The park opened at 830AM and started walking through around 9AM. The park has 25 different thermal pools – all different. It was pretty cool with a variety of natural colours with bubbling and gargling. Of course, it stenched of sulphur. My favourite without a doubt was the Champagne Pool. It is enormous, and all you can see from a distance is steam but up close there is a outstanding orange/red colour with blue/ green water. There was also a naturally highlighted green pool of water. We walked the park for a good 1-2 hours. The Lady Knox geyser erupts everyday at 1015AM but since we needed to drive 2 hours west to get to Waitomo for our cave tour/trip we left early.
It rained today and I had to drive in it on some crazy roads. I tell you, I’d take Toronto roads any day – less curves. After 2 hours of driving, we arrived at Waitomo just in time for our tour and 5 minutes to grab some lunch. The first cave we went to was Ruaruki Cave also known as the Den of the Dogs – The Maori people named this area after the animals they found there. Our guide Lucas was actually apart of the design process behind this 4.2 million dollar creation. It features a huge cylinder that you walk down into another section that is very James Bond like and then he leads you along the cave. This cave is 100% wheelchair accessible as well and without knowing it, you walk 2KM. He also explained glowworms and showed them to us. The glowworms are actually larvae or maggot stage of a fly and the glow is the mixture of enzymes and their excretions – yup its a fecal matter mixture. The fly only lives for about a week and then reproduces hundreds of eggs at a time. Much like a spider, they glowworm drop up to 20 lines of webs to catch their food.
We then drove out to Arnaui Caves which is a smaller cave but nonetheless has the best view. Sadly, it was just Andrew and myself for the second cave and our guide Christian who thought we we’re “together”… But since it was just us 2 and the guide, we talked and sorted things out. At least today is the last day for that to happen… problems travelling with a sibling of a different gender eh. This cave was discovered later than the other two by a farmer who was chasing a wild pig that ended up in that undiscovered cave. There aren’t any glowworms in this cave as there are no rivers running through and an earthquake shut out the main source of water that helped create the formations.
Our last cave for the day was the glowworms cave – Waitomo Caves and let me tell you, our group was small but a mighty good time. There were 3 from England – Charlie, Ben and cannot recall the lady’s name. They had arrived 2 days ago in New Zealand and take the blame for bringing the wet weather. They had previously visited the caves in the 70’s or 80’s. They might of been a older bunch, but they were great for laughs. We were also joined by another Canadian! This time from Saskatoon but since people have no idea of anywhere in Canada besides Vancouver or Toronto, she tells people Toronto. In this cave in particular no photography is allowed so we left out cameras behind. My favourite formation in the cave was one that looked like a kiwi doing a bungee jump. The boat ride was spectacular and felt very Alice in Wonderland-like as you sailed on. The guide would show us the glowworms and then shine a light on them showing their true form which make them less mystical. I wish brought my camera anyways because at the end, we went lower into the river where the caverns were first discovered. The sight of a thousand glowworms lighting up the ceiling was an amazing sight to be seen.
We finished the caves and back on the road by 455PM. Drove into Auckland by 7-715PM and are basically staying in the airport until check-in. Our flight is at 7AM. It is now 215AM and there are sleeping bags and people sprawled all over the place. I didn’t sleep. The check in desks opened around 4AM and we checked in. Got on the plane by 630AM and flew over to Sydney by 925AM (NZ time). We gain 2 hours flying back to Sydney (725AM AUS). Since we don’t have a re-entry visa for Australia we cannot leave the airport to have a final dinner with uncle Ronald and auntie Maisie but instead, we landed in Sydney and were trapped in the international terminal awaiting our flight to connect to back home. I barely slept on the flight from Sydney To Vancouver – 15 & half hours. 4 hours more in the air and finally arrive back in Toronto.
At our hostel the day before, we had used Skype to call and try book surf lessons as we missed the opportunity to surf in Australia. We ended up booking surf lessons with Discovery Surfing NZ (89.95NZD for 2 hours beginner)and headed to Mount Maunganui Main Beach in Taraunga. Our awesome instructor Tully took Andrew, myself and an American from Seattle named Brendan out to catch some waves. He outfitted us with wetsuits to stay warm as it was the first week of autumn then taught us the basically instructions. We practiced on land for a bit to get in the motion of popping up off the board and what foot naturally leads. My left goes naturally forward but Andrew’s was goofy (right foot first).Did you know that when you pop up, its your comfortable leg that leads. If your right foot leads; its called a goofy foot and if left; your a natural. Basically when you pop up, you want your lead foot to be where your sternum was when lying down. When you are lying down, you use your foots position at the back end of the surfboard for reference thus your weight isn’t to forward etc. For me I have to have my feet further back. I can tell you its tiring. I worked with 3 different boards. The first one I had gave me trouble trying to balance and then he switched it for a smaller one which I think was the best one for me. He then made me switch with Brendan and his longboard which was a heavier and bigger board which meant pulling it over the waves was that much more difficult.
