Contiki New Zealand Grand Explorer – North Island

The north island of New Zealand is absolutely amazing!

I’ll try to keep this post as short as possible, but it will be massive nevertheless. My Contiki trip is packed with fun experiences.

 

Day 1

I checked out at Nomads at 10 am and walked around the block to the Mercure Hotel where the tour starting point was. I met a few people who were waiting for the kickstart meeting at 11 am, just like me. Quarter to 11, a big Contiki bus pulled up outside. To my surprise, there were already a lot of people on there. Only minutes later a second bus pulled up.

It turned out that most of them had just finished their trip from Christchurch, Queenstown or Wellington up to Auckland. About half a bus full had 2 more days for the Bay of Islands, which were the first 2 days for me.

So there was half a bus full with people that already new each other quite well and the rest was newcomers that hardly knew anyone.

Anyway, off we went, north to the Bay of Islands. On the way we stopped to look at a huge tree. Our tourmanager Sarah believes if everyone hugs that tree the group will get good weather the following days. After about 4 hours driving in total and watching the beautifully lush green scenery of the north island we arrived in Paihia at our hotel for the next 2 nights. Some of us had booked the optional activity parasailing. They went on a motorboat and went high up into the air on a parachute dragged behind.

The rest of us had just a little stroll around the water before we headed to the bar for some beers. For dinner the whole group went to a restaurant on a boat where we had “fush n chups” as the kiwis call it. Of course they had a fully licensed bar 😉 it was a good chance to get to know more people.

Afterwards we went to the “pipi patch bar” to party. We got to know more people, had drinks and danced a bit. It was a good night. For the older half of the group it was their last night to really party together.

I think it was around 11 pm that I went back to the hotel with some people and went to bed.

 

Day 2

This was basically a free day with different optional activities we could book. I decided to do a day trip of sailing around the Bay of Islands. It was a catamaran and we were about 20 people on it. We saw birds, penguins and heaps of dolphins! Of course we also saw many islands, some of them had expensive houses on them. All in all it looked really beautiful. For lunch we anchored at a bay where we could do some snorkeling, hang out at a small beach and walk up to a lookout. Back on the catamaran we had a bbq.

We sailed on and saw even more dolphins. Unfortunately they had babies so we were not allowed to swim with them.

After that day I was quite exhausted and relaxed in the room for a bit. Luckily I could receive some open wifi with my laptop there, so I put the first photos on facebook.

For dinner I went out with Kelly from Canada and Verena from Germany/Australia to a place where we had nice pizzas.

Afterwards we went back and showed each other photos from our travels and homes before we called it a night.

 

Day 3

Early breakfast, early check-out and then back to Auckland, that was the first half of the day. We dropped the half the bus who had now finished their tour and took a dozen newbies aboard. Now we were the experienced ones, although 2 days don’t matter that much.

Then we drove about 2 hours to Waitomo where most of us did Black Water Rafting. We got wetsuits, helmets with torches and boots, then we drove to the cave exit to pick up our tubes. A few instructions and then we practised jumping backwards from a waterfall into the water before we drove to the cave entrance.

We entered the cave one at a time and had to sit down for our eyes to adjust to the darkness. We took a long exposure group photo, then started the trip. We had to walk through water, bend under stalactites and eventually jump into the water. It was freezing! It was damn painful on the hands and they soon became stiff and partly numb, but we had to continue. We floated in our tubes, walked, jumped from waterfalls and watched glowworms in the dark which looked like the night sky. These glowworms are completely different from the european ones, but explaining all this here would take too long.

I think we were about 1.5 hours in the caves. It was awesome but so damn cold, we couldn’t wait to get a hot shower back at the office. When we where all warmed up again we had hot tomato soup and a toasted bagel.

For dinner we had roast pork and veggies for main and apple crumble for desert. Afterwards we went to Curly’s bar around the corner of a beer or two, bust most of us didn’t stay long. It was a long day and the Black Water Rafting was really exhausting.

 

Day 4

Another early morning. The routine is always the same: get up, have a shower, pack your stuff, have breakfast, bags to bus, key to reception, leave on time. And this day was packed with activities!

First we went to the Zorbing place to check us in, then we went to the Agrodome and watched a funny sheep shearing show. We drove back to the Zorbing place and, well, zorbed!

