We were fitted up in double-layered wetsuits (including hoods) and after watching a short film about the dolphins, started out on our journey to sea. Within minutes we were rewarded for our efforts and had pods of dusky dolphins swimming along beside us. Dusky dolphins are known as the 'acrobats of the sea' and it was great to see them performing - flipping 360degrees nose over tail and jumping high out of the water infront of the boat. We continued on for 20 minutes to find a large pod of dolphins and found a group numbering well over a hundred duskys. We got kitted up as quickly as possible and swam from the back of the boat to see them up-close.
The dolphins were so curious - swimming around and checking us out and then, after seeing we weren't a threat, playing with us. You could chase them round in circles or dive down under the the water and they would dive down after you in pursuit. You had to keep reminding yourself that these dolphins were totally wild - they weren't fed to be attracted to the boat nor encouraged to stay with us for any reason apart from us entertaining them - we were encouraged to make 'dolphin sounds' and it was funny watching a group of 10 adults trying to make their most convincing dolphin sounds through their snorkels. After a couple of 5 minute swims (we were probably in the water for around 30minutes) we cruised back towards to harbour with the dolphins jumping at the bow of the boat.
That afternoon we carried on driving up North and boarded the ferry across to the North Island. It was pretty spooky - the massive ferry was pretty much empty and I sat outside for some of the journey and it was quite ghostly being out under the full moon. By the time we arrived in Wellington on the North Island it was nearing 11pm so we drove the short way to our campsite and pitched up for the evening.
The next day we had a long day drive up to Lake Taupo, a large lake which is in the crater of a dormant supervolcano. Along the way we passed by Mt Ruapehu, an active volcano more commonly known through it's appearance in the Lord of the Rings films as Mount Doom.
After a night in Lake Taupo we carried on driving up North, first stopping to take a look at the Volcanic Activity Centre North of town which had a disappointingly tame earthquake simulator but quite a few cool exhibits about the local tectonically active area. We then continued the drive up North to Rotorua, famous for it's bubbling pools of water and mud around the town, and steaming drains which are on every street.
Every where you go, the smell of sulphur (rotting eggs) follows you around but it was nice to see the bubbling pools up close, even if you did get shrouded in smelly steam.
On our next day we took a day tour out to White Island, with a tour that left Rotorua at 6am! White Island is New Zealand's only active marine volcano, which means you can visit the top of the volcano without barely any hiking as the tip sticks out of the sea. After an hours boat ride we landed on the volcano and were geared up with helmets (to protect us from falling, molten rocks) and gas masks (to help us breathe when surrounded by acrid air). We were also given instructions should the volcano erupt - run behind any cover you can find...
We took an interesting walking tour of the volcano up to the crater lake and it was amazing to see the power of the Earth close up. There was luminous yellow sulphur everywhere and the water was bubbling in the streams and crater lake. We got a chance to taste the water coming out of the volcano, which supposedly tastes of blood because there is so much iron in it, and we learnt all about the various failed attempts to mine sulphur from
White Island, which usually resulted in the deaths of everyone on the island either through suicides or landslides. It would be a grim place to live...
Today was our last full day in New Zealand and we set off on our last drive to Auckland at 10am. We stopped off along the way in a small town called Matamata which had an attraction that brings thousands of people every year to an otherwise remote, rural, unpopulated region of the North Island - the location of Hobbiton.
When we travelled through Africa all those weeks ago I soon earned the nickname of Hobbit by everyone on the trip, for many reasons but mainly because I walked everywhere in bare feet, and had eternally dirty feet, even minutes after stepping out the shower. A trip to Hobbiton was something that I couldn't pass up on.
We arrived at the farm where the set was built just 2 minutes late for the tour and were dismayed to learn that it had just left. However, the man offered to drive us through the sheep farm to catch up and luckily we could go on with the rest of the tour. The facts that the guide told us where amazing and it was incredible to learn how everything had been built and filmed. The farm was discovered by Peter Jackson after he flew a plane over the area and saw the farm and thought it looked okay. When he visited later, he realised that it was perfect for the job and set construction, which took 9 months, began.
The detail the team went through was amazing, for example, in Tolkein's book, there was an oak tree overhanging Bilbo's house - so Jackson found a nearby farm which had an oak tree, chopped it into pieces and brought it to Hobbiton. On site, it was re-erected using metal poles and, because most of the leaves had fallen off, it took 3 people 3 days to stick 250,000 plastic leaves onto the tree by hand using glue - apparently computer effects just aren't realistic enough for creating trees.
There isn't too much left of the set now so you had to use your imagination, but all the hobbit holes are still in the hillside, aswell as the round tree which was already on the farm before Jackson arrived. They're desperately hoping that the crews will return to film The Hobbit there soon.
We then jumped back into the camper for the last time and drove the final stretch of road to Auckland, where we arrived earlier this afternoon. Our journey around New Zealand has been amazing and through the 3209km road trip we've seen everything from volcanoes to sandy beaches and glaciers to rainforests, and a lot of mountains in between. New Zealand really is the land of contrasts.
Tomorrow we set off for the last leg of our Around The World journey as we fly to Santiago in Chile.
So I left you in Kaikoura on the South Island where storm forecasts threatened to throw our dolphin swimming plans into the bin. We woke up at 7am to find out whether the tour would be going ahead and luckily, they decided after much 'umming and ahhing' to go to sea. When we checked in, however, we were warned that there were heavy seas and, as such, a sea sickness warning was in place. Nevertheless, we decided to go ahead and took a couple of trusty 'magic pills' that my sister put in my first aid kit that cure sea sickness, stomach bugs and hangovers.