After Rotorua, the Kiwi Experience bus took us to Waitomo – a village which contained very little. Basically, we had stopped off to see some caves. We had $35 taken from us at the entrance and we were then told that we weren’t allowed to take photos. Thankfully, the caves turned out to be pretty amazing, with lots of stalagmites and stalactites (I think I know which way round they go). We then all got onto a little boat and sailed in the dark to see all the glow-worms stuck on the ceiling, which lit up the space like hundreds of little stars. You don’t see that everyday. I was a bit gutted not to get any photos but it would have been a shame to dazzle them.
In the evening, we hit Curly Bar. It wasn’t as packed as we hoped, but it was a nice place to chat and drink before bed.
Our next stop was the town of Taupo. We arrived at about 1pm and the Gap Year Buddy and I decided the time had come to organise our bungee jump, as we had some time on our hands. The woman at the front desk of our hostel kindly called the local company for us and her next response was, ‘would you like to go now?’ 20 minutes later, two girls (i.e. us) were to be found out on platform ledge, 47m over a river, in a gorge getting a bungee roped strapped around their ankles and some guy telling them to just lean forward and fall off. Was he crazy? I really hate heights and this time, unlike with my skydive, vertigo reared its ugly head.
The guy in charge kept telling me I was making it worse for myself by dragging it out but I just needed a minute. After a few deep breaths – correction – after many, many deep breaths (probably about 10 minutes worth to be not at all exact), I closed my eyes and stepped off the edge.
With a whoosh, I saw the flash of a cliff go whizzing past. The feeling wasn’t quite as good as skydiving but it was still a good adrenaline kick. The experience was over pretty quickly and before I knew it I was bouncing back up again. A boat appeared underneath me and a woman lifted up a pole for me to grab onto and they pulled me in. I was then left to watch my travel buddy, who didn’t seem to need to take quite as many deep breaths as I did. She also looked a lot more graceful in her dive.
The hike back up the cliff was actually much longer than the bungee itself but eventually we were back in town grabbing supplies from Pak n’ Save (the food industry’s answer to Ikea). We then chilled in our room until about half 6 when we made our way to Element bar – which was our hostel’s bar – as that night they had a deal on where you could get a free pizza when you ordered a drink. That was dinner sorted. The bartender told us that the pizzas were going to be given out per group so if we stayed just the two of us then we’d get more slices. It may have been quite anti-social of us, but that’s what we did. Priorities.
Afterwards we headed to a nearby Irish bar which was hosting a quiz night, even though I am awful at quizzes. I knew two of the answers, one of which was Zorro and the other was Bob The Builder. Looking back, I have no idea what the questions were.
We finally crashed back in our room to the sound of music blaring through the bedroom floor at about 1.20am. We were then up at 5am for a monster hike to see Mount Ngauruhoe (otherwise known as Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings). We walked from 8am till 3pm, over the Tongariro Crossing, with a few very necessary breaks. I’m not going to lie, it was tough. The sky was clear blue and the views made it all worthwhile. I took about 200 photos of various rocks and pools of water. I was glad I did it but I am also glad that I never, ever have to do it again. The returning coach trip was in silence as there was barely one person left awake.
After a nap back at the hostel, the prospect of a KFC was the only thing that made us drag our painful legs out of bed. We spent our evening eating fried chicken and watching the 40 year old Virgin in the TV room. It was a well deserved easy evening.
The next stop that the Kiwi bus took us to was River Valley, a small lodge in the middle of a valley with very limited activities. The only possible pastimes were not available until the following morning and no one on our tour signed up to do them as that would mean we wouldn’t set off for Wellington until later and, since we were only spending an evening in NZ’s capital, we all wanted some time there.
We had to pay $22 for a bed in the “spooning” room and that bought us each a mattress on a communal bunk-bed. We spent the rest of our time in River Valley reading on the sofas and cooking some microwave mac and cheese, which we ate while watching the people who chose to buy dinner at the lodge tuck into a big roast. In the end, we did buy a dessert to share – chocolate brownie and ice cream. By the time bed time came, we’d decided to invest in duvets which were an extra purchase. At first I refused to pay more money to a place I didn’t really want to be but it turned out to be the best $3 I’ve ever spent, as I was toasty warm while all the duvet-less people were freezing.
