After nine months in Australia, we headed to New Zealand where our first adventures on our Kiwi Experience bus included Auckland, Hot Water Beach and Black Water Rafting in Waitomo’s glowworm caves.
It had been about seven months since I had first heard about Waitomo caves and so to have finally done them put a massive smile upon my face as we headed for our next stop on the Kiwi Experience bus, Rotorua. After stops for a sausage roll and for some people to go zorbing, we arrived in ‘RotoVegas’, New Zealand’s most popular tourism town. Kiwi Experience’s range of activities is pretty awesome.
Jodes and I checked into our hotel went for a walk around town. Rotorua is incredible to look at because steam leaks everywhere from underground due to this being a place of high geothermal activity. We first walked through Kuirau Park and everywhere we looked steam was flooding up from underground. Bubbles belched out of mud and steam gushed across water, creating a stunning film-like effect. I created a video on the science of geysers and mudpools based on this amazing place.
We walked on to Rotorua lake, which has an island in the middle of it. In that small is a small lake with an island – so that’s an island in a lake in an island in a lake in the north island of New Zealand! All around town there was steam even emerging from paved street cracks. Residents used to use it for their central heating but the tourism dropped when there were no public vents left. So they blocked people’s personal vents, only for steam to emerge from all sorts of random places, like people’s gardens!
Even our pool at the Base Hot Rocks hostel was heated through geothermal activity – the whole of Rotorua is built around steam. To get your head round it, check out my video explaining geysers and mudpools.
Our first stop after leaving Rotorua the next day was Te Puia, the New Zealand national Mãori Arts and Crafts Institute and natural thermal valley. We paid for a guided tour where we saw active geysers going off – a truly spectacular sight. We also visited the workshop of the Arts and Crafts Institute and watched the students carving. They only let in three students per year and they are clearly pretty talented.
Our guide boiled us hard boiled eggs in a geyser! Very tasty they were, too. We watched the spectacular geysers before going into a kiwi bird enclosure, which was very dark as the kiwi bird is nocturnal. For a long time, the only mammals in New Zealand were bats and so the kiwi birds had no natural predators and lost the ability to fly. Mãoris turned up in the 1300s, bringing dogs, possums and rats. Today, cats and dogs are the biggest killers of kiwis. They have dwindled from around seven million to around 70,000 but work is being done to build their numbers back up.
We checked out some more geysers before literally driving through the clouds towards Huka Falls, a spectacular gushing waterfall which is the most photographed natural spot in New Zealand, apparently. We saved money by booking the Urban Retreat hostel in Taupo, rather than the Kiwi Experience preferred one. Taupo’s main feature is the stunning Lake Taupo, which astonishingly is big enough to fit Singapore in it with space around the edges. We had glorious views across to a snowy Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom and Mordor from the Lord of the Rings trilogy!) which we planned to trek across the following day on our 18km Tongariro Crossing hike!
I couldn’t not go to the ‘Champions’ All Blacks rugby merchandise store at some point during my time in New Zealand. In Taupo I picked up the brand new 2013 All Blacks gym shirt – the one the players wear which is black with a blue flash on each shoulder; it’s the perfect material for gymming in myself and I wear it all the time. The only thing I wear more is the All Blacks hoodie I also picked up that day! So I was pretty chuffed. That night we watched Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King to educate my girlfriend on where she would be hiking the next day (no, I don’t know why she has never seen LOTR either!) We had a great free chilli con carne in the hostel that night in preparation for our epic trek the next day.
Check out my extra video of this amazing place here.