Getting ready for New Zealand

Another country, another adventure! Five weeks in New Zealand, literally the other side of the world. Every direction I go from there means getting closer to home again. It’s not just a long way to get to New Zealand but it was also in the making for several years before I decided to actually do it. I think it was in Brisbane/Australia, 9th of September 2001 with my mate Sev. We where sitting on the grass, smoking cigars and watching the Goodwill games. We both talked about our travel plans for the next couple of years. I wanted to visit six continents before I turn 25 and he wanted to continue his studies in Australia after finishing his degree in Austria, somewhere around 2005. We came up with a plan to meet up in New Zealand and travel around together.

Well, plans change sometimes and at the beginning of 2005 I did manage to visit all the continents I had intended to, but did not think of going to New Zealand and planed on traveling around Cuba or Chile in January or February 2005 instead. Those plans where scraped and after some thinking I decided to stick with my original plans from my heydays in Brisbane and visit Aotearoa (meaning ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’) – New Zealand.

My trip started in Linz, it took two stops in Frankfurt and Singapore and 30 hours before arriving in Auckland, the biggest city of New Zealand. Fortunately I put up a very nice smile at the airport in Linz and convinced a very pretty flight attendant to reserve emergency exit seats all the way to Auckland for me. (Almost as good as Business Class!)

Arriving in Auckland

28th of September, Arriving in Auckland

Cloudy weather (well, that’s why they call it land of the long white cloud I suppose), but not to cold, that was my first impression of Auckland. The bus ride (22 kiwi dollar) took me straight to the hostel and the first two nights at X-BASE where booked in no time. Amazing how relaxed I’ve become about accommodation, in my early days of traveling, it was obligatory to book at least my first night in advance, but even that is not needed anymore.I spent my first day exploring the neighborhood (downtown Auckland and the harbor) and getting to know the city. I always start with a walking tour to get a feeling for the city. At night I went to the “First Base” bar and spent the evening with Laura and Laureen, both from the mighty Sherwood Forrest aka Nottingham. Both girls joined an amateur table dance competition but the cheering of the support team was not enough and they where beaten by a local. But over all Not to bad for my very first day!

29th of September, Stray Orientation Day
Choosing how to travel around New Zealand was my first priority for this day. A camper van would definitely mean a lot of freedom to choose where to go, but ultimately I did not want to be stuck with just one or two fellow travelers (well… the hot tall Swedish girl wasn’t interested…) and decided to chose one of the major backpacker bus companies. Books can provide you with a lot of information’s, but first hand experience by fellow travelers are the best, even (or especially) if they come from a stoned young Irish man .

Kiwi Experience and Stray offer free “orientation tours” to Auckland and luckily I opted for the Stray one. “Worm”, a 20something Canadian and Wannabe Kiwi was the guide for the day and he did an excellent job showing the group of backpackers around the city. His two favorite lines where “Sweet As” & “There you go”, which he constantly used when talking about the sights of Auckland and the opportunities that where offered through out the country.

Funny “Did you know” fact”, provided by Worm on his tour: Mount Eden, one of the many extinct volcanoes around Auckland was the stage for what must be one of the most genius pranks in human history (well, beside that nasty Trojan horse prank way back in ancient times by Odysseus and his henchmen). A couple of unknown heroes drove up Mount Eden at night, rolled down some old tires into the crater and lit them up. In the early morning hours they called up the local radio station to inform the city that good old Mount Eden was on fire… 3000 people had to be evacuated from the area and it took the police quiet a while till the found out that the city wasn’t in danger to become a 21st century Pompeii.

At the end of the day I bought a Stray ticket to travel around the north Island and was ready to start my adventure. So Worm, if you read this, you did a good job!

