Darwin & The Top End

Whilst it is often overlooked by travellers in favour of the East Coast backpacker pilgrimage, the Top End of Australia's Northern Territory is not a destination to miss. The scorched landscape is peppered with swimming holes and waterfalls, infused with Aboriginal culture, and features some of the best wildlife experiences in the country. It's the perfect place to get off-road and experience the real “outback” Australia, exploring the wilderness and sleeping under the stars.

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Before getting out into the wilderness though, Darwin, the Northern Territory's capital and main access point, is well worth taking time to appreciate with a stroll along the waterfront, and an ice cold beer at a water’s edge bar on the scenic Cullen Bay Marina. On Thursday and Sunday nights the Mindil beach market indicates Darwin's status as a genuine cultural melting pot, with authentic street food from all corners of the world – Greek pastries and the Vietnamese spring rolls among the tastiest – enjoyed all the more thanks to the picture perfect sunset.

For something a bit different, try exploring the city on a Segway tour. The 55 acre botanical gardens have Boabs, Cycads, and hundreds of other tropical and monsoon rainforest plants on display, and East Point and the Casuarina Coastal reserve provide additional opportunities for those wanting to get off road.

For the best backpacker accommodation in Darwin, head to Mitchell Street, and check into the Youth Shack if you’re looking for an exciting party hostel, or Chilli’s for a more easy-going vibe. Both are great choices, close to all the action, only a couple of doors down from each other, and you’re able to use the facilities in both, as they're owned by the same person! If you’re in Oz for the long haul then the Job Shack, based at the Youth Shack, offers fantastic support for backpackers on the working holiday visa – one hostel resident had even picked up an interview on the day he arrived!

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Foodies should head down to Chow! on the waterfront, which serves exceptional Asian Fusion cuisine (another nod to Darwin’s multicultural heritage), and Monsoon’s has some great Aussie pub grub – including schnitzel larger than your face – and also offers the best party in Darwin, so stick around for a beer or two. Or more. If you’re feeling a bit tender the following morning then Alley Cats, just next to the Youth Shack, has exceptional coffee and serves some wonderful breakfasts and pastries.

The Tiwi Islands, Bathurst and Melville, are a couple of hours’ boat ride from Darwin and home to some world-class Aboriginal artists, several aboriginal museums and art galleries, and provide opportunities to create you own art print, take part in a traditional welcome ceremony, and enjoy some tea and damper for breakfast. Something a little bit different for the culture seekers!

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Once you venture out of Darwin in to the vast national parks, the Northern Territory really starts to shine as a destination. Kakadu spans an area the size of Wales, and is absolutely stunning. Pack your swimming kit and take a dunk in some spectacular swimming holes, waterfalls, and natural infinity pools at sites like Gunlom and Maguk. Bliss! Wildlife cruises on the Yellow Water Billabong give you a chance to see the impressive buffalo, some wonderful birdlife including Jabiru, sea eagles, and magpie geese, and bring you up close and personal with the Northern Territory’s most famous residents – the esturine, or saltwater crocodile. The closest thing the planet has to a modern day dinosaur is incredible to see, and this isn’t a “stay glued to your binoculars and hope to catch a glimpse” kind of excursion, you will definitely see some crocs, and they’re more than happy cruising along a few metres from the boat. The world’s biggest reptile is not camera shy in the slightest, photo opportunities will abound. On a side note, if anyone’s panicking about the quick transition here from swimming to crocodiles, the park rangers regularly sweep the swimming holes for crocodiles, so you’re safe, don’t worry!

The national parks also provide a wonderful insight into aboriginal history and culture. The art sites at Nourlangie Rock and Ubirr feature rock paintings that have lasted hundreds, sometimes thousands of years, and climbing to the top of Ubirr gives incredible views for miles across the plains – think the opening scene of the Lion King and you’re getting the idea! The award winning Top Didj Cultural Experience is a must visit just outside of Katherine - learn from the top Aboriginal artist Manuel Pamkal, about the significance of his painting style, how Aboriginals lived off the land, do your own traditional painting under his guidance, and even throw some spears.

The other national parks in the Top End can't match Kakadu for size, but hold their own in terms of natural beauty. Wangi Falls and Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park are great swimming spots, and both close enough for a day trip from Darwin. Nitmiluk National Park features the breathtaking Katherine Gorge, best experienced by kayak, with plenty of little beaches and outcrops where you can pull up on your way to enjoy swimming at different spots, or just chill out in the sun.

A few final notes extolling the virtues of the Northern Territory, the first being that it isn’t as far away as you might think! Australia is a vast country, and a quick glance at world map confirms that Darwin is as close to Singapore as it is to Sydney and Melbourne, making it about 5 or 6 hours closer to the UK, and is only 2 hours from Bali, making it a feasible add-on for a trip to South East Asia. It's also worth mentioning not to worry about the seasons! As the top end has a tropical climate, you will hear “wet season” and “dry season” thrown about – yes, the wet season is hotter and you do have the rain, but the rain will be for a short period each day, not continuous, and this brings with it other advantages. You will hear locals refer to the “green season” as much as the wet season because of the vibrant effect it will have on the landscape, and it also means that the ever-spectacular waterfalls will be in full flow! It’s worth the extra heat. If you’re planning a trip down under, don’t leave out the top end, it’s full of amazing things to do and see – the incredible landscapes, scenery, and wildlife, cultural experiences, great food, and plenty of opportunity to explore the outdoors all combine to make a top class travel destination.

