Rainy Rotorua

Wednesday February 15th – Thursday February 16th | Rotorua 🌳 – Palmerston North 🌧 | 649 Km πŸš™

Apparently skydiving makes you pretty hungry so we went to BurgerFuel in Taupo for lunch. I had a Thunderbird chicken burger: chicken breast, aioli, jalapeΓ±os, lettuce, tomato and, quite possibly the best burger topping ever, pineapple.  This place could definitely rival FergBurger. The burgers even came with a Doofer to hold it together while eating it. Genius!  Val and I also shared an order of kumara fries which are similar to sweet potato fries but better. The main difference (I think) is that a kumara has purple skin and is a little more fluffier in texture. 

From there we drove out to Huka Falls. Huka Falls are located on the Waikato river which produces approximately 15% of New Zealand’s power. The river system supplies eight hydroelectric stations and provides cooling water for two geothermal and one thermal power station. All of the waterfalls we’ve seen in New Zealand have been stunning: pristine water in beautiful shades of blue surrounded by luscious, green vegetation and Huka Falls were no exception. 

Waikato River just before Huka Falls

Around 200,000 litres of water plunges over the face of the falls every second and creates a huge amount of white water. It almost looks like foam created in a washing machine which explains why Huka Falls are named as such. Huka means foam in Maori. I wondered if anyone would be crazy enough to whitewater raft here and we found out later that yes, some of the locals do attempt it even with kayaks. 

The face of Huka Falls

We drove back up to Rotorua to the Redwoods Treewalk. The grove of redwoods were planted here in 1901 and the tallest tree is 72 meters high and has a diameter of 2 meters – apparently that’s enough wood to build 3.5 houses! It was a really nice walk through the trees which housed 22 different platforms to stop on to learn about the forest and admire the views. 

We spent Wednesday evening at the Tews home again before departing Thursday morning to the Living Maori Village at Whakarewarewa just outside of Rotorua. It was very interesting and deserves its own post so I’ll get to that later. 

The drive from Rotorua to Palmerston North was uneventful. Our boredom was interrupted only by two super cool roadside attractions. The first was a gigantic gumboot statue in Taihape. Taihape hosts an annual gumboot day (unfortunately we’ll miss it) including gumboot throwing competitions and a human dog barking competition.  Maybe next time …

Taihape: The Gumboot Capital of the World

The second was the town of Bulls. They have a massive, black bull welcoming you to town and the rubbish buns are shaped like milk crates. I also need to be friends with whomever came up with the witty slogans in this place. 


Herd of Bulls?  A town like no udder. 

Scrap-a-bull scrap booking store. 

Constabull – police station

Forgiveabull – church

Cureabull – hospital 

We didn’t spot the sign but apparently there’s one in town that points you to all of the different places. I’m sad we missed it.  Here’s a pic I took from their Facebook page. 

A few hours later we arrived in Palmerston North where we had booked a cabin for the night though I’m beginning to think we might need an ark at this rate … 

Rainy Rotorua


Wednesday February 15th | Rotorua 😎 – Taupo πŸŽ’ | … Km + 15,000 feet πŸ›©

She’s a good girl, loves her mama

I guess that’s why I didn’t tell her I jumped out of a plane until after I was safely on the ground. Because mums worry and I’m considerate like that …

Holy shit. 

Ian shared some delicious, warm hot cross buns with us for breakfast, Carol was kind enough to let us do a load of laundry then we hit the road to Taupo. I had planned to skydive at 12:50pm but we figured it would be a good idea to check it was all good before we ate lunch so went straight to the airport. The guy said I could jump right away, if I wanted, so twenty minutes later I was in a jumpsuit ready to go. Ready. I use that word lightly.

Joel was my tandem skydive partner master.  Partner implies I did some of the work but he was the sole contributor to the jump and I was just along for the ride. I suited up and was strapped into a harness. We hopped into the plane with five other tandem divers and began our ascent to 15,000 feet.  Joel immediately clipped me to him which made me feel a lot more secure knowing that, should anything bad happen, I was attached to a pro. I also had a life jacket strapped to my waist … I wouldn’t need it but the lake is pretty big so better safe than sorry.

