18328km away from home // New Zealand00:54:00
Kia Ora! Before you say anything... I KNOW! Just like my last post, here's a very delayed but also very detailed summary of my New Zealand adventures from December 2016. This one as well has been ready to be out there for weeks but I was just too busy celebrating the New Year, seeing my family and old friends back home, traveling and settling in after returning back to Sweden last week. Please don't hate me!
“Where are you going next, Ma’am?” The Australian immigration officer at Sydney International Airport stares at my passport, likely judging my horrible picture that shows 14-year old me blankly staring back at him. With a big smile and much excitement in my voice I say “Wellington!”. He nods and I walk through the gate. Maybe not an All Blacks fan? Anyways, my excitement can’t be stopped. “Bye, Australia.” I whisper, not sure how I feel about leaving. All I know is that my sunburnt body hurts and that my backpack is not contributing to soothing the pain. I struggle to carry all my stuff. On a scale from 1 to Donald Trump I am definitely very close to winning the presidency of the Kingdom of Painistan. My gate is conveniently located across a pharmacy and I spend my last Australian dollars on water, pain killers and aloe vera gel. Breakfast is served. In order to survive the three our flight I take one more extra pill than recommended in the instructions – better safe than sorry. It takes about an hour for the pills to kick in but at least I am somewhat able to gently lean back in my seat, even if not fully relaxed. High ‘n Fly, so to speak. I arrive in Wellington around noon. The weather is bad, my mood is okay. After my bags got raided for bio hazards, and a 20min fight with the only available ATM I make my way to the city shuttle. Up and down the hills and pastel coloured beautiful bungalows everywhere, we get to downtown Wellington in no time. With 18329km (11388mi) Wellington is, in fact, the capital furthest away from the place I was born - Bremen, Germany. However, New Zealand immediately felt very different than Australia. More like home. The Maori bus driver stopped in the middle of the road at least five times to have a quick catch up with his mates - no one was angry. Walking from Wellington Station to the hostel everyone around me seems to know each other. My hostel is probably the best hostel in a Western country I've ever stayed at. The rooms are bright, the toilets and showers almost look like bath rooms you'd have at your own home and the kitchen is very spacious and modern. It's very much like a big, big modern apartment that you share with a bunch of other people. What I like about this hostel the most is that there are a lot of longterm backpackers. Only a few people stay for one or two nights while the rest has been here for months. Most of the backpackers are in their mid/late-twenties if not early-thirties which I prefer though. I really don't need people playing beer pong in the kitchen every single night of the week #sydney. I enter my dorm and there’s Yuka. “I am from Japan but my husband is Kiwi. We live close to Nelson on the South Island. I am only here for one night, I had to go to the Japanese embassy today.” We chat a bit more, then have a walk down to New World (a supermarket) to get some groceries. I am starving. It’s almost dinner time and all I had today were pain killers – not so healthy. We buy a bunch of stuff and have dinner at The Dwellington. The night still being young we decide to go to a bar for a drink or two. “’The Library’ looks good and an hour later we’re on the way to take advantage of their Wednesday cocktail deal. “I don’t know where I am going…Maybe this way?” I say to Yuka, looking a bit lost. I stare at the map on my phone trying to figure out where to go and that’s when Julie came to save us. Julie, originally from Scotland, had short red hair and her glasses were just as colourful. She looked professional except for maybe her backpack and runners. She took her headphones off and asks “Where are you guys headed to? Can I help you?” “Yes please! We’re going to the library. The bar – not the actual library-library!” I reply. Julie says that she’s on her way home from work. She walks home every day – hail or rain. Six kilometres up and down the hills of Wellington. She takes the bus in the morning but enjoys the walk home after a long day at the office. She works for the government. Tax office. Sounds boring but she seems to enjoy it. “You can just follow me. I am just going to listen to my music and you guys can chat without having the old lady listening to you.” She says but never actually gets the chance to put her headphones back on before we reach the bar. Julie is easy to talk to. She tells us about her life and about how her parents didn't like to settle down in one place for long until her mom decided that New Zealand was the last place she’d moved to. Saying good bye to Julie was almost a bit sad and I can tell that she would have loved to chat to us for just a bit longer as well. We hug and she puts her headphones back on, waving and smiling enthusiastically as Yuka and I enter ‘The Library’ for some delicious Apple Crumble Cocktails.