Written by Stuart Pares: Fellow Travel Buddy & Explorer

Rotorua - New Zealand

Otherwise known as the Sulphur City, Rotorua is one of the most geothermal active towns in New Zealand. With it's bubbling mud pools, hot springs and geysers, it's a destination not to be missed while exploring the North Island! Of course, if you ever paid attention in your science lessons at school, you'll know that sulphur has quite a distinctive smell... Don't let it put you off though, the culture that can be found here along with soaking your worries away in the hot springs is certainly worth it. 

Don't be concerned by the steam coming out of the ground here, even though it is literally coming out of the storm drains at times -  it is seriously geothermal galore! Within a few minutes walk from our hostel were bubbling mud pools and geysers shooting up steam and scalding water up into the air. You know that scene from Ice Age where the Dodo's dance around with the watermelons (I didn't get this part either) but then become extinct because of the boiling water shooting them into the sky? Pretty much what it looks like here, minus the death of course. 

The local Mauri name for the town is Whangapipiro which essentially translates to 'evil smelling place' - once again, thank the sulphur. As with all of New Zealand, there certainly is a Mauri presence here and it's so awesome that they're still in touch with their traditional roots despite all the European settlers history. One of the best activities to try here is the cultural experience evening so whack it into your diary. Tamaki Maori Village is a reconstruction based on a 1600s Mauri settlement and is full of a traditional dinner and an interactive evening experiencing this ancient culture. 

There's lots to do here other than soaking away in a natural hot tub and exploring traditional villages, especially with Hobbiton only a short drive away! You've got a few shops, stunning hikes and trail walks around the geothermal features along with wildlife sanctuaries to see kiwi birds. Since their habitat is decreasing, so is there popular so it's increasingly hard to see them in the wild, this is really the only place to see them without days of searching. Not as wonderful as seeing them out in their natural home of course, but if you're going to New Zealand it's worth seeing the bird the nation is nicknamed after.

Other awesome things to try if you're slightly more of an adrenaline junkie would be heading over to zorb Rotorua to race down in huge plastic bubbles or to skyline Rotorua luge to speed down on a go-kart / toboggan hybrid! Also, with some serious rapids nearby Rotorua is a great place to try some white water rafting on the Kaituna River. With a 7m drop over one of the falls, you're sure in for a ride!

Of course, the true highlight of the area is the geothermal activity going on here and the perfect place to see it is Waitotapu where water turns to orange, and geysers are formed in the middle of lakes. Found south of Rotorua, it's the perfect day trip! Tread carefully though, this ground is sacred to the Mauri people and is very much alive. 

Below I’ve outlined a list of some of the things you can do in the area while staying here to help you decide how to spend your time best.

Nature Walks - $ FREE

Tamaki Village Tours Hangi & Concert - $105

Explore Picturesque Tairua - $ FREE

Zorbing - $45

Agrodome Farm Show - $29

Gondola Skyline - $25

Luging - $33

Kaitiaki White Water Rafting - $95

Trip to Hobbiton - $110

Te Puia Gate Entry - $47

Soak in a Hot Spring - $0-$20

Meander through Kuirau Thermal Park - £0-£8


Waitomo - New Zealand

Our journey to Waitomo consisted of two wonderful stops - Karangahake Scenic Reserve in Waihi and Paeroa. You may want a torch for the first one, as this short walk takes you through the old mining tunnels! Hugging the edge of the gorge with a raging river below we followed the tracks over two swinging bridges until reaching the tunnels, all slowly creeping through the darkness until our eyes had adjusted. Looking up, the reason for our visit here became clear - as we walked very quietly, the roof of the tunnels started to light up turning into a sea of little illuminated dots. Hundreds of glow worms lit up to say hello and it is one of those moments that I won’t forget, and this was only a hint of what was to come with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company a few days later.

I won't lie, heading into a mine is a little creepy especially when your torch runs out of battery after the first two minutes...

I won't lie, heading into a mine is a little creepy especially when your torch runs out of battery after the first two minutes...

From here, we meandered along the road to the small town of Paeroa! This is where the New Zealand famed drink lemon and paeroa, also known as L&P, was ‘invented’. The locals from the town used to gather the naturally carbonated mineral water from a spring in the town, then mix it with lemon juice making a deliciously sweet beverage for hot days after work. Now owned by Coca Cola, it’s slogan of ‘World Famous in New Zealand’ is a slight inside joke that the Kiwi’s use to refer to anything that is renowned in the country, but less well known anywhere outside of the boarders. However, this has slightly changed in recent years with the brand being sold in certain Australian supermarkets and even in the Gourmet Burger Kitchen restaurant chain based in the UK. I absolutely love it so if you can give it a try, buy yourself a bottle here or just take a picture in front of the giant one!

After our stops along the way we made it past Mount Te Aroha, the mountain of love, and finally arriving in Waitomo,the next stop on this adventure. Waitomo is famed for it’s extensive cave systems in the north of the country and name literally translates to Water Cave. While there may not be a lot to do above ground, there sure are a huge range of adventure activities below it! The limestone caves are hidden below rolling hills and beautiful countryside, so if you hadn’t read up on the area you may not know the significance.

We stayed in a beautiful lodge / hostel called the Kiwi Paka and our base for a couple of days. It was probably one of favourite places to stay in the country simply because it was slightly different, being nestled into the one of the hills complete with a dorm lodge, massive kitchen and a lot of outdoor seating for warm summer days. There’s even a restaurant here which serves some fairly awesome mango smoothies if you’re a fan of the fruiter things in life like me.

