Having created the popular week-in-the-life series last year, I’ve not yet written about a week in my own full-time traveling life. The week profiled here is far from my average week, but was enough of a full-on adventure that I thought you might enjoy it.
As a quick introduction, I was corresponding with Adventure Aaron while he was in South Africa shooting the first episode of his television series called “Alive”. I gave him a few suggestions, including the world’s highest bungy jump, which certainly helped him feel “Alive”! Shortly thereafter, he told me he was planning episode two in New Zealand, and invited me to come along for a week of adventures as a “featured expert” on the show.
Well, twist my arm. Please enjoy my week-in-the-life of shooting an episode of “Alive”.
8:00am: None of us slept well in our Auckland hostel. It has nothing to do with the digs, and everything to do with jet lag for Aaron (the producer/host) and Fletcher (the cameraman), and sheer excitement for me.
I take the morning to call my mum for her birthday, and try (unsuccessfully) to log on to the internet. Server problems – hmph! Apparently this isn’t uncommon in New Zealand.
12:00pm: We hop on the bus to Rotorua, where most of our week’s activities have been organized for us by Destination Rotorua Tourism & Marketing.
4:30pm: We check into Novotel – our digs for the week. I spend the next hour jumping on the fancy bed, squishing the feather pillows, and gawking at the free toiletries.
5:30pm: Okay, I should actually get some work done. It’s been a few days since I logged on, so I set up my laptop in the room. I’m happy to catch up.
7:45pm: I go for a walk by the lake, take pictures, then grab dinner at a local noodle house.
9:30pm: Although I’d like to have a swim and sauna, the fancy bed with 300 thread count sheets is calling my name. I read up on Rotorua and fall asleep shortly thereafter.
7:30am: Aah! What a sleep. I make coffee and set up the laptop in my room. How luxurious.
8:30am: How about that – breakfast is included. I’m beginning to like press trips. I meet Aaron & Fletcher at the buffet, and we plan our day. We are supposed to go skydiving today, but the clouds mean a reschedule.
10:00am: We are picked up by Heather of Destination Rotorua Tourism & Marketing, who has arranged our week of adventure for us. She is a wonderful lady, full of warmth and Kiwi hospitality. She takes us to a favourite spot of hers called Kerosene Creek: a naturally hot creek. We are amazed that such a beautiful place is relatively untouched, totally natural, and free to use. And it’s bloody hot! My feet actually burn as they sink into the sandy bottom.
We spend an hour shooting and swimming in this idyllic spot.
11:30am: We are back in the car and enroute to Rainbow Springs. Here, we see native Kiwi birds being hatched, raised, and reintroduced to the wild. We even visit the feeding room for some up-close-and-personal Kiwi bird action – a very special treat the public aren’t privy to. We take a quick tour of the facilities, which house a number of native and endangered species.
2:00pm: A delicious lunch has been arranged for us by Rainbow Springs.
2:30pm: We drive to Sulphur Point. Rotorua is perched atop some serious geothermal activity, and the pervasive smell of sulphur is everywhere. Here at Sulphur Point it’s overpowering, as we peer at the bubbling mud and laughing gas pools.
3:00pm: We shoot a quick interview with Don of Destination Rotorua.
3:30pm: Back at the hotel for a few hours of personal time. Fletcher & Aaron transfer the video they shot, and I do some writing. Thank goodness I’ve received extensions on a few assignments; this trip is shaping up to be pretty busy. I’m still juggling some tight deadlines though, so there’s no rest for the wicked.
5:45pm: I turn off the computer and race around to prepare for the evening’s activities.
6:00pm: We meet the bus for a night at Tamaki Maori Village. The driver entertains us with various international translations of the word “kia ora”. We spend the evening learning about Maori culture and enjoying a hangi (traditional Maori cooking).
9:30pm: Back at the hotel. Despite spending the day shooting together, we haven’t had much time to simply socialize. Fletcher, Aaron, and I head out for a few drinks and non-tv talk.
11:50pm: Lights out.
7:30am: Despite schedule changes last night that mean I don’t need to be awake yet, I leap out of bed afraid I’ll get a call to be ready at 8:00am anyway.
8:00am: Downstairs at breakfast, I realize I’m the only one up. I relax over breakfast and cappuccinos.
9:15am: I discover that we’re entitled to half an hour of free wifi in the lobby every day, and take advantage of it. Offline computer work ensues.
10:45am: Heather picks us up for our day-long epic with Kaitiaki Adventures: heli-sledging! This warrants an entire post unto itself, but basically we are fitted for wetsuits and helmets, and driven out to the helicopter for our flight to an untouched section of river.