Bay of Islands, Paihia

Well, my first real “Stray” day, with Nancy as a driver and a bunch of strangers. My first activity for the day was to take a close look at a Kauri forest and a short stop at the Goat Island. My first waterfall in New Zealand was the Whangarei Falls. The most interesting sight for the day was actually a toilet! A fellow Austrian, called Frederic Hundertwasser found a little place called Kawakawa in New Zealand, and because he like that little town so much, he decided to build a colorful and artistic toilet for them. What a nice way to say “Thank you”

Nancy, who also had Mouri blood in her, told us a few things about Maori culture and gave us a nice introduction into New Zealand history and behavior.

Kiwi’s have a lot of things to be proud of, but the one thing they always recommend to you, the one thing that they keep babbling about the whole day, is actually something they better keep a secret. Sorry but I feel the obligation to warn fellow travelers that, if someone in New Zealand informs you about a delicious BBQ opportunity, smile and just decline the offer, they just can’t get it right. Even at a place called Pipi Pitch, the place where I slept during my stay in Paihia.

Cape Reinga

The very northern part of New Zealand is called Cape Reinga, the very last tip of New Zealand is not accessible to tourists by Maori law. It’s a sacred place where, according to legends the spirits of the dead travel on their journey to the afterlife in the spiritual homeland of Hawaiki. I took a full day tour with one of the local tour operators. The coach drove along the 90 mile beach (its actually 88 kilometers long) and we stopped a couple of times, to watch wild horses, eat shells and go sand-dune surfing. Riding down the dunes is a very funny thing, climbing up is somewhat exhausting when you’ve been drinking the previous. Its also a free opportunity to get your teeth sandblasted – however, not very tasty at all!

Since the very last tip is sacred land, we only got to visit the most northern mailbox and the most northern lighthouse.. On our way back to Pahia we visited New Zealands very first citrus plantation. Extremely delicious citrus and orange planted by one of Captain James Cooks sailors in order to prevent future expedition from scurvy. At least that’s the story the bus driver told us….

Russel and then back to Auckland

 The first thing I did on that day was to rent a bike and cycled around the Bay before I went on a ferry to Russel – the first European settlement and the place where mighty James Cook first set his foot on. It’s a very relaxed spot and I got the feeling to step back in time, not the wild time when the early settlers arrived, but at least some 10 or 15 years ago. I hiked up some hills and took a close look at the church to check out the bullet holes that early settlers left there. After my trip to the very beginning of white settlement in New Zealand I took a Stray-express-bus back to Auckland with Spike, by far the most wicked driver of Stay, not just because of his trendy hairstyle (probably the source to his nickname). There is an ongoing “fight” between Stray drivers – nothing serious, just poking fun at each once in a while, and Spike must have overdone it one time, when he, driving the bus, stood up, pulled down his pants and presented the “Big Green Fuck Truck” travelers his Willie. Unfortunately a old lady was driving right behind the Kiwi-bus and called the cops, which almost arrested poor Spike.

Auckland to Coromandel Peninsula

3rd of October, Cormandel Peninsula

The day started with Kerry (or Possum, as he was called him during our trip) and his two trainees. After a short picture-stop at Mount Eden in Auckland we headed south towards the Coromandel Peninsula.

Another highlight for the day was a Stop at Hot Water Beach where everyone could grab a shovel and dig a hole in the sand to soak in the hot geothermal water. Once a quiet and secret spot for locals to hang out it has unfortunately (but understandable) become a very crowed place for tourists. I almost burned my feet there! Kerry recommended, that if we ever come back to New Zealand to go to the Hot water beach at night during full moon as there are no people there and its an excellent experience.

The evening was crowned with another encounter with the infamous “Kiwi BBQ”. Luckily this time there was enough booze at hand to forget about what I was actually eating.

October 4, 2005,  Hahei to Raglan
We started the day with a three hour walk around Cathedral Cove (the Maori name is Te Whanganui-A-Hei) and and a short visit of the beautifull Bridal Veil Falls. We then carried on to Raglan to stay at the Rainforest Retreat. The Hostel was really nice and layed back, no doors where locked and they had a lot of activities, like the flying fox (you have to experience it by yourself at night). In Raglan most of the group went surfing and ultimately decided to stay at that nice little paradise a couple of extra days with just a few of the group carrying on – including me.