Some people had booked a skydive for that day so they had to go zorbing first. I was in the second bunch of people. To get up the hill we squished 18 people into the back of a 4wd that was designed for 8. I was lying across people’s legs which was quite painful on the bumby road. Having an irish girl lying half on top of me didn’t help either, but we had amazing fun! And it prepared us for the zorbing 😉

I went with Cassy and Aiden in a hydro zorb. It’s cheaper with more people (3 is the max). They partially filled the zorb with warm water and we jumped in. They closed the entry and a minute later we were rolling down the hill in that huge plastic ball. It was so much fun, you cannot imagine it without doing it yourself. We tried to walk inside the zorb, but after a few meters we had all fallen down and were sliding heads first down the hill. This is a unique experience, everyone should do it! I have a video of that which I will upload once I get a decent internet connection.

When all of us where finished zorbing we drove closer to Rotorua and went up the mountain with the Skyline Gondola. Up there you could do luging. That is driving small carts down concrete racetracks. You’re pulled down by gravity, all you have to do is steer and brake before the corners. This was great fun, too! When we had finished our 2 luge runs, Verena and I had lunch together, then walked around and took photos of the amazing view. Rotorua Lake is just beautiful.

If you think that was it for the day: wrong! That’s only half of it.

Next we drove to our hotel and checked in. It was a bit smelly, but that is the case everywhere in Rotorua. There are thermal springs everywhere and they carry a sulphuric smell with them.

Not much later a dozen or so people met to go White Water Rafting. We had to pick up another 6 or so from skydiving before we drove to the rafting hq. We put on wetsuits, sprayjackes, helmets and pfd and left for the starting point. Our guides where once again really cool and funny people. They split us into 3 groups, 6 for each raft. A few instructions on land and we went onto the water. It was a grade 5 tour, that’s close to the maximum you can do. We went through rapids and down waterfalls. About half way we had the biggest drop: 7 meters straight down! We had been practising how to get through that. Our raft and us with it completely submerged before coming up a few seconds later.

Funny thing: the 3 girls had fallen out, the 3 guys had not. It was hilarious 😀 anyway, we dragged them back into the boat, took some group photos and went on.

At the end of the trip we did some surfing, which means driving your raft into the lower end of a waterfall and thus completely dunking the front part of the raft. Great fun!

And that was it, as usual it was over way too quickly.

Back at the hotel we got ready for our Maori dinner and concert, the Hangi. They cook the food in the ground, utilising the natural steam coming out of it. The concert consisted of dancing and singing and some ritual where the chief of our group had to make peace with the Maori chief so that they wouldn’t go to war with us. Later on the girls learned the woman’s dance and then the guys learned the men’s. It was quite funny. The Maori men didn’t wear any tops. No one knew if it was their instruction or someone’s idea, but once the first guys had taken of their shirts, the rest of us had to follow.

I have a video of that which I might show you one day 😉

When the Hangi was over most people went to the Polynesian Spa. The pools there are very healthy because they’re supplied by the natural hot springs. Most of us hung out in a 41° pool next to the lake. It was beautiful! We took some group shots and some other nice photos. By now we all knew each other reasonably well. After all the action that day (and the previous) that spa was the perfect thing to finish the day!

Back at the hotel it took me quite a while to get all the photos organized. We got the photos from Zorbing for free and I had bought the CD with ~250 pics from the Rafting. Together with my own photos I had to organize about a 1000 photos and pick the best ones for uploading to facebook.

That night I slept really well!

 

Day 5

The usual routine in the morning, then a 2 hours drive to Taupo. On the way we stopped at some bubbling mud. A bit smelly, but fascinating!

Near Taupo we checked out a massive waterfall. It wasn’t tall, but wide and deep and transporting 200,000 liters of water every second!

After that we went around the Craters of the Moon. A fascinating landscape with steam coming out of the ground everywhere. Luckily this was not smelly. To me it looked more like Jurassic Park than the moon, but it was amazing anyway.

The optional activity I had chosen for the day was rock’n’ropes. About half the group did the same. For about 3 hours we climbed up and along different parcours before being abseiled back down. The last thing was a big swing, heaps of fun!

When we were nearly finished the bus with the rest of the group arrived. They watched us doing the swing, then we went into the city. We had 45 minutes time to buy stuff of the theme party at night and get some food if we wanted to. We went into the shop Sarah had rerommended and bought accessories of every color, for the theme was rubix cube! So everybody had to wear something blue, yellow, red, green, orange and white. I bought white angel wings, a blue sparkling hat, a pack of necklaces (red, yellow and green) and an orange kids horn. All that only cost me 12.50 NZD.

We finally checked in at the hotel in Taupo and found it to be as nice as Sarah had described it. Comfy beds, big flatscreen TVs, nice bathroom. We relaxed a bit watching TV and then got ready for the party. Seeing all these people multicoloured looked ridiculous but was awesome fun!

