Arriving in New Zealand was an exciting and yet scary time for me. I had decided to do some solo travelling as part of the whole experience and it began as soon as I landed in Whangarei.
You will remember that our first stop in New Zealand was in Auckland, well, Me and Dan spent 3 days together there to get our bearings…and then we decided to part ways for a while. I will tell you now, it wasn’t easy but it’s the best thing you can do as a travelling twosome – HAVE SOME TIME APART! One half may love it, the other may hate it, but if it’s something you need to do – then its got to be done.
Because to travel solo, is a very exciting thing indeed.
In fact I think everyone should experience wandering solo! To fend for yourself in a country you don’t know is pretty awesome and a huge accomplishment. Now to do it in a place like New Zealand makes it that little bit easier; everyone speaks the same language as you, it’s very westernised and friendly…so it’s the perfect place to get that solo taster. I think to do that elsewhere, where language is an issue, would be significantly harder, so I believe if you want to try it, then doing it this way, seems like a good plan. 🙂
I got the Intercity bus from the Skycity main bus terminal in Auckland straight to Whangarei. You will discover once you reach NZ, there are a lot of bus options for getting around the country but I was happy with the Intercity Flexipass as it allowed me to pay for my travels as I went along. For me, that was great as I really had no idea what I wanted to do or see – I kinda just wanted to see everything, so there was no major plan. So using the Flexipass map below, I figured out a route. All you have to do is buy ‘X’ hours and using the Flexipass map (you download from the site as a PDF), you can work out how many hours each journey is going to take you. You can buy the hours on the website or from an Intercity station/tourist information shop and as soon as you do those hours are deducted (the hours are rounded up to roughly how long the journey will take – you will always pay the same no matter if you’re stuck in traffic for hours). It’s a really great, fair and easy way to get around 🙂
Travelling by bus was really exciting and very spontaneous which I loved – I think all the rest of our travels had become a little ‘too well-planned’ at times (it’s so easy to do that your first time around), so this kind of travel option really gives you some freedom from all that.
(One little side note: Whangarei is pronounced “Fain ga ray” in Maori, so look out for the change in pronounciation when you get on the bus. I got very confused when the driver said it differently, I even thought I’d got on the wrong bus, because I didn’t hear ‘Wang-a-rei’ as I’d thought it was pronounced. Just remember in Maori all places that start with ‘Wh’ change to ‘Fa’.)
The journey was only a few hours long, but I was so excited. I’m one of those sad people who gets really excited about going on journeys. I think it’s true that life is more about the journey than the hypwe of the destination. I love taking in the scenery, reading my book, listening to my tunes and taking photos. My favourite thing is watching the world go by whether I’m on a train, bus or driving in a car. It’s like I was born to travel, going on adventures just just suits me down to a T – I guess that’s why I’m a Gohemian eh? So I just put my travel playlist on and enjoyed the ride.
Nothing prepares you for the beauty of NZ, as soon as you get on the road, the green hills roll out in front of you, along with the acres of lush farmland, mighty lakes and rivers which are all dotted with specks of wildlife peppering the countryside. It’s so breathtaking. I was planning on doing loads of reading on the journey…but instead I just ended up gawping outside at the view. Actual window-licking occurred here hehe.
When I arrived, I was amazed at how small Whangarei was, but it was comforting to be in a homely little town for a change rather than a big metropolis. But even though I was in a little town, I still felt a little bit lost though. I had printed a map off of the YHA I was staying at, but it seemed to be pretty far from the bus drop-off point and I realised soon enough that I had no idea how to get there. I was so used to someone else helping me find where we had to go, I was suddenly feeling a bit bewildered. But rather than that feeling like a negative thing, it felt exciting. I was creating my own journey. So rather than panic, I asked a lady who was there picking up her friend, for directions and the rest was history. I got my first taste of Kiwi hospitality right there as she very kindly gave me a lift straight to the hostel.
Everyone had told me how friendly Kiwi folk are but nothing prepared me for that. She just instantly took me under her wing and helped a stranger out, and for that I was eternally grateful. It just proves if you don’t ask, you’ll never know and I promise you, there really are some great people out there, you’re just yet to meet them!
I felt immediately at home in NZ, lovely people, a climate similar to home, lots of nice food and a very interesting culture – I was loving it so far. But it was intimidating thinking about staying in a hostel without my partner. I just hadn’t done it before, but it really was, a walk in the park. And I found the more I did it, the more comforting it became. The travelling community is a very tight-knit club and once you’re in it and you meet fellow travel-pals you will feel right at home, I promise.
The Whangarei YHA was out of the way a little bit, but I honestly wouldn’t have wanted it any other way….it was adorable. Hidden away on a residential hill, it was the perfect hostel to book into to start my solo travel adventures. It also helped that there was only 3 guests staying there…yep, I’m not kidding. It was very intimate and lovely and I even got a 6 bed dorm to myself!
I walked in and met Thijs from Holland, who became a nice new travel buddy (after I bumped into him repeatedly at various hostels), another nice guy from the states and the very awesome Hostel owner Ally. She was so friendly and so welcoming there was no way I couldn’t feel comforted at my first solo stay there.
