Some back story here,
The last time I was here in New Zealand was back in October of 2014, but had recently began to log my adventures online when I returned in February of this year. I had my first serious case of wanderlust when my friends had planned a hitchhiking trip to follow the cherry blossoms throughout Japan. I was inspired and determined to travel on my own; so I brainstormed all the places I could start, and ended up choosing New Zealand, I love the outdoors, so this place was meant to happen. I had managed to grab three weeks holiday off of work and left October 24 2014. Most of my photos from the first part of my trip can be found via my Instagram. My itinerary involved mostly the north island and a bit of the northern territory of the south island:
- Nelson/ Golden Bay
I had arrived in Auckland at 5:25 in the morning. Sleepless and jet lagged, I booked an airbus from AKL to my first hostel in Mt. Eden Village, Oaklands Lodge; a 30 minutes drive from the airport. The hostel is tucked away in a cul de sac at the foot of Mt. Eden. The area itself is very suburban with lots of shops within walking distance from the hostel, just along Mt. Eden Road. Public transportation is fairly easy to use, you’ll sometimes need to know your destination number, as the bus pay system works in “zones” to determine what your fare will be. Aside from that, Auckland’s public transportation is incredibly efficient, from Mt. Eden Road into CBD, is about 25 minutes using the No. 277 bus to Britomart, the fare costs about $2.00. It was in Auckland where I did my first (but not last) bungee jump; a 40 metres jump right off the bridge that crosses over the harbor.
Fast Forward to my departure from Auckland and to my next destination, Paihia, Bay of Islands.
Bay of Islands, its name implies exactly what you think of it and Paihia is full of coves and beaches for you to explore. The drive was pretty incredible as the landscape was dense with evergreens and ferns; it was like being back home in the Bay Area when we would visit the Marin Headlands or explore Muir Woods. I arrived in Paihia the same evening from my departure from Auckland. I looked around for a hostel along Kings Road and came upon Mousetrap Backpackers; it was here where I had made friends with two Germans, Michael and Laura, both of whom I’d be meeting again later down the road. Kings Road is where most (if not all) hostels are situated; 70 meters from the beach, this spot is prime location to rest yourself. In Paihia resides the treaty grounds where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. Across the the treaty grounds begins the trail to Haruru Falls, the track itself takes only about 3-4 hours return. This beautiful track takes you across the Waitangi River, along a boardwalk that meanders through the mangrove, through lush forestry and abundant wildlife, and eventually the falls themselves. Mousetrap also books tours up to Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach, the northernmost point of Northland.
From Paihia, it was on to Rotorua.
I didn’t know much about Rotorua when I arrived other than the famous free natural hot springs pools and I’m sure I missed out on a lot. From here you can book a tour to the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata, a rural township northwest of Rotorua. I had only spent two days there, and had heard that you can rent mountain bikes and go through trails throughout the redwood forests there, a possible revisit is in store.
From Rotorua on to Taupo (a personal favorite in all of north island)
Where can I even begin about Taupo? It’s a trap! and when I mention, “trap” I mean it in all ways endearing. I had previously mentioned to both my German friends from Paihia that I would be headed to Taupo after Rotorua. Soon enough we all met up again, along with other travelers Michael and Laura had met along the way to Taupo. It was great meeting them again and made staying in Taupo that much better, but I digress. This place is amazing, it’s the perfect outdoor playground for people like myself who love being outside (I compare Wanaka to Taupo in terms of numerous outdoor activities at your disposal). In terms of accommodation, I (unabashedly) recommend any backpacker to stay at The Rainbow Lodge, their facilities are maintained very well, staff are super friendly and helpful, and their location into town is only a 5 minute walk. The Rainbow Lodge offers free pickup/drop off at the bus stop. The lodge also books reservations for the Tongariro Crossing and whitewater rafting, both of which are incredible fun and worth investing time and money. If you’re keen, you’ll walk along down Spa rd. behind the lodge, after about 15 minutes walk overlooking the Waikato river, you’ll come to the park where the hot springs feeds into the river. Imagine completing the Tongariro Crossing and heading there right after to relax your sore feet, because that’s what we did, it was amazing. The next day, still glowing from the alpine trek, a few travelers and I went whitewater rafting. Taupo had left such an impact on my intention to return to New Zealand, that it pretty much solidified itself in my future plans.
From beautiful Taupo to ‘Windy Welly’ Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city.
After spending three days in Taupo, I booked a bus all the way (8 hours) to Wellington to meet up with with my Couchsurfing hosts, Bob and his partner Paul; both reside in a quirky house overlooking Wellington’s harbor. Due to its location close to the mouth of the narrow Cook Strait, Wellington is vulnerable to rather strong southerly winds, leading to the city’s nickname, “Windy Wellington.”
