New Zealand: Starting North

I was sad to leave Australia – I had had a fantastic time and there was still so much of it to see. It’s definitely a place I’ll be returning to.

After a convoluted flight path thanks to my bid to save some cash and go via Melbourne…I wearily waited for my baggage to arrive. After a long queue through customs to check over my walking boots, I finally made it out – a mere one and half hours after landing.

Thankfully I was greeted by a long lost pal from school – Mark. I had messaged him while in Australia expecting a quick coffee but he replied immediately insisting I stay in his flat. Mark and I were in the same circle at school. But we weren’t exactly friends. Or even close. We didn’t have any lessons together and he tended to hang out with the – (and he won’t mind saying this) stoner crowd. But we had mutual friends and a few drunken house party chats over the years. I hadn’t seen him at various school crowd social gatherings in years, and he had moved first to Australia and then New Zealand two years ago to become a top cocktail mixologist and head up exclusive bars in Melbourne and Auckland. Needless to say, I was touched by his generous hospitality and glad to see the city through the eyes of a bit of a local. We had some incredible sushi and checked out Auckland’s bar scene – which for a Monday night was pretty good. 

I Don’t Need Friends

The next morning I got up early to start my Kiwi Experience adventure. Nervous was an adequate description. Throughout Australia – I would mention Kiwi Experience and the responses had always referenced the promiscuity promised. “Big green fuck bus” is the apparent nickname. It sounded like freshers week at university – but on tour. And to put it frankly, I wanted to enjoy the trip beyond the bodies on the bus.

So it’s fair to say I had a bit of a wall up. In fact, I was being plain anti-social. Travelling is tiring. Most of all, making new friends can be exhausting. Having short travel related chats with people, being ‘friends’ for a few hours or days maximum and then you move on, or they move on and that’s that. Cycle repeats. I was half way through my trip and I didn’t have the energy to do it anymore. I sat on the bus thinking – nope, not today. Not this week. I’m cool doing this solo. Who needs more friends?!

The bus driver was a local, ginger-bearded guy with a mischievous expression. His name was Murray and he turned out to be my driver for the next two weeks.I was on the Sheepdog Tour which takes a minimum of 19 days and covers both North and South Island.

Day 1 and the first stop was a place called Cathedral Cove. A beautiful beach, it was a bright sunny day and I had some cool caves and coves to explore. So far so good. I had lunch under a shady tree. Dipped my feet into the South Pacific ocean. Took some snaps. Being a loner was the best.

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New Zealand could give Australia a run for its money for beautiful beaches and temperatures in summer!

The bus drove on and we spent the night at Hot Water Beach. I grabbed a bottom bunk in the six-bed dorm room and checked my phone.

Later than the others, a tall, slim, stunning Aussie whose hair is so long she is a living Rapunzel, walks in. Her name is Bec.

“Guess I’ll take bottom double bunk then!”
She was being followed around by a young looking English guy – Joe. I  kept looking at my phone.

“So are you coming to the hot water pools then?”

Silence.

I look up. She is talking to me.

“Err.. yeah maybe in a bit,” I replied. Then a petite french girl – Aurelia piped up;

“I want to go now, then get food after?”

They made a plan. I kept looking at my phone. I knew I should have spoken up…but…the effort….

“Okay, I’ll come.”

And like that. We had our group.

Opps I Made Friends 

The next two weeks in the North Island was a blur of places, long drives, stunning scenery and excellent music on the bus playlist.

The days went like this; we got on the bus, planned our activities on the sheet that came around, got out for the walk or photo stop that was thrown into the drive time, slept, looked out the window in awe, and made plans for the evening. It is total stress-free solo travelling – you are with people as long as you want to be, you can plan your own day but get helpful suggestions, but accommodation is there if you want it and so is the bus in the morning. It isn’t for everyone, but for me it was a lot of fun.

Not only should Bec be a model – and I mean this – she is a self-deprecating nurse for premature babies. Quite a gal. Joe was like her little brother. 18 and fresh out of school, headstrong in his opinions and eager to start uni. He liked to think of himself as a bit of a lad but actually he was kind and cared about his family a lot. He always wanted our opinions on what to buy his mum or granddad.

And then there was me. The granny of the bus – I prioritised eating well eating well (read: eating out) over my beer fund. So ultimately probably drank less and went to bed a bit earlier. Which was fine by me as it meant I could do more the next day (my hangovers have definitely got worse with age).

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Bec and I on one of the many day walks in between stops

Kiwi Experience is hop-on / hop-off so every day a few people left and newbies got on. But our little travel trio of Bec, Joe and I remained intact pretty much the whole way through.

The most notable addition to our group was an Irish girl, Meg, who we met properly about half way through the North Island and who was there until Queensland.

The first time I met Meg, she was about to spend over NZ $100 on a rock caving experience. She said she was a bit scared of heights and enclosed spaces, but with a flourish, gave the server her credit card saying “What else am I gonna use 100 dollars on?! F**k it eh?!”

Meg was a “just do it” kind of girl. Lip ring, brilliant blue eyes and a surprising love of mountain hiking. Her response to your question was yes before you had even asked it. She did everything going – a total adrenaline junkie, and she made even the most tedious bus journeys a bit more fun.

North Island Adventures

Back to the bus. North Island has Maori culture in buckets if you want it and I would recommend the feast night in Rotorua for learning about their culture and food. The dancing is excellent.

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Maroi Chief explains the evenings’ procedures

We also did the geysers in Rotorua and enjoyed an egg boiled in the natural hot water for breakfast! It was a really fun morning seeing the huge water spurt that goes off every hour as well as the rare and endangered kiwi birds in their nocturnal enclosure.

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Missing my Australian tan now…

Hobbiton was amazing – the set is immaculate in its attention to detail and if you’ve seen any of the Peter Jackson films you’ll appreciate the small but deliberate touches that go into making it look as lived-in as possible. The tour also includes a mug of cider in the Green Dragon which as a bit of the LOTR geek, was particularly special. The farm it is on is stunning and the experience is worth the money.

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I actually want to live here

When we were in Taupo, sadly the weather wasn’t good enough to do the Tongariro crossing (also known as Mount Doom) so we missed out on one of the best one-day walks in the world – and we were gutted. We gave the geothermal hot pools a try instead, which were free and worth it, given we couldn’t do the walk. A reason to come back if I needed one.

Another highlight from the North Island was Wellington. The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is fantastic – it has the world’s only giant squid specimen (it’s massive) so if that sort of thing floats your boat – you gotta go! We also climbed up the hill for views out over the city and the bay, it is a bit of a climb but worth it. The shops and bars in Wellington are really sweet with lots of independent trendy places for a local craft brew. I would have had an extra day here if my itinerary afforded it. But, after just one extra day..it was on to the ferry and time to venture South…New Zealand: Heading South for winter

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Wellington has some funky street art
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