On Christmas Day evening we arrived at the campsite in Waitomo and set about having a Christmas BBQ. Like a few other people seemed to have done we had some yummy steaks, as well as some sausages, peppers and mushrooms. We had far too many leftover sausages, but they made good breakfast for Matt! It wouldn’t be a Christmas dinner without leftovers anyway. Our Christmas cake was a pretty exciting versoin of a caramel slice. It was two big squares of chocolate chip shortbread with caramel in the middle – yummy!

Christmas BBQ

Christmas BBQ

Waitomo is famous for its glow worms, so that evening once it got dark we went on a short drive up the road to do the night time glow worm walk. It was a really excellent walk, and turned out to be one of the top 10 short walks in New Zealand. It went through a forested area with a river (which you could hear but not see becasue it was dark). The walk went though tunnels and into lots of caves with stalactites and stalagmites, as well as heaps of glow worms. They lined all the banks by the sides of the rivers too. The walk was a really good mini-adventure and we even saw a possom.

Glow worm walk by Waitomo

Glow worm walk by Waitomo

The next day (Boxing Day) we were signed up for 8 hours of caving adventures with the Legendary Black Water Caving Co. They had a deal on when we booked, so we did the 5 hour, dry Black Labyrinth in the morning, and the 3 hour, wet Black Odyssey in the afternoon. We seemed to have got a really really good deal as when we got there to pay they said we had the ‘old’ prices and should have been paying more, but they honoured the quote I had via email which was good.

There were three of us on the Labyrinth Tour, and three guides (one of whom was learning the tour). We were lucky as they normally take up to 6 people at a time.  Before we were allowed on the trip we had to crawl through a wooden tunnel in the reception, so show we were OK with tight, dark spaces! After getting kitted up in our boiler suits, wellies, harnesses and hats we set off on the caving via Ruakuri Cave.  Ruakuri means Den of Dogs, which is from when the cave was first discovered by Maori hunters 500 years ago. They do a walking tour in the cave too, so the start was the same with a very cool lit-up spiral ramp down into the cave.

Caving in Waitomo

Caving in Waitomo

The guides were really friendly and very talkative.We had a clipping system like for Via Ferrata, which worked with magnets and was set up so you always had one clipped at any time for safety. The caving started walking through tunnels and then gradually doing more squeezing and climbing as the spaces got smaller! Some of the climbing was a bit tricky, mainly becasue of wearing wellies rather than proper shoes. We exploired a lot of the caves and saw lots of cool formations and lots and lots of glow worms. The guide explained to us they are actually “shiny sh*t maggots”, but that that doesn’t sound so good to the tourists!

The caving included a few abseils including one fairly long one down a slot above the river inside the cave which was cool. A couple of times we were above the people doing the wet tour, so we had to stop and wait for them so we didn’t distract them or kick dust into their faces.  There was a ladder to walk up too, and a monkey bridge to go across. There were a couple of cool flying fox swings, which we did in the dark with our torches off for added excitement! the whole thing was really good fun. When we came out into the daylight we realised we were where we had walked on the glow worm walk the night before.

 

Caving in Waitomo

Caving in Waitomo

After the trip we got free soup and bagels for lunch, and had some kumara (NZ name for sweet potato) chips too to fuel us up for the next adventure!

The second trip we did was the Back Odyssey which is the most popular one. We had a group of 12 (I think the limit is 14). This time it was a wet caving adventure, so we got dressed in our swimmers, wetstuits, wetsuit jackets and smaller boots. We each got given a black rubber ring, in different sizes. The tour was basically all about floating along the river inside the caves in the tubes, including jumping off waterfalls, going down some moving water, floating through tunnels and looking at more glow worms.

When the trip started the guide asked if we all knew the trip involved jumping off some waterfalls – ummm, no! It turned out they weren’t too high, so I was OK. We did a practice jump off some steps outside into the river, and then nice and wet got the bus down to the start. The first waterfall jump was pretty soon, and I managed all of them without loosing any of my contact lenses which was handy! You have to jump off backwards so you land in your ring – scary! The water was very very cold. If I did something like that again I’d be tempted to take a thermal! Allegedly there was an eel in the cave which Matt saw. There are photos of it, but I’m still sceptical!

Black water rafting

Black water rafting in Waitomo

We rafted up into a chain to go through one of the tunnels and all turned out lights off so we could look at the glow worms while the guides towed us along, which was good of them! There were really masses of glow worms (maggots!) At another point we ditched our rings and crawled through a little wet tunnel called the laundry chute! Near the end we all turned our lights out and had to paddle to the end of the cave without turning them on which was quite a weird experience as there wasn’t a lot of current.

Black water rafting in Waitomo

Black water rafting in Waitomo

I definitely preferred the dry caving trip by quite a long way, mainly becasue it was more like a climbing adventure, involved more skill, wasn’t cold and didn’t involve chucking yourself off a waterfall backwards!

