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Day 1 Auckland to Rotorua via Waitomo Caves
I arrived to a nice Auckland day picking up the van and heading into town to pick up my group of 7. After being in contact about picking them up from their hotel, I drove into downtown Auckland and noticed David waving me in outside the accommodation. I waited for the ladies of the group to come back from their shopping excursion and loaded the luggage into the van ready to start our Journey. I found out my group are all related but live in both Singapore and Indonesia with David having grown up in Perth, Western Australia.
After a quick lunch stop on the way out of town we headed south on the motorway and we all got to know each other a little bit more with David sitting in the front asking plenty of questions about the land use and economy of New Zealand while commenting on how green it is compared to Asia! Two and a half hours later we arrived in time for the last tour of the day at Waiotomo Caves and after that we made our way across to Rotorua, our home for the next two nights! I always joke with my groups when we arrive in Rotorua, that it smells like rotten eggs, and it does! This is due to the sulphur compound in the air from all of the geothermal steam that is released from under the ground in the city. No harm done, it’s a good laugh and a very unique experience!
Day 2 Rotorua and Hobbiton
This morning after breakfast at a nice french cafe we got in the van and headed to Hobbiton for a guided tour of the film set. This is a piece of farmland in the Waikato district which Peter Jackson chose to be “The Shire” in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. It is lovely rolling green farmland and after photographing several hobbit holes and admiring the work they put into maintaining the set, the group ended up in the Green Dragon Pub sinking a refreshing ginger beer before ending the tour and going onto our next adventure.
In the afternoon we returned to Rotorua to rest in the hotel and then that evening we made our way to Mitai Maori cultural village for a humorous, interactive Maori cultural performance and traditional hangi dinner. I could see our youngest traveller, three year old Dylan’s face light up as the warriors performed the haka and traditional song and dance. After stuffing ourselves full from the delicious buffet we nipped across to Rainbow Springs next door to see the Kiwi. We managed to see two of them poking around the nicely set out forest enclosure and it capped off what was a fun day in Rotorua.
Day 3 Rotorua to Mt Tongariro via Lake Taupo
Today after returning to our favourite little cafe for breakfast we got into the van and headed south. Our first stop, Waiotapu Geothermal Wonderland 27km from Rotorua. We arrived just in time to watch the induced eruption of Lady Knox geyser at 10.15am, spewing a 15 metre jet of warm water skyward. Thereafter we leisurely made our way through the thermal park, sniffing in the strong sulphurous smell and watching cavity after cavity in the ground bubble and steam. Champagne Pool was a highlight with the lovely turquoise color and the iron oxidised orange coloured rim.
Our next stop down the road was the Huka Falls, a spectacular narrow stream of thundering blue water cascading down and marking the beginning of where the Waikato River starts it’s long journey to sea from Lake Taupo. For the afternoon four members of my group conjured up the courage to go for a skydive and we made our way out to the aerodrome to get all kitted up for the 15,000 ft drop. I could sense nerves along with excitement as the guys donned their overalls and harnesses and the plane rocked up. Watching at the drop zone with David, we looked straight up and saw the plane and several tiny dots coming out that were getting bigger, very fast. As the parachutes deployed and they landed, Kevin screamed out in shear joy and exhilaration as his feet touched the ground. There were smiles all around as everyone high fived and then posed for the photo afterwards. To award young Dylan for his patience at the end of the skydive, we headed back into Taupo to all act like kids again and run around on the playground!
That evening we made our way into the Tongiriro National Park to our stop for the night at The Chateau, Tongiriro. Unfortunately the clouds had come in early evening which blocked our view of the three great volcanoes Tongiriro, Ngarahoe and Ruapehu. We did however, see a little bit of the lower side of Mt Tongiriro steaming as we drove in. The Chateau is one of New Zealand’s most famous hotels and we all met up in the grand old living room where I played some snooker with Leonard before going to the restaurant with the group for a nice dinner. A great way to end the day.
Day 4 Tongariro to Wellington via Ohakune
Today we rose early and ate our breakfast in the dining room. The cloud had broken over Mt Ngarahoe and we could see the lovely cone shaped peak through the hotel windows. We had a play outside with Dylan on the golf course (luckily no one was playing golf) and did some candid photography of the group with The Chateau in the background, before setting off and heading south. After a coffee stop in Ohakune, lunch in Bulls and about 5 hours total journey time we arrived in the capital city Wellington.
