Riding the Zorb Sphere – Rotorua, New Zealand

I don’t know exactly what goes on inside Kiwis’ heads, or why they invented the Zorb. Is it that they have just eight television channels? Or that range animals overwhelmingly outnumber humans? The proximity to Antarctica?

Sarah's sphere races downhill.
Sarah’s sphere races downhill.

There has to be some reason that Kiwis dream up contraptions and activities like bungee jumping, jet boats that spin in circles on the water and Zorbing.

Today, let’s talk about that last one … the Zorb sphere. Explaining this verbally is kind of tricky, so you’re lucky I have videos and photos to go along with the written word.

Imagine a giant beach ball with really thick walls. Let’s say it has a little tunnel leading to a human-sized inner chamber. You then dive into that chamber, and someone squirts a few gallons of water in there, seals the entrance and then rolls you and the ball down a hill lined with berms and turns.

Yep, that’s a Zorb sphere.

Sarah and I arrived in New Zealand with a full knowledge of Zorbing, and we were determined to

Sarah shakes off her Zorbing legs.

try it. We had some time to kill in Rotorua between geyers and stuff, so we headed out to the Agrodome, which has a number of crazy activities, some of which apparently involve sheep.

We had an array of Zorb choices: The twisty course, the straight course, wet, dry? We selected the wet twisty option, eliciting many choruses of “Good on ya” from the employees. Apparently, this is the favored option. If I recall right, it was $45 NZ.

Sarah went first as I shot photos. She emerged feet first, like the Green Giant’s golf ball giving birth to a human, complete with a rush of fluid. And like a newborn, she had a bit of trouble standing for a few seconds – the Zorb-O-Port employees had to prop her up a bit.

A perfect view of the entry chute and the inner chamber.

Then it was my turn. Clad only in a pair of shorts, I sat in the back of a truck with another couple. We drove to the top of the hill, where a conveyer belt-like device delivered the giant spheres. I was the first to go.

“Awright, mate,” one of the blokes told me. “Just back up, get a running start and dive into the hole!”

Click to watch … you can see me slosh about and nearly go over the berm!

I did as I was told, landing face-first in a puddle of water at the bottom of the inner Zorb chamber. The sphere was more opaque, so I couldn’t see out much. The bloke’s face appeared in the tunnel to the outside world.

“Awright, mate (most everything male Kiwis say starts with this phrase) … just push hard that way [points down hill], sit down and enjoy the ride,” he said.

So it began. The Zorb sphere quickly gained speed, and soon it crashed into a berm, bouncing me all sorts of ways around. Water was flying everywhere, and so was I. At this point, I was already laughing and gesticulating like an idiot to nobody in particular.

Moments later, it was all done. The blokes at the bottom corraled the sphere, aimed the hatch

I see the feet!
I see the feet!

downward, and out I slid with a hard THUMP! on the butt.

I was all excited and started telling my Zorb tale to the throngs waiting for their ride. Then I realized my wedding ring had slipped off – not to worry, though. We found it about five minutes later between the landing spot and the conveyor. Without further ado, on to my Zorbing tips!

1. Wear nothing but a swimsuit or shorts.
2. That means no jewelry, especially not rings!
3. Don’t be a wuss – choose the Zydro (wet and twisty).
4. Don’t hesitate when you enter, or you won’t make it all the way through.

To wrap it up, I simply want my own Zorb sphere and a decent hill. Or at least for Zorbing to become the next big thing here in the States.

Land of the Aussies Versus Home of the Kiwis

The crater of Mount Ngauruhoe

Since I’ve been to both Australia and New Zealand, I’ve had a lot of people asking me which one I like better. You can read my answer at the end, but now it’s time to figure out which one you should visit first. Here’s my take on some head-to-head comparisons:

Food – This is pretty much a draw. Both are relatively close to Africa and Asia, in addition to having a lot of European influences. If you can’t find good food in Australia and/or New Zealand, you’re just too picky and set in your ways. Because I ate camel, crocodile and emu on its shores, this round goes to AUSTRALIA!

From Australia

People – Australians are gregarious and have a natural exuberance. All you need to do to break the ice with an Australian is ask them about footy (Australian rules football), rugby or cricket. Boom, you’re in! With a Kiwi, there will be no need to break the ice. They are born talkers. They have a slightly more proper English vibe to them, though. You’ll find people in both countries pleasant and laid-back, for sure. But being a bit more loud and exuberant myself, I say advantage AUSTRALIA!

