I began the day at Rainbow Beach, my base for my visit to Fraser Island, where I was picked up alongside a few other Loka passengers by a Loka minibus. So far,I had struggled to find fellow Loka travellers heading the same day same, spending the first few days of my trip pretty much just me and my tour guide.
Today wasn’t any different as I soon realised that every other passenger on my bus was being dropped at a nearby train station from where they’d be heading northbound to Emu Park making me the only passenger travelling southbound to Noosa!
There were two Loka guides on board the minibus, a driver who was new to the company and another more seasoned guide who was training him, so I at least had someone to make small talk with about my trip so far along the way. But once there, I was by myself again. I checked myself into the YHA where, for the first time all trip, I was finally taking the plunge and staying in a communal dorm.
I was put in a 4-bed co-ed dorm and while it was nice to have someone to talk to, the others in my room were a lot younger than me and I soon realised that their only plans for the day involved bars and drinking whereas I wanted to use the short amount of time I had there to see some of the area.
With the sun shining, I decided to spend the rest of the morning down at Noosa Heads Beach.
After a spot of sunbathing, I couldn’t resist a dip in the sea although I soon started to regret that decision as the huge waves repeatedly sent me flying! Managing to drag myself out of the surf, I spent a bit of time drying out before taking a walk into town in search of something to eat.
Noosa was pretty and had a really nice feel to it. After wandering around, I decided to take a walk along the coast path to Noosa National Park.
I followed the path right around the coast past lots of pretty little bays to Alexandria Bay then along to Sunshine Beach before cutting through a residential district back to the hostel.I’d been a bit worried about taking the walk by myself but it was either that or not see it and there were plenty of people about also walking along the coast path so it was fine.
It was early evening by the time I got back so after popping back to the hostel for a while, I went out to get pizza for dinner. The next day was going to be Australia Day and I’d be heading to Brisbane late morning. I wanted to spend a few hours walking along the river the next morning so to make sure I was up in plenty of time, I decided to call it a night.
The next day, after checking out of the hostel, I was up to take a stroll along the river.
I was surprised to see lots of gazebos up along Noosa Parade with Australia Day celebrations already in full swing and it was a really great atmosphere.
After my walk, I returned to the hostel and went to meet the Loka minibus ready to travel south to Brisbane.
I’d really enjoyed my visit to Noosa and wished I’d had a bit more time there to take my time exploring a bit more. I’d definitely like to return there someday.
Fraser Island was one of those places I’d wanted to visit for along time but despite numerous visits ‘Down Under’, I’d never yet managed to fit it into any of my trips. But this time would be different. I was travelling southbound along the east coast of Australia, from Cairns back to Sydney (where I’d spent New Year’s Eve just a few weeks before), and after stops in Tully, Airlie Beach and Emu Park, I was now heading to Rainbow Beach from where I’d finally get to take a trip to Fraser Island.
I’d left Emu Park at the crack of dawn to catch the train from Rockhampton station. Until now I’d travelled with the same Loka tour guide since departing Cairns but once I reached Gympie today, I’d be saying goodbye as from this point forward, I’d be travelling on the Loka minibuses, driven by a different guide on each leg of the trip.
It was a long journey to Gympie, especially as unlike the other trains so far ,this train wasn’t equipped with an entertainment system so I couldn’t keep myself occupied watching films. When I arrived at Gympie, I just wanted to get to my Rainbow Beach accommodation and spend the afternoon relaxing.
Instead, as I was stood outside Gympie station wandering where the minibus was, I got a message that it was running late. It was a boiling hot day and there was no shade and nowhere to shelter from the sun. I watched as every other passenger stood waiting for a taxi or lift until I was the only one around.
Over an hour later, I was finally met by the Loka minibus, late after picking up the northbound passengers also heading to Rainbow Beach today. It was nice to meet some fellow Loka travellers even if they did already all know each other after travelling together for the last few days and we chatted and swapped stories on the way to the hostel.
The next 3 nights would be split between Rainbow Beach and an overnight stay on Fraser Island. After my first night at the Rainbow Beach hostel, I’d have to check out of my room, pack a small overnight bag for Fraser Island and check my main luggage into storage for a night then after returning from Fraser Island, retrieve my luggage and check back into the hostel again for my final night in the area.
I’d managed to make a last minute change to my Rainbow Beach room upgrading from a dorm room to a private en suite. After checking in, I had a quick walk down through the town to the seafront and back. It was already early evening and our Loka guide had invited us to meet back at the van for a trip to the nearby Carlo Sand Blow to watch the sunset.
Normally, a guided walk would have been offered getting us there in time to sandboard on the dunes before sunset but as we’d arrived late, we wouldn’t have walked there in time so instead our guide drove us there.
The sunset was really pretty and it once again gave me the opportunity to talk with some of the other Loka passengers. On the way back, having been warned how expensive the cafes and restaurants of Rainbow Beach were, we stopped off at a local chip shop to grab food before heading back to the hostel.
The next morning, after a pancake breakfast at the hostel, I checked my luggage, grabbed my overnight bag and went to check in for my Fraser Island tour. After boarding our coach, we were taken to the car ferry departure terminal to make the short crossing across the ocean to Fraser Island. We were able to leave the coach to wander around the ferry and enjoy the views as long as we were back on board just before arrival.