Ready to go up in the plane

I think I had a bit of a death grip on the handle for the first couple of minutes but relaxed pretty quickly.  I asked Joel how long it would take before we hit the ground. He joked that he hoped we wouldn’t hit it but would land around five and a half minutes after jumping … Or one and a half if we didn’t pull the chute. I appreciate a witty sense of humour so lightened up after that. 

Oxygen on around 12,000 feet

Around 12,000 feet up Joel gave me an oxygen mask, pulled the very un-stylish brown hat onto my head and cinched the goggles tightly to my face. It wasn’t long before we reached altitude and all of a sudden I found myself perched on the edge of the plane ready to jump be pushed. 

Perched and ready to dive

Holy fucking shit. 

I wanna free fall, out into nothin’ // Gonna leave this, world for awhile

Sitting with my legs dangling out of the plane looking down at a large patchwork of vibrant green grass, deep blue Lake Taupo, and the miniature houses of town was definitely the scariest part. It felt like eternity but in all reality was more like five seconds. Joel catapulted us out of the bright, yellow plane and we began our freefall. 


It took a few seconds for my mind to catch up to what my body was doing. I had my thumbs tucked into my harness, elbows down by my side and legs back between Joel’s knees … I was supposed to arch myself like a banana but that’s a bit of an ask when you’re trying to concentrate on not dying. 

The view from the freefall

We were in freefall for approximately a minute and reached a speed of around 200km/h. All you can hear up there when you’re going that fast is noise and all you can feel is the goggles digging into your cheeks from the pressure, the cool air and a bit of dry mouth. But what you can see is spectacular: the curvature of the earth, the miniature green-wrapped silage bales that look like tiny marshmallows, the ant sized cars scurrying through town and the beautiful expanse of Lake Taupo.  It was unreal. 

Sixty seconds later Joel pulled the cord and I felt a small upward jolt as our chute released. The next few minutes was my favourite part. We soared through the air so effortlessly: turning here and gliding there like a giant bird. The view was phenomenal.  Joel loosened up my harness so I could sit a little more comfortably and enjoy the descent back to earth. This was definitely my favourite part.

Back on solid ground

The landing was a lot smoother than I anticipated. Basically I had to lift my legs up and we landed on our butts. I was unhooked and the jump was over. 

Pumped up from the skydive!

Since this was a bucket list item of mine I decided to purchase the selfie video and photos that were all taken from a Go-Pro attached to Joels wrist.  Sky diving isn’t cheap but it was so worth it. It was a great adrenaline rush, a little scary but fun as hell. I would highly recommend you add it to your list of must-dos and if you’re in Taupo definitely go with Taupo Tandem Skydiving. The guys there are a lot of fun and absolute pros. 


Black Water Rafting

Sunday February 12th – Monday February 14th | Greymouth πŸ₯ž – Picton β›΄ – Ohakune πŸ’€ |  753 km πŸš™ + 90 km β›΄

The last few days have been pretty uneventful.  The most interesting thing we saw on the way to Greymouth was a one-lane car bridge with a railway track on it. Most bridges in New Zealand are one-lane only with a sign indicating whether you have the right of way or not. This train/car bridge was the first of its kind we have seen and tops the roundabout with a train track running through the middle of it which I thought was going to win the prize for weirdest road sighting. 

On Sunday we left Greymouth and drove to Picton.  Just north of Greymouth is Punakaiki Marine Reserve and the Pancake Rocks.  These are really cool limestone rock formations that, as the name suggests, look like a stack of pancakes piled on top of one another.  Scientists know that they formed under the sea 35 million years ago but are unable to explain exactly how they came to be in layers.  

