I’m a journalist in my mid 20s who lives in London. Not a combination which traditionally implies lots of disposable income!
Yet everyone needs a holiday sometimes, so my boyfriend Frazer and I whizzed away to Brussels for three nights at the end of September.
We got (I think) fairly good prices for our travel and accommodation, and spent less than €150 when we were out there, which could easily have been reduced further if we’d not brought back gifts for our catsitters or sampled plenty of beer.
In fact, we loved Brussels even more than Paris, which for many UK travellers seems to be the pinnacle of European city breaks.
Here are a few tips on how to enjoy Brussels without spending half your savings.
My plane home left Auckland Airport at 7.30pm so we decided to drive into the city in the morning and see a bit more of the city during the day.
First stop was Auckland War Memorial Museum, in a grand building atop a lush green area overlooking the harbour. We were initially a little miffed at the entry price for international visitors of $25 – but after spending three whole hours there with more still to see, I didn’t mind anymore.
For my last full day in New Zealand I decided to go back to Rotorua to one of the geothermal parks, as it’s an aspect of the country which is quite unusual and therefore a must-do on my list.
After researching the different geothermal parks around Rotorua I went for Te Puia as, although it’s more expensive than some others ($51 instead of around $35), it has Pohutu Geyser which is the biggest active geyser in the southern hemisphere and also more reliable than many – erupting around once an hour on average. It has lots of other attractions too and I ended up staying there for three hours.
We were pretty tired out by Saturday, so had a chilled out day ahead of the big Rugby Championship New Zealand v Argentina game in Hamilton. That’s right, the All Blacks were actually playing in Hamilton during my two weeks here – how lucky is that!
Loads of Frazer’s fellow trainee pilots were also going, and many of us stopped off at the Good George Brewery on the way where I tried a delicious plum cider. There was the obligatory acoustic singer bashing out hits such as Oasis’ Wonderwall and Foo Fighters’ Times Like These and it had a great vibe ahead of the game, with the big screen showing the pre-match stuff. I’d definitely go back, but of course we had to rush off to the stadium a 15 minute walk away.
I live near Twickenham Stadium and have been to one Army/Navy rugby game there, and watched a fair amount of recent Six Nations and World Cup games. But seeing the mighty All Blacks play was just awesome – and to see them doing the haka too.
On Friday we had a lunch booking with two of Frazer’s friends at Auckland’s Sky Tower, which is New Zealand’s tallest man-made structure.
However, if you read my last blog you’ll know we were forced to stay the night in Taupo instead of Hamilton so first we picked up our new car from the garage and then drove about three and a half hours to Auckland, stopping off in Hamilton just to freshen up.
We hadn’t had time to plan the route from super highway 1 to the Sky Tower but managed to wing it by heading towards the rather tall structure… Parking there was pretty reasonably priced (compared to London) as we were eating in the restaurant, and soon we were whizzing up 52 floors in the lift – which had a glass panel in the floor and at points also a clear view through the door.
Orbit restaurant had an amazing view – and soon after sitting down we realised it had a revolving floor! So we did a complete 360-degree turn quite a few times during the meal, which meant it felt like we’d got an unusually complete and pretty phenomenal overview of Auckland.
Day seven saw us set off for Taupo, about an hour and 45 minutes’ drive from Hamilton.
It was a town I’d heard good things about, set on a massive lake with the well-known and impressive Huka Falls a beautiful two-hour return walk from Spa Park, an area with natural hot springs.
However, the best laid plans don’t always come through and instead our rental car’s clutch burnt out about 15 minutes from Taupo as we struggled up a hill. We were left unable to move any further, despite still being partially on the road, but thankfully a kind man with towing equipment stopped and helped us up the hill slightly, and out of harm’s way.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves are probably one of the most famous attractions in this part of New Zealand and it felt silly to miss out, since they were only 50 minutes away from where I’m staying.
We opted for the ‘most popular’ cave combo – the Waitomo Glowworm Cave itself and the Ruakuri Cave, and we arrived at 9am to start with a tour in the latter cave.
The Ruakuri Cave starts with a spiral staircase in an artificial cave entrance descending 16 metres quite spectacularly into the cave proper, which itself is up to 65 metres deep. Inside, it’s full of brilliant stalactite and stalactite formations, as well as odd spots lit up with lots of glowworms and their silk threads dangling down.
Tuesday was (moderate) adventure time as we set off for Rotorua and its Skyline Luge.
Upon arrival we bought our tickets and travelled up the hill towering over the geothermal town of Rotorua and its huge lake in a gondola (otherwise known as a cable car). The view was absolutely fantastic.
There were lots of adrenaline-seeking activities up there: a zip line, a sky swing, mountain biking and the luge.
Although I was filled with trepidation upon seeing the other options, the luge seemed like a must-do thrill and it didn’t disappoint. It reminded me of the toboggan run at Robin Hill on the Isle of Wight (niche reference there!) but on a proper track rather than a metal tube track.
On day four – Monday morning – I set off for a 50 minute drive to Blue Spring, which has water so pure it accounts for 70% of New Zealand’s bottled water.
Firstly, let me say I was proud of how easily I drove there – no wrong turns at all, despite having no sat nav. My top tip if you have no sat nav or mobile data would be to study Google Maps before you go and just jot down the route numbers you need. The main roads are very simple/few in New Zealand, then for anything touristy there will be signs to guide you at the end of the journey.
Blue Spring was absolutely beautiful, but also quite understated. The Te Waihou Walkway is a 4.7km walk between two car parks, with the Blue Spring area itself at one end. I parked there and was surprised at how suddenly I came across the pure, clear water and finally realised that was indeed Blue Spring. Wow! I’ve never seen water quite like it.