Once on Fraser Island, we driven to our first stop of the day, Mackenzie Lake where we were split into 3 groups – day trippers, one-night stays and 2-night stays, other one-night stay passengers from various departure points other than Rainbow Island joining our group. We then had some free time at the lake.
After changing into my bathing suit, I made my way down the path to the lake and couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. The bright blue lake sits on a beach of white silica sand like that on Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays. I spent some time swimming in the crystal clear waters before drying off on the beach then meeting back at my designated coach to continue our tour of Fraser Island.
Next up was Central Forest Rainforest Walk where we followed the way-marked path through the greenery.
A lunch stop at one of the island’s hotels was next and we spotted some of the island’s infamous dingoes as we drove across the beach to our destination.
In the afternoon, we went on a walk to another lake, Lake Wabby.
The lake lies at the bottom of the huge dunes of Hammerstone Sandblow. Once there, we had the option to swim in the lake but as the weather had clouded over, I decided to just spend some time sat on its bank relaxing and getting to know some of the other passengers in my group.
The lake has lots of ‘pedicure fish’, the fish that nibble the dead skin off your feet, and some members of the group decided to sit with their feet dangling in the water as we sat chatting.
After leaving the lake and walking back to the coach, we were taken to our hotel where I was allocated a triple room to share with two German girls. After getting to know each other a bit, we all went to dinner meeting up with the rest of the group before some of us went for drinks at a nearby bar.
The next day after breakfast, we checked out of our hotel and met back up with our coach driver and guide for another day touring the island. Our first stop of the day was to see the SS Maheno, a shipwreck on 75-Mile Beach that has become a Fraser Island tourist attraction.
Then we drove further along the beach to see Red Canyon and the coloured sands and hiked up to Indian Head to take in the sweeping views.
Our next stop was at Champagne Pools. Parking up on a cliff, we followed the path down to the beach where the rocks in the shallows had formed large rock pools, the water bubbling over the top like a natural jacuzzi as the waves crashed over the top.
After swimming and relaxing in the pools, we followed the path back up the cliff to where the coach was parked and a picnic lunch was waiting for us.
We had one more stop on Fraser Island at Eli Creek, a freshwater river which eventually runs into the ocean. After parking up, our guide got out a variety of inner tubes and explained that the creek acts like a natural lazy river! We took it in turns to float along the creek through the rainforest, some of the group choosing to swim down or wade through it instead. It was a really incredible experience.
My amazing Fraser Island adventure had almost come to an end. We were dropped back at one of the Island’s resorts for refreshments and to await our assigned coaches back to our departure point. Once on board the coach, we were taken to the ferry terminal to make our return trip back to Rainbow Beach.
It was already early evening so after recovering my luggage and checking back into my hostel room, I went to grab a, rather expensive, pizza from a local cafe and called it a night.
We were travelling to Emu Park, a small town on Australia’s Capricorn Coast, on an evening train that already wouldn’t get us to Rockhampton station until the early hours. So, arriving at Proserpine station just outside of Airlie Beach, to find out our train was indefinitely delayed, wasn’t ideal!
Despite choosing a Loka flexi-tour in the hope that I’d get to meet and travel with others on the same route as me, I had once again found that there was a lack of passengers heading southbound and this time, found myself the only traveller heading to Emu Park.
While a couple of others would be on the train with me, they were continuing further down the coast so while we waited for the train to arrive, I spent some time with my Loka guide – who’d be at Emu Park with me – what the options were for my full day there.
One of the options was to take a boat out to Great Keppel Island for the day to explore and snorkel on the reef but as I’d spent a lot of time on my trip on islands – I’d already visited the Whitsundays, Magnetic Island and Green Island – I decided I didn’t really want to do this, especially as I’d be visiting by myself. Another option was a tour of a nearby cave system but as I’d been to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the USA, I was told I’d probably be disappointed by these! So instead, I decided I’d spend some time in and around Emu Park itself for the day.
The train eventually arrived almost an hour late and we settled in for the long journey. As the train was a long distance sleeper train, each seat was equipped with an entertainment system so I passed the time watching films before falling asleep.
We arrived at Rockhampton station in the early hours and were met by someone from our Emu Park accommodation to take us to Emu Beach Resort. I was pleasantly surprised by the rooms which, for budget accommodation, felt like absolute luxury after the series of hostels so far.
The next morning, we began our day in Emu Park with a visit to Koorana Crocodile Farm.
After an introductory talk about the farm, we were taken on a guided tour in small group to see some of the huge crocodiles that lived there. An interesting way to spend an hour!
After our croc farm tour, we were dropped back in Emu Park itself where my Loka guide gave me a brief tour before we grabbed lunch at a local cafe then in the afternoon we got dropped at Bluff Point to go on a ‘turtle walk’, following the walking track up on to the cliff top from where there were beautiful views across the bay to Great Keppel Island and we could spot turtles swimming in the surf below.
We had to cut the walk short due to the stifling summer heat and rather than following the track round in a loop, instead retraced our steps back to the car park to meet our left back to the hostel. That left us with a few hours of free time to spend around the pool and relaxing before we headed out again in the evening.
My Emu Park stay included a visit to a local ranch. On the northbound trips, one of the 2 nights in Emu Park is spent camping at the ranch but the train times travelling southbound didn’t allow for that so instead we’d just be spending the evening there.
Upon arriving, I made friends with the extremely cute farm dog and was kitted out with a cowboy hat to wear then shown how to make traditional ‘beer bread’ which we’d be eating with our beef stew dinner later that evening.