Our first day here happened to be Pancake day so as you can imagine, a group of backpackers trying to make enough pancakes for everyone was a little messy! Safe to say the results were delicious and thoroughly enjoyed, getting us prepared for a nice walk in the countryside. This was much more relaxed than day two of course, which involved an exciting trip down the road and then underground…

Black Water Rafting was something I had never heard of before so of course something I had to try - it’s essentially heading underground to journey through cave river systems in rubber rings and heavy duty safety gear. For someone who doesn’t really like to spend extended time under the earth, it was something that made me a little wary but amazing fun nonetheless. All I can do is thank the team at the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company and advise you guys to give it a try when you’re out there. Give this a read to find out more about my experience.

For a full list of activities I can recommend while staying in Waitomo to suit all budgets, have a little read below! Keep in mind that everything with a * are things you can only do here and no-where else on this trip (that I know of) so are must hit activites. You can also get a discount on most of these if travelling with Kiwi Experience too, just book through your driver!

Black Water Rafting*

        Black Odyssey* - $175

        Black Abyss* - $220

        Black Labyrinth* - $119

        Waitomo Glowworm Caves* - $48

        Ruakuri Cave* - $67

Relax in the Countryside - Free!

Waitomo to Ruakuri Walk (2.5 hours)* - Free!

Ruakuri Reserve Loop Walk* - Free!

Waitomo Discovery Centre* - Range of Prices & Activities

Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park (See Kiwi Birds!) - $24

This is, to most people's surprise, one of my favourite places in the north island so I’d really recommend you visit. Even if the idea of diving deep under the ground into the cave systems of New Zealand isn’t quite your cup of tea, the scenery is perfect and a great break up stop before reaching Rotura. You can even visit Hobbiton on your way down there too!

Hot Water Beach - New Zealand

After Paihia and the Bay of Islands - it was time to hop back to Auckland, crash for the night and get ready to start heading south. Our first stop? Hot Water Beach!

Hot Water Beach is found on the east coast of the north island and is a couple of hours away from Auckland. With stunning scenery, the road to the Coromandel Peninsula flew by until we arrived at nearby town Tairua to stock up on BBQ supplies for the evening! Tairua was once the site of a Maori Pa, or fortified village to you and me. With Mount Paku available for use as a viewpoint, you can see why they would chose this position.

The Coromandel Peninsula is home to some of the best secluded beaches in New Zealand and untouched natural forests so a must visit for any nature lover! You can hit the coastal path all the way to Cathedral Cove for a dip on a sunny day, and if you decide on the way you’ve had enough there are a number of other secluded beaches to stop at that are just as beautiful! It’s only 45 minutes to the Cove and isn’t too strenuous with wonderful sightseeing platforms along the way for some beautiful snaps to pop in your scrap books. Surrounded by white sands and clear waters at the end of your walk, I can promise you it is 100% worth the walk and you get to see the natural archway in the rock too which can only be a bonus.

If you’ve got time a highly recommended trip for avid hikers is to head to the Pinnacles Hut for a two day trek, I haven’t experienced this personally but the feedback I got from some who did made it sound incredible. Probably one to do in the summer though as it can’t be much fun in the rain… You’ve also go Hahei beach to visit which marks the start of the Hahei Marine reserve. As the area is protected, you’re almost guaranteed to see some beautiful wildlife from marine birds, dolphins and even orcas if you’re lucky! There are a number of kayak tours to get you close to the action here so if you’re a fan perhaps sign up if you’re a fan as well as lots of other cool adventures such as offshore islands and sea caves.

Big Thanks to Jub from  Tiki Touring Kiwi  for this image of Hot Water Beach in the daylight!

Big Thanks to Jub from Tiki Touring Kiwi for this image of Hot Water Beach in the daylight!

Hot Water Beach itself is actually voted by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 beaches IN THE WORLD - now that’s a pretty accomplished beach don’t you think? All you need a is a shoval (you can borrow one from most of the nearby campsites), dig yourself a nice hole in the ground and get ready to soak in the hot water that rises up through the sand from the geothermal spring below. With almost 700,000 visitors a year, I did think it would be crowded but I was pleasantly surprised. Make sure you time your visit right though, your ability to build you sandy hot tub depends on the tides as the springs will be covered by the sea if the tide is too high.

I can highly recommend the nearby Hot Water Beach Holiday Park as a place to stay, with everything from dorm beds in purpose build huts to camping sites and spots to park your camper. You’ll also find some awesome BBQs here to cook your dinner on, and a fish and chip shack to suit all tastes while you sit back and watch the sunset after your dream day in the surf. Below I’ve outlined a list of some of the things you can do in the area while staying here to help you decide how to spend your time best.

Nature Walks - $ FREE

Pinnacles Hut Trek - $15

Explore Picturesque Tairua - $ FREE

Maori History & Culture - $ FREE (just ask the locals)

Be a Beach Bum - $ FREE (minus that $2 ice cream…)

Cathedral Cove Coastal Walk - $ FREE

Swim with the Fishes - $ FREE

Hot Water Beach Sand Tub Soak - $ FREE

Surfing - $30/Day Board Hire

Paddle Boarding - $40 for 2 hours

Surf Lessons - $75 for 2 hours

Cathedral Cove Kayaking - $95

Hahei Explorer - $70

Glass Bottom Boat Tour - $90

Once again, you’re going to want to remember to whack on a lot of sun cream like in Paihia  to prevent lobstering but most of all you’re going to have a lot of fun! Have your comfortable shoes ready for a little walking but use your time here to relax at this must hit destination!

Bay of Islands & Cape Reinga - New Zealand

So this day trip is completely jam packed, and you will come back with your mind blown by how much you’ve seen in a such short space of time. It’s an early start, so for me that meant a trip straight to the nearest place that could offer coffee to go at a moments notice before hopping onto the ‘magic’ bus for our sojourn to the most northerly point! Now I say magic bus, because it’s a full on coach but has been modified to zoom along the sandy beach without sinking, and we even drove up a shallow river (and I mean super shallow but there were reeds so it counts right?) You will reach the most northerly point of New Zealand, and if you’ve read about Paihia you’ll know that the North is highly sacred to the Maori culture. Be prepared to really feel the spiritual aspects at certain places you visit during the day, it really is so peaceful and this includes Puketi Kauri Forest.

