After a rough boat ride across the Tasman Sea, we arrived in windy Wellington, but despite the name, on our first full day we were greated with sunshine and nothing more than a light breeze. We took advantage of this opportunity and headed straight to the tram line that took us up a hill to the Botanical Gardens, giving us stunning views across the city and harbour. A 30 minute stroll down through the gardens, with a break at the childrens playground because it had a zip-line, brought us to New Zealands political centre. After a quick look around one of the Victoria University campuses, we headed towards Cuba St as shopping was on the agenda for the afternoon. Amongst the usual shops you would find along a high street, The Body Shop, Borders, Adidas, etc, there was one shop that I didn't grasp. A vintage shop. Very odd. How Jade managed to spend 20 minutes browsing its aisle I don't know. To me it just seemed to be filled with peoples old clothes, but with hefty price tags. An expensive Oxfam if you will. One pair of red shoes were worn at the toe, i'm sure one heal was missing, but still they cost about 30 quid. After seeing this, I chose to wait outside.
As it seemed to have been reccomended by everyone who had visited it, our second day in Wellington was spent for the majority in the Te Papa museam. It had a similar feel to the Science museams, the only thing making it an inferior establishment was that it had no Launch Pad substitute. The afternoon was used to relax. I spent my time in a pub showing World Cup highlights, whilst Jade done something else.
We left for Auckland early next morning as the starting point of Stray's tour of the North Island began there. The driver described it as the longest day on the Stray calender. It would take 12 hours. Although most of the day was spent in an unconscious state, a stop allowing us to look at the mountains of the Tongariro National Park, which included Mount Doom from Lord Of The Rings, was impressive. This journey was all in preparation for the next day, when we headed east to Hahei in the Coromandel Peninsula. Upon arrival we decided to go for a walk along the coast to Cathedral Cove. With limited time, as we were heading somewhere in the afternoon, we were unsure whether we would be able to complete a 3 hour round trip as we had only about an hour and three quarters. However, we have either become expert hikers, or New Zealanders walk at the speed of a tortoise. We managed to complete the walk in half the time. Cathedral Cove was definately worth the walk. After passing a few secluded bays, you arrive at Cathedral Cove's principal feature which is a massive rock arc leading out into the sea. When we arrived back, we headed to a another natural sight, Hot Water Beach, where the Earth's crust is so close to the mantle that its heat radiates up through the sand allowing you to dig your own hot pools. After digging a few holes, some being too hot (I actually burnt my toes once or twice), others being too cold, I gave up, and me and Jade settled down in a hole someone else had already dug. We lay here with the rest of our group as the sun set. We arrived back to our hostel for a BBQ that our driver prepared, and spent the night meeting a bus load of new people.
We left Hahei for Raglan the next morning, and arrived at a surf camp a few kilometres outside of the town. Although it was a nice day, it definately wasn't warm enough to surf, so we went for a trip into town. Being very small, it didn't take us too long to walk down the main street, which didn't have much to offer, but some of the surrounding streets had a few interesting boutiques. After a few hours spent in town we headed back to the hostel and chilled out for the rest of the day. After a few tense games of Battleships, we took advantage of one the hostels big pluses, a 50 meters zip-line.
The previous night, I convinced our bus driver to postpone our departure the next morning to 8.30 so we could watch England get their first win of the World Cup against Algeria. As you all know this never happened, so another bus load of disappointed travellers headed to Waitomo, and the Glow-worm caves that the area is renowned for. Although the option of Black Water Rafting was available (Abseiling, zip-lining, and floating down rapids and waterfalls in complete darkness. Insurance companies don't cover it), we chose the safer, cheaper option, which was a walking tour through one of the first discovered glow-worm caves in the area. Although on paper this would seem to be the less entertaining option, in our tour was a group of Indians. We began the tour by passing impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations leading into a large cavern known as the Catherdral. Our guide informed us that in the past artists including Sting and Rod Stewart had performed concerts in the cave, after which she invited any of the tour group to sing a song of their choice. Despite boasting that he had a good voice, one Indian guy passed the buck to his wife who declared that she would sing the Indian national anthem. Soon the cave was echoing with the voices of 20 or so Indians. Wrong or not, I was thankful for the darkness as it hid the big smile on my face, whilst the song hid my childish giggles. The entertainment they provided didn't stop here however. Later our guide showed us rock structures that resembled animals. Upon pointing out an elephant, she was quickly corrected by another member of the Indian group who proclaimed that it was in fact "Hindu elephant God, Ganesha". Eventually we reached the highlight of the tour. We boarded boats, and our guide began to navigate through complete darkness. As our eyes grew accustomed to the dark we began to see little lights surrounding us - the glowworms. We had previously seen a few at night during our stay in Raglan, however this was something special.
