Soooo..the flight over with Quantas was fine and we eventually got the shuttle bus over to the Base hostel in the centre of town, which we had got a deal at. Having landed at midnight we eventually were in the double room we'd treated ourselves too by 130am and went straight to bed. Our 5 days in Auckland was very relaxed, allowing ourselves to sleep in after late nights in Sydney and we explored the city the best we could given the limited amount of things to do and the rainy weather. We headed down Queen Street to the harbour, saw the CCC store, Auckland Fish Market, Harbour Bridge, Sky Tower and Sky City (the area beneath the tower with restaurants and casino etc), The Domain and Auckland Museum. The highlight was our meal in the revolving restaurant of the Sky Tower (maybe not the most traveller-y thing to do!) which was really good food with a superb view of the sun setting over Auckland and fantastic food.
Just over a week ago on the Sunday we started our Kiwi Experience bus. Luckily the day before we had walked to the KE office just to check through a few details and they only had Hel down to start and not Edd! Fortunately there was room on the bus and the error was quickly fixed. We left Auckland early and headed over to Hot Water Beach where the tectonic activity heats the water under the sand so many people dig down into the sand to create their own hot pools. We also visited Cathedral Cove nearby and after a long walk on slippy ground we got down there...only for Edd to try and point something out to Hel and walk right into a large branch! A small cut but nothing too major! That evening we chilled with the other people on our bus by our newly built cabins as well as meeting four young local Kiwi lads who lived nearby. They brought a rugby ball with them much to Edd's delight and proved quite a hit with the ladies on our tour and really helped to break the ice. The following day we drove down to Waitomo, a small town above loads of impressive caves. We joined others in the Black Water Rafting trip through the caves which was superb and one of the best experiences so far. You carry a tube float with you, which we used to secure our landings after jumping off waterfalls underground, floated along the water and saw glow worms lighting up the caverns (at which point our guide informed us that essentially they're fancy maggots). By the end of the 3 hours we were very cold in the freezing water but it was worth it as we'd had a great time, especially when they got us to turn our helmet lamps off and just allow the water's current to take us between caverns. They also provided soup and bagels to warm you up afterwards so that was our dinner covered too!
Next up was Rotorua, the city that sits above a major geothermal hub and has the eggy smell of sulphur in the air all the time. We went zorbing that afternoon (rolling down a hill in a big inflated ball basically!) and then in the evening went to a Maori village for an experience of their culture and some incredible food. This turned out to be another great thing to do and we were so happy that we booked it as it was a far more authentic experience than we had expected and we ate like Maori kings, with green lipped mussels, beef, chicken, fish, all manner of veg and dumplings all loaded onto our plates, followed by pavlova and hot sponge pudding with custard. That evening, encouraged by some kiwi fruit punch we went to the local bar with some friends from the bus and Hel came 3rd in the horizontal bungee competiton = run as far as you can across a room whilst attached to a bungy cord. Having time to walk through the town the next morning we checked out Lake Rotorua and the Hot Pools in the park nearby, which were very impressive sights to see.
Leaving there we went to Taupo which is known as the adventure capital of the north. That first day we filled ourselves on a Burger Fuel (much like GBK but better and with a doofer - a cardboard thing which you fold into shaping the bottom of your burger so nothing falls out!) then spent the afternoon on the beach of the lake with our fellow travellers. After freshening up and meeting the others in the bar, Hel and I agreed to sign up for the Beer Pong tournament (10 red cups half filled with beer, you have to throw a pingpong ball across the table and if you get it in the cup the opposition drinks it). Having triumphed in the semi final we found ourselves in a tight final against friends from the bus, but we kept a commanding lead throughout (with Hel even being awarded a free t-shirt for showing exceptional skill). The final cup proved difficult but eventually it went in and we were the tournament winners! This result meant we won a $50 bar tab which was to be saved for the next evening when everyone planned to go out on the bar crawl. So that second day in Taupo whilst some did the Tongariro Crossing (an 8 to 10 hour walk up to Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings), a few of us spent 4 hours walking ourselves, heading to the Huka Falls and back via the thermal pool in the river. That evening was the bar crawl which was good fun as most of our bus were on it and we ended up back in Element bar where we claimed our Beer Pong title allowing Hel and I make use of our bar tab by getting food as well as drinks. We also won another prize at one of the pub crawl stops (1/2 price Tongariro river rafting) but we won't be able to use it as we're now going to be flying back up to Auckland so we will try to sell it on somewhere along the way.
