BAY OF ISLANDS: If you can survive the four-hour drive (for which I rented a car), I highly recommend checking out the Bay of Islands. I got some incredible weather and had the privilege of working with R. Tucker Thompson and meeting some awesome people. Paihia is a great place to make your home base, and you can check everything out in about four days. Kings Road has some cool bars and several good backpacking hostels. If you have the time to kill, Russell is a cool town across the bay, and the Waipo forest is also worth a visit, if you can survive the two-hour drive west. Other than that, I missed out on sand surfing, which I'm told was pretty cool, but it's a three-hour drive or so to the west. Activities include hiking, boating, dolphin watching, and scuba. All are awesome if you have some spare change lying around.
RIVER VALLEY: I wish I had more time here. One night was all I got. The lodge was great. The rooms were great. The people were great, and the home-cooked food was frickin' awesome. Totally an awesome place to come and relax, enjoy nature, play volleyball or cricket, and did I mention river raft? Ya, best activity for your buck. Or if rafting ain't your thing (and it totally should be), you can horse trek at sunset, which is amazing.
MAORI CULTURAL NIGHT (Rotorua): Amazing to see, watch, and learn about the Maori people and their culture. Very eye opening. Really enjoyed their company, their games, and their food, which was great.
GLOW WORM CAVES: Pretty cool to see. I'd definitely find some time to get into a cave in Waitomo to check out the glow worms. Really neat.
COOL FREE STUFF!
Thermal Pool (Taupo): Don't walk...taxi. There's a great spot to unwind at the Spa Park in Taupo. Great to relax the bones in a man-made FREE thermal pool.
Thermal pools (Rotorua): You can pay to see cool geysers exploding, but there are cool thermal pools at a park for free.
Huka Falls (Taupo): Badass waterfall that makes you feel glad you're on land. It's pretty freakin' intense and pretty freakin' cool.
Lawn Bowling (Rotorua): To me, it's bocce. Had a nice li'l Sunday of watchin' some old ladies duke it out over some lawn bowling. I found it quite entertaining. I woulda played, but they totally woulda whooped my butt.
Hot Rock Beach (Near Mercury Bay): Ya, stick your feet in some sand and let' em warm up. Bring a shovel, get some space, and enjoy your free thermal pool on the beach. Pretty sweet.
Waipo Forest (somewhere west of Paihia): I mean, if you like trees it's pretty cool. It's a bit of a drive, but it's kinda cool. Don't stress yourself out if you miss it, though.
Auckland/Mercury Bay: This is kinda by default cause of rain. Couldn't walk around Auckland nor really enjoy the beach.
Zorbing: I skipped it cause it was a little pricey for what it was. The few that did it seemed to have fun, though.
Water: Don't buy it. Tap water out here is fine.
Black Water Caving: I mean, it was cool but cold. It was really different, kinda exhilarating, kinda sucky, kinda pricey. I went at 8am in March, so it was a li'l chillier than normal. Your call.
Internet:Hostels make you pay out the ass. OUT THE ASS.
Sleep: This bus picks you up like 8 am everyday, and sleeping on the bus is quite hard.
BEST ACTIVITY: River rafting in River Valley.
BEST DRINK: Hot cocoa. Anywhere.
BEST HOSTEL: Urban Backpackers in Taupo. $4 beer. $5 dinner. Boom.
WORST HOSTEL: Base.
BEST/WORST HIKE: Tongarino Crossing (Mt. Doom)
BIGGEST MISS:Raglan. (But, I'm getting there on my way back up. Told it's a must go.)
BEST HOSPITALITY: Waitomo. The desk girl Hayley (I think) helped me dry my drenched shoes in her commercial dryer. She will forever rock my world.
BEST BEER: Tui. Good time. Kinda like Newcastle. Or Celtic Red.
WORST IDEA: Ginger beer.
BEST FOOD: River Valley Lodge. OMG.
BEST IDEA: R. Tucker Thompson Boat Cruise. Great people, great times, great hospitality. Will always have great memories of working with them in the Bay of Islands.