My Kiwi Experience – New Zealand part 1/2

I had one month opening in my round the world trip.

So one night I went online and bought myself a three week G Adventure trip – Best of New Zealand. Five days later I found myself sitting in the Air New Zealand lounge in Brisbane, sipping red wine and eating olives and cheese for quick lunch. Later in the evening I landed in the cold and rainy Auckland and found my way to the Nomads hostel, where I was about to meet my tour guide and the people forming the social context for the next 21 days.

I was going to be driven around all of the New Zealand´s sights and major attractions.

Ozzies and Kiwis

Little did i know how different New Zealand is from Australia.

The Kiwis looked very similar to the Aussies at first glance, but further investigation gave me the feeling that people and nature is more English or Scottish, whereas Australia had a very American feel to it. My first Ozzie impressions were from small city Adelaide and if I wasn’t driving on the left side of the road, I could’ve sworn I was in California. The animal world is also totally different, eight out of ten most dangerous animals in the world find home in Australia. New Zealand don’t have even snakes and most mammals were introduced by the European settlers and NZ has more flightless birds than you can imagine, including the national icon, the kiwi.

You will also not find kangaroos or koalas in NZ.

The kiwis are much more tourist oriented than the Ozzies on the tourist-ridden east coast of Australia. Every tourist boat and bus driver explain historical or curious facts about whatever is around us. Be it a power station, old telephone lines, abandoned eel smoking oven or a lonely sheep on a hill, everything is pointed out as a worthwhile sight. Kiwis are really proud of their country and very happy to show it to whoever is interested or happens to be nearby. Reflecting to Finland, my native country, where we also have maaaany things that could be a worthwhile sight, but no, Finns don’t know how to market their country for tourists. It’s all about Santa Claus.

Every kiwi (person, not fruit or bird) has a dog. Every car parked alongside the street has a dog or two in them. Pickup trucks carry dogs on the bed. In fact, one poor bugger fell off the bed of an oncoming truck – right in front of us. He rolled behind the car a couple of times and continued running after it when he finally got back on his feet. The whole incident looked really really rough but soon we saw the doggie again sitting in the bed of his pickup truck, acting cool as if nothing had happened.

Many don’t know that in this land of 5 million people, 33 millions sheep, fiords, mountains, volcanoes and numerous adrenalin activities it is highly recommended to use sunscreen of at least 30SPF even on a winter day. There is a hole in the protective ozone layer in the atmosphere so there is absolutely nothing to stop those UV rays giving you sunburn and skin cancer if you don’t put some cream on you. Australasians are extremely thankful for the rest of the world for using CFC refrigerators for keeping their beers cold. Not.

Map courtesy of hemamaps.com

Map courtesy of hemamaps.com

Enough of generic kiwi knowledge, I know you want to read some juicy details and biased, subjective and personal sweet as opinions. No worries, bro! You shall have them.

North Island

The following morning we departed Auckland.

Our CEO, driver, guide, cook, mother, father, bank, comedian and driver was Uncle Otto, a veteran in both tourist business and bus driving business. He is a true New Zealand legend among them all. He knows everyone and everyone knows him – for various reasons, of which I shall not say another word to protect the innocent.

Physically he resembles his namesake, Otto, the school bus driver from the Simpsons TV series. Many years in the tough tourism industry plus many boozed nights in every imaginable corner of NZ has made its visible mark. Working in tourism in NZ is mostly socialising with passengers who are in their twenties or thirties and it comes with its benefits, though the hardest thing in his job is, I quote verbatim, “asking fat chicks how much they weight”. You know, many activities, like skydiving, are targeted for lightweight adrenalin junkies only. And of course not every passenger is easy to be with as they can be quite bossy and demanding or otherwise difficult at times.

Needless to say our group was behaving extremely well. There was me, two Swiss guys, two Swiss sisters, one English bloke, three English gals, two Aussie sheilas, one Hawaiian dude. All twelve of us fit very comfortably in our 20-seater magic bus.

Raglan

Raglan is the surfing capital of NZ.

We are here to learn how to surf the waves like the big Kahuna. For me personally this was the second time I attended a surf school, first time was in Cape Town on a beach with cold cold water, very mild waves and sometimes great white sharks. With all this experience, I knew it would do no good to try to catch every wave, and all in all I made three attempts. First one failed, second one I rode the surf board to shore on my belly and the third one I managed to keep my balance and speed while I was on my knees, but got wiped out immediately as I stood up. All this time the waves were coming remorselessly without a pause and when I was heading out for my fourth attempt, came a killer wave.

