New Zealand 2013: Week I

29 August—03 October, 2013

They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Or a single flight, in our case. Followed by another flight, and then another, followed by a whole week of jetlag. But yes, a single step works, too.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the longer the trip, the longer it takes me to write up a report. Add to that the fact that, since we’ve been back, I’ve written a dissertation, found a job, moved into a new apartment and started grad school (again), and suddenly, it’s more than a year since our return and not a single word has come out of my mouth, err, fingers yet. Let’s try it now.

New Zealand had always been the ultimate I-Want-to-Go-There place for both of us. I, for one, hadn’t expected to get there in my twenties, let alone as early as we did. But when Olli—whom I’m no longer allowed to just call ‘the boyfriend’, as per his request—finished his masters, we both knew that would be the last time he’d ever have more than three weeks in a row off work. And since New Zealand is literally on the other side of the globe for us, we knew we’d want to see the entire country, both islands, in the same trip. And so we did!

We started planning a very long time before our trip, and weighed the options for ages until we found out there were several companies offering coach trips through the entire country. Eventually, we settled on MagicBus, both because they covered a lot of places we were interested in, and because they offered discounts for travel bloggers and photographers. We thought everything was booked and settled, except Magic was, without any warning whatsoever, bought by another company that we had specifically decided against. So that was that.

It took a lot more research to find an alternative that we were both okay with. InterCity, in the end, made me an amazing offer, and that settled out choice. (Spoilers: Around halfway into our trip, we realised how lucky we’d been with our first tour falling through because we were so much more flexible than we thought we’d be, which would prove super useful after certain events I’ll talk about later.)

Long story short: We got on a plane on August 29th, 2013, lost an entire day in the air, and got to Auckland on August 31st. Knowing full well there was a better than even chance jetlag would get the better of us, we had planned an extra day in Auckland to get used to being ten time zones away from home. As it turned out, we needed it.

Before I go on, I have a few things to say about the photos I took on this trip. Until my birthday in 2013, the only phone I owned was almost ten years old. I lovingly call it my dumbphone. I never had any interest in smartphones until the Nokia Lumia 920 with its shiny camera came out. So that was what I got for my birthday, three weeks before we left for New Zealand. Back in Africa, I only had my Nikon with me and, shooting in raw, couldn’t share any photos with people back home until well after I got home. This time, I wanted it to be different. That’s where the Lumia came in. For the duration of the trip, I was shooting with two cameras, and it was well worth the extra effort. This time, thanks to both the Lumia and the free wifi that came with our hostel membership, I was able to upload photos right from, well, not the road, but the hostel bed. The flickr album for the Lumia photos is here. I will only be embedding Lumia photos if don’t have a better alternative from my DSLR, but I really do like how a lot of them turned out, so if you’re not too bothered by looking at the same things twice, please do have a look on flickr!

As per usual, all the images are clickable and will lead you to high-res versions on flickr, and the DSLR flickr album is here should you only want to see the photos. (I wouldn’t blame you.) As of March 2015, I haven’t finished uploading all the DSLR photos yet. Just fyi.

I will, obviously, be splitting this report into a bunch of smaller posts. Now let’s get started!

DAY 1 — 31 AUG

So, we got to Auckland early in the morning, but of course something went wrong immediately: My tripod was missing. Cue me scrambling to find someone I could talk to about this. Since our last flight was with Jet Star, I called them and then called them again a few days later, and again after a few weeks. Never heard back, never saw a single cent. My recommendation: Never, ever, EVER fly Jet Star. Not only are the planes so tiny you barely fit into your seat (and I’m not a tall person—at all), but they also never call you back or email you or do anything they say they will. Easily the worst airline I have ever flown with.

Not a very promising start to a trip. But we eventually made our way to our hostel, the YHA Auckland City. We had bought a membership card for the YHA in advance because they have hostels in every city we wanted to visit, and of course for the discounts and free wifi. All things considered, it was well worth the money. I’ll talk more about the individual hostels in another post.

