Peel Forest & Rafting Take 2

Peel Forest would fall under “off the beaten track” and very on brand for Stray. It is a small community in the Canterbury Region of New Zealand close to Christchurch. It is located near the Peel Forest Park Scenic Reserve, the Rangitata River, and part of the Southern Alps. This entire area was used in a lot of the scenery for the Lord of the Rings movies. Flowing from the Alps to the Pacific Ocean the Rangitata River was the main highlight of this one-night stop for us. When we first arrived and checked in we had super sunny weather and headed to the lake. Some people were brave enough to go swimming in the glacial water. I was fine with being their photographer. Only Stray passengers were staying on property so we had the lodge essentially to ourselves. We had a group dinner that night (the last of the trip) and spent the evening playing cards. We were treated to a lazy, sleep in morning as Christchurch was the next stop and only a two-ish hour drive away.

Most of the group drove to Christchurch in the the afternoon, but six of us stayed behind. We were the adventurers and going to take on white water rafting on the Rangitata River! I almost didn’t sign up for this activity as I already had a rafting excursion earlier this trip in Rotorua. One of my friend’s had done this rafting trip a couple of days before I arrived in Peel Forest and the pictures looked amazing. I also had such a great time the first go that I figured I would love it again. And finally, a couple of the people I’ve gotten close with were also doing it so it would be fun rafting with some friends. All of those reasons lead me to try it and I’m so happy that I did.

This rafting was completely different from Rotorua’s. Mainly, the length of the tour, in time and distance, was much longer. The distance covered rafting on this trip was almost 10 times as long. The water was also icy blue and wider than the other rafts. It was also colder given that it comes from a glacier and all the layers we wore were needed (swimsuit, undershirt, thermal, wetsuit, wind breaker jacket, and booties). The other rafting experience leads up to a huge waterfall whereas this didn’t have a waterfall, but massive rapids (ranging from grade 2-5).

I sat upfront on the raft and I absolutely loved it. I was the only one in our boat that had rafted before so it was nice having an idea of what I was doing. Our guide was really knowledgeable and the entire team, and there were a lot of them, was so friendly and professional. After rafting we had the chance to shower and were greeted to a BBQ lunch to enjoy as a group. I really would recommend this excursion, especially if you are bored in Christchurch and want to go out for a day trip.

Accommodation – Rangitata Rafts Lodge

The lodge and the rafting is all in one place/company and they are the only operators out here. I think if you have a big group and you rent out the entire lodge that is the way to go, but if you are traveling solo or with just another person camping or just a day trip out here would suffice.

My First Rafting Experience

I think I’ve tried almost all water activities except white water rafting. I’ve always been interested in going, but for some reason I just hadn’t gone. Being in New Zealand, the “adventure capital of the world,” I figured it would be the perfect place to start.

The rafting trip was through Kaitiaki Adventures. We traveled down the Kaituna River through 14 rapids and down three waterfalls. This trip was classified as Grade 5 rafting. One of the waterfalls, Tutee Falls, is classified as the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world at 7 meters tall. It was pretty sick first time rafting conditions.

We really lucked out on the group in the raft as it was randomly assigned, but it ended up being five early to mid-twenty year old women and our hilarious guide, Cauzo. When we weren’t going down the rapids we had nice chats and the time flew by.

Rafting in general was SO fun! We all survived the big waterfall and didn’t fall out of the raft. I was volunteered by our guide to sit off the front of the raft on one of the falls which was such a cool feeling. The entire experience was fun and made so memorable by Kaitiaki. I highly recommend this experience if you are in the area – my favorite activity to date.

Overwhelmed in Rotorua

Thursday Night Market Treat

Rotorua is the first stop I will be spending a longer chunk of time – four nights to be exact. It’s known for the highest percentage of Maori (indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand) and having a sulfuric (rotten egg) smell.

If you know me, you know I am a major participator. This made Rotorua very challenging for me. There was too much to do and see and not enough time. I had to keep telling myself to chill out and really pick and choose my activities. There was no need to do everything and still plenty of New Zealand to see. So I definitely missed out on some things, but it’s an excuse to go back, right?

Redwoods

Here are some of my highlights from Rotorua:

Redwood Forest. I haven’t been to the California version so I can’t compare them, but it was really magical. The trees somehow grow and mature 20 years faster than in California. It’s actually not “somehow” it’s totally because of the volcanic soil, but they are massive. I went with our whole group for a short loop on our first day, but then I returned and did a longer loop myself. They have a treetop walk with suspension bridges (for a cost) and in the evenings they are lit up with lights and projections. It was absolutely beautiful and worth going.

Hobbiton. Not in the city, but an easy bus ride away. A must for all Lord of the Ring fans, but being a fan isn’t a requirement.

Rafting. Sooooo cool! This was my first time rafting and I’m obsessed. Such a cool feeling and the company did a fantastic job making everything run as smooth as possible.

Polynesian Spa. A geothermal hot springs spa with natural pools and spa therapies. I went on a rainy evening and enjoyed jumping between the mineral hot pools (four alkaline and one acidic between 36-41 degrees Celsius). It was truly a relaxing experience.

