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.
Paihia, New Zealand, March 2006
The Kiwi Experience bus picked me and some others up from the hostel at 7.15am for our trip to the Bay of Islands and our driver (‘Gibbo’), kept us very entertained on the long journey there. I had my doubts about using Kiwi Experience as it had a bit of a reputation for being a ‘party bus’ full of teenagers who, let’s just say, weren’t looking for quite the same cultural experience as I was. I probably was one of the older travellers at the ripe old age of 26, but I didn’t really notice. Although the drive was long, the scenery was so amazing that I was happily distracted for the journey…we passed through beautiful Doubtless Bay, past fields and fields of farmland, green terraced hills, volcanoes and along windy roads with sheer drops on one side and fantastic lush, green landscapes on the other.
The bus finally arrived in Paihia, the main town in the Bay of Islands, and dropped us all off at our hostels. I stayed at ‘Pipi Patch’ for four nights, which I found to be very modern with dorms that were more like little holiday chalets, with only four bunks in each, a bathroom and small kitchen (such luxury!). There was a nice holiday atmosphere about the place, a bar and a spa pool. They also did a barbie every night for $10 which included plenty of food and a beer, so I was sold!
On my first afternoon in Paihia, I walked along to Waitangi to have a look around the treaty grounds that I had read about in my trusty Lonely Planet. This was the place that in 1840 that a treaty had been signed with the Maori chiefs on behalf of the British government, an agreement between two peoples to live and work together in one nation. It is still as relevant today as it guarantees the rights of both Maori and non-Maori citizens in Aoetaroa (the Maori name for NZ) – as you can tell, I was paying attention at the visitors centre! It was interesting to walk around the traditionally decorated Maori meeting house (Te Whare Runanga), with the flagpole marking the spot at which the treaty was signed.
Arriving back to the hostel, I felt a bit unsettled as I was sharing a dorm with three guys and couldn’t seem to get a conversation going with them. So I decided to be very brave and took myself off to the bar. It took all my confidence to ask two girls if I could sit with them…but on joining them I discovered that they didn’t speak English, so I found myself feeling pretty hopeless. But just when I was about to give up and return despondently to my dorm, a bunch of English-speaking people who had buddied up noticed me and invited me to join them (the relief!). They turned out to be absolutely lovely and included a couple called Tim and Anne from Canada, who really took me under their wing and made feel at ease, and an English girl called Georgina. They helpfully told me about the other bus companies that traverse NZ, Magic and Stray, which were geared towards travellers of all ages, rather than the younger travellers of Kiwi Experience. After a few drinks we were firm friends, swapped email addresses and promised to keep in touch. I am so grateful to them for asking me to join them that night.
The following day was another early start as I was booked on a day trip to Cape Reinga – the northernmost point of New Zealand. I went with ‘Awesome Adventures NZ’, and our bus driver (‘Orto’) was quite the character…his cackling laugh stayed with me for weeks afterwards! He kept making jokes about his medication wearing off and drove the huge, yellow bus like he was a rally driver, which was pretty hairy at times, but it at least got us passengers talking as we exchanged worried looks with each other! Orto treated the bus to many tales throughout the course of the day, and also plenty of traditional Maori music mixed in with some Fat Freddy’s Drop (a popular Kiwi band), played at the highest volume!
It’s a four hour journey up to the Cape so there were stops along the way to break it up. One of which was a quick walk around the Puketi Kauri forest where we saw enormous kauri trees, some of them 1,000 years old and big enough that you can fit 13 people around them holding hands.
Arriving in Cape Reina mid-morning, we walked down to see a sight that I was really looking forward to …it is one of only a few places in the world where you can see two oceans meeting – the Tasman and the Pacific – and I wasn’t disappointed. After a walk down to the lighthouse that marks the end of the land, just beyond you can clearly see two tides racing towards each other and the waves meeting and crashing and rolling each other. I felt so privileged to see it, it really was breathtaking. Cape Reinga is a spiritual and sacred place – according to the Maoris it is where those who have departed life on earth enter the ‘under world’, and their spirits travel up through the Cape and out into the ocean.
After the Cape, we stopped off at a lovely deserted beach for some lunch and a paddle and then moved on to the sand dunes for a go at sandboarding…I was expecting little dunes with people gliding down on a boogie board – but no, these dunes were enormous monsters, and people seemed to be whizzing down them on these little boards on their fronts at about 100mph! I almost backed out but had a word with myself, and after a steep and precarious half an hour climb I was soon whizzing down the side of a golden sand dune on my front with only my feet for brakes and a mouthful of sand! It turned out to be great fun and was over with far too quickly.
We then went on to 90 Mile Beach which, as the name suggests, is an exceedingly long beach (actually ‘only’ about 60 miles) that was completely deserted apart from a couple of other bus tours. It was stunning, with huge rolling waves and nothing but sand and sea as far as the eye could see. Orto stopped the bus at the top so we could go digging for shellfish, which were sitting there just under the surface of the sand so were pretty easy to find. Some people cracked the shells open and ate them raw, but I had been brave enough for one day with the sandboarding, so I politely declined! We hopped back onto the bus and Orto took us thundering down the length of the beach, sometimes going in and out of the waves that splashed up the sides. He assured us that he hadn’t sunk a bus…yet! We finished off the trip with fish and chips (‘fush and chups’ as the Kiwis say) looking out over the water, and on my return to the hostel I finished up the night with my newfound friends at The Lighthouse, the only nightclub in Paihia, until 3.30am! You could say that I fully embraced the backpacker lifestyle on this trip!
Links to previous Travel Tales
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets
#5: Sunshine & hostels
#6: Fun & feijoa flavoured vodka