New Zealand is epic. That’s all I’ve ever heard about this country. It’s been on my ‘to see’ list forever and now its my time to immerse myself into the country, the culture and the beauty!
Jen and I were recommended the Kiwi Experience by our travel agent at STA, a bus that takes you to every famous/beautiful/popular place in New Zealand. We were sold, we bought the “whole kit and caboodle” package which meant everything we wanted to see and more was included in our pass – perfection!
New Zealand is separated between two islands, the north and the south.. In this blog I will talk about my experiences in the North Island.. Enjoy..
We started in Auckland with not a scrap of a plan, which was really silly of us as the one piece of advice everyone gives is that you must book onto the Kiwi bus at least 2 weeks before you want to start.. After a couple of days staying in Base, the biggest hostel I have ever stayed in we decided to conjure up a plan, get out of there and book onto the Kiwi Bus.. However as we predicted we weren’t able to join the bus for the following day and had to wait a few days for there to be seats available. Lesson learnt alway book ahead of time!
This did allow us time to explore Auckland though, so we used that time wisely..
The main road reminded Jen and I a lot of London, big buildings, lots of people, long busy roads – as our first stop in New Zealand my perceptions were knocked down a peg or two, this busy city scape was not what I was expecting to see!!
$10 got us a bus pass for the day so with map in hand, bikinis on and sun cream on tap we were set for the day. The beaches are beautiful, the views incredible, I honestly can’t believe it’s so close to the city – it’s like a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle. I understand why so many Aucklanders take regular day trips there!
6am in a rainy Auckland we had no idea what to expect when we caught sight the famous green Kiwi bus. A crowd of people had gathered around us all from Base hostel, all joining the Kiwi Experience – I’m feeling good about this trip!
Our driver introduced herself as Fly, a very cool and funny lady who told us a lot about what the Kiwi Experience is and how everything works. Before we knew it we were well on our way out of Auckland and onto smaller but prettier things!
Clip boards were sent round throughout the journey so we were able plan what activities or trips we wanted to par-take in while in Paihai. Because they send these clip boards round it takes a huge weight off your shoulders regarding booking and planning. Kiwi does a lot of the leg work for you which is another reason why doing something like this is so good to explore a country you have never been to. I can imagine already that we will get the opportunity to do somethings we would of never heard about without Kiwi Experience.
Paihai is a beautiful seaside town, the water laps quietly onto a small beach that skirts the edge of the entire town, set a back is stunning tree covered mountains so it feels as if your in a secluded drop of paradise. Kiwi put on a BBQ in the evening at our hostel so we got to socialise with the other people on our bus, we ate, drank and got a little bit merry. It was a great first night, and both Jen and I felt excited for what’s to come!
If you don’t get sign up for any of the paid trips then you have a lot of free time to explore your surroundings, and sunbathe if the weather permits – that’s exactly what we did.
After one night in Paihai it was time to move on and up to the most northerly part of New Zealand. This trip came included in our ‘whole kit and caboodle’ bus pass as well as sand boarding.. I’ll let you know what that is and how it went down in due course.
Cape Reinga (further North)
Okay now I’m starting to see the New Zealand I expected to see, beautiful rolling hills, endless blue ocean, so soo much greenery and sheep; sheep everywhere 😉
In Maori, Cape Reinga translates to ‘the leaping off place of spirits to the underworld’, it is believed that spirits travel to the cape on their journey to the afterlife to ‘leap off the headland and go to the afterlife.’
It’s utterly breathtaking here, not only are you in awe of the wonderful cultural significance but it is also where the Tasman sea and the Pacific Ocean come together, in a violent embrace. The two oceans create unsettled water just off the coast. It’s a rare and beautiful sight!
Jen and I had many a ‘staring into the distance’ photo and took a lot of moments to realise how damn lucky we were to be there!!
Next on the agenda was a drive along the Te Paki stream to the sand dunes. A surreal experience in a coach full of people. The driver hit the gas and we skimmed through shallow water with not a care in the world, clearly the coach wasn’t his and he gave no cares about it working once we were done with it, it was pretty exhilarating waving left and right over the watery sand.
Soon enough we were greeted by the enormous sand dunes and therefore Sand Boarding was upon us…
What faced us was a lorry load of boogie boards, a serious hike and an adrenaline pumping fall back to earth. The idea was to grab hold of a board, hike up to the top of the sand dune and then throw ourselves down it.