The next day we headed back to Auckland and flew back to Sydney ready to meet the Shorts for New Year.

Rafting the Kaituna

Rafting the Kaituna

After our trip to Hobbiton, in New Zealand, in the afternoon we went rafting on the Kaituna (Okere) river. It has the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world on it, with a 7m drop. The rafting lastest about an hour, with several waterfalls and a lot of rapids.The raft was very bouncy and floaty. Our raft did some crazy flip spin thing going down the waterfall, so the guide and I both managed to fall out and have a swim in the water becasue we were on the same side! It made me feel better that he fell out too! We bought the photos of the trip which came on a raft shaped memory stick with Matt particularly appreciated.

Rafting the Kaituna

Rafting the Kaituna

After a busy day, we headed into Rotorua and found some dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant. They were very friendly, the food was yummy and they had entertaining place mats – Matt’s had a flow chart on it for working out what type of pasta your pasta was!

The next day (Christmas Eve) we headed to Te Puia. This is a geothermal area with bubbling mud pools and geysers, as well as a lot of Maori culture including carved houses and giant canoes. We booked tickets to the cultural show in thee big carved meeting house. Before it started we gathered at the meeting point and were greeted by our Maori guide. She explained we weren’t allowed in until the Maori people had determined if we were friendly or not. We nominated a leader for our group, and the Maori warrior ran at him with a giant spear. He performed the Hakka and made him an offering. Our leader accepted it, they rubbed noses in the traditional way and we were allowed in. The performance was really good with a lot of traditional signing, dancing and ball spinning. The men performed the Hakka and explained about it and then had a lot of the men from the audience join them on stage to do it together.

 

The Hakka

The Hakka

After the show we joined a guided tour of the park to learn a bit more about it. We saw the Prince of Wales geyser erupting and lots of bubbling mud pools, steamy areas and craters from old geysers too. The whole place was pretty smelly of eggs which reminded me of parts of Iceland. We saw a kiwi bird in the kiwi house too and had the biggest cheese scone i’ve ever seen for elevenses!

Te Puia geysers

Te Puia geysers

 

We had a talk on weaving as part of the tour. At Te Puia they also have a state sponsored Maori weaving school and a carving school to make sure these traditions continue with the younger generations.

Modern Maori carving

Modern Maori carving

After Te Puia we drove down to Lake Taupo. We found out about an attraction called the Prawn Park – a prawn based theme park! You can go fishing for prawns, go on a prawn themed ride and play prawn golf. We really wanted to go, mainly becasue it sounded so cheese but unfortunately we got there late and it was closed the next day for Christmas. Instead in the evening we walked from near our campsite up to Huka falls. Huka means foam in Maori. Its a very impressive falls with 220,000 litres of water a second going over the falls. Most of the falls is quite a shallow gradient down a 15m wide slot in the rocks, with the actual main drop only about 12m.

Haka falls

Huka falls

The next day was Christmas Day. We started off with a walk around Aratiatia rapids. The rapiuds are next to a dam, and about 3 or 4 times a day they release the dam which makes the rapids fill up from hardly any water to massive rapids over anout 15 minutes. We watched the dam release, and the water level actuially went up a fait bit slower than I expected. It was cool to see. They filmed the barrell scenes from the Hobbit 2 here, where the dwarves and Bilbo escape from the Elves in barrels down the river. I guess they could contorl the dam release how they wanted for that which made it safer for filming.

Rapids

Aratiatia Rapids

From there we drove over to Wiatomo, via the Tongariro National Park. Its where Mt Ngauruhoe is, which was Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately it was quite a cloudy day, so we couldn’t get a good view of the mountain. We did go on another short walk to a nice waterfall with a plunge pool though, and drove up into the ski fields where we found some actual Chrismtas snow!

NZ17

Christmas snow

 

Carrying on the drive we went past this T-Rex made of driftwood, and a giant sculpture of a man shearing a sheep in Hangatiki, the sheep shearing capital of the world!

Driftwood T-Rex

Driftwood T-Rex

Stay tunes for next week’s post on our Christmas evening in Waitomo and Boxing Day caving adventures!

Happy Christmas everyone!

We decided we should have a Christmas Special blog post, so have finally finished preparing the adventure video from our New Zealand honeymoon. There will be a more scenic video at some point too.

You can read more about our awesome honeymoon here. This time last year we celebrated our first hot Christmas with the Millis family in Wanaka, including a picnic and spot of kayaking in Lake Wanaka. Also featured in the video are sky-diving, bungee jumping, Queenstown luge, caving, sea kayaking, lake kayaking, canyoning, jet boating, cycling and of course some rock climbing!

Warning: This video contains footage of what may be considered ‘extreme’ activities. Sensitive parents may find some scenes distressing. No Shorts were harmed in the  making of this film. 

