I was awoken by bright and early in the morning with birthday wishes, and a big smile from Tessa as she sent me off on the rest of my journey. I had an amazing action-packed few days in Rotorua, and it was time to jump back onto the big orange Stray bus and head to the second cultural stop of the North Island – Lake Aniwhenua. Lake Aniwhenua I instantly fell in love with Lake Aniwhenua the first time I experienced it on the Stray North Island Agent Famil. I had absolutely no idea what to expect for the evening, but I was blow away by the passion, and cultural significance this stop had. I also was very excited to visit the lovely family who runs this unique Stray stop – they make you feel home, while being away from home. Lake Aniwhenua has recently been voted by Stray Passengers as the second favourite stop of all Stray stops. We stay at the stunning Kohutapu Lodge, which is ideally located by the lake. The location presents with exceptional views and a very welcoming atmosphere. At Lake Aniwhenua you’ll learn about the traditional Maori culture, as well as have the option to learn to weave flax bracelets, cook, and go eeling! I really couldn’t of asked for a better place to celebrate my birthday than Lake A. While we waited for dinner to be served, the whole group enjoyed the happy hour specials as we sat by the glistening lake. My birthday dinner at Lake A was one I will never forget. Imagine the most amazing Canadian thanksgiving dinner you have ever had in your life; that is the hangi dinner. A hangi is a Maori way of cooking, where the meat is cooked underground for hours before serving. Your plate will be overflown with various styles of meat; chicken, pork and eel, as well as stuffing, salad and vegetables, bread rolls and dessert to top it off! You are guaranteed to leave Lake Aniwhenua feeling happy, full and inspired. Taupo After a sad farewell to Nads and her family at Lake A, we made our way South to Taupo. Taupo is situated next to New Zealand’s largest lake, Lake Taupo! To give you a bit of perspective, you can actually fit the entire country of Singapore within Lake Taupo. While stopping in Taupo, I chose to participate in an adrenaline-based activity, the thrilling sport of skydiving! If free-falling 15,000ft doesn’t excite you enough, then how does jumping over New Zealand’s biggest lake! Skydive Taupo offers not only an adrenaline rush, but a scenic experience as well! I walked away from my skydive with a huge smile on my face, and the feeling I was invincible! Another highlight of visiting Taupo is seeing Huka Falls. Huka Falls is New Zealand’s fastest flowing waterfall. Not only will you sit in amazement as it rushes below you, the falls gives off a beautiful vivid blue colour! Make sure you take a few snaps of this stunning natural attraction while visiting Taupo. We began our journey through the rugged New Zealand countryside to our destination for the next two nights – Whakahoro, Blue Duck Station. Blue Duck Station continues to be voted as the most popular and favourite stop on the Stray network by passengers. Blue Duck Station is a working sheep and cattle station in the middle of the New Zealand country. You spend two days at the station and are given options to go on a guided hunt, 4WD bush safari, horse trek, kayak and jet boat or to give clay pigeon shooting a go!
I chose to participate in the guided hunting option while staying at Blue Duck Station. The girls formed one hunting group, and the boys formed another. To keep things classy while hunting the girls ensured to put on some bright red lipstick! We jumped onto our Ute’s and headed out to the hunting grounds to get us some goat! By the end of the day we managed to get a goat and a rabbit – which was later skinned, and cooked for dinner! Conservation at it’s best! In the evenings at the lodge, we chose to spend the night kicking back, relaxing around the fire having some drinks. Many Stray passengers have been known to fall in love with Blue Duck Station and decide to stick around to WWOOF and participate in the various conservation projects that happen in and around the area. Tongariro National Park A highlight for me in the North Island is a visit to the Tongariro National Park. We departed early in the from Blue Duck Station and made the journey to the beginning of the 19.4km Tongariro Alpine Crossing around 9am. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the Nine Great Walks in New Zealand and is an absolute must-do when travelling through the country. We hiked to over 1800 metres in elevation through the beautiful mountain ranges, snowfields, pristine blue lakes and active volcanic zones. Along the way you will spot Mt Doom (Lord of the Rings) and Mt Ruapehu (operates 2 ski fields in winter) and you will experience moments of complete amazement for your surroundings. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing will leave you with spectacular photos, a sore body and a well-deserved hot tub session back at The Park Lodge! Wellington The final stop of the North Island was to New Zealand’s capital and one of the world’s “coolest” cities, Wellington! Located at the southernmost point of the North Island and surrounded by water, Wellington is somewhere lots of people like to explore further for a couple days! When visiting Wellington you can choose to accompany your Hobbiton Movie Set tour in Matamata with another Lord of the Rings film set tour, or you could choose to spend your time at leisure wandering the harbour and the shops. The night in Wellington was spent at the Blend Bar having a few beers and saying farewell to many other travellers who decided to stay in Wellington for a bit longer!