Days 57 to 61: More island vibes in Fiji

When I was in Hawaii in 2012, I met a couple who had just flown in from Fiji. My reaction to Hawaii’s coral and vibrant sealife on our snorkeling trip: AH-mazing! Never seen anything like it! I can die happy!!! Their reaction: “Meh”. I made a mental note to add Fiji to my bucket list and 4 years later I finally made it, despite the devastating Cyclone Winston that hit in February this year and another cyclone that very narrowly missed the islands the week before our trip.

Our accommodation was right on the beach in Nadi (pronounced Nun-dee), located on mainland Fiji. This meant catching daily boats to the surrounding islands, which is where the magic happens – the crystal clear waters and white sand beaches that Fiji is famous for. Our first day was spent onboard the Seaspray, run by a crew of friendly Fijians that regularly broke out into song. We visited the gorgeous island where Castaway was filmed, had a BBQ on board and visited a local island village where they served us their traditional drink, Kava, which looks and tastes like muddy water but is supposed to give you quite the buzz if you drink enough.

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With only four full days in Fiji I had to be quick about fitting in some diving – so when I spotted a diving boat loading up near our hotel I ran over and asked if they had space for one more. I was welcomed on board and within half an hour we were speeding out to our first dive sight. As I started chatting to the people on board, I heard what I thought was a South African accent – when Chris told me he was Namibian I hardly believed him, until he showed me his tattoo of Namibia. I can’t compete with that. Chris is (unsurprisingly) the only Namibian I’ve ever met on my travels. There’s something special about meeting someone from your country halfway across the world and I was really glad I’d flagged down that boat in time. On top of that I had two incredible dives, including my first time diving with sharks (we saw 8)!
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While we weren’t caught in a cyclone, we did have to make the most of the two rainy days that followed. Less basking in the sun, more reading books indoors.
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Still, it reminded me of something my friend Leo from Argentina once told me on a rainy day in Miami – a bad day travelling is still far better than any day stuck in an office. Good point – and stormy horizons can make for fantastic photo opportunities too.
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Days 44 to 46: Road trip to Dunedin & Wanaka

Tanya’s friends generously lent us their car while they were away in Canada. This could only mean one thing – road trip! We set out for Dunedin, a coastal uni town known for it’s colonial architecture. Driving is something I really miss while living in London and it felt great to be behind the wheel again. The driving and singing along to Savage Garden was the fun part (for the first 3 songs, not all their albums including bonus tracks). Once we arrived we soon realised Dunedin isn’t New Zealand’s most happening place – but sometimes it’s about the journey, not the destination, right? Instead of doing the regular touristy sightseeing dance, Tanya and I turned our visit into a bit of a photoshoot. Our first set: the Royal Botanical Gardens, featuring the standard jumping pics and a game of Where’s Wally.
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Our next shoot was set on the streets of Dunedin, discovering the city’s up and coming street art scene – muriels are tucked away all over the city and are still springing up overnight.
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With entertainment options in Dunedin exhausted we were happy to continue our roadtrip to Wanaka. I was particularly excited about my second visit to this beautiful lakeside town as I finally got to meet my sister’s new boyfriend, John. John is from Wales and recently completed the Wanaka Ironman, in addition to a string of other grueling sporting events. Luckily he wasn’t in training at the time and we could enjoy a normal person’s Saturday evening of cocktails and takeaway curry.

Wanaka isn’t only home to Tanya’s favourite boy person, it’s also home to her favourite tree, the famous Lone Tree. It’s not hard to see why people from all over the world decide to make New Zealand their home – simple beauty is never hard to find.
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Day 55 – 3,2,1…BUNGEEeeeeee!!!

Being in the country that invented bungee jumping meant I could no longer avoid one of my big ticket bucket list items. And if you’re flinging yourself off a ledge into oblivion, I figure you may as well do the highest one around – this title goes to the Nevis in Queenstown, New Zealand’s highest bungee at 134m. What I didn’t know was that the ledge itself is suspended over a gorge, accessed only via cable car! The journey out to the jump pod is scary enough, and I was grateful that my sister came along for moral support!
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When I was in uni near Cape Town, a bunch of us hiked up to the Crystal Pools, popular amongst locals as a cliff jumping spot. I froze – the jump was only about 4 or 5 metres high but I’d hesitated for too long and ended up slipping and falling off the cliff, narrowly missing a rock on the way down and hitting the water at a painful angle. I walked away with a valuable lesson – don’t think about it, just jump.