The next morning it’s time to say good bye to Yuka. While she’s on a little shopping mission (the town she calls home now doesn’t have any shopping options…) I am off to check out Te Papa – New Zealand’s national museum. From art to Maori history, to New Zealandic immigration, World War II and earthquake information there’s a wide range of different themes and topics available interesting for young and old. After a couple of hours spent there I decide to go for a stroll around town.
Wellington is insanely pretty with all the mountains and the harbour right in the middle of the city. Sitting in the kitchen that night, writing on my blog, I start chatting to Hana, a Dwellington longterm resident. The next morning at breakfast I run into her again and having no plans at all we decide to hang out in the city. She had some errands to run before leaving to Auckland that night to see Coldplay play at Mt. Smart Stadium the next day. She introduces me to one of her Canadian friends, Taylor, who she’d just recently met as well. After having coffees and just chatting about life we head down to New Zealand’s parliament where you can participate in free guided tours. They show and explain to you why the building doesn’t collapse during earthquakes, how bills are passed in New Zealand and so on. While it wasn’t the best tour I’ve ever been on it was definitely a good way to waste some time.
Hana was a bit in a rush having to catch the bus to Auckland in just a couple of hours but Taylor and I exchanged contact details and we decided to go out that night. “I will text you later about when and where”. Okay, cool. Just me and a bunch of strangers, I thought. Taylor and I got along really well but would I like his friends? I mean I just met this guy two hours ago. I wasn't even sure if I liked him that much. At this stage and after a rather lonely week in Sydney I was craving human contact. At 8.30pm and equipped with two bottles of wine I showed up at the address Taylor had messaged me an hour earlier. Long story short: everyone was incredibly friendly, I actually don’t suck at beer pong at all and hello, new friends. That night, my new friends and I went to pretty much every single club and bar in downtown Wellington. Liana and Chris went missing at some point (*wink wink*) so Taylor and I went for one more little dance and then took a walk along the harbour.
We talk about this and that, about how fucked up we are and what we want to be when we grow up. And then Taylor goes “We should skinny dip!?” but I can’t figure out if it was a question or statement. Even though it’s technically summer in New Zealand it still gets somewhat chilly at night. We’re drunk. I say no. He drags me down the pier and next thing I know is that I am taking off my clothes, still complaining that I usually don’t do stuff like this. “Yeah Leah, but it’s a damn good story!°, he grabs my hand and we jump into the dark, screaming, the sun slowly rising above us. The water is freezing cold. And salty. I am too busy screaming and forget to close my mouth. I jump out of the water as quick as I possibly can and put my clothes back on. I feel like my whole body is turning into one big ice block. In fact, I’ve never been that cold in my entire life, at least that’s all I can think of in this moment. But I am also happy. And still very drunk. We stay and sit by the water for a bit longer to watch the sun rise while people who start work early keep passing us. Wet and cold as hell Taylor jumps in an Uber and I walk back to the Dwellington which is only a couple of minutes away. I am freezing to death but also can’t stop smiling. We skinny-dipped. At 4:30 in the morning. Two people who had just met that day. In the middle of downtown Wellington. Fuck yeah.
After the world’s longest and hottest shower and only three hours of sleep I get woken up by my dorm mates. My body hurts. My head especially. I take more pain killers - to ‘treat’ my sunburn but secretly hoping to cure my hangover as well. I fall back asleep. Around noon I make my way down to the city but feel so miserable I turn around halfway there to go back to bed. What have I become? I’ll never drink again. I get a message from Taylor and Liana asking if I want to join them to a Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood concert that night but the tickets are $60 and I just don’t want to spend that much money on artists I hardly know. We decide to meet up after the concert. It’s my last night in town and it’d be sad to not see my Canadians again before leaving. I make my way to the Westpac Stadium, which is just around the corner of my hostel, around 9pm. Only seconds into our ‘threesome’ I realize: my Canadians are drunk. Again. “You guys really don’t mess around!” While we wait for our Uber, ex-longterm-vegetarian Liana can’t stop talking about corn dogs and how good they are. “If you could marry objects, I’d marry a corn dog, that’s for sure!”, okay, Liana, cool. Taylor is jumping around like a bouncy ball and I feel left-behind. And also still a bit sick from yesterday. “There’s no way I’ll get on your level tonight!” A couple of hours later we’re all drunk. I mean I am drunk and the other two are waaaasted. Whoops. How Liana and Taylor managed to be able to walk and not be super wasted after the at least nine beers each of them had before we even met up that night? I don’t know. Must have something to do with them being Canadian but at 4am we’re all done and ready to go home. We hug and say good bye and I am super sad having to leave them behind. Backpacking is so bittersweet.
