My god, it feels good to be back travelling. Working is actually the worst. My journey did start with the usual process of me thinking I’m going to miss my flight (I didn’t). For once my flight was actually fantastic, as I mentioned in my last post, I’d been upgraded to business for the long part of the journey so I genuinely enjoyed the flight. When I arrived Christie and Rissbrook were waiting for me at arrivals which was lovely, and then we jumped in an Uber, picked up Mischa and headed to Christie’s uncle’s house out in Whangaparaoa – about an hour outside of Auckland.
The weather was glorious, the house beautiful and it was just such a nice way to start the trip. We were all being very active and actually worked out every day when we were there. I did get a bit burned (I even put factor 30 on!) but apart from that everything was fantastic and we went to bed early to get rid of the jet lag quickly!
After two days of very un-backpacker way of life, we checked into Nomads hostel in Auckland as we started the Kiwi Experience the next day. We had a little wander around but it was really just like any big city. We drank a few glasses of wine with one of Rissbrook’s friends living out there but ultimately went to bed early as our bus was at 9am.
Naturally, the first thing we did when we got on the bus was to try and suss out who looked like a good time. We had also been joined by another Edinburgh grad – Nick Russell, or as we like to call him ‘Itinerary Nick’. The first stop on the bus was Hot Water Beach – at this beach around an hour before or after low tide, you can dig a hole and sit in the hot water that comes through the sand as a natural hot spring. Despite our best efforts, we failed to dig a big or deep enough hole so eventually just nicked someone else’s already previously dug one. This is where we made our first kiwi friends (yay) Jamie, Jordan and Cam – who we actually ended up travelling all the way down to Queenstown with. That afternoon we headed to Cathedral Cove which involved a 40 min round trip hike to a… wait for it… cove. Although slightly sweaty and sandy, the beach really was lovely and worth the walk. That evening we made a huge BBQ and drank a lot of boxed wine resulting in a very good first day.
What I failed to mention earlier was our bus driver Dylan. Man, this guy had ADHD to a new level – he NEVER stopped talking over the mic! Bless his heart, he knows so much about New Zealand but you couldn’t hear yourself think over his constant mumbling and awful one-liners. Luckily, he was just the overload driver so we didn’t have him for the full trip!
The next stop after Hot Water Beach was Waitomo. We had booked to go on the black water rafting in the caves with glowworms in the afternoon. This was actually great fun. It was more tubing than rafting however and the whole thing was actually a bit scary at times! We had to jump off waterfalls backwards in the dark and we knew there were eels in the water. Despite all of this, when you turned your head torch off and floated in the pitch black, the glowworms were fantastic, they looked like stars in the sky. We did the labyrinth tour and not the abyss and we were so glad, 2 hours in the caves was enough! The Abyss has abseiling and zip-lining but it was 5 hours long and I couldn’t have hacked that, after 2 hours I was ready to see daylight and dry off.
Wetsuits are a very good all-round look. It was way scarier than it looks by the way!
Now this next bit surprises even me, but we got up the next day at 7am and went for a run…. what? I’ll admit that I’m quite smug about that! On our way to Rotorua we dropped some people off at Hobbiton; as I’ve never seen Lord of the rings (don’t hate me) I couldn’t justify paying for a ticket but everyone that went said it was amazing. Instead of Hobbiton, Christie and I wandered around Rotorua for a couple of hours. We had a glass of wine by the lake and went to the market (there isn’t very much to do there). Rotorua is famous for its natural hot springs/geothermal activity which is neat, but the town smelt of sulphur the entire time which was less than ideal.
That evening we stayed in the Tamaki Maori village overnight. When we arrived we were given afternoon tea which was such a treat and then learnt a song in Maori and played some traditional games with sticks. All of which was genuinely so much fun. We then got ready and headed to the actual experience where we were shown a traditional Maori welcoming ceremony and learnt a lot about their culture. Despite it all being an act, I really enjoyed learning about their traditions and found it very interesting. After the experience, we had a huge buffet dinner which has been cooked in the traditional style – steamed underground using the natural hot springs. We then performed our song to the rest of the people at the dinner and spent the night in the hot tubs drinking wine – it was an extremely enjoyable evening and I would highly recommend it to anyone going. Everyone had a good time and it was a great way to meet people on your bus, although some of us (Rissbrook) may have had a little TOO much wine.
