East As is an add on section to the main route of the Kiwi Experience Bus, taking people to an area which many people skip over. It takes you to a peaceful area of NZ, where most people know everyone in that happy small town way, where everyone prides themselves around their love and respect for their ocean, and where silent bays and empty fields do not terrify visitors, but welcome them with open arms, inspiring creativity and energy. I am glad I spent three extra nights exploring more of what NZ has to offer as I was able to experience more of its landscape and see an area of NZ people very rarely get the chance to see. Stopping on our journey to gather peace offerings to the eastern spirits, we embraced ourselves for what lay in store.
The next stop on this trip was Gisborne– where the sun rises first in the entire world. We stayed up all night drinking under the billions of stars, and then dragged our tired bodies to watch the sun rise arrogantly and proudly, beginning its long and waited journey around the world, waking all the different people and nations, warming backs and warming crops, all to a new day. We spent the day shark cage diving with Mako Sharks. It was an incredible experience, swimming in a cage to such terrifying beasts which snapped around us and gorged on floating tuna. This experience thrilled me and made me want to swim with great whites.
Our last stop on this beautiful trip around the east cape was Te Kaha, a small town by the shore where we were welcomed as if members of the family. We reflected on our wonderful experience whilst we warmed ourselves in the hostel hot tub under the stars.
Waitomo, a small area of the North Island in New Zealand, is recognised by tourists whom venture here from all over the world, to visit the magic and mystical Waitomo caves. The 120 year old giant caverns are filled with waterfalls; stalagmites, and stalactites that are unequal in stunning natural caves to any other in the world. The most beautiful aspect of this wondrous labyrinth of tunnels and deep dark waters are the millions of glow-worms that are unique to the natural surroundings of New Zealand. They cover all of the cave ceilings, glowing en masse in perfect unison as if imitating a mirage of a night sky, creating a starry wonderland. You can marvel at mother nature’s creation in a number of ways; either on a individual boat by yourself to gaze in silence, or on a shared boat to admire in unison, fiercely rock climbing, or nail bitingly tubing in the dark. However you decide to explore the caves, one will always be intrigued by the fascinating way of life for these organisms, and feel the serene atmosphere they create.
Mercury Bay was a one night stop over en route to Rotorua from Auckland organised by the Kiwi Experience Bus tour. We stopped off at Cathedral Cave this picturesque hidden beach (quite a trek away but worth it) in The Coromandel. The area is filled with odd shaped rocks cut and shaped by the elements. Another interesting sight to see, and one that highlights the array of New Zealand’s geothermal activity, is the Hot Water Beach where you can amusingly spend time digging holes into the sand and warming your feet up with the hot water that flows underneath.
Rotorua is rich in stunning landscapes and is a hive for geothermal activity. The land is filled with 18 sparkling lakes, exotic forests, bubbling geysers, boling mud pools and smelly hot springs, Rotorua is certainly the most active (underneath the ground) town that NZ has. The first thing that people notice when arriving here, which is hard not to, is the stench of sulphur, as if a million rotten eggs have been hidden in various part of the town centre. Although pungent at first, you do get used to this wafty aroma, only noticing its gone, when you too have gone. As well as Rotorua being the epicentre of geological and environmental experimentation through a number of forms, Rotorua is a vital cultural cog to the wheel of Maori culture of NZ.
There are many guided walks, villages and food trails one can immerse oneself in, as Rotorua is the most populated city of the Maori people. Head over to the traditional Maori village of Tamoki Maori Village, which unlike other tourist traps, paints Maori people in a true and respectful light. Here you learn what daily life was like in a Maori village, as well as experiencing the true Haka, and feasting on an enormous dinner cooked over a clay pit. Rotorua is also the best place to organise Lord Of The Ring Tours, to visit the Shire. Visiting at the time of the filming of “The Hobbit” was enthralling, as well as the set makers attention to detail- but the die hard fans were intriguing enough. It being a pricey tour, but not actually being a massive fan myself, I found it a little dull at times- but it was great to see the set!
In Rotorua I had my second experience of couch surfing with a local Maori and his daughter. I am happy to say that this experience was much better then my first experience. I slept in a dorm bed in his daughter’s room and I spoke about London to them both, as he said he wanted his little daughter to learn about the rest of the world. We went to the local market that night and he bought me dinner, whilst I made friends with his daughter and her friends. The next day on his way to work he dropped me off and I walked around Rotorua and its many gardens it has to offer. I was very grateful for his hospitality and still am, it was fantastic to chat to him about his culture and how it has changed over the years, and so with this in mind, it reminds me that there are people in the world willing to share.
Auckland: Auckland was my least favourite place in NZ. Why? Auckland is a concrete jungle in a environmental paradise. You are thrown back into high rise buildings, bustling motorways and garish chain stores. A rude awakening. Some areas outside of Auckland are pretty quaint village towns with lovely independent cafe’s and boutique shops, like in Northhead or Mt.Victoria, and the harbour has fancy restaurants with rewarding views over the harbour, I still don’t like Auckland. Taking a free city tour with the Kiwi Experience Bus allowed me to see the whole of Auckland and why it was named the “City of Sails“, which still left me feeling empty and disappointed at the most populated city in NZ. It looked like any other city, no unique flair or character, and so unlike the rest of the beautiful country of NZ. Head out of Auckland as quick as you can, to see what the rest of NZ has to offer.
