A Travellerspoint blog

Day 7- Waitomo Caves

Black Water Rafting = Best day of the tour so far!


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We left Michaella’s nice and early for our shortish drive to the caves. There was nothing particularly spectacular above the drive other than it was my (Andy) turn to take the wheel.... eeek! With Izzy as my first passenger since my test examiner a mere 20 days prior I set off down the road. I have to say that all went much better than I feared. As Izzy previously highlighted the van did not really feel much bigger than the car I learnt in and driving an automatic was a dream! Also I had a fairly easy run; once out of Hamilton it was pretty much all state highway until our destination. We arrived in good time to eat breakfast, check out the gift shop (and buy our second Christmas decoration of the trip... this doesn’t bode well for our luggage allowance), and update the blog.

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When ready we were handed some nice soggy wetsuits and boots to put on... lovely! Once we had squeezed ourselves into our damp costumes that we would be spending the next 5 hours it was time to catch the shuttle to the start point. After a quick tutorial and practice; abseiling was first up! Izzy hadn’t read the description properly and thought we were just zip lining into the cave! Oh no we would be rappelling ourselves down a 100m hole which in parts was barely wider than the width of your shoulders... who said this was a good idea! Iz, although terrified, wanted to get her experience over and done with as soon as possible so opted to go 2nd after one bold guy from Manchester! Although once hanging over the edge staring back at everyone else she seemed to be regretting her choice. But as always, being the brave bear she is, she completed it with ease! I have abseiled previously and always enjoyed the experience so I wasn’t as nervous, however it is quite something to be dangled over a hole you cannot see the bottom of trusting only a rope and two guys you’ve never met! While the experience was excellent we were both pleased to have our feet on the cave floor!

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Little did we know at this point the thrills were only just beginning! Having only just recovered from our trip in, while watching the rest come down, it was straight onto a zip line deeper into the cave in the pitch black. Whizzing through the air not knowing what was ahead or when you would stop was slightly scary yet liberating! Harnesses off, we felt sure now it was just a little relaxing ride through the cave in a dingy. The hot chocolate and “cave cookies” helped lull you into this false sense of security. We were indeed given our rubber rings, yet the only feasible way to get into the water appeared to be to jump off the 12ft ledge we were standing on. Sure enough this was the next test! This was the one that Iz struggled with the most, it can’t help being the size of the Hobbit! Although she had a few doubts, egged on by the instructors and me, she did it and hit the water sat in her ring! Woo hoo!

For the next 2 hours we experienced a mixture of gentle floating, drunken like stumbling over hidden rocks, bumping into randomers and squeezing through some extremely tight holes (in freezing waters); basically like an average Friday night out in London! Then we reached the furthest point of the cave and the biggest selling point of this adventure.... the glow worms! After a brief, albeit a little disgusting, overview of a glow worm lifecycle we settled back into our rings, grabbed the legs of the person behind and floated through the cave like a human train: gazing at the ceiling covered in natural fairy lights (the glow worms). It was everything we hoped it would be. So peaceful and magical and well worth the effort to get there! I’d never seen anything quite like it before and it was great to share it with the one I love!

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You would think this would be the end of the tour, again you would be wrong; you really should know better than to make assumptions by now! The most exhilarating part was still to come! The instructors asked if we were up for climbing up a waterfall freehand, without any harness or safety equipment! This was not a section that was even mentioned and came completely unexpected. After a resounding yes from the group, came the reality disclaimer of “if you let go you will fall and you may injure yourself or die”... ermmm yeah sure let’s go! It certainly was challenging! This was no climbing wall! Rocks crumbled under foot if not solid enough, water was gushing at you and you had to stretch to reach decent hand holds. But we got should a phenomenal buzz after we completed both of the climbs!

This trip was honestly one of the best things we have done and is exactly the sort of activity we imagined doing on this trip! It really did test our abilities and our nerves, yet neither let us down! It certainly had been a day of many challenges! As we had booked a traditional Maori meal tomorrow we headed for our selected camping spot just outside Rotorua, a mere 2 hour drive away. Here there was the constant smell of lingering eggy farts... and for once I didn’t get the blame due to the sulphur leaking out the ground!

