View my New Zealand Travel Photography
When I arrived in New Zealand – I had no plan…very unlike me – but I was hoping for some magic I guess. The good news is that I found it – The Magic Bus! No – I wasn’t eating shrooms nor is this some cousin to Scooby Doo and the Mystery Van.
The Magic Bus is a hop on/hop off bus company in New Zealand that I had heard about. I did some research online and then went to their offices in Auckland. There I was able to arrange my whole trip through New Zealand hitting the highlights that I wanted to hit, traveling around with other backpackers, and having some flexibility at the same time. I bought the north/south pass and was off!
Photo: Magic Bus looking out over Auckland – my home on wheels!
Our driver’s name was Rangy – a big Maori-Kiwi guy that certainly knew how to maneuver a bus with ease. We all introduced ourselves and said where we were from when we left Auckland. This is a process that I’ve now grown quite used to – this name, rank, and serial number process. I determined that I need to come up with something more interesting instead of “I’m Sherry from America – New York City”. Maybe something like “I’m Sherry and I’m from a blue state in the US, I like ice cream, the color pink, sunsets, rainy days, and fizzy drinks” – or maybe I could just use my old match.com profile or something. Anyway – after about 10 minutes the bus driver called out for me “where’s that girl from NY, come up front”. I thought I may be in trouble for being to old to be on this bus or something – but instead he simply wanted to talk to me about what it was like living NYC and ask general questions about 9/11. This also tends to be a common question I get a lot – everyone wants to know about 9/11 and being a New Yorker. We chatted for a while – he had one eye on the road and one on me…made me a little nervous – but he was completely in control…I guess.
Day 1 – Auckland to Rotorua – it’s only a fuzzy little bunny…
We left Auckland and headed for Waitomo to do one of the first things on my list – see the glow worms. This area is know for it’s caves and glow worms – so I wanted to go check these little club like creatures out…I thought there may be some great techno playing in the caves – but found out that the glowing worms had nothing to do with raves…damn. I along with others on the bus (my new friends from Ireland, England, and Sweden) went on a Black Water Rafting tour. It was already chilly out – so the thought of getting into a cave, tubing in cold water sounded a bit icey…but you only live once – and they do give you sexy looking wet suits to wear. As I slithered into the wetsuit, I tried to not think about the thousands of other peope who had worn the wetsuits, booties, and wellies – but it was hard not to when they kind of smelled. Oh well – they were warm – so I slid into the suit (more like struggled my way into the skin tight rubber), put on the wellies, and dawned my helmet – I was ready to see the worms! We drove out to a field of cows, walked through the field with the cows in our goofy suits, picked up our intertube that would safely fit our ass and then entered the cave – it was rather creepy. Once your eyes adjusted the guides told you about the glow worms – I honestly zoned out during this scientific stuff and zoned back in just in time to learn that the glowing is actually the worm’s feces that glows…now that was interesting. We followed the guides deeper into the cave, turned off our helmet lights and all of a sudden there were millions of glowing worms on the cave walls and ceiling.
No music or sweaty men dancing – just glowing worms….you can’t have it all I guess. We proceeded through the narrow cave tunnels in our tubes through the cold water! We even went backwards down a water fall (albiet a small one that did enough damage to get water up my nose). As we chained together and let the guides lead us in the dark – it was rather creepy not being able to see where you were going – but after about 40 minutes…we saw the light…yeah! Back up we went to the cows…they had no reaction when we popped back up from the ground. We finished it off with a warm shower and some hot soup…yummy! We also stopped at a rabbit shearing farm. Yup – that’s right – you read it right – rabbit shearing. They raise Angora Rabbits (apparently very rare) and they look like a giant cotten ball.
They shear the rabbits every 3 months else they will die from overheating! They tie up the rabbit and shear it – they gave us a demonstration…it was rather disturbing seeing the rabbit spread out and tied up – but apparently PETA was fine with this and the animal was not harmed in any way! We hopped back on the bus and proceeded to Rotorua for our first night’s stop! That night my new friends and I went to a Maori village and dinner. It was a chance to learn about the large Kiwi population (14%) who are from the Maori tribe. If any of you are rugby fans out there – the New Zealand Rugby Team, the All Blacks, do an old Maori tribal dance before their opponents every game. It includes bulging your eyes and sticking out your tongue. Something my brother and I used to do ages ago – maybe we had a little Maori in us!
Day 2 – Rotorua to Taupo – Some Like it Hot…
The North Island is a melting pot…not of people – but literally a melting pot! It was formed from many volcanic eruptions and those volcanos are still alive and kicking…geysers, hot pools, and boiling mud…a spa delight! We stopped at the geothermal park and walked around it’s colorful hot pools for a while. It was quite beautiful …you can judge yourself on the pictures!
