In Rotorua, David Whitley encounters a 70-year-old woman taking on a challenge that most 70-year-olds wouldn’t consider






Bored of 360 degree spins, David Whitley leaps overboard for a mini-canyoning adventure between Taupo and Rotorua.




You don’t have to go far in New Zealand to find someone willing to take you for a spin in a jetboat. The bloody things are everywhere, but that’s hardly a surprise given that they’re a proud Kiwi invention.




They’re the baby of Bill Hamilton, who came up with the idea of powering a boat by sucking water from underneath and using jet propulsion to send it out of the back. It’s ideal for New Zealand’s fast-flowing, low depth rivers – traditional problems of striking rocks in shallow water become less of an issue.




The first time you go on one, it’s tremendous fun. It powers down the river at high speeds, the driver taking you as close to canyon walls and potentially perilous rock islands as he or she dares. The thrill is in not quite knowing how much you can trust the person behind the wheel. Just how many times have they done this? And, jeez, that was a bit close for comfort…




You’ll also get a few tricks thrown in, such as 360 degree spins. And more 360 degree spins. And more 360 degree spins.




It’s on your second jetboat trip that you realise that there’s pretty much only one trick that can be done with jetboats. And, once you’ve experienced it a couple of times, that quickly gets boring.




Thus it is that I find myself trying to stifle yawns on the Waikato River as the 6th sharp full turn is signalled. I feel like saying: “It’s OK. You’ve shown us this one already.” The wind in the hair rush is perfectly fine on its own; everyone seems to be enjoying that more than the supposed special treat.




But it’s not the high speed ride back through the Waikato’s forested gorges that New Zealand Riverjet’s jetboat trip is all about. The highlight actually comes when you leap over the side of the boat and leave it behind for an hour.




As New Zealand’s longest river flows out from Lake Taupo towards the sea, it is joined by hundreds of tributaries. Some of these pump cold water in – you’ll always find trout hanging around where these hit the big river – but others come from hot springs.



It’s by the confluence of one of these warm streams that we stop. The warm and cold currents are immediately obvious as we wade through, but the stream soon disappears into a rock wall. “That’s where we’re going,” says the driver, pointing at the rock.




On closer inspection, there is a narrow gap. A very narrow gap. There is, apparently, a reason they call it “The Squeeze”. Even breathing in, my chest is pressed against one side, and my back against the other. To push through would draw plenty of blood.



The call goes up to duck down lower – where there’s more room – and attack it head first. It’s a claustrophobic dive into something that looks rather painful, but it works. The even bigger bloke behind manages it as well.




We timidly step along the stream bed, feeling the way ahead in case any submerged rocks attempt to snag us, and stop just before another dark passage through the rock. “You’re going to love this,” says the driver. “This place is special”.




We walk through and encounter a waterfall. It has carved out two seats beneath where the water – at perfect morning shower temperature – is thundering down. And sitting down beneath it, inside a long narrow crag cut into the earth, is far more impressive than any number of jetboat spins.




Disclosure: David Whitley was a guest of Destination Great Lake Taupo. He stayed in Taupo as a guest of YHA Taupo.


You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal here



Kiwi Film Favourites



Set jetting around New Zealand’s famous movie sites by David Whitley 
Visitors to New Zealand may be forgiven for thinking that, in terms of famous filming locations, the country is non-stop Lord of the Rings. However, while there are plenty of areas milking the Baggins buck, there are many other sites on the Kiwi movie map. Set-jetters can follow in the footsteps of Tom Cruise, great apes and noble lions, as well as check out the scenery from locally made hits.

