Rotorua is a town that is really set up for backpackers – plenty of hostels, cheap(ish) places to eat, and lots to spend your money on. Some of those activities promoted by Kiwi Experience include Ogo (like zorbing, rolling down a hill in a giant inflatable ball), visiting the Polynesian Spa, bombing down a hill in a luge, or white water rafting to name a few.
When we arrived at Base, our hostel, we were quite surprised to find it wasn’t an horrendous as we thought it might be – there was actually a swimming pool and, unlike the Base hostel in Paihia, it was bigger than a paddling pool. A few people were off white water rafting, while the rest of us in our little bus friends group chilled out by the pool to work on the tan… except Blakey, who puts on so much factor 50 he’s still super pale. Joke’s on me though, as I’m the one with the gross peeling burn. Sad times.
Once they got back from rafting, four of us decided to try out the luge track. We got the cable car to the top of a mountain and strapped on our helmets (safety first!) before climbing in the little plastic sleds with questionable brakes that would send us trundling down the hill. There were three tracks to choose from, so we decided to warm up on the scenic route first before trying the steeper ones. It was really fun, although soon became clear that Blakey and Ellen had far less fear for their lives than me or Shanai – we were always at the back.
After our warm up run, we moved on the the advanced tracks, which even had some little jumps. A friend of mine had done it a few years ago and warned me she went flying out of her sled at that point, but we all managed to stay in and got to the bottom of the hill again with all limbs still attached.
The next day we were back on the bus and on our way to Lake Taupo. We had a quick half an hour stop at a beautiful redwood forest for a walk around, and then another one at some geothermal pools to watch the bubbling mud and get a good lung full of rotten eggy sulphur.
We decided not to stay in the Base hostel in Taupo, as it was quite expensive (£17 a night for a dorm room) for a very basic hostel with bad reviews on hostelworld. Instead, 7 of us went for Bob’s Hostel which was right across the road from Base and started at £10 a night for a dorm room. Blakey and I splashed out on a private room for £36 a night between us, which isn’t bad as private rooms in New Zealand hostels tend to be more like £50-60.
Blakey signed himself up for the Tongariro Crossing the next day (I didn’t do it) – a 19km hike through Tongariro National Park, up and down a desolate volcanic wasteland (Blakey’s words). He got picked up at 5am and shuttled to the start point and off he went. It’s meant to take 5-7 hours to complete but he beasted it in 4 hours and was the first one to the finish. The route was a mixture of boardwalks, rocky tracks and gravelled steps, with loose scree like marbles which filled your boots and made you fall on your arse.
The hike takes you past Mount Doom and the emerald lakes, although for Blakey’s trek it was pretty cloudy at the summit of the red crater so he didn’t get the iconic pictures. However, the sun came out for the 10km descent and the views were pretty spectacular, or so I’m told… as we’ve already established I chickened out.
As much as I would have liked to do the epic day hike, just to say I’ve done it and for the sense of achievement (and photos), I know my limits and decided that I wasn’t yet fit enough to attempt it as I’d just be holding Blakey back and also probably hate every minute of it, making it miserable for us both. Best to be realistic about these things. Instead, I did my own 12km walk from Aratiatia Dam, past Huka Falls and followed the river back to town. It took me 3.5 hours and my feet were hurting by the end (ok, the middle) so I still felt a sense of achievement at the end, although tried not to complain about my feet too much the next day as it wasn’t like I’d scaled a mountain like everyone else. It was a beautiful walk though and seeing the dam being released was pretty cool.
We’d opted to stay three nights at Taupo, which was probably a good idea as Blakey’s legs were about to fall off the day after his hike. We spent the day exploring the town a bit – Lake Taupo is a massive super volcano, and the lake is actually the crater. I wouldn’t want to be around when it erupts, it’s bloody massive! It’s a really nice town with plenty to do, whether you’re a backpack on a budget or visiting as a proper toutist who can actually afford the $15 pints.
We had a nice little game of mini golf in the morning before the sun got too hot and Blakey broke his losing streak and soundly beat me. Then we headed to the lake shore to chill out and read our books for a bit before a walk down to Spa Park, where a geothermal hot spring meets the (very shallow) river and everyone sits in it awkwardly looking at each other and wondering what to do next, like a natural hot tub that’s only shin high. You can probably tell we were pretty underwhelmed. It’s probably better when less busy.
Sunset over the lake that night was pretty spectacular, as were the pizza prices – you can get a large Domino’s pizza for $5. I kid you not. £2.60 for a large Domino’s? This is New Zealand wide by the way, not just in Taupo. I’m amazed and also pretty proud of the fact that we’ve only had two so far in the last three weeks, it’s by far the cheapest meal going that you don’t have to cook yourself.
We ate our pizza with our bus friends, watching the sun set. And then made them take a romantic photo of us while they tried not to vom. On the way back to Bob’s hostel, we called in on the self-styled ‘World’s Coolest McDonald’s’ which to be honest was pretty cool, as it’s in a plane. Cooler than any other McDonald’s we’ve been to anyway.
All in all, we’d recommend both Rotorua and Taupo as there’s plenty to do at each place and for all budgets, including lots of free stuff like swimming in the lake, or just looking at stuff. Win.