Some of the trees in the Puketi Kauri Forest are over 1000 years old, so that’s a good long life for them. To put that in perspective, they started growing 492 BEFORE America was ‘discovered’ by Europeans. We were able to walk around via a forest walk which was, apparently, built for the Queen who visited years prior! True or not, it helped to get us up close to these massive trees which was an experience in itself, as well as getting to see the fern used on the New Zealand flag in the flesh - pretty cool hey? These trees were built into war canoes by the Maori people to get them from place to place or battle to battle. It’s said that early european settlers saw over 50 canoes full of warriors rowing through the bay in Paihia - pretty incredible!

After giving us some time to hug a few trees (who doesn’t love doing that?), it’s was back on the bus towards our next stop, the bakery. You will find that the Kiwis absolutely love their bakeries and there will always be one nearby to grab a snack in. Another coffee down for me and a pie to go for lunch later on before zooming towards the main event, Cape Reinga.

The Cape consists of a short walk from the carpark and along the top of the coast so make sure you have some comfortable shoes on. The view will really take your breath away and there is so much to see from the top of the cliffs. Make sure you check out the lighthouse, it is absolutely charming and next to you’ll also find a rather long distance signpost telling you how far to some of the major cities of the world. For some people it tells them how far away they are from home, but to me it just shows me how far I am from my next adventure! From the viewpoint you’ll also get to see a pretty awesome phenomenon - the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meeting so there really is a lot to take in here.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the very north of New Zealand is a highly spiritual place for the Maori people and Cape Reinga is no except. It is believed that the spirit of the fallen Maori passes from the land to the other world here. This happens as the spirit travels through a tapu Pohutukawa tree that is growing from the cliff as they return to Hawaiki, their traditional homeland and the underworld. You may not believe in the afterlife, but I promise that you will feel something as you walk around this sacred area. Treat it with respect is my only plea, the Maori are a wise and highly respected people throughout both islands and it would be wise to do the same.

I hate to break it to you also, but also I mentioned above that this is the most northerly point of New Zealand I’m afraid I was telling you a little white lie. While many people consider it to be, if we get technical about it you can find out that there are two other spots ever so slightly closer to the equator that are still connected to the mainland. Cape Maria van Diemen is slightly to the west of Reinga, and North Cape's Surville Cliffs which are 30km east are both ever so slightly more northerly! But I’m pretty sure you can still tell people you have hit the top of New Zealand guilt free as it’s reallllllly not much in it distance wise!

Following on from our stop, it was once again back on the bus (we did this a lot if you haven’t already gathered) and went full steam ahead to our next destination and lunch stop Tapotupotu Bay. This was a great place for a munch and a chance to take in some more fresh seaside air while snacking away on our lunchables from the bakery. We also had a chance for a dunk in the ocean with some bodyboards and tag rugby on the beach before it was time to go. You might like to take some bug spray for this as the sandflies are big fans of bare feet and will give you a few nasty bites if given have the chance!

After a short drive, we arrived at Te Paki Stream (the ‘river’ mentioned earlier on) and our coach drove us along until we arrived at the mammoth sand dunes here. In fact, these are actually some of the largest in the country which you would think is the best thing ever, but just try climbing them with you board! No dune buggy available it was follow the man in front of you, if you stand in someone else’s foot falls it makes it marginally easier. I would recommend ditching your shoes on the bus at this point as flipflops hold you down and trainers become sand boxes. Once we made it to the top it was two at a time to zoom down the slopes and, if you were lucky and gained enough speed, under the bus and into the stream behind!

My number one tip for sandboarding? Make sure you get out the way pretty fast. As I was leaving the slope I didn’t move fast enough and was hit by another fellow speed demon causing me to wipe out quite spectacularly and end in a friction burn which still haunts my ankle as a scar. You also might want to try building yourselves a tiny jump at the end of the slope to aim for, and when I say tiny I mean it. You do not need something big to fling you into the air going at the speeds you end up at sandboarding from XXXX high!

Once we had all had our fill of adrenaline to wake us up it was time to drive along the 90 mile beach! This was a real highlight for me also as it was just hilarious to think we were driving along a beach and through the ocean surf, at some speed, in a massive bus. We had a few stops along the way for some cracking photo opportunities, and it was a great way to get an everlasting snap of me and some of my new best friends. It’s really isolated up here, and there were only a few other tourists up here so if you’re an aspiring photographer you may enjoy getting a few snaps.

Officially a state highway, the beach’s name is actually a lie. Only 55 miles long in reality it still is long enough to enough the scenery, and to see why someone actually thought it was 90 miles long when walking it on foot. Its past has also included being one of the first runway for airmail delivery between Australia and New Zealand which is pretty cool as now only 3 places remain where you can take off from a beach (one being Fraser Island in Australia).

