Travel

New Zealand: Final Days

Alright, friends! My last New Zealand post Finally! I believe it is finally time I finish these posts from my last ultimate trip! So, let’s get started!

The second morning in Lake Taupo we rented bikes from our hostel, The Tiki Lodge, for $15 NZ cash and road along by the lake and just enjoyed the sunshine and view. Slow mornings are important when you’ve been constantly moving from one place to another. It definitely helped prepare us for the afternoon’s activity of choice by decompressing for awhile.

Rapids Jets

Since I got to pick the excursion in Rotorua, Analeise picked one in Lake Taupo! When we were at Huka Falls we saw these high speed jet boats roaring back and forth near the falls so we looked it up and picked a company near us: Rapids Jets! It’s the only white water jet boat ride! It was tons of fun- an absolute blast holding on as the jet boat did high speed turns which got us soaked as it got off the ground! It had us laughing so loudly! Just look at the photos! Overall, my review of this excursion is evenly split. It was a great experience, just a little pricey for what it was! It was about a 35 minute ride and cost $60 USD. Photos were extra but we split them like last time. In a nutshell: I’m glad I did it in New Zealand as jet boats were designed by a New Zealander (Bill Hamilton). Plus, the scenery was absolutely beautiful!

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After this we just lounged around Lake Taupo, ate some $5 chili provided at a sister hostel, and just hung around and enjoyed the sunset with a couple of cold ones.
Not a bad way to end an exciting day. Also, not a bad way to prepare for an equally amazing one!
Spellbound
We’re nearing the end of our trip by this point! We started our drive to Auckland, our last destination, but not before seeing these famous Glowworms I’ve heard so much about! In the Waitomo Valley we chose to go through the company Spellbound and I cannot explain how thrilled I am that we chose so well for this! First of all the specifics: it was $54.57 for 3 1/2 hours in two different caves. The first one is the walking part where the guide shows you the ins and outs of cave formation- stalagmites and that sorta stuff. Then you take a little break, eat a little pastry with coffee or tea, and as soon as you’re finished the real show begins.

 
You board this little boat (there’s no more than 12 of you plus the guide who stands in the back). Slowly your eyes begin to adjust. This is an easy process as no phones, cameras, or lights are allowed while on the boat. It’s just you, what your eyes can see, and your memory. Soon enough, you see them. You see these radiantly glowing hanging..things. Well, they’re actually insect larvae that are glowing due to their bioluminescent traits. (Neat info: this is actually how they eat! Insects are attracted to their light and then get stuck on their sticky lines that hang off of them!)

 
And suddenly…they are everywhere. Everywhere. They are all around you, innocently glowing, living, and being. The only sounds within the cave are your own breathing and the gentle pulling of rope as the boat drifts further in to the cave. The further you get, the brighter it all seems. Even now, months after this moment, I can still see the brightness caused by creatures so unaware of how beautiful they truly are when united.

So this is how they look times 1000000, trust me.

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The ooooonly downside of this tour, I will say, is that they didn’t give us enough time to even attempt to photograph them. I was a bit disgruntled when the guide hurried us into the boat, but at the end he slowed down and offered us/me an opportunity to try. He even gave me specific settings to put my camera in. In the end, my photos didn’t come out great and maybe one day I’d like to do the photographers version of the tour where they give you much more time inside the cave (for much more money). For now, though, I’m fully spellbound with this experience.

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Auckland!DSC07280

And suddenly, we made it full circle! From Coromandel to Hobbitton to Rotorua to Lake Taupo and now Auckland! As this was the only real city we visited on this trip we gave it the least time since we weren’t really too excited by big buildings and shopping districts. We stayed at the enormous Base Hostel and….I don’t recommend it. Well, if you’re still in college and looking to be surrounded by noise and a party scene, that yeah- do it! But we were just looking for somewhere to stay so this placed seemed a little over the top for us. It was $29.07 USD plus $4.60 for the wifi for one night. They did provide us with toiletries, a towel, and a drink voucher at the connecting bar because we paid for the all female room. The bar next door was a funny experience, it seemed like everyone in it was just turning 21 and I’m not accustomed to feeling…old?

But anyway, our last morning. 208a3e80-842f-4e28-8c32-829bdcb5a028

We ate a delicious breakfast at “Scarecrow” and then proceeded to find a park to enjoy the beautiful weather in. Then we found our way to the Skytower ($21.18) which also provides thrill-seekers the opportunity to dive from the highest point of the tower. If you’re interested book ahead of time as spots definitely fill up. I just know Analeise is going to do it one day!