The next morning I find myself catching the bus to Taupo. I also get a message from Taylor telling me that Liana managed to spend $300 on drinks last night. Oh dear… So I am on my way to Taupo - a six hour bus ride to the middle of nowhere. My bus driver stops for, according to him, a “meeeean beef burger, the best in New Zealand” halfway to Taupo and in general is a very chatty, friendly guy. I am confused since the bus drivers back home usually hate their lives and all their passengers. Kiwis are my new favourites, I think. My hostel in Taupo is pretty but full of Germans (boooooo) and groups. I don’t get to meet anyone but I also don’t feel like meeting anyone here. Most people are here for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and hardly anyone does it on their own (except me of course…. Classic Leah) since it takes approximately 7 to 9 hours. The next morning at 5am a shuttle picks me up for the exactly that hike.
“Don’t shit on the volcano, please. I strike ‘shitting on a volcano’ off my bucket list. The shuttle to the national park takes around an hour to get there and I use this opportunity for a quick snooze. The crossing is tough. The first few kilometres are flat and you basically just walk into the park before it gets steep and rocky. The weather is nice, I am definitely wearing the wrong clothes and halfway through I run out of water. At least I don’t have to poop!!! Hiking up the volcanos and mountains is fine with me but coming down a volcano is a whole different story. People keep passing me fast, they don’t fall, I fall a lot. I spend more time on my bum then on my feet but eventually reach the more stable rocky parts at the bottom of the mountain. I hated this but at least they didn't have to heli me out of here, I think to myself. The next three kilometres are super fun and even though we started with about 60 people when the shuttle dropped us off there’s no one else in sight.
Where the heck is everyone? Am I even on the right track? I keep walking. And walking. And I don’t get to see any other person for another two hours until the rest of the track. The eight kilometres downhill are no joke. After climbing up for a bit, downhill seems like a treat but if you ever walked downhill for three hours straight you will know that your hips and feet will start hurting rather soon. I reach the car park around 2pm. The bus back to my hostel in Taupo leaves around two hours later but just sitting in the sun for a bit is absolutely fine with me. My feet are not able to get me anywhere else today. Back at the hostel around 6/630pm I immediately take a shower to wash off all the dirt and have an early night.
The next morning I am off to Rotorua. Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activities. It’s a sleepy town. The city centre is basically just one road. I meet Sebi and Vera, two fellow Germans, in my dorm. We chat for a bit and later that night head to the Redwoods and the Blue/Green Lakes. The two of them have a car which makes life a lot easier in New Zealand. Michi, an Italian guy who is obsessed with Germany, tags along, too. After dinner I make my way straight to bed. The next morning, I am off to Hobbiton.
The bus leaves pretty much right in front of my hostel which is pretty sweet. The bus is packed, the ride down to Middle Earth (the Alexander family’s farm land) takes around two hours. We touch down around 10am and are handed over to May, our lovely tour guide for the next 1 ½ hours. May takes us around the farm showing us all the hobbit holes, the hobbit garden and the infamous green dragon. Even though I haven’t seen the Lord Of The Rings movies it’s still a pretty cool place to be. The tour ends in the green dragon where we get to taste super tasty apple cider. I went on this day trip having absolutely no expectations and I must say: I am not disappointed. Maybe not worth $120 but okay – it’s a once in a life time kinda thing. We get back to Rotorua around 1pm.
After walking 6km in the wrong direction trying to find a geyser I get myself some lunch and go on a stroll around town. It’s pissing down and I can’t wait to catch my bus to Tauranga, a beach town further North. Unfortunately, the weather in Tauranga is not a single bit better – if not worse. I get their fairly late and all I want to do is sleep. The weather didn't get any better the next day so I change my bus dates and leave Tauranga around 3pm. Next stop: Auckland. Now, Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest city so my expectations are pretty high. Big mistake! The next 3 days are incredibly boring. I take myself out for coffee, to the cinema and even on pretentious shopping trips I absolutely have no money for. I don’t get to meet anyone at my hostel even though I try hard to socialize. Everyone is either too old, too group-y, or too German. I count down the days to leave.