Some felt pretty apprehensive, I was pumped, not quite pumped enough to go first but still eager to throw myself down this stupidly steep hill! Once we clambered to the top, sweat dripping from everywhere possible we watched the first dare devils plummet to the bottom. There was a special way to hold onto the board otherwise you could be thrown off, this fact didn’t settle anyone’s nerves, especially when the first few had a rocky trip down the dune. My turn came around and obviously I went all in, full force propelled myself off the top and flew down the hill imagining I was Lewis Hamilton’s equivalent. I honestly flew and it felt exhilarating, I landed at the bottom with a hop, skip and a jump, flung myself to my feet to let the crew at the top know I’d survived! I headed back towards the strenuous hike back up the dune for round 2.. The second time was even better for everyone, the laughter, screams and enjoyment coming from each person was infectious and we all enjoyed every second of it!!
A lengthy part of the drive back to Paihai was a straight 90 mile stretch of beach that again with little care about the coach from the driver we tore down. It’s a pretty surreal experience driving that fast on a beach and through the shallow water, it seemed endless!
We ended our day trip at a wonderful fresh fish and chip restaurant right on the water. What a magical, fun filled, exhausting day up north!
Back to Auckland
One downside about the Kiwi Bus is that unlike a normal bus that stops in places and then continues through, Kiwi bus stays over night in each of their stops listed. All this means is that you have to follow there predicted itinerary and cannot skip along. It only becomes an issue tonight for example when we had no choice but to stay in Auckland before continuing on or when you want to use Kiwi solely as transport around New Zealand, travelling A-B is not an option.
So we made the best with the situation and headed to the pub with our newly formed group of friends to watch a rugby game.. Not all bad really!!
Hot Water Beach
Up early and as there was a lot of people booked to leave Auckland Kiwi put two buses on, they regularly do this to keep up with demand. One big green bus and one smaller white one, we were called to the white one and this is where we met our driver Ben, soon to become a huge part of our Kiwi Experience.
The drive was hilarious, we had music blasting, the driver/part time child/ part time comedian had us in stitches the entire way.
We arrived at the Hot Water Beach accommodation which was this super cool campsite with plush cabins for us all to sleep in.. Some slept in tee peas, apparently freezing so we didn’t bother!
Hot water beach is located in the stunning coromandel, the beach is rated as one of the worlds top 10 according to lonely planet and as soon as we stepped foot on the sand we saw why. Lots of people armed with spades had dug themselves there own hole, hot water from the underground springs filter up through them sand between low and high tide which means you can virtually dig your own hot tub on the beach. What paradise. Armed with our own spade we found a space in the sand our spent a few hours lounging in the warm water!
Our evening was spent getting to know more of the kiwi crew over a few drinks and games. What an amazing space to hang out and bond with people that we will share the rest of this journey with.
A few miles from Hot water beach is a beautiful place called Cathedral Cove, made famous thanks to thNarnia..
We spent a few hours chilling on the beautiful beach and swimmin in the water.. What an incredibly beautiful place!
A very early start allows for a FaceTime call home, so good to catch up with family, fill mum and dad in our goings on and vice versa.
The buses stop en route at various locations be it a touristy spot or a super market. This means you get to see a lot more of New Zealand and see some places you would of never heard of travelling on your own I.e. Cathedral cove.. What a place!!
The stop today was called Karangahake Gorge, this took us on a beautiful walk up a valley and through the old gold mines and its tunnels. It felt very cool to take a step back in history and walk the walkways that used to turn over lots of gold, unfortunately no little nuggets left for us lot, so it was back to the bus instead!
Waitomo is famous for the Ruakuri Cave which was discovered 400-500 years ago. There are many ways in which you are able to view these caves, each with their own individual price tag. Jen and I opted for Labyrinth which took us deep into the cave armed with a rubber ring. We glided through freezing still water in the pitch dark only armed with a head torch for light, through, over and under cascading waterfalls. The main reason people go to these caves is for the glow worms, and they really were spectacular. Small dots of light covered the top of the cave and looked just like the nights sky littered with stars, it was so so beautiful!
Although a freezing few hours in the caves, we had the most fun floating and swimming around. I would definitely recommend this!
Rotorua is the cultural centre for the indigenous Maori people and therefore the main activity that Kiwi offer is a unique overnight stay in a Maori village. We were sold on it from the start, it sounded like an incredible opportunity and even our bus driver said this is honestly one not to be missed.
We were told a lot about what to expect before hand, the one thing that stuck out to us all is the respect we must give the Maoris, if we were caught laughing or not listening it sounded as if there would be hell to pay!