Having arrived rather late in the evening, there wasn’t much for me to do other than aimlessly wander about this new, foreign city. The next day, Bob had taken me around showing me most of the sights, Te Papa Museum, the Botanical Gardens “Wellywood”, Cuba Street, just to name a few. Though we traveled Wellington by car, the Tranz Metro is an easy 20 minute ride from the Petone train station into the city. I would recommend anyone to visit, i’d like to go back and say hello again as I travel northward. I spent my last few days in Wellington hiking around the hills behind Bob’s place. Next day, I hopped on the Interisland Ferry en route to the south island.
Wellington to Nelson via Picton.
The ferry ride across the strait was about two hours, enough time for me to grab some food and get some sleep. I awoke to the sounds of children squealing excitedly while scurrying about the floor, good thing too. I looked out the window to see that we were approaching in the Picton harbor. We passed by small, uninhabitable islands that sheltered the harbor entrance as we came to the dock, the color of the water was a surreal turquoise blue color; this was something out of a video game. Yet again, I hopped on a bus that I had reserved and headed into the town of Nelson.
Nelson, sunny Nelson. Even in November Nelson retains a warm, dry temperature; it’s very much like certain parts of Northern California in terms of temperate weather. I had arrived at the i-site midday and set off to find myself some accommodation. I had read in the hostel guide that Paradiso would be worth staying, the guide didn’t lie. This had to be one of the better hostels I’ve stayed at. Here they provide you with unlimited wifi access (read: not having to buy internet), and free food (soup and bread); to me this was the ultimate hostel experience. In the back of my mind I knew my trip was coming to an end. I had to make the most of my visit in Nelson and Golden Bay, so I rented a car. This would be the first time in my life that I would be sitting, as driver, on the right side of a car, on the left side of the road, that was an interesting first time.
Now that I had my own means of transport, I had all of Golden Bay to explore. I had met another German tramper at Paradiso and we both ended up traveling together for a stint. He had come from Golden Bay and was more than enthusiastic to go back; our main stop, the Farewell Spit. We made our way up to Takaka from Nelson, stopping at all sorts of off-beat and local spots, some of which you’d never expect to see as you drive by. Continuing on through Nelson we stopped by a few more attractions like the Rawhiti Caves (pronounced “rah-fee-tee”), the Wainui Falls track, and the PuPu Springs. The challenge about driving to Golden Bay is the notorious Takaka Hill. This drive has innumerable twists and sometimes hairpin turns. It isn’t scary per se, but it is a rather challenging, steep, and winding road (for those who get carsick, be wary). But aside from the challenging drive, the views are incredible on the way up, the peak, and the drive down. While in Takaka, we did a bit of freedom camping along the Takaka River; setting up a campsite on the bank, making a fire, and cooking our dinner as the sun set behind the mountains. At times a few campervans would stay the night and we’d all sit around the fire, recalling stories of all our travels around the world, all the while stars illuminated the southern night sky. I had only seen the Milky Way in photographs before I came to New Zealand; never have I seen the Milky Way in such resplendence. The next day, we head back to Nelson and we part ways.
November comes around and as my departure date slowly creeps up on me, I realize I made a HUGE mistake of booking my outbound flight out of Auckland. Realizing my stupidity, I booked a flight from Nelson airport to Auckland for about $200 NZD, an unnecessary expenditure that easily could’ve been avoided with more planning. Arriving in Auckland again, still thinking I could easily grab a hostel bed as I did in October, I walked into the closest hostel only to find that all beds had been booked. Disheartened, I called all the hostels in Mt. Eden only to find that all of them are fully booked (*SHIT!!!*), my flight was in two days. I turned to any motels that had any openings, as a last resort (pun not intended), and within a few phone calls I had found some availability within walking distance of where I was. This was a bit of a blessing in disguise, it was enjoyable having a private room, clean bathroom, and unlimited Wi-Fi all to myself for two days, I couldn’t complain. After a refreshing two days, I head to AKL for my flight back home. I had toyed with the idea of coming back and had every reason to, so I wrote down a few important deadlines and marked them in my calendar, it was settled.
Upon arriving back home in California, the first thing I mention to my parents is that I’m resigning from my job at UCSF, not quite the greeting they expected. Within a few months of working, I saved up the last bits of my paychecks, bought a one way ticket back to NZ, donated most, if not all my clothes and belongings, moved out of my flat in the Sunset, and came back. Now, I’m sitting here in the Matterhorn South Hostel in Wanaka writing this entry all in retrospect. Some asked why I would give up having ‘it all’ in the city, I simply responded with, “I wanted a change in my life.” I yearned for a change that would strip me of my comfort zone, that would shape me into a being that my peers, teachers, and professors could only speak of, and sought change that would inherently shift how I perceive myself and the world around me. The voice of change was louder than ever. I listened to my gut, and stuck with the plan that I had laid out 3 months ago, I can never regret that decision.
TL;DR: First time ever in New Zealand, had a blast; so much that I went home, quit my job, and came back.