Travel Journal: Part 18 (New Zealand)

This journal was written as a physical diary by me during my gap year. I am typing this up to share my gap year experience. At the beginning of travels I was 22. I travelled with a friend (Kieren) and anybody else involved will be introduced during the journal. For more details, check here.

To travel through New Zealand, we booked a Kiwi Experience bus pass for the North and South Islands. This is a flexible bus pass so you can spend longer in places you want to, they have recommended hostels, and there are plenty of activities that they offer. We decided to travel New Zealand for 1 month.

Check out the previous instalment here.

26th February 2018

Up early again for a 7.30am departure. We drove to Karangahake for a walk along the train tracks and through the tunnels of old gold mines. Our final destination was Waitomo where we checked into KiwiPaka. Waitomo is a tiny town – 1 shop, 1 pub, 1 cafe and 1 hotel.

(a) + (b) Exploring Karangahake.

The activity today was Black Water Rafting to do the Black Labyrinth Experience. Although it’s called rafting, it’s more like tubing. We went to Ruakuri cave and in the cave we did a combination of walking and tubing. We ended up 65m underground! The cave was incredible – there were so many glowworms, and there was a part where we were tubing along and everyone turned off their torches. The glowworms were like fairy lights. There was an underground waterfall and we jumped off backwards on our floats. The water in the cave was so cold – when we got out we were freezing! Luckily they had hot showers, tomato soup and bagels to warm you up!

(a) The Legendary Black Water Rafting. (b) Getting ready to go in the caves. (c) Black Labyrinth Experience.

27th February 2018

The bus left KiwiPaka at 8.45am and we headed to Ruakuri Cave for a 30 minute bush walk.

Next stop was Hobbiton for an awesome tour. The Hobbit holes were so cute, the gardens were adorable and the Green Dragon Pub was great (I had a cider). The tour was 45 minutes, but we stayed at the pub for about half an hour before the Kiwi Experience bus was leaving. One thing that I would say about it is that I did feel a little rushed around. I still loved it though!

Exploring the Hobbiton Movie Set.

The bus then took us to Rotorua, and we’d opted to do an overnight stay at Tamaki Maori Village. This started off with an informal greeting ceremony with the 2 brothers who were looking after us. We had to pick a chief (Ewan from our Kiwi Experience bus) and sing them a song of the group’s choosing (Wonderwall). We had afternoon tea (Maori doughnuts, carrot cake and cookies) then learned a short Maori song.

Traditional Maori greeting ceremony.

We were taken to the dorms for the overnight stay, they explained the carvings on the beds to us, and we played some Maori stick games. There was then a formal introduction ceremony with the rest of the village – they arrived in a canoe and did a peace offering ritual. We wandered through the village before some evening entertainment (singing and dancing) and a Hangi dinner (traditional Maori cooking). The lamb was amazing!

(a) Carvings in the dorms. (b) #TAMAKIMAORIVILLAGE. (c) Evening performance.

I really enjoyed this place and felt like I did learn about Maori culture.

28th February 2018

We woke up in the Maori huts and had breakfast, before heading back to Rotorua. We checked into Base Hostel then Kieren and I wandered to the park to see the natural geothermal springs*. There was a huge lake with a lot of steam and bubbling mud pools.

(a) Bubbling mud pools in Rotorua. (b) + (c) Sulphur emissions surrounding the lake.

We then went to Skyline, and went up the mountain on a gondola. We had 5 turns on the ‘luge’ (basically a downhill go kart) and it was so fun! Each time we headed back up on a ski lift. It was like human Mario Kart! Afterwards, we went back down the mountain on the gondola and went back to the hostel for a chilled night.

(a) Skyline Gondola with views over Rotorua. (b) Ticket to board the Gondola.

*Rotorua is known for it’s geothermal activity. It is sometimes called “Sulphur City” due to the hydrogen sulphide emissions.

1st March 2018

The Kiwi Experience bus left at 9.30am and the first stop was the Redwood Forest for a nice morning walk. The bus continued onto Taupo where we checked into Base Hostel. We went jet boating at Huka Falls and it was so fun! This involved a lot of 360 degree spins. We returned to the hostel for dinner and an early night because we’re getting up early tomorrow!

(a) Huka Falls. (b) Ticket to Jet boating. (c) Huka Falls. (d) Windswept and interesting during jet boating. (e) Getting ready.

2nd March 2018

We woke up at 4.30am to get the bus to Tongariro National Park at 5am. We hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, and got to see 3 active volcanoes. One of these is Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings! There were a couple of hard parts, mainly the Devil’s Staircase, but it was worth it to get to the summit with great views of Mordor! Getting down from the summit was difficult but then we got to see the Emerald Lakes. We sat down here to have lunch and the weather changed so quickly that we could no longer see the lakes! I’m so glad we got there when we did because they were beautiful.

(a) Above the clouds at the summit. (b) Map showing the hike across the Tongariro Crossing. (c) Emerald Lakes. (d) Tongariro Alpine Crossing. (e) Mordor.

The remainder of the hike was downhill so pretty easy. We reached the end at 12.45pm so it took 5 hours in total.

We got the bus back to the hostel and went to Spa Park, which has free natural hot springs. In the evening, we were to the hostel bar for a couple of drinks and games of pool with Sam and Jonas*.

*2 guys that had been on our Kiwi Experience bus since Auckland.

3rd March 2018

The bus left Taupo at 9.30am and it drove back to Tongariro National Park to a village called Whakapapa (pronounced Fakapapa). We did a 5km walk to see more of the national park. The bus then headed to River Valley, which is an adventure lodge in the middle of nowhere. The dorms are so strange – the bunk beds are 7m long!

(a) Taking in the views. (b) Waterfall.

We tried to have a swim in the river but it was too cold, so instead a big group of us played volleyball. In the evening, we all sat out on the patio playing card games.

4th March 2018

Today, we’re doing white water rafting! We were in the raft for 2.5 hours and it was great. The start was pretty flat but after halfway there were a lot of quite intense rapids. Our boat almost flipped over on one of them but we just managed to stay in. On the next rapid, the 2 Argentinian people on our boat fell out and we had to get them in very quickly because it was a dangerous rapid. This was such a great experience and I would definitely do it again!

White water rafting at River Valley in the North Island of New Zealand

White water rafting at River Valley.

The bus was then off to Wellington, with a quick stop in Bulls. We arrived in Wellington at 6pm and checked into Base Wellington. Free food at the hostel tonight! A group of us from the bus decided to climb Mount Victoria at sunset, and there were great views of the city. We went back to the hostel bar for a few drinks and games.

Sunset over Wellington at the top of Mount Victoria.

Check out the next instalment here (available 12th April 9am GMT).

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