After a coach trip and an hour-long lunch stop in Bulls, which for me involved a footlong meatball sub, we arrived in Wellington and I dragged the Gap Year Buddy out to explore.
We wandered up and down Cuba Street and she then went back to our hostel room while I spent an hour or so exploring a bit more. Later, after some tinned spaghetti and a trip to the hostel bar, a group of us headed out to find somewhere to go on to. We found a couple of places but everywhere was strangely quiet for a Friday night, so while some people continued on the hunt, the rest of us headed back. Personally, I chose noodles.
The next morning started at 6am and, as we went to breakfast, we bumped into the part of our group who had continued bar hunting, only just getting in from their night out. Clearly they had found somewhere to go.
After 3.5 hours on a ferry, through which we mainly slept, and a couple of hours driving, we made it to Nelson in the hope that a couple of friends from home, who had been waiting for our arrival all afternoon, would still be there. It turned out, we’d missed them by 15 minutes. On a brighter note our hostel – the Fern Lodge – was really nice. At 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, the town was pretty much deserted and several shops were shut, so we just did some food shopping and watched TV until dinner time.
The next day was time for Nelson National Lake, where we got taken on a walk around the lake, which was stunning. There was an option to jump off end of a small pier into the lake, which admittedly did look fun but, at the same time, it also looked freezing so I declined. In hindsight, I should have jumped.
That night, we had a three legged bar crawl in Westport. We all put our names into a hat and were picked out, paired up and then tied together for the rest of the night. I already knew the guy I was tied to (although not very well) but we all ended up having a really good night. We did detach for a while in the second bar but reattached later for a quick race on our way back to the hostel. We didn’t win but we didn’t lose either.
The next day, our bus tour guides took us on another walk, this time along the coast. It was pretty and we spotted some seals but sadly the weather wasn’t fantastic. We also saw the Pancake Rocks – rocks that have layered up on top of each other over the years – which were also quite impressive.
The bus then went to Greymouth, where we picked up outfits for a ‘bin bag’ themed party that our bus drivers were throwing that night. After reaching our accommodation for the night at Lake Mahinapua (someplace called the ‘Poo Pub‘), our bus drivers cooked us all a massive dinner of steak, venison stew, pasta, coleslaw, the first vegetables that we’d eaten in a month and bread. It was amazing and really very nice of them.
After a nap (which was very necessary after that amount of food), the Gap Year Buddy and I, along with three other girls we’d grouped up with, dedicated an hour to making bin-bag ninja outfits. As the party got started and the night went on, most of us had to dispense with various parts of our outfits. It was boiling. The night involved a lot of limbo and photos Les, with the legendary pub owner.
The next day, we made it to Franz Josef. Sadly, the Gap Year Buddy and I were running out of time and didn’t have time to hike the local glacier (which seemed to be a very popular backpacker activity) so we skydived over it instead. Because, you know, when in New Zealand. I got off to a nervous start after the instructor I would be strapped to said I was the tallest person he’d jumped with. The Gap Year Buddy pointed out I wasn’t that tall and that when he said this only his second day. Errrr…..
The views were stunning, even if I was considerably more terrified this time (nothing to do with the instructor). I said this to someone at the jump site afterwards and they said it is scarier the second time because you know what is coming. I’m not sure why that is, since I loved what came on my first jump. Personally, I think that I was just scarred by bungee jumping. I also think the photo taking didn’t help. Unlike my first jump in Rotorua, I didn’t have a photographer jumping with me, instead the instructor dangled me out the side of the plane while we posed in front of a camera attached to the wing. Eek.
Afterwards, we headed to our hostel, the Rainforest Lodge, had a dinner of actual pasta with tomato sauce and then went to Monsoon Bar for a drink and to watch a Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament. Of course.