New Zealand’s North Island is a playground for adrenaline junkies, and I certainly couldn’t resist the allure of trying something different. Known for its landscape that is as dazzling, as it is dangerous, the near-death experience options were endless. After much deliberation I decided on thermal springs, quad biking and clay bird shooting. A good mix of excitement and relaxation was the aim of this short break.
After flying into Auckland, a friend and I picked up a Volkswagen Passat wagon. We had a two-and-a-half hour drive to Tauranga ahead of us.
We arrived in Tauranga late in the evening. We were quick to settle into the hotel, deciding on an early night, as the wedding was the following day.
The wedding itself was beautiful, of course and the bride arrived in style in a split-screen Kombi. There was some need for a slow morning recovery on the following day, but after that was done, it was time to explore.
Mount Maunganui is spectacular. You can climb to the top and admire the view, or do as we did and relax at Mount Hot Pools at the base of the hill and look up at it. The hot pools are warm and incredibly salty, but also very therapeutic. Brilliant for sweating off a hangover, as it turns out.
It was easy to spend a couple of hours marinating in this gorgeous location, chatting to the locals who enjoy going to the pools regularly. The great thing about talking to local residents is that they know more than many tourist websites will ever reveal. When I mentioned we were looking for the most impressive waterfalls in the area we were told to head out of town to Omanawa falls.
After driving about 45-minutes out of town, we eventually found the unsigned entrance to the track. Unfortunately, due to safety concerns, the full track was closed but luckily there were more falls nearby. We spent the afternoon bushwalking and checking out McLaren Falls and the surrounding area. As you would expect in New Zealand, we did find some sheep wandering around one of the national parks.
Day three was “Action Day” and involved another absolutely spectacular drive, travelling 64km to Rotorua via State Highway 2, State Highway 33 and State highway 30. Quad biking and clay bird shooting were on the itinerary and we were excited to arrive at Adventure Playground Rotorua where both activities were on offer.
High school trigonometry comes into play as you need to work out the speed and trajectory of the clay pigeon on the fly. Body braced against the kickback, I fired the first shot and smashed the bright orange target.
I managed to hit quite a few during the first round, but I could feel my arms getting tired and was actually quite relieved to finish up and move on to the next activity.
The nerves faded quickly but the adrenaline rush continued to build as we were put through a safety briefing ahead of a quad bike tour through the rainforest.
This would be the climatic end to this action-packed day.
After getting a feel for how the quad bikes responded to brake and throttle inputs, we hit the track and followed a steep path down into a deep gully. We were smacked in the face with large overhanging leaves as we climbed up a hill to an amazing lookout spot. We only briefly took in the view before heading back down into the muddy trenches.
Navigating the ruts was tricky, and tackling the steep parts and sharp corners called for steady hands on the brake and throttle. Like any good off-road adventure, there were times we had to stop and assess the best path to navigate through water or around obstacles.
Of course we got bogged but unlike cars, quad bikes are light and all you need is a couple of brawny blokes on hand to lift it back on track. Our guide had a bit too much fun flicking up mud and dirt with his quad, covering us as we followed behind him. I was digging the dust out of my nose for hours.
That night we headed back to Auckland to grab a few hours sleep before an early flight. The drive back was relaxing, even as our muscles began to seize after the physically intense shooting and quad biking experiences.