Fortunately, the guys running the Nevis jumping pod know exactly what they’re doing – loud music is playing to pump you up, they’re chatting to (“distracting”) you all the time and it doesn’t hurt that they’re nice to look at. By the time I was standing on the ledge I’d hardly had time to think about what I was about to do, so when I heard the countdown, 3…2….1…I just jumped. It felt incredible to take control in such a petrifying moment. I did have enough time during the 9 second freefall to freak out, but by then it was too late! I’ve never felt such a rush in my life, not even whilst sky diving. When I was raised back into the pod it was a no brainer that I was going again! Not that it was any easier the second time round, it was just as much of a rush!
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Here’s the video of my first jump:

Classic story of crossing off one item and adding another two – I loved the feeling so much that these two need to be up next:
Bloukraans in South Africa at 216m, cos nothing’s better than homegrown, and
– the Macua Tower in China at 233m, cos it’s officially the world’s highest commercial bungee jump.

Days 42 to 56 – Living the local life in Queenstown

After the ups and downs of my tour I was really looking forward to some down time at my sister’s in Queenstown. Visiting Tanya was what sparked this whole trip in the first place and I was excited about spending quality time with her in her new home. When I saw the view from her house I knew I’d made the right decision to spend two whole weeks here!

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Tanya was working during the day so I had to keep myself entertained. Now, most people would say it’s near impossible to run out of things to do in the adventure capital of the world, and they’d be right – if one had an unlimited budget. Most of the activities on offer carry a hefty pricetag! Kayaking, paragliding, wakeboarding or parasailing all cost over NZD100, skydiving and bungee jumping both well over NZD200. Here are 10 things you can do in Queenstown without breaking the bank:

1. Climb Queenstown Hill

One of my favourite days was spent hiking up Queenstown Hill to the Basket of Dreams – a metal sculpture big enough for about 5 people to sit in, overlooking Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables. I spent about 3 hours lying in the basket reading Spud (I snagged a copy of this well known South African novel for 50c in a charity book shop) or chatting to the people that joined me in the basket from time to time.

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2. Stroll (or run) along the Frankton Path

I picked this as my 10k running route as it a) is a beautiful stretch running right along the lake and b) is the flattest path I could find in Queenstown – on one of my shorter runs I tried to run up the hill to my sister’s place and nearly died. We’re talking 10% gradients!

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3. Relax at the spa

My sister treated me to an evening at the Nugget Point spa, where we enjoyed 2 hours access to the sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and heated indoor swimming pool. As Tanya arranged this I don’t know how much it cost but she did mention they run good deals from time to time, something to look out for.

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4. Do a cycling wine tour

We had our own bikes so just needed to arrange transport to and from the Gibbston Valley area. Tanya did her research ahead of time so we took advantage of the free wine tastings (took me right back to uni days in Stellenbosch!) and packed our own picnic lunch. We visited Gibbston Valley Winery and cheese stall, Peregrine Winery and were on our way to Brennan Wines when a large hill got in our way and we decided to take a nap in the afternoon sunshine instead.

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5. Spend an afternoon reading a book in a cafe

Vudu Café is one of Queenstown most popular cafes, and rightly so! They have excellent coffee, all their food on display looks delicious (try the raspberry and white chocolate muffin!) and they have plenty of outdoor seating overlooking the lake. A coffee and muffin will only set you back NZ$9, and as long as you’re able to concentrate over the hustle and bustle it’s a great place to spend a couple of hours with a good book.

6. Join the free walking tour

While you’ll find one in just about every city in Europe, turns out free walking tours have only just caught on in NZ – this one started only 8 months ago but I found it really fun and informative. Our tour guide, Mark, is a 3rd generation Queenstowner (true locals are as rare here as true Londoners in London!) and he did well to keep a tour going for 2.5 hours given how tiny Queenstown is! The free beer tasting at the end is a nice touch.

