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Published: February 17th 2016
Talk to any New Zealander while travelling and tell them that you are visiting their country for 2 months and the majority will tell you that you need to do 6 weeks in the South Island and 2 weeks in the North Island. Why? Their answer is that the South Island is better with more scenery and more things to do. With that in mind I headed towards Picton where the ferry port was, leaving Nelson on a hitch from a Kiwi singer who had just returned from UK on a tour. I explained to her that my plans for North Island involved getting to Wellington and working it out from there!
The ferry takes you through some awesome sights of mountains on wither side of the boat and if the weather had been a bit better then some photographs would have been taken to prove it but alas it was like the West Coast with cloud and rain spoiling the view. Arriving in Wellington the clouds were still there and grabbing a free bus ride to the train station, I walked the 20 minutes to the hostel, which had been booked already and as it was late afternoon I just chilled in the common area and tried to calm my toothache down. By the morning it had gone and I was happy to explore. First port of call was the museum which the hostel staff raved about and I can honestly say that having seen so many museums around the world that have either bored the socks off me or entertained me, that this is definitely the best I have seen. They had a Gallipoli section which had seemingly been with some help from Peter Jackson. I spent about 3 hours and only had to leave because they were closing! Shame as I could have stayed there longer. I had a little bit of a walk around seeing what was about but ended up going back to the hostel as the weather wasn’t the best and another night in the hostel. When you are skint and trying to survive as best as you can with what you have is hard. You know that you have to have cash for accommodation and food and if there is anything left then you can use the spare money for entertainment, I didn't need to for transport as I was hitch hiking everywhere. When I say entertainment, I mean things like entry fees for anything happening in the area or having a couple of beers on a night time. However money was that tight that I was surviving on the cheapest of food, which in terms of New Zealand meant Dominos pizzas which costs $5 (£2.50)
The next day I headed on a proper tour of the city and Wellington Centre can actually be done in a couple of hours, seeing everything you need. It’s compact and easy to get around and once you’ve been around once I think thats when you start planning on leaving to another town/city and that was the plan until I got a message on Facebook from Jack, who I had not seen since Laos who I totally forgot lived in Wellington. He wanted to know how long I was staying in the city and if I was free the next day we should meet for a couple of beers as he had a day off. I did explain that I was short on cash, knowing that a couple of beers would lead to a few more! Jack was in a legend in saying he would ‘look after me’ and he was true to his word. I extended for one more night at the hostel and an afternoon session being shown around his local bars turned into a night time session as well. It was good to catch up with him and get introduced to his various friends and people that he knew from his bar work and I was a mess at the end. I did manage to buy one round to pay my way. Obviously I had to give an open invitation back to him for Darlington, my home town.
The day after was a bad start as the hangover was kicking in as I left Wellington, walking to a hitching spot that I was recommended by the hostel staff. It was actually a bad spot that was just a local road but for some reason I was lucky after half an hour that I got picked up but only for about 10 minutes with the driver giving me the best route out of the City, however I didn’t really know where I was going with New Plymouth the most likely option. The next lift was from a truck driver who came from New Plymouth who recommended that I stayed away from the place as there wasn’t much to see and told me that I should really head for Napier as it was much more interesting. I like recommendations from Kiwis so thats where I was going. When he dropped me off on the main crossroads, I was picked up again by another guy who only drove me about 15 minutes but put me in a better position. Stood on the side of the road in a small town for about half an hour, I had what looked like a local bus service stopping asking me where I was going. I explained I was hitch hiking and didn’t need a bus but I was going to Napier. “You’re in luck, I’m off to the next town after that, hop on” he replied. The only problem he explained was that the bus could only go 70 km an hour and would take longer then a car would take but I was happy to be out the rain and on my way.
I arrived in Napier at about 7, considering I had been on the road since 10 and I was tired and hungry. From where I got dropped off it took about an hour to walk into town and with the help of free wifi, I managed to find a hostel on line and headed for it. I was lucky that there was only one bed left and I’ve been lucky a few times arriving somewhere randomly with accommodation. Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1930’s and was rebuilt pretty quick and in that time the fashion was for art deco buildings and most of them are still in the town. It’s a colourful place with the tourist trade relying on the style of the town and the locals get involved by dressing up in the same period of clothing, obviously for the tourists. The beach however is not the best I’ve seen as its black sands are not the most inviting and seemingly this is due to the earthquake as well, even though it was over 80 years ago. I was only in the hostel for 2 nights as to be honest there isn’t a lot to do except look at the buildings and take a trip up to the view point up a hill which gave you a birds eye view of the docks for some reason.
With still no idea of where to go on North Island, I took the advice of the hostel owner and headed for Taupo. The first hitch was from a criminal lawyer who took me about 15 minutes out of town to a better spot. Didn’t really talk much with him as he was on his phone trying to sort out a client, not having a clue what he was getting banged up for. The second hitch was a Mauri woman with her 4 kids who were fascinated by the fact they had a foreigner in their car. Very strange question came from them, including “Do you have McDonalds in England?” and other various questions on what I have in my country. They were all on their way to a rally which was against TPPA , a new trade agreement with other countries that New Zealand was about to join. Seems the rally was people jumping off a bridge into a river, which didn’t really make any sense to me, but they were determined to make it before it started. They dropped me off in the centre of the town and I soon found myself a hostel not too far from the lake, which was an awesome place. Everyone seemed to congregate on the balcony and chill, talking to anyone that was new. One of the friendlier places I’d been to so far on North Island.
