Vanuatu: Champagne Beach & Power Outages

Waking up to the sound of ocean waves is almost as good as falling asleep to them. It would be a lot easier to get up for work every day if this was outside my door.


Vanuatu: Million Dollar Point & Port Olry

I’ve met some nice French girls at my hostel who are hitting the blue holes today (which I’ve already done) but are kind enough to give me a ride to town. I’m kicking myself because I haven’t made any strong decisions yet. I’ve kind of been puttering about trying to figure out what I want to do, and I’m really just wasting time.

Vanuatu: Matevulu Blue Holes

Waking up at 4 is rough, why do I do this to myself?! I had spoken to the woman who runs the hostel last night and told her I planned to take a bus to the airport but she looked at me like I was crazy.

Vanuatu: Santo or Tanna?

I meet a French girl at my hostel who is also living in New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa, and leaving on the same flight home as I am next week. We discuss our travel plans (or lack thereof) over breakfast.

Vanuatu has 83 islands, but domestic flights are expensive and not only am I time poor, I am also poor poor. So I have to make the choice to either go North to Espíritu Santo (better known as just Santo) or South to Tanna.

To Vanuatu

Having now definitively made the decision to leave New Zealand, I feel I need to take one more Pacific Island trip before I go. Who knows when I’ll be back on this side of the world again?

Vanuatu has always piqued my interest, I’m not really sure why. I think just because it’s such an enigma; it seems so untouched and rich in culture. I signed up for a bunch of different flight deal websites that send you emails when there’s unusually low fares on sale. Don’t do it unless you know you’re ready to go somewhere because it’s highly addictive and you WILL book a flight…. I’ve been tempted for months. So when one popped up for Vanuatu, $420 return, I had to do it.

New Zealand: Glow Worms and Coastal Driving

Yesterday was mostly driving from Nelson to Greymouth along the beautiful west coast highway, making lots of stops along the way.

First we stopped to do the 1hr Braeburn track to a small waterfall, through a forest with black-mould covered trees and burnt orange leaves falling along the path.

Two colourful cups of milk tea sit on a table between a plastic unicorn and dinosaur.

New Zealand: Bubble Teas of Broadway

I love bubble tea, but there’s an excessive number of shops in Newmarket. They seem to just keep on coming… which begs some questions. How do they all stay in business? How do customers choose? Is this somehow a highly profitable industry? Is it just an easy front for money laundering? How much better can one bubble tea be than another?
And so, in the name of science, my boyfriend and I have decided to investigate.

Girl overlooking lake from hot spring

New Zealand: Rotorua on Any Budget

Rotorua is one of my favourite spots to visit on New Zealand’s beautiful north island! There are tons of activities to suit every type of traveller, but we all know the cost of adventure adds up quickly. Luckily, Rotorua has options from luxury to free and everywhere in between. You just have to get past the smell…the natural beauty comes at a sulphur-y price.

Girl overlooking lake from hot spring
Polynesian Spa

Getting Around

First, you’ll need a car. All the best parts of New Zealand are off the beaten track! This is especially true of Rotorua.

I highly recommend picking up a car from Apex Rentals because they’re cheap, offer unlimited kms, insurance, and an additional driver for no extra charge. The price of a basic cheap car is about $40 for one day, and to fill a tank of petrol costs about $60+. Petrol is painfully expensive…I know.

*Pro Budget Tip: If your schedule is flexible, check out TransferCar. Its a company that basically connects you to rental offices that need their cars returned, so they let you drive it for free. The catch is that you have a set amount of days to get from point A to B, and you have to pay for your own petrol.
eg. Auckland Airport to Christchurch Airport in 4 days.
Not exactly leisurely…but free! and insurance is usually included.

If you don’t want to pick up a car from a major city, you can catch a bus for $30ish with InterCity and rent once you’ve arrived in Rotorua. There are two central rental offices:

Hertz – 1233 Amohau St.
Budget – 1230 Fenton St.

*Pro Budget Tip: Bus prices vary drastically based on when you book. Like, I mean drastically. But if you’re on the ball and book far enough in advance, you can find $1 tickets! Check for dates 6+ months in advance on InterCity.

