Travel Tales #8: Dolphins & Premieres

 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.

Bay of Islands and Auckland, New Zealand, March 2006

Whilst in the Bay of Islands, I decided to use my leaving present from my job in London, which was an experience voucher, and I chose to book a dolphin watching trip.  I am certainly not a natural on the water, but the prospect of seeing wild dolphins was too big an opportunity to miss, so armed with my trusty travel sickness tablets I joined a small boat one afternoon with about 12 others and we set out to find a pod.

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Beautiful Bay of Islands scenery

For the first couple of hours we didn’t see anything apart from the stunning scenery, but then we heard news from another boat that a pod had been spotted, so we sped off to find them.  When we did, I was surprised to see so many – there were about 30 dolphins bobbing up and down in the waves, swimming back and forth under the boat as we hung over the rails on deck, and sometimes jumping right out of the water.  There were some babies in the pod so we weren’t allowed to get in the water with them, since they have to suckle frequently and people getting in can upset this rhythm.  I thought I would be disappointed that we couldn’t swim with them, but they were so much bigger than I anticipated, and there were so many of them, that the prospect was rather daunting.  We spent a good hour hanging out with our new dolphin pals, taking photos and watching them play.  It was an incredible experience, and as the boat buzzed back to the shore, I reflected on how lucky I was to have had the experience.

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About as close as you can get to dolphins without getting in the water

Later that night, my last one in Paihia, a few of us from the hostel found a beach café and sat outside chatting and watching the reflection of the moon bouncing off the waves.  It was so peaceful and serene, and I felt very grateful for my brilliant trip to the north of the North Island.

I arrived back in Auckland to warm and humid weather where I stayed with Coley and AD for a few days (again).  They were such superstars for putting me up/putting up with me so much in that early part of my NZ trip.  It felt like a proper home from home, experiencing day-to-day Kiwi life, meeting their lovely friends, watching the Home & Away Sunday omnibus, and having plenty of late-summer barbies.  Whilst in Auckland, I booked a hop on/off ticket on the Magic Travellers bus that covered the whole of New Zealand.  Considering most of the travellers I had got friendly with in Paihia were travelling on the Magic bus, I figured it was the right choice for me.

I did experience a few homesickness ‘wobbles’ during my time in Paihia where I really realised I was on my own, especially when feeling shy about approaching new people.  But home was only ever a text message away, and the family and friends that I contacted were a great comfort, plus they told me it was grey and miserable back home so there was really no point in returning!

On my last night in Auckland, Coley, Carolyn and I went to a film premiere that Coley had won tickets to, which was a comedy centring around four Samoan men in inner-city Auckland called ‘Sione’s Wedding’ (marketed outside New Zealand as ‘Samoan Wedding’), which was great fun, and there was a Q&A with one of the main actors before the film, which was an unexpected bonus.

For all the fun I had had, it was now finally time to leave the comfort and security of my friends in Auckland for the last time, and head off to explore the rest of New Zealand on my own.
Links to previous Travel Tales
#1: Nerves
#2: Departure
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets
#5: Sunshine & hostels
#6: Fun & feijoa flavoured vodka
#7: Bays, bravery & the meeting of oceans

Travel Tales #6: Fun & Feijoa Flavoured Vodka

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

My last weekend in Auckland was A LOT of fun! Nicole and I decided to hit the town on the Friday evening, starting off in Soul Bar which was situated right on the harbour, and we had a lovely time drinking some amazing NZ sauvignon blanc and eating fresh salt and pepper calamari whilst looking out on the boats and the water glistening in the sun. We were joined there by Nicole’s friend Carolyn and her husband Guy, and with them ventured on to ‘Minus 5’, an ice bar where we donned big, fur lined coats, gloves and fluffy boots to keep warm whilst we drank out of glasses made of ice, served from a bar made of ice, as we admired the ice sculptures (you get the idea!).  When we came out we were a bit giggly, and the woman who took our coats back said it was because the oxygen levels were so low in there, but we figured it might have been down to the amount of alcohol we had consumed!

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Nicole and I enjoying cocktails in our ice glasses in ‘Minus 5’

Guy left us after the ice bar and the three of us decided to go on to a club, so we managed to hail a Jafa Cab – were red rickshaws that took you all over the city for free…we ended up at a club called ‘Boogie Wonderland’ which, as the name suggests, played retro music.  The dancefloor was made up of squares that lit up in different colours, and plenty of people were dressed up in flares and afros to team with the retro theme…very groovy!  Nicole introduced me to feijoa flavoured vodka (which when she described it sounds much like a gooseberry) that we drank with apple juice.  It was a great night spent on the dancefloor, and we all felt a little worse for wear the following morning!

On the Sunday we went to see the rugby – NZ Warriors vs. Melbourne Storm – at the Ericsson Stadium.  As Nicole worked for Vodafone who sponsored the Warriors we got free tickets. Unfortunately, they lost 22-16, but it was a great atmosphere and I really enjoyed the experience of going to a game.

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A sunny game of NZ rugby

After my fun-filled weekend in Auckland I commenced my next trip up to the very north of the North Island, to the beautiful Bay of Islands. I booked a ‘3 Day Adventure’ trip through a travel agency in the city but wanted to stay in the area a bit longer so added on a couple of extra nights’ accommodation.  As the bus was picking me up very early the next morning I decided to stay in the city the night before rather than at Nicole’s.  As she dropped me off at the hostel it felt very much like leaving home again and I felt rather wobbly on my own, but I didn’t have much choice other than to get on with it.  I stayed in the Auckland Central Backpackers, which was a nice enough place with a great looking bar called and restaurant.  I wasn’t feeling quite brave enough to go in on my own so I retired to my bunk and tried to relax and get an early night, which proved rather difficult in a room full of strangers who were coming and going.  However, I figured this was something I was just going to have to get used to over the coming year!
Links to previous Travel Tales
#1: Nerves
#2: Departure
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets
#5: Sunshine & hostels

Travel Tales #5: Sunshine and hostels

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.

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Oneroa, Waiheke Island

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!

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View of Auckland from Devonport

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
#1: Nerves
#2: Departure
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets