Waitomo to Rotarua

Waitomo to Rotarua

Waking up was easy in our airplane in Woodlyn Park! I was somewhat alert because, in the middle of the night, an animal was trying to get into our plane! It was rustling about outside and was probably a sheep but, after that, I was a light sleeper. My body was awake at 7 AM and our Waitomo Black Labyrinth cave spelunking tour was not until 10 AM.

We made toast for breakfast in our plane’s kitchen and got all packed up for the day ahead. We waited until the office was open at 8AM to drop our key off and the front desk guy assured us that we would have no issue hopping on an earlier cave tour. With that in mind, we drove over to the Black Water Rafting Co. check-in and were able to move up to the 9:30 tour. We hung out in the lobby and had some very expensively average coffee while we waited. WiFi has been pretty sparse in NZ so far so I took full advantage of that time waiting!

We were finally called out by our two guides for the 9:30 tour. There were ten of us on the tour and we had to get all suited up with very wet and cold gear before we could go to. Just to give you insight into how it felt, pretend like it is 45 degrees out and you are putting on very thick, wet socks, pants, and a jacket that are also like 40 degrees..and then add rain boots on top of that. We were looking gooood!

After a briefing, we headed out onto the bus to take us to the cave location. We all unloaded by a stream with a platform and the guide showed us how to jump backwards using our inner tube into the freezing water. We needed to practice outside so we could jump OVER WATERFALLS within the cave! So scary but awesome at the same time.

We took a trek down a path with our inner tubes and were at the cave head. There were rocks everywhere so figuring out footing was essential. There was no way I was going to twist an ankle before our big Tongariro hike! We got down into the cave and turned all of our headlights on. It was otherwise totally pitch black. The rock around us was so complex in shape and I was loving every minute of our walk through the water.

We got down to thigh level in the water and the rapid was so strong I almost took off at one point! We climbed up a rock platform and had to jump backwards with our butts in our tube out and down from a 7 foot waterfall. It was exhilarating!

Cave jumping for the Black Labyrinth Tour in Waitomo, New Zealand

After our waterfall jump, we lined up and grabbed the feet of the people behind us to form an “eel”. Little did I know, there were actually eels below us in the water…. But anyways, we turned all of our headlights off and looked up in the dark to see the absolute spectacle of the glowworms. They were everywhere and looked like blue constellations across the cave ceiling. All of the glow worms drop 20ish “fishing lines” that trap insects for the worms to eat. If you are ever in New Zealand, the Black Labyrinth tour is worth every penny and is a must do. You can kind-of see the glow worms in the photo below, but the quick flash camera does not do them justice at all!

Glow worms in the caves during the Black Labyrinth Tour in Waitomo, New Zealand

We were in the cave for about 2 hours and eventually floated our way out. It was cold and slightly drizzly outside but who cares when you are already soaked? We sloshed our way back to the HQ and had hot showers ready and waiting for us, the only trick was trying to get out of our gear when our hands were still totally frozen! Talk about hilariously awkward undressing!

The hot shower was probably one of the best showers I’ve ever had in my life – it felt so good to defrost! After we got dressed, there were toasted bagels and tomato soup waiting for us in the lobby. The soup was soooo yummy and warmed us up even more. What an amazing start to the day!

When we were ready, we hopped back into the car and took off on our two-hour drive to Rotorua for our Maori cultural experience. The drive through the country side was beautiful (as usual in NZ!) and we pulled up to a beautiful Wai Ora Resort right on the lake. We got a tour of the resort and were really happy with the room and the view of the lake. We also had some time to kill so we grabbed a bottle of wine and hopped in the hot tub for some relaxing.

The shuttle picked us up for the Takami Maori Experience at 5 PM and we were transported to the check-in area. We waited for about 15 minutes until our driver, Mark, arrived with a much bigger bus. Mark had a bunch of personality and said hello to us in 59 languages! He named each country and had 4-5 versions of “hello” / catch-phrases from each country in its native language with a perfect accent. He was pretty impressive and it took him all 15 minutes to get to the Takami Maori village to get through it all!

Once we arrived, we had to pick a tribe chief from our tour group who then led us to the entrance of the village to greet the Takami chief. The Takami villagers came out in a boat from the river and performed the Haka in front of us

Then, each of our selected chiefs had to accept the offering from the Takami chief so we could enter the village. Once that process was over, we were invited in and led to 5 different stations throughout the village where we learned about the traditions, houses, Haka dance, face tattoos, and how the Maori came to New Zealand. It was pretty interesting and worth going to.