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Posted by Bears on Tour 23:30 Archived in New Zealand Tagged travel cave waitomo black_water_rafting rock_climbing glow_worms abseil Comments (2)

Day 5 & 6- Hamilton

Visit to Michaella & Callum, Christmas parade, and a garden.

Yesterday we had spotted a disc golf course and I got excited to give it a go, but unfortunately were all out of frisbees! This problem was overcome as Shane had located said object on his trip to the petrol station. We put our new purchase to good use embarking on the shorter and easier 9 hole course. We had a slow start as it appeared much more difficult than throwing a frisbee in a bucket sounds. The first hole was kind of as expected as we got to grips with our new sport. Andy and Shane were doing pretty well, the same couldn't be said for me. And with only one frisbee between us all there was a lot of running forwards and backwards.

The difficulty increased drastically after hole 3 and we soon realised we were playing the world championship course, so gave ourselves a little break. We got to hole 6 somehow after running down hills and climbing mountains all in the search of the next bucket. Yet this hole was actually impossible. It was so difficult it took Shane half an hour of running around to even locate the bucket which was some 150km away! All in a par 4... Mental! With the rain starting to come down and a lake between us and the bucket, we abandoned the course! But as you can see from the below shots we did look pretty cool playing and it was good fun!

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We’d definitely worked up an appetite for lunch! Filling a hole at a chicken shop we were going to set off to Michaella's having finally organised a date (for context Michaella is an ex KFH friend). The trip had been going so well it was about time something went wrong! Ironically the moment came as Andy and I were discussing how well our camper was doing and it was good to not have the car troubles we experienced with the Cleo! Then right on cue our camper decided to give up! Thankfully with Shane in tow we could use his phone to call the breakdown service. We spent a lovely afternoon in the shopping center car park awaiting the AA. Finally back on the road about two hours delayed we were on our way to Hamilton.

With some gin in hand we had a much overdue catch up about KFH, our trip and the Kiwi lack of festive love. On that point we were told we could help them pick out their tree tomorrow! Result! Although we are gutted to be missing our traditional Christmas it has been fun playing a part in so many of our friends festivities this year. They took us to a local pub for some grub and both hit a wall fairly early, so we headed back to another bed. We have been fairly lucky so far at nabbing real beds to stay in to ease us into travel life. Shane had headed back to Auckland, although we would be seeing him again later.

Andy was awoken in the night by my scream as I dreamt he was covered in worms, before I somehow fell out the bed! An event I only recalled later the next day when Andy brought it up! Oh dear!

Next day, we headed to the world famous Hamilton gardens. Apparently they are voted the 5th best gardens in the world; and to be fair they were pretty good even if we had to dodge the odd raindrop. With more Chinese tourists and their photo style we opted to get into the spirit and re-enact their poses. Our attempts are below!

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Next we helped pick out the tree as promised; although Christmas here seems so lacklustre and not the full on excitement Iz and I experience! The only time we saw an element of that excitement was when a song called Snoopy's Christmas was played. I've never heard this before but as we also found out later Kiwis love it! I wouldn't call it a classic but any festive cheer shouldn't be dampened here! We sprinkled our pixie dust and helped decorate Michaella's lounge... Well with the four decorations we had. Yet we convinced Michaella she needed more and after finally getting in the Christmas mood upon seeing our handy work. Shane had also informed us that a Christmas parade was occurring in Hamilton today. As it was on theme we all went... Well until the downpour brought it to an abrupt end.

With our first trip to K Mart and some new decorations under our belts out was back to the house for drinks and more decorating! The results equalled "the most Christmassy we have ever been" quoted by Michaella! It's funny that this effort wouldn't even register as Christmas in our house!

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Posted by Bears on Tour 20:24 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day 3 & 4 - Getting the camper, first waterfall & Hobbiton

"I feel that as long as the shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable!"