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An ancient art of the north is being able to carve the Kauri tree (the one I hugged earlier in the day and mentioned that the Maori used to build massive canoes), and this skill has been passed down for years. As the tree is fairly rare now, you have to obtain special licenses to be able to use carve the wood. Many Kauri forests were replaced with pine as it grew much faster for the use of the wood, but the Kiwis are working tirelessly to ensure that the Kauri forests fill the north once more. On this trip, you are able to swing by the Ancient Kauri Kingdom, a centre that specialises in carving the trees into incredible feature pieces. While everyone else was grabbing tea and cake in the cafe, myself and a couple new friends just spent the whole time playing in a hollowed out tree. Someone had literally build a staircase inside a tree like something from a dream treehouse of something - when I win my millions that is going to be my first purchase to install into my house I can tell you. Unfortunately, this is the kinda cash required to buy an item of substance here, however it’s worth looking around and seeing just how skilled some people are and realising how skilled you will never be…

The final point on our adventure was to stop off for fish and chips, because what kind of day by the seaside would it be without it?! As a Brit, I am very particular about my fish and chips and 99% of countries around the world see unable to do it justice. However, the Kiwi’s? They get a 10 out of 10. I do feel that they need to stop with all this rugby world cup thing though and try a fish & chips world championships for something because it would make for much better television for the English considering the rankings this year…

On our return to Paihia I can safely say I was slightly more cultured and definitely exhausted after our day. It really is a must do activity while staying up north and if hopping on a tour isn’t your cup of tea it’s just as easy in a hire car to hit all the main spots, just don’t drive down that stream unless you have a no excess insurance policy...

Paihia - New Zealand

Our journey from Auckland to Paihia was the start of our 5 week trip with the world famed Kiwi Experience! Of course, we were late getting to the bus so myself and travel buddy Jess had to sit seperately (school bus horrors flashing back) but this was actually a blessing in disguise. With a salute to the Auckland Harbour bridge as we drove over it, we headed to the North!

As with everything in the Southern Hemisphere, the further North you go the warmer the climate and, with that comes lush forests, clear waters and sandy beaches ready for us to tan on. You will notice here that Maori culture is rich all over New Zealand, but I really felt the history here. We had a quick stop at Whangarei, which if you have time you should explore - I hear there is some awesome diving available. In fact, Poor Knights Islands off the coast has been listed many times as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world! So basically - if you have an urge to submerge get your butt down here.

We crashed at the Pipi Patch, one of the hostels here and definitely a great place to crash - who can complain when there’s an all you can eat BBQ for just $5? It’s also home to a bar that seemed pretty popular with the locals so you’re going to get to meet some real Kiwis to teach you their ways! It’s also got a pool, and is less than a 5 minute walk to the beach with an ice cream in hand.

As I mentioned, when you head north the weather generally gets better here, and we enjoyed sunshine and swimming dips in the ocean despite it being March! The bad news though? Because the Ozone layer is so depleted above New Zealand, the sun's rays are extra strong and so extra damaging. All this sciencey stuff I don’t understand makes it happen, but I hear it’s to do with us using too many aerosols or something (thanks to BuzzFeed for that nugget of information!) What this means for you though is that you need to be extra liberal with the sun cream, especially if you are pale skinned, blessed with ginger hair or just Irish who tend to embody both of these traits. The Kiwis stock extra strong suncream in all shops as a lot of our Northern Hemisphere equivalents don’t do the trick, if you burn easy you may want to buy some out here.

So other than eat ice creams & BBQs while lying on or near a beach, what else is there to do in Paihia you ask? SO MUCH! You will not get enough time here, if you’re a beach bum and activities include my following fabulous list. Bare in mind that everything with a * are things you can only do here and no-where else on this trip (that I know of) so are must hit activites. You can also get a discount on most of these if travelling with Kiwi Experience too, just book through your driver!

Nature Walks - $ FREE

Hire a Bike - $15 for two hours

Maori History & Culture - $ FREE (just ask the locals)

Be a Beach Bum - $ FREE (minus that $2 ice cream…)

Bay of Islands & Cape Reinga Tour* - $124

Kayak Tours - $85 for a half day

Snorkelling - $15 kit hire

Sailing - $100/boat for half day

Skydive (as listed in Top 5 Place to Skydive New Zealand) - $399

Paddle Board - $40 for two hours

Kayak Solo - $20 for two hours

Dolphin Swim - $115

Deep Sea Fishing - $90

Horse Trekking - $95 for two hours

Diving - $ Provided on Request

All these prices are in NZD which work out at awesome value for the experiences you’ll get! Definately make sure you hit up the Cape Reinga trip while you’re here - it’s a must do for those of you who would like to stand on the most northerly and southerly points of New Zealand, you get to see the point where an ocean & sea join then end with an explore of the ancient Kauri forests.

The Kauri tree is very important to the Maori history as this is what they would build their war canoes out of. Built from only one Kauri or Totara tree, these canoes would be up to 25m long and full to the brim of warriors. I don’t know about you, but the haka the All Blacks perform before a rugby match is intimidating enough, let alone a boat full of them! When you’re on this trip you get to walk the forests, hug a Kauri tree and see the famous Kiwi Fern in the flesh within about 30 minutes - it’s a jam packed day of excitement!

Now for all these reason listed above, you can tell why this is a popular holiday destinations for the people of New Zealand. It has been popular for years and Europeans settled here way back when they first arrived. It became a hub for the whaling industry and was full of pubs / taverns for all to find merriment in after long weeks at sea (land ahoy and all that). The only thing there were more of than places to find booze? Brothels. To find out more of the charming history that the first european settlers wrote, check out the Waitangi Treaty House not far from the centre of town. It’s actually pretty interesting even if you were a huge fan of your school history lessons, as they don’t have to tell you the PG version here!

All in all, Paihia has a lot to offer and will ease you into the Kiwi way of life - chilling out & enjoying what the outdoors has to offer! My few days here were sensational and I made friends on that first bus journey that will last probably forever, and those bonds were formed while chatting on the beach (with an ice cream) then rubbing aftersun on each others burns. If only we had listened to the advice of our Kiwi driver who told us the sun is extra hot here...

