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Northern Highlights starting Auckland finishing Wellington

20 Feb 2009 jacqui said

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I have just arrived back from doing the Feb 14 --> Feb 20 northern highlights (New Zealand) tour and i had soooo much fun! Even though there were a few problems along the way.

This was my first time travelling alone, and i would definately reccomend doing so! In fact, i partly did this trip as a test for whether i could travel alone as i am planning to do a Winter Wanderer trip of Europe in Jan 2010, and having done this trip i believe i could definately do it. So for anyone umming and ahing about travelling alone: take the plunge!

Okay, so my trip started with a 3.5 hr plane delay so i only got to my hotel (i stayed at the Mercure) at 2am, but i found the Mercure great (really well located in downtown Auckland, nice rooms, 24/7 yoga on tv haha etc etc).

Our first destination was the BAY OF ISLANDS (Pahaia) (about 3 hours from Auckland). I would recommend eating lunch before you get on the bus as we didn't stop anywhere to get food and we starving by the time we finally ate at 4pmish. Unfortunately the weather wasn't great but it was still beautiful! The resort we stayed at was close to the water front and town centre, and the bbq dinner and continental breakfast were pretty good. That night we headed to a local bar (Pippi Patch) for Valentine's Day night (btw, most people were single on the trip) and it was a great chance to get to know each other and even some locals and random back packers. A lot of fun was had by all, especially as drinks were cheap (approx $NZ4 for spirits).

On our second day almost everyone on the tour opted to do the full day Explore NZ dolphin watching and sailing. This optional was $NZ99 (c. $AU80) and was totally worth it! The dolphin watching has a 85% success rate, but unfortunately we didnt see any (much to our disapointment as you can pay an extra $NZ30 to swim with them) so they gave us vouchers to come back that can be redeemed whenever (even 12 years later). The catamaran in the afternoon was HUGE and very comfortably fit about 60 people. We stopped at an island for lunch (which was again pretty good) and then we had about an hour to either swim, explore the island, lay around or kayak. I opted for swimming - which was a bit cold but so refreshing! Afterwards the crew showed us 'real sailing' - and the best place to sit was right at the front as you got saturated! I would give this optional 8/10

On our third day we had a "refreshing start" of leaving at about 630/7, which many people that had been out drinking very late struggled with (from experience i can tell you hangovers aren't fun on 3 hr bus trips). We travelled back to Auckland to pick up 15 more people and then headed to WAITOMO (about 2 hours away from Auckland). That afternoon you had the choice of doing optionals in the famous glow worm caves. Again almost everyone did the optional of Black Water Rafting. You go in groups of 12 with 2 or 3 leaders and float 60m underground on the inner tube of tyres. You are given wet suits - which are a ***** to put on but really do keep you warm. Our guides were FANTASTIC! They were young, cute (much to us girls' pleasure) and had a great sense of humour. It was amazing to see the glorworms and the limestone caves, and afterwards you got a bagel and soup! This optional cost $NZ90 ($AU75) and i also bought a cd of pictures for $NZ20 ($AU16). I would rate this optional 10/10 and i would do it again without hesitation. This night we stayed at Kiwipacker and had pizza and a hot breakfast whcih were both plentiful and yummy. Almost everyone (except me as i had a migraine) went next door to the (only) local pub and had a few drinks and laughs later on.

