Stockholm Bucket List II: Skansen, Vasa Museum and the Best Dinner Ever


After a gorgeously sunny and warm arrival in Stockholm we woke up to a very rainy Stockholm on our second day. Undeterred, we took advantage of the poor weather to tackle a few of the indoor activities we wanted to explore (and one outdoor activity that we couldn’t resist)!

We started our day slowly trying to work up the courage to venture out in the rain, with a specific rainy day plan in mind. Yesterday we stumbled upon a great little tea shop just as it closed and, as you all probably know, I love tea, so we put it at the top of the list for today.

True to our word, Chaikhana was our first stop today and boy, was it a good one! We ordered a cup of tea each (I got the Bai Mu Dan, a very delicate white peony tea) and I ordered the Indian Omelette, which came with a side of gluten free toast. The service was admittedly a little slow and would have been preferable later in the afternoon, when our day was coming to an end and we didn’t feel pressured to get moving. Still, the food and tea were worth the wait (the omelette was to die for) and I topped it off with an amazing gluten and dairy free cake.

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Chaikhana is located directly across from the German Church, so we popped in there quickly and took a peek around. The church itself is small but beautiful, and we snapped a few pictures before we had our fill and continued on to what we thought would be the primary activity for the day–the Vasa Museum. Due to a slight lack of prior research on my part, the Vasa Museum was not exactly what I thought it would be, but it was very interesting all the same. We learned about the history of this 17th century would-be warship, which ended up sinking approximately 1000 meters into its voyage and killing 30 people. We learned about the reclamation and restoration process and about the lives of passengers that had died during the journey, which I thought was the most interesting part. Life in Sweden during the 1600s is an area of history I’m admittedly clueless about, so it was interesting to get a better understanding of what that was like.

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We left the Vasa Museum around 4:30 and made the impulsive decision to visit Skansen, an open-air museum and zoo. Although I typically have reservations about zoos and their treatment of animals, Skansen actually surpassed my expectations tenfold and I was disappointed I didn’t get to spend more time there. We paid the entry fee of 180 SEK and went straight to the aquarium, which confusingly houses not only fish and reptiles but also open-air monkey exhibits, including lemurs (my personal favorite). There was an extra fee of 120 SEK, but it was well worth it.

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Photo credit: Photos by Ena

The rest of the museum was huge and we were stressed about the fact that it closed at 6:00 PM, but that was an unnecessary worry. Sweden is apparently an incredibly trusting country and Skansen, at least, seems to operate on the honesty policy. We walked at our leisure and weren’t kicked out promptly at 6:00, and saw others who continued to explore  until 6:30 at least. We felt compelled to leave at closing time, being the rule abiders that we are, but no one seemed too bothered that we spent a couple extra minutes looking at the Lynx exhibit or playing peek-a-boo with a cheeky seal.

Our exhausting day ended at a little local tapas-style restaurant called Matkonsulatet, where we had some of the most amazing food I’ve ever had. The restaurant itself was pricey by my broke millennial standards, but well worth every single krona! We sat at the bar and ordered a wine while we chit-chatted with the server–I started off with a rose champagne and informed him that I’m gluten free and not hugely fond of fish. The menu was in Swedish only but the staff spoke perfect English, so we asked him to just pick 5 of his favorite dishes for us (and were so hungry we ended up getting a sixth).

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Elise and I shared all of the dishes, starting with patatas bravas, a strawberry salad with balsamic and sheep’s milk cheese (amazing), pork belly with anchovy sauce (not as amazing), a cured beef dish, hangar steak and a pork side with parsnip chips and a parsnip puree (my personal favorite dish). We both topped off with a dessert–I got the chocolate mousse/fudge with olive oil and Elise got the vanilla/toffee version. We liked it so much that we went back again on our last day! I’ll be writing a blog post specifically about Matkonsulatet in the near future (and will link back here), so keep your eyes peeled for that!

Bucket list review:

Vasa Museum:

Activity Type: History & Culture, Museum

Price: 130 SEK for adults (~USD$15), 100 SEK students (~USD$11.75, we got in on student prices)

Value for Money: Moderate. The museum was very well thought out and interesting and worth a see, but like everything in Sweden  it’s fairly expensive. Best for history/naval buffs.

Suitable for: Everyone! Parts of this museum were definitely made with children in mind, and it made for a good rainy day activity.

Recommend: This wasn’t my favorite thing to do in Stockholm, but I definitely tend to lean in towards experiences instead of museums (i.e animal encounters, skydiving, etc), but for museum buffs this would be a nice activity. 

Skansen Open Air Museum:

Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Zoo, Outdoor Adventure

Price: SEK 180 (~USD$21.22), Aquarium SEK 120 (USD$14 extra)

Value for Money: Moderate to high. I loved this museum and wished I’d made an entire day of it. That said, entry prices were steep and paying more to see the aquarium felt a little unfair, even if it was a very enjoyable exhibit. I’d pay it again, but I could see some people not enjoying it as much as I did.

