As I was organising my New Zealand flights I realised I didn’t actually have any idea how I was going to get around the country – hiring a car or teaming up with people on Facebook backpacker pages was an option as always but I was looking for something different with New Zealand. I wanted to meet people and have fun, but most importantly I wanted something simple and easy…
I’d pretty much winged it the whole way so far and it was getting to the point where I craved stability…and reservation confirmations. It was fine rocking up to a hostel in Vietnam with no plans – just you and your backpack looking for somewhere to crash for £3 – but it’s a different story in the more “developed” world. You need credit cards, and passports and phone apps to prove you are who you say you are. That freedom and desire to “wing it” is slightly hindered by the fact you have to plan at least a couple days in advance just so you don’t end up on the street with nowhere to stay cos everyone else before you booked online.
(My face when they tell me they’re all booked out…)
So whenever I’m going to a new place I rely on personal blogs and reviews to get the general idea of a place or hostel before I book anything. Tour companies and hostel home pages are generally very one sided in their hyped up reviews, but reading what’s been written by other backpackers is a sure fire way of knowing the ins and outs of getting the most out of your experience, wherever you may be.
However, although it seemed the most logical choice so far, before booking the kiwi experience I’d made sure it was absolutely the best way for me to see both the North and South Island withOUT being physically booked onto an organised tour. I’m not against tours, but I reserve them specifically for countries that are difficult to get around on your own. Especially since I stick out most places I go with my hair and my accent, it’s hard to stay inconspicuos (and safe…) in some places where you look nothing like the locals. It’s why I booked onto a tour in Sri Lanka, to get me into the swing of things and most importantly, although it’s a very safe country I wouldn’t have felt comfortable as a girl travelling around on my tod – especially in the first country I went to stumbling around like a lost lamb.
But with regards to New Zealand, I really wanted to have my own freedom to explore where I wanted, how I wanted to. I wasn’t hindered by language barriers or felt like I’d be in danger on my own. I have a tongue in my head and I’ve never been afraid to speak what I feel so I knew I could do it alone if I wanted…I just didn’t want to. And no matter what I fired into google, every search pointed me in the same direction: the Kiwi Experience.
It’s specifically designed for people like myself; solo travellers looking to meet likeminded people, bundled onto a big green bus that takes you to your next destination with a hop-on-hop-off schedule. When you look on the website at the passes they offer, they give you the minimum amount of time you’d need to “complete” the pass without hopping off. That just means that you spend their recommended amount of time in each given place without calling up the office, or telling the bus driver as you’re getting off “actually nah. I won’t be on the bus in the morning, this place looks sick. I’ll phone when I want to hop back on” and so on… It took me about 3 or 4 days to get my head round it but with a little bit of perseverance I managed to work out the timetable to my advantage. Given that it was off season there weren’t multiple buses running every day. In fact there was often a few days in between some buses so you had to think hard where you were gonna hop off. If another one wasn’t going to get you till the Wednesday and you’re in kaiteriteri in the pouring rain with one coffee shop and a spar then you’re a little snookered (yeah that happened, it’s fine…I’m over it).
So there I was. In New Zealand, a completely new country with completely new expectations. In truth I had no idea what to expect from the bus – I was quite nervous to begin with as well, as it was pretty much the middle of winter when I arrived (I needed some snow in my life so I planned New Zealand for winter sports, hot chocolate and gloves – who knew when I was going to be in the cold again so I took my opportunity when I could!). Waking up on the morning of my first bus, after a night in the jailhouse (name of the hostel, relax maw!)…I’d had virtually no sleep because I was sleeping in a room with backpackers who seemed to never wash their clothes …or themselves…and the snoring was enough to make me sit outside in the hallway for the best part of the night. Agitated and anxious about the day ahead, I “woke up” / put my shoes on since I was already dressed the whole night (it was BALTIC in my cell) and dropped my keycard into the key return box…stepping out into the cold, dark winter morning to wait on my big green kiwi bus arriving.
No sooner had I put my foot on the pavement, I saw lights turning the corner in front of me and out of the darkness emerged a big massive, GREEN KIWI BUS. It pulled up in front of me and a tall lanky guy flung himself out the door, “you must be Migin (read in NZ accent) hop aboard !”. I sorta grunted and mumbled at him to stop being so damn happy at 6:30am…sat down, pulled my hood up and tried to get some sleep on the way to Kaikoura…
The road to Kaikoura had only just been reopened a few weeks before I arrived. After the Christchurch earthquake the road was closed due to the extensive damage that was caused, so it was a cool experience being able to drive the coastal route, over the mountain passes and through recently-cleared tunnels where rocks had fallen and blocked the only way to the other side of the island. Despite my grumpy mood from having no sleep the night before, I couldn’t stay moody for long. Our driver, Stretch (very appt. nickname!) had a meticulously planned playlist for every stretch of the road we passed. And trundling over this scenic road listening to chilling lord of the rings tunes was enough to make me fall in love with this country right there and then.
It was everything I imagined it to be and more. Every angle you turned your neck there was something else to gawk at. From humongous snow-capped mountains to crystal clear turquoise lakes and fields and fields of green grass and trees it genuinely felt like I was in another world. It was just too COOL to be real.
But it was real. And I was so happy to be there I couldn’t wait to see it all in REAL LIFE instead of sifting through google images as procrastination on long-haul library sessions in 4th year !
The next post will be the last one on NZ, I really need to get a move on with writing about America and Canada (which is where I am now!) before I forget any important deets… my next blog will be packed with activities and funny stories about my new pals I met along the way – some drastic change of plans and getting way too hammered in the adventure capital of the world.
It’s coming! Stay tuned