An action packed bus trip full of wine and amazing people!
Auckland: We’d booked 3 nights in Auckland with the travel agents back in England, however in hindsight 2 or even 1 would have been enough. Surprisingly there wasn’t too much to do in the city but it allowed us a little time to set up our New Zealand sim cards and make a few other arrangements. Other than a couple of peculiar nights out there genuinely wasn’t much to report on.
Bay of Islands: As part of the ‘Kiwi Experience’ tour we had booked on, our package gave us 2 additional days in the most northerly part of the country. It was in these few days we first got a taste of what travelling New Zealand on the famous Kiwi bus would be like. The driver of our bus explained how the bus works and how often throughout we would stop for food, for a walk or to see something of interest. She also explained about how booking accommodation and activities worked. It was very simple, if you wanted to do something you wrote your name on the clipboard that was passed round and paid when you got there. Our mini tour of the Bay was scheduled for 2 days I think, with the full tour of NZ taking around 24 days, covering the north and south island.
The journey was quite a long one, but we arrived at the hostel in time for dinner. There was a bbq! This allowed us to meet many of the other travellers on our tour. Little did we know that some we’d be spending the next month with! No better way to get to know people than over a few drinks, so we headed to the booze store and stocked up. After a few cans by the lake we went into the hostel bar, and before we knew it we were up on the tables singing karaoke!
The following day was an early start as we were heading on a tour of Cape Reinga, and to visit the absolute most northern point of New Zealand. It was the first chance to see the beautiful scenery that New Zealand is home to. At the Cape, it was actually possible to see the point at which the Tasman Sea met with the Pacific Ocean. Quite a natural phenomenon.
Our route back to the hostel was along the 90 mile beach, (Fraser Island memories were brought back) via some sand dunes of which we were going to be sandboarding! We each took a bodyboard and hiked our way to the top of the massive dunes, before taking a run up and bombing it down the dunes! It was a workout getting back to the top but it was necessary. Then it was back to the hostel for a few quieter drinks, yet we still ended up swimming in the lake after midnight.
Hot Water Springs: Rather annoyingly we had to go back to Auckland for another night, but now with our new Kiwi friends we could at least be social before joining the proper Kiwi Experience the next day. The bus was actually so fully booked that another smaller bus had to take the overflow. Normally on the Kiwi buses it was a jump on and off thing but because it was peak time it meant you had to plan your stops a few days in advance to avoid being left behind. Luckily we had done this!
The Hot Water Springs were literally just as they sound. A beach that was situated on some molten fusion which caused the water near the surface to become hot. Sometimes too hot! It was here that we first met many more of our friends we’d go on to spend the month with. Like many of the places in New Zealand we’d only spend a single night so after a few drinks the night before we were up bright and early ready to move on!
Waitomo: The start of some incredible activities, and as it panned out possibly the start of the best weekend in my life! The hostel in Waitomo was so cool, it was a 2 up, 2 down miniature house! Again we were only set to spend 1 night here but there was the option of experiencing some caving. We paid for the longest and most extreme caving activity – The Black Abyss! It involved abseiling 35m down into the pitch black cave, clambering through the darkness, zipwires, tubing, swimming and making our way up water falls. It was great fun, and well worth doing even if it seemed a little pricey at $300.
Rotorua: We didn’t actually stay in Rotorua, however we did two amazing things here! Coming straight from Waitomo the movie fans on the bus could choose to visit Hobbiton! The actual film set where much of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film series’ were filmed. I wouldn’t say I’m a die hard fan, but I was always going to say yes to the opportunity. Genuinely such a cool experience, walking through ‘the Shire’ seeing all the props etc with some quality photo opportunities.
The fun didn’t stop there though! After Hobbiton we were off to stay an authentic Maori village! We were looked after by a real Maori tribe. They taught us about the history of their people, the origins, beliefs and some useful skills! Tommy was elected leader of our ‘Kiwi Tribe’ and this involved presenting the leader of the Maori tribe with a gift after the Maori warriors had performed their threatening battle dance. He was told to keep a straight face otherwise they would be angry but I remember looking over and seeing his bottle lip wobble, fearing for his life as the warrior, eyes and tongue bulging from his head, spun his spear round his head.
The Maori villagers put on a feast for all the guests to enjoy. A delicious eat as much as you can roast! It was a fantastic evening which finished being spent rather un-maori-like, drinking beer in a hot tub, but we’d tried our best for most of the day!
Lake Taupo: Coming straight from the Maori village to Taupo we barely had a moment to ourselves before it was time to Skydive. We had always planned to skydive in New Zealand so there was no debate when the clipboard was passed around on the bus. We were picked up in style from the hostel by a limousine! Who did we think we were! Upon arrival at Skydive Taupo there was time to chill and watch as some of our friends came back ridiculously buzzing from their jumps. I decided to buy a photo package and I’m so glad I did. I don’t think there’s really a feeling to describe falling out of a plane at 12,000 feet! I screamed the whole freefall but absolutely loved every second and would do it again at a heartbeat! I genuinely don’t think there is a better place in the world to do a skydive. The view was incredible, you could see for what felt like the whole of New Zealand. The feeling once we’d all returned back to the ground was equally as good. So much adrenaline and hype. A beer was needed!