Then, while the stew was being prepared, we took a walk through some of the local land and I was told some of the indigenous history of the area before we watched the sunset and walked back to the farm. After eating our beef stew dinner sat out around a camp fire under the stars, we were dropped back the hostel where there was the option of going for drinks at the hostel bar.
As it had been a busy day and we had a 5am start the next day, I decided to get an early night instead.
Emu Park had been a fun, if a little random, stop on my southbound trip along Australia’s East coast and one of those places I would probably never have thought about visiting otherwise. From here I’d be travelling to my next stop at Rainbow Beach from where I’d be setting off for a trip to Fraser Island, part of the trip I’d been looking forward to for a while!
Yesterday, I had joined a flexi-tour traveling down Australia’s east coast from Cairns to Sydney with Loka Travel and had found myself one of just two passengers on the Tully leg of the trip.
Having survived a night of camping by Tully River, we were now on the train with our Loka guide heading south towards Proserpine, the stop for Airlie Beach. Along the way, we stopped at Townsville station where my Tully travel buddy hopped off to spend a few days on Magnetic Island. Having visited Townsville and Magnetic Island just days earlier, I was opting to continue on to spend 2 nights in Airlie Beach where despite my recent visit, there was more I wanted to see and do.
At Townsville, we were joined by more Loka travellers who, having spent a few days on Magnetic Island, were now also heading to Airlie but I was disappointed to find the majority of them were departing on a multi-day sailing trip through the Whitsundays the next morning and no one else was signed up to the Ocean Rafting excursion I’d opted to book from the Loka website for the next day.
Despite the ‘small group’ aspect of the tour really not working out for me so far, I was hopeful that there would at least be other solo travellers on the tour the next day that I could hang out with!
It was a long journey on the train to Proserpine and once there, our guide helped us find the bus service to Airlie then check in at Base hostel. I’d opted to book a private en-suite room, feeling the last thing I’d need after a night camping would be a noisy hostel dorm but I was surprised to find I’d been allocated a large family room with double bed, bunks and small, basic kitchenette all to myself!
It was already late evening so after grabbing food from McDonalds, I had an early night to catch up on my sleep before the early start the next day.
The next morning, I made my way to Coral Sea Marina to check in for my Ocean Rafting tour. Despite the Camira sail boat taking us to Whitehaven Beach on my last trip to Airlie and the Whitsundays, it hadn’t taken us to Hill Inlet, part of the beach I really wanted to see so today I’d booked a tour which I knew included this stop.
At check in, I soon got talking to the few other solo travellers on the tour and we spent the day hanging out together on the boat and at Whitehaven.
In complete contrast to the sedate, relaxing day spent on Camira a week earlier, the Ocean Rafting tour was a lot more energetic as the boat raced across the waves, bouncing us around and leaving us hanging on tightly as we headed out past the Whitsunday Islands.
Like on the Camira sailing trip, we made a few stops before reaching Whitehaven to snorkel on the reef.
After only seeing one so far on my trip, I was really excited on the first stop to find us swimming alongside lots of huge turtles!
Finally reaching Whitsunday Island just before lunch, we took a walk to Hill Inlet Lookout and it was definitely worth the wait. The view of the huge expanse of white silica sand and the turquoise ocean glistening in the sun before us was absolutely breath-taking.
From the overlook, we then followed the path down to the beach where a buffet lunch was waiting for us.
After lunch and some free time to enjoy the beach, we climbed back on board our Ocean Rafting boat to speed across the waves back to Airlie Beach.
Arriving back mid-afternoon, I spent a bit more time hanging out with the other solo travellers from the Ocean Rafting trip shopping, sat out by Airlie Lagoon and then grabbing a pizza for dinner.
That evening, I went out to the hostel bar. My Loka guide had messaged to say a north-bound Loka group was passing through Airlie so we all went for drinks and karaoke!
After a late night out, I was up early again the next morning for a turtle-spotting kayak tour. I had seen the activity advertised while I was in Airlie Beach a week earlier but it had been fully booked then so I’d booked well in advance to be able to do it this time around.
After checking out and storing my luggage, I was picked up from the hostel by the kayak company and dropped at Shute Harbour where I was paired up with another participant, decked out in safety gear and given a quick lesson in paddling.
Then we climbed into our kayaks to begin our adventure.
We hadn’t gone far before we saw our first turtle bobbing up to the surface and swimming past us.
As we continued to kayak out towards an island we were going to dock at, we passed a few more turtles. Eventually reaching the island, we pulled our kayaks ashore and hiked the short distance to a cabin where we had drinks and biscuits. After, we were given some free time on the beach with snorkel gear provided if we wanted to swim.
Back in our kayaks, we paddled back to Airlie Beach, excited to see yet more turtles swimming near the surface along the way.
It had been a fun but tiring morning. I still had a few hours before we were departing Airlie Beach that evening so after grabbing lunch from a cafe, I decided to take a walk along the Bicentennial Walkway. The pathway runs along the seafront past some of Airlie’s harbours, beaches and parks and I followed it as far as the Whitsunday Shopping Centre at Cannonvale.
After a quick look around, I returned to Airlie Beach and spent some time relaxing by the lagoon before retrieving my luggage from the hostel and going to meet my Loka guide ready to continue my journey southbound.