Recommend: 100%! I really enjoyed this museum and love getting to spend time outdoors. Exhibits were large and animals looked mostly happy (even in the miserable rain), which is unusual for zoos. The history of Sweden was also explained in many interactive, open air exhibits, which was very interesting. 

Want to know more about Stockholm? 

Click here to read about eating, drinking and exploring Old Town Stockholm! 

 

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The British Bucket List: High Tea at The Savoy


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Going back to the U.K. has always felt a little bit like going home to me. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to live here a few years ago, and have since returned on an annual basis to visit friends and continue to build and reinforce my network of people in the area. Even though I find the U.K. incredibly comfortable, I always try and push myself to see or do one new thing that I haven’t done in the past.

This year’s trip saw me booking high tea at the very luxurious Savoy hotel with a good friend. High tea costs approximately £50-£53 per person without alcohol, and boy was it worth it! We arrived to London from Canterbury by train and got in a good deal earlier than our reservation, which was set for 1:15 PM. This gave us plenty of time to explore the beautiful Victoria Embankment Gardens while we waited, basking in the (rare) British summer sun.

When it came time for our reservation we entered the lavishly decorated building, which was incredibly ornately decorated. Fresh flowers, attentive staff and impeccable interior design completed the image of sophistication, and it was an immediately calming atmosphere. We were able to really sit down and enjoy ourselves, mulling over the tea menu (boasting more than 30 flavors of tea) while deciding on whether we preferred a savory service to a pastry service. Our waiter was attentive but reserved, which was the perfect combination.

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Photo Credit: Kiwi Collection

When booking the tea I’d requested a gluten free tea service, and was informed upon arrival that my food had been prepared in advance and would be ready whenever I wanted it. I believe that those who didn’t request a gluten free service can still get one, but that the gluten free option will typically take longer to come out than the standard option if it hasn’t been pre-ordered.

I ordered the rose and peony white tea before choosing the Afternoon Tea option, which included finger sandwiches, fresh scones, a course of pastries and then a dessert option. Emily ordered the alternative menu, which substituted pastries for an asparagus, crayfish and egg dish. Our first course came out quickly and Emily, being my guide for all things British for the day, politely informed me that it was customary to taste each sandwich so as to avoid being rude. I was only too happy to oblige, and eagerly enjoyed the ham and cheese, the coronation chicken, the egg and mayonnaise and the tomato sandwich. Apprehensively I tried the smoked salmon–I’ve never been big on fish–but it was absolutely lovely as well, and I ended up eating the whole thing.

The courses rolled out as we requested them and each one was better than the last. By the time we were finished we were uncomfortably full but incredibly satisfied, and spent a pleasant half hour chit-chatting in the beautifully adorned tea room. We settled the check promptly before venturing out to explore the little shop just outside the tea room, where Emily purchased a packet of the tea that she’d enjoyed during our meal. Taking our afternoon tea at the Savoy was an absolute treat, and one I’d recommend for anyone looking for a taste of British culture and refinement at it’s very best.

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Photo Credit: Visit London

Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Food & Beverage

Price: $50-53 without alcohol

Value for Money: Variable/high: I personally felt like this was incredibly worthwhile, but for people who are less interested in food/beverage and prefer something a little more active and a little less refined it may be less enjoyable. 

Suitable for: Everyone! May not be great for young kids.

Recommend: 100%! I loved the tea service here and it was a great experience. I’d love to come back for another special occasion.

Extras: Photography is mildly frowned upon, so most of my photos came from a stock source.

 

 

Bucket List Adventure: Stand-up Paddle Boarding in Colorado!


Last month I turned 24, and in the spirit of trying new things every year, I decided I wanted to do something exciting that I’ve never done before. I had tons of adventures in my 23rd year of life–skydiving, hiking, zorbing, exploring movie sets, playing with tigers, communing with elephants, volunteering in Thailand and getting an up-close and personal introduction to Australian wildlife–and while I know that this year is going to be a little less exotic, I still want to do things that push me as a person, mentally and physically. Just because I’m not actively traveling at the moment doesn’t mean that my life can’t still be exciting and full of new adventures, and I’m determined to keep finding activities that will challenge me and push me out of my comfort zone.

It didn’t take long for me to decide what my first adventure as a 24 year old would be: stand-up paddle boarding or SUP, for short. As a birthday present to myself, I bought a GoPro and decided to christen it on the day trip to Bear Creek Lake Park, which is about 35 minutes outside of Denver.  My friend Erica was visiting from Massachusetts, so we headed out to the park in the early afternoon. Paddle board rentals are a little bit steeply priced there–$20 per hour–but the surroundings were gorgeous and our wait time wasn’t outrageously long. It was a Saturday, so it was slightly more crowded than it would probably be on a weekday, but the lake didn’t feel like it was absolutely overrun with people, which was a definite bonus!

