I know I haven’t said much about my adventures as a storm chaser, but I went on three great tours last year, which led me to taking the plunge and going international with my travels. I met a lot of wonderful, down-to-earth, kind, and big-hearted people on my chases with Silver Lining Tours, one of which was with my friend Chris. Chris is a Kiwi, meaning he hails from New Zealand. He and his Dad have been going on storm chase tours for years. They are both loads of fun and can easily make me laugh!
As I was making all my travel arrangements, I reached out to Chris to see if he had any recommendations while I was in NZ. He went above and beyond of what anyone would have after only knowing me for a very short time, and we messaged and had a few phone calls to figure out my flight, things that I should see, etc. He even offered himself up as my tour guide as long as he could work remotely and invited me to stay in his family’s home. I was so overwhelmed with the generosity and gladly accepted knowing I could have a more authentic experience while there.
My flight from Brisbane was only a few hours and I didn’t have any sort of hassle when it came to my passport. My cell phone’s wi-fi didn’t work again, and I could only connect via Chris’s hotspot or home internet. Chris picked me up from the airport and then drove me around Auckland to give me the basic rundown. We stopped for a bite to eat, washed everything down with a beer, and continued through the rainstorms that kept popping up, some of which produced some good pea sized hail for NZ. We arrived to Chris’s family home on a beautiful piece of land just outside Auckland. I had a wonderful spot in their guest house that had a beautiful view of the land they raise cattle on. I could have stared at the rolling green hills and dramatic skies for days. That night they took me out to dinner where I got to meet more of the family! They were all lovely, warm, and welcoming people. I felt really, really lucky that my path crossed with Chris and his family!
The next day, we loaded up Chris’s truck with essential snacks and beverages (beer, pineapple lumps, hokey pokey, etc.) and made our way to Matamata to visit Middle Earth, but not before stopping to have a meat pie! It was a delicious pastry with a flavorful meat filling that was very messy (flaky pastry), but very good. After arriving to Middle Earth, we boarded the bus that took us to the starting point of our walking tour. Our guide shared stories from the sets of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. The Alexander family sheep farm was stunningly beautiful and seeing it in person was a very special experience, one I never imagined having when I first saw any of the films. My favorite part was being able to stop at the Green Dragon Inn to have a nice, cold beer (of course this was my favorite-I hail from “Beer City USA”)! I decided to try the English Ale, one of three options that are only available there. It was pretty good and was the best way to end a very cool tour.
We then visited Huka falls, New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction. It is a super powerful waterfall with a beautiful ice blue hue. The volume of water going through this narrow section of the Waikato River creates an amazing thunderous sound. It was a very zen moment for me just focussing on the water rushing by.
I was hoping weather would cooperate and I’d be able to do a hike in Tongariro National Park, but had to settle for having a nice view of the park from Lake Taupo, more beer than I could drink, good company, and yummy food!
The next day was jammed packed! We started out at the Wai-O-tapu Geothermal area, one of New Zealand’s top tourist attractions.
Then we went to Rotorua a.k.a. RotoVegas where we rode the gondola to the top of the complex and I then reluctantly tried the luge. The idea was a bit terrifying (an image of me going too fast, losing control, and tumbling over the hill or into something played over and over in my head). I ended up having a lot of fun, but rain rained on our parade and they closed it down.
While making our way back to Auckland, Chris thought to stop in Tauranga so I could do a hike up Mt. Maunganui, an extinct 761 ft volcanic cone. I chose one of the more challenging routes and managed to get up and down in under 90 minutes.
The next morning Chris dropped me off to do a section of the Hillary Trail called the Goldie Bush Walkway. It was about 10k with gorgeous scenery and for the most part it was right along the coast. I was a happy girl with most of the trail to myself except for one woman and her dog. It was my first solo hike and I enjoyed every moment!
The end of the trail led me to the Gannet Colony and Muriwai Beach. I am kind of photographically obsessed with birds, so I spent a good amount of time capturing photos during my hike and at the end. Sorry there are so many of them!
We had been talking about going fishing all week and I was so hoping to get out on the water! Be careful what you wish for. The weather was good enough to go out, but for someone with limited experience out on rough seas, the “small” 3-5 feet waves were a bit much. I held it together for as long as I could, but my tummy eventually told me to get to land before I lost my breakfast over the side of the boat. We managed to catch some big, beautiful fish before heading back in and I even got to reel one in! It was an exciting outing, but I was so glad to reach land without puking!
That night was celebrated with fireworks, lots of laughter, and smoked fish. I even ate a fish eye for my amazing New Zealand family and they all got a kick out of it! I have to say, it wasn’t that bad. I had a wonderful week with them all and was overwhelmed by their warmth and generosity. It was the absolute best way to end the international part of my world tour and I can’t wait to get back there for a much longer visit!