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7. Go out for an inexpensive meal

While Queenstown has a large fine dining scene, good deals are still all around. The steaks at Atlas (NZD19.90) are exceptional, on par with meat in Namibia and South Africa (in London you’d have to pay well over £20 for the same quality). A Fergburger is only NZD11.50 and will definitely fill you up. Even fine dining can be affordable – Rata (belonging to NZ Masterchef judge Josh Emett) does a 2-course lunch menu for only NZD28.

8. Build a puzzle

Ok, this one’s not for everyone, but I hadn’t built a puzzle in years and it’s a great way to pass a cold rainy day! I picked up this puzzle at a bookstore for NZD8 and built it with a beautiful view of Queestown while still staying nice and toasty indoors. Plus, having only 9 items on this list was seriously messing with my OCD, so here it is: #8, build a puzzle.
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9. Meet up with travel buddies

I took my friend Kayleigh (who I met sailing in the Whitsundays) to Vudu Café before heading up the gondola for NZD6 luge rides with a view (my sister lent us her annual pass which got us discounted luge rides). When my friend Stella was in town we went for drinks at CBC (NZD5 drinks all night) before trying Devil Burger (Fergburger’s main rival) and deciding Ferg was a clear winner.
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10. Splash out from time to time!

This is the adventure capital of the world after all, and it would be a crime to leave without splashing out on at least of the the adrenalin-filled activities the tiny town has become famous for. For me, it was always going to be the Nevis Bungee, the third highest bungee in the world. Read about it in my next post, I think it deserves it’s own place in my archives!

Days 39 to 41 – South Island Part III: Franz Josef and farewells in Christchurch

After the hustle and bustle of Queenstown we headed to the quieter lakeside town of Wanaka, just 90min away. It was the sunniest day we’d had in over a week so I headed straight to the lakeside, and Carolyn and I finally hired those paddleboards we’d been in pursuit of all tour. Kyle hadn’t paddleboarded before so we paddled him out into the middle of the lake before gently persuading him to give it a go – his tumble into the lake cost him his sunnies, sorry Kyle!

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We stopped at the Blue Pools en route to Franz Josef the next day, where crazy people were jumping into the icy water from a bridge. I couldn’t even keep my feet in the freezing water for more than 30sec! Small stone towers line the water’s edge (pictured below) but I have no idea why they’re there. Anyone?

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The Franz Josef glacier is approximately 7000 years old and attracts over 250k visitors each year. Unfortunately the weather turned on us again (pesky NZ weather), meaning the helicopters couldn’t land on the glacier for the glacier hikes. Initially I was really disappointed – this meant I wouldn’t be able to complete the bucket list I’d drawn up at the start of my trip. Luckily I realised very early on in my travels that you just can’t do everything. Instead of letting it get me down, I now view anything I miss the first time round (like the Empire State Building or the Louvre) as excuses to return one day! I did at least get to witness the glacier from below, and to cheer myself up I decided to go kayaking instead which was heaps of fun.

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Instead of driving back to Christchurch, we took the TranzAlpine train, one of the world’s most scenic train journeys. Unfortunately my photos didn’t turn out too well. I was still without a phone at this point and I often find that my Samsung takes better pics than my Nikon! Still, not everything needs to be photographed, sometimes mental pictures are what really stick with you.

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Confession time: besides the loss of my phone, another reason for the big gap in blogging was because I wasn’t entirely enjoying the tour I was on. It’s easy to put pen to paper when everything is going swimmingly and you’re making amazing memories…less so when you’re not having the best time. I’ve decided I want this blog to be an accurate representation of my trip and memories, and the truth is our tour guide was making several of the girls on tour extremely uncomfortable, myself included. On top of this, he was unenthusiastic, had severe mood swings and knew very little about the places we were visiting.  While we were loving NZ’s beauty and adventure, this cast a bit of a dark cloud over the tour itself, and a few of us eventually decided we had to speak up. Haka Tours was able to provide us with a new tour guide after a few days, but the awkwardness many of us had been feeling meant the group wasn’t nearly as tightly knit as other tours I’d been on.  This experience really tested my ability to always look on the bright side of life, which in hindsight isn’t the worst thing. Travelling is as much about growing as a person as it about seeking beauty and thrills.