Photo Credits by Tyne Grant 

Top Activities to try in Auckland

Auckland - I seriously love this place. It’s the gateway to New Zealand for many of us due to the cheaper flights generally heading here! Don’t be fooled like many people though, the capital is actually Wellington which at the bottom of the North Island so it’s as central for all Kiwi people. Below is my list of must hit activities in this cracking city so try to get to them all while you’re here. As always, if you think I’ve missed something huge just let me know and I’ll whack it in! If you’re not sure where to stay while here, or want to know the best ways to get to and from the airport, check out my summary to all this here! 

Mount Eden

Just outside the city is the dormant volcano Mount Eden. From the top you're going to see some cracking views on the city below with the skytower giving you a point reference. I cannot recommend this enough especially at sunset or sunrise! We sprinted up one evening and just made it for the magical moment and watched the sun go down. If you're not a big fan of walking up super steep slopes, you can hitch a ride with one of the hundreds of cars that'll be shooting past you.

Cost: Free! 


Auckland SkyJump 1198.jpg

The Auckland SkyTower is rather hard to miss, it’s in the centre of town and connected to SkyCity. Make sure you head to the top and check out the views of the whole city and beyond from the top! We spent a few hours up here just chilling and looking out. If you have some money to spare get lunch or dinner in the restaurant or, for other daredevils out there, head outside and try the SkyWalk or even the SkyJump. I didn’t have a chance to do it, but I would have loved to try the 192m jump back down to the base of the tower!

Cost of SkyTower visit: £28

Cost of SkyWalk: $145

Cost of SkyJump: $225

Auckland Bridge

Just as awesome as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it connects the city with the more northern parts of New Zealand and is also the place to hit if you feel like finding some adventure! AJ Hackett run a bungy of the side of the bridge over the water, if you can’t make it to Queenstown to hit the Nevis this would be the next best place! If you’re slightly less inclined to dive 40m down you can still see some cracking views by giving the Bridge Climb a try!

Cost of Bridge Climb: $125

Cost of Bungy: $160

Harbour Watching

Auckland harbour is hard to miss, just look for the ocean and then look for the massive concrete thing jutting into the water without fully being submerged. This is great if you’re on a little bit of a budget but don’t mind just watching the world go by. There are loads of benches and even some lounger benches for you to relax on! If you’re lucky, you may see some stunning wildlife playing in the surf or just pick up a tan on a sunny day.

Cost: Free!

Auckland War Memorial Museum

If nothing else, the building is spectacular and worth walking over to just to check the outside out! Although if you can afford to go in a walk around for a while it is pretty cool and you’ll learn a hell of a lot about the history of the Kiwis!

Cost: $25 for international visitors, free for New Zealanders


You may have had the chance to read up on my Top 5 Places to Skydive in New Zealand and noticed that it only has a brief mention at the end, but that’s only because I didn’t get a chance to experience it myself and didn’t have any travel buddies give it a go either! If you’re desperate to get the adrenaline pumping as soon as you arrive it’s the best place to go as it’s only an hour from the international airport - good luck!

Cost: $325 (13,000 feet drop) / $395 (16,500 feet drop)


As always in a big city, they have some beautiful central parks to visit and are somewhere you can relax in when travelling on a budget. Auckland is a really green city too so the parks aren’t too hard to find!

Cost: Free!

Coffee jumping


I’m always a fan of taking a break from touristing and hitting up a coffee shop or two during the day for a break and a chance to write up about all the things I’ve been doing for you guys! Normally I try to find the independent coffee houses & tea rooms instead of a worldwide company like Starbucks or others as it’s always awesome to get chatting to local small business owners who can tell you all about the best kept secret destinations in a country.

Cost: $3-$6 depending on your coffee tastes!

Take in the Views

Either from the mainland or by catching a ferry to nearby island Rangitoto, get to the top of one of Auckland’s 48’s volcanic cones and check out the views. You won’t be disappointed with what you’ll get to see and it’s another way to explore! If you’re like me and have the longest bucket list in the history of the world, it’s a great opportunity to cross off ‘climb a volcano’ too!

Cost of Ferry to Rangitoto: $20 return (book in advance)


My favourite suburb of Auckland, Devonport is the perfect place to spend an afternoon. Pop over on the 10 minute ferry which runs every half an hour from the harbour and enjoy what the area has to offer. You’ll find incredible views back to the city, and almost a village vibe to the area. Looking for a little coffee? Why not hit up Chatauxbriant for a little touch of France, or pop over to Five Loaves for the incredible savoy muffins. You will never be hungry in this part of town! Your best view points will be found either at the top of Mount Victoria or at the top of North Head. Both will literally take your breath away as you look back on the city.

This isn’t a list of everything you can do in Auckland as there are literally hundreds of awesome things to try and experience such as wine tasting, wildlife / hiking tours, scenic flights and so many others! There really is something for everyone here so please please PLEASE spend some time here when you get to New Zealand, you’ll love it!

Welcome to Auckland!

From the moment I hopped off that plane in Auckland I new that I loved it, that New Zealand was somewhere I could call home for a little while (and not just because I was grateful to be back on solid ground after 30+ hours of travelling)! The Kiwis have this attitude to life that's just more healthy, more normal than us Brits - you actually see kids playing outside still not just on computer games. Although, with the scenery that even Auckland has to show you couldn't not have a love of the outdoors here. From a harbour that's regularly home to whales and dolphins, to islands and national parks with a bus or short ferry ride away life is made to be lived outside here.

Now I'm not saying Auckland doesn't have it’s faults, it is built in the middle of a volcano field... Luckily most of these are pretty dormant but high five to that decision New Zealand. Below I've whacked out your summary for travelling and staying in Auckland from getting to and from the airport to your hostels to crash in. I actually stayed in 3 different ones so I have a broad view on this, why I chopped and changed so much I have NO idea but I passed through a few times crashing wherever the people I travelled with were. I’ve also written up a guide about what to do in Auckland which is coming soon!

