Hi, well we're been in New Zealand for just over a week now and we've had a fantastic time. If you've never been to the beautiful country then get over here because it's great.
We caught our very first Magic bus last Wednesday to Waitomo and then Rotorua. Our driver, Dusty, was a bit of a character and kept on saying 'sweet as', apparently a kiwi thing, after EVERY sentence! Our first stop was Mount Eden (Maungawhau) for the best view of Auckland. At 196m, it's the highest volcanic cone in the area. You can see the entire Auckland district - all the bays and land between Manukau Harbour and
Well we've now spent just over a week in beautiful New Zealand and if you've never been here then I recommend you get yourself over here because it's a fantastic place.
Last Wednesday we got on our first Magic bus (a hop on hop off bus that is taking us around both islands for the bargain price of 300 pounds for both of us! It was buy one get one free) to Waitomo and Rotorua. Our driver, Dusty, was a character and kept on say 'sweet as' after EVERY sentence - it's apparently a kiwi thing! Our first stop was Mount Eden for the best view of Auckland (Maungawhau). At 196m, it's the highest volcanic cone in the area. You can see the entire Auckland district - all the bays and land between Manukau Harbour and Hauraki Gulf - and look 50m down into the volcano's crater. There are 48 volcanoes in Auckland and in the distance I could see one of them called Maungakiekie ('Mountain of the Kiekie Tree') or One Tree Hill which is 183m high and is a distinctive bald hill topped by a huge obelisk.
From here we travelled south over the Bombay Hills and into Waikato region, stopping at the, very weird, Shearing Shed on the way to watch a white German angora rabbit being sheared. Apparently it doesn't hurt the rabbit and because it's so fury it would die if it wasn't sheared?? I don't know about that but the rabbit seemed quite happy, it was just a very surreal experience!
Next stop was the Waitomo Glow-worm caves. The name of the Waitomo region, which comes from the maori words wae (water) and tomo (hole or shaft), is appropriate due to the numerous shafts dropping abruptly into underground cave systems and streams. There are 300 mapped limestone caves in the area and myself, Jem and our friends, Lucy and Lee, from the bus took a slow boat through one of them to see the, very beautiful, Glow-worms sparkling like stars and the amazing stalactites (crystal layers which hang down from the cave ceiling) and stalagmites (layers that grow up from the cave floor).
In the afternoon we headed to a town called Rotorua, past lush, green, rolling hills, lots of cows and sheep. Rotorua is New Zealands maori cultural capital and is surrounded by geothermal activity. Nicknamed 'Sulphur City' it has the most energetic thermal activity in the country with bubbling mud pools, gurgling hot springs and gushing geysers. Rotorua is less than 60km inland from the Bay of Plenty. It is located 297m above sea level on the shores of Lake Rotorua. We arrived there about 5.30pm, in the dark, and checked into Kiwipaka YHA ($25 each for a mixed dorm). Our dorm was empty so we had a room to ourselves, we dumped our stuff and went to the local Pak and Save were we were very happy to discover that the food is alot cheaper hre than in Oz!
Last Thursday was spent checking out the unbelievable Kuirau Park which is an area of volcanic activity and you can wander around for free. It's most recent eruption was in late 2003 which covered most of the park (including the trees) in mud. It has a crater lake, pools of boiling mud, plenty of steam and mineral baths. We met a lovely lady called Jill in the park, who lived in Rotorua, and drove us to Ohinemutu, a maori village on the side of Lake Rotorua, which she said we must see. Ohinemutu means 'Place of the young woman who was killed' and was bestowed by Ihenga in memory of his daughter. There is a lovely historic maori church (St Faith's Anglican), where Jill was married, which has a beautiful interior decorated with Maori carvings, tukutuku (woven panels), painted scrollwork and stained-glass windows. An image of Christ wearing a Maori cloak is etched on a window so that he appears to be walking on the waters of the Lake Rotorua. Opposite the church is the very impressive 1887 Tamatekapua Meeting House. Named for the captain of the Arawa canoe, this is an important home for all Arawa people. Later we had a wander round the town and then chilled back at the hostel.
