I am writing up my gap year travels from 2006-2007 so that I can self-publish a book to pass on to my niece and nephews. I hope they will read about my adventures and be inspired to explore themselves…and I hope you enjoy my travel tales.
Auckland, New Zealand, March 2006
I couldn’t quite believe that I had made it to the other side of the world on my own when I touched down at Auckland Airport on Saturday afternoon. My friend Nicole, a beautiful Kiwi girl I worked with in London during her own overseas experience, met me at the airport and it was so lovely to see a familiar face. She lived with her boyfriend, AD, in Pakuranga, and when we returned to theirs we opened some wine and made the most of a late summer’s evening, drinking and chatting on their deck whilst he cooked up a storm on the barbie. Having not slept on the long flight from Hong Kong, it was an early night followed by a lazy Sunday doing a bit of shopping and recovering from my jetlag, and that evening we watched a Maori film called ‘Once Were Warriors’ which was rather gritty…At the end my reaction was ‘blimey!’ which Nicole and AD found highly amusing…I think my English-isms were a constant source of entertainment to them.
The following day I braved the bus and went into the city to meet Nicole on her lunch break at work. On the way, I received a text message letting me know that a close friend back home had given birth to her first baby…realising that if I lasted the year he would be one by the time I met him suddenly made me feel very far from home and quite emotional.
I hung out for the next couple of days exploring the city and Pakuranga, and spent time with Nicole, AD and their friends in the evenings. By mid-week I had regained some energy, and set off on my first solo trip (and first stay in a hostel) to Waiheke Island. Waiheke is a 35 minute ferry ride from the city and had it’s own subtropical micro-climate according to my Lonely Planet guide. On the way there the ferry passed by Rangitoto, a seemingly innocent looking low mountain, which is actually a volcano – one of many active and inactive ones area, which I tried not to think about too much! Once off the ferry, I hopped on a bus to my hostel, Hekerua Lodge, but unfortunately the bus driver forgot to shout out when I needed to get off so I ended up getting a bit lost finding my way back…Hekerua Lodge is described as a retreat set in the middle of the bush, so it isn’t visible from the road (making it quite hard to find when you’re lost!), but when I eventually located it I found it to be a nice place, clean and had the added bonus of a spa and pool. However, the people staying there at the time weren’t overly friendly. A lot of them were long-termers who were working there so it was hard to get talking to anyone. I was sharing a four-bed dorm with two other girls, one of whom was Kirsteen from Germany who had just completed a four-week language school to improve her English and was travelling for a couple of months before returning home. Back then, I wasn’t one to naturally or easily strike up a conversation with strangers, so it was a good chance for me to work on this skill!
Whilst in Waiheke I explored the nearest beach to the hostel, Little Oneroa, and sat soaking up the sun which, having not long left the English winter behind, was a welcome tonic. I had a walk around the town of Oneroa in the afternoon, and returned to the hostel for my first dinner as a backpacker – a tin of spaghetti and meatballs! Dinner was neither tasty nor nutritious, so I resolved to get better at shopping whilst on the move. Feeling a little braver, I got talking to some people at the hostel in the evening, an older gentleman who was a keen hiker and had done some of the ‘big walks’ in New Zealand, some taking nearly a week, and a widowed lady who had decided to backpack on her week away. They both gave me their tips on what to see and do in New Zealand, which I was appreciative of. It was really strange staying in a hostel for the first time. I had shared a flat with a friend, as well as done a house share with three others in London, but I hadn’t shared a room with strangers before. There were many times on that first trip that I was tempted to just get the ferry back to Nicole’s where I felt comfortable and safe, but I was proud of myself for sticking it out, even if it was just the one night! I also found it strange being out and about on my own during the day. I enjoyed making my own decisions about what I wanted to do, but I missed having someone to chat to or just get excited about where we were and what we were doing. I later decided to make notes of what I had done each day so that I could at least share my experiences after they had happened with friends and family via my travel blog. And I’m glad that I did as they later became what you are reading now, which is wonderful to look back on.
On the way back to Auckland the following day I stopped off on the ferry at a place called Devonport which provided great panoramic views across the water to the city. Devonport was a lovely small town with Victorian-style buildings, a wide main road and lots of lovely cafes. I sampled my first piece of Kiwi-style quiche in Devonport, a delightfully tasty and large chunk deep-filled with feta and spinach. The Kiwis know how to quiche!
When I arrived back in Auckland I had some spare time before meeting Nicole after she finished work, so I took myself off to the Auckland City Art Gallery, which was fantastic (and free), and spent a lovely hour exploring paintings of Maori leaders and culture. I have always felt at home in art galleries, so it really helped to calm my mind. Back at Nicole’s before I started to plan my next trip to the Bay of Islands, but as it had now rolled around to the weekend again, Nicole was determined to show me a good time in Auckland before I left…!
Links to previous Travel Tales
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets