Home to the elusive kiwis, the place where the epic ‘LOTR’ movie series was shot, I spent my September in 2011 drifting around in beautiful New Zealand. It was a short trip lasting merely 10 days, and all of it was spent on North Island, particularly Rotorua and Taupo.

It all began when a free-spirited friend of mine called Jessica, quit her teaching job to take up a half-year work and travel permit in New Zealand. She invited me to join her and so I jumped at the chance.
Here's a photo of her that I took while we were on the road. 

How to go: There were airfare promotions ongoing at that time, so I managed to book return flights to Auckland on Jetstar.com for less than S$500, and bought a Nakedbus bus passport for 5 trips (cost about S$150) to travel from Auckland to Tauranga central.

At Tauranga I met Jessica and she introduced me to her friend Rudi,  a very cheerful German fellow whom she met while plucking and packing kiwis together. Following that we hitchhiked our way to Rotorua city.

Rotorua city is located south of Rotorua lake, and is a place most recognized for it’s smell of ‘rotten eggs’ and thermal activity. It's a popular tourist destination and there seemed plenty to do there thus we decided to stay over for a couple of days. To save on accomodation, Jessica and Rudi had tried to find lodging via couchsurfing, a forum that allows users to share their homes/couches with travellers. Whilst in Tauranga, Jessica and Rudi had managed to find a kind-hearted couchsurfer in Rotorua named James who was willing to take us in for 3-4 days.

James is a facilities and logistics manager in Rotorua, meaning he works irregular hours and can go to or leave from work freely as he pleased. When we arrived in town, James had some free time, thus he took us for a tour around a farm with a breath-taking view of the hills in Rotorua.

We then visited the nearby lakes and forests, in particular the blue lake (Lake takitapu) and the green lake (Lake rotokakahi). It was then that we chanced upon this breath-taking at the lake:

James then took us back to the house and gave us a brief introducing of his house mates and living situation. It was quite interesting since all his housemates seemed to be of different nationalities and backgrounds-
James is English and hails from the countryside in England. His flatmates consist of an Irish man Rob who was looking for work in Rotorua and a student called Cam, who is kiwi, and other 'irregulars' such as the undergraduate frenchman Nico, who would only turn up during weekends and thus we never had the chance to meet.

Here's Rob, cooking up a tasty Irish dinner, and Cam, strolling at the Sulphur Bay

The house was nestled along the surburbs of Rotorua, about 10-15 minutes walk away from the town centre. We loved that though messy, the house had an incredibly welcoming and warm feeling to it. Here's a photo of us jumping for joy at having found lodging for 4! nights and basking in some sunshine.

Cam being a university student, had quite a bit of free time during classes and his part time work, thus he offered to take us around town to the red woods at whakarewarewa forest and the geyser parks.
Whakarewarewa forest is about 15-20 minutes drive from Rotorua town centre, and densely populated by the beautiful and towering Californian Coast Redwoods. It's a great place for taking leisurely strolls or some mountain biking. We took the Waitawa Walk, which took us slightly under an hour and managed to see some giant Mamaku ferns along the way.

After our stroll in the Red woods, we headed to the geyser parks. Rotorua is a tourist destination famed for geysers and hot springs and there are quite a few noteworthy parks such as the Wai-oTapu Thermal wonderland and Waimangu Thermal valley, however, seeing that we were on a budget, Cam recommended us to go to the Motutara (sulphur bay). It's a walkway that passes through sulphur vents and some thermal hotsprings that has no admission charge.

We also spent a bit of time zorbing which involved getting all three of us thrown into a huge plastic ball filled with water, and getting pushed (while in the ball) from the top of a hill all the way down. It sounds mad crazy but it's mad crazy fun, you should try it! As the ball was rolling our limbs were just all over the place and we were laughing like mad, it was so funny. 

Aside from zorbing, exploring the red woods and sulphur bay, we spent an evening strolling around in Rotorua town.
The Rotorua Museum of Art and History is housed in the old bath house building in the heart of the town centre, in the government gardens. it's tudor-style architecture was quite a spectacular sight to behold.

We were tempted to visit the luxurious polynesian spa but unfortunately our budgets didnt allow for it. As a consolation, James brought us to the Blue baths. It's a restored heritage building that geothermally heated pools. We had a incredible night at the blue baths, running from pool to pool, screaming like small kids, sharing our travel experiences and dreams.

Though we had an incredible time, sadly it was time for us to leave Rotorua. 
We cooked James, Rob and Cam a farewell dinner and left for Taupo the next day. 
Skydiving next! We just couldn't wait!
To continue reading my travel experience in Taupo, click here