After the learning stations, we were moved into the area where our food was being cooked in the ground. There was a huge hole in the ground where our food was placed, covered with burlap sacks and dirt, and left to cook for 3-4 hours! They pulled the food out and smelt so delicious!

While they were preparing our food, we were taken to watch and listen to traditional Maori singing and dancing. The songs were very catchy and the performers were excellent. The singing and dancing, traditions, dress, and even people looked very similar to Hawaiian people and culture. Apparently, the Polynesian people (including the Maior) all came from the same island that was separated / destroyed by tectonic plates. The people ended up on multiple islands across the pacific, like Hawaii and New Guinea, so they all come from the same ancestry! I had no idea!

Once the dancing was over, it was time for dinner! There was so much food consisting of 3 types of potatoes, carrots, chicken, lamb, muscles, and bread. It was pretty tasty too! We sat across from another couple from Texas and chatted with them about traveling with kids for the duration of dinner. It is always nice getting to know people from other walks of life while traveling.

Traditional dinner at the Maori Village in Rotorua, New Zealand

By this point, it was 9 PM and I was exhausted. As soon as we got back to the resort, I was in bed and asleep within minutes.

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Plan the perfect trip to Fredericksburg, Texas

Plan the perfect trip to Fredericksburg, Texas

Thinking about going to Fredericksburg, Texas? For a romantic weekend, girls trip, or quick getaway, Fredericksburg is the perfect place to spend a long weekend or do a two-day trip! You may have heard that there are wineries and some good hiking there, but if you want help planning the specifics and some things to day dream about until your trip arrives, I’ve got some tips for you!

Plan the perfect trip to Fredericksburg, Texas

  1. Stay at an Airbnb close to Main Street. There are tons of cute, reasonably priced, updated Airbnbs in Fredericksburg that are walking distances from wine shuttle pickups, the Pacific War Museum, and the main shopping / restaurant area on Main Street. Why have to worry about driving and parking when you can walk? Especially since there are no ride sharing services in Fredericksburg. Also, there is an HEB about 2 minutes off Main Street to grab stuff for breakfast if you want to make it at your Airbnb before heading out for your day. Ours even had a fire pit which was awesome for enjoying the perfect weather at night with a glass of wine.
  2. Sign up for a wine shuttle service to get to and from the wineries. Most of the shuttle services are about $20-$25 for the day and will take you to a bunch of wineries so you do not have to drive. You can check their websites before you book to see how many and which wineries each service goes to. Also, if you buy wine or anything else at a winery but do not want to lug the bottles around, the shuttles will bring your purchases back to the pickup area so you can continue on your way bag-free. We took the 290 Shuttle service and it was worth every penny. (Read about our experience here).
  3. Have water and salty snacks ready at your hotel or Airbnb after your wine tour. You will need to hydrate and all of the sugar from the wine will have you craving something savory. Also, try to do your wine tour early enough to have time for a nap before dinner. I am not a nap person typically, but having a nap break really helped us enjoy the rest of our evening without feeling groggy.
  4. Explore Main Street (aka downtown). There are about 4 blocks of cute boutiques, restaurants, bars with live music, candy stores, and wine tasting rooms that are unique to Fredericksburg!
  5. Research the best restaurants on TripAdvisor and make reservations before you go. Weekends can be busy and wait times long, so a little planning ahead will help you maximize your stay. I recommend checking out the Vaudeville Supper Club for a fancy night out or their Bistro for a more casual affair.
  6. Check out the  Pacific War Museum for a little history if you have an extra hour.
  7. Don’t forget to bring your active wear and hiking boots (or sneakers) to wear to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. The hike is only half a mile to the top of the rock and is not super strenuous. As long as you have sun screen, sun glasses, and a water bottle, you can do it! The view is well worth it, but just make sure you arrive earlier rather than later because the park will close the parking lot once full (around 10AM).Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Read about our adventure at the wineries or Main street and Enchanted Rock to learn more!

Trip Planning 101

Trip Planning 101

While planning an adventure is the beginning of your journey and a very exciting peek into your travel possibilities, it can be stressful. The very first step of figuring out where to go can be a whole process in and of itself and then, once you have picked a place, you have to go through the daunting process of choosing flights, hotels, excursions, and booking everything… all of which can take a while. To save you time and some tension, I have put together some tips to make your travel planning process easier!

