New Zealand is the youngest country on earth, it was the last major landmass to be discovered. Its history has both Maori and European heritage. There are still amazing Maori historic sites to be found some dating back almost a thousand years.
When I visited New Zealand in July I decided to take an organised tour as I had limited time. I travelled with a group of other like minded travellers and we were transported around on a bus with two tour leaders who gave us loads of information along the way. They organised my accommodation and recommended tours to go on in each place we visited. Also most meals were included.
The Advantages on taking a Connections Tour
* It took hassle out of having to navigate and plan the trip.
* You travelled with like minded travellers.
* Were recommended sights you might have missed.
* You travelled in comfortable buses which were very clean
* Stayed in great accommodation and you didn’t have the hassle of booking and choosing yourself.
* Gave you budget activities to do during the day sometimes even free things for example the best walks to do in an area.
* They explained activities thoroughly to us and quite often had done them themselves. The leaders gave us honest and frank accounts.
Disadvantages of the Connections Tour
* Some of the other passengers were rowdy.
* It was geared towards people who wanted to do extreme activities for example skydiving, kayaking, bungy jumps etc. As I am not into these activities it was boring having to listen about them.
* The additional activities were quite expensive.
* As I am a fussy eater I didn’t like most of the meals they had made and had to go buy more food even though I had prepaid for the meals.
* There are long bus journeys however this is to be expected.
* There are very early starts in the morning!
* Had ‘introductions’ were you had to stand up in front of the bus and talk about yourself. As I’m shy I hated this. You didn’t have to but felt very awkward if you didn’t. Travellers who you are travelling with are constantly jumping on and off the bus and finishing at different stages. This meant more introductions. So you had to do it more than once.
* Had to pay extra to not be in share accommodation.
The North Island of New Zealand (115,000sq km) and this is where we arrived at. Our tour started in Auckland which is a cosmopolitan city. We met the bus outside Base Backpackers hostel where we were staying it is very central and clean. We were greeted by 2 friendly tour guides who took our bags and asked us questions on what we liked to eat.
BAY OF ISLANDS
The Waitangi Motel is where we stayed in Paihia. The motel had a massive living area with separate bedroom, bathroom and living space.
Here you can swim with dolphins. We did not do this option however were glad as the group didn’t actually get to swim with them as the pod had their babies with them so it would have been dangerous. There is also a boat ride which you can take called ‘Hole in a Rock’ adventure at NZ $72pp.
With 144 islands and bays we decided to go to Russell Island. Russell Island was the first/capital island of New Zealand. We walked to the pier which is about a 10 minute walk from the motel and went to Russell Island by the fast (red) ferry which cost NZ $5.00pp.
We went for a walk to the ‘long beach’ which was nice. Then walked up the mountain to see 360 degree views of the Bay of Island this was worth while however it is a very steep walk up! As the fast ferry was very choppy we decided to take the slower (blue and white) ferry back as we were in no rush and it was of similar price.
Along the way to Rotorua we stopped in Auckland for an hour of free time. Included in our tour was the Sky Tower which was a nice experience there is glass flooring so you can see to the bottom of the tower. It’s not for people who are afraid of heights. Next stop was Hobbiton which there wasn’t much to do except take tours of the area where they filmed Lord of the Rings. There is a statue of Gollum which you can get your photograph taken with.
The town smells of eggs! We stayed in the Alphin Motel which had a hot tub and you got to fill it up with water heated by the ground. This was very relaxing, even though it was freezing outside we still could enjoy this hot tub and what surprised me was that I wasn’t cold at all.
We took a tour called the Te-Kiri Trek Tour where one of the locals took us on a 4WD and showed us the sights. It cost NZ $65pp and was well worth it! First up we got to see how a local heated their house using the thermal water from underground and how the cooked outside.
Next was a Maori city hall and we got to see inside a church. We were taken to the top of Rainbow mountain and seen breathtaking views. He took us further than the sign said we were supposed to and the tour guide joked that he couldn’t read. This was a very bumpy ride however you never were in any danger. He then took us into the forest and we seen a lime green lake which was because of the sulphur.
We went to mud pools which were big craters in the ground which bubbled, steam was everywhere to be seen. Also there was a massive mud pool however you couldn’t go as close to it as the mud was flying into the air every so often which was quite dangers as it can be very hot. There was a wooden barricade to stop us from going too close. The tour guide got some mud from a stick so we could touch it and it was just like the mud packs you can buy only it smelt stronger. Last of all we went to a hot river where you could go in and feel the hot pools.
From our motel we were able to walk to Whakarewarewa Thermal Village (yeah I couldn’t say the name either lol!) This was a traditional Maori village. There were mud pools, stem vents that are in the ground to stop there being an eruption which can come up anywhere. Sometimes under people’s houses so they have had to move. They can check this by using high technical technology these days. Also seen was steam/hot pools where people bathe.
Part of their culture was to bathe together and this was family time however today teenagers don’t do this as much. We seen a show where there was Maori tribe dancers which lasted about half and hour where they sang and danced using Poi’s to keep the beat, these looked like pom-poms to me. They included the audience and if you wanted to you had the chance to get up and dance with them yourself.
The bus then took us to a Geo-Thermal plant and we seen the pipes and had it explained how these were used.
Then we visited Huka Falls from the film ‘Without a Paddle’ and went for a walk.
Here we stayed in the SilverFern Motel and had free time. You could have did the Taupo bungy which cost solo/ tandem (NZ $99/ $198pp). Also was the Huka Jet which is a jetboat ride which costs NZ $79pp. Another option was the tandem skydive 12,000ft which cost NZ $219pp.
In Wellington there is the Te Papa Museum which was free. If you do a self guided tour be sure to purchase the Te Papa Explorer NZ$3, this will give you information about each floor and even a suggester tour. There is a café location on the ground floor and a coffee lounge on level 4. This place was great it was very interactive with loads of different areas (Awesome Forces, Maori section, Mountains to the Sea, Golden Days, Blastback). You can see different stuffed animals. There is an earthquake simulator and you can see how they protect their buildings (steel bars). Also you can see some Maori culture. It would be great for children as it’s exciting and you could spend more than a full day in it. For more information www.tepapa.govt.nz
There is a vintage style cable car costing NZ $1.80pp. It is short ride to the top maybe 5 minutes. Once at the top you get great views however it was very windy. The cable car lane is located, (next to McDonald’s) and Upland Rd., Kelburn, Wellington.
Wind turbines and seen breathtaking views however it was extremely windy. It would be a very steep road if your walking. To get to the turbine it is in the city suburbs off Ashton Fitchett Drive, Brooklyn, Wellington.
Staglands Wildlife Reserve, Akatarawa Valley, Upper Hutt,Wellington. This is a great wee place. You can feed birds and ducks however be careful with children as a peacock flew at me and scared me lol! You must see ‘Moses’ the donkey who was comical eating the feed off the fence when he trailed his mouth over it. You are warned that he does bite though.
You can go for a walk in Wellington along the seafront which is lovely and relaxing however it was very windy when we were there.
We got the Ferry called the Interislander to Picton which (took 3 hours) costing NZ $70pp this takes you to the south island. We got some lovely views from the boat and it is definitely worth while on going out on to the deck at some stage, however it was very cold. For more information go to www.interislander.co.nz.
Further reading on New Zealands South Island