Yesterday I was picked up by the bus in Auckland, and I was the first person on it, but it quickly filled up, with just one seat spare out of 55. So there's a lot of us! The driver was exactly how I'd imagined, overbearingly a *cool dude* playing the clown, with the occasional casual racism thrown in for good measure.
Most of the people on the bus are Brits, as I'd expected, and young, also as expected. There are some proper lads on this bus, who I don't have a lot in common with. But I've met some really cool people. Generally the more mature, and older, passengers. I think I'm getting old...
So from Auckland, we headed to Hot Water Beach and our accommodation there. The beach was beautiful. Lonely Planet voted it one of the top 25 most beautiful beaches in the world. Not too shabby. But more than that, its name comes from the pools that you can dig in the sand, which fill with naturally hot water from the ground. And I mean hot. Sometimes it was too scalding to stand in the pools.
It's autumn here now, but the days are still quite warm here in the north, and yesterday it was very sunny and pleasant. So our next stop - Cathedral Cove - and the hike there, were lovely. The Cove is so worth going to. The rock formations are nothing short of majestic, and we were there at sunset, so the volcanic islands offshore shone with the orange light and the clouds hanging over the ocean turned violet.
I finished the day with my first fish and chips in three months since I left home. And it was a Friday - chip night! I even treated myself to some Cadbury chocolate for dessert. Living the dream.
Today we came to Waitomo. This is something I've been looking forward to for months - the glowworm caves. There are lots of options for going into the caves, including wet and dry ones. I went for the second most extreme wet option, so there wasn't an abseil or zip line, but it was NZ$100 cheaper. With the Kiwi Experience we get discounts for all the activities we do, so it was NZ$90 for the 'Black Labyrinth' with the Legendary Black Rafting Co.
Now I really wasn't sure if I'd enjoy this trip, as I get a bit claustrophobic, and I didn't know how I'd cope with two hours in the dark. But I absolutely loved it.
We were given all the gear - thick wetsuits, helmets with torches, and rubber rings for the black water rafting element of the trip. The guides were very nice, and talked us through what we were actually going to do.
The limestone caves are beautiful. And you're accompanied the whole way through the twists, turns, tunnels and the occasional waterfall by the ethereal glow of the glowworms on the roof of the caverns, clustered around the enormous stalactites. At one point we all switched off our head torches and looked up at them. Such a sight.
Everyone's hands got extremely numb by the end of the trip, but the wetsuits kept our bodies warm enough. Even when we were jumping backwards from the top of waterfalls into the splash pools below.
It was such a good experience, and something I might have skipped if I wasn't doing the Kiwi Experience. That's one of the main reasons I paid the extra money for the bus trip, rather than just going for a hop on hop off intercity bus pass. I want to push myself to do things I wouldn't normally. Now is the time in my life to do these things.
The crazy schedule continues tomorrow, with Hobbiton (omg) and the Maori cultural dinner and show in Rotorua. Can't get enough!