Scenery – The entire middle of Australia is desert. The coasts vary a bit. You’ll have rain forests, and even snowier patches! A lot of the continent is remote and unspoiled. It’s darn pretty. But holy cow, New Zealand will boggle your mind. There’s a reason epic movies and adventure-themed TV shows are filmed there. The active volcanoes, the rain forests, the glaciers! Advantage NEW ZEALAND!

From Australia

Cool Stuff to Do – Australia has awesome cities, great small towns, adventures a-plenty. Camping in the Kakadu is unforgettable, as is spotting wild crocs in a billabong. What does it take to beat that? Hiking the aforementioned active volcanoes and glaciers, schweebing, zorbing, incredible national parks, parasailing, the Thermal Explorer Highway. Wow. Sorry, Aussie buds … but advantage NEW ZEALAND!

From New Zealand Volume 1

Transportation – In the cities, both countries are neck and neck. Australia is a huge freakin’ continent, but it’s easy to get around by air. And it’s not overly expensive. Driving is not feasible. New Zealand is small enough that you don’t really have to fly unless you’re jam-packing your schedule. This also goes to NEW ZEALAND.

Cost – The Australian dollar is a bit weaker than the American, so you can stretch your dollar. At this time, the NZ dollar is down nearly 2 to 1 to the US dollar. Mind-boggling exhange rates like this really let you get the most out of your trip. For now, advantage NEW ZEALAND!

Flora – Australia … all sorts of awesome fruits and vegetables, plus a strong coffee crop and vineyards! And there’s that wild exotic fruit farm in Cape Tribulation. Beautiful forests and bushlands. NZ has all sorts of great fruits and veges, too … and a hop-growing region along with the vineyards! But no coffee. Also great forests and bushlands. This round goes to AUSTRALIA!

From New Zealand Volume 1

Fauna – Oh, man … you will never see a more exotic and weird selection of native-born critters than in Australia. And just wait until you leave the airport! I kid, I kid. But seriously … salt-water crocs, box jellyish, snakes all and sundry, insects, wallabies, platypuses, kangaroos and more! New Zealand has a bunch of flightless birds, sheep and possums. Oy. This is all AUSTRALIA!

From Australia

Culture – Both places are rugged and manly, with Australia having a more bawdy vibe that suits me. As for the indigenous stuff, I love the aboriginee culture for its stories, its language and the mysterious buzz of the didgeridoo. The Maori are a butt-kickin’ bunch, too, but I have to give this round to AUSTRALIA!

Intangibles – There isn’t anything I don’t love about Australia. The people, the food, the activities are all great. I would go back in a second. But I love the newness of New Zealand … a place that still seems to be growing, evolving and forming. It’s like a land before life. There is a majesty there I’ve never experienced before. Tough call, but it’s NEW ZEALAND!

The final score … Australia 5, New Zealand Australia 5. I can’t believe it! I need a tie-breaker! Let’s see … the flight time from Los Angeles is slightly less of New Zealand, so I’ve gotta give the Kiwis the nod by the very slimmest of margins.

Now, back to you: If you’re scared of big mean creatures that want to kill you, you might prefer New Zealand. But if you’re a big-city fashionista, Melbourne and Sydney will tip the balance in the Aussie’s favor.

Either place you go, have fun, be safe and send your friends!

New Zealand Travel Itinerary – My Ideas

New Zealand travel itinerary
Tongariro – a must for your New Zealand travel itinerary.

If you need some ideas for a New Zealand travel itinerary, I have you covered. Here are some suggestions for 14 full days in New Zealand that can help you put your own adventures together.

First off, visiting New Zealand involves a lengthy flight (unless you’re from Australia). That means spending at least two weeks is the only way to go. These ideas include some highlights from my trip and a few ideas of what I would’ve changed in my New Zealand travel itinerary with my newfound knowledge.

New Zealand travel itinerary
Our caving group, with a backdrop of glow worms.

Day One: Arrive from Los Angeles at 6 a.m. local time. Drop bags off at hotel in Parnell near the downtown area. Grab a few flat whites at Ben’s. Ogle crazy foods at local Asian markets. Take a ferry to Rangitoto Island and hike to the top of the volcano. Return to hotel … check in and shower. Then off to dinner and wandering the streets of Auckland. Hindsight is 20/20 … and mine says I should’ve rented a car after the flat whites and driven the easy two hours to Rotorua, thus affording some time in the fun capitol, or extra time in Wellington. I was planning to feel far more jet-lagged, but the symptons never came.