After our tour through the caves we set off to Maketu, where Stray had organised a cultural evening for us. We would eat a traditional Maori dinner, a hangi (the food would be cooked in an underground oven), which would be followed by performances by the local Maori tribe. An interesting stop along the way was made to visit giant rabbits. They were of similar size to a small dog. Very odd. And it was about to get odder. The women who owned the place, streched and then tied one of the rabbits up by all fours, on a kind of horizontal rack and began to shave it. She began to explain that this was for the rabbits benefit, as failing to do so would cause it to overheat and explode. Amused, we returned to the bus to complete our jouney to the Maori marae (meeting house).
We arrived early evening, and were soon feasting on the buffet that had been put on for us. The leader of the local tribe, Uncle Boy, then informed us of the nights proceedings, explaining that we would be part of the cultural events. As a group, we represented our own tribe, and by turning up at their meeting house (their territory), we were considered an opposing force. What happened next was to simulate what would happen between two opposing Maori tribes if they met in these circumstances. Our leader, the eldest member of our tribe, would be presented with a token (a leaf laid down on the floor) by the other tribe, and depending on his response would determine whether he considered us to be a stronger, weaker or equal tribe. In order for the evening to commence, our leader was told to pick up the leaf, signalling that he thought us as equals, however had he stepped over the leaf a battle would insue as this is considered a sign of strength. Having been accepted as equals, we met the local tribe, which I thought would be made up of men that wouldn't look out of place in All Black shirts. I was very wrong. Maybe it was their night off. Instead we were greated by a few teenage boys and girls, a couple of 7 year olds, one guy who met my expectations, and two women, one who would have looked more at home in a country mansion in Surrey. In hindsight maybe our leader should have stepped over the leaf.
We introduced ourselfs to each member of the tribe with the famous Hongi, where you touch noses with your counterpart, before they performed for us the Poi (a female dance involving swinging balls on string) and the Haka. Once finished, they seperated our group so as to teach the men the Haka and the women the Poi, which would later be performed to the other. Dressed up in just a grass skirt, the men went first. I think we done a pretty good job given that we only had 15 minutes to learn it. This was followed by the women. I made sure I sat right in front of Jade so the video would come out perfectly. As is tradition after a Maori gathering, those in attendance sleep in the meeting house. So after taking advantage of the free wifi, we lay our matresses on the floor and dozed off.
The next morning, from a few miles out of town we could tell we were approaching Rotorua. The sulpher rich air, caused by the geothermal activity in the area, was filling our nostrils with the smell of rotton eggs. After acquainting ourselfs with the town, we visited Kuirau Park, a volcanic site close to the centre. There were bubbling mud pools, and hot thermal springs a plenty. However not content with what Kuirau Park had to offer, the following day we headed to Te Whakarewarewa thermal reserve and the Te Puia attraction, home to the areas geysers. Pohutu, the areas most famous geyser, spurted hot water to hights of 30m. Whilst here we also managed to get our first glimps of a Kiwi. Being nocturnal, seeing them in the wild is a rarity, however there was a specially lit Kiwi house on the reseve, and lucky for us they were up and about.