We spend the afternoon white-water rafting and sledging (a sledge is a glorified boogie board that you ride the rapids on). My introduction to sledging is a class four rapid called Smokey Falls. Thinking better of it, I am pushed into the white water and told to hang on for dear life. I survive! Fletcher has fun all afternoon testing his waterproof cameras, getting dramatic footage of the rapids and stunning scenery.
By the end of the afternoon, the guides are having lots of fun with us, and I’m regularly being tackled out of the raft. We finish off with a hair-raising jet boat ride back to the van.
6:30pm: We’re not done yet. We arrive at the Polynesian spa to shoot (and soak in) the natural geothermal pools.
8:00pm: Back in town, Aaron & I enjoy dinner at an Indian restaurant, where we talk business and travel. Fletcher is transferring video in preparation for tomorrow.
9:00pm: Fletcher joins us, and we head out to meet the river guides at a local bar.
12:00am: We’d love to stay all night, but we have a big day tomorrow. I need my beauty sleep!
6:30am: I consider getting up so I can get some work done, but I think better of it after reviewing the itinerary for today, and fall back asleep before I know it.
7:25am: I’m up just before the alarm, excited for today. I get ready and pack my bags.
8:00am: I’m downstairs for breakfast. Thank goodness it’s included – hotel buffet breakfasts are very handy given our hectic schedule.
- Veering around corners at break-neck speeds (literally) in the only commercial jet boat track in the world, driven by a world champion jet boat driver.
- Schweebing: another world first. It was designed by an Australian who lived in Japan and rode his recumbent bicycle to work, wishing he could just ride over top of the traffic. Hence the Schweeb: a monorail with recumbent bicycles dangling below. The track is great fun, and I manage to clock a time 13 seconds ahead of the Canadian average for my age group and gender. I’m unable to walk afterwards.
- The Freefall extreme (only one in the Southern hemisphere). As a former skydiver, I’ve always wanted to try a freefall simulator, which is basically a huge engine blowing up enough air for you to “fly” on it. It’s harder than it looks!
- The Swoop. I’ve done this before in Canada, but it’s a first for Aaron & Fletcher. I make sure to freak them out by not pulling the rip cord on time. Heh Heh.
12:00pm: As if we haven’t had enough adventure for a day, we arrive at NZone, where we experience the world’s highest commercial skydive at 15,000 feet! I have 289 jumps to my name, but it’s been a while and this tandem experience is extremely memorable. I even strike a deal with drop zone to pack parachutes in trade for accommodation…if I come back…
2:00pm: With their first jump out of the way, Aaron & Fletcher can now face food, and Heather takes us for a quick bite.
2:30pm: We arrive at River Rats for our last high-octane adventure of the day: rafting the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall at 7 metres (21 feet). Despite our rafting and sledging yesterday, I’m nervous for it since 1 in 20 rafts flips on this waterfall. But we survive, and surf a few rapids that prove to be more hazardous than the waterfall itself, almost sinking the raft entirely!
5:15pm: Having survived the day’s adventures we are back at the hotel. I do some quick hand laundry.
5:30pm: No rest for the wicked. Heather picks us up again to take us to Hell’s Gate: a natural geothermal reserve and mud spa. After getting some perfect shots, we soak off the day’s activities in a mud bath for 20 minutes of messy skin-softening bliss.
7:45pm: Back at the hotel, we shower for dinner.
8:00pm: We’re starved. Fletcher and I go out for dinner, and stumble on the inaugural Rotorua night market, where we enjoy some good street food, including fresh raw New Zealand mussels. I’ve never eaten them raw before, but hope to do so again. Yum!
9:30pm: I’m stressed out by my mounting pile of work. I stay awake to catch up on emails and get a little bit of writing done.
1:00am: Whoops: long day. I’ve been awake for almost 18 hours. I’d better get some sleep; we’re far from finished this hectic shooting schedule.
7:30am: Despite less sleep than I’d prefer, I’m excited for another day of adventure, and my feet hit the ground before the alarm.
8:00am: Brekkie again. Gotta eat!
8:30am: Aaron is sick in bed this morning, so Heather takes Fletcher and I to OffroadNZ, where we experience a jeep bush safari (I drive!). I even tackle a foreboding section called the luge: an 80degree drop that is about 25 feet long.
Next we tackle some similarly huge obstacles in a monster truck (driven by an expert this time). Setting up the shots takes a long time, as happens frequently this week.
12:00pm: We’re on a tight schedule when we arrive at Zorb. This is another one of my suggestions for the show, so I’m happy to shoot this one solo. After 2 passes of being chucked in a giant plastic ball full of water and rolled down a hill, we quickly change and race to meet Aaron, who has rallied for our next adventure.