Taupo is a nice little town that relies on tourism from the lake which along with everything else in the country costs a fortune for any activity, there is also lots of hiking to do in the area, the main one being the Tongariro Crossing which takes you towards Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings film. The hike itself takes about 8 hours and transport will take you to the start point at half 5 in the morning! A little bit to early for me, as lack of sleep from toothache was getting me more and more tired as the moth went on. There is also a thermal pool which took about an hour to walk to, which was my sort of hike. The river has a hot stream coming into it and when I got there, there were several people just chilling in the water. I took no time to strip off to just my shorts and jumped in. The water was warm and as you moved towards the hot stream coming into the river it got hotter. It was a strange experience knowing the water was getting heated up by the plates in the earth that causes earthquakes. At least that was my understanding, not being a geologist expert. I stayed in the water for about half an hour just watching the world go by and felt so relaxed, but it was getting late so headed back to the hostel. I was there for 3 days before I got itchy feet to head somewhere else which was Rotorua.
Hitching was slow to the new place, in fact I was there for an hour waiting as everyone seemed to be local and there were a few people who passed me trying to get a lift as well but carried on walking further out when I explained how long I had been waiting, except for a french guy who decided that he would wait on the side and take over from me once I had been picked up. He was optimistic! No less then 5 minutes later a car stopped, seems the French bloke had brought me some luck and I asked the young girl if he could join us, which she agreed. The girl was on her way to Hamilton and explained that she would drop us off at a place near Rotorua that wasn't too far away but ended up driving us all the way. We were her first ever hitch hikers after passing her driving test no less then 3 months earlier and thoroughly enjoyed talking to strangers that she planned on picking more up! I think we left a good impression on her.
Rotorua is another place famous for its lake and a little bit bigger then Taupo. It’s also famous for its thermal mud pools all over the town, making the place a little bit smelly. Once you got used to the aroma of the gas, its a nice place to walk around, looking at these mud pools bubbling away letting off the stink and the heat. The biggest one was just outside of town and you had to pay to get in to see it so I stayed local and watched them in the park, down towards the lake and in peoples gardens! I didn’t stay long as I knew I had to get up to Auckland knowing that I wasn’t going to do North Island for long. Heading to the next town was Tauranga which had been another recommendation. I got a hitch this time quickly and it was a Swiss woman who was travelling round the country in a car that she had bought cheap. She really didn’t know where she was heading for next but decided that she would head in the same direction as me! It was lunchtime when I got dropped off and not realising that it was holiday weekend (New Zealand day) there was nothing on line to stay. So I ended up going across to the I-Site which are the Kiwis tourist information offices dotted in every town. They managed to find me somewhere to stay and I can honestly say that without doubt this was the worst hostel ever I had stayed in.The people who worked there were not interested, the place inside was dirty and disgusting and the kitchen was the worst I’ve seen. I dropped my bags off and headed out straight away to get away from the place. Whilst in the I-Site earlier the woman behind the counter was detailing all the sights to see and one of them being Mount Maunganui which I thought she said was 45 minutes away. So thats where I went to seeing it in the distance. It actually took me about 2 hours to get there and realised it was 45 minutes to the top! I still went for it on the long steep climb up and the views of the surrounding area was worth it as you could see for miles around. Getting back to the bottom I found there was a bus that would take me back to the hostel, thank god! That night I chilled watching crap TV while there was too many annoying people getting high that I decided to have an early night. Going to the bed that had been allocated to me, I found that there was someone already asleep in it. Finding reception staff to sort it out was difficult and I was just given another bed that had someones stuff on and told that I could use that one! Not a happy person but I got into bed and thats when the worst of the toothache came on. I was up most of the night and just couldn't get any sleep due to the pain! I knew that I had to sort it out quickly.
In the morning I got out of the hostel as quickly as I could and found another one that had room for the night. I spent the day taking pain killers and looking around, but there wasn’t much to see or do. it was more of a beach place for New Zealanders, so the next day I left to head to Auckland. The one place that most Kiwis told me to stay away from. They say this as it doesn’t represent New Zealand as it is just another city like any other in the world and when you consider that a quarter of the population lives there, you can imagine how busy it is. Although about 4 hours away I got there within 5 hours with 3 successful hitches. One from a Mauri bloke who told me how to kill, strip and BBQ deer for some reason, an old lady in her 80’s who told me all about the area we were driving through and stopped off at least 5 times for me to take photos and finally a guy who I actually fell asleep while he was talking and woke up 5 minutes later to find he was still talking! He wasn’t boring, it was just that I was shattered from a lack of sleep.
My first night in Auckland was spent with friends of Moy and Joe. Jimmy was an British ex pat who had emigrated in the 80’s and was now married to a New Zealander with kids. I was a total stranger who was to stay in his house for the night. For me it was a chance to save on cash as I was skint and I spent the night talking away with him after being fed a ribs bbq. Toothache had finally died down and I was able to have the best nights sleep that I had for a while. Feeling refreshed the next day, Jimmy gave me a lift into town and found a hostel just a couple of streets up from the waterfront. After being in the city for less then 24 hours I have to agree with what I had been told. Although it was so busy Auckland was like any other big city around the world. I spent the remaining time there searching for contact lenses as I managed to get some money. There is nowhere to really explore as the centre is all shops and businesses with a couple of parks dotted around. I did manage to see the Sky Tower in all its glory but that was about it. After a couple of days it was time to head off, however even till the last day I wasn’t sure where I was going to. I had booked flights earlier in the month to go to Argentina at a cheap price (main reason why I was poor). During the lead up to go there my lodgers had informed me that they were planning on moving out and finding their own place. As my travels depend on their rent, it was a tough choice to make whether to cancel my South American flight and use the money to head home or head out anyways waiting for the call to say they had found somewhere. In the end, my toothache made the decision for me. Dentists I had discovered were cheap in Argentina and I wanted the tooth sorted out. After nearly 2 months in New Zealand it was time to say goodbye after an amazing time. Buenos Aires here I come
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