From the moment we entered there home we felt really welcome, we were entertained with traditional games, songs and even learned (try to learn) the Haka. We were lucky enough to spend the whole day and evening there, most only come for the evening! The day was amazing, but the night absolutely blew us away.. We were greeted by traditional Maori people, but when I say greeted it felt as if we were going to war. We had picked a chief from our group who would interact with the Maoris on behalf of us – rather him than me. It was pretty terrifying! Then we were taken on a tour through their home, with various taks and demonstrations of their day to day lives.
While dinner was being cooked in the traditional way, under ground, we were entertained by an incredible show of song, dance and traditional music, including the Haka as the finale – so impressive. During our day learning about their culture we were taught a song and dance that we had to perform in front of all the other guests during the dinner at the end of the evening. We were such a good group of people from Kiwi, always up for a laugh, that something like performing in front of a room full of people excited us so we sang and danced to our hearts content.. The applause raised the roof!!
As those that came for just the evening had to leave we felt so blessed to be staying over night in a Māori village.. Our evening was spent under the stars, in hot tubs, singing and laughing with our amazing Kiwi group! This will possibly be the best night of the entire trip!
The next day, after leaving the Maori village, a few of us decided we should do the famous Kaitiaki White Water Rafting. I’ve always wanted to do this, and as soon as I heard it is here that the highest commercially rafted waterfall is, I was eager to sign up.
This company incorporate Maori culture into their excursions which felt like a truly unique experience for us all. Their beliefs are so strong that you cannot help but respect them, we prayed to the water to keep us safe and to the Gods to watch over us – it honestly felt very special!
Once we were ready and our boats were in the water we were given a little training session. We spoke about holding on when going over the rapids, when to paddle and when to stop etc etc.. Then we were off, snaking through the steep bush clad canyons, over fast flowing rapids and before we new it the Tutea Falls were in front of us, standing 7 meters tall. The chance of falling out is pretty 50/50 .. We ALL felt nervous, from the top it just drops off and you cannot see anything. We paddle furiously towards it, then our instructor screams at us to get down and hold on for dear life. As we tip over the edge it feels as if your going to topple all the way over, the boats tumbles to bottom and under the water and then were propelled back up with huge force.. We survived.. Exhilarated, we stood up in the boat, cheered and high fived!! Craziest feeling ever, I thought we were goners!!
Famous for its beautiful volcanic mountains, forests and the incredible lake Taupo, the biggest lake in all of Australasia (big enough to fit Singapore in it), we had two nights to fit in all its glory.
One of the must do activities here is the world famous Tongariro crossing. This is where I should go on about the beautiful hike across Tongariro, 7 hours of hiking ‘bliss’ through volcanic mountains, past the famous Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings, the beautiful emerald lakes etc etc.. However we saw none of this as we couldn’t of had worse weather, at points the fog that was promised would clear laid so thick you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face let alone all those previously mentioned sights. What a complete waste of our time, I was so gutted! I’ll have to let other people’s pictures show you how beautiful it is because mine are a complete waste of memory!
This is a true example of somewhere we would not of visited without Kiwi Experience. The lodge where we stayed is surrounded by towering cliffs and bush clad hills and the Rangitikei river runs right past their front door. It was beautiful and it felt as if we had the whole place to ourselves.. They offered us many activities from horse riding to white water rafting but I felt this was a perfect opportunity to chill out and enjoy the tranquillity in such perfect surroundings. This felt like the real New Zealand! Only one night was spent here but you could easily spend longer if you were happy doing nothing with no phone or Internet reception.
This is our last stop of the North island. Wellington is the capital of culture, arts, dining and night life in New Zealand, a very different feel to Auckland. We planned a two nights stop here so we could immerse ourselves into the city more than the pre planned 1 night that Kiwi offer.
Throughout the north island we have met many people and said good bye to many others, we knew that in Wellington we would catch up with the majority of our Kiwi family and use that as a excuse for a big night out.
It was amazing to see everyone, its soo crazy how close you get to people in such a short amount of time.. There was about 20 of us that partied the night away in that seriously cool city!! What a perfect start to Wellington.
The reunion was short but sweet as the next day many people jumped on the bus over to the South Island, others decided to stay for 1 more night.. Our last day and night was spent exploring the city. I definitely want to go back here and spend more time – 2 nights is not long enough, it would even be an amazing place to live..
So that’s the north island.. Today we jump on the ferry over to the South.. Apparently this is where New Zealand comes into its own and if we thought this country was amazing already we just have to wait for our minds to be blown.. I’m intrigued at what can possibly better what we’ve already experienced.. What an exciting feeling…
Until next time..