 

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Before heading off to the airport we made one last spontaneous decision to hike up Mount Eden. This was certainly my favorite part of visiting Auckland. It has remarkable 360 views of the land and it’s all quite picturesque.


Learn from our mistake, however, and give yourself plenty of time to actually get down from the hike. We unfortunately were rushed to get to the airport in time and couldn’t find gas stations (seriously, how hard can they be to find?!) so…yeah, let’s just say we weren’t very happy at this point. Oh well, you live and you learn, right?

In the end…our trip was over. Just as quickly as it had gotten here, our 8 day long trip through the North Island was over. We hiked, adventured, drove through windy roads, spent time amongst Hobbits, biked, swam- really everything I could have imagined for my first visit to New Zealand was accomplished. And it was accomplished beautifully. I have some incredible memories of traveling with Analeise- from Tulum to Peru to New Zealand. And this isn’t the end of our travels together- I’m sure there will be more someday! This was a remarkable, spontaneous trip full of enchanting moments that came about thanks to one random Cyber Monday sale.

Last but not least, I am so happy to have a platform that I can share these memories on. If you’re reading this and have read my other posts- a sincere thank you for following me along on this journey. I know I’m not the most consistent blogger, but thank you for sticking with me.

Until next time, friends!

Mary A.

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New Zealand: Lake Taupo

Well, hello again!

Another day another new experience!

I was sad to leave Crash Palace, my favorite hostel of the 8 day trip of the North Island of New Zealand. Although, I wasn’t exactly sad to leave the smell of sulpher behind. Well, it turns out hot springs have a slight smell of it as well. Originally I really wanted to do a mud bath and maybe if I go back one day (with Kevin) we’ll do the fancy Polynesian Spa. This time, however, Analeise and I really wanted to do something free just to balance out expenses. Lucky for us, Kerosene Creek wasn’t too far off our route to Lake Taupo.

Relaxing in the hot freshwater spring was exactly what our sore bodies needed after zorbing the day before. Hot springs are supposed to have many therapeutic elements within them so we lounged around for an hour or so and fell into complete relaxation mode. I would certainly visit again and visit other natural hot springs in the area. I’m just glad someone warned me to try and not submerge my head in the water. Whew! Also unfortunately, the area did have some trash thrown around, so remember: clean up your mess. I cannot stress this enough.

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After our relaxing plunge into Kerosene Creek we decided to continue our exploration of free places to see on our way to Lake Taupo and visited Huka Falls. No amount of photos will ever be able to fully detail the incredible force that is Huka Falls. The water is….astronomically and remarkably powerful. It forces itself through the passageway and pours over itself into the falls.

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And alas, this very dramatic photo of the falls.DSC07129

So the overview!

We stayed at the Tiki Lodge Hostel in Lake Taupo for $23.52 USD the first night and $30 NZ cash the second night (we booked it separately after deciding to stay another night). Overall it was a fine hostel. We had the six bunk room with private bathroom to ourselves the first night and then only had one other female roommate the second night. They provided free breakfast of cereal, bread, and jams with coffee and tea. The only thing was you had to get there early because they rarely replenished anything so once it was out- it was out.

So the only things that we spent money on this day was food!

  • $20 NZ cash on breakfast in Rotorua
  • “Expensive dinner” in Lake Taupo is what I wrote in my notes- my guess is about $40 USD! But, hey, sometimes you just have to eat well.

That’s all for this post, friends!

Until next time! (Maybe a crazy boat ride and some Glowworms?!)

Mary A.

 

 

 

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New Zealand: Rotorua

Hello again, friends!

So! So far we have been through a crazy Cyber Monday sale to the Coromandel Peninsula and then through The Shire! Now on to day three!

After Hobbiton we continued the drive to Rotorua where we stayed at the Crash Palace Hostel! This was my favorite hostel from the trip. We stayed in a two bunk, four person dorm for ($28 a night). Our roommates were two other female travelers that I secretly wanted to be friends with really badly, but never got the courage to exchange information with. (I’m not always so outgoing). The hostel holds events every evening so we played beer pong (sorry, mom!) the first night and then went to their free dinner and watched LOTR in the living room with some other travelers the second night. It is true what all of the city’s reviews say: the area does smell overwhelmingly like sulfur! Despite the rotten egg smell the town has so many things to offer: tours, cafes, and yummy restaurants. We even got to experience one of their evening markets that had a plethora of food stands up and down the strip!