From Taupo it was on to River Valley on the Rangitikei River near Taihape where we stayed at an awesome little lodge down in the gorge right on the river bed. Edd had a massage to try and sort his back out (think rotator cuff in spasm..massage hasn't really worked!) and crossed the river on their ancient trolley system for a quick walk up the steep cliffside path. We also treated ourselves to a double room which was fantastic (and a real result as the others had to share 16 people bunkbeds in the infamous 'spooning' dorm) with a great view and a nice way to relax after loads of busy dorm rooms. The following morning we had a lot of time to waste whilst others white water rafted so Hel gave in and had an hour massage to thoroughly relax to the sound of the river!
Onwards again on Saturday for the 5 hour journey down to Wellington via Bulls (where every place in town ends in something bull related = The Socialbull bar etc). Unfortunately due to it being such a popular spot nobody was really in the same room as other Kiwi Exp travellers so we met our random roomies for the night briefly when dropping our bags off, who were pleasant enough but planning a big drinking session in the room before going out - so Hel and I headed out too knowing sleep wouldn't be possible too early! We visited the southern hemisphere's only Welsh Bar and, after dinner (Chinese!) with friends from the bus we headed on with our fellow KE's to another bar, where we dominated 6 tables, until late-ish. We braved the crazy wind (the coldest we've been since leaving in October) and headed back to the room for 4 hours broken sleep before a very early rise for the ferry over to the South Island. Some of our group were in a very bad way as they'd decided to not go to sleep, but we'd not drunk anywhere near as much so felt ok despite tiredness. Fortunately the crossing was really smooth and we went through the stunning scenery of the Marlborough Sounds and into Picton from where we jumped onto a fresh Kiwi Exp bus. Via a winery for some tasting we got to Nelson where we jumped off and bid farewell to our friends from the last week. We were here to see the pretty town of Nelson and stay for 3 nights with family friends of Rob Grant. Sue picked us up and soon enough we were in her home which has a stunning view over Nelson and down to the water. Nice to be able to stay somewhere for more that one night and relax a bit! And both Mike and Sue have been very nice and hospitable too feeding us a bevy of treats and even providing Hel with a much desired chance to have a bath.
Today we headed down into Nelson for a walk around and ended up giving into some shopping (a new hat and shirt for Edd, a thin cover-up top for Hel). Luckily NZ is far cheaper than Australia so much less guilt for buying anything as £ are half the NZ $ value! After checking out the world famous Jens Hansen jewellery store (he's the man who designed and made the 'precious' rings from the Lord of the Rings) we also made the effort despite the heat to see the cathedral and some local pottery and art galleries as well as a pretty Chinese Garden in the park and then made our way up the steep hill back to Mike and Sue's. We've also now, thanks to a free phone and good Wifi, managed to sort out the remainder of our travels more or less so all buses, flights and accomodation pretty much sorted right through to March which feels like we are on the home stretch even though 6 weeks or so still remain.
From here we'll take the next 2 weeks to head down the South Island along the West coast first then up the East before stopping in Christchurch for a bit with Tania's mum and step-dad (Hel's best friend from Uni). Tania is also coming out in February so it'll be good to see her and we are trying to organise seeing John Cann and Fia whilst we are here too which will be great as they've been here for over a year and know lots of great places to see. Will update at some stage soon, maybe from Chrischurch at the end of the month or Queenstown just before then if we're not too busy eating Fergburgers and throwing ourselves off things! In the mean time there should be beautiful walks, glaciers, white water rafting and possibly sky diving!