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Today was the day for us to pick up our campervan; our transport and home for the next 22 days. Anxiety kicked in about having to drive this huge monster and we had peppered Shane with questions about driving in NZ and driving an automatic. As Andy had only just passed his test two weeks before i was up first for driving. Although the van isn't that huge in reality, the fact you could probably fit our little Cleo inside is daunting. Yet once behind the wheel it was actually alright- the roads are so much wider than the UK. And I have to say I love driving an automatic. So many less things to think about. I've already told Stew our next car will not be a manual!

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After he finished work Shane took us to our first waterfall in the evening; for him a stroll, for us a hike with intense work out! Getting to the top was totally worth it (after getting our breathe back). Tempted to jump in the water pools at the top, even just to cool down, we took the view in before heading down to the bottom of the waterfall to admire it from all angles. We also stopped off at our beach. Getting back to Auckland having stopped for a burger, we settled in for our first night in van (which was parked on the street outside of Shane's house).

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Day 4- Our short time in Auckland is up, as we headed South to The Shire. Shane planned another waterfall ‘walk’ (hike) for us, hitting 10k steps before 10am (didn’t even get the Fitbit rocket!). This time we took Santa with us to enjoy the scenery. A dancing Santa is board shorts was a present from Shane to help us feel more at home in our summer Christmas. He is now our official tour mascot. I must say it was nice and refreshing to be out in nature so early. After a little picnic, courtesy of ‘Subway du Shane’ we continued on to Hobbiton.

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I (Andy) was really excited for Hobbiton. After all New Zealand is the land of Lord of the Rings! And the place was magical and hard to believe that around 95% of the landscape for the films was real. It was fun to use your imagination and picture life as a Hobbit as you got lost in the scenery. However I have to say I was a little underwhelmed by the experience. I expected more information about the films and how they were made but instead it appeared to be just endless amount of photo opportunities next to tiny doors. Which the Chinese group on our tour took full advantage of with about 15 photos at each stop, each with their own unique range of poses! As I've highlighted the site and the tour was cool but not really the full experience I was looking for. We were informed of a studio tour in Wellington which I'm hoping more lives up to expectation.

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Over beers in the Green Dragon, naturally, we decided on a nearby campsite located in Mclaren Falls and stopped off for bbq supplies en route. For £5 each this site was value for money. The place was just gorgeous and everything we wanted. It made us again thankful to have the van and the freedom that came with it to just pick and stop at these remote places with ease. As we thought we hadn't done enough walking yet we explored the site (hitting the 24k step mark) before dinner. Dinner was lamb burgers and ribs saturated in bbq sauce, yum! During our earlier explore we identified this place had a glow worm forest! In the pitch black equipped with our head torch (that Izzy said I wouldn't use!) we went on the hunt. Bumping into two friendly Germans, who were also in search, we clambered over fields and through forest before we got our first glimpse. We were very excited, having never seen glow worms. It was an amazing walk, filled with little natural fairy lights. It is these random and unplanned experiences likes this that traveling is all about. Content we hunkered down into our van for the night.

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Posted by Bears on Tour 14:53 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day 2- Or so we think it's day 2

Outbound Shanghai to Auckland!


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After our transfer ordeal and wasting a total of 5.5 hours we were on the final leg of our flight to Auckland. Although excited, tiredness was setting in as we had been awake for 23 hours at this point. We purposefully didn't sleep on the first flight to try and prompt sleep on the second one in order to get in sync with New Zealand time.

We were served yet more food shortly into the fight, yet by this point we had no idea whether this should be breakfast, lunch or dinner and frankly didn't really care. We ate and tried to somehow sleep on the plane with our acquired travel pillows. Iz had an odd desk contraption that made her look like an ostrich and mine was like a weird blow up arm (we haven't taken pictures yet so you'll have to use your imagination); both were semi successful. Yet Iz definitely managed to get the greater amount of sleep, but I don't think this had much to do with the pillow!