1:10pm: We arrive at Volcanic Air Safaris, which turns out to be a highlight of the trip. We take a 40 minute helicopter ride to White Island (50kms off the coast) to experience New Zealand’s most active volcano up close and personal. There’s entirely too much to describe here, so check out this post for more on the unbelievable experience.
5:10pm: Awed and humbled by the afternoon’s experience, we are back at the hotel and ravenous: we didn’t have time for lunch.
5:40pm: The three of us head out for dinner. We spend most of it in silence, reflecting on our afternoon.
7:00pm: Ice cream in hand, I sit by Lake Rotorua and continue to reflect.
8:00pm: Back in the room, downloading pictures and video from my camera. I’m suddenly feeling nauseous and feverish. Was it dinner? The sulphur fumes from the volcano? Or just plain fatigue? I’m not sure, but there’s no hope of working. I crater into full-on illness.
10:10pm: I try to sleep, but with the nausea I would rather be dead. Being sick on the road (especially with a schedule like this) is no fun.
7:30am: I wake up feeling like death after a rough night. I skip the morning’s activities in the hopes of recuperating before the evening’s activities, which I’m looking forward to.
I spend the day sleeping, working, and willing myself to feel better.
5:00pm: I pump myself full of painkillers and rally for what ends up being another highlight of the week: a Kiwi BBQ at Heather’s house. There are about 15 people in attendance, and Aaron, Fletcher, and I are the guests of honour. Having gotten wind that we like smoked fish, Heather has sourced a trout (which can only be caught and not bought in New Zealand), and they smoke it on the spot for us, serving it hot as an appetizer.
We feel so incredibly welcome, and my impression of generous Kiwi hospitality is confirmed. We eat until we almost burst, drink until we can’t stand, and laugh until we have laugh lines to prove it. By the evening’s end, we are doing magic tricks with the kids and singing Maori songs.
Heather gives each of us a New Zealand jade necklace to remember them by, saying that jade holds its spirit best when gifted and not bought.
With invitations all around to come back and stay with a number of people and a desire to get to know these folks better, I decide on the spot that I must return to New Zealand as soon as possible. This is why I travel; I look forward to experiencing more home-brewed Kiwi friendliness within a month.
10:50pm: After a short taxi ride we’re back at the hotel, feeling warm, humble, and so grateful for such a genuine New Zealand experience with genuine people. I do some hand laundry and head to bed with a book.
11:50pm: I am asleep with my book in my hands.
6:00am: I’m up to the alarm with red eyes and a pre-laid plan: get ready, pack up, hijack one last wifi session in the lobby, eat breakfast, and check out by 7am. Done!
7:10am: I meet Aaron & Fletcher in the lobby and we catch the 7:30am bus to Waitomo for our last adventure of the week.
10:00am: We arrive in Waitomo, with no idea where we’re supposed to go. Heather has arranged an adventure for us and kept it a surprise, assuring us that we’ll love it.
10:30am: We discover that Waitomo Adventures are our hosts, and that we are doing an epic adventure to the “Lost World”. We are suited up with wet suits, helmets, and gum boots, and taken to the entrance of this vast cave. It begins with a 100 metre abseil (rappel) into the cave (the highest commercial abseil), and continues with five hours of scrambling, squeezing, leaping, and swimming through this wet cave.
Although we periodically see glow worms along the way, we’re rewarded at the end when we turn off our headlamps to enjoy what looks like the milky way….of glow worms.
After walking out of the cave, we enjoy a steak dinner prepared by our guides and many laughs. With a soft spot in my heart for caving, I seriously consider coming back here to work as a guide for Waitomo Adventures.
7:30pm: We drive back to Waitomo proper, bid goodbye to our awesome guides, and check into our digs for the night. We finish off with a quick drink at the local pub.
9:00pm: Exhausted by the week’s adventures, we are all back at the caravan park and ready for bed. But Fletcher and I get into downloading video and pictures and chatting, and before we know it a few more hours have passed.
11:30pm: I finally retire for the night, after writing some notes about our amazing adventures.
“Alive” is scheduled to air on national television in the States for May. This six episode series features a different country each month, and New Zealand will be the second episode. As more information becomes available, I’ll post it here, and you can also check out Adventure Aaron’s site for more information.
I’d like to thank Heather and Destination Rotorua Tourism & Marketing for putting together this incredible agenda for us, driving us everywhere, and making us feel so at home in New Zealand. Between Aaron’s offer to come on the show and Heather’s hard work, my dream trip to New Zealand came true.