Ready for her close up

Cat Cafe. Yep, I went to a purebred cat cafe and I don’t regret it. I would say I’m definitely more of a dog person, but it was still a nice experience. These are resident cats so not up for adoption and they thrive here. For $15 NZ (under $10 USD) you have a choice of a coffee drink and an hour with the cats.

Night Market. I am a sucker for markets/fairs/festivals – anything outside of the traditional shop. On Thursday nights there is a night market in town complete with tons of food vendors and music acts. I couldn’t have asked for a better first night.

Waitomo Caves. You can do a day trip to the caves if that’s something you’re interested in.

Rotorua is a must stop while on the North Island. Just prepare yourself for the smell.

Rotorua YHA Review

YHA is Xmas Ready

I’ve become pretty familiar and comfortable with YHA’s so I pretty much knew what to expect going into it with this one. Spending four nights at a hostel you better like it. I walked into my room and there was an older gentleman on one of the beds….umm okay I thought I was in a female dorm. Guess not. He didn’t realize either and actually commented and then said he didn’t speak much English. Okay let me sort this out. Well I went downstairs and asked nicely if there was another female coming into the dorm or if there was a female only dorm I could move into. The reception worker says, “you’re in luck” and hands me a new key. Well I was moved to a glorious double bed private room. Thank you!

When we returned from Raglan I stayed at the YHA again, but alas no private upgrade this time. One of the best parts of this hostel is the central location and the fact that almost all buses pick up directly from here so no schlepping your stuff. The kitchen/hang out area is also really nice. Even though I’ve had a top bunk (which I hate) for three nights I’m still enjoying my stay.

I’ve mostly heard horror stories about the other hostels in the area. I don’t know firsthand so I won’t name them, but from what I hear the YHA is the way to go in Rotorua.

Waves & Caves

A small group of us Stray travelers broke off to do the Waves & Caves excursion. This trip went west to Raglan stopping at Waitomo and then looping back to Rotorua. Waitomo has about 50 residents, but lots of tourism pouring in daily to visit the underground caves in the area. When planning my trip to New Zealand (“NZ”) going to the Waitomo Caves was highly recommended to me. The pictures looked stunning and this seemed like a once in a lifetime experience. I went with a caving adventure that included tubing called Tumu Tumu Toobing. Beyond knowing I would see glowworms I didn’t know what to expect.

We had a very small group: me, a female Kiwi guide, and four german boys (and yes I mean boys they were 18-19 years old). We drove from the main building/check-in center over to the cave site and had to get geared up. Thick wetsuits with knee and butt pads, jackets, rain boots, and helmets with lights created a very stylish ensemble. We looked legit, but how cold was it down there if we needed all of this? Eek!

We walked along the rolling greens and our guide, Deni, gave us a bit of history. She said that Waitomo is covered with thousands of caves and they were usually discovered when an animal or person fell into one. They really became a nuisance and farmers wanted the NZ government to fill them, but this turned out to be way too costly so instead the government gave the farmers the ownership. Now a handful (about twelve) are commercialized, which is great for those farmers, but the rest just have these “annoying” formations on their land that they may not even know about. You would never be able to tell that caves existed under the green land. In my head caves were reserved to cliffs, rocks, and around oceans not in the middle of a green field with sheep.

When we got to the cave opening we had to climb down 10ish meters – well here goes nothing. Of course as soon as we were all down and waiting for our guide Deni one of the boys had to say, “if there was an earthquake right now we would all die.” Eye roll and thanks for that. Okay literally no turning back now and we start right away by crawling through tight spaces in a couple of inches of water. The cave ranged in width, height, water level, etc. every second there was a change. At some points we had to crawl on our hands and knees, others we could stroll easily, then we would have to balance while walking on sharp, thin rocks. The scenery was changing every step of the way which was cool and because we were a small group Deni let us do extra squeezes/tunnels.

Without a doubt my favorite part were the glowworms. They were so pretty and really glowed like crazy. It was like millions of a pretty blue pinprick lights. Of course we didn’t have our phones on us and because it’s so dark a normal camera wouldn’t be able to actually capture what we were seeing. Glowworms are actually pretty wild. They let thin strings down (similar to a spider web) which paralyzes insects that accidentally fly into them. They then go down and eat them. After nine months they bring the string back up and make a cocoon for two weeks. Once they emerge as an adult gnat they won’t feed any more and only live 2-3 days with the only purpose being to mate and lay eggs. They are also pretty much cannibals and will eat another glowworm if it gets too close or if it gets trapped in the string. Seems like a lot of work to only be a gnat for 3 days. So what makes them glow? Well not to be gross, but that beautiful bioluminescence is essentially glowing poo. TMI I know.

We were in the cave for 2ish hours. So it was a long time to be in the pitch black, cold water, and tight spaces. Don’t get me wrong it was totally awesome, but I was happy to finally see sunlight at the end of the tunnel.

If you’ve never been in a cave I highly recommend checking it out. It’s cool seeing our world from below and now knowing there’s a whole system just below our feet.