I Have Chocolate: A Hitchhiker’s Tale

Hey Everyone! I’m writing today after spending about two weeks in New Zealand.  I’ve been having the most amazing time since landing in Christchurch on the 18th of February, although I’m not exactly where I thought I would be.

Side note/shameless plug! If you appreciate my blog and want to help in future travels, please consider making a tiny donation for my upcoming volunteer trip to Thailand and Cambodia HERE!  This donation will go directly to the organizations I work with there, I will never see the money myself.  Make a difference in the world, one community to another!  If you’d like more info, please read this post. As of March 8th, we are 84% of the way there!!  Thank you SO MUCH to all the people who have helped by donating and/or spreading the word, you lovely folks make my world go ’round 🙂

I managed to make my connection through Auckland to Christchurch on a tight connection, made tighter by a decent delay in my flight from LAX.  Between getting though customs with something other than a tourist visa (meaning waiting in the long line to talk to someone rather than just scanning my passport at one of the machines) and biosecurity (luckily most of my gear was pretty new, so the didn’t pull out my hammock to swab it) and walking from the international terminal to the domestic one, I was worried, but made it with 10 minutes to spare.  Arriving in Christchurch, I took a bus to the city and walked the rest of the way through the drizzle to New City Backpackers.  Pretty much everyone I met there was arriving for a working holiday, so after making friends with Bernie, the bouncer of the bar downstairs, and talking to many people starting their search for work, I got down to business finding a place to WWOOF.  I expected to find something in the South Island, but most of the places I would have liked to spend some time were full until April.  Luckily, I managed to touch base with a horse farm in the north that needed an extra set of hands, and decided to spend one more day in Christchurch before beginning my journey north.

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The next morning, I met up with Morgan for coffee.  Morgan and I met when we were both traveling in Athens.  I was standing outside the Parthenon debating whether the line was really worth it when he came up and started making conversation.  We were both traveling alone, and decided to hang out and see some cool stuff together for the afternoon.  When I last came to New Zealand we tried to get together but couldn’t swing it, so I was really grateful for a chance to catch up after a few years.  We had amazing coffee at a neat shop in the middleish of Christchurch, then walked around the city a bit, with Morgan pointing out the damage and reconstruction from the earthquake years ago.  The city is still very much under construction with a shopping center completely made from shipping containers and the church which gives the city its name half in ruins, and it was great to have a local’s point of view on how the recovery is going.  We parted ways at a local playground and I spent the rest of the day walking around, chatting with Bernie, and trying to figure out how I was getting north. Someone clued me into the concept of transfer or relocated cars, which allows someone to pick up a car and transport it to another place at no cost (except insurance), so I applied for one for the next day to get to Nelson (about as far north as I could get in one day). It turned out that another traveler in the hostel, Felipe, was thinking about heading that way as well, so we agreed to reconvene in the morning and drive together if the car came through, and maybe hitch hike together if it didn’t.

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The next morning arrived with no news of a car, but we decided to wait an hour or so before catching a bus to the outskirts of town to hitch.  We were stoked when I got the email saying we were good to go, and caught a bus to the airport to pick up the car.  At this point, I was quite sick (I had left the US with a cold, and sleeping in hostel rooms and flying for 13 hours or so didn’t help), and I was grateful to have Felipe around to keep me walking the correct direction in my foggy state.  We drove for a couple of hours with Felipe explaining the intricacies of Brazilian politics to me, stopping in Hamner Springs for a quick walk up the hill and a lunch we had packed in the morning while we waited, and then took off again, only pausing to pick up a couple hitch hikers in a really bad spot (meaning they would have had a hard time getting picked up) on the road about an hour from Nelson. We dropped off the car and realized there was no public transit from the airport to town in Nelson, and also there were no hostels in Nelson with any room for the night.  We booked a room in a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town and took a taxi, marveling at how much hotter it was here than in Christchurch.  Eventually we puttered off to the grocery store, where I bought a can of chicken noodle soup which I promptly devoured and then went straight to sleep, battling what was starting to feel like an ear infection after our drive.