Next day we headed to ROTORUA (about a 1.5/2hr trip). Our first stop was the Agrodome (included) where we got to see 12 different types of sheep, see one shorn and a dog trial - really interesting and the presenter was really passionate and entertaining. Then we went across the road to do our next optional: Zorbing. I did a wet zorb down the zig-zag track and this was $NZ44, and sooooo much fun! Again about 75% of the group did this optional, and i didn't speak to anyone who wished they had'nt done it. I rate this optional 7/10. Then we headed into Rotorua for a bus tour, then we dropped off anyone not doing the Luging or nature walk in the town. I did the Luging and gondola ride for $NZ32 - you get a trip up and down in a gondola and 2 luge rides. I was a bit hesitant about doing this optional, but i am glad i did as it was a great adrenaline rush and there was a beautiful view of the area. I would rate this optional 8/10. The hotel we stayed at was nice, and very close to the water but the rooms were a bit hot and at least in my room one person had to sleep on a camp bed (but the other two of us got double beds). That night i believe everyone opted to do the Hangi and Concert optional at the hotel for $NZ49 ($AU40) which was a great meal (sooo much food available) and a real eye opener into the Maori culture. It was fun trying the Maori poi dance and watching the guys try to do the Haka. I would rate this optional: 8/10 Then at least half of the group headed to the Polynesian Spas next door for an hour or so $NZ20 ($AU16) where we enjoyed soaking in really hot thermal mineral pools. I would rate this optional 8/10 as well.

The next day saw us travel only 45min to TAUPO (after our broken down bus decided to work again). Our first stop was at Huka Falls which was spectacular! Then those of us doing the Rock n Ropes optional were dropped off. This optional was $NZ65 for 3 hrs and about 75% of the group did it, even those of us that werent great with heights. Personally I would rate this optional 9/10. Afterwards most people headed into town but 6 of us did the Huka Jet (most of us were only doing the northern island so we wouldnt get a chance to do it in queenstown) which was great fun. You got to go really really close to the Huka Falls and scream your lungs out as the driver did 360 degree turns! This was $NZ90 and i would rate it 9/10. That night everyone went on a themed cruise on beautiful Lake Taupo which included a drink, dinner (tortillas) and a great night out. It was $NZ65 and was 100% worth it. I say this even though i managed to end up in Taupo hospital at midnight-->3am with a broken ankle having fallen down stairs at Element bar afterwards. This was devastating as i am now facing surgery and 4 months off exercise etc BUT i was sooo impressed and thankful for my contiki group and tour manager and driver. The group carried me to a couch and made sure i was okay (obviously i wasnt as my ankle had become a very painful cankle) and organised an ambulance. Whilst the tour driver (Dave) and tour manager (Brendon) took turns looking after me at the hospital - and may i say that i was very impressed with them that night and the day after. A bonus was that the hospital stuff (including an xray - souvernir!) was FREE - except for a $40 deposit on the crutches that the tour manager would return later.

The next day we did the 5/6hr trip to Wellington, which was a long time in a bus (esp with a sore ankle) but the scenery made it bearable. We travelled through planted forest, desert, past the lake and volcanoes, through cute towns, farmland and wellington city. The trip included a bus tour of wellington and stops in two towns. I officially finished the tour when we got to the hotel at 4ish, but i stayed at the same hotel and it was very nice and pretty well located in down town wellington (and right across from a taxi rank which was great for me!). However, the receptionists werent great with giving directions to pharmacys etc so i wasnt happy when i ended up having to hobble 1km back to the hotel after taxing it to the place only to find there wasnt one anywhere near and nowhere to get another taxi (as there were all one way roads with clearways). That night about 90% of the group went out to Blend bar/restaurant which was a trendy place close by and it was about $NZ30 for a free drink, 3 course meal and party. I wish i had been able to dance and drink like everyone else (and not leave at 1030 due to a 6am plane flight the next morning), but i am still glad i went and it was 100% worth it.

So yeh then i woke up at 345 to get to the airport etc and my trip came to an end! Okay, I know it seems like i have rated everything really highly but the fact is that i had an awesome time and there wasnt an optional that i regret doing. The optionals you do are what make your trip. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone wanting to get away for just a week or so, as you get a great experience of NZ and there is always something to do!

Hope this is helpful Smiler
  • 20 Feb 2009 ptooma said

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    Well written review and brings back memories. Black Water, Catamaran, Quad biking, Zorbing, Hangi concert and awesome food, etc. Thanks for contributing. You ought to do the Scenic Southern now. Guess you didn’t partake too much in the table top dancing at Blend – kinda hard to do that w/ a busted ankle. I know the feeling – busted a rib 1 wk before Greek Island Hopping and still had a spectacular time. All part of he adventure.