There are so many activities that start off in Rotorua. I wish we had done something more cultural like Whakarewarewa- The living Maori Village. (Next time!) Instead of listing out everything the area has to offer I’ll just include their website’s link: http://www.rotoruanz.com/visit/to-do/

So now for what we did!

 

The morning of our third day we decided we needed to witness active geothermal activity as there are quite a few spots in New Zealand. One of the most popular is Wai-O-Tapu near Rotorua. It costs $20 USD to get in and takes about 1-2 hours to walk depending on your speed and how often you stop to take photos. There are also three different walks you can choose from that take you throughout the Thermal Wonderland.

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Before we start and instead of me trying to explain the science behind why they are the color that they are, I’ll just share this photo with you first.

 

 

So every color that we see is due to specific mineral deposits! I took so many photos while walking around, especially at the “Champagne Pool” for obvious reasons- I mean, just look at it!

DSC06866DSC06870DSC06874DSC06986DSC06978DSC06977So I did just learn that it’s called Champagne Pool because of the efflux of carbon dioxide, which is just like Champagne! Neat!DSC06969

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DSC06934DSC06912DSC06905Another popular spot in this Geothermal Wonderland is “Devil’s Bath” which gets its color from deposits of sulphur that sit on top of the water.DSC07013DSC07027DSC07044DSC07049

Wai-O-Tapu was an easy, education visit that was also a lot of fun! There are other mud pools and geothermal activity spots in Rotorua that you can visit as well!

On to the next activity

We continued our day that late afternoon by rolling down hills in giant hamster balls. That’s right- we went zorbing! For those that don’t know what zorbing is, it’s basically just rolling downhill in big plastic balls called orbs. It was first played in Rotorua so you just know we had to try it, too! Here’s the video I made! Now this is the first video I’ve ever made from my travels so please be gentle! I’m hoping to get more into video-editing in the future!

We went zorbing through “OGO Rotorua” and paid $88 USD for three different routes: a steep, rapid ride, a quick, windy ride, and an individual downhill that we treated as a race (Analeise won!). It’s definitely a little pricey but I found it so worth it. But you can choose to do just one if you’d like! Here’s their website with all their info: https://ogo.co.nz/ They also have a photographer that takes photos of you after your rides so we purchased those also for about $20 NZ cash each.

I have to say, this was one of my favorite activities that we did- maybe even my most favorite! I have been wanting to do this since seeing it on “No Tomorrow” on Netflix (such a good show- such a shame it only had one season!) and it was on my bucket list so…check! Overall, I would highly recommend it just for the fun experience!

So in a nutshell my expenses included:

  • $22 USD entry fee for Wai-O-Tapu
  • $18.50 NZ cash lunch at this Thai restaurant in Rotorua’s center
  • $88 USD three route Zorbing fee
  • ~$20 NZ cash Zorbing photo purchase (each)

My notes seem a little shaky now that I’m rereading them but this day’s total was a rough estimate of $108 USD and $43.50 NZ cash for Wai-O-Tapu, Zorbing, photos, lunch, and a towel fee at the hostel. This is also the night we had free dinner at Crash Palace Hostel which helped with the expenses a little.

Alright, yall! This is all for now! Stay tuned for day four where take a dip in some hot water and witness the power of the falls.

Until next time,

Mary A.

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New Zealand: Hobbiton

So many little hobbit holes! That’s what you’ll find within this blog post because I made it to Hobbiton!

When we started planning New Zealand this was the first thing on my “need to see!” list. Basic information: Tickets are $85 NZ or $58 USD and you book your tours on the Hobbiton Tours website! They run frequently but, of course, make sure you book in advance! They make it easy enough with three pick up locations in Matamata, the LOTR-esque town, and Rotorua. On the drive through the bountiful hills which is the Alexander family’s sheep farm the driver shows informational videos and offers insight into the discovery of the area. And finally, you’re there. In Hobbiton.

Well, Hobbiton was…wet! As soon as we stepped off of the tour bus it started raining all over the lush green hills and studio set. Thankfully the tour is prepared for this and has a fully stocked umbrella area ready for the occasion. In a way, once it calmed down it almost made the set a little dreamier.