Step 1: Figuring out where to go!

  • First, figure out how many days you have to play with. If you only have a 3-5 days, consider places within a 1-5 hour flight-time radius (non-stop) so you do not spend the majority of your vacation time in airports or on a plane. The further you go, the longer you should stay. For me personally, I try to have at least 1.5 – 2 weeks anywhere with flight times +15 hours so I can overcome any jet lag and really make the most of the high dollar flight amounts.
  • Once you know how far you can go, determine what locations are good during the time of year you can travel. I had fully planned an Iceland adventure before I realized the ice-hotel we wanted to stay at in September couldn’t be built until December when they had ice! If there are must-do’s in a location you want to go to, make sure they are available at the time you can go. Also, tropical locations have monsoon seasons you will want to watch out for.
  • Next, determine your budget. Compare your budget to the travel costs involved in the general location you want to go. Make sure the flight is less than half your total budget so you have money left for hotels, food, and experiences.
  • Once you have done all of these things, you should have a pretty good idea of where you should go!

Hiking to the top of Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

Step 2: Booking

There are two ways to book your trip. The first is to take the easy way and find a travel service that will book all of those things for you. The second is to book yourself. I will go through each option below as both have their pros and cons.

Travel Services:

  • Travel services are great. I had AMAZING trips to both Italy and Peru and all I had to do was show up to the airport with my passport and luggage in had. Everything from flights, tours, transportation, some meals, and hotels were booked for us. The Italy trip was good because I was a solo traveler and the EF College Break tour group I went with provided me travel buddies and new friends. Peru took all of the stress off of my shoulders for our family trip. However, when looking for a booking service for our Thailand trip, the average cost was $3K per person without the $800 international flights. That seemed high, so I researched on my own and got better hotels, flights, and excursions for $2.1K per person – that’s over $3.4K in savings for the both of us! Overall, if you go through a booking agent, make sure you do your research so you don’t pay too much.
  • Once you find some tour agencies that service your destination, check reviews on those agencies. People love to talk about their trips, good and bad, so do your homework on your agency options to make sure they are trustworthy and will provide the best experience possible.
  • Another option is to look at sites like Groupon Getaways and Apple Vacations which have great deals on hotels and hotels + flights as well. The sites help you easily book the shell of your trip but the details are up to you so its more flexible. Just be careful to check blackout dates and participating airports that the deals fly from to ensure the details work for you.

Hanging with some alpacas in Peru

Booking yourself:

  • The best place I can lead you is to TripAdvisor.com. It has every excursion idea, hotel option, and restaurant suggestion you could need on your trip, all with thousands of peer reviews and ratings. Other people’s experiences will really help you shape the best trip possible.
  • Once you start Googling and looking at TripAdvisor, you probably open multiple tabs with all of the things you like and want to save as options. I suggest logging all of your options in an excel document categorized by flight, hotel, and excursions with pricing and the URL to each thing. That way, you have an organized list of options that you can pick from once you are done exploring the web. An example of my Thailand trip plan is below:

Trip Planning Guide

  • Check your credit card companies rewards platform for deals. Cards like Amex and Chase Sapphire will give you get double points, travel insurance, trip / baggage protection, and other travel benefits by booking through the credit card. Amex even has a Hotel Collection program that gives you guaranteed best rates, a $75 hotel credit, and an upgrade (if available) when you book 2+ nights through Amex. You don’t want to miss out on those perks – not to mention all of the points you will rack up!
  • Booking flights always scares me – mainly because I am impatient. Once I find one, that annoying “only 2 seats left” sign in the corner of the booking site always makes me paranoid that I am going to miss out on my ideal flight! The truth is, that is not the case. For the most part, I have waited on flights, the cost went down, and my seats were still there. Flights are typically cheapest to buy on Tuesdays and you can save your flights in programs like Hopper to compare relative flight prices from your airport to destinations or Airfare Watchdog which will monitor your preferred flights and alert you when the price drops.

Overall, take a deep breath and relax! Your journey to your perfect trip within your budget and time frame is calling you and will be here before you know it! Don’t forget to check out my packing tips, road trip prep list, Alaska cruise guide and more to get additional ideas for your get-away.

How to plan for a vacation