To and From Airport

This one is easy. As usual for big cities the airport is a bit of a trek from the centre so your best bet is to grab the Auckland SkyBus. It stops all the way into the centre and I think even to the harbour, no stop is ever far from a hostel so you're safe. I even crashed in the mount Eden national park just outside the city centre and the bus dropped us pretty close to the hostel too. A taxi will cost you your life savings and there aren't many other options other than walking which I seriously wouldn't recommend.

Total SkyBus cost at: $16 one way / $28 return


1. Base Auckland - clean and chilled out. A little industrial as its a small high rise but if you buy yourself a base card it saves you a lot of dollar. By prepaying for 10 nights and using them up as you go (no need to book in advance or anything, just rock up and swipe card), you can save up to $10/night! Central and good position if you're having to get up early to hop onto a Kiwi Experience tour bus the next day

Cost / Night: $28 (Dorm) or $45 (Private)

2. Nomads Auckland - the other of the two big hostel brands in New Zealand. Again, clean and tidy but a roof bar and cracking views on the city. Super central and also great if you're hopping on the Kiwi Experience bus early the next morning!

Cost / Night: $25 (Dorm) or $48 (Private)

3. Pentlands Lodge, Mount Eden - about a 20minute bus ride outside town this is perfect for a few good nights rest to recover from your jet lag. It's just a big converted house with a big kitchen, garden and parking. If you're planning a long term stay in the city or want to buy a car to explore New Zealand at your own pace crash here as they have a great notice board for people buying / selling cars and are cheap. You're also only 10 minutes from the famous mount Eden!

Cost / Night: Now Closed! Sorry guys :(

Of course there are loads of other awesome places to stay (many much more comfortable than hostel accomodation), so do your research before heading out! Also, all the prices I’ve quoted are in New Zealand dollars which equates out to about £0.52/dollar. Remember to check out my post about what to do while in Auckland when I’ve finished it in a few days!

12 Experiences in New Zealand Not To Miss

Firstly it was summer when we travelled around New Zealand but never fear snow still does get a mention. We were only in the land of the long white cloud for 18 days and as a local said ‘there are only two nationalities that are silly enough to come to New Zealand for two or three weeks and that is the Aussies and the Americans.’ I totally agree because NZ is so close for us Aussies we know we will be back to explore even more at a later date. During our short time in this magnificent country we saw some incredible sights that 100% exceeded our expectations. 

1.  White Island, Volcano Experience – 49km off the coast of Whakatane, North Island

Hard hats and gas masks are all part of the get up when visiting the active volcano of White Island. Located 49kms north of Whakatane, in the middle of the ocean, this category 1 volcano is a must see when in New Zealand. After enjoying a comfortable, yet slightly damp, boat ride watching dolphins (if you're lucky whales too) we anchored in one of the bays of White Island. From here we were ferried onto the island where a local guide showed us around. Eating sulphur, following prescribed paths and watching steam emit from the crater lake measured at -0.5 acidity were just some of the highlights. Following the tour it was back on the boat for lunch and a quick swim in the crystal clear water, which was incredible.

Further details:
$199NZ for full day tour including: 
·      A light lunch
·      All transport to the island
·      Safety gear
·      Fully guided tour of White Island. 

For more info see the link below:

2.  Kayaking Milford Sound – Fiordland, South Island

The shear awe of Milford Sound is enough for most people let alone kayaking 12kms through it. Rosco’s Kayaking shows you Milford Sound from a different perspective. After taking a boat ride into the middle of the sound you jump in your kayaks ready to paddle back.  We paddled into a waterfall, filmed seals on the rocks at the base of the sheer cliffs and spent approximately 4 hours taking in the sounds beauty. A slightly sore back at the end was well worth this experience.

Further details:
$189NZ includes the fully guided kayaking tour the ‘Stirling Sunriser’ through Rosco's Milford Kayaks, from 9am to 2pm with all kayaking and safety gear included.

Other tours of different difficulty and prices are available. See the link below:

3.  Mount Aspiring National Park – South Island

We had the privilege of driving through this incredible national park twice and I wish we got to spend even more time there. Just the drive through the scenery is worth it on the way to the West Coast of the South Island. If you have time there are a multitude of walks through this natural beauty. Of the few we did our favourite quick stroll was definitely to the Blue Pools. As the name suggests these pools of a deep blue colour are beautiful and exceeded our expectations.

For further info please check out the link below:

4.  Scenic Flight over the Southern Alps – Lake Tekapo, South Island

Yes, it was expensive but was it worth it? 100% unequivocally it was. On our 50 minute flight over the Southern Alps we got up close and personal with the top of Mt Cook, NZ’s tallest mountain. Saw the beginning (if you call the top the beginning) of the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers and witnessed how blue and spectacular glacial lakes are. The photos really say it all.

Further details:
$340NZ gets you a 50-minute flight over the Southern Alps and was the cheapest we could find at the time. Flights leave from a range of places, we left from Lake Tekapo. For further info check out the link below:

5.  Queen Charlotte Drive, Nelson to Picton – South Island

We didn’t plan to take this road but more the route our GPS told us was best. I never thought I would say this but thank you annoying electronic device for giving us a slow yet spectacular trip to the town of Picton. This road was easily the slowest we travelled on due to its constant sharp turns. Up and down the sides of cliffs we went as we meandered our way overlooking stunning fiords.

