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?!!