With it being still fairly early in the day, our room wasn’t ready yet, so we went and had breakfast at Peter’s Café, which is just down the road from the hostel, and has amazing breakfast food. A+, would recommend. Aside from that, our day wasn’t particularly eventful. We walked around town a little bit, down to the marina and train station, but thanks to this fun invention called ‘jetlag’, we were fast asleep by 6pm.

Auckland at night

DAY 2 — 01 SEPT

Auckland hostel room view

We spent our second day on the other side of the world not really doing much. We were still exhausted, so we walked around a bit, went to see the train station and again the marina, and eventually did some grocery shopping before passing out again.

DAY 3 — 02 SEPT

I guess you could say that that was the day our trip really started. We took our very first coach ride and changed into a small van in Thames. And that was when the fun started. Our driver, Phil, was super nice, and easily our favourite driver on the whole trip. Aside from us, there was an Austrian in the van, and a guy who didn’t speak any German but, for some reason, desperately wanted a German name. He ended up with ‘Wolfgang’. (Don’t ask.) Suffice to say, we hadn’t laughed this hard for ages before this, and haven’t laughed this hard since. There were other people in the van, too, but sadly, I don’t remember any of them. Wolfgang distracted us from everything else.

Well, everything but the landscape, that is. Coromandel Peninsula is beautiful. Phil stopped a couple of times to let us take photos, which was a great idea, as you can see below.


Coromandel Peninsula

Coromandel Sheep

We eventually had to say goodbye to Wolfgang and Phil, and set ourselves up in the next hostel. This YHA Whitianga is different from the others that we stayed in, though. It’s a set of little two-storey bungalows, some of which face the sea. Our room was part of an apartment on the ground floor, an apartment that included a kitchen and bathroom as well as another room for four or so people. Since no one else had made a booking there, we got the whole apartment to ourselves—which, of course, was great, but that was one of the only two upsides to that YHA, the other being that we had a great view across the beach straight towards the sea.

The problem with this particular YHA and its location is that, during winter, it is really. freaking. cold. The windows aren’t airtight in any sense of the word, so we had to improvise and close the giant gaps between the windows and the windowsills with duct tape. We huddled up in spare blankets and wore our outside clothes to bed. The heater the hostel had supplied had a broken wheel, so we couldn’t leave it on all night for fear of it toppling over and setting the room on fire. That was not a fun night, as you can probably imagine. Neither was the next one, but I’ll get to that.

Before we went to bed, though, we wandered around town a bit, which was really boring because it really is a summer town through and through. There was literally nothing going on, so we went to the supermarket and bought some groceries. We had planned on taking a boat to Cathedral Cove, but the weather had been acting up so much that no boats were able to go out. So instead, we cooked some fairly disgusting pasta and went to bed to very nearly freeze to death.

DAY 4 — 03 SEPT

The weather was still not what it was supposed to be, despite the fact that it was nice and sunny out. The sea was still too rough for boats, so we paired up with another couple and hired a guide and a car instead. What we didn’t know at that point was that we’d have to take a very long and exhausting hike to get to Cathedral Cove, and of course no one told us until well after we had left (and even then, we were told it was “a short, nice walk” rather than a multiple-hour hike).

But first, we went to Hot Water Beach! The beach gets its name for the hot-water currents beneath the sand. Once you’ve found one of the currents and dig your toes into the sand, you’ll soon reach water with the balmy temperature of 70°C and more. We only found a fairly cool current because the warmer spots were already occupied, but it was a cool, err, warm experience nonetheless. And we even got to see bubbles rise from the sand, as though the sand itself were boiling. Very cool, that.

Hot Water Beach

After that, we were off to Cathedral Cove. Don’t get me wrong, it’s probably a wonderful hike for experienced hikers, and the landscape is gorgeous, but we’re just not used to that kind of terrain. So by the time we got down to the beach, we only had a few minutes until we’d have to leave again. I can’t tell you how disappointing that was, because Cathedral Cove is an amazing sight. All things considered, you can probably tell we weren’t very happy with how that whole day-trip turned out. Next time we go to New Zealand, we’re definitely taking that boat trip.


