Leg two of the Kiwi Experience! Digging our own hot pools in the beach, tubing through glow-worm caves, and exploring the Shire.
Sooo I think it’s safe to say that we absolutely love New Zealand. It seems like in every town there’s something amazing to do, and even the roads to get there are pretty spectacular. And we hear it’s even better in South Island.
First stop on our journey southwards: Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove, as featured in the Narnia films, or so I’m told. We had a new driver, Hamish, for our trip from Auckland. He’s lots of fun but his playlist isn’t so good. Anyway, he took us to the top of the cliffs at Cathedral Cove and we all piled off the bus in true school trip style and started the 40 minute trek down the side of the cliffs to the iconic beach. Or it would be if you’d seen the film. To me it just looked like a really pretty beach. This is what it looks like – maybe you’ll recognise it.
Anyway, after some time chilling out and admiring the view, it was time to gather us all up again to start the walk back up the cliffs and back to the bus and up to the Hot Water Beach hostel. At night we walked in the dark to Hot Water Beach to dig our own hot tubs in the sand. There’s a geothermal stream running underground to the sea, and at low tide you only have to dig a foot or so down to get boiling hot water welling up in your sand hole. As you can imagine, it’s a massive tourist spot and apparently packed during the day. At night though it was quite quiet and the stars looked so bright overhead with no light pollution over the sea. You can see the Milky Way really clearly from here, it’s pretty special.
To be honest, except for the night sky, the whole dig-your-own-hot-tub thing wasn’t that great… everyone just dug a shallow hole, sat in it for a while then got out all sludgy and sandy. It might have been better doing it in the day, as by the time we got back to the hostel it was after 12 and we had to get up around 6.30am the next day to head over to Waitomo.
A good thing I’ve noticed about the Kiwi Bus is that they’re pretty aware that they have a bunch of 18-30 year olds stuck on a bus for hours at a time that they need to keep awake and entertained. For this, they take us out for a morning walk somewhere scenic. Whether it’s a Kauri forest, an old gold mine, or a cave system, they always stop the bus after an hour or so in the morning to let us stretch our legs for half an hour and get the blood pumping before herding us back onto the bus for the next leg. They also let us know the food options at the next place we stay, and stop at a supermarket to let us buy cooking supplies if we’re trying to save money by making our own meals. You can tell these guys have been doing this for a long time, they know what they’re doing.
Once we arrived at Waitomo, we were split into groups – those of us doing the 3 hour tubing trip, those doing the 5 hour absailing, ziplining and tubing trip, and those just doing a walking tour. I decided on the first one, whereas Blakey went for the more action-packed second option. Neither of us fancied just going for a walk.
The hardest part was definitely struggling into the horrible damp wetsuits they make you wear for black water tubing – they’re much thicker than normal wetsuits and make you look like a tellytubby. Sexy. However, once that ordeal was over, it was just a case of wriggling into a hole in the ground with an inflatable tyre, jumping backwards down a few underground waterfalls (and absailing down a massive hole in Blakey’s case), then following the underground stream into a magical world where blue-green glow worms light up the cave ceiling like little living stars among the stalactites, while we floated peacefully along in the pitch black under the earth. As you can imagine, it was wonderful. Surprisingly tiring though, lots of tight spaces to crawl through and rocks to climb over.
We weren’t allowed to take cameras, as we obviously had nowhere to put them, so the guides took plenty of pictures of our little journey underground then charged a stupid amount of money to give them to us – $20 for one photo (one!!) or $35 for the lot. Luckily the whole group was from Kiwi Experience so we all just put in a couple of dollars each and emailed the link around to everyone. Job done.
The day after Waitomo was with out a doubt the best day of our trip so far… Hobbiton! As you probably know, Blakey and I are both uber geeks so the chance to visit the real life set of The Shire was a dream come true. We had a two hour walking tour booked, ending with a pie and a pint in the one and only Green Dragon pub. I’m just happy that as we’re travelling light, we can’t buy souvenirs, otherwise we would possibly have gone a bit crazy and bought everything. What more could you want in life than a pair of slippers shaped like giant hobbit feet? And a lamp shade with a map of Middle Earth? I would have been all over that.
Anywayyy Hobbiton itself was even better than we thought it would be. It was so green and vibrant – they have a team of gardeners who’s job it is to maintain the hobbity look of the place… planting vegetable patches, making sure trailing vines trail artfully, encouraging butterflies and bees with bright flowers… and then of course the tour guides who take you around all the hobbit holes and tell you how they shot certain parts of the film, like getting perspectives right so human sized people and hobbit sized people looked right by having the same hobbit holes in two different scales, and clever camera angles. I think it’s safe to say that sitting in the sunshine in front of the Green Dragon, drinking Southfarthing beer and looking out over Hobbiton has been an absolute highlight. Of life.