I had loved returning to Airlie Beach and getting to do some of the things I’d not had time to fit in on my last visit but now I was looking forward to visiting somewhere new – Emu Park.
I’d now been in Australia a few weeks. My trip had been broken down into three parts: New Year in Sydney with some of my best friends; two weeks with one of my Trek America travel buddies travelling to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, Townsville/Magnetic Island and Cairns; and now I was about to begin the third leg, a (kinda) solo adventure, travelling back down Australia’s East Coast all the way back to Sydney.
Rather than book myself onto a small-group escorted tour like I had on my previous solo-travel adventures to the USA, this time I had opted to go somewhere between escorted and completely solo backpacking with a “flexi-tour”. I chose to book with Loka Travel – part of the New Zealand Stray Travel company – as they seemed to offer a good compromise between fully escorted tours and doing it completely by myself.
They operated for small groups rather than the coach loads of rival Oz Experience, so I’d have people to travel with, using a mixture of trains and their own minibuses for transport with each leg accompanied by a tour guide. Unlike on a fully escorted tour, travellers aren’t tied down to a set itinerary but can stay on for extra days at any stop then hop onto the next tour passing through and their was a dedicated, easy-to-access booking site to reserve hostel rooms, experiences or spots on the next train/bus either in advance or as you go. As I knew I had to be back in Sydney by a certain date to make a flight, I mapped out my route in advance and pre-booked all my travel and accommodation.
The first leg of my tour would be from Cairns to Tully where the company offered an exclusive Rainforest Experience. We’d be travelling to Tully by train from Cairns station.
After meeting my guide, I was eager to find out who else I’d be travelling with only to find out that there was just one other passenger on this leg of the trip with me! I know the website said small groups but that wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind. I was told that after spending New Year in Sydney, a lot of travellers were heading north to Cairns rather than travelling in the opposite direction like I was.
It didn’t spoil our fun though. Arriving in Tully late morning, we were met by our Indigineous rainforest guide and taken to a local supermarket to pick up supplies for the evening’s BBQ meal and breakfast tomorrow before we headed to Tully Gorge National Park where we’d be setting up camp for the evening. Not being a huge fan of camping, I was glad this was a one-night experience but I tried to throw myself into it as much as possible!
That afternoon, we were taken down to Tully River where we told we would get to ‘play’ in the water. This turned out to mean body-rafting through white water rapids and, much to my initial horror, wading out to waterfalls and sliding down them, plunging into the water at the bottom like they were giant water slides! We were obviously given all the necessary safety gear – life jackets and safety-helmets – and our rainforest guide acted as lifeguard while our Loka guide demonstrated how to manoeuvre through the rapids and, despite my initial reservations, I absolutely loved the experience and had a really fun afternoon.
Back at the camp, we took a walk along a calmer section of the Tully River before returning to have a traditionally prepared BBQ meal, our chicken cooked in leaves from the rainforest. We spent the next few hours chatting and amusing ourselves with card games until it was dark enough for the final activity of the day – going on a snake hunt.
Like with the body-rafting earlier, my initial reaction to finding out what we were doing was along the lines of “We’re doing what?!” but apparently, our Indigenous guide was an expert at finding and handling wild snakes so I went along with it.
I can’t say I was disappointed though when we failed to see a single snake on our drive. It was worth the drive at least to see the beautiful star-filled sky as we pulled over on a bridge across the Tully River for one last attempt to spot a snake before returning to camp to bed down in our tents for the night.
Surviving a night in the tent without seeing a single spider or any other scary minibeast, we were up at the crack of dawn for a fry up breakfast before being led into the rainforest by our Indigenous guide for an interpretive walk.
Our guide explained to us the importance of the rainforest to the Indigenous peoples and how each parts of the trees and plants that grow there are traditionally used in Indigenous culture. It was a really interesting way to finish off our rainforest experience in Tully.
After our walk, it was time to pack up camp and load up the van as we were transported back to Tully station to await a train to our next destination. For me, this would be another visit to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays just a week on from my last stay there and I couldn’t wait to go back!
After a few nights in a hotel in Townsville, we were back to hostels in Cairns, staying in a private en suite room at the Cairns Central YHA. The hostel was located opposite a shopping mall and just a short walk from the seafront so we spent the afternoon familiarising ourselves with the city, wandering down to the seafront, past the famous Cairns lagoon and shopping.
The next day was going to be our last day together on the trip as my friend was flying back to the UK and I would be continuing my trip, travelling south back to Sydney alone before flying to New Zealand to begin a tour of its North Island. We wanted to do something fun for the last day and had decided on a morning trip to Green Island for a spot of snorkelling followed by an afternoon at Cairns Aqua Park to tackle its giant inflatable obstacle course.
So the next morning, we were up early to walk down to the marina and catch a boat over to Green Island. We had caught the early crossing to give us plenty of snorkelling time on the island but were disappointed to find that the snorkel hire hut didn’t open to coincide with the boat’s arrivals meaning we had to waste the first 45 minutes hanging around waiting for the shutters to go up!
It was worth the wait though as once we’d hired our snorkel gear and stinger suits, we made our way to a small cove where we’d bee told we’d have a good chance of seeing turtles and within seconds of starting to snorkel, a turtle did indeed appear!
We’d been hoping to see one all trip but on all our snorkeling or kayaking adventures so far had let disappointed so we were ecstatic to finally get the chance to swim along side one on our final day!