King Kong
After the success of Lord of the Rings, director Peter Jackson returned to New Zealand for his next big project. Much of the 2005 hit was made in studio in Wellington, but other parts of the country had a starring role too.
Skull Island was a combination of Lyall Bay and Shelly Bay (both in Wellington). The wall that separated the giant gorilla from the rest of the island was created in a large set that took over Shelly, while establishing shots were filmed at Lyall.
Meanwhile, most of the on-ship scenes were shot in the Cook Strait between the North and South islands, and near Kapiti Island. The latter is a protected bird sanctuary, off the coast from Wellington. Meanwhile, to sail the Cook Strait yourself, the scenic ferry between Wellington and Picton can’t be beaten.
And the New York scenes? Well they were in New Zealand too. The depression-era Big Apple was recreated in Seaview, Lower Hutt, while Auckland’s Civic Theatre played the interior of the New York Theatre.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Peter Jackson isn’t the only Kiwi director to shamelessly showcase his home country to multiplex audiences across the world – Andrew Adamson has been at it too.
The Shrek director decided to come home when shooting the first of the Chronicles of Narnia series, and utilised locations across the country for the big budget epic.
The White Witch’s camp (boo! hiss!) can be found in the Woodhill Forest, north-west of Auckland. It’s an excellent spot for mountain biking as well as chilling out with Mother Nature.
Meanwhile Aslan’s Camp (hooray!) was on the South Island, and more specifically Elephant Rocks in the Waitaki Valley. Nearby is the Vanished World Centre at Duntroon, which explores the unique geology of the area, including the rather odd boulders where Aslan hung around looking regal.
As for the big battle scene, that takes place in the Southern Alps, about an hour and a half’s drive from Christchurch. The area is known as Flock Hill. It’s close to a few of the major ski resorts, so it’s a perfect distraction from the slopes for a few hours.

Whale Rider
One of the finest films to come out of New Zealand in recent years, Niki Caro’s movie made a star out of Keisha Castle-Hughes. The youngster received an Oscar nomination for her stunning performance, but the other star of the film was the North Island’s East Cape.


The Maori village where the story unfolds is Whangara, a small but gorgeous place just up the coast from Gisborne. It’s worth visiting to get the views, but to learn more about Maori customs and lifestyle spend a while in Gisborne, which hosts the Tairawhiti Museum. This offers an excellent exploration of East Coast Maori history, while the nerby Te Poh-o-Rawiri meeting house is one of the biggest in the country. Go see it for the carvings.


The Last Samurai


It may seem a little odd that there’s a self-styled Samurai village in the middle of rural New Zealand, but you can blame Tom Cruise for that. He was the star of The Last Samurai, a 2003 film that did iffily at the global box office but was huge locally.


Instead of actually filming in the country in which the film was set, they decided that various sites across Taranaki were a perfect substitute for 19th century Japan. Mount Fuji was later added on in the background using special effects.


At the hub of all the filming action was Uruti, which was transformed into a Japanese village. Most of the sets were pulled down after filming, but enterprising locals have recreated some of them.


Much of it was done on a remote sheep and cattle farm, and that’s now where you can do tours of the filming locations. And, if there’s a group of twenty or more, it’s possible to watch the Gumboot Gully Movie Stunt Horses and their riders performing stunts from the movie.


Now it’s not every day you can go to a farm and watch a Samurai battle, is it?




Way before Lord of the Rings put New Zealand on the sci-fi film map, there was Willow. The 1988 film, written by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, has become a cult classic - and was partly filmed on the South Island.


Major sequences (ie. just about anything with mountains or lakes in) were shot around Queenstown. Glenorchy was the main focus, and local farmers were dragged in as extras on horseback. It’s a tiny settlement today, but a starting point for all manner of adventure activities, including jet boating on the Dart River.


Other parts were shot in the Tongariro National Park in the North Island, which would later find fame as Mt Doom in – you guessed it – Lord of the Rings.

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal here


Seal spotting



David Whitley scopes out new prospective pets just off the coast of New Plymouth 


If there’s anything cuter than a seal pup shuffling along a rock platform, then I’d like to see it. The baby furballs are out en masse, easily outnumbering the seagulls on Lion Island.


Until recently, this was New Zealand’s most northerly seal colony (apparently a pioneering bunch has set up home in Kawhia further north in the last couple of years). But it’s the friendliness rather than the geography that’s remarkable.


The eared fur seals call the Sugar Loaf Islands home. If the name evokes Rio de Janeiro, then the islands probably will too – they’re the same shape as Sugarloaf Mountain. They’re strikingly beautiful, even if the ugly decommissioned power station on the shore tries to detract. Then again, part of what makes the islands so special is that they’re so close to the city. If anyone from New Plymouth wants to go and coo over the seals, they’re only a short paddle away.


The area around the islands is a Marine Reserve, and clearly has a reputation for good fishing. As we head out from the beach to the islands, a few locals can be seen skiving off work in their little boats, fishing rods in hand. But it’s hard to get close to the rocks – and therefore the seals – in a boat.