Actually finding the little lake where you rent the paddle boards can be a little bit tricky, but we figured it out after a few minutes and then went to the boat rental building and put our names in. The wait was about 20 minutes, which was slightly inconvenient but did give us time to reapply sunscreen and let it soak in before we headed out into the extra-strong Colorado sunshine! When we finally got the boards we were a little bit nervous about actually using them; loads of people around us were taking lessons, but we hadn’t bothered with that and were just winging it.

To my surprise, stand-up paddle boarding is crazy easy! It takes a little while to figure out what strokes will push you in which direction, but the learning curve is pretty gentle and before long we were able to get ourselves moving, turning around, etc. We had tons of fun exploring the little lake and I think that this activity would be SUPER fun to do on a lazy river, especially while traveling. I’m definitely going to be seeking out SUP when I’m traveling in the future–I’d love to do it in Southeast Asia or in Hawaii! If you’re interested in trying SUP around the world, I’m going to include a few links to articles below that will give you a little bit more information on key destinations. If you’re not sure you want to try it on vacation, I highly recommend trying to find places near your house to do it–state parks often also offer it, so be sure to do a quick google search for SUP locations near you!

The Travel Channel: World’s Best Stand-Up Paddle Boarding Spots

Outside Magazine: North America’s 10 Best Beginner SUP Spots

The Clymb: The World’s Best Places to Stand-Up Paddle Board

Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Adventure

Price: $20/hr

Value for Money: Average. There are other places where you can rent boards for $12 an hour instead of $20, and I’d say thats a much better value. 

Suitable for: Everyone! It doesn’t require much skill, and if you’re really nervous you can always take a lesson.

Recommend: 100%! Its so much fun and I can’t wait to do it again.

Extras: All photos in this article taken with a GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition.

Hiking Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado


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Its been raining for almost a month (yes, a whole f****** month) here in Denver, but we FINALLY got a reprieve last weekend! After checking the weather report and seeing that thunderstorms weren’t on the horizon until about 2 pm, I asked my high school bestie Andie to come out early on Sunday morning so that we could get a nice hike and lunch in before the rain came back. We decided the night before that we’d go to Table Mountain, which boasts easy-to-advanced hikes and stunning views. It’s only about 30 minutes from Denver and dog-friendly, which was a must, as my little buddy Willie was desperate for a nice, long walkie!

Our original plan was to hike for about two hours, maybe a little bit less, but straight up and down. We parked, unadvisedly, near the neighborhood access on an nondescript side-road. We learned later that there’s an actual parking lot with amenities like port-o-potties and the like, which is 100% where we will park next time! Its a long drive from Denver and not having a bathroom at the beginning of the trail was basically torture.

Anyway, at our jumpoff point there was only a small posting about trails and whatnot, without any real marking as to where we were or what paths went where. This was exceptionally confusing when it came to deciding which direction we were meant to go in to start our hike, which we thought would be about three miles. Ultimately we made the wrong choice and ended up on the North Table Loop, which is said to be 5.9 miles long, but in actuality ended up being about 8 miles. In spite of not being the trail we’d anticipated doing, the hike was scenic and beautiful, and was a great workout to boot! We really felt like we earned our lunch!

The beginning of our hike was pretty easy and almost entirely flat. Occasionally we’d run into another hiker or a small cluster of people, and at one point we were overtaken by horses, but other than that it was peaceful and quiet. Midway through the hike things became increasingly difficult, and there was a marginal but steady uphill stretch that lasted for about a mile, which fully wiped Andie and me out, but the little dog was having a grand old time! Eventually we found the entrance to the park, and pushed on reinvigorated to the last quarter of our hike. By this point we’d been hiking way longer than intended and could see a thunderstorm approaching over the opposite set of mountains, inconveniently as we were passing a field of giant, metal electric towers. Fortunately no one was hurt, but it definitely put a hustle in our steps!

When we finished we loaded back up in the car–very muddy dog included–and headed into town for some lunch. We got to Sherpa House at 2pm, only 30 minutes before they closed, but were SO excited to find out that they still had their lunch buffet on, for $9.99 all you can eat! I ordered a chai in addition to the food I picked out–some memorable favorites included the Chicken Tikka Masala, a tasty spinach dish, some Onion Bajhi (onions battered with chickpea flour and deep fried–I probably ate 6+ of them, they were out-of-this-world delicious!) and potatoes that were covered in what appeared to be a yogurt sauce. I’m gluten free, so Naan was out of the question, but the Onion Bajhi totally covered my craving for carbs!

Very full and already sore, we got back into the car and hustled back to Denver, where I proceeded to get a 90-minute massage for $12.50 (yes, you read that right!) at the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado with my sister. All in all it was an amazing day, in spite of the threatening weather and the unexpected ruggedness of the hike, and the massage after the hike was exactly what I needed to recover!

