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Wanderlust

Summary: New Zealand's North Island

NEW ZEALAND | Wednesday, 28 February 2018 | Views [344]

If I had to summarize: New Zealand’s North Island

 

This was hands down one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It was my first time backpacking which was an adventure in its own, but learning how to repack my bag so that everything fit every day was a skill I'm hoping to keep/make a lot of use of. Above is the map of where I went, but I also went north of Auckland to Paihia or the Bay of Islands. It's where the 90-mile beach is but I didn’t get to enjoy this bit as much because the weather wasn’t very nice. Made for a good couple of days of de-acclimating from the snow though.

 

The tour bus I did was convenient in that it was a hop on / hop off scenario. So, they laid out where we would go and would reserve a bed for you the night we arrived, and if you wanted to hop off and stay in a location for a couple extra days you could and then just hop on one of the buses coming the next day or the day after.

 

AUCKLAND

 

One of the first hostels I stayed in was a 12-dorm bed that I ended up sharing with all guys. I met a LOT of Germans quite quickly because they are much more encouraged to take a gap year and spend time abroad.

The city of Auckland is really just a city. While I was there I met with a mutual family friend to store my luggage for the month I was travelling-- which was SO nice. It would have cost $14 per day to store my luggage at the airport so that saved heaps of money. In Auckland, I went to Waiheke Island with my new friend NaNa. It was the first sunny day since I had been in New Zealand, so we took the ferry, shopped at some of the local markets, ate world famous oysters, and had the perfect beach day. At the markets, I noticed everything was ‘sustainable’ or ‘recycled’ or ‘repurposed’ so I asked the lady selling honey if that was the theme of the market. She explained that it’s more the theme of New Zealand and everyone on the island just preferred to keep things as clean as it should be. This is where I first realized how much I was going to love this country. From there we had Thai food with an incredible view of the ocean and chatted with some locals about where we would be stopping and got all kinds of good advice. Taking the ferry back into Auckland was the best bit. We thought we had missed the ferry that would let us see the sunset, but it was later than we thought so it was perfect timing for us to come in and see the sunset over the skyline. Not to sound overly cliché, but it was one of those ‘this is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now’ kind of moments and made me even more excited about the rest of my trip.

 

So, the next day I went to get on the bus, even though I hadn’t reserved my seat. Our bus drivers nickname was Shorty and she ended up being my driver for the majority of the trip, which I loved. It was a lot of luck that I even got on the bus because there were some people on the waitlist who had priority, but there were exactly enough seats available so I hopped on and didn’t have to stay in Auckland for an extra day (one of many blessings from this trip).  

 

HAHEI

From here we drove to Hahei. This was the first of a couple bus issues when the aircon stopped working. It was SO hot on the bus at one point I was blowing on my arms to cool down, and I was accidentally blowing on the guy I was sitting by, Felix. I realized how weird it was about a minute into it and apologized and he begged me not to stop because we were all dripping with sweat. As we got off the bus in Hahei the grounds manager, Glen, said it was hilarious to see our excitement about the fresh air. Glen had been waiting outside and worked up a sweat for his normal activities, so to see us think this air was refreshing was quite comical.

 

We rushed to check in so a group of us could go kayaking around cathedral cove. Our guide was awesome and told us all about the marine reserve we were in and about some of the bays along the way where I later swam with stingrays. Once at Cathedral Cove, we had a nice swim and our guide made us gourmet tea/coffee which was random because it was really hot. Kayaking is where I met Zoe, she's from Oregon and is studying in Queensland this semester so it was fun to chat about all things American/Australian with her.

 

After kayaking, we went to Hot Water beach. So, I probably won’t explain this very well, but that beach is one of the closest points to earth’s crust and because of the vents below, if you dig a hole in the sand really hot water will fill it. I mean really hot water, like it could boil an egg. Once we were comfortably in our hot water pool, it was humorous to watch people casually walking and step into a hole and yell out a couple of curse words.

 

That night in Hahei definitely became a highlight. No one could explain why, but on the beach, phytoplankton (not even sure that's what they're actually called) washed up on the beach and they were essentially glowing blue dots. As they'd wash up on the beach we'd catch them in the water or on the sand if they'd get stuck, and Zoe figured out if you tap on them, they'll start glowing again after fading.  I couldn't even begin to guess how long we did that for but I was incredibly entertained. We brought blankets down to the beach too because the stars were unbelievable. I don't think I've ever seen so many shooting stars and at no point did I make a wish because life really couldn’t get better (wow I’m so cliché, sorry).