List of bus fares for November 2019 – search done TEN months out. No rhyme or reason to it.

Okay, you’ve made it to Rotorua. Let’s get to the good stuff!

See Some Freaky Geothermal Shit

Wai O Tapu
$65 entry, 25 mins from Rotorua
Rotorua’s most famous geothermal park. You can choose from 3 trail options and meander through what should surely be on the world’s list of natural wonders. Everything is totally mind blowing! Tickets are definitely on the expensive side, but if you can afford it – worth it. I honestly think it may be one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been.

Orakei Korako
$39 entry, 1 hr from Rotorua
Here you can see a smaller, less jaw dropping, yet still rad park full of steaming, bubbling, and smelly miracles of the earth. Admission price includes the ferry ride across the lake to gain access to the cave & park.

Kuirau Park
$Free! 0 mins from Rotorua
If you’re on a really tight budget, you can still check out some weird geothermal stuff for FREE! Not only that, but it’s surely an easy walk from wherever you’re staying in the city. Here you can see some bubbling mud, steamy sulphur ponds, and even dip your feet in a hot spring. It’s not as mind blowing as the other stuff, but if you’re scrounging for meals this may be your best option. And, if the smell doesn’t effect your appetite, you can bring your own food and use the communal BBQs to enjoy a picnic!

A steaming geothermal lake in Wai-O-Tapu park
Wai-O-Tapu is so crazy it looks like another planet!

Visit The Redwoods – Whakarewarewa Forest

Redwoods Treewalk (Hanging Bridges)
$29, 5 min drive / 45 min walk from Rotorua
Defo a little pricey to walk on some bridges, right? Well yes… but it’s worth it. The walkways are suspended between these epic, old, majestic af redwoods and there’s more than half a kilometer to explore. I highly suggest you avoid Sunday afternoons if you don’t care for children, and if you’re looking for something a lil’ romantic you can visit at night when everything is illuminated by hanging lanterns.

Hiking Trails
$Free! 5 min drive / 45 min walk from Rotorua

There is a whole network of trails that vary in difficulty and length. I opted for the 2ish hour Pohaturoa track, and while it was lovely, the first hour was the best part, so if you’re not a big hiker it’s still totally worth going for a short stroll. A moderate level of fitness is advised but I’m unfit af and I enjoyed myself.

Treat Yo’self

Polynesian Spa
$20-95, 10 min walk from most accommodation in Rotorua

Easily walkable from anywhere in the city, and the most luxurious option in town, the Polynesian Spa offers a variety of access packages. The most popular is the $55 Deluxe Adult Pool, where you can soak in 5 mineral baths of various temperatures in a lovely outdoor setting overlooking the lake. If you’re brave (or crazy) you can even hop in the cold plunge!

*For a fully pampered experience, there are private pools, massages, facials, and other spa packages available as well.

Waikite Thermal Pools
$18-27, 30 min drive from Rotorua
If you’re heading towards Lake Taupo this is definitely worth stopping in for. $23pp gets you a private spa with up to 4 people, and includes access to the communal pools after your time is up. One strange thing is the $3 “Spectator” fee for people who just wanna like… sit there and watch other people swim? I’m sure it’s for parents and grandparents and stuff but I think it was a terrible word choice. Can’t stress the value of the private spa enough.

They suggest that you book a private spa in advance (though I didn’t and managed to get in anyway) and if you’re trying to impress your date, I recommend booking for sunset.

Kerosene Creek
$Free! 25 min drive from Rotorua
A little hard to find without a map, but just off the main Thermal Explorer Highway, is this little gem. Take a short walk from the parking lot along a well-maintained trail (you could do it barefoot, like a kiwi) to reach the steaming, naturally heated sulphur creek. It just so happens to be a perfect temperature – I don’t know how nature does it. I highly suggest getting in below the waterfall for a quick shoulder massage.

*Pro Budget Tip: Assuming you’re staying in Rotorua over night, I highly recommend the Spa Lodge. Dorm bed prices hover around $20 per night depending on the season, and the cheapest private room is about $65. Rooms are basic af, but the real gem here is the geothermal spa pool out back, which is filled with natural mineral-rich water, and totally free for guests to use. Whaaat, 2 for 1 spa and bed? Who needs the Polynesia Spa?

