How is it possible that every day in New Zealand is the best day of my life? This country continues to amaze me.
After a peaceful nights rest in our bach in Raglan, Matt and I hiked down to Bridal Veil Falls. A quick walk through a native forest canopy brought us to the first outlook, and in my opinion, the most impressive. The majestic 180 ft waterfall gushes into a large, cloudy pool. The face of the cliff is made of basalt rock, and was created 2 million years ago from flowing volcanic lava. We ate our lunch on the bridge at the bottom, and chucked our extra food scraps into the murky water. Shortly, eels as thick as my head starting swarming to the top, begging for more. I have an abhorrence of eels, so it was time for me to hike back up to safety, to our trusty gold Nissan, dubbed Tilda.
A 15 minute drive through farmland transported us to the beautiful black sand beaches of the West Coast. We rented surfboards for $15 at Ngarunui Beach and ran straight into the water. It was one of the most exhausting, but most rewarding, surf sessions that I’ve ever had. It was the first time I was able to cruise on my board sideways for an extended period of time. Yewwwww!
Raglan is world famous for it’s long left-hand breaks. The Endless Summer, a well-known surf film which you may recognize from the fuchsia, orange, and yellow poster that hangs in many beach houses, has scenes from Manu Bay. It’s a chilled-out hamlet filled with organic cafes, surf shops, friendly locals, and relaxed vibes.
Since we’re on a time crunch, we made our way to The Shire in the afternoon. My brother was giddy like a child as we pulled up to Hobbiton. At first, I thought $79 per person was an extremely steep price, but I was willing to go for Matt; however, by the end, I too was sucked into the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien. Our tour departed at 5:30 pm and a modern bus took us to the infamous village of the Hobbits. The sun was shining, tons of butterflies were flying around, and colorful flowers were blooming.
We strolled past Hobbit holes, wandered through the abundant vegetable garden, and captured photos in the picturesque setting as our guide Anna described the filmmaking process. The director Sir Peter Jackson was obsessed with making every detail absolutely perfect. For example, he imported trees from around the world, tied on individual leaves and hand-painted them to match his imagination, even if they were in the film for a few seconds. Matt added to the magic and played the theme song of The Shire on his tin whistle, causing everyone to stop in their tracks and listen in awe. Our tour ended at the Green Dragon Inn where we sipped on ciders and beers made especially for Hobbiton.
The next morning, we woke up at 6:30 am and drove about an hour South to Waitomo to visit the glow worm caves. There was no need for coffee as pure adrenaline was our fuel for the day. After getting fitted into our wetsuits, helmets, and gumboots, our guide Danny drove us through a gorgeous farm to the cave entrance. Two out of the six cavers were a Kiwi father and son named John and Matt, coincidentally my father and brother’s names. John also happened to be great mates with the cafe owner Mark that we met in Coromandel. Occurrences like this tend to happen quite frequently while traveling and make you realize how small our world really is.
We started our 5 hour journey with a 100 ft abseil into the abyss. After getting hooked up to the ropes, I leaped into a dark chasm and began my descent. The fractured light splitting through the mist and reflecting against the mossy cave walls slightly lit up the seemingly bottomless crevice. After a few more releases of my rope, I was able to spot my brother at the base and take in the unknown environment that I was dropping into. We waited for the rest of our crew and then trekked through the freezing river. More and more glow worms began to shine as we ventured upstream. About 15 minutes later, we reached the semicircular end and sat on a mound of wet pebbles, marveling at the astonishingly bright glow worms. Danny then smacked the water with his inner tube, causing thousands of worms to wiggle wildly, as they are sensitive to the vibrations. I honestly thought I was hallucinating as I gazed in amazement.
We hopped into our tubes and black water rafted, bumping side to side and flowing over waterfalls. At one point we plopped backwards onto tubes from a 15 ft ridge, plunging us quickly under the water. Of course Danny impressed us with his skills and did a flip while holding his tube. I, on the other hand, accidentally left the long, metal plug facing up, and it jammed into my thigh as I landed. I have a nasty bruise to show for it. We spent 2 more hours without our tubes hiking through the cave. We climbed up slippery ridges and squeezed through tiny holes, sometimes requiring help from our team to push us through the small spaces. It felt like a ride in Disney World; however, it was real life, and you could actually get hurt.
By the end, we were completely exhausted. Danny treated us to a cup of hot tang and Cadbury chocolate to give us some energy for the ascent. We rock climbed up slimy, moss-covered rocks, with our loose gumboots, and made it safety back to land. Matt and I were buzzing with excitement for the rest of the day.
Once we got to our next destination, Rotorua, we chilled out in the thermally heated hot tub at Crash Palace with a local Monteith’s Summer Ale in hand. It was one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at, boasting comfy, clean beds, a free BBQ utilizing fresh vegetables from it’s garden, and a fun DJ.
On Saturday morning we visited Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, named “one of the most surreal places in the world”. The 75 minute paved path guides you through the unusual natural features of the area, including boiling mud baths, steaming ground, brightly colored waters, bursting geysers, and volcanic craters. Geothermal activity beneath the surface of the central area of the North Island generates fascinating sights that are a must see.
Around the corner from the landmark, a hot spring and cold river meet, creating a unique swimming environment. Be careful not to put your head under the water, though, as tiny organisms can cause a deathly illness called amebic meningitis.
Feeling quite gross and paranoid after hearing about this potential disease, we retreated to The Polynesian Spa. For $27 a person, you can spend hours soaking in hot mineral pools, which feed from the natural hot springs below. The pools have varying mineral contents, helping aid certain ailments, such as skin issues and muscle pains. It has a panoramic view of Lake Rotorua, adding to the relaxing setting. We left feeling fully rejuvenated and detoxified, and began our hour-long drive to our next destination, Taupo.