There are technically 2 techniques Tully showed us; the easy way and the hard way. The winning combo that worked for me best (where I actually stood and rode the waves) was a combo of the 2; Get on the knees and then pop up. There were many times I nose dived in and some where while I was about to pop up my foot got tangled with the cable as well as 2 that I think would of been perfect rides my left leg didn’t charlie horse. Even Tully was riding hard and broke a board on a wave. Now I can say I’ve surfed and surfed in New Zealand to add to it. Hopefully next time I go surfing, it will be warmer.
I drove back in the direction of Rotorua for about an hour and we went zorbing. Zorbing is pretty much a giant inflatable ball that looks like a hamster ball that humans jump into. Andrew and myself both did Zydro (39NZD) where there is water in your zorb. I chose the straight a way and basically I went down a huge hill in this hamster ball with water inside. At first, I was turning all over the place then my back settled near the end. I should’ve done what Andrew did because the zig zag course made him do a few flips. I also made a friend with one of the zorb guys – Che. We did a bunch of jumping shots which are my favourite type of shots. Be prepared and bring a change of clothing as you pretty much can go zorbing in anything from a swim suit to full clothed. It was very chilly leaving. We got back to Rotorua and ate bentos. There is a large amount of Japanese and Korean restaurants in Rotorua (mainly Korean).
Since Andrew drove yesterday, I drove today. It took about 2 hours and a bit. It’s a weird feeling to be driving on the left side of the road but you get the hang of it. The turns still get me though. This Hyundai Gatz has absolutely no pickup when you try to gun it. There are passing lanes on the highway which are nice. I tried to floor it past a truck and almost didn’t make it.
The first stop of the day was to Huka Falls which was a recommendation from a fellow traveller and told us it was a must see. And it was. Huka Falls is where New Zealand’s largest lake drains into its largest river; the Waikato.
Driving past Lake Taupo and passing by a few small towns we made it to Whakapapa Village – the village/chateau area inside Tongariro National Park and we decided to hike one of the smaller trails inside – Taranaki Falls which lasted about an hour and a half. This park is the first park to be both a cultural and historical world heritage status. We then wanted to hike up to emerald lake but we were running short on gas so we went to find a gas station to fill up first because we didn’t want to get stranded in the dark on unfamilar roads (no street lights in this area). Its a 46km drive out of the Tongariro area to the station. Our real destination was along Mangatepopo Road, the Tongariro Alpine Trail. By the time we got back we started hiking toward the Emerald lake by teh Red Crater (its actually a 4hour hike in and a 4 hour hike out) and Soda Pop Falls but the sun was already setting fast. To get to either locations (springs or lake) we had to go up rocks and I mean rocks. No actual bridge or path and when there was a path or bridge, it quickly would turn into cliffs and hills of rock. The ranger or person who worked there flew by us so quickly but told us we weren’t too far from Soda Pop Falls and that we would have maybe an hour left of sunlight. We finally made it to Soda Pop falls but it wasn’t as exciting as it would be made out to be. We did however see other people hiking nearby and because its a national park, there were cabins where people could come and just stay the night. We quickly turned back out the way we came since the sun started setting fast (6PM) and the paths become very unclear. Our eyes did adjust to the lighting and we could partially see nocturnally. We ran parts of the way back and would stop on occasion just to stare up in the sky. With no light pollution for miles, the sky was lit up with stars. Let me tell you though, I haven’t seen stars that since Toronto had the blackout in 2003. It was magnificent. It’s also weird to see Orion’s belt on the opposite side I usually spot it. What I also noticed and found strange is that I haven’t seen the moon since Sydney. The drive back to Rotorua took about 2 hours and night driving is very intimidating not being able to see 100M ahead so we were driving with our highbeams on and switching between passing cars.
I do have to say so far, Tongariro National Park is my favourite spot. Being outdoors and hiking through this magical place… I think I left a piece of myself here and I’m sad that we never got to finish our main hike to Emerald Lake. I guess it’s something to make note of on my TO DO list one of these days.
Heading out of Auckland today and we wanted to rent a car to continue our journey to Rotorua and area. We got picked up by the car rental van. The guy was a total jerk and we definitely didn’t vibe with him. Ill refer to him as jerk. Anyways, we were told terms beforehand which couldn’t be offered for example parking. We will be driving back on the 12th as our flight is on the 13th at 7AM meaning we need to check in at 5AM. The jerk put us through a lot but luckily there was a customer who had just returned a car and was getting dropped off at the airport so we asked to be dropped off at the airport where we can rent a car for the rest of our trip and also drop off the car anytime. We rented with Europcar and prices were a little higher because we are “young drivers” under 25 and picked up a Hyundai Gatz. We drove straight to Rotorua as this was a hitch in our day with the jerk who took away 3 more hours than we would’ve liked.