Pancake Rocks

We carried on our drive to Picton and arrived at Waikawa Bay Holiday Park around 5:30pm. Supper was my long, lost favourite meal from Scotland: mince pie with Heinz beans … the can with the little sausages in them! It was a beautiful evening so I changed into shorts (first opportunity in a while), we set up our tent and played cards until bedtime while enjoying a bottle of New Zealand wine.  There was a lot of rocks with cute little sayings on them dotted throughout the campsite but my favourite has to be:

The bad news is time flies. 

The good news is you’re the pilot. 

Wine 🍷

Monday morning was wet! It started to rain halfway through the night, began pouring in the morning and didn’t seem to want to quit so we browsed through the shops on the high street until the sun came our around 11am and we could take the tent down.  Oh! I almost forgot about the pantless breakfast dude. Some guy came in to the kitchen to retrieve his food from the fridge.  He had a jacket on, since it was raining, but no trousers!  Val thought that he didn’t have any undies on either as you could see his white ass but from my viewpoint I could see them wedged up there … lovely breakfast sight…

The Interislander

We boarded the Interislander ferry around 1:45pm, departed the South Island at 2:15pm and relaxed until we reached Wellington three and a half hours later.  The ferry was quite nice.  There were a couple different cafes, a bar, live music, two movie theatres, a kids play area and two lounges you could pay a small fee to upgrade in to.  The first movie option was Why Him.  I’d already seen it (hilarious, by the way) so went with Assassins Creed instead.  The cinema was basically a big-ish TV on the wall in front of ten rows of six theatre-style chair but it was a good way to kill time (and brain cells… it was a dumb movie).

Windy Wellington sure lived up to its name. It might been worse than Lethbridge.  While trying to decide what to pick up for a quick supper Val made the ultimate dad-joke and suggested we stop at “Wendy’s in Windy Wellington”; pronouncing Wendy like Windy.  The apple really doesn’t fall too farm from the tree.  Instead we made a quick pit stop at New World Supermarket for some eats.

Three hours later we arrived in Ohakune.  We stayed at LKNZ.  This is the nicest hostel I’ve ever been in.  It was modern with what looked like brand new kitchens, a large private bathroom that housed a shower with a door (that’s luxury right now … most hostels have small showers with curtains), and a very comfortable bed.  Okahune is a big ski town so it was very quiet at this time of year but apparently it is hopping in winter. 

Tuesday February 14th | Ohakune 🚿 – Waitomo 🌌 – Rotorua πŸŒ‹ | 369 km

We aren’t haven’t very good luck with weather on this trip.  It rained almost all morning on Tuesday as we made the drive to the Waitomo Caves.  The restaurants there are very expensive (tourism at its finest!) so, since we’re cheap Scots and had a tonne of time to kill, we made our way back to Te Kuiti for lunch.  There was a little cafe called Tiffany’s (yes you could have breakfast there) where we each had a curry and then shared a delicious cookie.  I can’t remember the name of it but I have to find the recipe! I think it was Cornflakes, nuts, cherries and honey mixed together and baked then dipped in chocolate.  

At three o’clock we checked in to Cave World. We donned our wetsuits (it is REALLY difficult to put on an already-wet wetsuit and I felt like I was wearing a soiled diaper… really gross but it’s my blog and I can write whatever I want …), a wetsuit jacket, and boots and hopped in the van to take us to the beginning of our adventure.  The caves are made of limestone that was pushed up out of the sea bed around 30 million years ago during a massive earthquake that raised the ocean floor up approximately 40 meters.  Over time water eroded through the limestone creating nearly 350 caves within a 50km radius of Waitomo.  The tour involved some walking, a (slightly scary) story (one of those ones where you know something is going to happen but even the anticipation of the outcome doesn’t stop you from screaming), floating in our tube, and a sweet water slide at the end.  It was amazing to see the glowworm dotted all over the ceiling of the cave.  They’re such a magnificent shade of turquoise it really is quite a magical experience.   

The Glowworms

After a quick shower and hot chocolate to warm up we headed off to stay with some friends relatives, the Tews.  They own Off Road NZ, an adventure experience company near Rotorua.  They were so welcoming and invited us in to their home with supper, drinks and a warm bed for two nights.  They were also being visited by a couple of Kingdons from Minnedosa – small world!

