After nine months in Australia, we headed to New Zealand where our first adventures on our Kiwi Experience bus included glowworm caves, geysers and hiking across Mordor.
There a couple of things I love about New Zealand, aside from the obvious staggering natural beauty and friendly, welcoming people. Firstly, I bloody love New Zealand bakeries – they are ubiquitous and seemingly a level above bakeries from other countries. Secondly, I love the Mãori language that is still present in modern Kiwi place names. It’s a beautiful language and can also be amusing. ‘Wh’, for instance, is pronounced as an ‘f’, so the place Whakapopo is pronounced ‘fuck-a-pupu’.
We headed out of Taupo (via a bakery, of course) and Mangee drove our Kiwi Experience bus to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing that we had hiked the day before. We did a 7km walk through the national park, which was very pleasant and had nice views but was not a patch on our 18km crossing. Teranaki Falls was pretty, mind. I made a video of the region which you can see here. The whole of our Kiwi Experience bus crew had group photos by the fancy hotel Peter Jackson stayed at whilst filming Lord of the Rings (a helicopter picked him up each day!)
Our next destination was River Valley. It’s a gorgeous area with an unreal amount of ridged hills and our River Valley Lodge is set in a super-picturesque valley reminiscent of Big Sur, California a little. The Lodge cooked us a fabulous roast beef dinner cooked for us – probably my first roast dinner since Christmas Day some seven months earlier! We spent the evening relaxing by the wonderful open fire in the Lodge.
The next day we woke up bright and early for our 8:30 horse trek. We got driven up to the stables and met Nicola, our guide who runs the stables and co-owns River Valley. Riding with Nicola were Jodes, myself, a German girl on our bus called Elki, and Laura, a Candian girl who works at the stables. We got kitted up with chaps, hats, gloves etc and matched to horses based on our experience. Curiously, I’ve only ever ridden a horse in August (Camp Walden, Michigan in 2010 and 2011 and River Valley, New Zealand in 2013). I got Picasso, a horse who was rescued by a lady who moved to South Island and wanted him to go to a good home. He had been there about a year and always got bossed around by Pedro, Jodes’ horse! Nicola sorted out our reins and stirrups and stuff and we left the yard.
We practised stopping the horse by pulling on one rein. These horses are ridden by natural horsemanship, so unusually they have no bit in their mouths. It was so fun to ride them and the views were glorious – proper Lord of the Rings country with pointy rather than rolling hills, which emerged from the sea millions of years ago. I felt far more confident riding this time and loved every minute. Picasso was really good and liked to race to the front, so we made a good team!
Picasso and I cantered uphill twice, which was a wicked feeling. I felt like Aragorn or Gandalf and would love to ride more in the future. I also fell head over heels in love with the countryside – it’s just incredible. I felt so good for having ridden and we headed back to River Valley Lodge until the rafters were back from their grade 5 rafting. The great thing about Kiwi Experience is that they give you a choice of activities pretty much every day.
After leaving River Valley, we stopped at Bulls, a ridiculous town full of puns referencing the town name. The toilets sign is ‘Relive-a-Bull’, the police station is ‘Const-a-Bull’ etc. It’s the pun that went too far.
En route to Wellington I wrote a Kiwi Experience rap which I was subsequently made to perform to everyone over the bus microphone! Once at Welly, Jodes and I met up with our friend Nikki, who we hadn’t seen since Camp in America in 2011. She took us round town and drove us up Mount Victoria for a stunning view of the city and harbour from above. I could see why they call it Windy Welly though; it was rather breezy up there! We drove to a place called Eastbourne (which is also the name of the British seaside town where I was born, it was like coming full circle!) and had ‘fush and chups’, as they call it in New Zealand. We spent a nice evening at Nikki’s with her and her boyfriend Dave. Wellington seems like a really cool city and I would definitely like to spend more time there.
The next morning Nikki drove us to town nice and early and we had a great breakfast of eggs and sourdough. We met Mangee, our legend of a bus driver, and hopped on the bus to the ferry terminal for our three hour crossing to South Island.
Apparently there had been three earthquakes in Wellington the night before! We didn’t feel them but it was still pretty cool to have been there during some serious seismic activity. I’d seen a kiwi bird, experienced an earthquake and now I just needed to catch a Hobbit!
We arrived at Picton and got a new coach to replace our old one which kept breaking down. We stopped at the home of Ernest Rutherford – the legendary scientist who first split the atom. Interestingly, he was registered at birth as Earnest Rutherford – he must have been keen…
It was a long drive to Kaiteriteri and by now we had a full bus with loads of new people, having only been about half full for the North Island leg of our epic journey. We cooked dinner at Kaiteri lodge and went to the bar with our Irish and German friends from the bus. Kiwi Experience attracts people from all over the world so we got to meet some awesome guys from a variety of different countries. We played the Kiwi Experience board game that I had made on the bus with hilarious results.
Next time: Partying at Lake Mahinapua
My Kiwi Experience North Island Rap:
Well hello, whaddup, Kia Ora
Can you hear me from Taupo to Kaikoura
We travel all over, don’t need clearance
We on the bus called Kiwi Experience
Funky Chicken, Sheep Dog or Rangi
We all hopped on board with Mangee
Started from a place called Auckland
Drove across Hobbit and Orc-land
To Cathedral Cove and, dug a hole in sand
When the tide came in on Hot Water Beach
Knew we’d stayed longer than we oughta, b*tch
Mangee knew the way to go
Glowworms knew the way to glow
When we tubed down caves in Waitomo
We took a photo, photo here on the road to Rotorua
Got lost in Taupo, crossed Tongariro
Rode in River Valley on a horse like a hero
North Island was the sh*t – except Bulls – bullsh*t
We’re on our way to Welly and we ain’t ever gonna quit
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