My First Week As A Kiwi

October 2008

So, I got off to a pretty rough start on this trip. I flew into Auckland, which is the biggest city IMG_0141in New Zealand and holds almost half of the country’s population. The weather was gray and raining, and all I could see was big buildings. Basically, I just felt really lost, so far from everything I had wanted New Zealand to be. I met a lot of cool people at my first hostel, Auckland Central Backpackers, but I still just did not feel right at all. A few nights ago I got out of there and moved to Mt. Eden, a suburb of Auckland. I have been so much happier at this new hostel, its so much more laid back and I’ve met some awesome people. I ran into Anika, the girl who I met waiting to get on the place in LA, and we have been hanging out a bit. Anika says things to me like “do not carry too much, you have to make babies!” or “you must learn to cook! why would you not want to make your husband happy?!” And I generally respond with any assortment of “pfff” “HA!” or similar.

I also met this incredibly good-looking German guy named Stefan. I just stare at him IMG_0111sometimes because he is so pretty. I hang out with him a lot as well, and might potentially travel some of the North Island with him, as he just bought a jeep. His car is really cool and seems to be in great shape, and he got it for $2000 dollars! That’s really common for travelers to do here its nuts. Oh, and those are New Zealand dollars too, so make that like $1600.

My first night at the new hostel, me, Stefan, and two other German guys walked to the foodmart and bought some wine to drink outside the hostel. We were joined drinking by about 10 other people from all over the world just hanging out together. Once it got dark, IMG_0109me and about 6 German guys (seriously half of Germany is here I think) climbed Mt. Eden, a volcano that has an awesome view of Auckland from the top. It was beautiful at night because the whole city was lit up. I was unreasonably fascinated by all the cows we encountered on the walk, most likely a causa del vino, and I ended up stepping in a huge mound of manure. It was worth it.

I just ran into Max and Hannah, the Germans from the first hostel, and they just bought a camper van and said I could come with them to travel some of the north island. They are both really cool so I’m thinking that may be a better option, as Anika is nice but kind of crazy. I bought a bus pass with straytravel for the south island, so I’m excited for that because they plan a lot of stuff for you and also take you off the beaten path to places a lot of people don’t know about or can’t go bc they don’t have the proper transport. My plan is to spend the next 3 weeks to a month traveling all over New Zealand so that I can get an overview, and then pick a cool city to get a flat and recoup some funds. I know I want to try to work in a ski resort in the winter, but I have a while until then so I’m not sure what kind of job I want in the meantime. We shall see. I might try WWOOFING, its a really cool way to get an authentic kiwi experience and to see another side of the country. My brother just called me today and asked how the accent is down here, and when I thought about it I realized I had only heard a handful of kiwi accents, there are so many world travelers here. It doesn’t bother me though because I’m still surrounded by other cultures.

Tonight some of us at the hostel are going to buy some food and drink and barbeque, and

Hanging out with hostal friends

Hanging out with hostal friends

I invited Max and Hannah to come to our hostel for that too. Should be a good time. I’m more than ready to get out of Auckland, time for some adventures eh?

Hitching the Northland with Germans in a Campervan

October 2008

Ok, so it has been  a while since I have had a much access to the Internet, and as I IMG_0180describe what I’ve been up to I’m sure you will understand why. I have been hitching a ride with Hannah and Max, two Germans I met in my hostel in Auckland, through the Northland. The Northland is basically the top part of the North Island of New Zealand, and it is lush with beautiful coasts, isolated beaches, and sup-tropical weather.

