Waitomo (Glowworm) CavesOur first day in New Zealand we joined a morning adventure tour of some very cool limestone caves.The caves are very expansive and we had a cool tour where we abseiled into the cave then spent some time exploring and traversing the cave and the underground river. The caves (along with many other cool, dark places in New Zealand) are home to glowworms provided a starry sky underground. At one point we relaxed in inner tubes as the guides pulled along the in the peaceful darkness with only the light of the glowworms visible. It was very serene. Unfortunately I don't have a good picture of the glowworms glowing but you can see some good ones here. Below is an up close look at a glowworm (gross) which is an interesting contrast to their collective beauty in the dark. We then exited the caves by climbing a series of waterfalls. It was a fantastic adventure and a great way to start our trip in New Zealand.
HobbitonThat's right Hobbiton is a real place and it's beautiful! Hobbiton was built on a family farm in New Zealand for the Lord of the Rings movies, it was torn down after the movies were complete but rebuilt for the Hobbit movies. When Hobbiton was rebuilt the farmers arranged a deal with New Line Cinemas to keep Hobbiton up and running as tourist attraction after filming. I didn't quite know what to expect when we got there, but I was not disappointed. They made every effort to build an entire, continuous hobbit village. The grounds were incredibly well kept complete with working gardens, sheep, frogs, ducks, etc. Even more amazing was the detail that went into creating a perfect shot, even things that most viewers would never notice. The craziest story: on top of Bag End (home of Frodo and Bilbo) there is an oak tree and Peter Jackson found the perfect oak tree somewhere else in New Zealand had it cut apart and reconstructed on top of Bag End for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Obviously that tree died so they had to create an artificial tree (that looked 60 years younger) for the Hobbit movies. The artificial tree had plastic leaves that were wired on and Peter Jackson decided days before shooting that the color of those leaves were not quite right so every single leave had to be hand painted. Another cool thing was the mix of full size and miniature hobbit holes. I find it impressive the amount of planning on camera angles that had to be done before they even built Hobbtion The tour ended at the Green Dragon Inn with a glass of Hobbit beer.
Polynesian SpaWe ended the day at the Polynesian Spa relaxing in the some natural hot springs
"Zorbing"Rolling down a hill in an inflatable ball = nonstop laughing from my girlfriend. You dive into a ball within a ball at the top of a hill, and they throw some water in to keep you sliding, and off you go! It was a strange experience, you never know where you are or what is happening, it feels like you are in a washing machine. It was my girlfriends favorite part of the whole trip, I have never heard her laugh so much. Apparently I don't have a whole lot of pictures with me for this but pictures don't really do it justice so these two will have to suffice.
Huka FallsHuka Falls is are some small but beautiful falls in Taupo, a great place for a picnic.
JetboatingWe don't have any pictures from jetboating (they wouldn't let you take a camera and we didn't want pay for the pics thy took), but despite the lack of evidence it was a lot of fun. Jetboats are powerful and agile with propelled forward by a jet of water that is slightly recessed. This allows for a high octane experience racing around small, shallow rivers. The agility of the boat allows the boat to do a 180s on a dime as well as get very close to cliffs and boulders, we even caught some air zooming down some rapids. If you go to New Zealand this is a must do.
Tongariro and Mt DoomTongariro Crossing is one of New Zealands Great Walks. Its a 20km (12 miles) and 800m (2600 feet) of elevation gain. It is not an easy hike and I stupidly decided to make it more difficult by climbing Mt. Doom. Mt. Ngauruhoe is the real life inspiration for Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings Films. Summiting Mt. Doom was only an extra 2km but an extra 500m of elevation. It was two exhausting hours to the top, scrambling my way up, using my hands extensively. It took me two hours to summit and return and I then had to catch up with my girlfriend and cousin who had wisely chosen not summit. There were some great views from the top and I got some good pictures and it was good experience, but it left me tired and shaky for the rest of the hike. Tongariro crossing was an interesting landscape, an active volcanic area with complete with acidic lakes (which some stranger jumped in...hope he's OK), hardened lava fields, and active steam vents. The mountain last went off in 2012 shooting rocks all over the landscape, which can be seen along with their accompanying crater, and one rock even broke through one of the corners of a hut along the trail, permanently closing the hut.
|The crew at the start of the hike|
|Mt Doom looming in the background|
|Panorama from the top of Mt Doom|
|Acidic volcanic lakes|
Lake TaupoWe spent most of the Easter weekend and my cousin's wife's friend's vacation home (called a batch in New Zealand) and they live adjacent to the massive Lake Taupo and took us out on the boat for a couple of hours.
|Serene bay on Lake Taupo|
|Enjoying the beautiful views|
|We love boats|
WellingtonWe spent Easter exploring the (empty) city of Wellington. We got to see a few Wellington's sites including the capitol, botanic gardens, outdoor market, beach, scenic views, and Te Papa, the museum of New Zealand museum. Not a bad way to spend a day.
|Cable car with Wellington in the background|
|Botanic gardens above Wellington|
|The beehive (capitol building)|
|Maori meeting house|
|Artistic interpretation of a Maori meeting house|
South IslandWe took a 3 hour ferry ride across the Cook Strait to end up on the south island.
|Hello south island!|
NelsonWe then drove ourselves to Nelson, we didn't really do much in Nelson, we had planned to go visit some wineries but it was the day after Easter and a lot of things were closed. They take their holidays pretty serious down there, its not uncommon for most things (included grocery stores) to be closed. But we did get a chance to dip our toes in the Tasman Sea.
