As I arrived into New Zealand with my smaller companion, to glorious views, I was understandably surprised that no-one was accepting my offer to transport a ring across the country to a mountain while I went and did some wizardry stuff.
(If you haven’t seen the Lord of the Rings, don’t worry, it’s the only reference I intend to put in this particular blog post. Probably. No promises.)
Yes, that’s right, we were in the Land of the Long White Cloud, the home of the best rugby team in the world, the country of silver ferns, Kiwis and Maoris. In many ways, New Zealand (if you hadn’t worked out where we were from that description, you may struggle from now on) is Australia’s cooler younger sibling. It’s a bit quieter, bit more like it’s dad (England) and it’s the best at sport, which winds Australia up no end.
We arrived into Auckland, the largest city (and surprisingly not the capital) at a relatively social time of 1pm. Unfortunately due to time zone wizardry this had meant we’d had to get up at 3am that morning and we were hungry, tired and ready for bed. Having begrudgingly shelled out $60 for return airport transfers on the SkyBus (see my Melbourne blog for my thoughts on this airport transfer system), we arrived at our hostel to discover that Kathryn, who we had met in Australia, was staying there too.
We performed a quick explore of Auckland, had a curry for $6 to abate any possible hunger related disasters, then went to meet Kathryn, who had been on her own in New Zealand for a week waiting for her boyfriend to join her.
I say this, because I think (and in fairness, Kathryn agreed) that she’d gone a little bit mad on her own. This may explain why we were all wandering round the supermarket shouting ‘I’ve got cheese!’. I know it doesn’t really explain it, but it’s too complex and weird to go through. Anyway it was fun for us and we had an afternoon of laughter and catching up on Australia related tales. We also took advantage of the fact that our hostel had an oven and made some supremely tasty BBQ Chicken Nachos which made everyone in the hostel jealous. We instantly became those backpackers that everyone looks at and thinks ‘alright smartarse, who do you think you are with your fancy food?’. But we had nachos, so we weren’t bothered.
We said goodbye to Kathryn that night, as she selfishly refused to get up at 6.30am to wave us off. So we were alone as we headed to begin our Kiwi Experience trip.
Kiwi Experience, for the uninitiated amongst us, is a hop on hop off coach which is halfway between a tour and a school trip. You have to listen to the driver and book onto activities and be shuttled around, but you can also drink lots. It’s a boozy school trip, basically.
Anyway, we knew very little about it when we were waiting for our bus, and even if we had we wouldn’t be able to articulate it as it was 7am. Our first trip was north, to Paihia and the Bay of Islands. Our bus arrived with a driver called Fly (no, seriously). She was very friendly and enthusiastic enough about the whole thing to keep us awake, yet quiet enough to make us not hate her for picking us up at 7am.
We arrived in the Bay of Islands that day but had very little to do other than try and recover from what had been a tiring journey over the last few days. We’d been up at 3am for our flight and then 6am for our bus the next day, and ended up wandering around the town doing very little other than taking New Zealand in and chatting to (and drinking with) our new dorm mates, Pippa (from Wales) and Noah (from California).
Later on we also started talking to two sisters from London, Maria and Elizabeth. They were basically a southern version of Katie and her sister, and as a result the three of them spent until about 1am laughing and joking and keeping the rest of the room up with tales of Morris Dancing teachers and all other sorts.
The next day we had a day trip to the most northerly point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. We boarded our bus, a little tired, with our driver Aerial (I don’t know what it is about driver’s names here). He did specify it was as in the TV attachment, not the Little Mermaid. Not kidding.
Anyway Aerial was very cool. If you know the American comedian Jon Stewart – think of him with a New Zealand accent. If you don’t, this is going to be tricky, but basically he was funny and strange in a cool way.
So we set off with Aerial towards the Cape. We stopped early on to do a short walk through the forest – supposedly to see the native Kauri tree of New Zealand but really to clear the hangovers of half the bus. Still, I got a photo that could pass as a Windows Screensaver out of it so I wasn’t too bothered:
If you’ve dislocated your shoulder 6 weeks previously, my advice is to not tell your parents what you did. That’s the route I took. Sorry Mum and Dad.