Friday we got up early, had a hearty brekkie, made a packed lunch and set off on a walk to The Redwoods (Whakarewarewa Forest) - a 104yr old grove of 60m high Californian redwood trees where the locals go for walks. It took us about 45mins from town to walk to the forest visitors centre were there was a selection of walks to take. Due to time we decided to take the Tokorangi Walk which was a 3hr steep climb with great views over redwoods and Lake Rotorua. We saw loads of mushrooms, Jem aka Ray mears was showing me all the different ones and saw lots of silver fern which is New Zealands national symbol. The forest was beautiful and peaceful but we've realised that we'll need to do a few more walks before we do the inca trail! Got back to hostel and had a gorgeous dip in the hot natural thermal pool, which at 38oC was very relaxing, while sipping on a G & T! This is the life hey!!!
That night we visited Mitai Maori Village, which included seeing warriors in traditiona; dress paddling a waka (ancient warrior war canoe), a cultural performance at the marae (sacred village), learnt about their past, carving and ta moko (tattoo art). A guy called John from London represented the visitors and had to go greet the chief and hongi (touching of noses in greeting). We had a traditional hangi which is a meal of chicken, lamb, potaoes, corn and kumara (sweet potato) cooked in baskets under the ground in its own steam - delicious! Then after our meal we had a guided bush walk to see the glow-worms and the crystal clear water flowing from a sacred spring with eels and rainbow trout in. we spent 3hrs at the village and had an amazing brilliant and came home very full and tired! Two English girls called Helen and Kate had checked into our dorm so we'd been lucky to have the room to ourselves for 2 nights.
On Saturday we got the Magic Bus at 9am to Taupo. Our driver was called Royal and he had only been doing the job for 5 days. The bus was quite full with loads of hungover travellers and bad music (time warp was played once or twice - as Jem said felt like we were at a family wedding!).
On the way out of town we drove past Lake Rotorua which is the largest of 16 lakes in Rotorua and was formed by an eruption and subsequent subsidence of the area. From there we stopped at the Govenment Gardens - an oasis of Edwardian charm, created in 1890's with a very English feel, a big tudor house, croquet lawn, rose beds and steaming thermal pools.
A bubbling mud pool was our next stop and then onto watch the Lady Knox Geyser spit steaming water, high, into the air. This is prompted every 24 hrs to gush and is an amzing sight to see and it's free which is even better! From here we stopped at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland but at $24 we decided to give it a miss because it was only more of what we'd just seen.
On the way to Taupo we drove past Wairakei Pine Forest which is getting chopped down for dairy farming (more profitable), stopped at The Honey Hive to taste lots of honey including Manuka honey and tasted New Zealands fav ice-cream the delicious Hokey Pokey which is small pieces of toffee mixed into vanilla ice-cream -yummy! Our last stop before Taupo was the mighty Huka Falls, known as Hukanui in Maori, meaning 'Great Body of Spray'. We crossed over the Waikato River on a footbridge above the falls and watched the clear blue water fly past, more like a giant rapid. We said by to Lucy and the other skydivers and walked, for about an hour, along the Waikato River bank, crossing a hot stream through a lovely park to the bungy jump site were we watched Luke off our bus jump - scary stuff even to watch! Taupo, which was a few minutes drive away, lies on the northeastern corner of Lake Taupo, the largest freshwater lake in Australasia, formed by one of the greatest volcanic explosions if all time and as big as Singapore Island! We got dropped off at Tiki Lodge, nice small hostel and we were in the same dorm as our mates Lucy, Lee and Rob which is good cause we can leave all our bags in the room and don't have to worry about our stuff getting robbed (happens alot!).
The next day we were off to do the Tongariro Crossing, 8hr trek, so it was early bed due to our 5.30am start!
This blog is super long so I'll tell you about our very hard trek tomorrow! Miss you all lots xxxxx