When I was initially researching this trip, I looked high and low for a review about this specific Topdeck tour but I couldn’t find anything that answered all my questions and was also recently published. Now that it has been almost a month since my return, I wanted to create a post for anyone who is looking to do the Northern Explorer tour in the future. I will be covering accommodation, food, attractions and the people 🙂
I booked my tour a few months in advance with STA travel but you can also book online directly through Topdeck’s own website. I would definitely recommend doing it in person through an agent because you can ask as many questions as you please, the price is exactly the same and you don’t have to pay the whole trip up front, only a small deposit. If you don’t want the hassle of booking flights and buying insurance separately, STA are happy to hook you up as well but if you want to save some money you can grab those through Webjet which is what I did.
My friend and I went together so we upgraded to twin share which was an extra hundred each. This was a really great decision on our part because our room was always much nicer and we would always have access to our own private bathrooms and amenities. I think the accommodation was fantastic in terms of variety, as you can see we stayed in a ski resort, a Maori Marae (which is the sacred meeting place) and also a small boat!
These are all the places we stayed at:
- Pre-Accommodation at Travelodge Hotel, Wellington
- Skotel Alpine Resort, Mount Ruapehu
- Maori Marae, Rotorua
- Sudima, Rotorua
- Rock the Boat, Bay of Islands
- Tanoa Paihia Hotel, Tanoa
Rotorua Museum of History & Art
I paid for three optional extras: Hobbiton, Hell’s Gate mud spa and Rock the Boat. There is a ton of other cool things that you can also participate in such as white water rafting, zorbing, inflatable kayaking and bungee jumping.
Hobbiton: to read more about my Hobbiton experience, you can visit my first New Zealand post here.
Hell’s Gate: was a nice experience after having skipped way too many showers on this trip! We spent an hour in the hot mud and springs where our noses accommodated to the sulphurous scent of Rotorua.
Rock the Boat: this was my favourite part of our entire trip! For 22 hours we went on a tiny little boat and saw all 144 islands with a very enthusiastic local crew. There was a paint balling introduction, fishing for dinner followed by night kayaking which was breathtaking. We paddled out at 10pm and the water was filled with phosphorous algae so when we dipped our paddle or arm in the water, a beautiful trail of glow in the dark algae moved along with us. We also lay in our kayaks and looked up at the glowing night sky and it was quite magical 🙂 After kayaking, the brave kids jumped in for a swim. It was cold but so worth it because as we swam, the algae continued to glow and everyone felt like a mermaid. Once all warmth had escaped our bodies we jumped back out and sat by the fire. The next morning we went snorkelling and hiked up a lush island barefoot. I don’t think I’ve ever had that many adventures in under 24 hours!
The activities that were already included in our tour were just as great and the night at the Marae was my favourite. Some of the things included a hike in Tongariro which you can read more about in my previous post here, a rugby lesson at the NZ Sports Academy and a night learning about Maori culture including the haka and poi dances at the Marae.
If you choose not to participate in an activity you have the option of exploring the city yourself. None of the activities are affiliated with Topdeck so you can do as little or as much as you would like. Here’s a snap of me ‘skydiving’ and another of my friend bungee jumping.
Te Papa Museum
Breakfast is included every morning at the location of the accommodation for the previous night. We had a combination of cold and hot breakfasts and three dinners were included. Lunch was always up to us and we were given the opportunity to go to grocery stores and stock up on water and snacks if we were heading somewhere remote.
For the trip we had a tour leader, a driver and an extra person who did both jobs whenever the main people were tired. No tipping is required and they were all very helpful. Most of the the other travellers were Australian like myself but around 30% were from overseas. We had a big group of almost 40 including people from the UK, US, Germany, France and Switzerland. The best way to describe the environment would be like a big school camping trip. I know tours like these have a reputation for being party tours but I think it usually depends on the group itself. This was a bit of a quiet group so there was no pressure to drink if you didn’t want to and the places we travelled to lacked night life so there wasn’t much on offer in terms of after hours entertainment.
Overall, Topdeck tours are very fast paced adventure packed trips. If you want to see lots of scenery, I wouldn’t recommend going on one because we were only allowed 10 to 30 minutes tops at some scenic lookouts. However, they are very well organised so you don’t have to do much thinking aside from getting to the bus on time.