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Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Adventure–hiking!

Price: Free + Cost of lunch and gas. 

Value for Money: A++

Suitable for: Everyone! There are easier hikes you could do with kids. Probably not a great activity for mobility-disabled people.

Recommend: Absolutely! Hiking in Golden is great and I’d go back just to get lunch at Sherpa House!

Bucket List Idea: Taking a Class at Canvas and Cocktails!


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Sometimes, when I’m not traveling, I start to feel like my day to day life is really, really boring. I tend to fall into a routine, either with work or school, and maybe going out for food or drinks, usually to the same places. Recently, though, I’ve been wanting to branch out more and to try and make my home life a little bit more like my life abroad! Colorado has a ton of great activities, most of which are pretty affordably priced, and I think its high time I started taking advantage of them.

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Last Christmas, my sister gave my mom and I tickets to Canvas and Cocktails, which has various installments around the country (Painting and Sipping, Canvas and Corkscrews are a few others, to name a few! Doing a quick google search is probably the easiest and fastest way to find a similar venue near you). I was a little bit nervous about it at first–I have the artistic ability of a rock, when it comes to things like painting and drawing–and didn’t think I was going to have what it took to paint some of these paintings. A lot of them looked pretty complex, even though the one that we chose was relatively simple.

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We were able to look online at a calendar of classes, which included the painting that was going to be recreated during that session. The piece that we chose was multi-media, a painting of an umbrella, a lamppost and rain on a backdrop of books pages, which we got to choose for ourselves. When we arrived at the studio we were greeted and checked in by the lovely ladies at the desk, who were all very friendly and chatty. We paid and were shown to our easels, given a brief tour of what we’d need to get started (paints, aprons, complimentary drink).

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I picked up my gear and grabbed a mimosa, then took a few glamour shots to get prepared for the class! Our studio has a super-cool raffle drawing for a free class, which you get entries for by checking in or sharing photos on various forms of social media. I checked in on Facebook (with a photo), checked in/tagged myself on Instagram and shared my Instagram check-in to Twitter, and got 4 entries for the raffle!

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We began by picking out the book pages for the background of our painting, and I choose all dictionary pages, particularly ones with animals on them. Our super-friendly instructor taught us how to apply them to the canvas, then turned us loose for about 15 minutes so we could work independently. After 15-20 minutes we began to mix our other colors and worked on our paintings, and were given breaks every once in a while to let the paint dry and to keep us from over-fixating on the paintings. The instruction was basic but effective, and our leader made sure to come around and check everyone’s work individually and correct things if they were going way off-base.

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When our painting were nearing completion our instructor drew names for the raffle, and I ended up winning, which is SO exciting! I never win anything, like seriously never win anything ever, so it was doubly exciting for that. I finished up painting and perused the store, coming out with a scarf and a super cute necklace, both of which were 20% off. We were allowed to finish at our own pace and check out the store, which is great for slower painters. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for something fun and different to do, and I cannot wait to go again with my free class!

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Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Class, art.

Price: $35, includes a free drink. 

Value for Money: Above average! The whole experience is super fun and you’ll have a pretty piece of art to bring home at the end of the day. Totally worth it.  

Suitable for: Everyone! I have exactly zero talent when it comes to art, and even I managed to produce something pretty. I also saw kids there, and families–no alcohol if you’re under 21 or don’t have an I.D, but you can definitely still join the fun!

Recommend: Absolutely! I cant wait to do it again. 

Topping the Bucket List: Doing the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London!


Hey, everyone! My apologies in advance–this post is going to be super photo-heavy, so get ready! The photos were all taken on my Iphone, so they’re a little less high quality than normal, but they’re good enough! In spite of having spent an entire year living in the UK, somehow I never managed to find the time to do two things that I’ve been absolutely dying to do: see Stonehenge and take the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. I still haven’t managed to see Stonehenge, but I have finally got to take the Harry Potter Studio Tour, which was even more amazing than I ever could have imagined.

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The tour is about £30 (roughly $45 USD) for an adult ticket, not including food or drink while you’re there. Getting to the tour is the tricky part, though; from London, you have to take a train to Watford Junction, some of which are far less direct than others. There’s one train that takes approximately 15 minutes (definitely the train you’ll want to take), which lists Watford Junction as a waypoint rather than a destination. I made the mistake of taking the train that ends in Watford Junction, which takes closer to an hour–not great when you’re trying to make your allotted tour time on your ticket!

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A bus runs from Watford Junction Train Station to the tour approximately every 20 minutes, but thankfully I had my friend and favorite travel buddy Cheyenne to come pick me up at the train station. We got onto the last tour of the day, which gave us plenty of time to explore the exhibits on our own.

