03.17.2012 - 03.24.2012
We arrived in Auckland late at night from Sydney, checked into our hostel, and, since it was St. Patty’s Day, headed out straight away to celebrate with the other “one night a year Irish folk”. We went to Danny Doolans Irish Pub and quickly discovered that New Zealanders celebrate St. Patty’s Day pretty much like everyone else. It was a good start to our time in New Zealand!
Auckland is very geographically blessed; it is located on a tiny strip of land surrounded on the east and west by ocean and the north and south by dormant volcanoes and lush countryside. We hit all of the obligatory tourist stops via a self guided walking tour of the city, but I have to say a highlight was watching the Volvo Ocean Race sailboats depart the harbor for the next leg of the race. The Volvo Ocean Race is a “who can make it around the world fastest” type of race with state of the art boats. As part of the festivities for the send-off, there were lots of stands and free activities, including a simulator and 3D movie on what it is like to sail across open oceans. We also caught a glimpse of big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton giving the Puma sponsored boat a personal sendoff.
The boats all lined up before the start of the race
Laird giving a hand to the Puma team before they head-off
For the first time in a while we had rainy weather on our second day in Auckland, but we persevered to get some sightseeing in anyway. We traveled to Waiheke Island just off the coast of Auckland in a borderline squall and found ourselves stuck with the indoor activities. Lucky for us that included wine tours So, we caught the local bus and ran from vineyard to vineyard tasting the local flavors. The day nearly busted our umbrellas, but we made it through, and had a fun time in the process.
Getting ready to sample the microbrewery flavors
Jeff braving the wind and rain
I'm all set
The next morning we left Auckland behind in our new and supped-up Jucy campervan. It’s the “condo” version, so it has standing room, a double burner stove, larger fridge, and can seat and sleep four – we are livin’ the life For our first stop we headed straight to the Waitomo Caves for some “adrenaline-pumping, gut-wrenching, soaking-wet, pitch-black, squeezing, plummeting excitement” as they say. We signed up for a two-hour black water rafting trip with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company. Our tour guides led us through a cave which required us to float on inner tubes and jump off of waterfalls – in the dark. It was pretty awesome! While floating through the caves you can see “glowworms” on the roof (the larvae of the fungus gnat) – they look like florescent stars and are amazing to see. After hot showers, bagels and soup (it’s cold here), we headed to Rotorua, our next destination.
Leaving Auckland- the surrounding city and our Jucy
In our wetsuits and rubber booties- ready for some adventure
Brad's first "test jump" into the river- and that, ladies and gentleman, was how cold the water was
Group photo in the cave
Check out the glowworms on the ceiling- they really were that bright
The area in and around Rotorua is a geothermal attraction in itself, including hot springs, geysers, and bubbling mud pools galore. We stopped at the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland to watch the Lady Knox Geyser blow its top and then checked out the surrounding thermal pools. They ranged from stinky sulfer pools to florescent green lakes. It was a lot like Yellowstone if you’ve ever been - very cool!
The Lady Knox Geyser
One of the many steaming lakes and hyper-colored pools
Jeff and Brad at the florescent green pool- it looked nuclear to me
We lost Jeff in the steam for a minute- this was him emerging
While in Rotorua, we also decided to partake in a classic Kiwi adventure activity called Zorbing. Basic concept- you jump into an enormous inflatable ball full of water and then roll down a hill. We decided to all go together to really get some speed. Mercifully, the water they pump in is hot and, because of the water, you slide around inside the ball all the way down the hill, while at the same time trying not to slap or kick each other in the face. We screamed like little kids and had a blast - it was a hilarious and fun experience! Put it on your list
Inside that ball we are laughing like little kids
Our next stop on our crazy adventure was Lake Taupo, the self proclaimed skydiving capital of the world (over 30,000 jumps a year). What better place to skydive, right? That is what we said! It took a lot of gall for me to even sign up, but we made it to our dive site, Taupo Tandem Skydive , and got briefed before they told us the weather was not “diving appropriate” (too cloudy). After waiting a little while hoping the clouds would break, we decided to come back and try again later in the day, prolonging my anxiety. In the meantime, the boys found a golf course, another check off on the list (play golf in New Zealand), and the weather did in fact clear. So, we made our way back to the jump site, got geared up, and then told how “best to fall out of the plane”. My tandem jumper was Albert, a pro with thousands of jumps (and still alive), so that was comforting. All I can say is that when the door opened and I saw Jeff and Brad not jump, but literally fall over the side of the plane – well, I was glad I had someone there to push me out. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how the first five seconds of the free-fall felt - it was insane - like how your stomach feels when the elevator drops too fast – times 100!!! It was happy times when our parachutes opened and we all eventfully landed on the ground safely. There was so much adrenaline, we were all talking and laughing hysterically recounting our various levels of freak out. In the end, I am very glad I did it, but it was an absolutely crazy experience!
If you have any interest in watching our 8 minute skydive video click HERE (we didn't pay for the freefall video- uber expensive- but the other two girls in our video did and their footage is included)
A view from above- it's getting pretty real at this point
All of our exit photos before we jumped- I think my thought at this moment was "Ohmigosh, this is actually happening!"
Coming in for landing- much smoother than I thought it would be
Post-jump- we were all feeling pretty ALIVE at this moment
With the high of skydiving still pumping through our veins, we left the next morning for Tongariro National Park. Alpine trekking is the big thing to do there and we had our hearts set on doing the Alpine Crossing, supposedly one of the best day hikes in NZ. But, the weather was totally uncooperative (rain, wind and low visibility), so we decided to do a shorter, circuit hike out to a picturesque waterfall instead. After completing the hike in a little under two hours and managing not to get soaking wet, we drove south for a few hours through Whanganui National Park and eventually ended up in the town of Paraparaumu for the night. There wasn’t a lot going on there, but they did have a bowling alley. I was absolutely out of form (meaning I’m usually terrible) and somehow managed to win the first two games. In our third and final game, Jeff was ahead by 21 pins on the 10th frame, so he was feeling pretty confident. But out of nowhere, Brad bowled a Turkey (a triple strike on the 10th frame) to the win the game, just about breaking Jeff’s heart. It was a fun last night!
A view of the waterfall on our hike-still beautiful despite the rain
The gorgeous NZ countryside in Whanganui National Park
We ended up the next morning in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand (nicknamed “Windy Welly” for good reason). Brad was catching a plane home later in the day, but before his flight, we managed to wander around the impressive and well done Te Papa Museum, hit up a microbrewery for lunch, and walk around the downtown. A special thanks to Brad for making the trek to come travel with us. We had a lot of fun and it was definitely adrenaline filled! We are heading to the South Island in the next few days and we’ll write more from there soon!
A view of Windy Welly