Black Water Rafting

Sticks n Stonz

Saturday February 11th | Franz Josef πŸš‚ – Hokitika πŸ• – Greymouth πŸ› | 279 km πŸŒ³πŸŒΏπŸƒ

The first time I woke up on Saturday was to some douchebag incessantly knocking on a dorm room door next to us. He carried on for what felt like an eternity before Val jumped out of bed and told him to shut the F up and go sleep in the lounge.  She lay back down in bed for a few minutes before getting up to re-lock the door.  Thank god she did that because I was already planning the best way to execute a wicked spider-monkey elbow-drop move on the son-of-a-bitch from my top bunk … you never know if someone might bust into the room because they’re mad…

The second time I woke up was around 3:30am and it sounded like a freight train was running through the middle of our room. I almost tried my earlier-planned death-move on the snoring lady in the bed next to us but instead I just yelled “HEY!” and she quit sawing logs (or woke up … either way I was happy she was now quiet).

The third and final time I woke up was to my alarm clock at 6am. We got ready, ate and made our way to Hokitika.  Hokitika is a town situated on west coast of New Zealand on the Tasman Sea.  It is famous for its jade. Jade, aka pounamu, is a beautiful greenstone prized for its strength and durability.  There are a lot of jade carvers and stores in town all selling beautiful handmade carvings, necklaces and other jewellery.  

Some stores offer 1-2 hour carving experiences that offer the opportunity for you to carve a small, basic piece of jewellery for a nominal fee. The best one we found online, Bonz n Stonz, allow you to design and carve your own unique piece, approximately 7cm x 7cm, for the same price as it would cost to buy a similar item.

I had seen a fern necklace in another store and decided that I wanted to make one for myself.  I’m not artistic at all so I was glad I took a picture so I could try to replicate it on paper. 

My inspiration

Once you cut our your design you can select your piece of jade and draw around the basic shape.  The owner, Steve, cuts around the outline but after that you do most of the process yourself with the guidance of one of the carvers. Andrew helped us out with ours.

Step 1: Select jade and trace outline of design

From there the basic steps I did were:

  • Buff off the excess jade and start to shape the piece
  • Cut around the centre line of the frond and remove the jade on either side of it with a small, flat bit (almost looked like a metal thumbtack/pin with the pointy end held in the tool)
  • Make the notches and corresponding lines of the fern leaf
  • Buff away all the scratches using sandstone and progressively finer sandpaper to create a nice, glossy finish
  • Wash with warm, soapy water to get rid of the white dust you create when sanding
  • Dry and then shine with baby oil

Creating the grooves

It took around five hours to complete and now I have an awesome, unique, necklace that I can say I made (mostly) myself.

The finished product!

We were done our carving earlier than we thought so went to the nocturnal kiwi house where we saw (kind of – it was really dark) the male kiwi being fed.  The kiwi is a flightless bird that is native to New Zealand and is also their national symbol.  From here we drove out to Hokitika Gorge. The milky, turquoise water was absolutely stunning and I highly recommend taking the time to check it out.

Hokitika Gorge

Every year Hokitika hosts a Driftwood and Sand beach Sculpture Festival which allows anyone to enter their driftwood stick creations.  Here are some of the coolest entries still left on the beach when we got there and a picture of a pizza because pizza is life.

Hokitika Beach
Ballroom dancers
Artist & Easel
Love trumps Trump
Fat Pipi Pizza. 1/2 Cajun, 1/2 Mexi.

After an amazing pizza at Fat Pipi’s we drove on to Greymouth where we had splurged on a twin room at the backpackers hostel. Best. Decision. Ever.  No snorers. No door-bangers. No problem. Just a really nice Danish owner who shared with us those really good buttery Danish biscuits in a blue tin and used to work in Swan River…small world.

