One Heck of a Time: My Visit to New Zealand

Lana Phillips

Lana Phillips

SEO Manager

New Zealand offers the greenest greens, the bluest blues, and more sheep than people.

One of my first friends I met after moving to Portland was an awesome lady named Jess. The way we met was one of those reminders of how small the world can be. Paul (fellow Bright Oak employee) and I grew in Southern California and now live in Portland, but he had gone to college with Jess in Texas. At this given time, Paul had moved to a new area of Portland, so Paul did as Paul does and walked over to the closest brewery from his new home only to be greeted by Jess. Living in the same city once again, this discovery meant lots of post-work beers for the both of us.

So fast forward a year: Jess gets an opportunity to work abroad in New Zealand. Jess has always been an extreme adventurist, so working with the Kiwis was right up her alley. Jess leaves, I’m sad, but three months will be gone in no time and I can’t wait to here the stories she comes back with. So I continued on, intermittently checking for any updates on Facebook in between our Skype calls.

“Are you going to visit Jess?”, Paul asked. “Ugh, I’d love to. Ticket prices are insane though, maybe if I find an affordable one somehow” I replied. I did have a knack for finding cheap airfare, but I proved myself wrong with New Zealand and gave up on the idea.

On some boring Saturday, I decide to scan through work emails and I see one from our boss, Zach.

new zealand coupon

Yup. Despite it being incredibly clear as to what the email meant, I still was in a state of disbelief and texted Paul to see if he knew of anything prior. He answers – “Damnit, I was going to call you and say that a client was really upset, and then make you check your emails to get back to them. Oh well, you’re going to New Zealand!”

In total, it was a 16 hour flight but luckily it was broken up with a 24 hour layover in Hawaii. Not a bad way to start your trip. Not only that, but I had family staying on the same island for the same weekend. Things were just falling into place. Not even the guy who sat next to me, trying to convince me that I should only be eating a raw diet, could kill my vibe. Like, has he tried cheese?

My Intro to NZ

After 10 hours on the plane, it was dark and Jess was waiting for me outside with the new whip that she bought while there. Lots of “OMG, hi, missed you, how have you been, tell me everything” ensued. She followed it with “You know how I said I’d have an apartment by the time you got here? Well, I don’t yet…. So we’re camping!” I should have guessed really – when with Jess, do as jess does. We drove through the rolling hills of New Zealand and around some canyons. We setup our tent on some flat, grassy pastures, and then she points to a rocky wall. “Those are caves. But not just ANY caves, Glow Worm caves!” Curious as to what that would entail, we laced up our shoes and grabbed our headlamps. The front of the cave was black as night, but as we ventured on we could see them sprayed across the walls. It looked like a galaxy right above our heads. No photo will ever do this experience justice, so you guessed right, I do not have any of my photos to show you. But here is one I googled.


Relaxation Station

My first official day in New Zealand: Jess had a dinner shift at the brewery she’d been working at, so naturally she had day plans for us. We wanted to make use of the time we had, so we packed up quickly and off we went. As we were driving, I was gazing out the window now that I could see the vibrancy of the landscape. I told Jess that everything looked as if someone has adjusted the photo level of saturation all the way up. Jess started telling me that New Zealand has a ton of geothermal activity due to an eruption that happened in 1886. There are thermal pools splattered throughout the North Island, and we were going to visit the most famous one called Wai-O-Tapu. The pools have naturally occurring chemicals that cause the water to turn strange colors like mint green or neon orange. “We can’t go in these, but if we head up this hill, there are some hot springs we can dip in. Hope you brought a swimsuit”. Once we walked up a hill, down a staircase, and passed a sign that said “Don’t dunk your head underwater: beware of living amebas” it was game over. This was relaxation at its finest – we were in toasty water with the sand at our feet and surrounded by greenery. We dug at the ground to reveal a beautiful blue clay, very similar to jars I know I’ve spent over $20 for. For a minute there I contemplated coming back with empty jars so I could sell them at Portland street markets, but quickly got distracted by ~*pure bliss*~.

new zealand thermal pools

Jumping Right In

Jess had the next 2 days off and so did her co-worker Dan. Jess warned me that it was going to be a jam-packed trip. The plan was to start out in Auckland and work our way up the coast. We’d then camp at Matapouri and then jump on a boat to Poor Knights Island to go snorkeling the next day. Just as Jess warned, we made many stops.


