(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cone soars out of the flat countryside, not unlike Japan’s Mount Fuji, while the omnipresent forests and hills have been replaced by a rather surreal desert landscape.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.
Nelson – Picton - Wellington
(Day 27) Wednesday, September 28
I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to get from Nelson to Picton in time for my ferry. I was thinking of hitching, until the Universe threw up Jackie, a biologist and rugby referee from California, whom I met in Punakaiki. She is staying at the Nelson hostel and kindly offers me a lift. She is, fortuitously booked onto the same 10.30am crossing of the Cook Straits, which makes life very easy for me.
Jackie’s hire car smells like a Speight’s brewery. She only got in at 4.30, and probably only got two hours’ sleep. Pulling out of the car park, the first thing she does is to start driving on the right hand side of the road, instead of the left. Thankfully, this appears to give her a jolt of reality, and she’s proficient as gold following this little driving misdemeanour.
Two hours of forest roads (that apparently look very similar to California) and good chat, and we arrive at Picton ferry terminal with half an hour to spare before our journey across the Cook Straits.
Time to leave the breathtaking scenery of New Zealand’s South Island behind me, most likely forever. This island is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have had the great fortune to see. At times, it is damn near perfect in fact. I thought it was going to be the place where I would ask someone to spend the rest of their life with me but, instead, it is where I began the next uncertain chapter of my life, alone. In this sense, I am pleased to leave the South Island, because the carefully planned daily itinerary I had devised here was not intended for a solo mission. The good news for me is that I had/have very little planned on the North Island, and so the travel companion ghosts and thoughts of what would have been will not be in anyway so vivid when I begin travelling there today.
It takes three hours to cross the Cook Straits, which is a little reminiscent of the Stockholm archipelago as you leave Picton. Copious amounts of travel and rugby are ahead of me, with three games in three days over this coming weekend. Part of me though still feels inclined to lock myself away in a dark room instead for a few days.
Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, comes into sight first as a dot on the landscape and then as a small, attractive city built on a series of hills. It’s an ideal size if you ask me, around 150,000 calling this home. Once in the city, Jackie, who has been great company, is off to the airport for her flight to Hamilton; while I book into the first backpackers I can find and get rewarded with a 24 dollar 20-bed dorm. Dread.
Wellington is regarded by many as this country’s top city but the downside here is that it tends to suffer from bad weather, especially gales blowing in off the Cook Straits. This fine Wednesday it is mild and sunny and ideal for a stroll along the attractive quay. It is a bit like a miniature version of Vancouver, especially given its proximity to sea, mountains and forests. Many quality of life reports list Vancouver as the most liveable city in the world but to me it is way too big to be considered that. Give me a city the same size as Wellington instead any time. There is a relaxed atmosphere here and even the suits look relatively unstressed; most of them minus their ties. I like how Wellington city planners have attempted to make much of the new architecture here look slightly dated, with something of a Colonial appearance. Highlight of the day is the Te Papa national museum of New Zealand. It is free, as I believe all national museums should be, and makes for a good couple of hours of exploration. I particularly like the small hut you can enter where the force of a 6.5 magnitude earthquake is available to experience minus the real dangers of falling debris. Leaning on the wall, it takes me unawares when it first starts which proves interesting for my heart rate.
Following on from my theft of a piece of bread the other morning, my crime spree continues as I bag a hostel towel after leaving mine somewhere a couple of days back. Bread, towels, whatever next? It seems like a life of crime for me from here on in. Needs must on this occasion.
I cook the biggest meal I have eaten since I was in England and collapse on a lounge sofa. I feel absolutely exhausted. All the delights of night time Wellington, which many travellers have raved about, are out there waiting for me to discover but I just feel so bloody tired. You wouldn’t think I would be really (after all, I am on holiday), but the constant moving about, early mornings and disturbed sleep in dorm rooms feel like they are taking their toll. I would just love to have a night to myself in my own hotel room but I can’t really justify all that cash, especially as I am well over budget at this stage in the tour.
Go out! Go out! The voices in my head are shouting. You only pass this way once in life!
Watching Georgia v Romania in the hostel bar, still torturing myself about going out when clearly I’m not up to it, I find that I have one eye closed and the other eye pretending to be awake. Even with the noisy delights of a 20-bed dorm, I am so knackered that I barely remember getting into bed before I am asleep.