After the excitement of seeing the turtle, we spent a bit longer snorkelling in that area before making our way to a more popular beach for a bit more swimming and sunbathing before catching an early afternoon boat back across to Cairns.
After briefly going back to the hostel for a quick change and lunch, we caught a taxi to Cairns Aqua Park, just outside of the city.
The park offers awake-boarding pool with artificial waves along with an inflatable obstacle course in a large lake. After grabbing life-jackets and listening to a safety talk – during which we checked there were no crocs in the area! – we were left to attempt the obstacles ourselves, a task a lot more difficult than it looked!!
The obstacle course was a lot of fun but way more tiring than we expected. Once our time slot was up, we got a taxi back to the YHA and after freshening up, walked back into town to find somewhere to eat out for our last evening together.
With my friend catching an very early flight out of Cairns the next day, I awoke alone in our hostel room. Upon arriving at the hostel a few days earlier, I had made use of their in-house booking services to arrange an Atherton Tablelands small-group excursion for my day alone in Cairns so after a pancake breakfast, I waited outside for the minibus to turn up.
I always worry on these tours that I’ll be the only solo traveller but with the company aiming itself at backpackers, there were plenty of us and we had a great day all hanging out together.
The tour took us out to the rainforest where we took a short walk to see the famous Cathedral Fig Tree. This was followed by a quick photo stop at Lake Barrine before we drove out to Crater Lake.
Here, we had the chance to take a walk along the lakeside trail and take a swim in the lake before a buffet lunch.
After lunch we drove to Milla Milla Falls, the waterfall famous from the Peter Andre music video, where we spent some time swimming out to the waterfall and sunbathing on the shore before our penultimate stop at Dinner Falls. The last stop of the day was at the tour company’s hostel accommodation for it’s 2 and 3-day tours where we were provided with afternoon tea before heading back to Cairns.
Back at the hostel, I began packing for the next leg of my trip only for my suitcase to break.
I had passed the Cairn’s night market a few days before so decided to take a walk down in hope I could pick up a cheap case to tide me over for the rest of the trip. The busy market was definitely worth a look around with arrange of stalls selling a variety of souvenirs and other items. I found what I was looking for and dragged the case back to the hostel, stopping off to grab a pizza for dinner on the way back.
The next day, would be my final day in Cairns. I spent the morning down at Cairns Lagoon, an experience way more positive than my experience at Airlie Lagoon. The site was a lot more attractively laid out than Airlie’s lagoon, the water seemed cleaner and its temperature was a lot better.
That afternoon I had booked a white water rafting session with Raging Thunder Adventure Company out at Barron River.
I was picked up in a minibus along with other groups from the hostel and taken out to the company’s headquarters where we were given a safety briefing, given our safety equipment and put into groups of 6 for our rafts. As many of those taking part that afternoon had come as part of escorted tour groups like Contiki, as one of the few solo travellers, I was added to a group of five to make up the numbers.
Despite not knowing anyone else in my tour group, I had an amazing time rafting down the river. I had rafted once before, in Wyoming on my Trek America tour, and loved it then but this was way more intense and exciting with us even being asked at one point to leave the boat and body-raft through some white water.
Exhausted, I returned to the hostel that evening for a quiet night in ready to begin a new solo travel adventure early the next day.
It was the final few days of my week-long tour of New Zealand’s North Island with small group adventure tour company Haka Tours. I’d joined the tour after spending some time travelling solo to the Bay of Islands and Auckland and so far, we’d spent time on the Coromandel, in Waitomo and Rotorua. Now, we were about to leave a 2-night stay in Taupo behind us.
Still exhausted and aching all over from completing an almost 20km hike across Tongariro National Park the day before, we checked out of our hostel, loaded up the bus with our luggage and hit the road. Today, we’d be heading to our final North Island destination, New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington.
Along the way, we made a couple of stops. First up was a roadside stop to enjoy the stunning views of Tongariro National Park and then a stop at the a National Army Museum. While none of the group decided to pay to go into the museum, we used the opportunity to stretch our legs, use the conveniences and pose for photos with the tanks outside!
Our second stop was on the outskirts of the town of Taihape where the town’s boundary was marked with a sculpture of a giant ‘gumboot’ or Wellington boot as we’d call it in the UK. Taihape is the gumboot throwing capital of New Zealand.
Competitions in this unusual sport are held regularly here on a purpose built court and after we posed for photos with the giant boot, that’s exactly where we headed next for our own bit of friendly competition throwing gumboots!
Armed with a boot each, we stepped up in pairs to throw it as far as we could, winner staying on to compete again. I somehow won my first couple of rounds, luck more than anything, but it certainly wasn’t third time lucky for me as I crashed out in the next round!!
Game over, we walked to a nearby café for a well-deserved cup of tea and some lunch before our next stop at Gravity Canyon.
Here, we had the option of trying out a Flying Fox – a kind of zip line over a canyon where you fly down head first like Superman! I’d ziplined many time before and didn’t see how this could be any scarier than that so seeing as I’d not signed up for any of the other more adventurous activities like bungee jumping or skydiving, I decided to give this one a go!
Three of us were strapped into the holster next to each other before a cord was pulled sending us hurtling down over the canyon below. It was great fun and I was glad I decided to do it.
From here, we continued on towards Wellington. Just outside of the city, we stopped once more to stretch our legs at a park, letting out our inner kids to play on the swings etc. Traffic was already heavy into the city and our rush hour arrival made it worse so by the time we arrived at our YHA hostel accommodation, there wasn’t a lot of the day left.