 

I just realised I’ve written over 1,000 words and have only covered 2 of the places I went...so I apologize in advance for the length of this.

 

RAGLAN

 

In Hahei, I also met Anna and Lauren. They had just met but seemed like they had been best friends for years and were a laughter-filled duo that blessed my trip. The bus trip from Hahei to Raglan was the second of our many bus issues. We had to physically rock the bus back and forth to get air bubbles out of something in the engine (insert car lingo here). So, we all hopped on the bus to rock it from the inside and some guys pushed back and forth from the outside which made for lots of good videos and provided proof my balance still hasn’t improved. This made for a funny experience before getting to the awesome surf town that is Raglan. “Home to the biggest left hand break in the world" …whatever that means. The town itself had the surfer/hippie feel which I really enjoyed and here I met Ana & Jill, a British mom and daughter travelling together. They are both intelligent people to have around so they made for good conversation for a large majority of my trip. In Raglan, we visited Bridal Veil Falls & a black sand beach which were both gorgeous.

By the way, if you didn’t already know, New Zealand is known for its incredible nature more than anything else so that was central to this trip.

 

On our way to the black sand beach, I met Robin & Jacob. They’re two Swedish boys travelling together who seemed like polar opposites. Jacob was soft-spoken and a bit more serious, while Robin acquired lots of attention and loved to laugh at himself. They had tons of Swedish pride and said by the end of their trip they would be solely responsible for increasing Swedish tourism. Such good guys to have around and, in all honesty, inspired me to visit Sweden so they had a good point.

 

Leaving the black sand beach allowed for another bus issue. The battery had died, so we had to push it to jump start the battery. This had worked while leaving bridal veil falls, but not the beach. Eventually, a local came to help us out and towed the bus behind his truck until it eventually jump-started? Not entirely sure how it worked but by that point we were all starving for dinner and didn't ask questions. Had dinner overlooking the ocean which was rather movie like. Upon our departure, we had similar bus issues, except this time we couldn't get it to start. We blocked a guy trying to get to the airport, and I can't imagine how stressful it would have been to be him. We waited 3 hours for a mechanic to come who replaced the battery. Stopped at a giant park which was entertaining for 20 minutes and upon trying to leave the town the bus died AGAIN. This time, blocking the entrance to a gas station. The owner yelled at us because we couldn’t all wait there so we found a dinky little café to sit at while another mechanic came. A group of girls started the game ‘bottles’ (aka 21) which is supposed to be a drinking game, but we hydrated instead. It ended up becoming one of my favourite games. The mechanic didn't do us much good since the bus broke down again once we got to Waitomo. After that, they finally drove us down a new bus from Auckland. A portion of our group ended up having to wait around for that bus to come, but I had signed up to go caving in the Waitomo Caves. 

 

This was an absolute pleasure. A group of about 7 people and 2 guides went onto this farm that had lots of caves on it. The farmer still owns the land but apparently makes a fortune leasing it to the caving companies for tourists. We walked through sheep poo towards a ladder that took us down to the caves, then we realised our hands followed where our feet step on our way down the ladder… We wore wetsuits but as soon as we were in the water it got quite chilly. The word cold wasn't allowed so we called it ‘refreshing'. In the caves, we let our eyes adjust for a bit before seeing the glow worms. Not to ruin the picturesque idea of glow worms, but it’s not actually the worms that glow, it’s their poo. Evolution did this for them so they could attract other bugs trying to escape the cave. Still really fascinating to see, it was kind of like looking at stars but they were more blue than white.

 

After a couple hours of caving, we emerged to find the rest of the group in the shade waiting for the bus. We ended up getting a brand-new bus with USB charging ports and seats that reclined. Really fancy stuff. The aircon did break on this bus as well, but we stopped at a mechanic and it was fixed rather quickly. This was the LAST of my bus issues. Some people got more irritated than others and a couple got a refund for the delays, but it wasn’t quite worth the headache for me.

 

ROTORUA

Rotorua is a really well developed little town. It’s where a lot of the hot springs are; there’s one street in the town that smells very rotten-eggy. Similar to Lewiston, if you’ve been. The town was centred around a lake that had black swans. Never seen those before! I met a girl named Lexi on the bus trip here and learned she’s Chinese and moved to Bali last year to do the digital marketing for some 5-star hotel. Lexi lived in the hotel and got to eat whatever she wanted from the kitchen and loves the people of Bali. While walking past the lake, we passed a couple and I smiled at them and they smiled back and the man asked, “how are you?” I replied, “good, thanks!” and continued walking. Lexi stopped and asked if when people do that if they genuinely care about how the other person is. The answer obviously being no, I explained to her it’s just a weird developed cultural greeting and she explained how annoying people of other cultures find it. When Lexi studied in America, she was always confused when she would call to make appointments and they’d ask how she was. “I’m calling you about something important, not small talk, that’s such a waste of time” she stated. Funny American things.