6.  The quaint town of Rapahoe – West Coast, South Island

The town of Rapahoe was a town we stumbled upon and stayed a night in. The Caravan Park in Rapahoe is like nothing I have seen before. Run by an old couple, the wife sits in her caravan knitting, while her husband, shirtless, keeps the park in good working order. There is badminton, a pool and not to mention the showers, which were located in a common sitting room where the tv and kitchen were. Odd, I know, and unlike anything I have witnessed before. Rapahoe also gets this mention not just for its odd and quaint caravan park but for its pub on the beach. Easily the best burger I had in NZ, yes I would rate it over the infamous Fergburger in Queenstown. Definitely worth a feed if you are passing through.

Caravan Park - http://www.rapahoebeach.co.nz/accommodation/
Rapahoe Beachfront Hotel: http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Restaurant_Review-g255372-d3825077-Reviews-Rapahoe_Beachfront_Hotel-Greymouth_West_Coast_Region_South_Island.html

7.  Spa Park, FREE Hot Springs – Lake Taupo, North Island

Why pay for hot springs when you can experience them in nature for free! We found that there are a multitude of spas where you pay to sit in the warm geothermal waters of New Zealand. The water is taken from nature and filtered into man made pools for you to experience, which to me isn’t the true experience at all. Therefore if you want the natural experience when in Lake Taupo head to Spa Park. After a short walk from the carpark you come to a river and a small section of waterfalls with hot geothermal water. It is literally like a hot shower and bath all in one and is like nothing I have experienced before.

For more info check out the link below:

8.  Spending the morning in snow and the afternoon swimming in Lake Taupo – North Island

Image 16.jpg

Taking the chair lift up to the beautiful Mt Ruapehu in the Tongariro National Park in the middle of summer results in still being able to see and play in snow.  On leaving Mt Ruapehu it was approximately a 1-2 hour drive to the free camp spot of 5 mile Bay Recreation Reserve on Lake Taupo. We were lucky enough to score a lake side spot and a few metres from our van was the crystal clear waters of Lake Taupo. It was here we were able to swim in the warm waters of Lake Taupo literally three hours after playing in the snow.

Mt Ruapehu scenic chair lift - $30NZ
5 Mile Bay Recreation Reserve – free camping including toilet

9.  Sand boarding at the end of 90 Mile Beach – Northland, North Island 

Fair to say I was terrified. JLO left me huffing and puffing walking up a monstrous sand dune while he bounded up leaving me in his wake. Therefore I was left fearing for my life at the top of a sand dune about to throw myself on a body board down it. What a rush it was! Only a few minor sand burns were left on ones feet but the rush of adrenaline was well worth it.  We had this opportunity as part of a full day guided tour to Cape Reinga, the top of New Zealand.

For more info check out this link below:

10. The flight into Queenstown – South Island

Earlier I mentioned the scenic flight over the Southern Alps was a must, yet expensive. If money is an issue for you, you can get a similar experience by planning your flight into New Zealand via Queenstown. I have never experienced anything like it. Having mountains either side of your plane as you are landing is something you can’t really describe and needs to be experienced. Unfortunately I was far too gobsmacked to have my camera out so this is something you will have to book to experience. 

Flights to New Zealand from Australia, check out these sites:
Qantas - http://www.qantas.com.au/travel/airlines/home/au/en 
Virgin - https://www.virginaustralia.com/au/en/
Jetstar - http://www.jetstar.com/au/en/home    
Air New Zealand - http://www.airnewzealand.com.au/

11.  Fox Glacier & The West Coast – South Island

The West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand is incredible. It is rugged, it is wet, it is picturesque and is a place I wish I got to explore further. Fox Glacier, situated on the West Coast, is Franz Josef Glacier's little bro. Geographically it was easier for us to get to and was also less touristy, which sold it to us straight away. We chose to do a guided walk to terminal face of the glacier for $59NZ each and in hindsight I wouldn't have worried. The public can get almost as close to the terminal face as the guided tour and hence save your money on that one. The glacier has receded quite a bit in recent times so if you are travelling to NZ make sure you visit because one day it may not be there. 

For different tours to Fox Glacier including helicopter trip check out the link below:

12.  Hiring a campervan for the entirety of the trip

A favourite aspect of the trip was having our home on wheels. As the pictures portray we went through the company Jucy and what a fantastic company they were. Our first vehicle, Jules pictured above, was a smaller vehicle with a broken air conditioner. When notifying Jucy we were able to make a stop in Christchurch and were offered an upgrade for the hassle. We then hit the road in Julius, pictured below. After the initial sadness of leaving Jules behind we grew found of Julius and realised this was the type of vehicle we should have started with. The bigger van with a few extra creature comforts made our trip of New Zealand the best it could be. Between booking in to the odd caravan park and free camping we experienced all types of campervanning in NZ. 

Paired up with the app Camping NZ, approximately $20AU, that worked without the internet we were unstoppable on our road trip of New Zealand. 

Jucy - http://www.jucy.com.au/
Camping NZ App - https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/official-camping-nz/id582914766?mt=8

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with our list? Are there places you think are better or don't deserve to be on there? Has this helped you with your travels to New Zealand? We would love to hear your feedback.

Thanks - LJO


It all starts with a couple from Aus,
Completing a travel blog simply because.
This time a year ago it seemed only dream,
For both LJO and JLO distant they seemed.
As time past they called each other mate,
A relationship beckoned it must have been fate.
Now the trip of a lifetime is booked,
With one read we will have you hooked.
This is meant to be a bit about us,
When really its about our ventures on a bus.
Lego figures to symbolise who we are,
They will travel with us, here and far.
In case you didn't know we are off overseas,
Where we will write this blog in order to please.

Want to see more? Check out out blog - http://www.hashtagljojlo.com