Time to wave goodbye to the glow worms and say hello to New Zealand’s other famous creatures, Hobbits!!! Because a trip to Hobbiton doesn’t need any other explanation other than who wouldn’t want to embrace their inner Lord of the Rings geek, sit in a Hobbit hole and have a pint at the Green Dragon…not me!
After all the excitement of the Shire we arrived in stinky Rotorua, famous for it’s geothermal activity, bubbling mud pools and natural hot springs, consequently it stinks of egg! It’s also home to one of the most popular cultural attractions in the world, the Tamaki Marae Village, where I went with a group off the Kiwi Experience Bus to the evening cultural show and traditional dinner. The atmosphere of the whole night was so intense, the performances of traditional dances and the Haka were so incredible, I think all the women off the Bus fell in love with the Mauri men!
The Redwood Forest is a great place to explore if you’ve got a longer stay in Rotorua, it has loads of walking, biking, horse riding tracks as well as a high ropes course and a Nightlight Tour where the trees get lit up with lanterns and fairy lights! (v. cute!) I hired a mountain bike from Moutain Bike Rotorua ($90 for two full days worth of hire) and checked out the trails running through the forest.
Lastly, before leaving the town I joined tour of Te Puia Thermal Reserve to see Pōhutu; the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere, erupting up to thirty meters high every hour! Also managed to get a bit of brekkie in the form of a hard-boiled egg, cooked in one of the naturally occurring hot cooking pools (possibly the coolest way to cook and egg EVER!)
A quick stop on the way to our hostel in Taupo allowed everyone to jump off the bus to see Huka Falls; I couldn’t believe how blue the water was at this place! It’s definitely worth a visit, there’s a walk from the centre of Taupo that takes you there via the natural hot swimming lake; which is where I headed after checking in at Base! I felt like I’d just had a warm bath, my legs had that toasty warm feeling that you get after having a long soak and then putting your pjs on (expect I was in a lake in the middle of a park and was wearing jeans that were muddy from the soles of my feet! But hey, a girl can dream…)
The next day I completed the Tongariro Crossing in the Tongariro National Park, a 19.4km walk that passes ‘Mount Doom’ from Lord of the Rings. This is one of the most popular walks in New Zealand and in summer the path can be rammed with walkers! Luckily, doing it in April meant that this wasn’t an issue, however thick fog covered many of the views and it was a race against the clouds to snap a good pic when they lifted for a few seconds before descending like a white blanket again! Very atmospheric and Lord of the Rings-esk though! http://www.tongarirocrossing.org.nz
Pizza and beer was definitely in order that night!!!
If you’re travelling on the Kiwi Experience Bus then the River Valley Lodge stop is one of the best nights! The lodge itself is v. cool (stay in the 36 bed dorm! The beds are so comfy) The rooms are traditional mauri style sleeping arrangement, with everyone’s mattress lined up next to each other on one giant bed spanning the whole room! (It might not sound that appealing now, but trust me, it’s great!) After arriving the night was a blur of swinging over the river, trying to climb the full way around a table, peer pong and lots of alcohol-fueled bonding with the group!
The main activity at River Valley is white water rafting, which my friend who did it said was amazing, however it was slightly out of my budget so I settled for a bacon and egg butty (the food there is AMAZING! You HAVE to try the breakfast!) and a reasonably argument-free game of monopoly!
Wellington! New Zealand’s capital city, my last stop on the North Island, a foodie’s heaven and probably my favourite place so far! Where to start on the many reasons why this city’s AMAZING…if not a touch windy!
I guess the first reason has to be food as I spent most of my time eating in gorgeous cafes in order to shelter from the wind! I read an article on the plane of my way to Auckland which recommended Sixes and Sevens cafe for their yummy doughnuts, so I bet you can never guess where I headed on my first morning … I can confirm they lived up to expectations, and the salmon and cream cheese quiche was very decent too! I don’t want to ramble on about food too much even though I easily could do as I’ve been in a bit of a food coma the past four days! So as briefly as possible, I visited and would recommend Masala for a yummy curry (you’ve got to be brave to go for ‘Kiwi hot’, I thought I could handle the spice but was proven wrong…), The Best Ugly Bagel Shop (which is exactly what it says on the tin! Emphasis on the BEST), The Little Waffle Shop (very cute serving hatch straight onto the street) and Aramo Coffee (if you want to eat a sausage roll the size of your head!)
Wellington also has great museums, especially Te Papa which was recommended to me soo many times before I arrived! This is definitely as must-see to visit the Gallipoli: The Scale of our war exhibition, featuring remarkably life-like oversized figures of real service men and women involved in the fighting. You can see every pore and bead of sweat on each statue, I expected them to blink at any minute! This only adds to the highly emotive atmosphere of the exhibit; I left it feeling very humbled!
Wellington Museum is significantly smaller than Te Papa (which took nearly all day to walk around) but also has some great exhibitions. Particularly the film on the Wahine Disaster of 1968 where fifty three people were killed in a ship wreck in Wellington Harbour, which left me with a tear in my eye (I’m quite emotional if you haven’t worked that out by now!) Don’t miss The Attic if you do visit the Museum, it’s totally bonkers! A mish-mash of cases containing stuffed lions, old and modern prams, the giant from a Jack and the Beanstalk theatre production and even a time machine! I loved it!
Cuba Street is home to all of Wellington’s treasure trove vintage shops, old bookstores and quirky bars and cafes. I loved just having a wonder through all the shops (Recycle Boutique and Paper Bag Princess Op Shop were my faves). Finally, Wellington is surrounded by hills, dotted with multi coloured houses, which means at some point you’ve got to up one to get the best view! It costs $4 for a one-way ticket on the Cable Car up to the Botanical Gardens where you can gaze out as you wonder through the park, or a short 30 minute walk up to Mount Victoria Lookout out provides a full 360° panoramic view of the harbour, city and hills!
I think it’s safe to say I could write about this city for hours, there’s so much to explore and I 100% want to come back!