Another 11 or so hours and a few more films down we landed in New Zealand! The furthest either of us or our immediate family had ever travelled. We had no idea what day or time it was here or back home. But we had made it to the start of our trip in one piece and all our belongings albeit we lost a day somewhere along the line. Once through NZ'd traditionally strict customs we met up with Shane (for those that don't know he is an ex flatmate who had recently moved out to NZ). It was comforting to see a friendly face and to not have to worry how to get from the airport to our accommodation; which today would be Shane's house!

At Shane's we dumped our bags, set up our phones with the new sims and checked the football results (well that was just me.. you can take the boy out of England but not England out of the boy). Then Shane took us for breakfast at a local cafe and a stroll around town. First impressions of Auckland was that it seemed a little like America on a smaller scale and we were underwhelmed by the lack of Christmas cheer. It had been at least 3 hours into our big trip and we hadn't had a beer yet! This needed correcting as soon as possible and once we started we didn't stop. Shane left us to our own devices and those devices found another 3 more pubs compete with beer gardens... Well we are on holiday after all. What better way to get over jet lag.

About 7.30pm we started lagging so a quick stop off at a food market (for some incredible chicken kebabs!) and then it was time to hit the hay! It had been an extremely long day but our trip was fully underway!

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Posted by Bears on Tour 00:25 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beer auckland shanghai jet_lag adventure_begins touchdown what_day_is_it Comments (0)

Day 1-- Outbound

Canada Water to Shanghai... And every disco, I mean plane, we get in!


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Having not got much sleep (from excitement and a slightly deflated airbed) we were up early and left Josh and Henna’s with 4 and a half hours till our flight- perfect start! We arrived at Canada Water station looking like two of the Teenage Ninja Turtles (without the cool masks and bandanas) and realised pretty quickly that apparently rush hour doesn’t end at 9am as we assumed and a busy tube is no place for two oversized packs. For size reference Izzy could literally fit into her bag. Hitting our first hiccup we rerouted via the overground, tube and then train before we reached Heathrow just over an hour later than our original plan. We were pleased we allowed so much time otherwise our trip may have been over before it began.

Feeling a little sweaty and already wondering if we had packed too much we went to check in; the easy part right?! Wrong apparently... with no return flight from New Zealand all Virgin staff went in to meltdown. After an hour of faffing, on their part, a manager overwrote the problem and our bags were on our way! Through security- simple! It was then time to find somewhere for a lovely last English supper and traditional airport pint before scouring duty free. With over an hour to our flight we checked the board for our gate and in big red letters saw ‘gate closing’... how is that possible?! Cue sprint through London’s biggest airport to the furthest gate possible... only to sit on the plane for an hour and wait for everyone else to board! All that needless worrying and anxiety, but at least we were officially on our way to starting our trip!!

Around 11.5 hours later and at God knows what time we landed in Shanghai excited we were half way there. We headed to the transfer desk with our passports and visas ready to find we couldn’t actually continue on the journey without a flight booked out of New Zealand (getting very worked up that we should have been told that in England) we looked for flights; well Izzy did on some unrealiable WiFi in front of some unhelpful staff, as my phone didn’t work as China helpfully have Google disabled (helpful to know for our visit later). Booking literally the first flight we came across, more issues continued as they couldn’t find our tickets on their database. Probably as they tried to check literally 30 seconds after the transaction completed. Eventually it refreshed and we were allowed to proceed to 'Quarantine' around an hour after our arrival. Apprehensive about what this would entail, we followed a man who didn’t say a single word to us on a 15 minute tour of the airport. Quarantine, we found out, consisted of a man stamping our boarding cards and sending us down a corridor then closing the door behind us. Left alone in we had no idea what was going on and eventually wandered out to the departures area. With a rather unimpressed initial opinion of China we had around 4 hours to waste until our next and final flight.

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Posted by Bears on Tour 13:14 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged flying shanghai airports virgin traveling heathrow drama outbound_journey Comments (1)

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