Smack in the middle of this photo, you can already make out the boulder that makes Cathedral Cove so interesting. It doesn’t look far from where the photo was taken, does it? Well, that’s what I thought, too… If it hadn’t been for the beautiful landscape, I probably would’ve given up halfway through.

Coromandel Peninsula

land's end

inside the cove

And this would be the famous boulder.

Cathedral Cove beach

The last stop was a little vineyard where we had the chance to try some spirits (no, thanks) and a fruit called feijoa. It is delicious, especially when frozen. I’ve done some research and we’re definitely getting one of those for our balcony.

When we got back from the trip, we had more awful pasta and eventually went to bed, to have a worse night than before, if that was at all possible. I have this chronic nose thing where my nose reacts very, very badly to dry air. And since we spent twenty-four hours on planes with dry air, my nose was going crazy. I was sneezing constantly and could hardly breathe through my nose at all because everything was congested. Then I had some issues with my asthma, too, and that night, I legitimately thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe and was freezing like mad, so I texted my mother to send me the information for our travel insurance, so I could go see a doctor the next day. Thankfully, what with it being the middle of the night for us, it was the middle of the day for my mum, and she sent us the info immediately. In an ironic yet welcome twist of fate, though, when I woke up the next morning, my nose had stopped being a pain, and I was getting better.

DAY 5 — 04 SEPT

That was a good thing, too, because thus starteth the next travel day. We got up before sunrise, which afforded us a wonderful view.

sunrise in Whitianga

We were picked up by Phil again, and a few hours later, we were back in Auckland, to change coaches for Rotorua. For whatever reason, there was no direct connection between Coromandel Peninsula and Rotorua, so we had to retrace a large portion of the journey we’d already made. That’s why we only got to Rotorua fairly late in the evening. (By late, I mean after 5 PM, which seems to be when everything closes in New Zealand? That was quite the surprise for us, let me tell you.) The weather was awful, too, so we were soaked by the time we got to the YHA—which, however, turned out to be a revelation. It not only had proper heating, the kind we’re used to from home, but it also had airtight, double-glazed (!) windows. This was also the first hostel we’d booked an ensuite bathroom for, so for that one night, everything was perfect and we were actually warm.

Before we went to bed, we went to grab some food, and since everything was already closed, we ended up at an Indian restaurant that turned out to be as much of a revelation as the YHA room. The food was absolutely delicious, and we decided immediately that we’d have to eat there again.

on the road again

DAY 6 — 05 SEPT

The next day, we hopped on another coach, and off we were to Taupo! Thankfully, the journey between Rotorua and Taupo is a short one, so when we got there in the early afternoon, we still had time to go see Huka Falls, a set of waterfalls that, while not particularly high, have a huge amount of water flowing through them at any given time, apparently as much as 220,000 litres per second (thanks, Wikipedia!). Pretty cool!

Waikato River

water under the bridge

Afterwards, we didn’t do much except find a place to eat. What followed was the worst night we’d have on the entire trip, all the other nights before paling in comparison. We stayed yet again at a YHA, which is apparently designed for summer stays only because the shared bathrooms require a trip outside. We’d had no idea, obviously, when we booked the room, otherwise we would’ve gone for an ensuite, but what we got instead was frozen body parts. And that wasn’t even the worst part.

In addition to having to go outside in 0°C weather to get to the bathroom, we also didn’t have a proper heater in the room. The one we had was a tiny electric one that can only be switched on for thirty minutes at a time and had a very loud, ticking clock and a microwave-like alarm at the end of the thirty minutes. You can probably imagine what our night looked like, but in case you can’t, I’ll tell you: We were actually wearing our outside clothes including a scarf to bed (again!), out breath was visible, and when we eventually fell asleep, we were woken up every half hour by that alarm that sent us scrambling to get the heater turned on again. And we still almost froze to death… Worst night ever.

Things start looking up in part II of this report, which is just around the corner, so stay tuned!

© Isabella Valenza; all rights reserved. Do not repost or copy without permission.
flickr album

Week I | Week II | Week III | Week IV | Week V


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