried on up to Bag End (aka Bilbo’s house!)

From there the tour carried on down to the field where they had the party, then to the Green Dragon pub where we got given a free beer!
We were walking around Hobbiton for about 2 hours in total, and they gave us lots of time to take photos and see everything.

After the tour we drove to Rotorua, where we stayed for 4 nights. The first thing we noticed as soon as we got into the town was the smell of rotten eggs! People had warned us about it but we didn’t realise it would be so strong! (The smell is from the sulphur, as the area is so volcanic, there is steam coming out the ground all over the place and there are heaps of thermal pools and volcanic vents!)

We stayed at an awesome backpackers called Crash Palace, and that night it was movie night, which meant we got free hot chocolate and popcorn!
The following morning we went to a place called Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland. First thing we saw was the Lady Knox geyser, which they set off every morning by pouring soap powder into it!
We then walked around the park and saw lots of craters and pools, then took a short drive to some bubbling mud pools!

We were done by lunchtime so we decided to visit Te Whakawarewa village, a living Maori village. We were shown how they cook traditional food called “hangi,” where it is cooked by the steam in a hole in the ground, where they bathe in the naturally hot water, and some geysers which are constantly always erupting. (Not like the one we had seen that morning which is set off each day.) We were then shown how they traditionally made skirts out of leaves, then watched a cultural performance, similar to the one we had watched at the Auckland Museum.

That night was spaghetti bolognaise night at the hostel - free dinner! After dinner we were playing a game of pool when suddenly the ground shook a little bit, argh! We had a few small tremors which carried on for about an hour, which was a bit scary but also exciting! We were told it’s quite normal but if they get worse in the night they would set off the fire alarm and we’d all have to evacuate! Luckily they stopped!

The following day we headed to Skyline, around 5 minutes drive away. Skyline is at the top of a huge hill/mountain, so you take a gondola to the top, and you can ride a ‘luge’ which is like a cross between a go kart and a toboggan, do a zip line, and ride a sky swing. We bought a combo ticket which meant we got to do all of them! We got 5 goes on the luge and there were 3 different routes so we tried them all. We then went and did the zip line, which was amazing!

At the end of the zip line we did a 10 metre jump to the ground, it was really scary to just step off the edge but you only really free fall for a split second then it kind of slows you down. After doing the rest of the luge rides, we went and did the sky swing, and I was terrified! We were strapped in and lifted up and up and it felt like it wasn’t going to stop! Once we reached the top we had to pull the string to release us! I was shouting at Damo to just pull it, we swang out over the edge of the mountain and it was awesome!! So much fun! Check out our New Zealand video at the end of this post for a clip of it!

After Skyline we visited a wildlife park which is right next door called Rainbow Springs. There were loads of birds, lizards, fish and swans, and we waited for it to get dark to see the kiwis. They are New Zealand’s national bird but it’s pretty hard to see them in the wild.

The following morning we watched the first England game of the world cup in the hostel, then checked out and headed south towards Lake Taupo. We stopped at the blue and green lakes, and another bigger lake, which were all just down the road. We then carried on until we reached Huka Falls. The falls are on the Waikato river, which is just north of Lake Taupo. At this section of the river, the gorge is 20 metres wide, rather than the usual 100, and there is a 20 metre drop, and the water literally roars! It’s also a beautiful turquoise colour!

After seeing the falls, we visited a place called Craters of the moon, which was more thermal craters with steam coming out of the ground. We then carried on past Lake Taupo, stopping at one point to have a look, then carried on to Whakapapa national park, where we were staying the night. This is when we really started to see the scenery change, from green hills and sheep everywhere, to snow topped mountains in the distance.

We stayed in a hotel that night called the Skotel Alpine Resort, as we got a really good deal, I think it was mainly used as a ski resort but there was no snow (apart from the very tops of the mountains!) We also got bumped up to a superior room which was great! From the room we had an awesome view of the mountain used as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings!

Our final destination on the North Island was Wellington, which is the capital of New Zealand. We were looking forward to being in a big city again! On the way we got pulled over and got a speeding ticket, oops!

We stayed in Wellington for 3 nights and during our time there we explored the city, visited the Te Papa museum (which is huge, and free!) Went on the 'Cable car’ up to the top of the botanic gardens and walked back down through the gardens to the city.

We walked past some toilets in the botanic gardens and noticed someone had done this to the sign, if you’re a Breaking Bad fan you’ll appreciate this!!

We visited the Weta cave, which is free, and we also paid $20 each for a tour of the workshop. We got to see lots of props from movies they have worked on, like Lord of the Rings, District 9 and Avatar. Outside they had some giant statues of the trolls from Lord of the Rings! 
They also made a giant Gollum and an eagle with Gandalf riding on it, which were hanging from the ceiling at Wellington Airport. A guy in the hostel told us that you can go and see them and if you’re less than 10 minutes you get free parking so we went and saw them too!

After this we drove to the Inter Islander ferry terminal and got the ferry over to the South Island.

Click here for part 2 - what we did on the South Island!

Please take a look at our New Zealand video below! It’s all in the order of when we did it, so the things and places you have just read about are included in the first half of the video.

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