‘New Zealand is a country of thirty thousand million sheep,
three million of whom think they are human’ – Barry Humphries
The back end of 2016 saw me begin the biggest adventure of my life thus far; moving abroad. The destination? Australia. My flights were booked, my visa paid for and granted. I was all set to go. But first there was somewhere else I needed to be. New Zealand.
Beginning in Auckland, I had given myself just shy of 6 weeks to travel through both the North and South Island’s, finishing down in Christchurch. It was a lot to fit in in such a small space of time and help was definitely required.
After my success with Oz Experience whilst travelling up Australia’s East Coast the previous year, I made the decision to book myself onto a Kiwi Experience bus pass. Fortunately – due to some fantastic discounts on offer at the time – I was able to purchase the ‘Whole Kit & Caboodle’ pass, which included the additional passes for the Bay of Islands, Milford Sound, and the Deep South.
Auckland: 11.11.16 – 14.11.16
When I first arrived into Auckland, I didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts. After all, losing both your phone and bank cards within two hours of your flight landing is not the smartest of moves. Fortunately it actually ended up working in my favour because, not only did the person who had my phone return it to me (thanks Harry), I met some great people who really helped settle me down and make sure I was okay (still grateful Leilah, Kira, Adam & Chris).
Aside from that, Auckland was quite an odd experience, which I’ll partly put down to facing immediate stresses and suffering from jet lag, rather than the drawbacks of the city itself. Still, I guess the main reason I felt Auckland to be odd because it just came across a bit, well, bland. A city that lacked a clear personality or identity. It was what it was and it was just there.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Auckland does have some notable highlights and, being by a port, you can always take a ferry across to most of the nearby islands. My personal recommendation would be Waiheke Island. A lot of people go there for the wine tours and scenic walks but, manage to step away from all of that and you find a place steeped in a rich culture and complex history.
No trip to Auckland is complete without a visit to the top of the Auckland Sky Tower. Sky Towers became a theme and highlight of my travels through Europe, so I was excited to head up to the top of one once again. There really is something special about drinking a cold beer whilst watching the sunset over a city from up above.
Bay of Islands + Cape Reinga: 15.11.16 – 17.11.16
My time in Auckland coming to an end meant that I was off on the first part of my Kiwi Experience adventure, a trip to the northern-most tip of north island. It was during this journey that I learnt three important:
- New Zealand is known by the Maori people as Aotearoa, which translates to ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’
- Bringing only one jumper with me was a mistake. I needed more.
- Kiwi’s really love their pies. Like, really love them. They will eat them at any time of the day and some of the flavour combinations are really odd to see (butter chicken springs to mind).
The first day could probably be considered a bit of a washout due to the weather conditions, although it didn’t stop a few of us going for a short walk before freezing in a hot tub that was anything but hot. We were just all a bit too stubborn to get out!
It was during the evening at the hostels pub quiz that the group of us travelling on the bus started to come together. Split into two teams stood next to each other, we began to chat a lot more and a healthy rivalry started as we were 1st and 2nd pretty much all the way through! I’m glad that the pub quiz was happening that night, because the majority of the core group of people I travelled through New Zealand with came together that night – pretty cool, eh?
Anyway, my team won it in the final round, taking advantage of the $100 bar tab. It was the first pub quiz I’d been involved in where my team had won!
A new day saw the weather swing towards a sunnier climate, with blue skies accompanying us as we began our trip up to Cape Reinga, one of the most important and spiritual places to the Maori people. Marked by a lighthouse, it also overlooks the most northern part of New Zealand. The Maori believe that the final journey of the spirits of the recently deceased takes them to Cape Reinga, where they are greeted by their ancestors before moving on. Beautiful, right?
No trip to the Bay of Islands can be marked as complete without taking a boat out to the much visited ‘hole in the rock’. It was a pretty windy day, and the current rather strong, however our captain was able to drive us part of the way into the hole, even if we weren’t able to go all the way through. Much like everything else in New Zealand, it was pretty impressive. You know, as impressive as something can be when it is a rock with a hole in it in the middle of the sea.
Cathedral Cove + Hot Water Beach: 18.11.16
Whilst on the way back from Cape Reinga to Paihia (where we were staying in the Bay of Islands), we took a detour through 90 mile beach which, strangely enough, isn’t actually 90 miles long. Whilst hear we tried to create a 15-strong human pyramid and it failed. Miserably. Not to be deterred, when at Cathedral Cove 6 of us decided to try again and succeeded – it was the first human pyramid I had ever been a part of so I was pretty happy about that.
Cathedral Cove itself – and the walk there from the car park – is absolutely stunning. There are plenty of spots for glorious landscape photos, whilst it also catches a slight coastal breeze, taking the edge off of the lack of cover from the sun.
Following from our visit to Cathedral Cove we arrived at Hot Water Beach which is, quite possibly, now one of my favourite places to go to in New Zealand and somewhere that I would 100% go back to again. Prior to the evening tide coming in, you can dig yourself your own natural hot pools in the sand, which is where it got its name from.
Imagine sitting – or standing – in a shallow bath, where the water is at the point of hot where, if it was any hotter it would be really uncomfortable. That is what it is like.
Now, imagine someone then turns the shower on and a rush of freezing cold water hits you. That is basically what happens when the tide eventually overcomes the walls of sand you have tried to build to keep it out.
Despite the tide coming in, it fortunately didn’t cover the entire beach, which is handy because a handful of us did go back after dark to have a bonfire and s’mores. Another first for me here – my first bonfire on the beach!
Anyway, that wasn’t even the highlight. The highlight was the night sky. There was no moon and no light pollution, meaning that stars lit up the night sky. More stars than I had ever seen before in my life. Never before I have been so mesmerised. Even now, I can picture that sky, in particular the Seven Sisters, who looked like they were dancing across a black background.
As the evening slowly wound down, it soon ended up that just myself and Teo were left to put out the ashes of the bonfire. It was around this time that the moon made an appearance, rising up beyond the horizon of the sea.
Waitomo is home to the Glowworm Caves. I’m not actually sure what else there is to do here, but the Glowworm Caves were pretty cool. You have a variety of different options for touring the caves, from walking to abseiling. I went for the tubing option, and I am glad that I did.
Although there was actually less tubing involved than we were all lead to believe, it was definitely worth it. Floating in the water through the caves in pitch black, staring at a roof covered in little green lights (the glowworms) was pretty surreal. It felt like you could have been staring up at the ceiling of the Great Hall in Hogwarts, especially when the tour guide began whistling the Harry Potter theme tune!