The common trend continued straight after our skydive. There literally was no rest for the wicked! We had two nights in Taupo but as it was a big Saturday night at the hostel bar it meant we had to go out… Despite being up at 5 for day of trekking across the Tongariro Crossing! We’d ‘cross’ that bridge in the early morning – but for now it was time to party!
True to their word, our alarms went at 5am, and we were on a coach at 5.20! I’m not sure what came over me that day but I was wide awake instantly as if I’d slept for 12 hours. I think it must have been the constant feelings of excitement and adrenaline that kept me going. I recall that the total trek was about 20 miles, but if you decided to climb to the top of Mount Ngauruhoe (better know as Mount Doom from the LOTR film series!) it was approximately 23 miles. Of course we were up for the challenge! It was still dark when we started, and we’d covered a few fair miles by the time the sun rose. A smaller group of about 8 decided they wanted to do the whole trek so we marched on ahead so we wouldn’t be short of time. Ngauruhoe is actually a volcano, so when we arrived at the base we soon noticed we wouldn’t be walking on rocks but in fact mostly hardened lava, which has the same properties as gravel or sand. So for each step you took, you would actually slip back a little. It was a great adventure however! We took a couple of hours to reach the summit where we took time for a picnic and soaked in the spectacular views.
Because of the surface it was far easier descending! In fact we found if we got the correct technique sorted you could actually surf down the lava! It took less than half the time coming down than it did on the way up. The rest of the crossing lay in wait. It wasn’t just simple walking from then on however; there were some tough climbs with some equally as impressive views throughout! Fair to say I started to feel a little bit tired towards the late afternoon and it was a relief to find the coach park where we would be getting a lift back to the hostel. A very worthwhile experience which I can’t recommend enough. I think I paid $20 for the bus rides each way, of which you can’t go wrong!
River Valley: This was another place on the Kiwi Experience tour that we wouldn’t have stopped at had we not been on the tour, yet because of the tours nature it was still a great 24 hours. Having spent a bomb the last few days we decided it would be best to chill for a few days at least. River Valley was perfect for this. There wasn’t too much to do in the way of activities apart from white water rafting. I’m sure it would have been great fun but we elected not to. River Valley did have one of the coolest hostels though. It was a large log cabin with a living area/bar on the ground floor and a huge 35 person dorm on the first floor! Near enough every person on our bus was in the same room! Some fantastic drinking games were played and everyone got involved. This was a place to get to know many of the other people who we may have only said a few words to prior.
Wellington: The last destination in the North Island! It was here that much of our tour got split up as some decided to stick to the one night stop whereas others such as ourselves with a few nights to spare decided to stay for two nights. In fairness maybe we didn’t need to as I’d put Wellington in the same category as Auckland. I can imagine it is a good place to live and work but as a traveller there was only so much to do, I think the highlight was getting a haircut!
Kaiteriteri: After a chilled out night in Wellington another chilled night was ahead of us. Just the one night in Kaiteriteri consisted of a nice swim down at the beach followed by some fish and chips and drinks in the hostel bar. Nothing too much to mention although it was Sam’s birthday at midnight, however we decided we’d celebrate properly the next day.
Westport: These days were strategically placed in the tour to help such travellers have a few quieter days of saving their pennies while still being involved and social. On the way we stopped at Lake Nelson, where one of the famous locations for traveller Instagram posts is! We spent some time jumping of the pontoon, trying to get that perfect photo! The plan for Westport was for everyone to head to the beach where we’d have a team campfire with a few drinks. Being Sam’s birthday it was a little more than a few, but we had a good laugh and were able to meet many of the people on our bus we hadn’t met yet because of course we had changed buses in Wellington.
Lake Mahinapua: I wouldn’t describe Mahinapua as a place for the traveller who prefers to takes photos of amazing scenery and get plenty of sleep. Literally the only thing to do here was party. The hostel is in the middle of nowhere! It’s always a fancy dress party of various themes. Our theme was ‘Anything But Clothes – ABC’ so on the way to the hostel we stopped at a shopping mall where we had to find the best possible costume consisting of items not normally refered to as regular clothes. Our bus went to town on this idea. Shower curtains, cardboard boxes, tin foil, leaves, a car seat, balloons and black bags were all great efforts, but I kid you not a Chinese man in our group actually went inside his rucksack! Somehow he’d managed to put his legs through the bottom and wore it like a leotard. Oh and just in case that wasn’t enough, he wore loaves of bread on his feet! It was a seriously good night however, and I seem to remember it was in fact Valentine’s Day. Ooo la la!