I never have much use for souvenirs so I only bought one thing for myself – a kiwi charm (only available to purchase in New Zealand) to finish off my pandora bracelet for 2015.
Hopefully this whopper of a post was helpful for some people. If you have any questions in general about Topdeck tours or more specific ones about the northern explorer I would be happy to answer them in the comments below. Thanks for reading and I’ll be back with a fashion post on Friday! Lets hope this weather clears up a bit too eh?!!
Enjoyed reading your blog👍🏻
Amazing photos and your trips sounds so fun! 🙂
Happy New Year!
This sounds like an amazing trip that was extremely well organized. The hike, sounds and looks beautiful. The fact the it was included in the itinerary is one less one-off activity you have to plan. I really love that you were able to get rugby lessons at the academy. How freakin cool is that. I would love to experience that. Great share and loved all the pics.
I seriously can’t get over these photos–they’re STUNNING. I want to go to all of these places immediately!
Omg the bracelet!! it’s so pretty. I have a similar one and I just love it so so much. Great pictures, you make me so wanderlust, I want to travel!!
stunning pictures 🙂
Amazing photos! Wonderful trip! Love it! I would like to go there one day ♥
Meet My Lovely World
Loving all of these amazing destinations! 😀 So envious of all of your travels haha! Glad to hear that you had lots of fun, Karen! ❤
I’m so pleased I’ve managed to find such a good review of the Northern Explorer with Topdeck! I’ve been looking everywhere for one. I’m hoping to travel from England (home) in October to New Zealand and go on this tour. I’m wondering if you have any hints or tips about what to definitely do and perhaps what you might avoid if you were to do the trip again.
Please let me know!
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Hi Robin! I’m so glad to hear that!
If you’re travelling all the way from England and your budget allows it, I would definitely recommend you do the south island portion as well. Many of the other travellers said the south island was more beautiful in comparison.
You won’t get much time in Wellington and Auckland so if you’re keen to see the two cities, you could opt to stay before and after the trip. I stayed in the pre-accommodation that top deck recommended because i didn’t want the added hassle of moving hotels but if you want to save $$ , you could opt to look for it yourself.
I’m not really sure what else you want to know so if you could give me some more specific questions, I would be more than happy to help 🙂
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Thank you so much for getting back to me Karen!
Well I plan to spend a couple of nights in Auckland before beginning the trip from Auckland to Wellington so I can get my bearings and adapt to the time difference. After the trip I plan to get the ferry across to Picton and then to Christchurch. If I have time, I will certainly explore a little more of the South Island before getting the ferry back to Wellington and spend a couple of days there and then take the Northern Explorer train back up to Auckland. I’m told the train ride is very nice!
Okay, so i’ll try to keep my questions to just five haha.
Were there any activities you consider to be a must do that you took part in or wish you had and any that you thought might not be worth the time or money?
Was there anything that you wish you’d packed that you hadn’t thought of before setting off?
Overall did you consider to be the trip to be good value for money in terms of the hotels, food and activities you took part in? I’ve googled some of the hotels you listed as staying in and they all look rather good.
Was your bus full for the duration of the trip?
Can I see any more of the pictures you may have taken on this trip?
Thank you again
That sounds fantastic. Okay on to the answers 🙂
1. Rock the Boat is the most expensive but I definitely think it was worth it and everyone in my tour did that one. I think I would have liked to do white water rafting as well.
2. I brought a raincoat and that was my most used piece of clothing! The weather is constantly misty/light raining.
3. I think so considering the hotels, food and transportation. The activities covered a wide variety of things both cultural and scenic but some other things like the rugby academy were unnecessary in my opinion. Since you’re from the UK, I’d assume you already have some knowledge of the sport like us Aussies but I guess if you were from Europe it would have been interesting.
4. We had 40 people to start with and finished with around 15. More than half the group left once we got to Auckland since they didn’t continue to Bay of Islands with us.
5. You can look at my ‘travel’ page and under international are more pictures from my trip. Additionally, look at my instagram @stylesmorgasbord and also the instagram @birdothebird. He was one of the people on my tour who is a youtuber and created some short videos from the trip.
Many thanks, this website is extremely handy.|