GPS is our friend. I highly recommend making sure your rental has GPS included. Andrew was driving and well… I hate how he drives in toronto… Add new zealand driving on top of that…. Great… but I get to drive tomorrow! New Zealand/Auckland feels like a mixture of Pasadena/NYC filled with the hustle and bustle but its not crazy busy as NYC is. The streets especially residential are filled with slopes similar to Pasadena terrain. Getting on the highway from Auckland going towards Rotorua, the hills reminded me of LA like the the route heading up to Golden Oaks Ranch.
3 hours later we arrived into Rotorua and its got a very distinctive smell of rotten eggs due to all of the geothermal sulphurous gases. We checked into our hostel Crash Palace Backpackers (1271 Hinemaru Street) and basically strolled the town or surrounding streets. Can I tell you how dead it was… Mind you it’s Mothers day and a Sunday. The streets were empty and very much like Ottawa at 8PM.
We booked a Mitai (Mitai Maori Village – 196 Fairy Springs Rd) and Kiwi (Rainbow Springs) encounters upgrade for tonight and it was not let down. The Mitai was run by one family for generations but now is run by multiple families. They also called themselves the Maori. Aoeteroa – land of the long white cloud. We went to Mitai to enjoy a ceremonial hangi dinner where we participated in the burying lamb chicken potatoes and sweet potatoes in the earth where the heat would slow cook it making everything perfect. As we waited for the food to cook, we were led down to a river where a canoe arrived with men welding torches appearing then led us to a stage where they performed a cultural piece for us. In this performance, they showed us their traditional weapons, instruments, fighting techniques, training, music and games – well done!
They also explained the meaning behind the moko tattooing of birds. The story begins with a god and goddess in a quarrel where the god strikes his wife. The wife runs away and the man goes after her. On his adventure, he comes upon another god who has a beautiful moko tattoo on his face. He befriends him and asks him to give it to him as well. That man decides that he will only if he gives him his bird – owl, parrot, bat and kiwi in return for a custom/unique design. On the women, they have owls tattooed on their chin as they are the protectors. The males have bats on their foreheads with wings spanning over their temples. The face represents a home where the bat represents intelligence and wisdom. By doing so, the bat is historically placed in the very top of the house. The next bird they present on the face is that of a parrot being the watchers. They would place the parrot on the windowsill. the parrot’s eyes become the person’s eyes thus seeing both sides of the beak on their nose. The kiwi; the flightless bird remains on the ground, protecting the home by eating intruders. The beak and head of the kiwi is tattooed around the mouth. On the left hand side is the design of the mother clan (intelligence, calmness, femininity) and the right the father clan (rage, anger, power, masculinity). Yin and yang.
After a wonderful dinner and show, we went on a 45 minute tour at Rainbow Springs to see the kiwis at night and other animals. The Kiwi’s are nocturnal with very sensitive hearing and sight. The park had 4 on site and we would catch glimpse of them at the back of their cage.
Rotorua is the largest tourist area in New Zealand and it thrives off of that. This town is in it’s down season at the moment because its fall and snow hasn’t fallen just yet.
Rangitoto island was on our schedule for the day. We ran to the dock to purchase our ferry tickets (30NZD Auckland->Rangitoto Return) but missed the ferry we intended to catch. So as we waited for the next ferry to arrive, we walked over to Westfield mall to do a little souvenir shopping and grab lunch. Since I’ve been down under, I’ve been really intrigued with the aboriginal culture of the Maori. I love the symbols and the meaning and wanted to find myself a pendant. I had no luck finding one in Australia that I truly loved but I got a nice seal or whale bone fish hook (hei matau) necklace for myself. The fish hook’s meaning in Maori culture signifies abundance, strength and determination. It is believed to bring peace, prosperity and good health. It harbours good luck and energy, and is believed to provide safe journey over water. It’s a good luck charm by travellers, boaties, fishermen and surfers.
The ferry ride was nice but very chilly riding on top. We got to the island and began our hour hike to the summit. Basically, Rangitoto Island is an inactive volcano with black soil and loads of volcanic rock. The hike was long but not too long. The paths are uneven as you are stepping on jagged and odd shaped volcanic rocks. My feet and knees cried in pain for a bit afterwards. There are also lava caves that have formed and are great to explore however we didn’t bring a “torch” aka flashlight but luckily a nice family lent us a torch to explore it ourselves. After we finished the cave, it was a gruesome slope of a hike to reach the summit where we could look into the core of what use to be an active volcano. Mind you, we felt we were running out of time so we rushed back to the docks to catch the ferry and return the torch to the family. The rest of the evening was spent walking around town and we visited the Skytower. We were too late to see Toi O Tamaki (art gallery) so we found ourselves at Jimmy Wong’s for dinner and then headed back to the hostel.