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We were first guided into a small room by one of the tour leaders, who then explained how the tour was going to work. The tour is self-guided, and though I believe audioguides are available, I found it fun enough to simply wander around on my own and admire the sets. The second stop on the tour is a theatre, which provides a brief video with cameos from actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, after which we’re led into the great hall. At this point we still have a guide with us, who told us more about the sets and then let us wander off to take our ten thousand selfies.

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After that we were left to explore the sets at our leisure, which included the boy’s dormitory, the potions room, the Ministry of Magic, the Weasley’s house, and Professor Umbridge’s office. Halfway through, we got our first taste of Butterbeer (which I loved, Cheyenne not so much–its kind of like a cream soda float, if you’re American!), then got to go explore some of the outdoor built sets, including the Knight Bus, Privet Drive, the Hogwarts Bridge (I’m sure that has a more official name, I just don’t remember what it is),  and Hagrid’s Motorcycle.

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My personal favorite part of the tour came next (after Butterbeer tasting, of course)– getting to see Diagon Alley. Diagon Alley was incredibly elaborate, and it was super fun to explore! We probably spent way longer than we should have looking into all the shops and searching for the perfect photo op, but that’s half the fun of the tour–getting to really get to know the set and pretend you’ve finally gotten your letter of acceptance to Hogwarts. 

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The concluding parts of the tour included a walk-through of some of the artistry and photography that went into the making of the films, and finally into the to-scale model of Hogwarts, which was huge, even in its small-scale size! After that we were ushered into the gift shop, and tempted as I was to get a chocolate frog, I just wasn’t all that ready to cough up £7 ($11USD) for one, so I took a pass and remained content with the memory of my Butterbeer. All in all it was an absolutely amazing evening, and I’d probably even do it again if I got the chance!

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Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Self-guided tour.

Price: £30 ($45 USD). 

Value for Money: Above average! The tour lasts about three hours and is full of things to do, so I didn’t feel ripped off. 

Suitable for: Everyone! This would be super fun to do with kids or friends, as a couple or as a family, as long as your into Harry Potter or filmography.

Recommend: Absolutely, if you’re into Harry Potter. I loved it an had a great time. 

The Backpacker’s Mini-Guide for Rotorua, New Zealand


Overview:

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Located a few hours’ drive out of Auckland, Rotorua is a mecca for backpackers, adventure travelers, nature lovers and luxury travelers alike. Situated in the midst of one of the most tectonically active regions in the world, Rorotua boasts thermal parks, hot springs and mud pools, many of which can be enjoyed by tourists on any budget. In recent years Rotorua has become something of a pilgrimage destination for Lord of the Rings fans, eager to see for themselves the locations that director Peter Jackson earmarked as his top choice for the backdrop of his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Adventure junkies can explore nearby glowworm caves or go ZORBING, and in their down time rent bikes and explore the Redwood Forests, which are free and open to the public. Whether you’re interested in BEING A HOBBIT FOR A DAY IN THE SHIRE or getting a healthy dose of culture in the cradle of Maori territory, Rotorua has a little something for everyone. My guide offers advice on where to stay and what to do in the city, offering both budget activities and a few splurge activities for good measure.

Where to Stay:

Photo Credit: www.rotoruaaccommodation.co.nz
Photo Credit: http://www.rotoruaaccommodation.co.nz

Crash Palace is my go-to recommendation for backpacker’s lodging in Rotorua. Located just off the main drag, Crash Palace has the advantage of being spacious, comfy, welcoming and quiet. It’s a short five minutes’ walk from the nearest grocery store (where you can pick up ingredients to cook in one of their two fantastic kitchens) and a two minutes’ walk away from the town center, where you can catch the bus to activities located outside of town, including Zorbing and nature walks, or rent a bike so that you can go exploring without having to rent a car.

The atmosphere inside Crash Palace is great; the first floor is open and comfortably appointed, with a combined dining and movie-watching room, a smaller room with a pool table just off reception,  a kitchen, a toilet, a computer room and an outside patio with a hot tub. Guests are given a key code that they can use to get upstairs, where the rooms are located. The owner and manager of the hostel is friendly and happy to answer any questions you have about the hostel, about Rotorua and about the activities accessible from the area. Crash Palace is hooked up with loads of great deals and discounts, including a reduced rate for Hobbiton and $10 off OGO (Zorbing).

The hostel offers free wifi, which is a huge bonus for New Zealand and a major relief for backpackers who are tired of paying out the nose for internet access. I would definitely recommend having your own computer, though, as the computer in their computer room can run a little slowly if you need to back things up or upload images. The hostel also runs a nightly program for its guests, which can range from a free family dinner to pub crawls to movie nights. Pasta and rice are always available from the front desk for free, and alcohol can be purchased from the front desk bar as well.

