48. Back for Good

Auckland. 12th March, 2017. Two seasoned travellers stand on the side of a road. They shake off the salt and pepper, questioning why it had been dropped on them in the first place. Now they’re just travellers. Except, they aren’t. This is their last stop. A giant green bus drives away, leaving them in a cloud of exhaust smoke. The smoke clears. They stand with their bags while Aucklanders rush past. Fade to black.

THE END 

Wait! Don’t go! It’s not the end of the blog. Sorry, that wasn’t clear. It’s the end of the trip. I can see why that’s confusing.

The fade to black was a bit much, but we were slightly dispirited to see the back of a Kiwi Bus for the final time. We now had 4 days in Auckland to negotiate before a mammoth flight home.

So, we set off for our first hostel in Auckland. Due to our rearrangements in Taupo, we had a night in a hostel that (depressingly) wasn’t the Haka Lodge. It was up a massive hill, because hostels are always up a massive bloody hill when you’ve got a heavy, awkward-to-carry bag. It also needed a $40 cash deposit, because hostels always need cash deposits when you have no cash. We paid our $35 per person for our beds and had to carry our bags up 3 flights of stairs to a basic room.

We then discovered that there were only two showers for our entire floor of about 14 rooms.

Suppressing my frustration at these things in a way I can only assume people who read BuzzFeed and The Guardian would call ’emotionally unhealthy’, we left our things and headed into town to meet Chief, our esteemed Canadian friend. With all of us at the end of our trips and, for want of a better phrase, ‘completely skint’, we got a pizza and had a couple of eye-wateringly priced beers. We caught up about the trip back up to Auckland from Queenstown and reminisced fondly about drunk people doing stupid things.

(Not to oversimplify a tour that people put a lot of effort into but ‘drunk people doing stupid things’ is in my opinion the most accurate description of what the Kiwi Experience is and one I secretly suspect they’d be quite happy about.)

The next day we woke up and, facing the 15 person strong queue for showers, got out of our hostel as fast as humanly possible. We fell desperately back into the arms of the Haka Lodge, with its clean and numerous bathroom facilities and used the showers to attempt to wash off the anger. (Just kidding, I’m not that melodramatic… unless it’s a Base hostel). With 5 hours until we could check in to our room, we decided to kill the time by trying to find some New Zealand souvenirs to take back home.

You’d think that the capital of the country would be the ideal place to find souvenirs, but if you’re not into low quality t-shirts with ever lower quality sheep puns on them, Auckland is a bit of a souvenirical desert. (Yes, I know that’s not a word). Four hours of shopping yielded little other than petty arguments about nothing and we returned to the hostel empty handed.

That evening we met Chief again to go up the Sky Tower in Auckland, which provides panoramic views over the city. Its also very cheap, providing you can do what one nameless member of our party did and pretend to have lost your (non-existent) student card, vehemently claim you’re a student and get in for half price. Not to name names, but it was [REDACTED FOR FEAR OF REPRISALS].

We headed up in daylight and had a look over the city, then adjourned to the Sky Tower’s handily provided bar while we waited for, and later watched, the sun set. Auckland, like most big cities, looks prettier in the dark and there was a definite thrill in seeing the city come alive below us with cars and ships picked out against the darkness. Especially with wine in our hands. But, despite these beautiful scenes, we were getting hungry. So, leaving the views behind, we went back down the Sky Tower and to a curry house which came recommended by Chief. Being the first curry we hadn’t made ourselves for a few months, it tasted fantastic. I’m not sure if it was the quality of the curry but it filled the hole perfectly and was an excellent farewell with Chief.

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Sunset over Auckland… ugly in the day, pretty at night. Make your own jokes…

Well, actually, it would have been had we not met Chief first thing the next morning in un petit french creperie next to his hostel. As you may remember (because you’ve just read it), we were supposedly ‘completely skint’, but we had changed our attitudes and indulged ourselves over the last few days for a number of reasons:

  1. We were having a succession of goodbye meals for Chief
  2. There’s not a lot to do in Auckland other than eat
  3. We had stopped caring about money
  4. I like food a lot

So we had some excellent crepes and before we knew it is was time for an actual genuine goodbye with Chief. Emotional goodbye done, Eric departed for the airport and a flight home, while we headed in the other direction to the city for more souvenir shopping. Or in other words, more rummaging through a load of tat to try and find something which could pass for a present. Luckily we had more success and by the end of the day had a mildly respectable collection of things to take back, so headed to bed with one final trip on the horizon in the morning.