We made plans to all meet for dinner after a bit of downtime.
With most of the group deciding on an Asian Fusion restaurant recommended by our tour guide for dinner, a couple of us who were not keen on this cuisine made plans to either eat elsewhere or cook our own food at the hostel before meeting back with the others at the Asian Fusion bar after for drinks.
Still tired from the previous day’s hike, most of us went straight back to our hostel dorms afterwards for an earlyish night.
The next day was the final day of our week-long North Island tour. Tomorrow, some of the group would be continuing on to complete the South Island leg of the tour while I would be staying a few more days in Wellington alone before flying home.
Today, we had the full day in Wellington to spend as we wished. Our guide was offering to take us on a tour of the city in the morning or we could make our own plans. A few of the Lord of the Rings fans in the group wanted to visit the Weta Workshop, where many of the props for the films were made, for a tour.
As a big film fan, I decided to go along too so rather than join our guide’s city tour, we instead walked to the tourist information office to book a place on a tour later that morning.
We had an hour to kill before our tour was due to leave so we had a walk along the water front and got drinks and a snack from a nearby café before returning to catch our mini bus.
The bus took us out to Weta Workshops where we were taken on a guided tour of the premises. We were shown props and costumes from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films as well as other films made in New Zealand – unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photos during the tour – and I was surprised to learn what a big part Wellington played in the film industry.
After our tour, we had some time to spend in the gift store/museum before our minibus arrived to take us back to the city centre where we met up with a few more of our group who were now back from their city tour. We spent some time exploring the city – grabbing tea and cake from yet another cafe! – before heading back to the waterfront where we sat out at a riverside bar ordering pretty much everything off its menu between us for dinner!
That evening, the entire group went out for final night drinks at a bar we found with a 60s cover band playing. We had fun dancing the night away before returning to the hostel and, as those continuing the tour had a very early start the next day, said our goodbyes.
The next morning, I moved out of my now empty dorm room and into a private room at the YHA then set out alone to explore more of the city.
First up, was a hike up to Mount Victoria. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I’d found instructions for a self-guided route which took me along Oriental Parade past the city’s pretty sea front and then up a steep path until I reached the viewpoint at the top.
After spending some time enjoying the views from the top, I walked back down to sea level stopping to relax on the beach, enjoying the sunshine and even taking a dip in the sea.
Following a quick change back at the hostel, I walked to the terminus of the Wellington Cable Car catching it uphill to the viewpoint at the top. Once at the top, I had a quick look around the small cable car museum then walked back down to the city through the Botanic Gardens.
As one of the girls from my tour group was also still in Wellington, we met for dinner then went for drinks. It was Chinese New Year and there were celebrations going on at the waterfront ending in a firework display so we watched them from outside the bar – a great way to spend my last night in the city – and New Zealand!
My flight home via Sydney wasn’t leaving until late afternoon the next day so after checking out of the hostel, I went for a hearty breakfast at a café then spent the morning visiting some of Wellington’s museums. I started off at the Te Papa, the city’s Museum of New Zealand .
After spending a few hours looking around the various exhibitions, I still had some time to spare so walked along the waterfront to the Wellington Museum, a much smaller, but equally interesting museum tracking the history of the city.
Eventually, it was time to say goodbye to the beautiful city of Wellington and to New Zealand and begin my long journey back to the UK. I’d loved my time in the city and exploring New Zealand’s North Island, in fact, despite everyone telling me I’d be disappointed after first visiting South Island and that South Island was the best of the two islands to visit, I think if I had to pick, I actually preferred visiting North Island.
I loved the island’s areas of geothermal activity and volcanic landscapes, found learning about Maori culture fascinating, loved the vibrant cities of Auckland and Wellington and visiting the coastal areas of the Northlands and the Coromandel and while the scenery may not have been as constantly dramatic as South Island’s, it’s just as beautiful in its own way.
I was definitely sad to be leaving New Zealand and hoped to return some day.
I was nearing the end of a second solo trip to New Zealand. Having visited South Island previously, this time, I was exploring North Island. After spending time alone in the Bay of Islands and Auckland, I had joined a one-week small group tour with Haka Tours which had so far taken in the Coromandel, Waitomo and Rotorua and we were now en route to our first 2-night stop of the trip, Taupo.
Leaving Rotorua mid-afternoon after a morning visit to Hobbiton and a stop off at Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland, it was only an hour’s drive so we still arrived at our Haka Lodge accommodation with some of the afternoon to spare. After checking into our dorms, we were taken to the nearby Spa Park. Here, there was a natural thermal hot spring which we spent the next hour or so relaxing in.
Once back at the hostel, it was time for some shopping. Most of the group would be taking on the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing the next day, a 19km hike, so supplies were needed to sustain us along the way. Hiking supplies bought, we then grabbed some food from the rather interesting Taupo McDonalds – a converted airplane! – before getting an early night.
We were up at 4am the next day to be picked up and taken to the start point of the crossing. Before starting the hike, I had little idea of what exactly it entailed other than the length of it but I had been told by members of my South Island tour group who had completed it, that although tiring, it was must do on the North Island tour and that had been my main reason for signing up.