One of the English girls got hit by her surf board with the result of her being taken to the hospital for a check up. When the killer wave hit, she was sitting on the beach and not even in the water. After this our surf school was terminated and we headed back to our accommodation at Kev’s place. Kev was a curious character, who had built a backpackers (=hostel or camping site in aussie and kiwi slang) with cabins, trailers, lot of green grass and a military grade explosion proof catamaran houseboat standing on the grass. Our host Kev had a background in military, bodyguarding and who knows what. We were taking part in a self defence class and entertained with heaps of stories involving knives, boozed barnights and robberies, russian gangsters, plastic surgeons and a rubber nose. This is the benefit of buying an organised trip as opposed to roadtripping independently. I would have never found or chosen this great place by myself.

In Raglan, we also visited a ecologically sustainable farm where couple of Charlies were doing ingenious experiments in tide powered fish and eel farming. They also had horses, donkeys, sheep and llamas. The originally Sotuh American llamas were introduced to New Zealand and sometimes they have problems integrating into the new environment, just like we humans do. One elder llama at the farm was visibly shaking because he could not eat the local grass anymore. Yet he had to eat in order to survive. I felt for that poor bugger as I had had exactly the same symptoms for Indian food after two months in India.

After this interesting and sadly a bit rushed visit to the eco farm, we headed down to the waterfront, jumped into our kayaks and kayaked away for some hours until we found our guide Otto on a nice catamaran waiting for us with warm yummy burgers for lunch.

Waitomo Caves

The word Waitomo means water hole in Maori language.

We saw many tomos, tens of metres deep holes in the grass hills, as we were making our way to one cave for our glow worm caving experience. No sunscreen or cell phones were needed when we entered the cave to experience the absolute absence of light aka The Darkness. Only twenty meters from the cave entrance it was truly pitch black. I could not see my hand which I held right in front of my eyes. We made our way a bit deeper in the cave and started seeing glimmering blue spots on the ceiling. The New Zealand glow worm. Technically it is not a worm, but nitpicking aside, it was amazing to go deeper underground to see the ceiling and most parts of the walls covered with these little blue lights making the ‘starlit sky’ above our heads, listening to the waterfall noise echoing in the cave.

I was truly Spellbound.

Rotorua

Next destination on our itinerary was the Maori capital, thermally active Rotorua.

For this expected meeting with Maori community, we had learned Maori greeting together with a song. Well, Maori community was busy with funeral that evening, so instead of singing and greeting all Maoris with forehead-nose contact, we were taken around with the son of a chief, who told us many things about Maoris and how they have integrated into the society much better than any other indigenous group in the world. It was very very cold evening and a few of us spent time in the outside ‘hot’ pool of our hostel. Surprisingly for thermally active area, the water in the pool was only warmish.

On our way to next destination, we had a photostop to see some boiling hot mud pools and a geothermal power plant with kilometers of pipelines and many steamy outlets. One curious stop was at Huka falls, not because of the falls, but because of the coffee I, a lifelong coffee addict, had bought to ease my withdrawal symptoms. I asked the little kiosk if they had hot coffee, and yes they had. Soon I was three kiwidollars and fifty kiwicents poorer, and had a can of hot coffee in my hand. Yes, the same cans you usually see in the supermarket fridges.

Nevertheless, the taste was much better than any instant powder coffee.

Whakapapa

In Maori language the letters “wh” are pronounced as “f”. Now smile if you understand the humour 🙂

After some driving, we found ourselves in Mordor, where the snow prevented us to hike the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, yet there was not enough snow to do skiing or snowboarding. So we ended up admiring the Mt. Doom, or Mt. Ngauruhoe as it was called before the LOTR movies, from distance, had a very nice buffet dinner in Skotel, the skiresort wannabe where we were staying. They boasted of having sauna and spa, but there was no spa services, pool was tiny, you could fit only handful of people in it and the sauna was cold with shower and change room that doubled as a base camp for the construction workers. It is sad to see such a nice resort have the sauna neglected so much. Or maybe I am just spoiled when it comes to saunas.

Elmo at Mt. Doom

Elmo at Mt. Doom

Anyways, I enjoyed the excitement and fear of staying near active volcano, whose estimated eruption date was due 60 years ago.

Wellington

Exactly five days after our kick-off meeting in Auckland, we arrived in the kiwi capital, Wellington. It called for celebration.

The next morning our hangovery group had to wake up very early to say goodbyes. A big part of our group was going back to Auckland and on with their lives. Only me, Swiss guy, English bloke, Hawaiian dude and Otto continued further to explore the South Island for the next two weeks.

As we were all guys, the G Adventures was humorously renamed to Gay Adventures. And boy, that name stuck.

posted: 13 June 18
under: Lifestyle