We’re up early and ready to hit the road to Mount Ruapehu, the main event and reason we’ve taken this road trip. We’ve managed to sleep through the night without another leg of the bed snapping off or any other injuries, which is nice. Breakfast is a priority so we hit up a cute little café a few streets up from our hostel, and I eat way too much food. The road down to Ruapehu is beautiful, winding along in view of the lake for most of the drive. My ears start to pop as we climb higher up the mountain, and before I know it… there’s snow on the road! Feels like home, but better, because I know I can turn around and go back to the warmth at any time.
I haven’t come to New Zealand with much warm clothing and it’s surprisingly chilly up here. I think people are maybe being a litttttttle dramatic with their chained tires for driving on well paved roads… but you do you. I didn’t realize until I got here that there’s a whole ski hill with a chalet and everything; it is PACKED on this lovely Saturday afternoon. We bundle up to the best of our kiwi-clothed ability and start out on a little walk up the mountain for some views, all throwing snow balls at each other on the way. Ryan is in the midst of an intense Peaky Blinders binge. He’s so into the show that he’s started dressing in Peaky attire at all times. He’s very committed, even when it comes to mountain climbing. It’s become a running joke to come up with various Peaky titles for his activities.
During our short walk, I swear like in the span of 15 minutes, the weather changes from blindingly sunny to extremely windy and grey. Just as we’re getting to the top of a peak. I’m now getting absolutely pelted in the face with hail. The wind feels strong enough to toss me right past this bright orange danger sign, and off the edge of this cliff. I’m stupid enough to pull out my phone for the ol’ Snapchat. Fortunately, I hold on tight enough that I get to keep it.
Anything for social media.
The boys hike up a little higher to another peak, still within my view, but I’m honestly too scared to try it. I’m currently digging each footstep deep into the snow to keep me grounded, and the last thing I want is to go somewhere higher and potentially windier. Hangin’ on by a thread right now. When I’m not fearing for my life, the view from the mountain is epic, definitely worth it.
All having had our fix of the snow and absolutely freezing, we walk back down this bit of mountain. We consider stopping in the chalet for a nice warm hot chocolate but it’s an actual zoo inside so ultimately decide very much against it.
We’ve come all this way so we can’t reallllly just turn around and go back already, but there isn’t much else to explore this high up the mountain without a pair of skis and like, $300 for a day pass and rental gear. We pull over on our drive back down and decide to go for another little walk. It’s started snowing down here now too and is just as windy as the cliff we’ve just climbed, but we go for a little jaunt again anyway. There’s no cliff to fall off so it’s chill. The landscape is really beautiful, stark and rocky kind of like Iceland. I wonder what it would be like the summer, if it’s covered in greenery or still stoney and bare. Once we’re over a small hill and have lost sight of the car, it looks as if it goes on forever. The snow in this area is way deeper, and I’m sometimes up to my knees which is extremely unfortunate when wearing ankle boots. When we finally get back to the car we’re all soaked from head to toe due to snow balls, hail, and falling over a few times, and have to throw our melting stuff in the trunk. I literally don’t know how Ryan survived with just his peaky blinders cap and no hood.
15 minutes later we’re down the mountain, surrounded by greenery and sunshine. That was enough snow for one day thank you. If fact, I think that’ll do for another 365 days.
New Zealand is so cool guys. For real.
The plan for tonight is to drive back closer towards Auckland and stay in Rotorua, hitting Huka Falls and some hot springs on the way.
Huka Falls is the most epic colour of blue, and I drove out to see it when I was here during the summer, but only saw it from the distant lookout point and never got up close or crossed over it on the bridge so we’re going today.
It’s honestly a little underwhelming from this side because the blue isn’t as electric up close, and you can’t see the actual falls from over here. Still cool to see how much and how fast the water flows down this stream, which isn’t as obvious from the other side. We try to take a squad selfie but none turn out with all 3 of us looking good at the same time, so I use snapchat to do a little photoshopping.
I personally think it turns out wonderfully all things considered. Would you have noticed if I didn’t say anything? I think not. I will be adding: “proficient in Snapchat photo editing” to my CV effective immediately.
Now we’re headed for the hot springs. This is exactly what we deserve after that strenuous hour in the snow. The Polynesian Spa is popular in Rotorua but seems more touristy and costly than the Waikite Thermal Pools outside the town, recommended to us by another one of Chesney’s friends. We splurge and spend the extra money for a $23 private pool, which also grants us access to the other 6 public pools, available for $18 entry. There’s also a creepy $3 “spectators” fee, for people who just want to sit on the deck and watch everyone else swim. Pretty happy to have a private pool where there is none of that nonsense.
We’ve picked the perfect time of day to visit, just as the sun is going down. We get into the private pool first, which is 38 degrees and has taps available for us to adjust hotter or colder. It’s soooo relaxing.
The public pools are less so because they’re full of children, other humans, and “spectators” so if you ever get the chance to go I highly recommend opting for private.
We’re pretty tired and ready to check in to a hostel, but we still have to find one. We roll up to ol’ faithful, The Spa Lodge (even though we just paid to use a spa pool it’s hard to say no to the free one here) which also happens to be the cheapest place in town. I don’t know exactly what’s going on but it looks like a bachelor party or something. There’s a group of dudes blaring music out of their car in the parking lot, and it looks like they’re all staying here for the night. The only dorm bed available is $27/night until I tell the woman at the front desk we saw it for cheaper online. She asks us what we want to pay… and I say $20. I didn’t know haggling was a thing in New Zealand. The bed is also in a room with a “group” which I can only assume are the dudes outside. We can’t do that to poor Ryan so we decide to look elsewhere.
We walk down to the YHA where the private rooms are $80 and the dorms $25. Nah.
Base is across the street so we check it out. Dorms are $20 here which is great, and we ask for the cheapest private room which is apparently a whopping $90. When we talk about leaving the woman at the front desk is like “oh well there’s also another private room for $60 but it doesn’t have an ensuite”. Like, yes lady, thanks. That’s what we meant by cheapest.
We’re tired and over it so we stay.
Ryan makes a good point about the strange haggling situation that like, not only is New Zealand not a haggly place, it’s especially not cool to haggle with locals. Go for it with tourists, make them pay the tourist prices if you must, though I still feel like that’s not very nice…but when you hear the kiwi accent shouldn’t you chill? Maybe I did too much talking.
The private room is actually really nice. There’s even a tv (not that we need it)! The closet’s so big Ryan could probably sleep in there on the floor! (hard no). Aaaaand there’s a tea station! (wahoo!)
I’m an old lady and I’m tiiiired but head out for dinner and some drinks anyway. We find a pretty awesome Mexican place and order way way way too much food that we can’t even finish it. We try to hit up The Pig and Whistle, the bar I’ve visited every single time I’ve been down to Rotorua, but there’s a $5 cover charge and we are nawt feelin’ that. There’s also a 40 year old birthday party going on, judging by the giant pink 4 and 0 balloons visible inside. Perhaps not our scene.
We end up at the Lava Bar, attached to our hostel. Base Backpackers is a popular chain in New Zealand and Australia, and has a reputation for being a party hostel. Not tonight. Here everyone is our age but similar to Taupō’s nightlife yesterday, the ratio of human body to m2 of bar space is severely lacking. Cheap dranks thoooooo. We play some more pool and have another responsibly early night.