 

In Rotorua, we incredible Indian food. We walked around town looking at a huge array of multicultural options, and when we saw an Indian family had rented out a traditional looking Indian restaurant we knew it would be delicious. We went all out and got garlic naan and samosas as well. Hands down one of the best meals I had in New Zealand.

 

LAKE ANIWHENUA 

Quick fun fact, in Mauri (NZ’s indigenous population), anything with a ‘wh’ is pronounced as an ‘f’. So Aniwhenua is pronounced ‘ani-fen-ua’. This was definitely one of my favourite facts to use throughout the country. Dorky side note.

 

We arrived here next and it reminded me a lot of summer camp. My favourite part was stopping along the side of the road on our way there to walk into the national forest and see the oldest Mauri rock carvings in New Zealand. They told stories about how the people came from Polynesia to NZ through navigating the stars in a canoe. Sadly, some of it had been destroyed so there were large fences up to keep people out.

 

The family who owned the area we stayed in were incredibly hospitable and made a traditional hang-hi dinner (no clue if that's spelt right). It's a meal fully cooked in the ground which is pretty cool. Our driver told us it'd be the best meal we had while travelling NZ, but I ordered the vegan option and I don't think that statement applied to me. They made me a vegetable soup and a salad which was nice and I was so grateful they accommodated me, but I probably could have cooked something myself. The focus of the dinner was definitely the meat so that was disappointing. A cool part of the dinner was all of the leftover food. Because in Mauri culture it's extremely rude to run out of food, they made heaps. In the end, everyone helped package the food into containers and the leftovers were taken to struggling local families. In the school year, the next day the guests (us) would take the food to the local school and give it to the kids. Similar to my Holy Family days, those kids wrote thank you letters to the company and they passed those cards around for us to see. Lots of funny spellings and chunky sentences which made everyone smile. Definitely a feel-good place.

 

That night a group of us thought night swimming sounded like a good idea. We walked down to the lake (about 10 minutes through lots of mud), and eventually found the dock. The owners warned us in advance that the eels would be out…but we weren't concerned. That is until we all saw the eels. I thought they wouldn't scare me but they look way too much like snakes. This could have definitely been my imagination/fear, but at one point I thought one of them brushed past my leg and I knew I was done. A couple of the boys still swam, but every time the people on the dock pointed out an eel they ran out of the water as quickly as I did. 

 

BLUE DUCK STATION

 

Next, we took off to Blue Duck Station. It was explained that a station is 1 level larger than a farm, which made sense because it was a 7,000-acre farm. The station had Manuka trees everywhere so bee companies pay them to host their bees and make lots of money off the Manuka honey. The station obviously got to keep some of it and had hugeeee jars of it for so cheap. If you have yet to hear of Manuka honey: it's a natural antibacterial (like tea tree oil) and is a really awesome option over antibiotics. They use it in hospitals for burns and I use it every time I'm getting a sore throat. Downside! It's super super expensive. Depending on the measured antibacterial strength, it can cost up to $150 for 250g. At the station though, I bought 1 kilo for $50-ish. My excitement could not be contained. I bought two kilos and shipped it back to Sydney when I arrived in Wellington. Even with shipping costs, it was ¼ the price of buying it anywhere else. We rode horses and had really incredible views at the top. As far as we could see the land was part of the station which was crazy to think about.

 

One of the other activities there was goat hunting. Goats (or any other mammals) aren't indigenous to NZ and are considered a pest. As a result, goat hunting is one of the station's conservation efforts. I did not choose to participate, but when we got back from our horse ride the group that went hunting was skinning the goats in the barn next to ours. I watched for a minute and handled it well until they cut the goats head off and tossed it in my direction. I made eye contact with the goat head and decided I should go.

