Rotorua, New Zealand
Let me start off by acknowledging i’ve been negligent in posting since taking off on the 2nd leg of our journey. The reason is … New Zealand is so awesome it’s hard to find time to write! After spending a series of days driving from town to town on the South Island, I’ve finally gotten some time to sit down and write a bit, so here we go.
After spending a quick two days in Auckland, our initial destination on the North Island of New Zealand, we headed southeast towards the adventure town of Rotorua. Being that we arrived in NZ on December 22nd, we knew we needed to prepare for businesses shutting down around the Christmas holiday, and we decided Rotorua was the perfect place to spend a few nights in a nice hotel, slightly pampering ourselves ahead of the significant moving around we’d be doing in the coming weeks. Our hotel, the Regent of Rotorua, was situated right by the large lake the town is named after, and positioned just adjacent to the famed “Eat Street”, a purpose-built boulevard full of restaurants and bars. After taking our 3.5 hour bus into town, a cheap $25 NZD/person ride through InterCity bus-lines from the Auckland Sky Tower, we checked into the Regent, and promptly headed to said Eat Street for a lovely Italian meal at Leonardo’s. Ready to crash into bed, we quickly took a jump in the mineral hot pool located in the hotel, before blissfully laying our heads down on our pillows.
Christmas was a relaxing affair, as it should be (or so I’ve heard). A rarity, Christmas and Chanukah overlapped this year. We decided ahead of our looming 6 course banquet that a vigorous walk was in order. So we headed for the loop around Lake Rotorua, stopping frequently to take pictures of everything, including a pair of fresh kittens we discovered in the bushes. While we were concerned for the wellbeing of said kittens, we assured ourselves the momma was out hunting for food, and we continued on our way. Stopping by vista after vista, and eventually making it to the area with most geyser activity, we returned home to the hotel prepared to feast. A lamb feast it was, complete with wonderful NZ wine, and we promptly cast aside our goal of going for a walk afterward, heading directly back to bed.
Up next was a much looked forward to activity, the tour of Hobbiton, where Lord of the Rings was filmed. I’m not a huge LOTR buff, but I always knew i’d have to check it out if I made it to NZ, and we were thrilled to be there. Over the course of 90 minutes, we tramped through the set, which had been entirely rebuilt after 1999, and built with real materials in order to last for good. After seeing the various Hobbit holes, the houses where they lived in the books and films, we headed to the Green Dragon pub for a pint of their special brew. All in all, it was a marvelous day, one during which we felt we really stepped into another world.
The following day, our last in Rotorua before taking the night bus to Wellington, the capital city, we spent the morning just relaxing. The relaxation was in preparation for the heavy physical activity looming on the the horizon, our white water rafting trip down the Kaituna river, complete with the largest commercially rafted rapid in the world - 7 Meters (21 feet)! We grouped up with 4 South Americans, and after donning wetsuits, helmets and lifejackets, proceeded down the first of many rapids. I’ve always enjoyed rafting down various rivers back home, but those rapids never get above Class 2. As my friend Andrew assured me, “pissing my pants” on this 21 footer was the likely outcome. Cathy, on the other hand, decided this would be her FIRST rafting experience ever. For someone who didn’t grow up in Northern California jumping mountain bikes, kayaking, or those types of outdoorsy activities I grew up with as normal life, I’ve got to hand it to her - that takes some real balls. In any event, we had the best time ever, Cathy smiled so much her face hurt (there are pics to prove it), and we triumphed over the waterfall after reciting a Maori prayer to the river. I have the footage on the GoPro, it makes it all seem like it happened so very quickly, but it didn’t feel that way.
After returning back to Rotorua from the river, we showered up, changed our clothes, and made our way to the bar to waste some time. It was about 6pm, and our overnight bus didn’t leave until 11:30! After a couple beers, and starting to feel very tired, naturally we headed to eat something even more tiring - Indian Food! With full bellies, and after another hour of charging our devices at the hotel, we walked to the I-Site bus stop and got on for the 7 hour ride to Wellington.