In a kayak, however, it’s possible to sidle up right alongside. Especially on a gorgeous summer day when the sea is whimperingly placid. Mini-swells attempt to kick up a bit of surf in the channels between the islands, but the half-hearted chop is easily navigated by paddler and creature alike.


While the pups tend to stick to the rocks, the adults seem happier in the water. They stick their tails out of the sea to cool down, and the occasional head pops up to have a good look at what’s happening. One ducks down to my right and swims underneath. He re-emerges on my left, so close that I could reach out and pat him. He keeps his head up as he swims to the back of my kayak, like a security guard walking round the building after hearing a noise.


They’re wonderfully graceful in the water, but once on land that elegance deserts them. Their clumsy shuffles along the rocks are part of what makes them so loveable. It’s like watching someone in a strait jacket trying to walk up a hill made of custard.


On the island itself, a fight is breaking out. Two of the big fellas are taking a pop at each other, teeth aiming for necks. It’s all warning shots and no blood drawn though. The subject of the fight comes into view shortly after a cease fire breaks out. It’s a little pup, its fur all ruffled and awkwardly matted. It lifts its left flipper, as if waving, and I’m gone. I burst into a loud “Awwww” and I don’t care how pathetic the rest of the group thinks I am. If I could get away with it, I’d grab the pup and take it home to live in the bath tub.


Disclosure: David went on a tour with Canoe and Kayak Taranaki. He was a guest of Venture Taranaki 

You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal here



East Cape



David Whitley puts his manhood on the line to conquer nature’s own adrenalin sport – the Rere Rockslide.


It’s an unusual approach for a tour. Steve says: “I thought going for a drive would be a nice way to see the area.”


I agree wholeheartedly. But it seems as though there’s something I’ve not quite understood. It becomes clear when he hands me the keys to his car. After all, there are six of us, and it’s better to divide between two vehicles than squish into just one car.


And so it comes to pass that I am sat in a petrol station, driving a complete stranger’s car without him even checking that I can drive, unable to see out of the back due to the bodyboards and struggling to put it in reverse.


After a comical struggle around the pumps, I wind down the window and ask why the reverse on his car doesn’t work. “Maori theft alarm,” comes the reply. Apparently it stopped working last week, and he’s planning to take it in to the mechanic’s. Jolly nice of him to tell me about this twenty minutes after shunting me into the driving seat.


New Zealand isn’t exactly known for its starched formality, but in Tairawhiti, the relaxed, laissez-faire attitude is even more pronounced. The area, often known as Eastland or the East Cape stretches roughly from Gisborne to Opotiki, and it is well off the usual tourist trail.


And nowhere else in the country could the Rere Rockslide exist without cordons and close monitoring. It’s a 60m stretch of largely flat rock, descending at an angle of approximately 35 degrees into the Wharekopae river. Local legends of injuries sustained on it have been greatly encouraging. Broken bones, smashed teeth and one particular case of a torn scrotal sac have been hammed up to us during the preceding day.


Steve, to his credit, is keen to ensure that our limbs, heads and genitalia remain intact. He drums into us the two key rules – stay on the board at all times, even when fear makes us want to stick a leg out to slow down, and keep knees and legs up.


The boards are a cross between a bodyboard and an air mattress. Designed for both speed and impact-cushioning, we’re expected to ride them down the fast-flowing, greasy slope, over any ridge that may throw us into the air and into the big pool of water at the bottom. Oh, and we have to do it head first.


My first run isn’t exactly textbook – Steve’s method for controlling direction is to put the left or right arm out onto the rock when veering in the opposite direction, but it’s not by any means failsafe. I end up plunging into the lake side-on and getting a gobful of not-particularly-clean water.


But I soon start to get the hang of it, and before long I’m flying down, riding the ridges and skimming across the lake at the bottom with a tremendous bounce.


Others in the group are a bit braver, deliberately going in backwards and attempting 360 degrees spins on the way down. I value my crown jewels a bit too much to even attempt it – but it’s proof that not all of New Zealand’s thrills require high-tech equipment. Or, indeed, a reverse gear.


More photos here

And a top video






By David Whitley




Disclosure: David was a guest of Dive Tatapouri (Divetatapouri.com)