Franz Josef: I loved this place. We stayed for 2 nights here so the first night allowed us to catch up with many of our friends who were on the bus a day ahead of us. It was here we would be taking a helicopter to the Franz Josef glacier and hiking it. But that wasn’t before a fantastic night out with a great squad! It was always good fun predrinking in someones dorm before heading out, and this was no exception!
For once on a day we were doing an amazing activity, we didn’t actually have to get up ridiculously early! We could actually take our time and have a leisurely morning before meeting after lunch and kitting ourselves out for the glacier. A helicopter took us from the town up to the glacier. This was my first time in a helicopter! We spent several hours with our guide hiking up various parts of the glacier, going through ice caves, climbing through crevices and over mounds.
Queenstown: A second big night in Franz followed suit before it was time to make our way via Lake Wanaka to what many people would consider the best place in New Zealand. 6 nights in Queenstown were waiting! We’d heard this was the place to be and it didn’t half live up to the expectations! Despite being a relatively small town it had everything! Places to eat, drink, wine and dine, action packed activities and sports. We managed to check into a room with 8 of us boys from the Kiwi bus. Interestingly first on the QT itinerary for me was to actually meet up with a fellow Isle of Wighter. A school friend Dannii had been working here for a while and we’d arranged to meet up when I arrived. We had a great catch up before I headed back to get ready for our first night out. We arranged to meet everyone down at the lake where it seemed that was what most people did before heading to one of the many bars or clubs. There was hundreds of people and many of our friends we’d met throughout New Zealand. The first of many great nights came and we had something pretty amazing to anticipate the next day.
The Nevis Bungy Jump awaited us! A 134m platform above a canyon with nothing more than an enlarged elastic rope separating us from the ground! Honestly the bungy is the best thing I’ve ever done. Literally cannot explain feeling falling off the platform and the adrenaline rush I felt while being hoisted back up. Incredible!
After the bungy, we spent some time watching our videos back and checking out the amazing photos we’d got in our package. Fair to say we were a little bit keen for a night out after the afternoon we’d had. The actual irony of the night was as part of some drinking games in one of the bars Sam actually won another free bungy jump! We had such a good few days of going out with all our Kiwi friends. There was a huge group of us that would meet down at the lake, drinking and playing various games before hitting the bars. These were up there with the best few days of New Zealand.
During the days in Queenstown we did various fun things and had a great laugh with all our friends. The Queenstown Gondola and Luge was recommended and it lived up to all expectations! We took the gondola to the top, 450m above the town where the view was impressive. The luge was so much fun, we took a cable car to the top of the hill, lined up in the starting blocks ready to bomb it down the Mario Kart-like track on our baking trays and overtake as many people we could! You could pick up some serious speed and there were a few kamikaze tumbles! We had also been recommended to check out ‘Fergburger’, a takeaway restaurant which served up some amazing gourmet burgers, about the size of a mans head and 10/10 for taste too!
Queenstown had so much to do within the town, but there was also the opportunity to take a tour to Milford Sound, often referred to New Zealand’s premier travel destination or the ‘8th Wonder of the World’. This required an early morning and long coach trip to the national park, but because again we were blessed with beautiful weather, it was definitely worth the effort! I can imagine however had the weather not been so great on our day trip it might have put a downer on things – as a few of our friends found out. However the scenes were saw were amazing. Apparently this was another part of New Zealand used for Lord of the Rings filming, and it’s no surprise why.
I could go on for pages talking about the nights we had in QT. It was somewhat similar to being out at university, in that you knew or recognized so many people due to the overlapping of at least 4 different Kiwi buses. Too many beers were drunk and way too many dominoes pizzas were eaten, but Queenstown delivered on all accounts. I’d advise anyone, no matter how long you spend in New Zealand to at least get down to QT for a couple of days!
Lake Tekapo: Believe it or not this was the penultimate stop on our tour before we left the country. Similarly to the situation in Australia after we’d left Sydney, we went from being a massive group to a few in a matter of hours. Tekapo was absolutely stunning, and we spent the day here chilling out enjoying the beach. We cooked up a nice big chill con carne in the hostel kitchen before playing a few games in the room and getting a decent nights sleep.
Christchurch: Again similar to the expectation of Auckland and Wellington, Christchurch was somewhat disappointing although in fact there was perfectly good reasoning. In 2011 the city had suffered a huge earthquake! The exterior structures were pretty badly damaged but the main damage done was below ground. The whole city’s infrastructure had been destroyed which has obviously therefore led to much bigger problems in the years to come. It seemed such a shame as the former capital city was now a deserted ghost town! The city was doing all it could to become what it once was but I think it will take many years until it is back up and running properly again.
We spent our time here relaxing and preparing for our flight the next day. There was now only 6 of us from the Kiwi bus left. We went for a stroll around the city before having a final farewell meal. It now was time to say our goodbyes to New Zealand and what had become my favourite country!