Our final full day in New Zealand and of our travels dawned bright and sunny. We were spending the day on Waiheke island, a short 30 minute ferry ride from Auckland. The ferry in the morning was a busy one and we hopped off straight onto a hop-on hop-off bus, which would take us around all the main sights of the island. These major sights fell into two distinct categories – beaches and wineries. Bet you can’t guess why we went can you.

Our first stop was a brief one in the main town on Waiheke to peruse shops, have a look at the beach and get our bearings. This done, we headed onwards and after another stop for water and unsuccessful souveniring, we arrived at our first winery Wild on Waiheke. With more wine tasting done on this trip than our minds could have ever imagined, we instead just picked one wine each and had a proper glass. It was a risky strategy, pinning all our hopes on one unknown wine, but tempered by the fact that neither of us are fussy enough to care.

After leisurely finishing these drinks, we walked over to the next nearby winery for another glass. The closer we got, the more convinced we became that it was well out of our price and posh range, especially given the clothes we were currently wearing had been pushed to the limit over the last year. We therefore did a hurried about turn and ran back down the lane, then headed in the other direction towards another winery, Stonyridge. This had rave reviews for both its food and wine and we had a glass each while looking over the valley.

The wine was spectacularly tasty, and the food spectacularly pricey, so we said our goodbyes and retreated down the track to Wild on Waiheke for some pizza. We continue to maintain a balance between the classiness of wine tasting and the instincts of teenagers. Cracking pizza too.

We got back on the bus and moved on to Onetangi Beach, where we collapsed into a food coma and regretted our outfit choices of jeans given the baking sun and inviting sea infant of us:

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Next up on the list was Batch, winery (we can’t stay away from one for long) and possessor of stunning views over the entire island. We managed, through Katie’s competitive nature, to secure a table on the edge of the path with uninterrupted views. As we looked over the island, with drinks in hand, beautiful weather and a peaceful surrounding, we decided we quite liked Waiheke.

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That’s our table down there. I could spend the rest of my life sitting there.

Reluctantly, we had to leave these views due to our desire not to get stuck on the island the day before our flight home. Our final stop was, shockingly, another winery. We are nothing if not predictable. This one was called Mudbrick and had similarly glorious views over the ocean and similarly lovely wine. We sat and enjoyed both of these things, with the impending sense of the end. But it wasn’t a bad place to finish.

And so not long afterwards we were on a boat back towards Auckland, with the sun metaphorically setting on our journey and also literally setting in the actual sky. How appropriate. If this blog ever becomes a film – and for gods sake don’t hold your breath on that one, this would be the perfect final scene in the saga – us stood watching Waiheke fade away with the light.

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You’d have to cut out the raging wind, screaming children, and ugly industrial port of Auckland, but there you are.

In reality of course, this wasn’t quite the end. We arrived back into Auckland, went back to the hostel, packed and fell asleep. And you wonder why those thrilling bits don’t make it into the movies…

A final bus journey then. A final airport check in. 17 hours on a Qatar Airways flight (which was lovely by the way and still miles better than 17 minutes on a Ryanair flight). A coffee in Doha airport. An 8 hour flight full of English people back to Manchester. We landed in Manchester.

We’d visited 2 countries, taken 14 flights, stayed in around 50 hostels (plus 1 hotel, 2 Airbnb’s, one boat and one tent on a sand island), met countless numbers of lovely, cool and interesting people far too numerous to list here, but you know who you are. We’d seen wildlife we could never have imagined, views we could barely comprehend, done things we’d never thought we’d do (including dislocating too many limbs) and all the while Katie and I had managed to barely, if ever, fall out. I should say a public thank you to Katie while we’re here for keeping our trip on the rails, calming me down when I had meltdowns about buses and planes and every other possible issue, and generally being brilliant company all the way through. She’ll absoloutely hate me saying all that nice stuff too. We’d lived in Sydney, travelled and laughed across the country and taken ourselves out of our comfort zone (though this was mostly due to the lax hygiene and cleanliness of hostels). Prophetically there was only one way this trip could end, and those frequent readers of this blog will understand and maybe even expect it. There it was as we landed, as constant and familiar as rain and death and taxes. The ever-present, the sign of home, the one thing we could always rely on:

A great big sodding queue for passport control at Manchester Airport.

 

END

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