After my adventures around New Zealand's South Island, I wasn't sure if the North Island would even remotely compare to the vast beauty of the South. But boy was I wrong. I swapped out the rugged mountains for rolling hills and white beaches of the North and set myself for some crazy escapades.
I was travelling the North Island with a relatively newer backpacker company, Kiwi Vibes. Founded by Chris and Ben, these two young Kiwis were full to the brim with info, banter and life. I've only ever done one other organised tour, and so I wasn't sure how Kiwi Vibes would compare as I've always loved the freedom of independent travel. In saying that though I can honestly say that these 10 days travelling around with Chris, Ben and the other travellers in my group were among some of my favourite travel experiences I've ever had and I couldn't recommend doing the 'Vibe of the North' tour enough.
Our trip began with an early pick up from Auckland and a short drive to the Coromandel, our first stop. We were quickly thrown into getting to know each other pretty much straight away on the bus to avoid awkwardness between all of us (which I appreciated). Thames was our first stop for a quick breakfast and a tour around an old goldmine before driving to Hot Water Beach. Unfortunately the tide wasn't right for us to fully be able to utilise the perks of the beach, but some of us still went for a swim and I battled with the scorching hot sand to try and find a spot to set up camp for a while (before everyone came and interrupted my photo session).
Mount Maunganui was the second stop with Kiwi Vibes. After bumping into an old friend who I met when I was living in Croatia, we all set off to hike up the mount. It only took around 30 minutes to the summit, however it was unbelievably hot, I wasn't wearing active wear and it was ALL uphill. The views at the top made up for it though.
Now, I'm going to be honest and say I've never actually watched any of the Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, which is probably considered a bit of a crime. In saying that though, Hobbiton was one of my favourite experiences on the whole tour. The detail and effort that went into every single aspect of the set and the experience was immaculate. And while I didn't really get any of the movie references, I was baffled with the information our guide was telling us as we wandered through the sea of miniature doors, props and AN ARTIFICIAL TREE THAT TOOK 13 MONTHS TO MAKE AND HAS OVER 376,000 LEAVES HAND WIRED ONTO IT.
FUN FACT - The directors of Lord of the Rings used no CGI when it came to filming the characters together, instead all the shots were done with varying perspectives and different actors. This meant when Gandalf and Bilbo are hugging, you never see both of their faces together as the 'smaller' version of Bilbo was actually a child.
We arrived in Rotorua in the afternoon, with the next mornings activity being the white water rafting. The group headed over to Kaituna Cascades rafting which is where we got suited up in helmets and lifejackets as well as a briefing on everything. Most importantly the briefing included what to do when we hit the 7 metre waterfall, which is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, however as you can see from the photos I nearly landed face first into the water.
After our ridiculously fun morning of rafting we headed to Rotorua's gondola and luge. While the gondola was a little hot box, the views made up for all of us sweating in the afternoon sun. We reached the top and made a B line straight for the luge which showed off my true competitiveness as the boys and I floored it to the bottom of each course.
Now, I was already aware of how clumsy I was, however my experiences in Taupo are going to show you guys my next level talent of embarrassing myself. How did I embarrass myself? Well, I gave myself two black eyes after jumping off Taupo's 47 metre high bungee. Here is how.
When we reached Taupo, one of New Zealand's hotspots for adrenaline based fun, I was roped into signing myself up for bungee jumping. It had always been something I wanted to do, but too scared to even fathom attempting. In saying that though, I've always promoted pushing the limits and doing things that scare you, so surely I would be a hypocrite if I didn't go out there and face my fears. Then we arrived. It was among one of the most beautiful places I've seen and I thought, if I was going to die, at least it's scenic. They harnessed us up and I was second to jump. The boys working were throwing around banter to get my mind off launching myself off the side of a platform and I was getting a little too into their rap music they were playing. One of the workers asked if I wanted to get dunked into the Waikato river, and of course I said yes as it's the highest freshwater bungee in New Zealand.
The boys gave me one job, put your arms up and head down as you go into the water, simple right? Wrong, as I jumped, although very freeing and fun, it was terrifying. Hence, at the very last second I put my face up and went face first into the water instead of having my head down. This lead to a very sore face and two very black and blue rings around both of my eyes. Would I recommend doing it though? 110%.
After being adequately laughed at by pretty much everyone in our group and others NOT in our group, Renee, Gina and I all headed to the harbour where we hopped on a sail boat and spent our afternoon cruising around lake Taupo. If adrenaline based activities isn't for you, I would highly recommend chilling out on the lake and going to see the Mãori rock carvings.
There was a pretty long drive from Taupo to Wellington, with a coincidental drive through the town my grandparents live in (no stop off to say hi unfortunately). We were all amped up for the pub-crawl that was going to be taking place that night.
WHAT TO DO IN WELLINGTON
1. CABLE CAR
Catch a ride on the cable car up to the top of the Botanical Gardens and spend some time enjoying the views and walking around. The cable car only costs around $6 one way so if you're on a budget it's a great way to see the city.
2. WHISTLING SISTER BREWERY
I've never really been a big beer person so I wasn't sure what to expect when it came to our tour around the microbrewery. When we rocked up everyone was super helpful and informative about how beer is actually made and we managed to try a wide selection which I surprisingly really enjoyed.
3. COURTENAY PLACE
One of the hotspots in Wellington is Courtenay Place. If you're looking for some good food and some fun bars, definitely head over and spend your night making your way down the street. Dakota's is a really fun country bar and has a mechanical bull which was ridiculously entertaining to watch.
Our second to last stop on tour was New Plymouth, with a quick photo stop at Mount Taranaki and a wine tasting at Okurukuru. New Plymouth was a relatively quiet stop compared to the other cities we stayed at, but was a much needed chill out time for all of us. As an honorary wine mum, our afternoon of wine tasting was welcomed with open arms by me (and pretty much everyone else). The weather was absolutely perfect and although I don't know much about wine, I will say that each and every one was amazing. Even the reds and I don't even like red wine! After having a few hours to chill out in the city and eat some dinner. We all wandered over to the Festival of Lights, a daily event during summer in New Plymouth.
Calling all surfers and beach lovers, Raglan is the place for you if you love the cute cafes, not needing to wear shoes in public and the chilled life. Just a small beach town a couple hours west of Auckland, it felt like I was back in Byron Bay, Australia. The easy going vibe and homely feel of the hostel we were staying in just down the road from the town centre was amazing for our last night as a group. We had really come together over the last 10 days and I think pretty much all of us didn't want tour to end. We spent the night having our own private party in a barn (sounds dodgy but was unbelievably fun), before heading to The Yot, which was jam packed.
My 10 days travelling around with Kiwi Vibes were among some of my favourite adventures to date and while giving myself two black eyes wasn't on my bucket list during my time in New Zealand, I wouldn't change anything. If you're looking for a way to adventure around New Zealand, I couldn't recommend them enough.