We were greeted in Whangamata by Grace and her big smile. Grace has been part of the Billabong New Zealand team since she was twelve! It was nice to have some local knowledge and Grace took us to her home break. Lauren was in her element, scoring some fun little peelers. After a few hours in the water it was back to our bach with Thai takeout to watch the full moon rise.

We woke to a spectacular sunrise and spent the morning drinking tea and stretching on the deck. The ocean was flat, but thanks to tips from the locals, we borrowed some paddle boards and made our way out to Donut Island. The cave entrance is on the east side of the island, not visible from the mainland and we had to synchronise our paddling with the swell to make it through without being washed up against the rocks - we were a little nervous! But as we came around the dark corner of the cave and saw the filtered sunlight hitting the clear turquoise water our jaws dropped to the bottom of the ocean - it was paradise! We landed on the crescent moon slice of white sand and took it all in for a moment. We climbed rocks and jumped from them, we searched for shells and played in the waters. We felt like real life mermaids.

The road was beckoning us again so we paddled back to reality and headed for Mt Maunganui. Passing rolling hills, fields of green speckled with cows and big old trees, rainforests, lakes and quaint little towns. We stopped for lunch on a grassy knoll overlooking the valley below. We reached the Mount and enjoyed a long lazy afternoon before dinner at Astrolabe. The ocean turned it on for us in the morning so we hit the water. You can't visit Mt Maunganui without hiking to the top of the towns namesake to take in the view, so hike we did. It was well worth the jelly limbs!

We piled into Ernest the Kombi again and he took us to Rotorua. You can smell Rotorua before you get there, the sulphur from the natural springs can take your breath away! We visited a traditional Marae for a Hangi. Our host tribe told us all about the indigenous Maori and honoured us with their customary song and dance. After dinner we trekked through the forest where they taught us about the native ferns and glow worms above a natural cold water spring. The water bubbles up from the middle of the earth and takes 100 years to reach the surface! It was two metres deep and so clear it almost didn't look like there was water in the spring at all. It was definitely a highlight!

On the way out of Rotorua we traded our mermaid tails for fairy wings and stopped to explore a magical Redwood forest, crisp fresh air and trees many centuries old. We found Lake Tikitapu too, also known as the The Blue Lake and decided to make cups of tea and stretch our legs before the next few hours on the road.

The drive to Whakatane was long and windy, we reached town and Ernest gave up in the driveway of our apartment... he'd had a big day of driving, we're letting him rest for the journey back to Auckland tomorrow. Fingers crossed we make our flight home!