After trekking up the dune, which looked like this:
The slide down was almost disappointingly quick, but very fun (and may I add, entirely safe Mum). I was first down, so there was no-one to take a video of me. Shame, as if it had gone wrong we could probably have made £250 on You’ve Been Framed. Instead, here’s Katie doing hers instead:
(It is honestly a lot faster than it looks.)
So we headed on, to Cape Reinga, the most northerly point of the country. This is also a very spiritual place, as the Maori people of New Zealand believe this is where departed souls leave New Zealand, literally jumping off the end to return to the Maori’s ancestral home of Hawaiki.
It’s also got a lighthouse. That bit is slightly less interesting.
Anyway here it is, lighthouse and all:
It was pretty stunning. The cape is also the meeting point of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and seeing them literally bash into each other was pretty epic too. Pictures can’t really express it, but sod it, I spent time taking them so you’re getting them anyway:
With Cape Reinga falling behind us, we headed to drive in our bus along a beach. Yes, I was sceptical too, but Aerial was mad enough for me to believe in him and his ability to haul that bus over any beach, river or probably into space if he’d wanted. When Aerial says jump, you say “under the sea, under the sea”.
Sorry Aerial. You were great and I really did like you, but I’ve got a blog to write here and the people demand this awful, obvious humour.
After Aerial tried to run over a few seagulls and we drove down the beach in a bus, which was surreal, we headed on to our final stop. This was for fish and chips at the ‘best fish and chip shop in the world’.
Australians and New Zealanders have a habit of saying things are the best things in the world, so we were a little bit sceptical. Katie and I once found ourselves at a remote petrol station 5 hours from anywhere else in Western Australia, which claimed to have ‘the world’s best fried chicken’. I’ll leave it to you decide whether that was true. Clue: No. Anyway, back to the fish and chips – fair play, it was only $8 and it was bloody good, so I’ll make no jokes about this.
We returned to the hostel and after food and sleep, the next day dawned. We had a full morning in Paihia and used it to head over to Russell, a little town a ferry ride away.
Russell is famous as the home to the oldest pub in New Zealand, as it was one of the first settlements in the country due to it being so northerly. Also because it had a lot of seals for British people to bang on the head and make a lot of money off, but the less said about that the better. In any case, we both loved it on arrival – it had a small town charm that was reminiscent of England. It might sound like we’re pining for home, but it was also nothing like England, in that it had glorious blue water and sun.
We spent the majority of our time in Russell just sitting and admiring the view, soaking up the atmosphere and the sun.
(The other part of our time was spent trying to find a walk we had planned to do but turned out to be non-existent, hence why we sat and chilled. Also there was a small museum for $15 but we decided that could be better spent on important things, like beer.)
After a ferry back to Paihia, we were back on a bus on our way to Auckland, being shushed by our driver Jarred every time a mouse rustled, which made the whole journey only slightly frustrating.
We had a night in Auckland, spent celebrating the birthday of our newfound friend Sigrid, who we’d met on the bus back. We also met Lauren, Leanne and Femke at the same time, who we quickly realised were nice, funny and a bit mad respectively.
As you’ll have noticed, these are all girls, so while Katie danced with them I chatted to a chap called Stuart who was a singer-songwriter touring the country. He was very nice and probably is very good, if only I’d found out his actual name. Keep an eye on the blog, I’ll try and find him, find out if he’s any good and then recommend him if he is. If not, he was excellent company so maybe just buy his EP so he can have the money.
And on that note, the night drew to a close. The morning would bring a new bus, some familiar faces and our start of the Kiwi Experience proper…
Alex Odlin recognises it’s probably unwise to sandbaord down dunes with 2 previously dislocated limbs in remote areas, but Aerial was there, so it probably would have been fine.
Obvious beach naming,
Dark glowworm caving,
But no lion taming
Also I promise I won’t try anymore poetry, so there’s that.