Day 2: Bus from Auckland to Rotorua. Arrive around 2:30 p.m., check into hotel. Visit Kairua Park, walk around Lake Rotorua. Watch for the sulfury lagoon where the lake turns color. Eerie! Indian dinner at Ambiance. General hanging around the town.

New Zealand travel itinerary
Heading up Franz Josef Glacier.

Day 3: Breakfast, drive out to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. It’s an amazing but low-key addition to anyone’s New Zealand travel itinerary. After lunch, off to Agroventures. Zorbing is the highlight. Try the Schweeb, too. We followed this with driving around the countryside at dinner at Fat Dog. An extra day here would’ve been nice. Too much fun stuff to do here! I posted about our time there, with more photos.

Day 4: Drive to Tongariro National Park. Stop whenever we feel like it, especially at the Honey Hive. Continue on to Tongariro through Taupo. If you’re a hiker, get provisions in Taupo. Quick two-hour hike on Taranaki Falls Track. Dinner at Skotel. Arrange bus service for tomorrow’s hike.

Day 5: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing with a side trip up Mt Ngauruhoe. An epic journey requiring a post of its own … or two (coming soon). Drive to Waitomo, stopping in National Park at Eiven’s for a quick dinner. Then on through Te Kuiti into Waitomo. Fall DEAD ASLEEP!

New Zealand travel itinerary
Me overlooking Queenstown, The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.

Day 6:  Start with breakfast at Bosco Cafe. Then onto Rap, Raft & Rock for our Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour. Post about that coming soon. Shower, followed by dinner at The Thirsty Weta. A late snack at Curly’s Bar & Grill. Fall dead asleep … again! Read all about it in my glowworm cave post.

Day 7: On the road by 8 a.m. for the drive to Wellington. You can do it in six hours without speeding, but more stops equal more time! We made an extended stop at Paraparamu Beach. Hang out on Cuba Street, have a great Indonesian dinner at Rasa.

Day 8: A quick visit to Te Papa Museum, followed by grabbing a few Wellington Phoenix shirts (Wellington’s soccer team in the A League). Then, we catch a flight to Nelson. It’s only about 20 minutes. Arrive, check into hotel, wander the streets and have a late lunch at Falafel Gourmet.

Day 9: Bus to Abel Tasman National Park (this will get its own entry soon). Walk for a few hours. Late lunch at The Park Cafe. Brews at The Sprig and Fern. Dinner at Little India. This may sound like blasphemy, but in retrospect I’d skip Abel Tasman and head straight to Franz Josef today to make up for an extra day in Rotorua.

Day 10: Bus to Franz Josef Glacier. Stop at the Sandfly Cafe … ate a possum pie! By the way, New Zealand likes weird food. You might want to make room in your New Zealand travel itinerary for the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival. Various other stops – a very nice drive. Best 8-hour bus ride ever. Arrive, check out the town. Hang out a bit.

Day 11: Franz Josef Glacier tour. Unbelievable! That was pretty much the whole day, except for showers and cooking dinner at the backpackers’ lodge. It’s not physically that strenuous, but the experience of being on a glacier is amazing. This should be part of any outdoor-related New Zealand travel itinerary.

Day 12: Bus to Queenstown. Stop in Wanaka – beautiful town on the lake! Continue to Queenstown through the heart of NZ’s grape and fruit basket. Lots of vineyards and vintners. Scenery turns more dry and stark. Clearly more commerce and mining, despite the isolation. Arrive in Q-town … we ate some fresh green-lipped muscles at the Aggys Shack chased by gelato from Patagonia – try the banana split flavor. It’s not what you’d expect! Then, off to the cinema to see Slumdog Millionaire where it’s still in a theater!

Day 13: Parasailing and street luge, followed by a nice run around town. We followed the lake’s edge for a few miles. Then to Aggys Shack, Fish & Chips for smoked eel and some sort of raw fish concoction. Took a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw. Fun, and beautiful views. Great to see a bird’s-eye of the crew working the boilers. Finally, a a nightcap at Dux De Lux following a nice pad thai at one of the local Thai restaurants.

Day 14: Breakfast at Halo. Go to Queenstown Airport. Say good-by to Q-Town. Catch a flight in Auckland. And this brings my New Zealand travel itinerary to and end.