Setting out from Auckland, I began Part 2 of my NZ adventure by joining a Contiki tour. Yes, I can hear you snickering. Contiki? you say, but isn’t that the one with a dirty reputation? I’ve learned Kiwi Experience is worse. Besides, I had a great time on my European Contiki tour, and I don’t have to worry about transport and getting lost. It did however, differ quite a bit from Europe, in that it was younger and almost entirely Australian, mostly from Victoria. Also, instead of everyone starting and stopping at the same point, I was part of a new group, about 20 people to join the 25 already on board. As well, I was one of the two to leave in Rotorua, while everyone else went on to Welly, and then to the South Island. So it was a different experience, and I’m slightly jealous of the people who are still travelling at this moment. While I liked my experience alone, it is always nice to have someone to travel with.
Anyway, the first 2 days of the Contiki tour were in Paihia, in the Bay of Islands. It has the feel of a seaside resort, the small town feeling that I enjoy visiting but could never live there. A group of us in the new crew took a cruise among the islands, spotting bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) feeding among the reefs. There was an option to swim with the dolphins, but only if they are not feeding, or if there isn’t a baby in the pod. There was a baby in the pod. So no swimming with Flipper. He was adorable though, he kept rolling on his side to look at us, and he was the only one who jumped out of the water, what a show-off 🙂 The scenery here was pretty much the same as everywhere else but I still had enough ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ in me for the islands. We were actually supposed to stop at one of the islands for lunch but because the government was doing a poison drop to kill the rats in an effort to conserve the native bird species, we weren’t able to. So the cruise felt a little long, 4 hours is a long time to be out on the water. Luckily, it was a calm day and I didn’t have to resort to my travelling pharmacy and Gravol.
That afternoon though, was my first adventure activity; parasailing! (and more time on a boat, I’m so sick of them now) Parasailing is actually not very scary, you take off and land from a carpeted spot on the back of the speedboat and you don’t even get wet. It’s also better to do it in tandem, the one who did it by himself that afternoon was a skinny guy was asked (jokingly) how much he weighed. Since I’m the world’s biggest chicken, I volunteered to go first and get it over with. After being laced up in all the safety gear, the sail is let out and then you’re hooked up. Lift off is quite gentle, the only time it’s scary is when the wind jerks the sail around. Or if you’re an idiot like me, you stare at the knot and become consciously aware that it’s the only thing connecting you to the boat. My hands were freezing up there but it was amazing to get the view of the islands from the air. Another pair was able to spot part of our group doing a waka; a Maori canoe trip. When you land, you’re supposed to land on your feet and sadly, I could not accomplish that simple task. Everyone else did though.
After Paihia, we headed for Waitomo (after a stopover in Auckland to drop off and pick up other tourists, and for someone to throw up in a mall bathroom). Not much in Waitomo except for the glowworm caves…and giant rabbits. There was a bit of rest time before the cave tour so I ran off to see the angora rabbits. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who went. A girl I had met in my Welly hostel had told me about them so I had to see them. They are these giant rabbits that have to be shaved otherwise they’ll overheat, and then the fur is spun like sheep’s wool. The best part of them? there was a pair named Millie and Lois (My mum is Millie, and my childhood best friend’s mother is Lois…it’s funnier when I don’t have to explain it). The caves were pretty much what you expect from caves – dark, cold, duck when needed. The other option for exploring the caves was to do black water rafting; going through in a wetsuit and inner tube. I skipped that option because I didn’t want to be freezing cold and wet and in complete darkness for 10 mins. Also, it was more expensive and I already overspent by that stage. The attraction of the cave was the glowworms but technically, they are glow maggots because they are the larval stage of some fly. They secrete this strings (i suspect, of mucus) that function like a spider web to trap food, and apparently, camera lenses if you get too close.
That night in Waitomo, we had a pizza party but I was disappointed by the thin crust offerings as I wished for something more substantial but I was trying not to consume too many chips on my trip. Not that you really need to know my food details. Anyways, as soon as we arrived in Waitomo, two of the Queenslanders ran down to the bar to find out if they were showing the “State of Origin” game. I tried watching, and was silently cheering for QLD, since there were no NSW people to argue with but I still don’t care about rugby.
The next day was off to Rotorua, and the thing that I had most been looking forward to (besides LOTR) my entire trip, Zorbing! It basically sums up as rolling down the hill in a giant hamster ball. The air temperature was only about 8C but they put warm water into the ball so you can slide all the way down. I went down the zigzag course backwards, tried to turn forwards, realised I could see the downward movement and spun back around so I could finish the course backwards. Less coordinated than it sounds. Because of the temperature difference between the air and water, you could see steam rising off the people who had finished.
Unfortunately, because of an early morning roadblock, we missed the Agrodome sheep show. I missed it at least, the rest of the group was going to be able to see it on their way to Taupo. I was so close to seeing baby lambs. Argh. Although, on our drive to Rotorua, I did spot some brightly dyed pink sheep. I’m guessing the Kiwis were a bit bored?