Our first stop was a beach called Piha. I’m trying to upload pictures but it takes hours here with super slow internet so keep checking. Piha was my first chance to slowly exhale and say, wow, this is why I came to New Zealand. I felt trapped in the city atmosphere of Auckland, so it was so great to finallyIMG_0190 get out and explore. There was no room for me to sleep in their campervan though, so at each stop I had to find my own place to stay, which wasn’t easy because a lot of the areas in the Northland are pretty remote and accommodation, especially cheap accommodation, is few and far between. I ended up finding this surf shop/organic farm that had a camper bed for me. I didn’t know what a camperbed was, but soon found out it pretty much meant a hut. There were ants falling from the ceiling by the hundreds and the lady just handed me raid and a rag. I hung out with Hannah and Max at their Holiday Park (aka trailer park, but its in New Zealand so instead of being like ew this is trashy you are like wow this is so cool!) and when I returned at night to my hut, I heard some noise by the surf shop, so I headed towards the twinkle lights. I found the wwoofers sitting in the deck overlooking the ocean eating this huge meal they had all cooked together and having a jam session involving a diggory doo (sp?) a mandolin, bongos, and a guitar. Wwoofing is a really common job for backpackers here where you work on organic farms of various sorts in exchange for food and accommodation and an authentic NZ experience. Some host two people and some host 50 vegetarians spreading “free love”. I walked up and while I had only met the lady who showed me my room, all 20 IMG_0224or so people there were like “Shannon!! come join us! want some food? how’s it going take a seat!” It constantly amazes me how friendly and welcoming people are here. As I said I was determined to make this as much of a growing journey as possible, I ended up in on the jam sesh singing and playing guitar. I need to get over my weird issues with playing for people because all it boils down to is caring too much what other people think. I feel embarrassed thinking I’m not good, but then even if I were to be good then I worry people think I’m showing off. I play because I love music and so if I’m worried about all of that it takes away from it. So moral of the story is I need to get over it.

Anyways, after the jam sesh, I was ready to go to bed and the guys (I didn’t mention this yet but I was now with about 6 ridiculously good looking guys from Germany and America) were like no way, we have to play stump. Stump ended up being the most ridiculously stupid yet awesome game. Basically, we all stood around this giant tree stump, and we each had a nail that was only part way hammered into the stump. You then had to pass the hammer around and when it was your turn you had to flip the hammer in the air, catch it and then try to hit someone else’s nail down all in one smooth motion. Oh, and this is a drinking game too. I wouldn’t try it at home if I were you. The next day I left my new friends, bought a tent and sleeping bag to avoid ant infested huts in the future, and headed to a few more remote and beautiful locations along the east coast of the Northland.

I froze my ass off every night in my cheap tent and sleeping bag, and hardly slept at all IMG_0273during the whole journey, but hey I mean you get the change to hitch in a campervan in NZ you do it right? Hannah and Max were great and we did a lot of beautiful coastal walks (“walk” in NZ would be a hike to any American, but unless you are eating dried food and sleeping in huts on your way to the top of somewhere it may as well be a brisk jaunt here) that would consume pretty much our whole days, but we were on very different travel schedules. They have 7 months to just travel, and I need to start working soon. We parted ways in Russel, a quaint little seaside town, and I headed on to Paihia. Sorry for all the run-ons, I never get internet and its so expensive so I’m racing to get things done on here. Congrats on making it to the end of this. WARNING: the next entry contains debauchery. This is when things start to get good…

Paihia, My First New Zealand Home

October 2008

So after I separated from the germans in Russel, I took a ferry over to the tiny island of Paihia. I planned on staying there for the night, then heading back to auckland to start myIMG_0337 straytravel bus tour. I walked towards my hostel room and about 5 people were standing outside of it who all greeted me with excitement and welcome, and within about 2 minutes I had been invited to dinner. One of the welcome crowd happened to be this kid Gareth from whales whom I had met in Auckland, random. The guys left to go fishing, and came back at night having caught two sharks and a big fish which they cooked up for dinner. Here is the kicker, I ate shark! Anyone who knows me knows how big that is for me. and you know what? I didn’t hate it! It was such a fun dinner, sitting outside with about 7 people eating by candlelight (i think it was actually the guys who lit candles) just enjoying the wonderful beachtown atmosphere. My one night plan ended up in me being in Paihia for about a week, it was just too easy to keep staying.

I met some of the coolest people in Paihia, and it is just one of those places that feels like home really quickly. After about 4 days I felt like a local. Anytime I was sitting outside grabbing a bite to eat people would just walk by and say hi and sit down and then anyone they knew would do the same and by the end of a few days I felt like I knew everyone in town. One day after a rough night of drinking, me, Gareth, and another roomate Al (this crazy hippie dude in his mid 30’s I’d guess with hair down to his butt, permanently stoned looking eyes, and a tendancy to bust out his air decks, hold his ear to hear the music in his head and scratch the imaginary records with his free hand) and I headed towards the beach to grab a drink (the only cure) and ended up meeting a canadian girl and two american guys. One of the guys happened to be from about an hour north of my hometown, which was really weird.