After being dropped off, we made our way along the first part of the track. It was pretty flat and easy going and markers along the way tracked how far we had walked and how far we still had to go. We soon realised we’d been lulled into a false sense of security as we reached the infamous Devil’s Staircase part of the trek an hour or so later.
A long, uphill section with a mixture of steep pathways and stairs to climb causing us to take plenty of stops to ‘take some photos’ of the views!
The path then evened out again as we passed through the barren volcanic landscape of a crater before climbing steeply again, culminating in a tricky section where we had to use a rope attached to the rocks to scramble up a sharp ridge!
At the highest point of the trek now, Red Crater Summit, and also around the halfway point, we stopped to eat lunch. The weather so far had been very changeable and out of nowhere as we reached the summit, a huge cloud had descended around us masking the view.
Undeterred, we were soon ready to begin our descent down the other side of Red Crater. Glad there was some respite from walking uphill for the foreseeable future, we were surprised to find that this would actually turn out to be the most difficult part of the entire hike!
The path down was not only extremely steep but the surface was made up of loose lava fragments, like gravel, making it difficult to get a firm grip. We all lost our footing at some point, some sliding down the track before managing to steady ourselves again and the sheer incline at either side of us made the path even more precarious.
As we carefully made our way down, the cloud around us started to clear revealing the Emerald Lakes in the distance below.
Eventually we reached the lakes and looking back at where we just were and the hikers behind us looking tiny as they came down the steep path, we couldn’t believe we’d ever even managed to get to that point!
We continued on to Blue Lake where we stopped for snacks and to take in the beautiful scenery around us.
Next, there was another uphill section but the climb was much gentler than the previous climbs and the views along the way were stunning. From this point, the scenery started to change, becoming greener and less barren. Soon, we could see Ketetahi shelter in the distance – the first public conveniences since the first part of the track – but the winding track to get there seemed never ending!
Finally reaching Ketetahi shelter, some of the group were starting to flag but after a quick pit stop, I just wanted to get the last section of the trek done so edging ahead of the rest of the group, I started to pick up the pace as the path started to wind downhill. Again, the scenery began to noticeably change until I was walking through a forest of lush green plants and past a stream small waterfall before finally opening out into a car park.
Exhausted but also feeling a sense of achievement, I found somewhere to slump down as I waited for the rest of the group. Once on the coach we all fell asleep pretty much immediately on the journey back to our hostel.
We arrived back to find the few members of the group who hadn’t joined us on our hike looking a lot livelier than us after they’d spent the day exploring Taupo. They excitedly told us our tour guide had organised for us to go on a sunset cruise on the lake that evening. Struggling to muster up the energy to be excited for the prospect of doing anything other than sleep that evening, I retreated to my bed for a nap to recover from the day’s exertions.
After my nap and a shower, I still felt exhausted and ached all over but despite some of my fellow hikers deciding to give the cruise a miss, I decided I didn’t want to miss out so managed to drag myself out of my room and down to the meeting point just in time to be dropped down at the marina.
Here, we found a sail boat waiting for us along with crates of drinks in a cooler and a delivery of pizza’s for everyone. The cruise turned out to be just what I needed as I sat relaxing, wrapped up in the blankets that had been provided enjoying the good food, good company and pretty views.
The boat took us out to the Mine Bay Maori Rock Carving and then back to Taupo as the darkness began to descend. It had been a really fun evening and I was really glad I made the effort to go along but I was also very happy to get back to my bed and slept very well that night!
It had been a fun but exhausting couple of days in Taupo and I wished we had another day there to spend some more time exploring the town and relaxing down by the lake but for now, it was on to the last stop of the North Island tour, the capital city of New Zealand, Wellington.
Having spent an exciting morning black water rafting through the glow worm caves of Waitomo, it was on to our next destination in New Zealand’s North Island. I was visiting New Zealand as a solo traveller and so far, I had visited the Bay of Islands and explored Auckland alone before visiting the Coromandel and Waitomo as part of an escorted tour with adventure travel company, Haka Tours and today we were off to Rotorua.
The journey from Waitomo to Rotorua took under 2 hours and once there, we made our first stop at Agrodome, a farm and adventure park just outside of Rotorua.
After cooing over the cute goats and emus, we were given the opportunity to have a go on some of the park’s activities including the high-speed Agrojet boat. After watching some other group members taking a spin on it, I decided it looked like fun and before I knew it I was strapped in and being whizzed around the water track at full speed! The boat was great fun!!
After grabbing some lunch from the cafe, it was on to our next stop just down the road, OGO Rotorua, where some group members tried their hands at Zorbing – rolling down a grassy slope in a large, inflatable ball. While I decided not to have a go myself, we all had lots of fun giggling at the others as we watched them attempt to stay upright inside!
It was off to check in at our accommodation for the night next – the Rotorua YHA where we’d be in dorms for the night.
This evening, we’d be going out for dinner at a traditional Maori Hangi. After getting ready, we were dropped at the Mitai Maori Village. Here, we were shown our dinner being cooked traditionally in a pit before seeing a ‘Waka’, or ceremonial war canoe being sailed down the river then watching a traditional Maori cultural performance and Haka.
Dinner was then served to us followed by a guided bush walk to finish the evening with.
The next morning, we had the choice of white water rafting, visiting Hobbiton or exploring Rotorua. Although ideally, I’d have liked to have had time for all 3 options, as a huge movie fan who loves to visit movie sets and studios (read about some of the other movie sites I’ve visited on my travels here!), I had signed up to visit Hobbiton along with the majority of the group.