Besides the weather upon arrival and the crowds (as it gets extremely busy), it was a perfect wander through the Shire. It was exactly how I always pictured it: a tranquil landscape with pops of color, beautiful vegetation, and intricate details surrounded by New Zealand’s enormous lush topography.

DSC06590DSC06594DSC06596DSC06615DSC06618DSC06636DSC06659The area is full of so many tiny perfectly situated details entailed to ensure individuality for every hobbit home as, of course, every hobbit is different.

DSC06667DSC06674No admittance! Bilbo and Frodo’s home in all it’s glory!

The tour winds its way up and through the hills of Hobbiton and through the Green Dragon for a complimentary “Southfarthing” adult beverage. DSC06757.jpgDSC06765DSC06769

Alright so the specifics!

On our way from Coromandel to Rotorua we stopped at Matamata for the tour. This is what I spent for the entire second day on our trip:

  • $19.94 breakfast (at the delicious cafe right next to the Tatahai Backpackers)
  • $6.89 snack
  • $10.51 lunch
  • $ 57.29 Hobbiton ticket
  • $~20 NZ drinks at hostel

So USD total: $94.63 and about $20 NZ cash (give or take a few bucks for a magnet or two)

Also here’s me looking really big, frizzy, and dorky in front of the first hobbit hole that I saw.

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From the Shire we continued our journey to our next destination of Rotorua where we visited some roaring falls and rolled down a hill in a hamster ball! Stay tuned!

Until next time, friends!

 

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New Zealand- Part One

Alright- New Zealand: so high on my bucket list I didn’t think I’d make it this early on. And yet, it was on one Cyber Monday in the early hour of 1 AM that the “Escape Houston” tweet notified me of the tremendous sale: Houston to Auckland, nonstop, on United operated through Air New Zealand for $495. I quickly sent this to Analeise, who you all know as my travel partner in crime and within the next hour we had our tickets booked for March.

March came quickly. Between long weeks of busy flying schedules, little rest at home, the day came to prepare for our 8 day trip (that’s all we could manage with our off days at the time). Now, I won’t lie. I wasn’t actually the most enthused person when the evening finally came to leave to the airport. Being go-go-go can get a little wearing on a body and I, honestly, wished the trip had been planned for a little further down the line. Still, as I settled into that economy seat for a 13 1/2 hour overnight flight excitement started to seep in. The long flight quickly came to an end and there I was…in New Zealand.

Now what to do?

I guessed there would be a lot to do in New Zealand, but I truly underestimated how much there is to see on just the North Island. Therefore, we quickly realized there wouldn’t be enough time to fly on over to the South Island as much as we wanted to. Shoot, there also wasn’t enough time to do everything on the mock itinerary I had planned. I’ll include that one on the last New Zealand post just in-case anyone has more time than we did. I would truly recommend way more than eight days/two weeks/a month. I would say minimum a month each. But, when a deal as good as Cyber Monday’s hits you take what you can get! The rest will have to wait for my next trip over and trust me, there will be a next trip (Right, Kevin?!)

As with Peru I will be writing a couple different posts on this trip including itinerary, costs, specifications, and a photo diary!

So let’s begin!

Day One: Landing in Auckland, Rental Car, and The Coromandel Peninsula 

Analeise handled the rental car for this trip (I’m still not 25 years old). After some debate we decided the medium tier insurance (about $25 USD a day) would be best as 1) we were driving on the other side of the car and 2) we were driving on the other side of the road and 3) it was just the smartest option “just in case”. By the end with fees it came out to $212 per person for 7 days. It could have come out cheaper had we booked the car earlier and booked the insurance before as well, but hey, you live and you learn. We learned.

Driving on the opposite everything from the U.S. sounded scary at first, but I have to admit, it wasn’t horrible. The hardest parts were finding the blinkers, roundabouts, and just rediscovering general distance perception.

On the drive to Coromandel we stopped first for gas station breakfast. Sounds strange but pot pies are so popular here and they are so delicious! ($7.50 USD) We were on the look out for scenic viewpoints and came across this incredible view after a slippery walk up a muddy path. My first “holy jeez I’m in New Zealand” moment occurred at this viewpoint.

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In Coromandel we stayed at the Tatahi Backpackers for $28 USD/NZ39 a night (a person) for a four bed mixed dorm in Hahei. The hostel itself was…adequate. The main area which includes the dining room, kitchen, and sitting area has a cabin-esque feel; the dorm rooms were warm at night and had only two outlets so we had to choose between the fan or charging our electronics. Overall, it was fine for one night. Coromandel is a quiet area, easily walkable, and a lovely beach town.

