Happy Holidays everyone! It’s been awhile since week one update, but we have been pretty busy and when we get back to our accommodations I just want to sleep. Week two was pretty packed with activities and lots of driving to finish up our north island portion of the road trip.
Waitomo Cave Blackwater Rafting
After our adventures in the Coromandel peninsula, we drove to Hamilton for some errands before heading to the waitomo caves the next day. I was particularly nervous about our booking for Blackwater rafting and cave adventures because I am not the best in confined spaces, but Matt was pretty excited. We got there early in the morning and got all suited up into our wet/cold wetsuit and helmets before heading down to the cave. The instructor/guides were very nice and helpful in getting us ready for the waterfall jumps in the cave.
Once we were in the caves, we hiked, swam and squeezed our way through each area. There was a pretty tight tunnel that wasn’t awesome for me, but it was a pretty short part. We had to jump off of two waterfalls but only one was sort of high and you really have no choice but to do it, so I just did it. I was pretty proud of myself overall haha. The glow worms in the cave were pretty awesome and floating through the main tunnel with what looked like blue constellations above you. I would definitely recommend this adventure to anyone who wants more than a short boat ride through a cave. However, be prepared to be tired after it — hiking in a cave/water in heavy/bulky wetsuits is pretty exhausting.
Post our cave adventure and refueling (i.e. all the caffeine), we headed to the nearby kiwi house before driving out of town. It was really nice to be able to see the kiwis in the dark rooms but they were sort of hard to find and we couldn’t take any photos. They also have a lot of other native birds that were very cute and it was a nice stop over near the caves.
To end the very busy day — yes this is still on the same day as cave adventures— we headed to Hobbiton! It was one of those places that we just had to go to but you definitely don’t need to visit if you’re in New Zealand. The day was super sunny and warm and the tour overall was great. We learned a lot about how they filmed the different movie series (LOTR v Hobbit) and the grounds were so effing picturesque. They have four full time gardeners! We also got to have a nice cold beer at the end of the tour in the Green Dragon pub.
Rotorua and Hell’s Gate
After our very busy day caving and learning about hobbits, we headed to Rotorua. Rotorua is a nice, but smelly city that is known for its adventure sports and hot spring activity. We headed to a place called Hell’s Gate to visit the sulphuric hot springs and get a quick spa treatment since we only had one day in the area. When we arrived, we had a tour through the series of springs and mud pools and learned how the Maori people in the area used them in their daily lives. After the tour, we had a mud bath and then soaked in the sulfur pools. It was pretty relaxing, but our eyes were very sensitive to the gases in the air there and it made it hard for us to drive after because we could barely open them. But we were able to make it to the famous pie shop in town and enjoyed those for lunch on the lakefront.
One thing I wish they would have told us was that everything we wore was going to smell horrendous and the proper way to clean it. The bathing suits we wore are unwearable and we are actually about to try soaking them in a baking soda bath in our hotel haha. The issue was mainly that we washed our clothes that we wore on the tour with our other clothes, so now everything we washed smells low level like rotten eggs — not ideal when you only have 4 shirts. Let’s see how the washing goes and I’ll update you in the next post.
Lake Taupo and Mt. Urchin
We headed to Lake Taupo after seeing the hot springs and eating pie. It is a really nice city on the edge of the largest lake in New Zealand. The whole area is really gorgeous with the lakes surrounded by mountains and is the gateway to a very popular hiking area called Tongariro. We mostly just relaxed in the Airbnb and had some delicious Indian food.
The second day in the area, we went hiking up Mt. Urchin near Tongariro. I think most people end up hiking the Tongariro Alpine trail (9 hours of about 3000ft elevation gain but epic alpine views and lakes) but I knew that I would be a miserable human if I tried to do this and I would like Matt to keep hanging out with me. So I found a hike that overlooks that whole area with half the elevation gain and could be done in about 3-4 hours. Since its light our here until almost 10pm, we started later in the afternoon and there were only about 4 other people on the trail (compared to the hundred I assumed did the alpine crossing that day). The hike up Mt. Urchin was pretty grueling and I stopped A LOT, but we made it up there. The views were totally worth it and seeing the mountain that inspired Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies seemed fitting after visiting Hobbiton.
Zealandia and Wellington
One of the attractions I had been the most excited about seeing was Zealandia. It’s a large fenced in area of land just outside of Wellington that is home to a large number of native birds of New Zealand. The fence keeps out the introduced mammals that are harmful to the birds, so it is sort of like a glimpse into how plentiful the birds were before colonization. We walked around looking for birds and enjoying the native forests, but were a little rushed since we needed to drop off the rental car that same afternoon. We got to also see the Tuatara, which is basically a living fossil lizard. The views were really nice and the birds seemed pretty used to people, so they didn’t fly away too far. I am still trying to get a photo of the fantail bird — it NEVER sits still long enough for my camera to get it and I had to sort through a lot of photos of just branches…
Since our ferry to the South Island was out of Wellington, we decided to stay for two nights in the capital city. I loved the charm of the smaller city and the food scene was really good. We had heard that Wellington was a good place for craft beer, so we made sure to go to a small craft brewery while we were there. Our full day there was spent going up the hill in the cable car, walking around the botanic gardens, and walking around the waterfront. It was incredibly windy that day so I don’t think there were as many people out and about as a normal Sunday which was nice. We did finally have the famous green lipped mussels, which were absolutely gigantic but very delicious. I loved the feel of the city and the cute neighborhoods.
Our second week was really fun but a bit grueling if I am honest. We changed our city almost every day which is hard, but we are good at packing and unpacking efficiently now. Week three’s post will be all of our adventures of the South Island, since we took a ferry down there after our stay in Wellington.