Dec 22, 2009 – Jan 22, 2010
Getting on the Stray bus, one of many backpacker buses that does loops around New Zealand’s north and south islands, was like stepping into another world of travel. Unlike my previous travel experiences, where the majority of the day is taken up by figuring out where to go, how to get there, where to stay, what to eat and what to do once you’ve got that figured out, the backpacker bus turned New Zealand into a traveler’s playground. Though I’m a big fan of figuring things out on my own, I also loved letting go of that stress and just focusing on enjoying the scenery, the activities and the many new found friends.
Since it was a month of almost non-stop adventure, we’ll stick mostly to the highlights. When you feel like somethings been left out, just assume that we are:
A) at a barbeque
B) consuming cans of Tui and Speight’s (think along the lines of Coors, only with more flavor)
C) playing games of Shithead, Asshole or Bullshit (such nice sounding games…)
D) all of the above.
The trip started in Aukland with an awesome driver named Rob. We had about a dozen people on the bus to start, and the closer it got to xmas, the less people we had, which made things even more fun as we became a close knit group. We kayaked at Cathedral Cove, dug our own jacuzzi’s at Hot Water Beach, ran on the beach in Ragland and abseiled down caves Waitomo. Then I got in a big plastic ball with a guy I’d known for 2 days, we had water tossed in and we were pushed down a big hill. Only in New Zealand…
For xmas, we had a big dinner in Lake Taupo, played some frisbee at the beach and then Tracy had her very first Jagerbomb. Good thing we got that out of the way because they love that drink here! On Boxing Day we had the option of leaving on 7am to get on the bus and go on a 8 hour hike, or leave at 10am and go jump off a waterfall. We chose the latter. We spent the night in Tongariro National Park and won our first trivia night. Then it was off to Wellington, New Zealand’s second largest city, where we spent three days unsuccessfully trying to find a place to go dancing. It was a nice place though, we managed to see all the major sights (the Te Papa museum, the top of Mt. Victoria, the botanical garden, the cable car) in one day thanks to a random stranger who was nice enough to drive 6 of us around for a bit. We did NOT however, see any unicyclists competing. The city was overrun by single wheels for the world unicyclists championships, but we couldn’t find the venue for the life of us. Sigh.
After Wellington there was a beautiful ferry ride to the south island and a new bus driver named Nipples. One of the great things about Stray bus drivers (Rob being an exception) is that they all have silly names, and we get to use them and wonder how they earned them. Nipples was a great guy and he didn’t even freak out when we had to push start the bus after we got off the ferry. It was a long drive to our next stop, Abel Tasman National Park, but we did manager to hit a brewery along the way, Sprig and Fern, who had a very good IPA, and many beers on tap. The real hits though were the bulk spirits and the cider, called the Scrumpy. We also stocked up on some white wine from a Nelson winery (amid the many acres of hops that we drove through) before heading into the park for new years. New Zealand’s biggest band, Fat Freddy’s Drop was playing a show only 10k from our campground, and we got tickets. It was a great show. I just wish someone would have told us that getting a ride home might take a while…
After Abel Tasman, and the best weather that NZ has to offer, we worked our way down the west coast – where its rains pretty much every day – with our new driver Seagull. Seagull was an odd duck but he kept us in good spirits with his funny way of knowing, to the second, when we’d arrive at a given location. Our fellow travelers quickly turned into our good friends, which meant that even when we were checking out the “special” waterfall in the middle of the pouring rain, we were still having a great time. We walked on a glacier, we carved necklaces out of jade and bone, sang some karaoke, and then partied it up in Queenstown, drinking random concoctions out of teapots.
From Queenstown, we did the less traveled lower part of the South Island. We saw the famous Milford Sound (albeit, in the rain) and then got on a ferry down to Stewart Island, the REAL south island. There, we did a 3-day tramp through some amazing scenery and a lot of mud.
Heading back north with a fun driver named Chook (kiwi for Chicken), we stopped in Dunedin and did tours at Speight’s Brewery and Cadbury chocolate. Then it was back to Queenstown where we stayed for another 4 days. Queenstown kind of surprised me because of its reputation for being the party town of the backpacker experience. It is that, but it’s also just a beautiful city, surrounded by mountains and right on a lake. We did a breathtaking (in more ways that one) hike to the Ben Lomond Summit, looking down on the city on quite possibly the most beautiful day of the entire trip. Then we spent the evening playing celebrity and hanging out with our bus buddies. Most nights we did go out dancing, but the days were filled with Frisbee golf and picnics and swimming. It was kind of idyllic.
From Queenstown, we took a bus with Nat (a female bus driver) to Christchurch. It was an uneventful ride and Christchurch didn’t blow our minds, but it was a nice enough place to unwind after a month of go, go, go. Along with the different drivers, we had friends who came and went, and in Christchurch we had to say goodbye to the last of them. Even though we weren’t all on the same buses at the same time, I want to give a shout out to Team Awesome (as Seagull would say, you know who you are). You made the trip, well, awesome.