Thursday, 14 July 2011

NZ pt II : The Kiwi Experience – North Island by Bus02/01/11 – 02/02/11

So, we made it to 2011.  Happy New Year.  With the new year came a new adventure; we were ready (but sad) to leave Nicole and have our Kiwi Experience.

This is a big green bus which whisks you around the relatively tiny North & South Islands of New Zealand with a bunch of likeminded (if somewhat younger) people from all over the world.  However, when we arrived at the bus we realised with slight dread that almost everybody else on the bus was British, or worse... Dutch.  OK – there were a few other nationalities there as well and though i’m sure we were the oldest, it wasn’t so bad.  In to our seats and out with the travel pillows... we’re ready to go!

Our driver/tour guide - Steve - was a very cheery kiwi indeed; everything was ‘cool, cool’.  Actually he was great.  He obviously had good knowledge of all the places we visited but he also had a wickedly sarcastic sense of humour and loved making fun of Aussies (its a national pastime on both sides of the water).

It became quite clear soon into the trip that he must be getting freebies / backhanders all around the islands.  Everywhere we stopped, he would point out ‘the best pie shop in NZ’ for example and everyone on the bus would pour in after him the only difference being that they had to pay for their pies.  But hey, its no problem.  In some cases, I think the constant flow of business from the KE bus is the only thing that keeps them going.

Anyway, the pies were invariably good and looking at the amount of money flowing around the bus, the tourists can afford it.  During every journey, a clip-board of various activities would be passed around the bus (with Steve giving his ‘personal recommendations’), each one costing $100-200 a pop.  This tourist thing is a goldmine!!  If it doesn’t already exist, I cordially invite you to the inaugural voyage of the Brit Experience which I’ll be starting in a Comma mini-van when we get home.

We had a whirl-wind tour of the North Island ticking off some amazing places along the way. Our route took us from:-

Auckland: not long after boarding the bus, we were off it again to take a last look at the sprawling city, which actually didn't look too bad in the lovely sunshine from the great view point at Mount Eden.

Mercury Bay: we stopped off here but didn't take any photos, so i don't think it was all that memorable.

Rotorua (aka Roto-Vegas):
On the way we stopped off at Matamata, the filming location for Hobbiton (LOTR country). In reality, most of the shops were normal sized and I'm not sure any of the locals actually live in tree-trunks.

We continued on to Rotorua which was a much bigger town and stayed in the well appointed but rather expensive Base Hostel.  The place itself is surrounded by sulphurous lakes and is consequently pretty stinky which is a shame as it is otherwise wuite nice.

That night we splurged on one of the many activities, a mauri night.  We took yet another bus to a reconstructed mauri village where we watched and participated in 'traditional mauri activites' (apparently) before enjoying a 'hangi' (meal preapred in a covered pit full of hot rocks).  Anyway, I'm not sure how authentic it was, but it was a great night.

Day three takes us to Waitomo, farm shows and Zorbing (rolling down a hill in a big plastic ball) and a dozen other money sapping activities.  we stuck to free things like walking through the forests and caves where - once you turned on your torch - you could see creepy crawlies called  whettas with very long feelers.

Taupo: nice little town situated by a river and home to the biggest lake in Australasia (it says here, the lake is bigger than Singapore).  We maintained our plan of not paying for anything we didn't have to and so chose a much cheaper hostel than the official choice, ending up somewhere much nicer, met some great people and it even had a gym to keep Katy quiet.

Went for a big walk through woodland and along the river paths which had some fantastic waterfalls and chutes.  on the return we stopped off so that Katy could take a dip in a natural pool below a geothermal channel (channel too hot to touch, pool just right).

With a few hours to kill whilst we waited for others to finish their acivities (floating through glow-worm caves on rubber rings), the rest of us had a marathon volleyball session.

River Valley:  We splurged again and went white water rafting here.  Katy got bounced overboard in a big stopper-wave and sucked under the water(!), thankfully she was dragged out and thrown into another passing boat, a little shaken but still smiling.  Otherwise, there's mnot much going on in the valley, but its a nice enough place and they can play the music as loud as they like 'cos there's noone else for miles around.

Finally we reach Wellington and the south of the North Island.  Here we got to catch up with my friend Cara from back home in Welsh Wales but who subsequently broke free, found a Kiwi called Mike and settled in NZ, the proud mother of Caius and Maxus (and a new one on the way).  It was so nice to be with ‘family’ however temporary (and be off the bus!). We were welcomed to a beautiful home, a delicious meal, a cold beer and a comfy bed.

The following morning Katy got up early and went for a run up to the top of a hill through the woods with Mike, which gave a beautiful view of Wellington. We later had a tour with Cara and the boys then headed off alone to the Museum and the Botanical Gardens for a picnic and a wander. Wellington is a lovely place, somewhere we’ll have to come back to one day.

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