We all decided to go kayaking, so we walked over to the beach, bought some beers, rented some kayaks, and headed out on the gorgeous turqouise waters. Gareth had already been kayaking with a local, and showed us to this remote little island that the Maori (the native New Zealand people) consider sacred. We pulled our kayaks up on shore, did IMG_0289a traditional Maori prayer where you touch foreheads and noses with everyone and headed up a small trail between some trees. After about 5 minutes we emerged  from the trees on this small cliff ledge overlooking the water and surrounding islands. The view was breathtaking. After enjoying the view, smoking, drinking, and soaking in how awesome our lives are, we headed back to our hostel to chill out in the hot tub for a while. Rough day huh? After showering up, we reconvened at a local bar down the street to watch some awesome live music, and drink, obviously. Every night at some point or another we ended up at the Pipi Patch bar, which is the bar attached to the hostel we were staying in, but also just a super fun bar that lots of people from town go to. It is also home to Courtney, my dream man. Australian, tall, tan, hot as hell, with blonde dreads and an affinity for tie-dye. He will also be my co-worker soon, as while I was not looking to stay in Paihia for more than a day, I ended up being offered a job as the new bar tender at the Pipi Patch.

The next day I had booked a bus to head up to Cape Reinga, the very top of New

IMG_0307Zealand. Waking up at 6:30 in the morning sucked, but spending the day stopping at random beautiful beaches, flying face first down mountain-sized sand dunes on a body board, and driving through water on a bus down 90 mile beach (the beach is actually considered a main roadway and you can get speeding tickets) was all well worth it.

The days in Paihia all sort of blend together, but one of the days I went to the beach with a few people, and as seems to happen in that town, more people who knew one person or another gathered until about 25 of us were sitting there, taking in the sun while Eats (a local) strummed his guitar for us and we all just enjoyed each other’s company. The bar manager at the Pipi Patch had joined us as well, and it was then that I finally gave in and said I would stay in Paihia, I mean how could I turn down a summer filled with all the great moments of the previous week? I had wanted to get an overview of the country before taking a job anywhere, but I figured it would be stupid to turn down a good offer just because I hadn’t explored all my options. I start in 3 weeks when I come back from my straytravel tour.

I’m off tomorrow on my bus tour, and that is going to be jammed packed with extreme adventures and stories for sure, but it might be a week or so before I update. Oh, and I lost my camera chord, so it may be a while before I get any pictures up. Bummer I know. Kia Ora!

Action Packed Week

October 2008

As the last week has been pretty action packed, I figured I had to get online and get a blog up because if any more time went by I’d have way too much to write about for one sitting. So, since my last entry I have been traveling down the North Island. I started out in Hahei, near the Coromandel Peninsula, where I stayed with the 20 other people I was traveling with on my stray bus tour. Stray is a company that organizes tours, but not in the tacky IMG_0343tourist way. It is geared towards independent travelers and helps to take you away from the mainstream stuff to see the really unique aspects of New Zealand. When we first got to Hahei, a bunch of us did a really long coastal walk and then chilled at the beach for a while. We then had an awesome barbeque at our holiday park before going to hot water beach that night. Hot water beach is aptly named, as you can bring shovels and dig holes near the edge of where the waves come in to the shore and  steaming hot water swells up from the sand, thereby creating your own personal hot tub on the beach. I would dig super hot holes, and then run into the ocean to get a super cold rush. It was a really IMG_0372cloudy night, so you couldn’t see any stars in the sky and it made the beach really dark and the water look black. Because of the darkness, we could see spawning phytoplankton which look like fireflies shining white. As cheesy as it sounds, the best way to describe it is that it looked like the stars had fallen from the sky, as the water was black and speckled with hundreds of white lights. Sometimes they would even stick to you and you would be glowing yourself. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. I think that part of what made it so awesome was that it was completely unexpected. We didn’t read about it in any guidebook or hear about some tour where you could do what we did, it just happened. We dug our own hot pools in the sand and discovered a starry ocean and no one can market or sell that experience.

