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Published: April 2nd 2008
I've been having a great time on the North Island this week! The weather has been grey and rainy for a few days but we've had glorious sunshine today and seen some wonderful scenery. My tour group is really friendly and almost everyone gets on well, and our leaders are great fun and cook delicious meals. It's been a fab trip so far and looks set to get even better as we travel south!
We started off with two nights in Paihia, which is in the Bay of Islands. We didn't have brilliant weather and I didn't fancy any of the optional activities that were on offer, so I went for a walk with Lisa on our free day here and saw some of the scenery. It was quite pretty but I wouldn't necessarily recommend travelling north from Auckland just to visit here. We did have a great night out at a local backpackers bar though, with wine for 2 pounds per glass and karaoke! I still haven't quite plucked up the courage to pick up the mike... maybe next time...
After Paihia we had a long day of driving to Rotorua, stopping for lunch in Auckland. Here we had a visit to the Sky Tower included in our trip which was really good fun. I'm glad I went after having explored the city as it meant I recognised everything I was looking at. We had great views and even saw someone doing the jump off the tower.
Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity, and as soon as you drive into the town you can smell sulphur in the air which is something that stays with you for your whole visit. I'm sure the residents must get used to it but I'm not sure I could live somewhere that smelled so permanently of rotten eggs! The town is amazing to look at though - there are hot pools everywhere that give off huge clouds of steam which can be seen wherever you look. We had another free day here and I booked a trip to White Island which is the country's only active marine volcano. I got up at 6 to be picked up, but we only got 20 minutes down the road before the driver received a call to say that the trip was cancelled because the sea was too rough to land on the island. It was sad to have missed the chance to visit such an interesting place, but at least I saved some money for future adventures! I ended up walking into town instead and going for a mud bath at one of the spas - this is a stereotypical Rotorua activity so I'm glad I went to sample it, although I'm not sure I'd do it again as the water was incredibly hot and it made me feel quite dizzy. I did have very soft skin afterwards though!
Today was by far our best day of tour so far. After breakfast we had a short walk to a local Maori village which is built on an area of extreme geothermal activity. We had a tour from a Maori lady who showed us the hot pools where the water reaches 200 degrees and you can cook seafood in three seconds. We also saw the geysers, the bubbling mud pools and the areas where the local residents bathe and gossip. It was so interesting to learn about their culture, and very impressive to see how empowered the people are - they own the whole area and run it as a business without needing any government funding. After the tour we saw a Maori cultural show which was fantastic - there was lots of singing and dancing with gorgeous harmonies, and the men performed the Haka which was really quite scary! I think if I was an opposition warrior I'd be running away, and I definitely would if I was just a rugby player! Following the show we ate a delicious Hangi lunch which had all been cooked in boxes in the ground which are heated by the hot steam. The meat just fell off the bones of the chicken legs and it was so tasty.
After lunch today we made the short journey to Taupo which is a town built around a lake that forms the crater of a huge volcano. Once we'd arrived I went off for one of the most amazing things I've done so far in my whole holiday - jet boating! After donning a very attractive waterproof jacket and lifejacket, a group of 12 of us set off on a high speed whirlwind ride down the Waikato River. It was brilliant - we travelled at 85kph and went so close to the banks on either side before spinning away at the last minute in a shower of spray. We did lots of 360 degree spins which were so much fun, and the highlight was a visit to the Huka Falls which is a beautiful waterfall with crystal blue water tumbling down it. Our boat went right into the churning water at the base of the falls and span round. It was completely fantastic and I'd recommend it to anyone! I didn't take my camera on board as I didn't want it to get wet, but I bought the official photos to show you all when I get back.
Once I'd arrived back at our accommodation I jumped back on our tour bus to go with seven crazy people who were bungy jumping above the river. Lots of us went along to watch and support them, and the scenery was gorgeous. I think if you're the sort of person who wants to do a bungy then this would be a great place to do it, but I was very happy staying well back and taking photos! After everyone who wanted to had thrown themselves off the bridge, we drove the five minutes to a local hot spring and people sat in the water and caked the mud onto their faces. I was happy to just dangle my feet as it was just as hot as my mud bath, but again the scenery was stunning and it was lovely just to sit there.
Tomorrow we're off to Wellington via Mount Doom, and then it's over to the South Island for visits to Abel Tasman National Park, Milford Sound and the Fox Glacier. I can't wait!
Pictures for this entry are on Facebook again, at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=46207&l=9721d&id=503895728. Sorry I don't know how to make hyperlinks on here!
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