Luckily I did have some pretty awesome tour buddies to make up for all the unpleasantness and it was sad to say our farewells in Christchurch. Meet my main tour buddies:

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Anika from Germany. Anika quit her job, chopped off her long hair and booked her trip to New Zealand all in the space of about two weeks before our tour started. Not happy about something in your life? Make a change!

Carolyn from Canada. Favourite food: ice cream. Carolyn takes the best jumping photos known to man and got accepted into medical school while on tour, you go girl! Carolyn is a keen runner too and trying to keep up with her got me back up to the paces I used to run at, thanks Carolyn!

Eric from California. Favourite food: anything artisanal or which doesn’t involve queuing. Eric always carried his trusty hip flask around with him filled with his “sunscreen”.

Kyle from Canada. Kyle is scared of heights but has bungee jumped twice. He has an impressive general knowledge (he even knew where Swakopmund was!) but taught us all a lot more about Flin Flan, Canada, than any person would ever need to know. Probably one of the most generous people I’ve met, thanks for treating us from time to time Kyle!

Luciana from Uruguay. Lucy would sometimes have conversations with us in Spanish without realising it, reminding me of my friend Pamela from Chile who did it all the time. Lucy filled over 5 SD cards with photos while on tour.

Stella, our half Portuguese half German baby of the group. Can be identified in a crowd as the person saying “Oh c’mon!” at regular intervals. Stella was my backseat sleeping buddy – both of us simply can’t stay awake for more than 10min in a moving vehicle! We are all secretly convinced that Stella is going to be a famous movie director someday.

Special thanks to all of you for helping me out when my phone was MIA and sending me your pics to fill in the gaps! Hopefully our paths cross again, and if they don’t we’ll always have the memories of our NZ adventure together (none from the bus though – I was sleeping).

Days 36 to 38 – South Island Part II: Lake Tekapo to Queenstown

Lake Tekapo is pretty much smack in the middle of the South Island so a good place to stop over on the way further south. I went for my first run in years without my phone to play my carefully selected running beats and my Runkeeper app lady telling me how fast (ok, slowly) I was going. Luckily Pauline lent me her ipod so at least I had the Mamma Mia soundtrack to keep me going! I ran along the lake, over the bridge and past the Church of the Good Shephard until I found a secluded spot overlooking the lake, where I sat for a while listening to the birds flying overhead and the family of ducks swimming amongst the reeds. I was reading Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong at the time so the setting felt perfect – one of those moments where you feel you’re in the right place at the right time.
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Our next stop was Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world but more importantly the place my sister now calls home. On the way we made a quick stop at Lake Pukaki, renowned for its icy blue water. The photos don’t really do it justice, the colours were far more vivid!
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We wasted no time on arrival in Queenstown and headed straight up the gondola to take in the views from above. Queenstown truly is a picture perfect town, “fit for a queen” (which is how it got it’s name in the first place). The gondola station has a Jelly Belly shop – they created a portrait of Frodo out of thousands of jellybeans. I thought it looked pretty good and probably tastes great too.
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We started out bright and early the next day for our trip to Milford Sound. It takes 5 hours to get there, but our tour guide kept us entertained and stopped off for several photo ops of Fiordland along the way.
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We boarded our JUCY cruise around 3pm and made our way along the sound to the Tasman Sea. The fiord was created by retreating glaciers thousands of years ago – the sheer scale of it is breathtaking, with some mountains rising up more than 1200m from the surface of the water. The sound is so concealed from the ocean that Captain Cook sailed past it twice before discovering it.
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By the time our cruise ended it was almost 5pm. Not wanting to face another 5 hour drive back to Queenstown, a bunch of us opted to take a 45min scenic flight back instead. Look how happy we are with our (indulgent!) decision. It was a perfect day and the views from above were even more spectacular!
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Days 34 & 35 – South Island Part I: Dolphin encounters and a glimpse of Christchurch