I just remembered I haven’t told you about our daysong yet. Sarah and Richie (the bus driver) choose a unique song for every group and play that every morning on the bus. We have to get into the aisle and dance to it while Richie keeps flashing the internal white and blue lights.

Leaving for the dinner cruise on Lake Taupo, that’s what we did again! We rocked the boat with an amazing party! There was a good bar aboard and the rubix theme really went of. In order to exchange pieces with other people you had to fulfill certain challenges, e.g. find someone with the same starsign, same age, tell a random fact, hug for 10 seconds, exchange a kiss on the neck, …

It was an amazing party! In between we watched the amazing scenery on and around the lake, saw some old Maori art on the rocks and more. This party was an absolute blast. Originally I wanted to go for blue, as all my clothes are blue. But I lost my blue hat right at the start and got a red wig instead, so I continued going for red. At the end of the night I had red hair, a red hat, a red skirt, a red bamboo skirt on top, some red flowers and more. Close to the end I traded in my blue tshirt so my upper half was bare except for all that red stuff. It was great fun! Close to the end they played our daysong again. About quarter to nine the party was over. We left the boat and went into a club. I stayed until 10.30 pm and left just in time to catch a taxi with Cassy and Tara back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel I organized my photos before I went to bed.

I was disturbed a few times by other people coming back and knocking at the wrong door, but then I slept like a log through the night.

 

Day 6

Because it was such a big night we got to sleep in a bit this morning, breakfast was at 8.

This day consisted mostly of driving for 6-7 hours all the way to Wellington. On the way we passed the Tongariro mountain ranges, including the famous “Mount Doom” from Lord of the Rings.

I used the time on the bus to write most of this blogpost. The days before I had been to busy for that.

In Wellington we checked in at the Abel Tasman hotel which was very nice. A few of us went to the national museum which was really good. I left a bit earlier than the rest and checked out the waterfront and harbour area before I went back to the hotel.

At 7.15 pm a big part of the group met and went out to a Mexican restaurant chosen by our bus driver Richie. Most people went to different bars afterwards but I went back to the hotel with Chantal from Italy. We were tired and wanted to get some sleep for the next day.

 

Day 7

We got up very, very early for the dawn service of ANZAC day. We left the hotel at 5.15 am and returned 1.5 hours later. The dawn service was nice and very moving, and there’s one sentence that hits the nerve: Lest we forget.

At 7 am we had breakfast, at 8.30 am I was picked up for the activity I had booked for the day: a full day trip to the various locations in and around Wellington where The Lord of the Rings had been filmed. I’m really into these movies and the daytrip was absolutely amazing. I got a private tour because the others who where interested only did a half day. My guide was Todd Rippon, an actor who has been in Xena, Hercules, Lord of the Rings and Avatar. He could answer all my questions regarding the making of these films and shows, and he knew one of my favourite actors and childhood hero personally, Kevin Sorbo. We went to the locations for the Anduin, Rivendell, Isengard, the Outer Shire, the gates of Mordor and more. In several spots he took photos of me that resemble scenes from the movies.

For lunch we went to Scorch-A-Rama in Scorch Bay. It was good food and a really nice place, the only sheltered bay around windy Wellington. We went up to the wind turbine lookout, the hightest point around Wellington. We drove past the studios where they’re making the hobbit, had a look into the Roxy cinema, along the southern coast of NZ and much more. I was really happy and this day was almost as good as the action packed one in Rotorua. I got many insights into the film business and got closer to it than ever before. I also learned that they have rebuilt Hobbington near Auckland for the filming of The Hobbit and that you can go there and wander around. It is something I definitely want to do when I get back to Auckland.

Back at the hotel I had nearly 3 hours before we went out for dinner with part of the group. It was good fun, but again I didn’t stay up too long. I left at 9.30 pm, at what time I had already been awake for 17 hours. Also, the next day we would take the ferry to the South Island, and being tired and hung over on a ferry is absolutely awful.

 

Day 8

This day was merely transit from Wellington to Christchurch. At 6.40 am our bags had to be loaded into a luggage van so I got up at 6. We had breakfast until 7.20 am then went to the harbour and onto the ferry. At first I stayed on the sundeck and took photos of the North Island, later I went inside, sat down and finished this article.

This was my Contiki trip around the North Island of New Zealand, and it was an absolute blast. I’m curious how the South Island will beat that!

 

“New Zealand”

From 2012-04-19+7 Contiki North Island. Posted by Philipp Hübner on 4/20/2012 (227 items)

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Category: New Zealand, Places