Yesterday I woke up early – my room mates were still fast asleep – to the sound of rain and knew I had to lug all my stuff to the bus stop for 7:50 am. But the problem was, which bloody bus stop was I meant to go to? My e-ticket just said bus stop. Queue small freak out. Ponsonby Road has loads of bloody bus stops. Which side of the road should I be on? So I asked a few sodden looking kiwis if they could help me out. They were great – although I can recognise the look in their eye that we’ve all given when a tourist can’t navigate their way around our cities and it’s a little bit funny.
THIS is karma, guys, and it’s an embarrassing bitch.
The bus was late which made things worse in the panic stakes, but eventually a little white bus pulled up (I was expecting the big black and orange one as per the Stray website) and our guide popped out, took my bags and ushered me onto the bus. On I popped, waterproof rustling with each step and looking like a nerd.
I’m on a three week “tour” of the north
Island. I say this with some reservation as it is by all means NOT an all expenses paid trip. My transport is covered, as are a host of free activities on the way to the destination, and the first nights accoms are always guaranteed and recommendations made, but all activities and the price of hostels are down to you to pay.
It’s brilliant and flexible – you can hop off and hop back on anytime you want. If you want to stay an extra night, month, six months in a particular area- you can! The passes are valid for 12 months. I only opted for the north island tour as I was reluctant to part with the fee for the two islands in case it was terrible, but now I wish I had as it is the perfect way to travel New Zealand when you are a solo traveller.
My plan is to work a while in windy Wellington (the end stop I have opted for on this particular tour) and buy a pass for the south from Stray. The south is hard to travel around if you don’t have a car so it’s the perfect solution.
This should take me to June if I play it right and don’t develop a nasty seafood addiction!
There are a few downsides to Stray but the good far out-ways these picky points:
1) it’s expensive and, although highly subsidised, the trips really start adding up. There is so much to do in NZ and it’s easy to get carried away. My tip is to keep a log of what you’re spending – even the little things like a drink or a snack because it all adds up – so you can monitor finances. It sounds like I’m taking all the fun out or travelling but NZ does not offer cheap accoms like Thailand or India. Working here, if only for a few weeks or months (I’m hoping for 2 months work) can really help!
2) they work in affiliation with other companies such as hostels but you are by no means tied down to this particular hostel. You can book your own accommodation of course but then you’re away from the rest of the group. I’m heading back to Auckland tomorrow and don’t want to stay in the recommended Base hostel if possible because it sounds like hell so I need to send a few emails this afternoon.
I’m currently in Paihia which is a small coastal town in the Bay of Islands. It’s picturesque and relatively quiet, well, apart from the party hostel that I am currently calling home. Last night was a BBQ at the hostel and a few drinks with the group – unfortunately most this group will be heading somewhere else or home – but they are a great bunch of people (as usual when I get drunk, I forgot to take pictures but I promise to rectify this).
Today, I opted to go on a boat tour to the hole in the rock which is exactly as it sounds and something completely unexplainable at the same time. We cruised around a few of the islands, the weather was overcast but that’s no bad thing at the height of NZ summer, and soon came across a pod of dolphins showing off for the tourists. I couldn’t really get a great picture because they were so fast! Next up was ‘The Hole in the Rock’ itself. It was stunning and, luckily, we were even able to drive through the hole itself.
Next up was a stop off at one of the islands where we did a scenic tour and I realised exactly how unfit I’ve become recently. The steep climbs were well worth it. Just look at the below views. They say the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but it really is in New Zealand.
As part of the package, Great Sights Tours ($92 NZ so the equivalent of aprox £46) offered a free ferry ride from Russell (a neighbouring village steeped in history and NZ’s first capital city) back to Paihia. So I said goodbye to my travel companion, Myriam, and hopped off at Russell. Now, although I was meant to be having a spend free day (I’ve bought some relatively cheap
and uninspiring food to cook at the hostel – pasta untasty anyone??) I decided to take myself out for a much needed glass of red and a bowl of calamari while people watching along the beach. Naughty and not within my backpackers budget, but perfect!
Tomorrow will be spent in Auckland and will be a chance for me to a) wash some clothes and b) buy shorts because I forgot to pack some!
After that it’s on to Raglan which is surfers paradise. Can’t wait!! Ferry has arrived to take me back to Paihia – See you on the other side!