We boarded the Cook Strait ferry from Wellington to Picton to begin our South Island adventure. The crossing took about 5 hours but flew by as we were captivated by the hundreds of playful dolphins providing our on (off?) board entertainment.
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On our way to Kaikoura, we stopped for wine tasting at the Yealands Estate. I walked away with a bottle of Savingnon Blanc that just won the award for the World’s Best Savingnon Blanc at the Hong Kong Wine Awards as well as a quick wave from Peter Yealands himself as he slipped into his office. I guess him to be around 70 and he’s still involved in the day to day running of his estate.
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Our next stop was to visit some baby fur seals who hang around a waterfall on the mainland while their mums are out hunting at sea. We have a A LOT of seals in Namibia, so initially I wasn’t as excited as the rest of the group by this detour but I have to admit, these little guys were adorable and so playful!
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We eventually arrived in Kaikoura just before sunset so headed straight to a lookout hill to take it all in.
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The next day was when it all went wrong. I really wanted to get a close up shot of the dolphins I would be swimming with that day so asked my tour buddy Eric if I could borrow his dry bag to take my phone into the water with me. The dry bag is made of thick plastic, has a two-step sealing process and a pouch of salt granuals to absorb excess liquid. All this wasn’t enough – while I was still the water my phone started to malfunction and gave off what would be it’s last ever light.
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Luckily I didn’t realise this at the time so I got to fully enjoy the experience of swimming with (literally) hundreds of dolphins! Our captain reckoned there were between 250 – 300 dusky dolphins in the pod. Duskies are naturally curious and playful but we were encouraged to make noises, sing to them and be as “dolphin-like” as possible to lure them in. My favourite game was swimming in circles while a dolphin circled me faster and faster until eventually I had to give up and said dolphin would swim away triumphantly. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, worth the loss of a silly smart phone!

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The next day we made our way to Christchurch. It’s sad to see how much is still in ruins after the 2011 earthquake, but the city is hard at work to repair and rebuild – everywhere you turn is another construction site. I didn’t get to see much of the city as I was tied up trying to get my phone repaired, but managed to catch a glimpse of the 185 Empty Chairs memorial as we drove out of the city. The exhibit consists of 185 unique white chairs ranging from rocking chairs to high stools, in memory of the 185 people that tragically lost their lives that day.
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Days 30 to 33 – North Island Part III: Hiking to hot pools and exploring Wellington

Turns out a blogger is only as good as their equipment. Halfway through my tour of New Zealand some dolphins broke my phone (read all about it in my next post), which is why I haven’t posted in nearly a month. A part of me was ready to throw in the towel but at the insistence of some of my biggest fans (cough my parents) I shall continue. The plan is to be all caught up by the time I leave for Fiji. That’s tomorrow..highly unlikely to happen but shoot for the stars and land amongst the stars right?

Our second last stop on the North Island was Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. New Zealand has 9 “Great Walks” – we were hoping to do a section of one of these walks, the 19km Tongariro Crossing, which includes the mountain that will now forever be know as Mordor. Unfortunately the weather Gods weren’t playing ball so 9 out of 10 of us bailed. Only Pauline from France braved the weather (making the rest of us look like pansies), good on ya Pauline! The rest of us decided to take on a less daunting 12km hike with natural hot pools waiting as a reward at the end. The spring water running into the river is so hot you could burn yourself, but mixes with the cold river water to create the perfect natural jacuzzi. The best part about the pools are that they’re completely natural and free to the public, a nice change in such a touristy country.