What to Do:

Hobbiton:

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As a minor-league nerd, I have to say that my favorite paid activity in Rotorua was going to Hobbiton. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of Lord of the Rings, the Hobbiton tour is one of Rotorua’s must-dos. The tour I did picked me up right at my hostel on the way, giving us bits of information about the tour as we neared the farm on which the movie set is located. The set itself is beautiful, nestled in the rolling hills of New Zealand’s countryside, and the Hobbit holes look cozy enough to live in! Spend some time ambling around the Shire, snap a few shots of Bag End, listen to your guide’s super-informative facts about the set and the creation of the movies, then end your day with a complimentary cider, ale or ginger beer at the Green Dragon. If you’re interested in learning more about exploring Hobbiton, check out my in-depth post about it HERE.

Ogo:

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Although I loved everything that I did in Rotorua, Ogo stands out to me as something very quintessentially Rotoruan. Ogo,  better known internationally as Zorbing, was founded in our very own Rotorua, which remains one of the few places where you can actually have an authentic Zorbing experience. So what’s Zorbing, you might ask? Zorbing is essentially rolling down a hill in a giant, soft-plastic hamster ball. It’s crazy fun and a great activity to do at any age, and would be a great activity for families with hard-to-please children. If you’re interested in learning more about Ogo/Zorbing, check out my detailed blog post about it HERE.

Hot Springs:

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If you’re lucky enough to have a car or know someone who has a car, I would highly recommend driving out to Kerosene Creek or the Hot-and-Cold thermal pools, which are located about twenty minutes outside of Rotorua Town. The hot pools are free and open 24 hours a day, which makes them great spots to lounge around on a lazy Sunday afternoon or on a romantic date night.  They can be a little bit tricky to locate and aren’t maintained to touristy standards, as some other for-profit thermal pools are, but they are absolutely worth the effort! Visiting the thermal pools was one of the highlights of my trip and, when I was there, were enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Pro tip: if you’re visiting at night be sure to bring flashlights and candles with you, as there is no artificial lighting on-site.

Redwood Forest:

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Another free activity located just a twenty minutes’ walk from the Rotorua City Center and Crash Palace. The Redwood Forest is an absolute treat, with walking paths for varying levels of endurance and fitness (ranging from 30 minutes to 8 hours, ouch!). The forest itself is beautiful and huge, with massive Redwood trees sprouting up around aquamarine colored creeks. The Redwood Forest is truly something out of a fairy tale and makes for a great natural escape.

Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland:

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Tour busses run to the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland several times a day, and I’d recommend going in the morning in order to catch their daily Lady Knox geyser show. The Thermal Wonderland is chock full of amazing, other-worldly geological oddities, including the toxic looking Devil’s Hole, the brilliant orange geothermal pool and the super-hot mud pools. There are three walks available to Thermal Wonderland explorers, ranging from 30 to 75 minutes.

Maori Village:

Photo Credit: www.rankers.co.nz
Photo Credit: http://www.rankers.co.nz

While I did not personally attend any of the Maori evening shows, I heard that they were absolutely incredible and offer an up-close-and-personal introduction to Maori culture. The buffet dinner is apparently to die for and the shows are said to be fantastic as well. This would be very much worth a look if you’re interested in learning more about the culture of the Maori people.

The Government Gardens:

Photo Credit: www.accoladerotorua.co.nz
Photo Credit: http://www.accoladerotorua.co.nz

The Government Garden is a gorgeous, sprawling park just outside Rotorua City Center. It’s a nice place to take a walk, featuring some of its own thermal activity, which you can view free of charge. Best when explored in the daytime, as it can be a little dangerous come nighttime.

Ending Notes:

Even though I only had five days in Rotorua, this little city absolutely won my heart. With friendly citizens, natural wonders and Hobbity delights abound, I found myself getting incredibly comfortable with Rotorua and its surrounding areas. Crash Palace is the ideal place for backpackers to stay given its proximity to attractions, its cost and its closeness to the grocery store, which is key for travelers on a budget. Overall an amazing place to spend a couple days, though I certainly could have spent a lot longer there and am dying to go back!

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Bucket List Item: Zorbing in Rotorua, New Zealand!


New Zealand is commonly renown for being the adventure capital of the world, and they’ve gone to great lengths to earn the name. One of my personal favorite offbeat adventure activities was invented in Rotorua, New Zealand, and predominantly involves two things: a giant, human-scaled plastic hamster ball and a hill. The premise behind the activity is pretty simple; you get the ball up to the top of the hill, get inside and then roll down the hill. Its called zorbing, and it’s actually super awesome.