Sticks n Stonz

Lavender, whiskey & glaciers

Thursday Feb 9th | Alexandra πŸ’ – Wanaka πŸ€·πŸ»β€β™€οΈ | 188 km 🚘

Friday February 10th | Wanaka β˜€οΈ – Frank Josef πŸ” | 328 km πŸš™

Sarah fed us croissants for breakfast and off we went to Wanaka. We couldn’t leave stone-fruit country without stopping at a roadside stand for some cherries and peaches!  Next we stopped to see the Clyde hydro damn. It’s the biggest concrete gravity damn in New Zealand. Although it is important for supplying power to the central Otago region it is very controversial. In 1992, 13 years after construction began, Lake Dunstan was created behind the damn and flooded much of the neighbouring town Cromwell. The town saved some of the old buildings and created a heritage street right on the waterfront which was interesting to see.  

Clyde Damn

Just before you get to Wanaka there is a beautiful lavender farm. There are rows and rows of the sweet-smelling flower as well as a colourful garden to visit. It wasn’t lunchtime yet so we didn’t eat in the cafe but we did browse the gift shop and I sampled their delicious honey.

Wanaka Lavender Farm

The town of Wanaka is situated on Lake Wanaka. We browsed the shops and I found a pair of thick merino-possum slipper-socks to keep my feet warm during the rest of the cold nights on our camping trip. After lunch we headed out to the family-run Cardrona Distillery that is the only distillery in New Zealand. It began production last year and now has single malt vodka (The Reid), gin (The Source) and orange liqueur (Rose Rabbit) for sale. They’re all delicious … ask me how I know. Their single malt whiskey (The Cardrona) was put into oak casks in 2015 and will be ready in just over eight years – that seems like a good time for a return visit! 
Cardrona Distillery

Beside the Distillery is “Bradrona”: a fence covered with bras and a donation box for breast cancer.  Random but interesting.  No, we didn’t contribute to the fence.

Bradrona Fence
The last thing on our must-do list for Wanaka was Puzzleworld. They have a very difficult and frustrating maze (tip: always keep left in a maze and you’ll get out eventually … saw that tidbit on TV once), an optical illusion room, and a room of games. The best part was the sloping room but I really enjoyed the whole place. 
The Great Maze
The Leaning Tower of Wanaka
My new merino-possum socks are so warm I woke up halfway through the night and had to take them off!  We left Wanaka early and headed North stopping at a couple waterfalls on our way.  There are so many Falls with crystal clear water everywhere here.

Thunder Creek Falls

The west coast of New Zealand is a temperate rainforest and it rained off and on the whole way to Fox Glacier.  Luckily for us it cleared once we reached the car park and began the hour return walk to the glacier.  It was amazing to see what such a large mass of ice can create and how much it has retreated over the last century (there are signs indicating where it’s face was during specific years).  The only safe way to get onto the glacier is via helicopter so we just admired it from afar.

Fox Glacier

We wanted to stop at Lake Matheson as it is a mirror Lake and on a clear day you can see Mt Cook reflected perfectly in the water but the weather wasn’t cooperating and we decided it was too cloudy.  We did, however, see a pukeko! Pukekos are blue birds with a red beak and legs that prefer to run rather than fly.

A pukeko

Finally we ended our day in Franz Josef at the Franz Josef Montrose Hostel with a chicken stir fry for supper and a trip to the hot springs pools.

Franz Josef Montrose Hostel
Lavender, whiskey & glaciers

Fit for a Queen

Wednesday February 8th | Queenstown 🚠 – Alexandra 🍷 | 139 km πŸš™ + 8 km 🏎 + 1.5 km β›°

You have two options when you are rudely awoken by the cold: stay in your sleeping bag and hope that your body heat is contained and you warm up or get out of bed and venture into the five degree Celsius morning and have a hot shower.  I chose the latter.  I thought summer in New Zealand would be warmer than this! 