After visiting Lake Rotorua and the Government Gardens on our final morning in Rotorua, we headed a few hours down the road to Taupo. Almosty immediately after getting on the bus, our driver posed the question as to whether we wanted to do a sky dive. It was a b.e.a.utiful day, but despite saying earlier in the trip that she wanted to throw herself out of a plane, when the opportunity arose Jade changed her mind. We continued on our journey. Our first stop was a secluded hot spring. When asked by the driver whether we wanted to jump in about 80% of the passengers hands shot up. However, when taken to the murky spot and warned that putting our head under could cause us to contract meningitis, the closest anybody got to getting wet was Jade paddling. So on we went to Huka Falls on the Waikato River. Although the highest drop is only 11m, it is the amount of water that gushes over the falls that makes it impressive. 220,000 litres per second. We arrived in Taupo mid afternoon, had a stroll around town, and battled with the idea of whether to do the Tongariro Crossing (A walk across Tongariro National Park. Considered the best one day walk in NZ) or sky dive the next day. Snowfall meant that some of the path was closed and that we wouldn't be able to complete the whole walk. So we opted for the sky dive.
We put ourselfs on the waiting list early next morning and our jump time was scheduled for 11am. This didn't look too promising however as there was a thick layer of cloud. It seems as though conditions have to be almost perfect before they will take you up. By 11 there was no change and our time was pushed back to 1pm. We began to think that we had missed our opportunity. Although there was an improvement by 1pm, again our time was pushed back, to 2pm. Losing hope, we decided that if we were pushed back again we would give up and find something else to do so as not to waste a day. But we were in luck. At 1.45 we were picked up, and by 2.15 we were boarding the plane. Strapped to our dive partners, we took off in a plane that just about fit 10 people. I was on the floor. Eventually we reached 12000ft, the green light went on, the door opened and before I knew it I was hurtling towards the earth at 122mph. On average, we were free-falling at 47 metres per second, over twice as fast as Usain Bolt. At 5000ft the parachute opened, the andrenaline pumping side of the experience finished, and we enjoyed a leisurely descent, taking in the spectacular views of Lake Taupo, the Tongagriro National Park, and the surrounding area. We watched a video of the experience and jumped on a mini-bus back to our hostel. England's third group game was on that night, earlier at 2am, so after a few hours sleep I was up with all the men in the hostel. For the third time Jade had gone to bed having instructed me to wake her up for the match, and once again, at the time of kick-off I was instructed to go away and leave her alone to let her sleep.
We left Taupo the next morning and headed back to Auckland. As it was free, we spent our first full day on a tour of the city and the surrounding area. The Sky Tower was first on the hit list, followed by a look at the volcanic past of the area, which included views of the city from the top of Mount Eden, and we finished up with a walk across the Auckland Harbour Bridge. With a few spare hours, once the tour was complete, we browsed the shops along Queen Street, the main street in Auckland.
The next day we jumped on a bus to Hamilton to watch the All Blacks play Wales. Hamilton as a city had very little to offer, and the hostel we stayed in was odd. The YWCA. As a result of the match all accommodation booked up quick and we were left with whatever was available. Our room resembled an American college dorm. It came with a desk. But we wern't there for the rooms, so we headed off early to the Waikato Stadium as locals had told us that they have pretty good pre-match entertainment. I began to doubt them after a dull half hour of 13 year olds doing gymnastics, but when they left the scene, the stadium erupted with explosions and a fireworks display. This was followed by four guys, who because of their size I thought were part of the All Blacks squad, singing Stand By Me, to which the entire crowd joined in. Prior to the match we were unsure who to support, but on taking our place in the stand we had soon made our decision as we were surrounded by fans in black shirts. In hindsight a good choice. We won.
In the morning we travelled back to Auckland as we flew to Fiji the next day. After finding a hostel we spent the rest of the day relaxing and sorting ourselfs out for Fiji and the US. We (which included Jade for the first time) were up again in the middle of the night to watch another stunning England performance against the Germans. Despite the loss, the upside was when we got to the remote Fijian islands I didn't have to worry about finding a television. We headed to the airport at about midday, and after a 3 hour delay we were leaving the cold NZ weather behind and heading straight for the tropics.