On the 12th I finally check out and make my way down to Hamilton from where I catch a bus to Raglan. Raglan is a very small surfer town at New Zealand’s west coast, about an hour away from Hamilton. The people here are laid back, super friendly and everyone seems to know each other. It’s instant love. The sun is out and I wait to be picked up from the smallest library I’ve ever seen. A van shows up but as soon as I manage to get up and grab all my stuff it’s already gone. Damn it. I send an email to the lodge asking if they can send another van and in no time Melisa, the lodge’s and surf school’s manager herself comes to save me. It feels like we’ve known each other for ages. We pick up some hitchhikers on the 10min ride to the middle of nowhere. Melisa reverses into the parking lot at the lodge when Engi, a super skinny, tall, blonde, long-haired surf instructor (your cliché surfer dude), runs up to us and asks if I wanna “come out surf now?”. “Now? Like now-now?” I haven’t even checked in yet. Melisa encourages me to take the opportunity and that she will take care of all my luggage. “Just come back later and we’ll do the check-in”. Fine, I grab a few things and jump into the van that’s going to the beach. A bunch of other people and Engi are patiently waiting for me. I am super pumped to go surfing but it’s windy. So windy, all of us struggle to carry our boards down to the water. What a great start. Engi gives us a quick 20second reminder of how to surf and then we’re already in the water for the next 2 hours. Considering that my first and last surf lesson two months ago didn't turn out to be very successful, I am rocking my board. It feels so good to be back in the ocean. Everyone is so positive, we cheer for each other when we manage to catch a good wave and my Auckland-down is completely forgotten. Throughout the week I can definitely feel and see my progress. The surf instructors change daily and so does the weather. Friday, my last day, comes way to early. The weather is nice but as soon as we jump in the water the clouds come out and the waves are somewhat mean, yet super fun. Chris, another classic of the species “cool surfer dude” from Ireland, comes up to me to push me into the wave but I am determined to have a good last surf on my own and my paddling has become good enough over the last few days that I can basically catch all the waves I want to on my own. “DON’T PUSH ME, I AM AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN!!!” I get on the wave and it's a good one. This feeling will never get old. It’s pure happiness. As I fall off the wave and my board at some point, I walk back towards Chris, “YOU PUSHED ME, DIDN’T YOU?!?!” He laughs and denies it but I could swear I felt a little push. We chat about what we’re up to, where we’re from. He’s a nice guy. I am a bit sad we didn't get to hang out earlier. Everyone seems to be having luck with their surf today. The atmosphere is amazing and I am having so much fun I never want to go back home. “So where are you off to next?” Chris asks. “Fiji…” I say while a wave hits me right in the face. He laughs and says “Gonna go surf cloudbreak?*” “I wasn't planning on killing myself THAT soon” I reply and jump on the next wave rolling in. Chris turns around to me in the distance and shouts “Two more waves, then we’re off.” Nooooo!!! The pressure is on. I want my last wave to be a good one. Attempt number one fails, I get on the wave but it’s not powerful enough. I get out a bit further for attempt number two: a big and beautiful wave. I paddle so hard, manage to get up super quick and ride it all the way back to shore, high-fiving Chris and Susan, a girl who had been out with us all week, whilst still standing on my board. That’s definitely been the best wave I had all week! I couldn't be happier. Carrying my board back to the rental place, Oli, another surf instructor, turns around to me and says “Jeez, you were killing out there today!” I smile. You know what? I kinda was. We get changed and jump back into the van to the lodge. Engi sees me handling all my luggage. “Fuck, Leah, you’re off? Where to?” We have a quick chat. I really don't want to go. A 15min break at the lodge and I am on another van with Chris, Engi, another German dude and a French guy back to town to catch my bus back to Hamilton and from Hamilton back to Auckland. I jump out at the library. “Have fun in Fiji, Leah! Was nice meeting you!” I wave goodbye. I am sad. Raglan, it’s been real.
*Cloudbreak is a famous reef break in Fiji and should not be surfed by anyone but experts
My bus which was supposed to bring me back to boring Auckland is over an hour late and I get back to the city around 10pm. I check-in to my hostel, take a shower and go straight to bed. My alarm clock is set for 6am. I am headed to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves which is actually super close to Hamilton, however, I couldn't find a decently priced tour from there. The three-hour bus ride passes by in a heartbeat and I spent most of the time snoozing. The glow caves are definitely something special.
Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures in there but it’s really freaking dark anyways so unless you have a good DSRL and lens with you, you won’t be able to take good pictures anyways. Sitting in a tiny boat we glide through the dark being surrounded by glow worms. It’s like looking at a sky full of stars but the sky is really freaking close to you and they stars all look the same. Glow worms glow in order to attract other insects. Insects think the light will get them out of the dark but instead they get eaten. Bummer...