I had done some pre-planning before I arrived in Whangarei to see what I could do while I was there and that definitely benefited, because it’s a small town, so not much goes on here.
I found out there were performances going in at the local theatre space in town and so definitely thought it would be worth checking them out. I think after sharing everything with someone else and always having to compromise on what would interest us both, it was awesome to just do something that solely got me excitable. So remember guys, it’s ok to do that, doing solo stuff every now and again is good for you (for both of you in fact!).
The first play was called the Rocky Monster Show and I naturally thought it sounded awesome because it seemed to be a combinaton of Frankenstein and Rocky Horror mixed together – amazing! And the next night there was an independent Kiwi play on, called The Intricate Art of Actually Caring. They were both awesome. I was so glad I looked beyond the ‘backpackers norm’ of what to do in a place and found my own plans because they were both really great and interesting performances. The Rocky Monster Show is a classic youth theatre show, which tells the tale of a masked professor who makes DNA moulds of Rock Stars and manages to bring a high-school kid back from the dead as a zombie. It had all the bits of a good musical, the cheesy-high school style of Grease mixed with the humour of Glee and the tongue-in-cheek monster-value of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m a sucker for musicals so I loved it. It was pretty cute seeing all the kids and their families supporting them and it was even better to see the young local talent doing their thing.
Here is a taster of the show:
But my favourite show, out of the two, was the 2nd play, The Intricate Art of Actually Caring – it was brilliant and so cleverly put together. Downstage Theatre NZ describes the play as:
“The story of a road trip that turns into a spiritual journey, as Eli and Jack – who play ‘Eli’ and ‘Jack’. They’re searching for something meaningful, something transcendent, after the pointless death of a young friend sees them grapple with an existential crisis.”
“Blending pop-culture riffs and a timeless muscular poetry, The Intricate Art of Actually Caring is both accessible and richly layered. The style is inventive, playful and engaging, using hand-drawn projections to create an imaginative landscape that is both comfortingly familiar and distinctively original.”
Indeed, they used a projector and acetate drawings on screens either sides of the stage to set the scene around them, which I thought was wonderfully original. There was even a point where one of the guys stood in front of the projector and the other actor poured food colouring into a glass bowl, placed on the projector, so that all the colours were projected across the other actors face. It was really cool and achieved a sort of lava-lamp effect. The theatre was very small and it was kind of hard to see, so I just stood at the back with my glass of wine to take in the view. And all I can say is that I loved it. It was a great insight into Kiwi popular and youth culture. As it is a small town, there was only locals in there so I did feel a bit of a imposter, but really it was very fascinating and so, so entertaining.
When I wasn’t sitting in the theatre in Whangarei, I also spent time doing a spot of girly shopping and a tonne of walking around the town and into the hills surrounding the hostel. I just really enjoyed looking out at the scenery, this really is a very cosy, sleepy town to visit.
Another thing I really enjoyed doing solo, strangely enough, was eating. We were always trying to find the cheapest ways to eat as a couple, so when I got out on my own, I decided I was going to treat myself a bit…and boy did it feel good! I went to this adorable waterfront café called Mondos at the Town Basin and had an amazing brie panini, followed by a luxurious chocolate truffle drizzled in chocolate sauce. It was to die for! Ahhhh I hadn’t had anything as decadent as that in a very long time, I thought my tastebuds had died and gone to heaven. 🙂
You will be hit with a financial condition ‘budgetitus’ as you travel, it’s a backpacker’s ailment that cannot be avoided. You will want to try and find the path to frugal living and maybe even get a little obsessed with it. It’s even a bit fun for a while but then it becomes hard work. You become worried about the pennies over the pounds and by then really it doesn’t matter. It’s true you can’t afford 3 course meals all of the time, but maybe one or two won’t hurt. So remember, you are allowed a treat every now and again….it’s okay, don’t cry about it. Travel time is to be enjoyed too! So eat up!
However my happiest memory of Whangarei was going with the guys from the hostel, to see the gloworms hidden in the hills. It was so spontaneous, magical and such an awesome little adventure. We went into the dark with torches and discovered that once you turned them off, the landscape was covered with star-lit glow worms. I was absolutely in awe. I wish I could have found a way to have captured the magic of it all but I would have needed one hell of a camera. It was stunning. So then the next most logical thing to do, in the beauty of such nature, was to have a cheeky smoke and talk about the life, love and the universe until it got too late. Let me just say, it was a very epic evening.
If you’re looking for other interesting and yet kooky things to do in town, go to Whangarei Falls. It’s 26.3m high and the pools at the bottom were considered to be sacred (tapu) to the Maori people. The walk to get to the falls is quite a trek, so get your walking boots ready!
Then there’s Clapham’s Clock Museum in the Town Basin, which is known as ‘the quirkiest and most historically significant collection of clocks in the southern hemisphere’. Like ticking and time-telling? Then get on in there…
Ever been to Whangarei? Tell me about it?
Love and cookies Em xoxo