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The final stop on the North Island was Wellington, New Zealand’s capital and officially Lonely Planet’s “biggest little city”. We stayed at the YHA hostel which felt more like a hotel than a backpackers- those staying in private rooms had chocolates and fresh ground coffee welcoming them and even the dorm rooms were huge with amazing views of the harbour. Great choice if you ever find yourself in Wellington.
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After a dinner of fish ‘n chips (we realised with horror that we were a week into our NZ trip and hadn’t had the signature dish yet) we wandered around the city streets, taking in the street art, quaint bars and restaurants and stumbling upon a street party in Cuba Street that was busy winding down but looked like it had been quite something! Still not sure what the party’s origin is, but there were a lot of people dressed as skeletons playing all sorts of quirky instruments. Wish we’d gotten there sooner!
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The next day was spent taking in the main sights of the city – we took the cable car up to see the Botanical Gardens, had lunch at the weekly harbour farmer’s market (best souvlaki I’ve had since ouzo night in Greece), considered hiring paddleboards but thought better of it (Wellington lived up to its reputation of being the windiest city in the world) and instead caught some sun on the beach before hiking up Mt Victoria for panaromic views of the city. Wellington is known as being a foodie capital, so as a treat on our last night we decided to break our backpacker budgets and go out for a decent meal. We picked Cin Cin and it was delightful, I’d highly recommend it! Best calamari I’ve had in years and the proscuitto, fig and blue cheese salad was fantastic. Gem & Nat, I’m recreating this for us when I get home!
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Days 28 & 29 – North Island Part II: Glowworm Caves & the Shire

Waitomo is home to New Zealand’s famous Glowworm Caves. One of the most exciting ways to see the caves is by black water “rafting”, which is really tubing but hey, I also use poetic licence from time to time so we’ll go with rafting. The underground waters are pretty icy so we got our wetsuit dance on and headed on down.

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Turns out they aren’t actually glowworms but rather glowing larvae, and the light they give off is literally their excrement. This place appears to have attracted the best marketing execs in NZ. That aside, the sight is spectacular. It felt as if we were gazing up at the night sky as we floated gently through the caves, even though we were deep below the surface of the earth. One more bucket list item ticked off – if it’s not on yours yet I would suggest that changes. Unlike anything I’ve seen before!

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The next day we visited The Shire, very touristy I know, but it was so interesting! There are a total of 44 hobbit holes of varying sizes that were used to create the forced perspective of the various characters; tiny holes for Gandalf and elves and large holes for hobbits. The party lawn where Bilbo’s 111th birthday celebrations were filmed features the grand Party Tree, which was one of the main reasons Peter Jackson chose this farm as the set for the Shire. The party scene was filmed over three nights even though it only appears in the film for 3min. The actors were served 1% beer and took it as challenge to get drunk anyway – apparently they succeeded and those were the bits that made the final cut. Authenticity is key.
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Our visit ended with a beer in the Green Dragon Inn, where they serve beer and cider that is only available in the Shire. All in all a great experience, however we did feel quite rushed throughout the tour. Our guide was constantly trying to move us along and the next group was always right on our heels. Something they should deal with if they want the thousands of visitors each year to continue enjoying Hobbiton.
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Days 26 & 27 – North Island Part I: Coromandel & Cathedral Cove

I started my 16-day tour with Haka Tours in Auckland, where I met my tour guide and fellow travellers. Together we’ll be visiting the best of the North and South islands of New Zealand. This is the exact same tour my sister did about 3 years ago, which resulted in her packing up her bags and moving to New Zealand. No pressure.

We set off for Coromandel, and it was soon clear why everyone raves about New Zealand – the landscapes are gorgeous pretty much all over. I’m not a fan of snapping pics from a moving vehicle so all I have is this one, but imagine mountains covered in lush forests and huge blue bays with islands dotting the horizon.

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Haka Tours packs in the activities. On our very first day we were booked into a bone carving workshop where we carved our own necklaces. I shouldn’t have worn black – by the time we left I was covered in fine white bone powder. Gross.

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The next morning we headed off on a hike along the north-east coast. It was a perfect day, blue skies and even bluer seas.

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Our hike ended at Cathedral Cove, featured in the second Chronicles of Narnia movie. I absolutely loved it – you can tell from how snap happy I was and the silly grin on my face in all the pics. I’m always in awe about the beauty that occurs naturally all over the world – this wasn’t designed and installed as an attraction, it just is and has been for thousands of years.

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