Sometimes what happens is far better than what was planned.
When preparing for my trip, I imagined renting a car and living on the road. I would be so bold and drive on the opposite side of the road, windows down with the air of adventure wafting through my rental car. Then making my trip map, I realized firstly, it’s winter in New Zealand and secondly, the 10 hour commute from Auckland to Wellington seemed to be too much of a feat for me to go alone, I mean sure I can talk to myself for 6 hours, but 10 was a bit much.
I ended up booking a tour with Stray. It was first to show up on a Google search for hop on and hop off buses in New Zealand.
Had also looked up taking the ordinary city bus for red-eye commuting but timing that with other activities made my brain hurt. The other thing that was cool about this tour is that they book your accommodations at hostels as you go along as well as activities per location, so there’s no need to stress about where you’re going to stay. This tour is mosts similar to taking a cruise whereby transport and stay is prearranged (not included in cost but planned for you). At each of the stops there are a host of paid or free activities that you can sign up for. Having a little under 2 weeks in New Zealand for vacation, the Jill + Jack pass seemed fitting which only hits the Northern Island. Also if you go back within a year, the pass still works. Someday south island I will come back for you and your epic hikes, beautiful strolls, fishing and glacier walks.
This morning I woke up at 6am and took a minute to flip through the local newspaper. I miss getting the newspaper. Growing up I would wake up early and sit with my dad and read the SF Chronicle while eating breakfast. He’d read the business section and I’d read Datebook naturally. To think kids nowadays don’t have this experience, since everything can be read online, pains me so. Took customary leg selfie with newspaper that I do when I make-pretend that I’m actually a full-time lifestyle blogger, as learned from Wendy’s Lookbook.
Left my hotel at 7am and made the walk down to where the Stray travel shop, oddly enough it’s located right by the Penthouse Gentleman’s Club. I get there and notice other people from the welcome night already arrived. Our bus driver Seagull (not his real name), tells us to load up the van and soon enough we’re off to pick up a couple more people.
Each of the Stray employees has a nickname so that it’s easier to remember and makes things more fun. The nicknames are usually tied to some incident that happens on their Stray training trip, which all new guides take understand what it’s like to be a traveler with this tour company. Oddly enough I never thought to ask Seagull how he got his name while on his bus, but later on I ended up asking Muesli who was another bus driver on my journey. Apparently Seagull likes to tell people when he was on his trip something like he had bad food and ended up shitting on the bus, but the real story is when he took his tour he had just come back from traveling and didn’t have enough money to buy food. He was embarrassed about this and because of it wouldn’t eat meals with the other tour group. The other folks on the tour noticed and then ended up giving him their food. Hence a “Seagull” was born.
Honest I don’t remember much from our bus ride from Auckland to Raglan, probably because I passed out. We stopped by a local town to get groceries and I bought a steak and mushroom pie for lunch and a bunch of candy other folks looked at my basket in unhealthy horror, and ended up splitting a 6 pack of cider with Marscha. Dinner of fish and chips was being ordered, so luckily then we didn’t have to cook unless we wanted to. By the cafe that we stopped at was a famous tranny statue commemorating The Rocky Picture Horror Show.
Later on we also stopped by this muddy waterfall. It was cold and rainy as we found our way to Bridle Veil Falls. Oh rains, you make all pretty things a shade of brown poo.
The weather stayed bleak as we reached the hostel. Hadn’t stayed in a hostel since Greece with Laurie in 2009 and the giant cockroach massacre of Santorini. To make a long story short, a 4 inch long cockroach temporarily shared our hostel room. As Laurie is petrified of bugs and me not so much, I tried to squash it but instead it raced towards us. I picked up my platform Converse shoes and tossed them towards the cockroach, perfectly murdering it. Platform shoes FTW. Then Laurie got a piece of paper and scooched it out of our room. Ever since then we have not stayed in hostels on vacations.
The hostel ended up putting me with what I thought were people from another tour. When I asked the front desk they said something like, I put you with these two sisters and their little brother. Later on in the kitchen ended up chatting with two sisters, Sonja and Lisa from my tour, and instead of staying with strangers they said I could stay with them and Cid from Brazil who they had met earlier in their adventure. Shortly after, I figure out the front desk had totally mischaracterized the people I was staying with, and we are already in the same room together.
Because of the bad weather the hikes weren’t recommended. Those who chose to brave the cold could still take surfing lessons. Instead my hostel mates and I wandered up to Inspiration Point where the wind could almost keep you upright if you leaned against it. Normally I don’t like taking photos of myself on vacation because I’d rather capture something from my perspective, but when people asked if I wanted my photo there wasn’t nothing better to do, so I responded “I guess”. I then suggested we do a selfie, since it was our first night together. I’m nothing if not the sentimental fool. They were surprised, but obliged.
The rest of the day I spent reading on the couch, huddled in a blanket, until dinner either reading Matt Haig‘s book Reasons to Stay Alive or chatting with friends on WhatsApp. A while back a friend of mine had posted this quote on Instagram, saying she didn’t know where it came from. I loved the quote and being that one of my special powers is … the internet … tracked it down to goodreads which revealed it was from his book. I felt so drawn by these words that I wanted to get the ebook immediately to read on this trip, however it was not available in the US. I ended up having to order a physical copy from the UK.
Except when people who don’t know you well see you’re reading this super depressing book about suicide, it’s not the best opener for conversation. Oops. Ended up explaining it away by saying I had a friend who was depressed and I wanted to learn more about it by reading this book.
After fish and chips dinner, which was good but there were too many potatoes that I ended up giving to Simon, we went out to the front yard to check out glow worms in the bushes. Yay glow worms. They are like the stars of the brush, and very hard to photograph.
Within a couple minutes outside, the cold permeated our jackets. It had begun to drizzle again so we headed back in to the common room to play a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity. Got to know folks in my group a bit better and laugh and their ridiculous answers, until … Bad Neighbors came on the tv. A shirtless Zac Efron’s made sure that our game ended as soon as the movie started, but then I was called back by a siren’s song. A couple of the surf instructors that would be monitoring the surf competition the next day had brought their guitars and ended up playing pop songs, and Beckah from our tour sang along with them. Her voice was strong, melodic and a bit magical. I came back from the couch to sit next to her and soak in how wonderful this was. Prior to this, I had been just thinking how impulsive I was to plan a trip to New Zealand in the winter and be rained out of activities, but imagining missing this moment made me realize how happy I was to be here.
They kept playing more and more songs, finding the guitar cords on an iPhone app for the songs they didn’t know. The surfers then shared the chocolate cake that their students’ parents had made for them. Natasha from Ireland was in love with the cakey, I laughed at her enthusiasm but I admit it was pretty damn good. Shortly after, with heart and belly warmed and full, I took a shower and went to bed thinking “I want to learn how to play the guitar”.