The following morning we were all a bit hungover as we had to be up at 7am and didn’t get to bed til around 2am. Everyone was feeling a bit cranky and there was so much faffing about. One of the main negatives of the Kiwi Experience for me is that it is very much like a school trip. It’s not as easy as we had originally thought to hop on and off, you need to call the office and confirm your Itinerary and going southbound in the summer months is extremely busy, it’s very likely you’ll be on waiting lists for buses. In addition to this, obviously you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, but the bus will often stop off at walks/places of interest/cafes and you will have to sit there and wait for anyone that does the activity before the bus moves on to the actual destination. This was our first real experience of this, really feeling worse for wear. After the really early start, the bus pulls us to the Geothermal Park. I can’t say this sulphur-smelling centre was exactly where I wanted to be or spend my money one so instead, we just sat by the lake and waited. The next stop was (i’ll admit) a beautiful redwood forest. Our first impression was “I can’t believe we had to get up at 7am for all of these activities we don’t even want to do”, but we ended up doing an hours walk in the forest and we ended up really enjoying it.
By the time we’d finally got to Taupo and checked into the hostel, it was quite late in the afternoon and everyone was extremely hungry and getting quite snappy so we hurried to the nearest restaurant. The lakefront in Taupo is great. It has a load of nice bars, restaurants and cafes with a very chilled atmosphere. Lake Taupo is actually the largest lake in New Zealand, it’s roughly the size of Singapore! After eating, we all felt a little better and spent the rest of the evening just chilling in the hostel.
Everyone stays 2 nights in Taupo because you are supposed to do the Tongariro crossing – apparently the most beautiful hike you’ll ever do – the next day, however, the wind at the top of the mountain that day was exceeding 60km/h so it was called off. As we couldn’t do the hike, we all went for a family run along the lake and Mischa and I did a quick legs, bums and tums set in the grass at the hostel (I literally don’t know who I am anymore).
Despite the walk being called off, the weather in Taupo was glorious so we headed to the free hot springs called Spa Thermal Park. It was a good 40-minute walk away but so worth it, It ended up being a really great day, even if I did get a bit sunburnt. We spent the evening watching the sunset over the lake with a G&T; how very civilised.
We got on the bus to River Valley the next morning and one of our mandatory activities was an hour and a half round trip to see the Taranaki falls. We ate our lunch by the falls but it ended up actually being quite chilly! In River Valley, everyone stays at the River Valley Lodge and it’s basically just a huge piss up – really great fun. Our new bus driver Benni, this larger than life Maori, has 100% been the best bus driver we’ve had. He straight up told us that he hates the mic, he’ll only stop if he has to and honestly was so much fun on that night. He was wandering around with a rasta hat on, listening to Maori-pop on his headphones, having a few beers and ciggies. We even got him to play ‘Heads up’ which was quite an experience. If you ever do the Kiwi Experience and have Benni, honestly, send him my love, we all had so much time for him.
The whole point of going to River Vally is for the whitewater rafting, which we had the next day at 8am. The rafting was actually awesome, although Christie and I got kicked out of our boats and had to go with randomers… safe to say Cam and Jordan were in the dog-house for a while. I would definitely recommend doing this while you’re there though, it’s supposed to be some of the most technical (and therefore fun) rafting in the world. By the time we got back to the hostel we had a quick turn around and headed for Wellington. We ended up getting a free upgrade to a private room which was lovely, so all of us girls just stayed in and watched a movie.