We were picked up from a Lord of the Rings-themed store near to our hostel and taken to Hobbiton. The purpose set used in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films had been left up after filming was completed and turned into a tourist attraction.
We were taken around the hobbit village by a tour guide, told a bit about the filming process, how the set was built, how it was used and stories from when they filmed and were given the opportunity to take photos of and with the hobbit houses.
While I’m glad I got to visit, I did find the tour very rushed with the tour group behind us hot on our heels the whole time making it difficult to get the photos we wanted.
I also found the guided groups to be too large and it was sometimes difficult to hear what the guide was saying. It is possible to take tours to Hobbiton from Auckland and I wished I had done this so I had the chance to white water raft or explore Rotorua that morning instead.
At the end of our tour, we got to visit the Green Dragon Inn for a glass of ale, cider or ginger ale included in our ticket price then it was time to get the coach back to Rotorua to meet back up with the rest of the group and begin our drive to Taupo.
But first we had one more stop just outside of town – Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland where we followed the boardwalk to see some of New Zealand’s geothermal and volcanic activity. Similar to Yellowstone National Park, we saw geysers, bubbling mud pools and pools of colourful boiling hot water all accompanied by the lovely smell of sulphur! It was really interesting to see.
It was a shame I’d not got to see more of Rotorua itself but I’d enjoyed my stay in the town and the varied activities along the way!
After spending time alone exploring the Bay of Islands and Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island, I was now 2 days into a tour of the island with Haka Tours. This afternoon we had left the Coromandel behind and now we were journeying towards our next stop, Waitomo.
3 hours later, we arrived at our accommodation for the night, a small motel on the outskirts of Waitomo. I was allocated a comfortable 3-bedroom ensuite room to share with 2 other group members and after settling in, we met up with the rest of the group at the adjoining pub spending the rest of the evening eating, drinking and chatting.
I had taken a tour of New Zealand’s South Island with Haka Tours just a few months earlier and kept in touch with most of my group in a Whatsapp chat. As most of them had toured North Island with the company immediately before our South Island trip, I had made sure to ask them to recommend which optional extras I should book. There were 2 unanimous ‘must dos’ according to my friends – the Tongariro Crossing in Taupo and Black Water Rafting at the glow worm caves in Waitomo.
There were actually 3 options available to use for viewing the Glow Worm Caves – a boat tour, black water rafting or, the most expensive, time-consuming and high-energy option, an abseiling and caving tour.
I wasn’t completely sure what Black Water Rafting was but had done White Water Rafting a few times and loved it so taking my friends’ advice, I had upgraded my travel insurance cover (as apparently it was a higher risk activity than anything I’d previously done!) and signed myself up for it!
So the next morning, we were up early and those of us going black water rafting were picked up and taken to the headquarters of the Black Water Rafting Company. Once there, we were handed skin tight wetsuits, special boots and a helmet with a flashlight on the front to change into and led to a pile of black inner tubes to choose from.
Now, I’m not sure what I did expect from the tour but what I certainly didn’t expect was to have to leap from the top of a waterfall into the river below. Backwards. Landing in my inner tube! Upon finding out exactly what was involved in the black water rafting experience, a few of us (ok, all of us!) in the group started exchanging worried looks – You want us to do what?!
We got to practise outside first, all nervously lining up then standing as near to the edge of the small waterfall as possible, back to the river behind us, jumping backwards aiming to land lying down in our inner tube. I watched the first few group members go first, all successfully landing in their tubes and floating off down the river before scrambling back out. Soon, it was my turn and somehow, I managed it straight away too!
Practise over, we were told to hook our tubes over our shoulders and lead off to the cave entrance. Now I knew there’d be caves involved – they’re glow worm CAVES, where else would we be going?! But I’m not sure I’d realised that caving would be involved. Squeezing ourselves along with our tubes through narrow, dark passages underground with nothing but the light on our helmets to guide the way.
But it was too late to back out now so I dutifully followed the rest of the group and our guide into the darkness.
Once in the cave, we scrambled down the dark damp recesses until we heard water in the distance. It go louder until we realised we were at the top of a waterfall with an underground river running below. It was a much higher waterfall than the one we had practised on above ground. Wanting to get it out of the way, I volunteered to be the first to leap off backwards into my tube. Somehow, I again managed it without injury. Landing in the cold water flowing below and drifting off down the river, I grabbed onto the wall to steady myself and wait for the rest of the group to also be sat in their tubes in the river.
From this point, it was less strenuous and more like a lazy river in the dark! Led by our guide, we drifted through the cave system along the underground river until we came to the glow worm caves. Here, we formed a train, all grabbing the ankles of the person behind us. We were then asked to all turn the flashlight on our helmet off so we were in complete darkness.
Being at the front, I was then led through through the caves by the guide and pulling the rest of my group behind me. The darkness surrounding us was suddenly lit up by what looked like a million stars shining brightly above us – glow worms! And suddenly all the stress of clambering through the caves and leaping backwards off waterfalls before seemed worth it!
As we left the caves and then Waitomo behind to head for our next stop of Rotorua, we were exhausted but extremely glad we’d all gone through with it.
Black water rafting through the caves of Waitomo was certainly an experience and one I’d absolutely recommend to anyone. As our one week tour of North Island came to an end a few days later, we all agreed that seeing the glow worms in that way was definitely a highlight of the entire week!