One of our stops required us to go up stairs, followed by more stairs, and then many more. Considering the fact we we were doing a lot of driving, it was probably more necessary to get on our feet than not. Still didn’t mean I liked it. We made sure to bring some beers up with us so that we could make a toast to new places, new friends, and new staircases.


Our most breathtaking stop was also one that required a ton of effort (nothing good comes easy, right?) Walking across the sandy beaches of Matapouri seemed innocent enough until we reached a cliffy inlet. As we made it through, we reached a muddy wall with a rope draping down. Jess turned to me and said “I’ve done this before – it wasn’t easy, but I believe in you”. The rain from the night before made this already muddy wall impossible to perch anywhere. It became a matter of grabbing any tree, rope, or fellow hiker to gain some stability. But once we made it over, we had a complete view of the Mermaid Pools. These natural pools are formed between big rocks during low tide. Show up at the wrong time, and the whole pool will be fully submerged with water.


The next day was an early rise and shine. We grabbed some fish and chips for breakfast, and awaited the boat to take us to Poor Knights Island, a natural reserve and popular diving spot. Something about eating fried fish before you see them live in action seemed wrong, but who I am to judge myself.


The boat ride was an hour long and much needed since I still was semi-comatose. But one sure way of getting rid of the sleepies is by arriving at a beautiful, untouched island that looks like a photo straight out of Nat Geo. That and jumping in ice cold ocean water.

One With the Locals

Our next outing was another back-to-back camping spree. This time we were going to be driving south from Auckland to Rotorua. The end goal of our trip was to raft down Kaituna Waterfall – the largest commercial waterfall in the world. Jess was telling me how she was name-dropping her boyfriend’s name to these random guys, and they of course knew of him, and then offered to take her out on a guided trip for free. This time, she wanted to attempt another free trip by slipping in “my single friend” in all the text messages sent to them. It must have worked, because they gave us the green light on squeezing in their earliest trip out.


We decided to camp in Rotorua, so that we could just wake up and go on our rafting excursion. The raft guides told Jess that they knew of some nearby campsites, but also, they were having a party that night and we were invited. When we arrived at their home, it was filled with about 30 dudes, either lined up to get a mullet haircut or cheering on their fellow mullet comrades. I’ve never been to a frat party, but this was what I’d imagine it being like. We spent a few hours hanging out with our new friends, but then Jess and I started to get hungry. One of the guys told us that he actually lives in the house next door, and said we were welcome to cook there and crash on the couch if we were tired. We took him up on that offer, so Jess and I cooked up a fancy lamb dinner and then cozied up on the couch to the sounds of rowdy partiers.

At about 3am, we woke up to a bunch of dudes busting through the door and blasting music on portable speakers. One guy hovered over me and said, “Watch out, I’m going to play darts but it’s right over your head”. UGH, I get up begrudgingly. Jess and I were in mid-REM sleep and wanted to get back to that, so we poorly set up a tent in their front yard and back to REM we went. The following morning, we woke up feeling fabulous, but none of the guides could say they same. However, despite their lack of sleep, they were amazing guides. The raft excursion was AWESOME – sometimes relaxing and other times terrifying. On this scenic adventure, you get it all. Side Note: You definitely get punched in the face with water when going down the largest of the waterfalls, but all in a day’s work.



Love, Lana.


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At Bright Oak, we believe strongly in a good balance of work and life. Most of us work from home, so getting out is important. These articles below are mostly travelogues from our team who have traveled all over the place and have seen and experienced a lot of amazing places & things.

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