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When going on my Zorb adventure, I decided I’d go straight to the source. I went with a company called Ogo, whose founder was the inventor of the Zorb ball. I guess I was oversimplifying the balls by just saying they were giant plastic hamster balls; they’re actually pretty complex inventions that involve an inner and outer chamber and a lot of cushy spokes that probably are the thing that are keeping the whole contraption together. The balls are made of a thick but soft industrial-strength plastic, strong enough that it won’t puncture if it hits rocks or other small objects on the ground. The balls also ensure that the Zorber never hits the ground as they’re tumbling around, which my bum was very grateful for! The track itself is also a little more advanced than your average hill, but its still not a whole lot more than a glorified hill. The Sidewinder track has some man-made moguls dug into it that force the Zorb ball to change directions every fifteen-ish seconds, while the straight hill just has a simple, straight track dug out, with up-raised sides to keep the ball from veering off path.

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After convincing my friend Marie, who was staying at Crash Palace with me, to come with, we went down to the reception of our hostel to book the trip and pick up a 10% off discount voucher. (Tip: If you’re considering going Zorbing, check with the staff at your hotel or hostel to see if they offer any discounts, as it can save you a load of money with minimal effort!). Even though we were going at the tail end New Zealand’s winter, we were slated to do the water Zorb, where the instructor fills the ball partway with water to give you a waterslide-esque ride. It was a little bit chilly out, so we made sure to wear warm clothes to the Ogo location, knowing that we’d want to be warm after our rides. We also packed a small bag to take with us, containing a t-shirt/tank top, a bathing suit, shorts, a towel and a pair of flip flops, then we were set to go! From Rotorua city center we caught the bus, and rode it for about ten or fifteen minutes before we were dropped off at Ogo.

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When we got to Ogo we made our way over to the little reception building, which was surrounded by some changing rooms, two full-size hot tubs, a few bean bags and a functional stove, provided for the comfort of those who were there to give moral support to the Zorbers, but didn’t want to go Zorbing themselves. We approached by a friendly member of their staff, who gave us a full introduction to the Zorbing experience and gave us some information about our options.

We could choose to do any number of rides, which are admittedly a little bit steeply priced. The straight track cost NZ$45 per ride, and the Sidewinder track cost NZ$65 for a ride, but the combined price for a Sidewinder and straight ride is NZ$80. The video was another NZ$30 on top of that, but we were pretty happy to pay the price to chronicle our first Zorbing experience! I probably wouldn’t pay the money to video it again, but having one photographic account of our Zorbing adventure was definitely worth it. (Note: you’re allowed to take pictures with your own camera as well, and they’d probably even let you take your own GoPro if you asked nicely. Not 100% sure on that, but it’s worth asking either way!)

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We ended up deciding that we wanted to do two rides each, and chose a solo ride on the straight track, then a joint ride down the Sidewinder. We quickly changed into our bathing suits and spare tank top and shorts, then headed out to the platform in front of the Zorbing tracks. Marie went up first while I waited down below, equipped with my camera and my curiosity. Finally, she came down the hill and I handed off my camera to her, and she couldn’t stop talking about how awesome it was! Excited, I followed another staff member into a truck, which was thankfully coated in plastic to keep the seats from getting wet. We drove up to the top of the hill and the instructor filled the ball up with water, then told me to dive in.

Pre-zorb and ready to go!
Pre-zorb and ready to go!

Getting into the Zorb balls is definitely kind of an awkward experience; you literally have to dive in head first, like you would into a swimming pool, except that you’re generally dry and end up getting stuck on the damp plastic, forced to wiggle your way through like a beached whale. I imagine the Zorb instructors probably get a good laugh out of it sometimes, though mine was nice enough not to laugh outright at my awkward struggles, at least not loudly enough that I could hear him.

After a little finagling I finally got into the ball and the instructor handed me my GoPro, showing me how to use it briefly before closing up the ball and rolling it onto the track. And then I was lurched into motion, spinning and slipping and sliding around, all while trying to smile and look presentable for my video. It didn’t work, and I ended up just laughing and squeaking and being an all around messy nightmare as I tumbled down the hill, video be damned. And it was so much fun! Unfortunately I don’t have the video on new new computer, but I might be able to upload it for posterity at a future date.

After my first Zorb ride grinning (and posing) like its my job.
After my first Zorb ride grinning (and posing) like its my job.

When my ride was done I was rolled back toward the unloading area, then birthed my way out of the ball feet-first, plopping ungracefully on the ground with flailing legs like a baby giraffe. Marie had made that part look easy, but it definitely was not! I gathered myself up again all the same and posed for a few photos before heading back over to Marie, where we finally gushed together about how much fun it was. We took a quick break to jump in the hot tubs to warm up while the staff got busy setting up the next ride. After a few minutes we got back into the truck and were driven back up to the top of the hill, bringing the camera with to snap a few shots of the amazing view from the top of the hill before we piled awkwardly into the double Zorb ball. We repeated the GoPro process, but I let Marie hold the camera this time, as I was pretty terrible at doing it the first time, then shuffled our way onto the track.

Marie and I just before our Sidewinder ride.
Marie and I just before our Sidewinder ride.