Photo: Hot Mud Pool
We then went on to a few adventure activity stops where I decided to watch instead of participate as I had other similiar things planned for the South Island. It was fun to watch other people scream like little girls though! We stayed in Taupo that night. A bunch of people had went skydiving in the afternoon – but since I had already conquered that on my list of ‘things to do before I die’ – I passed and went to look around the town. The town was beautiful – it is situated by a lake that is as big as Singapore (basically very big). I did some grocery shopping so that I could have really cheap and eat PB&J sandwiches on the bus and spend more money on activities instead! That night a bunch of us from the bus went out for Irish food and had a great time telling traveling stories.
Day 3 – Taupo to Wellington – Land of Sheep
Today we took off early for Wellington as we had a longer drive today. We went through some stunning snow capped mountains – apparently they were in Lord of the Rings (or LOTR as the locals call it). Kiwi’s are LOTR’s crazy…it apparently put New Zealand on the map. I of course wouldn’t know as I only saw the first movie and really didn’t follow it very well (I try not to tell many people here this as they give me this amazed/disgusted look). Regardless – the countryside here is beautiful. There were green hills and valleys – dotted with little white sheep and cows! It was so quaint – I made Rangy stop so I could take pictures!
Photo: Sheep on the landscape…this shot was taken out of the speeding bus!
The colors were amazing! We arrived in Wellington (the little known capital of New Zealand) early in the afternoon – it was a really cute, hip little town. I checked into my hostel and went for a run along the waterfront – I felt sane again! It was cold though…in fact -the weather in New Zealand has been quite grey since I’ve arrived here – but I’m trying to forget that and enjoy it anyway!
The Magic Bus keeps you on the move every day which is good and bad. I like seeing the various areas of the country but I don’t get to stay anywhere long enough to get a feel for it. However – I have some active plans for the South Island – so I will be able to stay longer there and get to really know the area (and unpack my bag for more than one night!) This is a journey through New Zealand – but it equally seems to be an inner journey for me.
Getting used to backpacker type travel and a different kind of quality of life for me has had it’s ups and downs. I don’t really know where I fit in anymore. I know where I came from – a life in NYC where I very rarely cared about what I was spending! If I already had 4 pairs of black shoes – there’s still no reason to not get a 5th – you can never have too many! Broadway shows, dinner out every night – anything goes. Now my peers are quite a bit younger than me, I’m staying in dorms bunk beds for $15 a night, eating PB&J sandwiches, being very budget conscience mainly because my traveling peers are (oh yeah – and I don’t have a job). I carry around a loaf of bread on the bus and generally wear the same things most days (whatever is on top of my pack). This is a far cry from my past life!
As I walked around Wellington I felt like I should be out at all of the tourist attractions as I’m only there one night – but intstead I put on my most classy clothes (jeans and black shirt) and went walking around the heart of the city. I watched the locals leave work and commute home, I window shopped, and I found a wine bar to sit at and feel civilized again after sitting in a bus all day. The wine bar was devine – cozy, quaint, filled with locals grabbing a glass after work. I have just spent more on a glass of wine and bruschetta than my lodging – suffice it to say – there are no backpackers here! In fact, when I first walked in I only saw small tables of men – everyone turned and looked at me. My initial instinct was that I just walked into a gay wine bar – but maybe they were staring at my jeans and wind jacket choice of attire. I looked a little closer and did see some women in the bar – so I felt I could stay and have a glass!
The bar was hip, clean, well-designed…crisp. I felt like this is…errr…I mean was…my kind of place! I’m happy that I skipped the touristy cable car up the hill and viewing the museum in exchange for seeing the locals and enjoying a nice glass of wine in a proper wine glass. Yet I doubt my fellow backpackers would agree – especially if they saw my bill! I guess a part of me would rather be a ‘social tourist’ – after living in two huge tourist cities (San Francisco and New York City) I know that it’s not Times Square that makes NY or Fisherman’s Wharf that makes San Francisco – it’s the people, it’s the everyday life, it’s how the locals interact, seeing what they wear and hearing what they talk about.
Wellington really is a lovely town – I enjoyed running/walking around the area. I’m still reconciling where I fit in as I walk back to my hostel and my new group of nomad-like friends. Regardless – I will get on the bus tomorrow again toting my bag of bread and peanut butter, wearing my same fleece and tennis shoes – but I will fit in!
The South Island awaits!!!