Bay Of Islands:
Included in my Kiwi Experience Bus Pass was the Bay Of Islands tour which takes you right up to the northern part of NZ, Cape Reinga. We stayed in Fusion Hostel in Bay of Islands where the beach was a short walk away and was a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of Auckland. Bay of Islands seemed to be a holiday destination that resembled the beaches of the Philippines, with its 144 islands, one is transported to the white sandy beaches of Asia. However, here there is much more scope for water activities, fishing and sailing to be had. Leaving the spectacular beauty of Bay of Islands behind, Cape Reinga is at the most northern tip of North Island and is used as an entrance post of the material world, to the spiritual world. It is incredible to see the blue horizon link with the land of the north where a twisted and ancient tree sits right by the sea. Here, we were told is where Maori spirits come to when they pass away, to jump off into the other world and meet with their ancestors from Hawaii.
This insightful and peaceful location, to me, is was one of the most beautiful and serene places in the world, and it made me jealous that this would be the last place they see of earth.
The Franz Josef Glacier is no doubt, hands down, one of the most remarkable sights I have ever seen.
Part of the Te Wahipounamu National Park, a World Heritage site, the Franz Josef Glacier is 12 kilometres long of pure solid ice. What you see before you is a flowing frozen river of ice. As the stunning blinding white of the ice sears your pupils, the crevices of deep blue bewitch you. A hike up the glacier is incredible and a once in a lifetime experience. Trekking up and down crevices that could swallow a whale hole, and over walls of ice that are as high as the eye can see, you step up home-made steps of ice that your guide cuts out for you there and then. Each step you must take with caution, as you descend into the never ending maze of ice. As you become a dot in this swirling mass of ice, you thank the lord that your guide knows how to direct himself out of this beautiful but dangerous piece of nature.
Lake Wanaka is the fourth largest lake in New Zealand and is a beautiful lake to lose track of time at. It is an ideal place to fish, water-ski, snowboard, ski and even skydive over this huge mirror like lake. Although nail bitingly cold, swimming isn’t recommended. The town is an average size, built around the daily routine of town life and the city escaping romantics that come here, hoping to relax around the lake side. It is the perfect location to succumb to the slow pace of town life and see on a daily basis, with such an appealing natural landscape.
Queenstown: Queenstown is my favourite place in New Zealand and I really can’t recommend it more. Queensland sits next to South Island’s Lake Wakatipu, straddled around the edges of this deep and elongated lake, where the Southern Alps reflect off the mirrored surface and linger in the background, reminding everyone that New Zealand has it all. And Queenstown, it seems, has it all.
If an avid lover of extreme sports- which I am, it is ideal. With skiing in winter, and bungee jumping and para gliding in summer, as well as canyoning and white water rafting, it really is a thrill seekers paradise. And if adventure isn’t for you, then Queenstown has an incredible diversity of nature and wildlife that is astonishing. In close proximity to Milford Sound, one of the most iconic nature spots of all time, it means that Queenstown has incredible mountains, alps, rolling hills and dense forestry that one would think they were in the heart of bear territory in Canada. It is easy to see why so many backpackers lose track of time here, and so many non-Kiwi’s move here, who wouldn’t? The town is a perfect size, big enough to stroll around, but small enough to know where where everything is. It is filled with cool hip bars such as World Bar and the world famous Fergburger.
Fergburger is the best burger I have ever had in the world, hands down.It combines a variety of different types of meat perfected in the right size and flavour of patty with an excellent choice of cheese, melted to perfection, a dripping and juicy sauce and tasty balance of vegetable. I have no idea how they create this succulent, juicy wet dream of a burger, but they do, and boy, do I miss it. Even one burger is called “The Jawbreaker” which undoubtedly does what it says on the tin.
The main attraction behind Queenstown is Bungee Jumping and on Christmas Eve, I signed up for one. Not any old one, but the third highest in the world. The Nevis. Travelling to the tiny glass box in the middle of the valley was terrifying enough but after my friend had jumped and the entire time I egged her on, I knew it would be my turn. I was fine at first, quite excited. Until, I made the stupid mistake of looking down, which was when I slowly moved forward with just a rope attached to my ankles, I suddenly realised that I was high, very fucking high, and had a very strong feeling I was going to die. Fear began to paralyse my legs and I really didn’t want to jump. Luckily I voiced my frustration, unlike some people who seem to turn into a quivering, silent mouse. And the guy who was there with me began to support me, telling me to go for it, which led me to just let my worries disappear and jump into the unknown. And that’s what it felt like when I finally got the guts to jump. That you are going to die. I had skydived before, but that was nothing compared to this. It was a great experience but I’ve done it, and I think that is enough for me.
I left my friends behind and took a trip to Milford Sound in Te Anau as I heard it was a beautiful place. And I was not let down as we took a boat along the river taking in the breathtaking view of the fiord and fantastic scenery of the cliffs that rise dramatically on either side of you with cascading waterfalls running down each jagged side. The lake centers the fiord, with its incredible shimmering surface that multiples the view in its reflection. The sight is spectacular, and as you float deeper and deeper into the ‘eighth natural wonder of the world’, says Rudyard Kipling, you are rewarded with each corner and curve you take. We were taken to an underwater aquarium which unfortunately was closed due to weather conditions. The tour guide said jokingly, “well does anyone want to swim in the Milford Sound with me?” And me being sleep deprived and probably still drunk as I came straight from a night out to the trip I said, “I Will.” Next thing you know he is undressing, which means I have to as well.
After that freezing experience, I learnt to keep my mouth shut.
I stayed the night at Te Anau and went on a 7k hike to Broad Bay as the Milford Track is a rewarding place to hike and experience nature first hand. It was lovely to see the changing scenery and I was happy to escape Queenstown and it’s bars for the true beauty of New Zealand.