The next day we headed to Raglan, home of world famous surfing. I took a surf lesson, and IMG_0394I actually stood more times than not! I think the longest I could stay on was only like 3 seconds though, if that. But apparently just standing was good so I guess it was a success. After the first day of surfing, a group of us went to watch the sunset and drink at this beautiful lookout that seemed to have the effect of an infinity pool into the ocean. Then me, this beautiful french girl Emile, this tall good looking Swedish man named Magnus, and a young German stud named Maximilian navigated our way through the pitch black forest to the flying fox (more or less a zip line) at our hostel. You literally could not even see your feet in front of you, and as I had not seen the zip line earlier in the day, I had no idea where I was going as I carried the line up a hill, stumbling along the way, until I ran into a wooden platform. I jumped up on the platform, grabbed onto the rope, and was terrified as I jumped off, not having any idea where I was flying or if I was about to smack into a tree or fall off a cliff. The risk in doing this was heightened by the fact that this wasn’t a monitored activity, this was just the four of us finding a zip line in the woods and deciding to fling ourselves on it. At the end of the line I swang forward and then it flew me backwards into the woods. It was scary as hell but so much fun. We then headed over to the sports barn, which was basically just an open barn with ping pong tables, surf boards, air hockey, poker tables, etc. We sat around the poker table and took turns teaching each other drinking games from our countries. I taught the group kings, and I’m happy to report it was definitely the best game offered up. Cheers to you, alcoholic youth of america. Needless to say, that night ended in debauchery.

My bus of friends left the next morning, but I decided to stay in Raglan and surf for the nextIMG_0390 few days. Unfortunately, the first day was probably my best surfing day, as the conditions were super intense the next few days and it was a huge struggle to even get out far enough to catch a wave. They also gave me a smaller board (bigger is easier) which I clearly was not ready for because I spent a lot more time falling off. Even though you can hardly call what I was doing on that board surfing, I still had a ton of fun learning and spending the days at the beach. Surfing is addictive, so looks like I’ve got another hobby to add to my ridiculously random list.

After Raglan, I headed to Waitomo, home of famous caving. I decided to go on an extreme caving adventure, and I have a huge gash/burn in my hand to tell the story. I basically spent the day doing the equivalent of canyoning, just underground and in darkness. I abseiled down underground waterfalls, threw myself off small cliffs, crawled through small tunnels you swear you will never make it to the other side of, and rock climbed in the dark. There were 6 of us and 2 guides, who did not hold our hands either. They’d be like OK at the bottom of this waterfall, take the caribener off, crawl through that tunnel, jump off the ledge on your right and then follow the water to a rope and wait there. So then I’d make it to the bottom of the waterfall, have water pounding down into my face and be turning around looking for a possible way to go but seeing none, and then realize that a small little crevice in the rock is my only exit option. I’d then take off on my own, pissing myself, hoping that I was throwing myself into the right tunnel. It’s a wild feeling to be trapped in a cave, 80 meters below the ground, water flowing at you from all directions, with no one and no escape in sight.

After this adventure, I left for Maketu, where I would stay the night in  a Marai. A Marai is a IMG_0413Maori meeting house (the Maori are the native NZ people) where they have community meetings, funerals, church services, etc. I ate with this family of Maoris, then they performed some spiritual dances for me and the other guests. The women then taught me the Poi, the dance of the women to entertain the men. The guys learned the Haka, a sacred dance calling to their ancestors. We then performed with the Maori family, which was an honor and a truly unique experience. That night we slept in the main hall of the Marai, everyone together in one room on the floor. Today I am in Rotorua, home of zorbing (flying down a hill in a giant clear ball) and heavy thermal activity. Perhaps a mud bath tomorrow? A thermal spa? So many options, today I am happy to just relax on my own. And tend to my wound. Ouch.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

November 2008

I would like to start out with saying,  WAY TO GO OBAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I am absolutely elated!!!! IMG_0527Congratulations America! In an effort to keep things moderately chronological, I will come back to election day at the end of this entry.

