Where I’ve Been: Auckland, Whiatianga and Rotorua – New Zealand
Where I’ve Stayed: Verandah Backpackers in Auckland, Turtle Cove in Whiatianga and BASE and Treks YHA in Rotorua.
I have finally made it to the land of the long white cloud and I am beginning to see why other backpackers rave about it so much – from what I have seen so far it is incredibly picturesque and I am on the North Island, which I have been told pales into insignificance compared to the South Island!
Arriving in Auckland
When I left Cairns at 7am on Friday (26 March) it was absolutely chucking it down. I was glad to spend a lot of the day in an airport/plane and safely arrived in Auckland at around 6pm. I spent my two days in Auckland stocking up on warmer clothes (I need socks!) as by the time I leave here in May the New Zealand winter will be setting in.
Auckland has an eclectic mix of neighbourhoods and is far and away the biggest city in the country – its population of 1.5million makes up over a third of the population of the entire country. In my two days here I covered god knows how many miles – I think explored most of the city on foot. I get the impression though that it is fairly atypical of the rest of the country as it is so much bigger than anywhere else.
The Kiwi Experience
Anyway I am seeing New Zealand by the Kiwi Experience – a hop on, hop off backpacker bus company. What happens is you book a pass (there are loads available covering different routes and lasting different periods of time – I am using the Sheepdog Pass) and then you jump on and off a big green Kiwi Experience bus as you travel around New Zealand.
The Kiwi Experience bills itself as ‘flexible guided’ travel – which is quite accurate as the drivers give you some interesting tidbits as you drive from place to place and you can stay as long as you want in each place as long as you use your pass within 12 months of starting it.
You are dropped off at hostels to stay in at the end of each day and pretty much everyone else using the Kiwi Experience is a fellow backpacker – so there is the chance to forge plenty of new friendships.
Not the smoothest start!
Having said all that my first day of the Kiwi Experience was a bit of a disaster all round. The driver was 45 minutes late in picking me up from my hostel, we didn’t get to see our first sight – Mount Eden as we were too late and we got to our second sight – Cathedral Cove thermal pools – too late to enjoy it properly as the tide was out!
We eventually arrived at our first stop – Whiatianga – to check into our hostel and have dinner. The hostel was ok, but I am slightly aware of the fact that the Kiwi Experience ‘recommended’ hostels are probably the ones that give them a decent kick back!
On the plus side I’ve already met some great people on my bus!
This place stinks
In past couple of days I have been to the smelliest place ever – Rotorua! Ben and Mary had warned me the city smells of rotten eggs, but I hadn’t realised just how much it smells!
Beneath Rotorua a whole host of thermal activity is going on – which gives the city its pungent sulphur smell (in fact its nickname is Sulphur City). The whiff of rotten eggs really does take some getting used to, but once you’ve been there for a few hours it just kind of fades into the background.
Anyway dotted around Rotorua are a series of amazing geysers, hot springs and mud pools all of which combine to make it a big tourist attraction.
On the way to Rotorua we went to the Karangahake Gorge – a wonderful naturally occurring canyon, and then stopped at Hobbiton – the town where the Hobbit was filmed. This held no real interest for me, having never seen, nor having no inclination to see, the films but I did have the customary photo taken by the Hobbiton sign.
Getting soaked on the Kaituna River!
Without a doubt the most thrilling activity we took part in, and maybe the most exciting thing I have done since I left home was to go white water rafting on the Kaituna River just outside Rotorua. Yesterday. We were all chatting excitedly as we got kitted up for it and then got in our raft, but the chatter soon died away as we pretty much immediately started pelting it down stream at a pretty high speed.
After a high speed journey along the river we were told we were now approaching the highest waterful in commercial rafting – our faces dropped even more as we saw it on the horizon and the began to approach it. Sure enough we dropped pretty much vertically down the waterful to the point that our raft tipped over completely and we were all thrown out!
After a few seconds of scrabbling around beneath the surface we all got our bearings, came up for air and managed to get back into the boat. The guy skippering (not sure if that is the right word!) our boat told us that was only the second time that had happened all year. The one saving grace was that somehow my contact lenses stayed in, unlike my experience on the Vang Vieng River in Laos!
Hangi’ng out in Rotorua
After we all got back to the hostel and dried off and warmed up we went for a traditional Maori Meal at a Maori Village near Rotorua. I have no idea how authentic it was, but on our arrival we were treated to a rousing recital of the Haka and then had a meal prepared in a Hangi. A hangi is a traditional Maori method of cooking food which involves digging a pit in the ground, heating stones in the pit with a fire and then placing baskets of food on top of the stones. Everything is covered with earth for a couple of hours and the result is a wonderfully delicious meal – or it was for us!
Today was a chance to explore Rotorua, which I have done – there is lots to do in and around the city, but I was glad to have the chance to relax a bit after the exertions of yesterday. Tomorrow I am up bright and early and back on the Kiwi Experience bus to travel to Waitomo.