We decided to skip Bay of Islands because it is far North from Auckland and for a pickup it would be an extra 100 on the tour price. Instead we decided to take the link bus over (1.70NZD a ride) to Newmarket (the south point) to do shopping. Breakfast at Massimo. We tried to shop for a bit then made out way to Auckland Museum (25NZD). It’s a nice museum with 3 floors and many exhibits to see. I purchased a beautiful jade fish hook necklace from the gift shop here and its one of the more appealing ones I’ve seen. We spent a good 2-3 hours here exploring. After that, we walked up to Parnell Rd; another shopping area but by the time we arrived it was roughly 430PM and stores were closing. We ate dinner at La Porchetta (167-171 Parnell Rd) and wanted to get Movenpick Ice Cream after but alas, we decided to order 2 medium pizzas, a jug of coke and garlic bread thinking with our eyes over our stomach.
Since we did 2 full day tours in Melbourne, we weren’t able to really get a chance to see the town. I for one wanted to see Flinders Station and Federation Square and Chinatown area. We decided to get a late flight to Auckland so that we could explore. We took the tram – it runs on a honour system. You purchase your tickets on the back of the bus from a coin machine as the driver is sitting in a box and doesn’t interact with you. The trams run quite frequently. We made our way to Queen Victoria Market which is very similar to Toronto’s St Lawrence Market including a similar looking building albeit white instead of our burgundy one outside. We had a quick bite before we scurried past Chinatown and took to the main touristy streets I suppose. Did you know Federation Square is Australia’s largest free wifi hotspot or that Flinders Station is their Union Station as the central hub for transport. As I was taking a panoramic, a group of school kids with bright orange hats were crossing by and this little boy made my day. He basically saw me and had walked along with his class but then he turned back and walked back towards me and said hello! than ran back to his classmates. We didn’t have enough time to go shopping nor go through the National Gallery of Victoria (180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC 3006) (mind you the gift shop was lovely) but we we’re able to stop by San Churro Chocolateria (Shop LTL 255, QV Centre/Swanston Street) – basically gourmet chocolate churros and other chocolate products. I got a raspberry rumba which is a white chocolate shake with raspberry topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
We noticed the time and were running a tad late in returning to our hostel to catch the shuttle. We hopped on a tram but apparently the wrong one, hopped off and got back to the hostel right on time. We got to the airport about 4-430PM and our flight was at 605PM. We got to the Qantas check-in counter for our flight from Melbourne to Auckland and the lady asked to see our boarding pass out of New Zealand; having only booked a one way to New Zealand, we had to go purchase another ticket before we could even check in. Our minds weren’t clicking before that we were flying internationally meaning to another country so we didn’t think we needed to book a flight out. Anyways, we wanted to fly from Rotorua back to Sydney and stay a day with uncle Ronald and auntie Maisie but apparently the visa we had trouble getting before departing toronto (the ETA) is only valid for a single entry only so once you leave the country, you cannot come back in unless you reapply off of Australian soil overseas.
So this put us in a predicament as our international flight home was in Sydney. There were 2 plans that we looked into with the helpful people at Flight Centre, the first being – fly home from Auckland (cost double the price of our existing flight home = no good), 2- book a ticket to Fiji and show that to get us approved for our Auckland flight (which was almost ready to depart) and once we get through, cancel the ticket and reapply for Australian visa once we landed and book a ticket back to Sydney. So for a split second we purchased a ticket to Fiji. As we purchased that ticket, we went back to the check-in desk and the manager of the check-in desk with the Qantas team had told us since we have proof of our returning home flight that all we need to do is purchase a ticket back to Sydney but we would not be able to leave the international terminal as we would be “transiting” to our home of origin flight thus, no need for a new visa. Andrew ran back to change the ticket while I waited at the gate. We were indeed the last ones checked in but luckly not the last ones to board as we cleared security quickly. Apparently, Qantas and Air Canada have some sort of agreement where you can connect with one another allowing our checked baggage to transit through to our next flight although they are not connecting flights in one ticket purchase. We hopped on and flew roughly 3 and 1/2 hours and because of the time change (2+) we arrived at 11PM-12AM-ish.
We are staying Freemans Lodge which apparently is New Zealand’s #1 hostel and last year NZ’s cleaniest hostel. Once you enter, your shoes must be taken off. Did I mention free wifi the whole length of the stay. This hostel is apparently known as a B&B but there is only free tea and coffee and our twin private shared bathroom is actually a double bed in a smallish private room with a shared bathroom.