So, we last left off with me debating thermal spas and mudbaths, and a polynesian spa in IMG_0432Rotorua was the winner. I went with Adam, Sarah, Emma, and Jenny, all of whom are English, and Katerina who is german.  They hopped off the last leg of the stray bus with me as well due to the fact that our new driver was completely obnoxious and I felt like I was at camp or something. Sometimes a good bitch sesh really brings people together.  There were 8 different thermal baths there in total, all of different temperatures and all reaking to various degrees of hard boiled eggs (due to the sulfur). One of them opened up to a beautiful view of lake Rotorua. The only downside was the constant coming and going of Asian men in speedos.

After Rotorua, I headed down to Taupo. A lot of people skydive here because the view of lake Taupo is amazing and its relatively cheap. I really debated it, but as I’ve already been skydiving (I went in Switzerland 2 years ago) I decided I should save my money for other extreme adventures. I can’t wait to hurl myself out of a plane again though.

From Taupo, I started the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. For one reason or another I had it inIMG_0445 my head that this would not be that hard of a hike. I heard a guide say “people die on this track” and yet I just found myself thinking “pfff, sissys.” So on the way to the crossing, I hear this guy on my bus, Rich, talking to the driver about doing an additional summit to the top of volcanic Mount Nguaruhoe. The guide all but begged him not to do it, saying the hike itself takes about 7-8 hours, and the summit is an additional 3 hours, plus its dangerous and only for the most experience hikers. Since you have to get picked at the end of the crossing, which would be 8 hours after drop-off, he would have to be 3 hours ahead of pace to do the summit. We get off the bus, and I hear him telling another guy he’s going to try it. Can anyone guess where this is going? After growing up with two older brothers, I naturally think “if they can do it I can do it too.” Now, realistically I am perfectly well aware that this is not in fact always true, but for one reason or another I found myself starting out with Rich at super speed.

I was doing a pretty good job of keeping up, but once we got to the summit things began to go downhill, figuratively, not literally unfortunately. Here is what wikipedia says about the summit:

Mount Ngauruhoe side trip

Mt Ngauruhoe can be climbed as a side trip from the main crossing however this is not IMG_0467recommended for any but the fittest and most experienced of climbers. The regular crossing takes 7-8 hours of steady walking. Climbing Mt Ngauruhoe adds three to four hours on to this time for an average walker, making the entire trip, from start to finish, with side trip, an 11-12 hour tramp. The problem for walkers is that the various services that provide transport to and from the walk usually drop trampers at the start of the walk at around 8am and pick them up again between 4pm and 5pm – an eight to nine hour time frame. By climbing Mt Ngauruhoe and extending the walk time to 11 to 12 hours walkers run the risk of missing their transport at the end of the walk and having to spend the night exposed on the flanks of the mountain.

Further, the flanks of Mt Ngauruhoe are mostly loose scree which is very difficult to walk onIMG_0462 and requires a considerable energy expenditure compared to walking on solid material. Physical exhaustion is a further hazard of climbing this mountain for all but the most fit.

SO basically, we only make it about 2/3 of the way up the summit before we literally just can’t get any further. Every step I take I slide two steps down in “scree”. We decide to head back down, and while I am pretty confident that we were ahead of pace enough in the beginning to still be fine on time, Rich has it in his head that we need to basically be running to catch up with everyone. Meanwhile, I used up so much of the energy trying to do the summit that I am now really struggling. I would have been perfectly fine still at a normal pace, but he literally had me jogging. This is not just a little hike where I could say “just go on ahead”, it was scary at points how isolated you were. If anything would have happened it would be a while before IMG_0473

The kicker is, we ended up catching up with others we were dropped off with, and then I finished before them! I didn’t need to be running at all, I could have just done a normal pace and not died if it weren’t for crazy psycho boy. In the end though it did feel pretty satisfying to finish after I struggled so much. If you can even imagine, the actual views were more spectacular than the pictures could ever show. The water really is that color too because tiny pieces of volcanic debris sit on top of the water and reflect extra blue.IMG_0481

After the crossing, I stayed the night in the National Park and then headed down to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. That’s where I watched election coverage. I can’t sit at a computer for long so I will write another entry later for Wellington. How exciting is this though?! This is history! OBAMA!