Abel TasmanThe Abel Tasman National Park is home to another of New Zealand's great walks and were very excited to go after looking at pictures of all of the beautiful beaches. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate with us. We took a very rough water taxi ride up to a beach along the trail and then we hiked back toward the trailhead. We only hiked about 2 hours the first day and then stayed overnight in a hot on the trail. It was POURING during our hike and every bit of us got wet. We managed to get mostly dry in the hut and we even had a chance go out and explore the beach during a break in the rain and found some pretty cool shells. We rose early the next day in order to time a tidal crossing although it turned out we would have been alright if we had left later. But we spent all morning hiking and were able to reach the trailhead by early afternoon. We got done so early we didn't know what to do with ourselves but we checked out a winery and a brewery nearby. The brewery sold beer in plastic 2 liters like bottle of soda, it was weird to see but they say if keeps the beer just fine.
|Baby fur seals|
|Just imagine it sunny|
|Beer in plastic bottles?|
West coastWe spent a couple of days driving down the west coast of New Zealand, stopping at a few sites along the we. We took a short hike along the rugged coastline to an overlook of a seal sanctuary.
|Weka (flightless bird)|
Pancake RocksWe also stopped at Pancake Rocks which is an interesting limestone formation.
Franz Joseph GlacierWe also stopped by the Franz Joseph Glacier and took a short hike to the view area. The glacier is rapidly dwindling so there is not much of the glacier that can be seen from the viewing area.
We also stopped at a couple other sites along the west coast including some waterfalls, pools and even another brewery.
WanakaThe day we spent in Wanaka was actually a pretty great day. We started out at Puzzling World, a tourist attraction with a large assortment of optical illusions including the awesome tilted house. They had a "house" built at a steep slope and it is crazy how much it messes with your mind. For instance when you walk in there is a cascading waterfall that looks like it flowing up and there is a gravity driven slide that makes it look like you are sliding uphill. The room was so trippy my girlfriend got motion sick just being in there. Puzzling World also had an outdoor life-size maze.
We then rented some mountain bikes and bike for most of the day on a gravel path along the lake. I found part of this trail very fun making me wonder if I should start mountain biking. We even biked our way to a winery where we tasted some wines before purchasing a bottle to go with our picnic. We then enjoyed one of the most amazing views I have ever seen as we ate our lunch. This was one of my favorite days of the whole trip.
We then took a gondola to the top of a mountain overlooking Queenstown. At the top we had a fancy buffet lunch before riding down the available luge. But the weather did not cooperate with us as much as we would have liked; we ended up getting hailed and snowed on and froze our hands steering the luge. Definitely worthwhile to do when you are in Queenstown but would have been more enjoyable in nicer weather.
Our last day in Queenstown we decided to go big with the Nevis Bungy. 134m (440ft) above a deep valley there is a building that is suspended by cables that acts as the platform for this high wire bungy. It was scary. I posted a video below, you can see that my jump is rather pathetic, halfway into the jump I got scared. On the way down you have enough time to have the clear and distinct thought "I am going to die". But before you know it the bungy catches you, flipping you upside down and bouncing you around until you no longer have any idea which way is up. I am definitely glad that we did, but it was likely a once in a lifetime experience and I doubt I will do it again...unless I come across a higher bungy.
Milford SoundMilford Sound is beautiful area where steep cliffs surround the bay. The sound is absolutely stunning and a very unique landscape. We almost didn't make it to Milford Sound, the previous day's snow required chains to traverse the remote road to Milford Sound. So we spent our morning tracking down some chains when we should have been on the road. It all worked out in the end though becuase my girlfriend got us on a different cruise that included a tour bus. It was nice not having to drive but I hated being on a tour bus and surrounded by all those people. The bus stopped at a couple of spots along the road for photo opportunities before we finally made it to boat.
We ended are trip in Dunedin in the south east of New Zealand's south island. We explored a couple of beach and accidentally came face to face with a massive sea lion. It was extremely windy that day and sand from the beaches stung our faces and arms, I think it was the strongest wind I have ever been in. Within Dunedin we stopped by a couple of breweries, a botanic garden, and Cadbury World where we gorged on chocolate.
Well that's if for our trip. It was a once in a lifetime experience. We did all of this is in about two weeks so we were really cramped for time. It was definitely not enough time to see all of New Zealand and we fit in as much as we could. I would definitely go to New Zealand again and I would even consider living in New Zealand for a while. I have a lot of other places I want to travel so I probably won't make it back anytime soon, unless of courses I become financially independent sooner than expected. Living in New Zealand would provide a great opportunity to explore the South Pacific and Asia. I know this was a long post but I hope you all enjoyed. I will have one additional post that shares how much all of this cost us.
What about you? Ever been to New Zealand? Would you go?