A private thermal pool with a scenic view as the sun goes down
Waikite Private Pool

Get Muddy

Hell’s Gate – Tikitere
$75, 15 min drive from Rotorua

You’ve gotta try everything once, right? Why not cover yourself (or someone else) in some mud! It’s supposed to have awesome skin benefits, and let’s be honest, it’s fun to get a little dirty sometimes. Unfortunately, this activity isn’t cheap – a mud bath will run you a whopping $75pp. There’s also a sulphur spa option for $20, orrrrr if you want to splurge and do it all, you can pay $90 to get access to the mad baths, sulphur pools, and the geothermal reserve walk. I have not done this because I am the poor, but if you’re keen on a mud bath and were going to spend $65 at Wai-O-Tapu anyway, I think this is a better bang for your buck.

Bubbling Mud Pools
$Free! All over NZ
If you’re a mud enthusiast but can’t afford to cover yourself with it for $75, you can get the next best thing and stare at a hotter version of it from a safe distance. Bubbling mud pools are all over New Zealand, specifically in this area of the North Island. You’ll see signs for them along the Thermal Explorer Highway, and they can also be found in Kaikoura, Wai-O-Tapu, or any of the previously mentioned Geothermal Parks. A lot of these pools have been bubbling since the Jurassic period or something. K I made that up, but it seems legit. Just don’t touch them!

Grey steaming and bubbling mud pools
Free mud pools, just outside Wai-O-Tapu

Tolkien Fans Rejoice

$85, 1 hr drive from Rotorua / 2 hrs from Auckland
The famous home of Bilbo, Frodo, and all their tiny little mates. The filming location of The Shire is the star of Matamata – a town between Auckland and Rotorua, and even if you’re not a LotR fan, it’s worth visiting. The set can only be accessed by tour and as such it seems they can basically charge whatever they want. It’s an extortionate $85 for an hour tour, but at least it includes a beer at the end (or cider, or ginger beer if that’s more your thing). I know I just said it was worth it and then said it was extortionate and I know that’s confusing but somehow it’s both. Defo too expensive, but a really good tour.

Hobbitting on a Budget
$Free – $15, 1 hr drive from Rotorua / 2 hrs from Auckland
If you’re keen to do some hobbity stuff but not like, $85 keen, I suggest visiting the tourist info office in the centre of town, which is built to look like a hobbit house, and is full of souvenirs. After window shopping or picking up a hobbit keychain, have a home cooked meal at the Dew Drop Inn, which is also feels hobbit homey and cozy. You’ll probably be passing through Matamata on your way to Rotorua anyway, and it’s an easy pit stop whether you’re into hobbits or nah.

A hobbit hole with a red door slightly adjar, and painting equipment outside for decor
Painter’s House

Dare to Adventure

Sky Diving
$400+, 1 hr drive from Rotorua

About as extreme as it gets… Lake Taupo is known for being one of the best places to sky dive – it’s THE spot on the North Island and with good reason. That view! Another huge bonus is that the drive from Rotorua to Taupo is beautiful and almost everything I’ve listed above is nestled along it. You can do some other cool stuff on your way to jump out of a plane.

White Water Rafting
$70-$140, 10 min drive from Rotorua
New Zealand is the home of extreme sports – you have to try something while you’re here. I went white water rafting down Okere Falls without really having any expectations for what that would entail and I was NOT disappointed. It was a blast. It’s a wee bit expensive for a 3ish hour activity, but check GrabOne, Groupon, and BookMe regularly for deals! I lucked out and got it 50% off ($70).

$45 – $120, 10 min drive from Rotorua

I want to meet the person who came up with this. Like why? “Roll down a hill in a giant balloon.” I don’t know what else to say. Give it a go.

A yellow raft plunging down a large waterfall with 6 people inside, holding on tigh
Rafting Okere Falls (I’m mid-right. The guy behind me is about to fall out of the boat)

There’s a million more things to do in Rotorua… but this should get you started if you haven’t already! What’s your favourite place in New Zealand?