We got married back in September 2011, and had a mini honeymoon down in Dartmoor where we got married. We knew immediately when we got engaged that we wanted to go to New Zealand for our honeymoon . We wanted to make sure we had enough money to do lots of amazing things, so we decided to save up for it and delay our honeymoon about a year after the wedding (which also helped make the most of the best weather).

We went to New Zealand (South Island) for 3.5 weeks from 5th to 30th December, with 2 days in Sydney first and an unexpected day in Dubai too.

We had a truly awesome time, it was both of our favorite holidays ever. We took 6,803 photos, a lot of video and drove 3,800km!

I’m going to write separate posts on the details of what we did as there is a lot of it. There will be photos and videos on the relevant tabs soon too. For now, here are the Top 10 highlights (in no particular order as its too hard).

Dolphin watching in Kaikoura: Lizzie Short got this for us as a wedding present and it was excellent. There were over 200 dolphins around our boat and they were really acrobatic, doing loads of jumps and somersaults. We saw albatrosses too.

Somersaulting dolphin in Kaikoura

Somersaulting dolphin in Kaikoura

Sky diving Lake Wanaka: I’ve wanted to do a skydive for ages and where better than somewhere with excellent weather, fantastic views of lakes and mountains and bargainacious prices compared to the UK too. This was definitely my favorite adrenalin experience and i’d love to do it again.

Skydiving at Lake Wanaka

Skydiving at Lake Wanaka

Kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park: Abel Tasman is a beautiful National Park where tree covered mountains roll down into the sea and lovely beaches. We kayaked from a place called Tata beach in a duo to a secluded beach and did a walk to Separation Point with excellent views of the park and saw a seal swimming in the sea. The weather was lovely, and best of all, we saw a penguin, in the wild! He popped up by our boat, looking all cute, floated about for a bit, dived off, then popped up somewhere else about 8-9 times. Sadly I didn’t catch him to take home.

Kayaking in Abel Tasman - Wharwharenghi beach

Kayaking in Abel Tasman – Wharwharenghi beach

Staying with the Millis family: We spend a week over Christmas in Wanaka with Paul, Jo, Kath, Sarah and Tom Millis (Paul and Jo are Matts uncle and aunt). We had good fun and a nice relaxing time too with warm hospitality. We got up to lots including Puzzling World, seeing the Hobbit, Christmas Games, lake picnics and archery in the garden.

Leaning Tower of Wanaka at Puzzling World

Leaning Tower of Wanaka at Puzzling World

Canyoning on the Niger River: Matt loved canyoning. It was very wet with lots of abseiling, slides, jumps and swinging.

Canyoning on the Nigel River

Canyoning on the Nigel River

Rock climbing: Up in Abel Tasman we went one night to camp at a climbers campsite. It turned out they hired out equipment so people could go and climb at the crag next door (Paynes Ford), which is apparently the best limestone climbing in New Zealand. It doesn’t take much to work out what happened next! We did three climbing sessions with Paul Millis down by Wanaka too in some very convenient and very scenic roadside crags.

Matt at the top of the Tombstone near Wanaka

Matt at the top of the Tombstone near Wanaka

Caving in Clifden: Our guidebook mentioned a place you can go caving, by yourself. You go to a tourist info, pick up a standard size leaflet with a map and some safety advice, and off you go. I really enjoyed my first proper caving experience, partly because of the craziness of just going in with a leaflet, which is pretty unlikely to happen in the UK! The climax of the caving was “the swimming pool”, a spherical cave, about 5 meters across, half filled with water. On one side was a ledge, sloping in towards the deep dark water in the middle of the cave, with limited had holds. Oh, and did I mention the ledge was about a foot under water?! Matt went without his shoes, I soaked my boots and socks! We both got through without more getting wet than necessary – luckily the leaflet says you will probably get wet so we were prepared. Fun fun fun.

Matt in Clifden caves

Matt in Clifden caves

Christmas at 31 degrees: We had Christmas in Wanaka at 31 degrees. After coming to terms with the weirdness of it, the whole day was really good and Christmas in the warn definitely has its advantages. We had fresh hot croissants for breakfast in the sun in the garden, went for a picnic with kayaking and swimming in the lake over lunch, cycling back and played archery in the garden in the evening. Awesome.

Kayaking on Lake Wanaka on Christmas day

Kayaking on Lake Wanaka on Christmas day

Yummy foods: We ate lots of good things on holiday, including Fergburgers from Queenstown, a lot of excellent ice creams and my favorite  hot, freshly baked double chocolate cookies from the Paradiso cinema during the film interval.

Fergburger in Queenstown

Fergburger in Queenstown

Epic scenery: All around New Zealand was just amazing scenery. Mountains, rivers, bush, coast, plains, lakes, it was a stunning country just to be in and drive around.

 

View from Key Summit near Milford

View from Key Summit near Milford

Jet boating: I know this is now 11 things but I personally loved the speed, noise and general craziness of jet-boating down a gorge. 

Jetboating on the Buller Gorge

Jetboating on the Buller Gorge

Any comments or questions?