On our way up the gondola
View from the top of the gondola
We ate breakfast then struck camp and headed to the Skyline Gondola. The view of Queenstown and The Remarkables mountain range was great!  There is a restaurant, a bar, a Jelly Belly art gallery & store, walking paths, bungee jumping and paragliding at the top as well as the luge.  We decided it was too early for booze or any extreme sports so did the luge: a 1.6km downhill track to a chairlift that takes you back to the start so you can do it all over again.  It was invented in New Zealand in 1985.  The luge was a lot of fun and I’m pretty sure I beat Val down three out of five times. After taking the gondola back down the mountain we had a quick look around the shops.  The Remarkable Sweet Shop was my favourite for a few reasons: it’s name is a fun play on words, it is a “sweet shop” and not a “candy store”, it sold fudge and jaffas – my new favourite treat.

It had warmed up substantially since our brisk start so we drove down to Lake Wakatipu to eat our picnic lunch and I changed into shorts before my afternoon hike up Queenstown Hill.  Actually that’s not totally true – we typed Queenstown Hill in to our map app and it took us out here … so if you plan to do the Queenstown Hill Walk I suggest you type that full sentence in to your GPS. 

The hill is not an easy climb as there’s lots of steep sections.  It took me about half an hour to walk to the Basket of Dreams which was erected to signify the millennium.  The view from this point is beautiful so if you don’t feel like going any further you can still say you climbed the hill. Since I wasn’t raised a quitter I decided to hike the extra 15 minutes to the peak where I was rewarded with the most spectacular panorama of Queenstown and surrounding area.  It was absolutely stunning.  I stood in awe admiring the view for a few minutes (or was I catching my breath?) and then trekked back down to the car.  If you’re ever in Queenstown and are physically able (moderate to high level of fitness) you should really plan to hike the hill.  I did it in 90 minutes but I was really pushing myself. 

Excited to hike Queenstown Hill

Panoramic view from the peak of Queenstown Hill

On the way down, some guys offered me a beer.  In hindsight I should’ve accepted it but I was really looking forward to going for an infamous Ferg Burger.  The lineup was surprisingly short so we each ordered a Tropical Swine Burger … whomever came up with the idea of putting pineapple on a burger is a friggen genius.  The picture doesn’t do it justice – bacon, pineapple, cheese, tomato relish and aioli on a mouthwatering beef burger: perfection.

Tropical Swine Ferg Burger
The drive to Clyde was beautiful.  Clare’s sister Sarah and her partner Marc own and operate a boutique vineyard and winery here.  Check out Dunstan Road Wines or find them on a Facebook. Not only were they nice enough to let us pitch our tent in their yard, they shared three delicious bottles of wine with us that night so I can tell you firsthand that it is delicious.  I bought a bottle of rosΓ© to take home with me (if it makes it that far!)

Apparently an old gold miner looked upon Queenstown and stated that it would be fit for Queen Victoria but if you ask me, a day filled with hiking, burgers and wine is fit for this queen

Fit for a Queen

Piopiotahi: The Eighth Wonder of the World

Tuesday February 7th | Manapouri 🌞 – Milford Sound 🚒 – Queenstown ⛺️ | 458km πŸš™

The weather today was the polar opposite of Monday.  We made the two hour drive up to Milford Sound which is possibly the most beautiful place on earth.  We did a Southern Discoveries cruise which also included a visit to the discovery centre and underwater observatory. Milford Sound is actually a fiord since it was created by a glacier; sounds are created by rivers.  After the half day cruise we made our way in to Queenstown where we camped for the night.  Since a picture speaks a thousand words, here’s a few from our day.

Southern Discoveries Cruise, Milford Sound
Mitre Peak behind some wispy clouds. 1692 meters high
Fur seals basking in the sun
Fairy Falls – temporary waterfalls.

A beautiful, double rainbow at the foot of Fairy Falls
Dale Point. Entrance to Milford Sound from Tasman Sea
Beautiful day for a cruise on Milford Sound!
Striling Falls. One of the two permanent waterfalls with a 155m drop
View from TΕ«toka Bridge

Piopiotahi: The Eighth Wonder of the World