Flying solo

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Kia Ora once again! Well it has been two weeks since my mom flew home and I still haven’t finished my first book. Partially because I am the world’s slowest reader, but mostly because I am busy checking off my list of places to go. (Though it is a great book and you should read it too. “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed is an auto-biography about a woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail by herself from the Mohave Desert all the way to Washington State. It is an amazing story and is also great for putting my very short-lived pleasure trip in perspective. If I feel like my bag is too heavy and don’t want to walk 1 km to the hostel where I can take a hot shower I just think about this woman hiking 17 miles a day with a backpack so heavy she has to lie down to put it on, roll onto all fours and then preferably prop it up against something while attempting to stand upright. So basically, traveling solo has been a little tricky sometimes but mostly a real treat.) And so far, on several occasions, I have had the great fortune of wonderful people welcoming me into their homes, allowing me to do laundry and use the Internet. The backpackers dream! It was so relaxing to sleep in, take someone’s dog for a walk down the beach and check out the more suburban areas in and around Auckland.

My first venture away from Auckland-homebase was on a Stray Bus tour to the Northern tip of the North Island. Paihia, Bay of Islands, Cape Reinga and 90 mile Beach. Ironically I am the oldest person on this tour at the ripe old age of 28. It seems that in hostel land people are either 18-25ish or 40+….mostly. I am in this odd middle ground: one foot in both the “young” drinking games and hot tubing group; one foot in the “old” does not show swimsuit areas in public and will not eat Mr. Noodle all day because I have had a career type job and am thus unwilling to eat poorly group. (And thankfully don’t have to…yet.) Either way, Stray is a fantastic tour company and I would like to do another one soon. Their slogan is “off the beaten track” and they do not disappoint! On our way to Paihia we stopped at the only place in New Zealand where you can actually touch a kiwi bird, so cool! The nicest man in the world works at this bird sanctuary and if you show up at the right time, you can pet Sparky the one-legged kiwi.

From here it was on to Paihia and progressively louder card games with new friends. One brutal headache later and we are watching the Tasman Sea crash into the Pacific Ocean at Cape Reinga. It is here, the Maori people believe, where spirits enter the afterworld and I don’t doubt it. The energy is infinite and electric as the bodies of water blend together. Before we call it a day, we are off to throw ourselves down sand dunes 40 metres high on sand boards. This was by far the best tobogan ride I have ever had! Face first, bikini clad, sand in mouth tobogganing. And, because we are in a bus with giant wheels and surface area, we drive along 90 Mile Beach while the tide is out. Our bus driver explained that this is key as people will often drive along the ocean in smaller vehicles, stop for photos, and then get hopelessly stranded as their cars sink into the quick-sand beach beneath them. With no cell phone reception and no one around for literally miles, I would be terrified! To make it worse, he informed us of the posted sign at the entrance of the beach stating very clearly that driving along it is dangerous and not encouraged. Thus, if you do get stuck, insurance won’t cover any damages or lost property i.e. an entire van. Just to prove his point, we round a bend and see a van hopelessly stuck in quick-sandy sand. Idiots! he complains repeatedly as he helps them pull their van free. Clickity click! our cameras refrain as 50 tourists take photos of their misfortune. Ha ha ha. But I would take embarrassment over dehydration and peeing my pants out of fear any day. Last thing to be done before we return to Auckland-homebase and my second batch of generous hosts is swim with the dolphins! Well, almost. The weather was dodgy and the dolphins were swimming relentlessly without pausing for breath (consciously because they are the neatest), so we didn’t make it into the water. They were so beautiful though, just to see them in the wild was enough. Bucket list #452 checked off.

About the only thing I am not enjoying is having to depend on buses to get me from A to B. I am tired of feeling nauseated all the time as the bus (without a washroom) zigs and zags along rural roads. I am tired of not eating hours before a trip to try to avoid motion sickness, but then getting sick anyway and feeling hungry too. I don’t know why I get motion sick so easily in cars and boats but don’t on roller coasters and jet boat rides, but I always do and it is always awful. Especially when I have to pee on top of everything as those who have traveled with me know all too well…my bladder is a tea cup. A doll’s tea cup, for a smaller doll…who is the size of an ant. I can’t see any way around this issue though, so I will just have to muster through. It will be a real triumph of the will story one day, starring Dame Judy Dench and Matthew Perry. It will be called “Road Warrior” and it will be the underdog story of the year. At least before I get sick and close my eyes, I do appreciate the beauty that goes hand in hand with windy country roads.