Even though I thought the ride couldn’t get better than it had the first time, it did! It was way more fun doing it with another person, and the Sidewinder track was longer and more interesting than the first one. All in all we went for about a minute and a half, getting thrown around and laughing together the whole time. Thankfully we didn’t ever bump heads or anything equally traumatic, though we were a little bit dizzy by the time we got to the bottom.

Cozying up on the beanbags post-Zorb.
Cozying up on the beanbags post-Zorb.

We snapped a few more photos at the end of our ride before headed back into the hot tubs to warm up one last time, then went to get changed while our photos and videos were being loaded onto the computer. When we were finally warm and dry, we came back out to watch the video and to look at the photos, then decided we only wanted to buy the video pack. We caught the bus back into town not too long after, still giddy from how much fun our little outing had been.

Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Adventure/Fun

Price: NZ$80 for two rides (Sidewinder and Straight), NZ$65 for Sidewinder only, NZ$45 for Straight only, NZ$99 for three rides. Photo/video is NZ$30. 

Value for Money: Average. Its a must-do at least once, but the price is still pretty high for the activity/how long it lasts.

Suitable for: Everyone! This would be super fun to do with kids or friends, as a couple or as a family!

Recommend: You definitely, absolutely have to do this if you’re in New Zealand! Maybe not so great if you’re prone to motion sickness, but I didn’t have any problem with it when I went.

Hobbit for a Day(trip)


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Years before a trip to New Zealand was in the cards for me, I knew that I wanted to go explore the now-preserved movie set depicting The Shire, or the place where Hobbits live, in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. I was always a big Lord of the Rings fan as a kid, and getting to explore the Shire and have a drink at the Green Dragon was basically my nerdy dream come true. I wasn’t dedicated enough to put together a costume for the affair, but a surprising number of people did!

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My trip to Hobbiton started in Rotorua, where I was staying for a couple of nights at a hostel called Crash Palace, which I highly recommend. I booked my tour at reception and was told they were going to come at 1:10 to pick me up. Unfortunately, I thought they’d said 1:30 and missed my bus, but the driver was amazing and came back around for me on his way out of town (even though this definitely made me feel like “that girl,” but it was nice that I was able to go to Hobbiton on my planned tour all the same). The drive to Hobbiton was about 45 minutes long, so I got a quick nap in on the way there.

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When we arrived, we reassembled our tour group and were introduced formally to our guide, who told us all about the history of the set and some little notes and anecdotes about the set throughout the filming experience. We ambled along the dirt paths around the clusters of hobbit holes for a little while, learning about the props, which have all become permanent fixtures of the Hobbiton-area experience. The set has been built and re-built multiple times; Peter Jackson is something of a perfectionist, and it definitely shows! The first time the set was dismantled was after the release of the final installment of the Lord of the Rings movies, and was put back into action in 2010, when the new Hobbit trilogy was in the works. The second re-build of the set took two years to complete, and Bag End was rebuilt several more times on top of that.

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The hobbit holes are all different sizes, craftily constructed in order to force perspective— that is, to make the hobbits look small and Gandalf look large. Bag End was repeatedly rebuilt in the same location in order to accommodate the height differences between Gandalf and the hobbits. When one of my fellow tourists asked why they had to rebuild Bag End so many times instead of just making two differently sized holes in comparable locations, our guide explained that it was actually the movie’s super-fan base that had forced them to do it, in an effort to prevent nitpicky fans from creating websites citing inconsistencies or flaws with the set design or sequencing in the films. I don’t want to ruin all the fun facts for anyone who’s interested in doing the tour themselves, so I’ll leave you guys with that!

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We took a brief pitstop at Bag End, long enough to re-enact a scene from the movies and share a little more trivia. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go into the hobbit holes, as most of them were only two or so meters deep and had been closed off when the crews finished filming. We could, however, go into the recreated Green Dragon at the end of the tour, which definitely made up for not being able to see what the holes had been like during filming. The interior was beautifully done, and our tours included a free drink of ale, cider or ginger beer at the end. I opted for a cider, and lavished in the idea of getting to have a pint in the idyllic pub from my favorite childhood stories.

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After a few more minutes we left the Green Dragon and went back to the bus, which drove us out to the visitor’s center and souvenir shop (and one last opportunity to go to the bathroom) before we drove the 45 minutes back to Rotorua. Even though it was only a short day trip, it was one of the coolest/nerdiest things I did in New Zealand, and I had so much fun learning about the production, the set and the films. All in all it was a great way to spend an afternoon, and I would probably even do it again if I get the chance!

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Bucket List Info:

Activity Type: Tour

Price: NZ$110

Value for Money: High value for me because I love the books and film, but maybe less so for someone who isn’t as interested.

Suitable for: Everyone!

Recommend: I would highly recommend this activity for anyone who loves The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, movie sets, and/or people who want to experience something a little bit different in the New Zealand countryside.

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