New Zealand was only a short hop from Fiji. We flew into Auckland for a long weekend to book our Stray bus tour around the country. I would have liked to have stayed longer but we only had three weeks to cover both islands as we wanted to be in Australia for Christmas.
I went up the Sky Tower, Auckland’s most iconic monument, took a ferry out to Devonport and climbed a few mountains, ate steaming bowls of fresh mussels, visited the markets and shops and generally eased myself back into civilisation.
The bus tour was fantastic, hop-on hop-off and great fun. Our first stop was Raglan, supposedly the surfing capital of the world (I think the guide may need to double-check that!) and with some lovely beaches.
Thee great thing about the Stray buses was that they stopped so often to let you stretch your legs and see things off the beaten path. On the way to Raglan, we stopped at Mount Karioi, an extinct volcano, and at Bridal Veil Falls, set in a serene temperate rainforest.
The next day we went to Waitomo for some black water rafting (also known as tubing) – we sat in inflatable doughnuts and glided through caves lit by hundreds of gloworms, it wasnt all plain sailing though, there were some hairy moments when the caves got narrow and when we had to jump backwards down underground waterfalls in the dark!
From there we hit the Coromandel at Hahei and went to Hot Water Beach where we were given spades to dig holes which then filled up with steaming hot water from the geothermal river underneath – it was like taking a bath on the beach! This followed by a dash into the freezing cold sea made for some serious refreshment!
The next night we all spent the night sleeping on the floor of a traditional Maori home, our host cooked us a lovely traditional hangi – meat and vegetables buried underground with hot stones and leaves to cook – and told us legends and sang traditional songs.
The following day we went to Rotorua and spent the day looking around the living thermal village at Whakarewarewa – they use the steam erupting from the ground for cooking, heating and bathing and have some stunning geysers and boiling mud pools (although the smell of sulphur is something to get used to!) We got to see a traditional haka performed here at a cultural show (not a rugby ball in sight!)
I ticked skydiving off the bucket list at Lake Taupo with Freefall Skydive. It’s something I had wanted to do for years, and I was certainly not disappointed – it was so exhilarating and scary leaping out of a plane at 12,000 feet and falling at 200km/hour, and the view was incredible over the volcano, lake and national park.
Once we were finished with the beaches we headed into more mountainous territory, we wanted to do the world-famous Tongariro Crossing hike but it was torrential rain while we were there so we settled with seeing some active volcanoes and going on a shorter (drenched) hike to a local waterfall – we told ourselves that the weather added to the atmosphere as this was where they filmed scenes of Mordor for Lord of the Rings! We did eventually dry out, spending the night at the Skotel, the highest hotel in New Zealand.
Our last day on the North island of New Zealand was spent in Wellington (the capital) visiting the museum, shopping and taking in the nightlife. I felt my first earthquake while I was there but luckily it only measured three on the Richter Scale, just a very strange sensation.