We arrived too early for check in so we switched into our swimsuits and tennis and headed out to Cathedral Cove. Just the view of the coastline from above is astonishing. Breathtaking. Quickly, the dreamy scenery that I’ve longingly seen in photographs was right in front of me.

LRG_DSC06328LRG_DSC06331LRG_DSC06348DSC06323DSC06336DSC06326DSC06354DSC06358LRG_DSC06400DSC06369DSC06382There are quite a few options for other walks that offer different viewpoints along the trail. We had the scenic point to ourselves for a little while. DSC06474DSC06493DSC06522DSC06421DSC06411lrg_dsc06324lrg_dsc06341DSC06345DSC06343

 

 

We had lunch at the restaurant/bar right next to our hostel called The Pour House. I had the ribs for $21 USD and holy jeez they were good! Pricey but worth it after a long afternoon in the sun!

Then we loaded up on supplies at the only store in town. Also extremely pricey but I managed $15 USD worth of breakfast bars, fruit, tuna, and toothpaste (security at IAH took mine). Once we were stocked up for the rest of the trip we headed towards the beach.

Hot Water Beach

I didn’t want to leave Coromandel without experiencing hot water beach! How often would I get the opportunity to dig myself my own little jacuzzi? The best time to go is the two hours on either side of low tide so we chose the latter. However I didn’t realize three things until I got there:

1) You may dig a hole only to have it be cold water

2) Or you can dig a hole that is scalding water. I mean an unbearable, painful temperature.

3) Digging a big enough hole to fit inside is actually harder than it sounds!

Therefore, we bounced between areas, tested the water, and finally settled on a previously made hole to lounge in.

I didn’t take many photos because my hands were sandy and I was trying to not scald myself the entire time. Overall it was a fun experience! I’m glad I checked it off my list! Oh! And aside from the shovels (we borrowed ours from the hostel) and parking, it’s free!

Overall I spent roughly $28.53 USD and $17 NZ cash (I withdrew $400 NZ which was about $311.99 USD at the airport) the first day, not including the hotel.

 

 

That’s all for now, friends!

If you have any questions about my first full day just comment below!

Until next time!

Up next: From Coromandel to Hobbiton!

-Mary A.

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Oahu, Hawaii- Lanikai Pillbox Hike

Clear skies, a bright spectrum of blue ocean, and lush greenery show themselves off on the hike up to the pillboxes.

Hello again, all! A couple weeks ago I was blessed with sunny Hawaii and Guam layovers which means currently as I type this I am in snowy Germany avoiding the freezing cold outside. With this job you have to accept all types of destinations- often in the same month or even week! It definitely makes packing a suitcase quite interesting! Swimsuit? Check. Snow-boots? Check! What I try my best to never forget is my camera and I’m thankful I didn’t in Hawaii!

This day was eventful from early morning to late in the evening. From breakfast we took an Uber to Pearl Harbor where we spent the early afternoon re-learning everything high school was supposed to teach us. I have to admit, I learned more in the course of a 20 minute documentary they showed us than I did in my courses at school…and that, unfortunately, is saying something. Still, it was a fascinating experience to visit Pearl Harbor. It gave me chills to learn that oil still continues to leak out from the USS Arizona. You just have to watch the water sway back and forth underneath to see the rainbow of oil that sits on top of the ocean.

From Pearl Harbor we made our way to the Lanikai Pillbox Hike in Kailua. The first few minutes of the hike may be daunting to anyone unaccustomed to rocky terrain. It required large steps and careful footing up till the first view point. There are ropes on this part to assist with the descent, which I was very thankful for after already falling on my butt once.

Still, once you get to the first view point…you just want to continue going. You will witness a full panorama of Lanikai with its bright blue waters full of kayaks that are making their way to the nearby islands.

Continue reading

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Revisiting White Sands, New Mexico

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Hello again, friends!

This is one of my favorite places on this planet. I can only describe the aura of White Sands, New Mexico as filling. I feel full when I’m there.

As soon as I stepped out of our rented family van and started walking up the dunes it didn’t even matter that it was a popular day for the park. It doesn’t matter if it is busy at all because if you just continue walking, and if you get far enough away, it will feel as if you are completely alone there. Suddenly you don’t see any streets nor hear any vehicles in the distance. It is just you and the dunes. Oh, and a sled. Continue reading

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