 

TONGARIRO CROSSING

 

Upon leaving Blue Duck, we took off into Tongariro National Park to do a 19km hike. If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, it’s the mountain next to Mount Doom. It’s a set of 3 really high peaks, but it’s considered disrespectful to Mauri’s to hike/summit Mount Doom (never got the story about why). I believe we started the hike at 10 am but I was not in charge of timing us. The land was rather bare on the walk up, but the views were stunning. We passed a red crater which blew my mind, but it obviously didn't show up well in pictures. I hiked it with 3 girls, Ellie, Lizzy, and Ana. Lizzy is like a freaking mountain goat and blazed the trail to the top. The hardest bit was called the “devil’s staircase”. It seemed endless, but we eventually found a flat part which was a nice breather. Next was an equally steep bit up the side of the mountain, but it didn’t last nearly as long. This took us to the top of the crossing. It was a satisfying accomplishment to get to the top. You could see 3 sulfuric lakes at the top that were all different shades of an extraordinary blue colour. Definitely weren’t allowed to swim in them but by the time we were at the top it was cold enough & we weren’t too disappointed.

 

The way down was definitely my favourite part. Leaving the top of the volcano the ground was so unstable, we just accepted with every footstep we’d slide down a couple inches. Some people ran down which may have been easier but I’m not sure my lack of grace/coordination was suited for it. Over another hill and eventually we started the gradual decline with endless zig-zags and a fabulous view of a lake. The end seemed so close, but it wasn’t. At one point, one of the girls, Ellie, asked if anybody else’s quads were burning and we all had a group yes at the same time. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as going up the mountain, but tensing to protect our knees on the way down definitely wore on our legs.

 

The first time I stretched on the hike was halfway down while reapplying sunscreen and I instantly knew my legs were going be sore. The hike’s finale was walking through a really incredible rainforest. I felt like an amazon woman at that point and had been looking forward to it all day. We got there just in time as well because a thunderstorm had just started when we got under the trees. Enjoyed the majority of it, but when we asked a group passing us how far we were, and they said 30 minutes, we got very excited to be off our feet. It proceeded to be the longest 30 minutes ever and the first thing I did when we got to the end was celebrate by taking my shoes off. We did the hike in about 4.5 hours which put us back in time to catch an earlier shuttle. This came in handy as we indulged in fries while waiting for the rest of our group to arrive.

 

WELLINGTON

Once in Wellington, one of the first things I did was ship my Manuka honey back to Sydney. There was no room for an extra 2 kilos in my backpack. Called my Dad because it was his birthday and had a quick cry. I’d say this was the first time I felt homesick on this trip, I hadn’t really had the time before-hand. Wellington quickly became a town of goodbye’s because a lot of our group hopped off here for a varying number of days.

 

Wellington is the windiest city in the world, but we had perfect weather which was a happy convenience. I meant to go to some of the museums while I was there, but didn't plan very well. Jacob, one of the Swedish boys, gave me a pamphlet he had been handed on the street earlier. It was for a Bhakti Yoga studio about 10 minutes from where I was staying. This was the first time I'd considered finding a class while in NZ because it was post the Tongariro Crossing and my body needed yoga. I stopped into the studio around 2 pm to see if I needed to sign up for the 5 pm class ahead of time and ask about the prices. They told me the yoga class, mantra meditation (chanting), study session, and a vegan dinner would be $15. IT BLEW MY MIND. They explained that it was all non-profit and they were just trying to share all things yoga with the community. This obviously resonated with me so I showed up at 5 pm for what proceeded to be one of the coolest blessings on my trip.

 

The girl who led the study session told me about her partner’s book on Krishna farms. It’s essentially a version of sustainable farming that coordinates with the earth and animals and is basically everything I’ve ever talked about in reference to my dream farm. She also studies from the Bhagavad-Gita which is one of the ancient yogic texts and offered to answer my questions throughout my studying. This is huge for me because it’s definitely a complicated text and I enjoyed her explanations so much more than reading bits and pieces online to answer my questions. They also sold a couple books that I’ve had on my reading list for months at insanely cheap prices. Unfortunately, I had already shipped my honey back or I probably would have stocked up on more books than reasonable. Maybe it wasn’t that unfortunate. Anyways! That was an absolute pleasure and she told me Sydney has a similar studio that I’ve been meaning to check out.

 

Took the ferry to the South Island the next day. Slept the majority of the way. I developed some form of tonsillitis back around Ragland/Rotorua but decided if I ignored it that it would disappear. This started happened around Wellington which I was so grateful for. The lack of solid sleep in hostels didn’t help the recovery but it was never truly debilitating.

I have decided to write a different post for the South Island because, again, you should not keep looking at your phone after how long this probably took to read! So much for a summary…can you tell I had a good time? 4,000 words later, if only uni essays were this easy to write!

 

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