(Day 28) Thursday, September 29
Wellington – Auckland
I cannot believe my alarm is going off. I only feel like I have been in bed ten minutes. And how come none of my 19 roommates managed to wake me during the night with their banging, crashing and howling?
My Auckland bus leaves from outside the Wellington McDonalds, adjacent to my hostel. It is only 7.30, but suits are frantically pacing by me in their dozens, all around me, on their way to their office cages. I sit on my rucksack, balanced up against a wall, with a coffee in hand, taking it all in. It’s a gorgeous morning, but the sight of them all striding past me with their brief cases, Blackberry cell phones and takeaway breakfasts scares the hell out of me. It’s like that graffiti on the bunk bed in Kaikoura:
Even your worst day travelling is better than your best day at work
Well, that doesn’t always stand true, of course, but perched on my backpack with the morning sun occasionally blinding my eyes, watching them all scurry past, I have to say the coffee tastes especially good this morning.
This is my longest coach journey in New Zealand; almost twelve hours in total from the capital to the country’s most important city. Initially, there is plenty of attractive coast line, but after this it all looks a bit like Teletubby Land. After the South Island this is all rather boring and uninspiring, but it is still more beautiful than the most stunning parts of many countries around the world.
Once we hit the central plateau of the North Island, however, the countryside turns from pleasant but uninspiring to otherworldly. A snow-capped volcanic cone soars out of the flat countryside, not unlike Japan’s Mount Fuji, while the omnipresent forests and hills have been replaced by a rather surreal desert landscape. This incredible scene is further complimented by a second volcanic cone, this more dramatic and far more pronounced than the first. This is the Tongariro National Park, home to the mountain peaks Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. NZ’s largest lake, Taupo, itself the caldera of a gigantic volcano, can be found just beyond these. This whole area is one giant super volcano. If it ever blows again, like it did 26,000 years ago, much of New Zealand will be no more.
We pick up a load of stranded passengers from a Kiwi Experience bus that has broken down on the desert road. Amongst their number is Jeff, an English lad I had a pint with in Dunedin before the first match. Jeff was due to travel to NZ with his long-term girlfriend who he planned to propose to on the trip. He had apparently been planning the trip for 18 months but shortly before he was due to leave she paid a visit home to the Czech Republic and when she came back, a week later, she dumped him! Good on Jeff though, he says he is coping with it all and doesn’t think about it much. I am pleased for the lad but I don’t know how some people deal so easily with stuff sometimes.
Beyond Lake Taupo the countryside ‘returns to normal’ with ever increasing signs of urbanisation as we approach Hamilton, and Auckland beyond that. Once we hit the motorway leading into Auckland it is rather depressing to see the sea of concrete, soulless shopping malls and retail parks that greet you as they generally do when you approach big towns and cities in the western world.
Dropped off in the centre of Auckland I leg it to the nearest hostel I can find. With South Africa, England and Scotland in town, accommodation is tight. Without realising it as I book in, I am staying at Nomads. That is Nomads as in ‘CRAZY’ Nomads in Queenstown. I have managed to grab one of the last dorm beds but this place along with all the nearby hostels and hotels are completely full over the weekend. I will start worrying about that tomorrow though.
I go for a wander of night time Auckland and choose to avoid the hostel bar crawl, which numbers 40 blokes and 5 girls, all of them far too enthusiastic about life for my liking. Due to the large immigrant population here, Auckland boasts by far the cheapest food I have seen so far in New Zealand. Not so the pubs though where it is 9 dollars for less than a pint. I feel out of sorts again wandering around by myself. Aside from a chat with two Scottish girls in a pub near the wharf I spend the rest of my evening either staring at the bottom of a beer glass or strolling aimlessly around the Auckland streets, people watching outside takeaway restaurants and massage parlours. I think I better get myself home to bed.
Logistically, I would call driving all the 180 kilometres of winding, hilly road back to Dunedin from the Catlins at 8 in the morning to return a car hire and then taking a bus 250 kilometres to get to a place that was only 150 kilometres away when you woke up, a bit of a cock up. When I hired the car I didn’t really have a game plan, which is a bit crap since if I had, I could have gone to watch Scotland v Georgia today for 20 quid in Invercargill as Alex is doing (Distance, 50 kilometres from the Catlins). But you live and learn and actually the drive, with the surf and cliffs bathed in stunningly beautiful early morning sunlight –the calm after the storm- is a fantastic solo experience in itself, particularly with only a handful of cars on the road.
Back in a very grey Dunedin, car hire returned, emails caught up with, Sunday night’s accommodation reserved and bus ticket booked, I join Essex James for the 4 hour coach journey up through more gorgeous countryside to Queenstown, the adventure capital and purportedly the most beautiful urban setting in the southern hemisphere. We roll in at around sunset and yes, it is a stunning location by any standards, reminiscent of Arctic Norway or a top ski resort in the Alps.
I book into Nomads Hostel, just 100 metres from the coach stop and am instantly taken back by the fact that, once inside, I feel like I am on board one of those huge cruise ships that travel between Sweden and Finland, full of alcoholic Scandinavians. The dorms are like ship’s cabins with key card doors and balconies, and there is a cinema, bar, sauna, 40-computer internet area and cruise liner type corridors to get completely lost in. Then somebody announces on the intercom: ‘Hey guys, drinks half price from 7’.
I shower up in the cruise ship communal bathrooms and then meet James and a group of young English rugby lads in ‘Base’, another hostel nearby that is complimented by a bar/club that is bigger than almost any you would find in a decent sized European city. If you are staying here and you have a key card, then drinks are 2-for-1. James has a key card and will serve as our entry into the world of New Zealand’s cheapest alcohol. Thus far on the trip I have been paying around 8 New Zealand dollars for a pint (around 4 pounds), but here it is 2 pints for 7 dollars.
We watch the gutsy Georgian pack give the Scots a bit of a scare and from then on in it is copious amounts of cheap but slightly dubious quality alcohol. I must confess though that being surrounded by hundreds of blokes, half a dozen rugby girls and listening to some awful R’n’B does lose its appeal after a couple of hours, regardless of how much cheap alcohol is on offer. At least the gargantuan Romanian rugby team livened things up with cameo in the club in the wee hours.Those blokes are absolutely enormous.
RWC Daily September 14