It was a typically windy day in one of the worlds most windy little cities with a southerly howling, but that didn’t stop us heading up Mt Victoria for a great panoramic view of the city and the surrounding seascape. David and I talked about how they needed a coffee van up the top there to warm us up and after we headed down to get our fix. We then made our way to the accommodation for the night and I arranged to meet the group a bit later for dinner after some rest. We ended up with a banquet at the Regal Chinese restaurant on Courtney Place. David’s group won my food award for the group that ate the most on any of my tours, that is for sure! After stuffing ourselves to the brim we went back to the hotel to rest for the night.
Day 5 Wellington to Kaikoura via the Marlborough wine region
Today our ferry crossing was a little bit delayed so we checked in with the vehicle, locked it up and went for a walk down Lambton Quay. The two ladies of the group were in their element as were a few of the others wading through the clothing stores and picking up the odd souvenir. We made our way back to the car to drive on board and embark on our three and half hour crossing to the South Island. Some of us sprawled out and slept while David, Jaime and I spend some time on the deck looking down at the jellyfish clearly visible in the ocean as we made our way through the beautiful native forested Marlborough Sounds.
We arrived mid afternoon in Picton, a beautiful little town in the Marlborough Sounds. The day was stunning down there. The Marlborough region is famed for being a top quality wine producer and we drove on down to the Cloudy Bay winery, a label synonymous with New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and did a tasting there. Dylan and his nanny Layla had fun on the long swinging seats hanging from the eucalyptus trees and we even sampled some of the tasty sweet grapes on the vines nearby as they approach harvest time now at the vineyard. We then got a bit hungry again and ate at a nice Thai restaurant nearby in Blenheim.
From there we completed the two hour journey down to Kaikoura. On the way we stopped at the Ohau Point seal colony and to the delight of the group there must have been 100 plus seals, many of them juveniles strewn on the rocks, either laxing out or playing with eachother. Young Dylan then got up on the seat and sung us a great rendition of the ABC song and we all departed a cheerful and happy group for Kaikoura, our stop for the night. As we approached Kaikoura, it was twilight and the Kaikoura ranges had just a small dusting of snow on the top of them and it made for beautiful viewing combined with that turquoise sea. This makes Kaikoura very much one of my favourite destinations in the country. We settled into our hotel and then went for a lovely seafood meal to the Green Dolphin restaurant to cap off a great day.
Day 6 Kaikoura to Christchurch
Today we got up and headed into town for a quick cafe breakfast before I dropped the group off at the Kaikoura Whale Watch. The past few days the sea had been very rough with remnants of cyclone Pam, but the lady at the desk assured me the trip was going once they had cleaned the debris from around the jetty. When I picked the group up at 12.15 some were feeling a bit woozey commenting on how rough the sea was but hey, they did see a whale! I drove the group back into town as they insisted on coca cola as the ailment to their slightly seaward feeling! After stopping for our lunch in town as well, I also introduced the group to a bit of Cricket World Cup coverage on the TV in the restaurant. For those that don’t know about cricket it is always hard to explain the sport. The best way I feel is to draw analogies with baseball and then get into the finer details from there!
After experiencing New Zealand’s rough seas and summer game we headed south to our final destination of the tour, Christchurch. Upon arrival we did a scout around the central city quake damage as I explained the implications of the massive February 2011 event on the city. We viewed the broken cathedral and desolate construction sites in the cities centre. After this young Dylan was ready for his playground fix again and we spend the rest of the afternoon horsing around one of Christchurch’s lovely green parks, Elmwood Park. We then checked into our accommodation for the night on Colombo Street and went straight out for dinner to a Japanese teppanyaki restuarant on Papanui Road. We all marvelled at the chefs cooking on the table in front of us, flipping knives in their hand, and even at one point flicking food at us to catch in our mouths. It was a great evening and the food was superb, capping off an eventful day.
Day 7 Christchurch Departure
The farewell day of the tour began with me picking up the group up at 9am and we headed to a nice cafe, Terra Viva that is on the way to the airport. Two of the group flew out, back to Singapore while the rest of them made their own arrangements and picked up a hire car at the airport. I dropped everyone off and assisted with their luggage. We all exchanged details and reminisced on what was an action packed and fun filled seven days. It was sad saying farewell to such a fun group. I thoroughly enjoyed guiding them and they commented on how much they loved the time they had, taking with them great memories and personalised experiences, unique to New Zealand.
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