That morning we slept in for so long; this was the first chance for a proper lie in. The Kiwi Experience only guarantees you 1 night in Wellington but you get there at 6pm on the first day. We were only able to book an extra night but 3 would have probably been better. Despite getting up a bit later than normal, I still managed to go for a lovely run along the water. We then hiked up Mount Vic which had spectacular views of the city from the top and then made our way down to Oriental bay – a small beach right near the centre of Wellington. Just as we were reaching the beach a local pointed out that a whole pod of dolphins in the centre of the bay, such a treat! There is a small pontoon you can swim out to from the beach which was really nice until we realised we were surrounded by jellyfish and had to make some mission impossible style moves to get out of the water unharmed.
Another must-do in Wellington is the Te Papa museum. It’s completely free and so informative. We didn’t really have enough time to see it properly but I wish that we had. A fourth and final Edinburgh pal arrived that evening, Ruby – we were building up quite the group!
For dinner we had street food on Cuba street, I had a butter chicken roti wrap which was mouth watering. You have to go to this market if you’re in Wellington. After the food everyone was seriously ready for a drink, we found a lovely rooftop bar called the Arborist which made fantastic margaritas – for anyone that knows me I am obsessed with margaritas, specifically frozen ones.
We had been told that the best bar in Wellington is the edgy, cool bar called the Laundry Cafe. I’ll admit it was actually quite cool. It had super out-there decor and while it was still a bar and not a club, the music was quite good. That all changed when the tables were packed away and we realised there was very loud techno playing and we were suddenly very outnumbered by people in studded leather jackets, shaved-headed and huge doc martens. Honestly, on a normal night in the UK I actually quite like a bit of techno but this just wasn’t the vibe we were looking for. Instead, we ended up at a super-cheesy night in a club called Danger Danger. There was a lot of Shania Twain and finger wagging (I’d imagine the tequila probably helped with this part) but it was perfect. The late night didn’t bode well for the 6:30am wake up we had the next morning to get the ferry.
NOTE: The hostels in New Zealand have quite weird drinking rules. A lot of hostels are completely dry and therefore you aren’t allowed to have any alcohol on the premises. Some have bars but honestly quite a few force you to take a few nights off!
Auckland: Nomads – Average hostel but did what it said on the tin! Very close to the bus pick up so that was helpful.
Hot water beach: Hot Water beach top 10 Holiday park – so, we ended up staying in a glamping tent but there were nice cabins as well there as well. This place was really nice, it didn’t have enough showers but the kitchen was decent, there was outside benches and a BBQ. It was freezing in the tent though! Try and stay in a cabin if you can.
Waitomo:Kiwi Aka – Such a cute hostel! We stayed in a room that was almost like a house. It had 2 floors, really comfy beds and its own bathroom. The kitchen was quite big, you cant bring alcohol but there a pub literally next door, although we didn’t check it out. A lot of the hostels here are ‘dry hostels’ but it was actually quite nice as certain places forced you to to take a night off.
Rotorua: We did the overnight stay at the Maori village so don’t know anything about the hostels here. Would really recommend doing the overnight stay, it’s not cheap but the rooms and nice and the whole evening is well worth the money. It’s also a great way to get to know your bus-mates.
Taupo: Haka Lodge – This was a really nice hostel with a hot tub and beds with curtains and plugs. We didn’t stay in Base because we were told it was disgusting – think staying here was a good idea! The only negative was when we did a wash nothing dried, although I suspect this was because we overfilled it by quite a lot.
River Valley:River Valley Lodge – there is nowhere else to stay and this place is quite nice. It’s the only place in New Zealand that only caters to the Kiwi Experience. They have reasonably priced bar and really nice food. We stayed the dorm room which was basically like 1 really long bunk bed with a load of mattresses next to each other. Luckily we were a bit too drunk to worry about how close everyone was and actually ended up having a great sleep.
Wellington:YHA– Great hostel, would highly recommend it. We had a very complicated booking with people coming and going, different rooms and different dates. They sorted it all out for us and gave us a private room for the price of a dorm. The kitchen is huge and well equipped – definitely stay here and not at Base if you can.