Sorry about the lack of updates... I've been super busy and lacking internet for almost a week! This update will be quick (I have 17 minutes of internet time left) and I will add pictures in a 2-3 days.
Anyways, we left Auckland on the 14th and headed to a small town called Paihia in the Bay of Islands which is located north of Auckland. We had the priveledge of driving the Zink's Mini which was awesome! (aside from me being terrified about driving a brand new mini on the left side of the road). Paihia is a beautiful little town with an unreal view. That night was our first night staying in a hostel (after trying 3 different ones with no vacancies) and turned out to be a wicked experience (turns out Paihia has a pretty big party scene). The next morning we continue our trip around Northland, visiting a beautiful cafe in Rawene, seeing giant trees in the Waipoua Forest and visiting the Haruru Falls (about 1/100th the size of Niagra falls). We finished off back in Auckland, staying with the Zink's for another night.
On the 16th we headed to Edgecumbe (near the Bay of Plenty) to Eric Zink's farm (Peter's Brother) for his 50th Birthday Party. We got to see a bunch of cool sights on the way down but the best part was being "welcomed" into the family (via a shot of southern comfort) and getting to experience a bit of the farm life. Everyone was incredibly friendly and a ton of fun.
The next morning we got in the Mini again and headed south towards Rotorua. We stopped onroute at one of many lakes and watch a waterski race. We actually got to go out in the supervising boat to watch and learned a bit about the sport (basically the boat goes around 4 buoys as fast as the skier is willing to go, whichever boat does the most laps in 20 minutes wins). We stayed at "Crash Palace," a friendly hostel in Rotorua complete with a hot tub. We spent the afternoon/evening exploring Rotorua, which is a beautiful (although very touristy) town on a lake. The whole town smells like sulphur and has steam rising from the ground everywhere due to all the volcanic activity in the area.
On the 18th, we woke up bright and early to go "Zorbing", a activity invented in Rotorua that involves rolling down a hill in a big ball. They put water in the ball and you slosh around inside. You can either go down a ziz zag track or a straight track (tandem or solo)... we did three run which was really really fun. Following this we went Whitewater Rafting on the Kaituna River, which included going over a 7m waterfall, the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world! The river we rafted on was absolutely beautiful and felt like being in the middle of a rainforest. Also, half the staff were Canadian which was pretty cool. We headed to Waikite Valley Thermal Pools (free voucher from rafting) for the night and camped there after spending about 4 hours soaking in the pools. We also randomly found one of Kristin's friends from summer camp there (Andy) who lives in the area and spent a few hours at his house.
The morning of the 19th we headed to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland which Andy worked at (and therefore got us in for free) to check out the Lady Gnox Geyser and all of the sights (some really cool thermal pools, craters, etc.). We went swimming down the road at a hot/cold mixing area where two streams (one thermally heated, one cool) mix. That night we stayed with Andy at his house in their beautiful guest house after a night of tree/bridge jumping into water and rope swings.
The 20th turned out to be a BIG day! We woke up at 5:30 AM and drove to Tongariro Park (South of Lake Taupo) and hiked the Tongariro Alpine Pass. This included a 19.4 km hike PLUS hiking to the top of Mt. Ngourahoe (Also know as Mt. Doom to Lord of The Rings fans) which is the highest peak on the North Island. It was basically straight up a volcanic cone and there was a huge crater on the top. Amazing view from the top but a pretty tough climb! The rest of the hike was beautiful, aside from getting fogged in at a few points. No major blisters which was a bonus! That night we drove to Tu Kuiti and stayed at a hostel in the country overlooking the town (we basically got there, showered and slept... exhausted).
The next morning we got up and headed north again for Raglan, a small surfing town along the west coats, about an hour from Auckland. Checked into Raglan Backpackers, by far the best and most relaxed hostel yet. Awesome town! Spent the afternoon exploring, see the beach (after torrential downpour), skim boarding, etc. About to go eat dinner now and the internet time is up... Surfing tomorrow followed by a $15 round of golf! Over and out.