Raglan to Rotorua

One thing you should get used to when traveling on a time schedule is that staying in bed till noon is just not possible… We left Raglan at 8am and headed south to the town of Waitomo, famous for it’s caves and glow worms. We did a walk at the Ruakuri Reserve while the others went Black water rafting.  Waitomo would be a excellent place to spend some money for abseiling into the Lost Cave for about 200 bucks and other adventurous stuff, but New Zealand is full of crazy activities…

We then headed across to Rotorua for its geothermal areas, smell and ‘Slim’s Cultural Place’.  The cultural show was a real blast. First we had a hangi, a traditional Mauri feast, after that the guys learned how to dance the Haka, a warrior dance (I hope that video-footage of me never shows up online!) before we watched a play by a local Maori theater troupe.

The play was about a Maori leader married to two woman. Yet he was not satisfied and wanted to add another squaw. The real fun part was that, while one woman was played by a member of the acting group, two woman where chosen out of the audience. Unbeknown to the actors, one of the girls was an actor herself and was in her role within the minute. The other girl wasn’t one of the shy kind either and the chief found himself in the unusual position of three independent woman fighting for him. It was hilarious to watch! After the show me and my fellow stray mates attended a Karaoke contest next to the hostel and some backpackers even showed of their singing abilities – of course with the help of some booze.

Rotorua to Taupo and Whakapapa

6th of October, Rotorua
Rotorua, or “Rotten Egg city” is famous for Whakarewarewa , a little village build right in the middle of erupting geysers, hot thermal springs and bubbling mud pools. It’s a place where Maoris lived for many years and now offer an insight on their culture and lifestyle. Very convenient to have a pool of hot boiling water right in front of your house where you can cook your meals and wash your cloths.

After we left Whakarewarewa we headed south via some more amazing mud pools and the Huka Falls towards Taupo and it’s great lake (the world’s largest crater lake). Kerry, out beloved bus driver was a real story teller and every morning he would play the song “Me and my monkey” by Robbie Williams.

The reason he did so was to “honor” group he traveled with before us. The group consisted of about a dozen girls and one guy. The hostel in Taupo offers a room for 14 people so that entire stray group including the guy spent the night in one room. After a pub crawl and of course way to much alcohol the guy must have forgotten that he was in a room full of girls and in the morning started to “please” himself, which is also know as “spanking the monkey” Unfortunately the girls took notice of that and told Kerry about the incident it in the morning when they got back on the bus… After we where told the story, the hold bus started to crack up and we demanded the song every morning, and if someone joined the group forced Kerry to retell it, adding bits and pieced every now and then to the already raunchy story.

7th of Ocotber, Taupo to Whakapapa
Taupo is the capital of skydiving in New Zealand, unfortunately not on the 7th of October, as snow and strong winds kept planes grounded. At least for us, some early birds eventually got to jump out of the plane in the very morning while the rest of the group was still sleeping.

The plan was to do the Tongorrio Crossing on that day too, but as snow already canceled my plans to jump out of a plane, it also prevented me from doing one of the most amazing walks on this planet. What a shame!

While snow could keep me from climbing “Mount Doom”, it did not prevent crazy AJ and some other backpackers from doing a little walk around the national park once we arrived at the “Scotel”, a skiing resort that also offers accommodation for backpackers during the low season. Despite strong winds and sleet  we did a 2,5 hour walk. Unfortunately my jeans where frozen after that walk and my legs went numb. But its amazing what a whirlpool with six female travelers in it can do to your blood temperature in a very short time! At night two wonderful ladies prepared Chili con Carne for the entire group and we had a fun evening at the hotel bar.