Today was the first day of my adventure on the Kiwi Experience backpackers tour. I loaded up bright and early this morning with 40 or so people from all over the world. Our youngest traveler is 18 and I’m guessing the oldest to be around 35. I’ve met folks from Germany, Finland, Denmark, the UK, Australia, Zambia, and India so far. Out of the entire group, I’m the only American.
All Kiwi Experience tours and led by native New Zealanders, called Kiwis, and they serve as your bus driver and tour guide. They make all the arrangements for you for the activities you do and the hostels you stay at. Mine’s name is Bridget, and she’s a real, true Hobbit. Her family lives just miles from where the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies were filmed. I’ll actually be heading there within the next day or two. Bridget is about as knowledgeable as they come, and she’s a blast to hang out with.
I’ve already noticed that by being around her, as well as talking to the locals, I’m picking up a bit of a temporary accent and using more of their words. Semi trucks aren’t semis, they’re loris. Trash isn’t trash or garbage, it’s rubbish, and you throw it away in a rubbish bin. You don’t go somewhere directly, you go there “straight away.” If something is lousy or undesirable, it’s a shithole. More on these and other observations about culture and language differences in another post. (Update: here’s the post)
We left Auckland this morning, and Bridget couldn’t have been more thrilled. She doesn’t much care for Auckland, and doesn’t consider it “real New Zealand.” The city has more than 1.4 million residents, which Bridget said is more than the entire population of the South island. Only 4.4 million people live in all of New Zealand, so that’s a lot for just one city.
As we got out of town and into the rolling hills heading East, it wasn’t hard to see what she meant. Every mile we drove got more and more beautiful. Humans really do muck up nature. Speaking of which – I learned today that there’s a law in New Zealand that prohibits you from chopping down any of the trees or natural vegetation, even if it’s on your own property. If you want to get rid of a tree, you have to get a permit from the government and provide a “pretty damn good explanation” as to why.
The early part of the afternoon, just after lunch, we reached our hostel for the night. We unloaded the bus and got settled in. They’re much newer and nicer accommodations than where I stayed in Auckland last night, and the three buildings our group occupies were actually built specifically for Kiwi Experience tours, since this is a regular stop. We’re staying at a place called Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula in Northeast New Zealand.
It’s quite lovely here, both the scenic views and the weather. It gets a bit chilly at night, but shorts and flip flops are perfect during the day. I’d broken a sweat by 9am today, in fact.
After we got settled at the hostel, we hopped back on the bus for a 10 minute drive up to Hahei Beach, the starting point for the trail to Cathedral Cove. It was about 45 minutes each way, and the trek had lots of steep inclines along the way. It was all worth it when we arrived, though. Surprisingly, no matter the warm temperature outside, the water was like ice. I hadn’t intended on swimming like most of my other travel mates, but I certainly wasn’t going more than ankle deep once I felt the water.
Instead, I spent my time taking photos around the cove and up and down the beach. A few of them are in this post, and there are others over on my Flickr page. Give them a look, especially if you’ve never traveled outside the U.S. before. We don’t have anything like this back home.
After the hike, we came back to the hostel for dinner. There was a little shed out back of the registration building serving freshly prepared fish and chips, a staple around these parts. Like all the other times I travel, I get excited about experiencing the local culture and cuisine, and tonight’s feast was no disappointment.
After it’d gotten sufficiently dark, a group of us walked down to Hot Water Beach, which was incredible. It’s a naturally occurring phenomenon here in New Zealand that the water under the sand is actually hot. Like, hotter than a hot tub kind of hot. We took along some spades and shovels and made our own “hot tubs” in the sand by digging down just a bit until the holes filled with water. Definitely a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else.
That’s all for tonight. I hope you’re all doing well! Thanks for reading.