Kia Ora! Hello, New Zealand, we finally meet! After almost a year of booking and planning, I have arrived in the beautiful “Kiwi” country.
My time in New Zealand was spent on a Kiwi Experience bus tour. My tour in the big green coach bus started in Auckland, spending 22 days driving around the North and South Islands.
I was immediately impressed by the gorgeous landscape surrounding me each day. Rolling green hills, farms with fields full of cows and sheep and stunning snow capped mountains and crystal clear blue lakes fit for a postcard.
Our green bus consisted of 45 backpackers aged 18-30 from The U.K., Finland, United States, Norway, Wales, Germany, Scotland, and South Africa. Our driver Scotty grew up on the North Island and he had plenty of insight on the best activities to do and places to see. My tour started and finished in Auckland. 1/3 of New Zealanders call Auckland home so as you can imagine it was quite a big and busy city. Going down the North Island we spent time in the towns of Hot Water Beach, Waitomo, Rotatua, Taupo, River Valley and Wellington. We then took a 3 hr ferry ride to the South Island where we visited Abel Tasman, Westport, Lake Mahinapua, Franz Joseph, Wanaka, Queenstown, Lake Tekapo, Christchurch and Kaikoura before looping back through to the North Island and ending in Auckland. I won’t go into too much detail about what I did each day. Instead I’ll tell you about a few of my favourite days and activities and share my pictures from each city.
I’ll start off telling you about Hot Water Beach. This was where we stopped for our first night. The beach is famous for it’s hot thermal natural spas. Volcanic activity dating back to 20 million years ago is the catalyst for the hot springs that are a feature of Hot Water Beach. Water seeping through fissures in the base rock leach down to the hot molten magma many thousands of metres below the earth’s surface, only to be sent back to the surface as hot water exiting through the hot springs on the beach and in the Te Waiwaiwe Creek which runs alongside the beach. At low tide the hot mineral water seeping up through the sand attracts large numbers of visitors who dig their pools in the sand and enjoy their natural spa. I and several of my new tour friends had such a fun time digging small holes in the sand and dipping our feet in the hot water.
One of my favourite activities was an overnight stay in Maori village in the city of Rotorua. Maori are the tangata whenua, the indigenous people, of New Zealand. They came to New Zealand more than 1000 years ago from their mythical Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. Today Maori people make up 14% of the New Zealand population and their history, language and traditions are central to New Zealand’s identity. Once at the village, we were welcomed into the marae, where we heared Maori speeches and singing, saw carved meeting houses, met the local people and enjoyed a hangi feast cooked underground in earth ovens. One of my favourite activities was watching and learning the famous Haka traditional war cry dance, performed by Maori Warriors before a battle. Today, this dance is performed by the New Zealand All Black professional rugby team before each match. Our tour group stayed overnight in the village, socialising until 3 am in hot tubs and by a campfire. What a fun night it was!
In River Valley, we spent the night in a secluded lodge deep within the valley. It reminded me of a ski lodge with stuffed deer heads hanging on the walls and a fireplace in the dining area. Here I went on a 3 hr white water rafting trip through a 12 km section of the Rangitikei River. Our Canadian guide took our boat of 5 girls through ten grade 4-5 water rapids for 2 hours. The grading scale of rapids is used to describe the difficulty of the rapids. To put the rapids I was going through in perspective, grade 6 rapids are the highest classification of rapids and described as “very confused and violent water so difficult that controlled navigation by raft is virtually impossible. Significantly life threatening if swimming and unrunnable by all but a few experts”. As a result, I was rightfully terrified at times of falling out of the raft but did manage to enjoy it towards the second half of the trip and enjoyed the beautiful blue water deep below mountains and green farm fields. An experience I’m glad I did (once safely back on land of course).
Another terrifying experience began a few days later when we were in Lake Mahinapua. Here, our tour bus had an ‘ABC’ party, standing for “Anything But Clothes”. Having an excuse to dress up, each traveler on my tour bus got all decked out in homemade outfits. For my costume, I decided to buy multiple rolls of toilet paper and wrap myself up like a mummy. My costume was a hit with everyone. Some of my favourite costumes were a shark made out of cardboard & tin foil, a grapes costume made from purple balloons, the boy who cut a hole in the bottom of a giant Christmas stocking and wore it as a dress and bumble bees from garbage bags and yellow tape. Here’s where the terrifying part comes in. I ended up winning best dressed and won a free canyon swing voucher. As excited as I was to win a prize valued at over $200, it meant I had to do something I was hoping to avoid in upcoming Queenstown (known as the adventure capital of the world). But not wanting to let my new friends down, I decided to go ahead with the canyon swing a few days later in Queenstown. This swing is the highest in the world, consisting of a 60 meter free fall before a 200 meter swing ride over a rocky canyon below. Having only a harness and two workers who seemed to have too much fun scaring me made the experience nerve wracking but worthwhile. Here is a link for the video for those interested in seeing what my canyon swing consisted of. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euMtNPsyl2I
Hiking through the Franz Joseph Glacier was another amazing experience for me. Franz Josef Glacier is a 12 km long glacier located on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. From its origins high in the Southern Alps, the Franz Josef Glacier descends deep into the lush rainforest of Westland’s National Park, from a height of 2700 m above sea level to only 240 m, making it the world’s steepest and fastest flowing commercially guided glacier. The glacier area is one of the main tourist attractions of the West Coast, with around 250,000 visitors a year. Guided walks on the glacier require a helicopter flight past the unstable terminal face. Due to the need of a helicopter and often rainy or cloudy weather conditions, glacier walks are often cancelled. I was extremely lucky to be able to go on the tour as it had been raining the days before and following day after, requiring all those tours to be cancelled (thanks for the special prayers for good weather mom!) After our 5 minute scenic helicopter ride, I was in amongst the blue ice covered snowy glacier. Our guide Nathan took us on a 3 hr hike through the broken ground atop the glacier. Due to the glacial landscape changing almost daily as a result of the glacier’s unusually fast flow, Nathan used an ice axe to carve a path and steps for us as we navigated through the glacier and ice tunnels. The views atop the glacier were spectacular! What an amazing experience that I was so fortunate to participate in and one I will never forget.
My final experience I will share here is one I will always treasure. I had the opportunity to swim with Wild Dusky Dolphins in the small fishing town of Kaikoura. To ensure optimal sightings, our tour began at 5:30 am. With a wet suit consisting of a jacket, gloves, a hood, socks and flippers, our group braved the frigid waters. Due to the nature of the tour, we started off on a boat ride out through the ocean in search of some friendly wild dolphins. Luckily, about 10 minutes into our boat ride, our guide spotted a group of 5 dolphins who were more than happy to play with us. We were told that the dolphins love sounds and if we spin around in circles. So looking silly, we swam around spinning in circles and singing our favourite songs. For me, singing “here Mr Dolphin, hereeeeeee Mr Dolphin” repeatedly seemed to work quite well. The dolphins loved swimming with and around us so much that we stayed together for over 40 minutes. They even brought a friendly seal over for a quick visit at one point. On our ride back to land the boat was surrounded by hundreds (I’m serious !!) of dolphins. Dolphins were swimming quickly along the front of our boat, jumping in the distance and just watching the boat pass from nearby. It was a truly incredible experience to watch from the front of our boat.
I hope reading about my New Zealand adventures make you consider taking your own trip there one day. New Zealand is truly a beautiful country full of beautiful people. I was so fortunate to spend so much time there and look forward to my next adventure.
Along with the pictures below, I’ve added a link for a video I made with several highlights from my 3 week adventure 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sb-PhvO66JU