    - Vic

  • 31 Mar 2009 Kahla - Explorer1111812 said

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    you have made me so so excited to do this trip now my boyfriend and i are doing the northern highlights starting christchurch on the 29.06.09.
    i am so excited. the only thing i am worried about is that it will be winter and will not enjoy the rafting.

    i can not wait 89 days..
    thanks for sharing your experience even though you got hurt..

  • 13 Apr 2009 jacqui said

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    You’ll have such a great time even if it is winter!! My friend went in winter 2007, and she said it wasn’t a problem. Also, I wouldnt be too concerned about the rafting as yes it was freezing in summer but reality is that it wont get much colder and the wetsuits they give you work very well and the experience numbs your mind to the cold!
    Anyway, i hope you have the time of your life and if you have any more questions my email is jacskii@gmail.com Smiler<!--graemlin::)-->

  • 15 Apr 2009 ashcurnow said

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    haa haa, yeah. i did the grand explorer in march 09, and it was sweet as Smiler<!--graemlin::)--> and i think i had the same driver – dave, the sh*tstirring aussie?? lol, he’s a champ at heart, really.

    hmm… i would have put the zorb at 9/10… i was just peeved that at the time my stinking travelex card crapped out and i couldn’t get the sweet orange/gray souveneir top Frowner<!--graemlin::(--> but the rest was sweet!!

  • 8 Jun 2009 JeffL said

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    Do you happen to remember the schedule for things? Like what time you left for things?

  • 9 Jun 2009 jacqui said

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    Day 1: met at about 11am to leave by midday
    Day 2: dolphin cruise left at about 8-830am (but it was only around the corner – pretty early after a massive night though…) and got back at 330-4ish
    Day 3: most painful wake up of the trip – left at 7-730ish so everyone slept on the bus – the black water rafting was at about 3 or 4 depending on what group you were in
    Day 4: left at 830ish. Zorbing was at about 1130 and you went straight to luging
    Day 5: left at 9-930 Smiler<!--graemlin::)--> Rock and ropes was 11-1ish and then the boat was 130-230 then the cruise left at 6ish
    Day 5: 830-9 i think… this part of the trip is a bit fuzzy time wise

    Hope that helps Smiler<!--graemlin::)-->

  • 11 Jun 2009 JeffL said

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    Thanks, it does. I csn’t wait to go in August.

  • 11 Jun 2009 JeffL said

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    Curious about the Bay of Islands, did you get to see the Waitangi Treaty Grounds? I want to learn about Maori/NZ history.

  • 14 Jun 2009 jacqui said

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    We saw it from a distance in the bus (its pretty close by to the town centre), but we didn’t get to go there. However, you get enough free time on the first afternoon to go there if you would like to Smiler<!--graemlin::)--> My tour leader said it was very interesting and informative – but i dont think anyone on our tour went, because it was pouring rain that afternoon! FYI from memory it costs a small amount to enter the grounds Smiler<!--graemlin::)-->

  • 24 Jun 2009 Susanne said

    Susanne

    Hiya

    My sister and I are doing this tour on the 20 October and I was just wondering what hotel you finished at in Wellington as I need to check us in for an extra night before we invade my friend’s house for the rest of our stay in NZ.

    Sounds like you had a fab time and thanks for the info in the pharmacy in NZ…I will remember to pack painkillers and bandages as I am a little accident prone lol!

  • 30 Jun 2009 Blue Sky Chick said

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    Thank you for your awesome review. My sister and i are doing the tour end of july and i am the kinda of person that tries to research everything before hand so this was great!
    Hope you ankle is on the mend Smiler<!--graemlin::)-->

  • 29 Sep 2009 Beth said

    Beth

    I’m doing the same tour in January and can not wait! Your review has been so helpful and has just got me even more excited about going! It has also provided handy hints like the whole pharmacy issue. Thank you!

  • 12 Sep 2010 Samantha said

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    Thanks for such a detailed review! I’ve been considering doing this one as a minibreak but after reading this I’m sold Smiler<!--graemlin::)-->

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