Hello all, I am back with another exciting tale of travels and adventures. I had a bunch of days off around Easter and went on a bus trip to New Zealand’s East Cape, one of the most remote parts of the country. This trip involved hungry fish, lots of superlatives, and 800 stairs. So buckle up and get ready for my recap!
Good Friday started the weekend off better than good, it was great! There’s another new au pair in my town who just arrived and went with me on this trip. Her name is Ulrikke and, like the other two au pairs in the area, is Danish! I’ve learned a lot about Denmark and can safely say it sounds like the coolest country ever. Ulrikke and I drove down to Rotorua, where the bus would depart on Saturday morning. Rotorua is the “Geothermal Capital of New Zealand” and the entire town smells like rotten eggs. Not my favourite thing in the world. Rotorua is also the adventure hotspot of the North Island with tons of adrenaline seeking activities. Unfortunately these were all booked up by the time we arrived, but we had a better plan. An afternoon, sans children, at the Polynesian Spa. It was absolutely lovely. A natural mineral spa overlooking the lake with a yummy smoothie bar. I can’t remember the last time I felt so zen. After the spa we went into the city for dinner with one of Ulrikke’s friends from au pair orientation who lives in the area. Then off to bed before our trip departed.
We did our East Cape bus tour through Stray, one of the big backpacker bus tours in the country. Stray is a hop on, hop off backpacker bus that runs through all of New Zealand. I’ll actually be using them to see the South Island in a few months. Most people use Stray to see the whole country in one go, but we booked just the three day East Cape Trip. We had an enthusiastic driver/guide and lots of cool travelers to chat to on board.
First stop out of Rotorua was a town called Whakatane (pronounced fuk-a-tani. Yes I giggled every time. Yes I am immature). We mostly stopped here to do a grocery run for the next few days. Pasta and rice are the staples in a poor traveler’s diet. This area of New Zealand is very remote and has a high Maori population. It was one of the first places people arrived in New Zealand. We got to see a statue of a Maori lady on a rock who rescued a bunch of canoes full of the tribes women and children. Pretty badass. We also had a great picnic lunch with stunning views. Then we were off to Te Kaha, where we were staying for the night. Stayed in backpacker accommodations right on the beach and got to watch a beautiful sunset.
Easter Sunday started early because we had a lot to do. Our bus driver gave us all plenty of Easter chocolates though! We drove along the stunning rugged coastline and drove on what I believe to be the narrowest, most dangerous road on the North Island to get to New Zealand’s most Easternly lighthouse. We climbed 800 grueling steps to get to it, and the views at the top were pretty special. Then we went to one of the coolest churches I’ve ever seen. It was a Maori church full of ornate carvings and weaving. Next we went to the “Worlds Longest Concrete Wharf” which is 660m in length. Not to be confused with the world’s largest wharf, largest pier, or longest dock. Those are all in other places. After that we headed to Tatapouri where we would stay for the next night. In Tatapouri I got to take part in the wild stingray feeding they have there. I was all for petting the stingrays until I encountered the king fish. These fish come and eat during the stingray feeding too and will bite your fingers if you stick them in. The guides showed us the correct way to put your fist in the water, then flatten it so that you could pet the rays without getting bitten. Well the guy next to me went to do that and the king fish took his entire fist in his mouth and drew blood. Even the guides were shocked and had never seen that before. I decided not to put my hands near the water anymore. We spent Sunday night chilled by the beach again, chatting with everyone on the bus.
Monday began very, very early to see the sunrise. The East Cape of New Zealand is the first place to see the sunrise in the entire world, so obviously you have to get up and see that! Especially when we got to go back to bed for a while after. When we left Tatapouri we went onto Gisborne, probably the biggest town on the East Cape. Mostly people stay here when they visit the east, but Stray buses have an emphasis on “getting off the beaten track” so we only came here for the morning. It was pretty rainy, and it was a normal town. Not much to report. After that we began the drive back home through a spectacular national park. The scenery out in the east is essentially untouched since before the Jurassic Period. New Zealand broke away from Pangaea before any complex life forms evolved, which is why you won’t find any dinosaur bones, and why NZ’s only native mammal is a bat. The East Cape is so remote that the plant life has been perfectly preserved. I didn’t get too many photos because we were on a bus, but the park was stunning. I keep using that word, but there’s no other way to describe it! We made our way back to Rotorua where I had an excellent burger for dinner and Ulrikke and I fell right asleep, exhausted.
Bonus day off! It’s school holidays here and my host mum took Tuesday off work to do stuff with the kids, so I got an extra day in Rotorua. Today was the adventure day and Ulrikke and I went to Skyline Rotorua. It’s a big adventure park at the top of a mountain with beautiful views of Rotorua and the lake. We go to go luging (go-karting down a mountain) and zip lining, with many scenic chairlifts back up the mountain. After that we drove back home and I slept for the rest of Tuesday. Except for when I had to wake up at midnight to make a call to the US because of tax day. Adulting isn’t always fun.
Overall it was a brilliant trip, and a great way to spend some time off. I’m really glad I did the bus tour because I really don’t like driving here in New Zealand. Well I don’t like driving narrow, steep, twisty roads, which is all the East Cape consists of. It was great to be able to look out the window and take it all in. I don’t have too many photos of the coastline or forrests because it was hard to get good shots out of a moving bus, but trust me, it was stunning! Next up is two weeks of school holdidays, which means long days with both boys. Wish me luck!