Hope you are all going well! X

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Sweet as Lez & Hetha

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Kia Ora! Well here it is, my first blog post from New Zealand! It’s been over three weeks already and trying to absorb all the beauty of this remote little country has been quite a task. I had no idea that each region is so unique…or that there were so many to see. I will try to capture it the best that I can but will probably use words like stunning! lush! and amazing! a lot. First world problems.

PART ONE: It’s just over there Subtitle: Just a little bit further…oh I guess we walked 5 kms again.

My mom and arrived in Auckland on October 26th after a truly outstanding plane ride. Real cutlery, menu options and endless wine! What is this magical land and how did I find myself here? One of the many perks of traveling with my mom I suppose. Thanks mama bear! Once our jet lag wore off we set out to explore the city of sails. It definitely lives up to its name! One in four people here own a boat and most of them are found in the Waitemata Harbour. It’s also the largest city in New Zealand with a quartler of the population living amongst 48 dormant volcanos. So lots of things to see and do! Our four days together pre-bus tour consisted of lovely walks around Queen St., many flat whites and five dollar pastries that are actually worth two dollars, and lots of sight seeing. Ferry rides to sleepy beach side suburbs, climbing up volcanos, walkng through The Domain Park (which was a much longer walk than expected. Note: When using Google maps on your phone, make sure you have selected the “walking” option for accurate times. Unless your legs are actually a car.) and checking out the Auckland Museum. We also made our way to an underground aquarium that apparently used to be part of the sewer system. The piping is now see-through and full of sharks, sea turtles and sting rays! Stepping on a conveyor belt will take you through the tube so you are surrounded by ocean creatures on all sides. Neat stuff!

PART TWO: The Grand March Subtitle: Retirees are living the life.

Bet won, I am the youngest person on bus tour by about 30 years. But everyone is absolutely lovely and there to have a great time. From 6am to 9pm. Maybe 10pm, but that would be crazy! The bus zipped around the North Island for four days and we saw so many things! Geothermal activity and rotten egg smell in Rotorua, glow worms in Waitomo Caves, litle Hobbit holes and many many fields of sheep. Peter Jackson probably owns most o f them…We enjoyed a “cultural evening” in a Maori village which was interesting. It was very well done and we walked away with loads of facts and hangi-filled tummies. Since this dinner I have been learning about the Maori culture and it’s integration with the non-Maori population. It sounds like present day friction has been caused by the usual: European settlers trying to take advantage of a situation and assuming their way is better than whoever they come across. It is obviously more complicated, so this tourist will strive to learn more.

PART 3: Mountains, rainforests and coastlines. Oh my! Subtitle: A beautiful secret.

We crossed the Cook Strait on November 4th and arrived in Kaikoura for crayfish and vast stretches of coastline. The view is unadultered as there is basically nothing around for miles. No people, homes, dogs, cars even! Just the occasional tour bus stopped on the side of the road with hoards of Germans, Americans, South East Asians, Canadians and people from the UK taking photos of yet another stunning landscape. 500 photos into the trip and we make it the Southern Alps and Franz Josef glacier. To arrive at the base of the glacier you get to walk through the world’s only alpine rainforest. It’s just so darn surreal! And then of course there’s lakes, Keas and other rare birds, jade, limestone, etcetera and then some. Yawnsville really. The first real city we get to is Queenstown which was my favourite city of the trip so far, and I think my Mom’s too. It’s like Canmore on steroids with an 83km lake thrown in. From here we shot around on a jet boat, made a trip to Milford Sound and drank and ate with our lovely newfound bus pals. Milford Sound is the most amazing place I have ever been and I doubt if I will ever get that close to Antartica again. I don’t even know what else to say about it, the fiords are just endless and massive and, and, and. I can’t wait to go back with Curtis! Before we know it, Mom and I are back on a plane to Auckland. It was so hard to see her go back home. We had a wonderful time together as mom and daughter and as friends. It’s a good thing there is Skype!

Next up: I toodle about New Zealand solo with a backpack, food satchel and enormous camera.