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I woke up feeling marginally better, and we decided to walk into town and figure out next steps from there.  Felipe had a reservation that night at a hostel in town, and I had pretty much decided to walk to the edge of town and try to get a ride to Picton to take the ferry over to the North Island.  We walked as far as the local tourist station together, then he rented a bike and went for a ride and I walked to the edge of town where a couple other hitch hikers were already trying to get a ride.  I made a sign for Picton out of the inside cover of my copy of Sirens of Titan, and proceeded to wait.  Another girl arrived just as the couple caught a ride, and it turned out we were going to the same place and decided to 20170221_163037hitch together.  We immediately got picked up by Betty, an older lady who offered to take us to the outskirts of town where we would have better luck catching a ride that would take us all the way.  My new partner in crime, Nicola, held down the front seat while I tried to keep my coughing to a minimum.  On the outskirts of town, Nicola pulled out a sign that read “I have Chocolate” and we settled in to wait.  It wasn’t long until we were swooped up by Andrew, who was on his way from nelson to Blenheim, the large town just before Picton.  We talked about all things New Zealand on the road, until Andrew found a safe, shady spot just on the right side of the bridge.  We barely had time to take our packs off before a hauling truck pulled over.  The driver’s name was Daryl, and we discussed the insanity of US politics on our short ride to Picton.  He dropped us off almost at the ferry, where we discovered that the only ferry left for the day would put us into Wellington after 10 PM, so we hiked out to Alexander Holiday Park, stopping for groceries on the way (we had the brilliant idea of putting our backpacks into shopping carts to go into the store, but were unfortunately stopped immediately and told to take them outside).  I pitched my hammock, we took hot showers, and cooked some super spicy rice and veggies whilst discussing bringing down to patriarchy and Nicola’s adventures in Australia.  After watching about half of Hitchcock’s The Birds and frightening a hedgehog snooping around our campsite, we settled in for a night beneath the deafening cicadas, dreaming of the pastries we were going to buy before getting on the ferry the next day.

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Pastries in hand, we arrived at the ferry at 8:15.  We claimed a spot on the top deck and enjoyed the sun while boarding finished.  The ride took about three hours, in which Nicola napped and I read.  We arrived in Wellington in the middle of the day, dropped our bags at 20170222_160038Waterloo Hostel, and began exploring.  Our goal was to get the to the Te Papa Museum, which we were told was not to be missed and has free admission, but took a minute to drink some McDonald’s coffee and eat a granola bar in a park on the way.  We arrived in the museum and split up: since I’m more interested in naturalism and Nicola was more focused on art, she started in the gallery at the top and I started in the exhibit on plate tectonics on the first floor and we worked our way towards the middle.  Aside from lots of really cool stuffed specimen, I also found information on an endangered parrot that only seems interested in mating with people’s heads, and spent a lot of time in the exhibit on WWI and the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealander) unit which fought.  We reconvened on the first floor, and decided to take a stroll up Cuba Street, where we both fell in love with the funky vibes and availability of used books.  As we perused a display of sale books, I saw a sign for Pho and decided now was a perfect time to succumb to my addiction, since I was still fighting off the cold.  We grabbed some noodles (which for all their effort, the restaurant could not make spicy enough for Nicola), hiked the long way back to the hostel where we took a couple minutes to relax and shower, and then headed back to Cuba Street to grab a drink and people watch.

We found a really cool bar with outdoor seating, and spent a couple of hours pouring over local guides looking for neat art and music in New Zealand.  As we were looking over one local guide, we found a hilarious event called Jacob’s Party, depicting a grim-looking young man in yellow sweater offering free food in exchange for showing up to “another one-man-social-anxiety-dance-party…filled with nostalgia and regret.”  We chuckled, wishing we could have gone, before realizing the next event was “Jacob’s After Party,” described as “So I’ve planned an after party.  A little premature, I know, since I might be hyperventilating under my duvet after my actual party…” This was occurring the following night, and while we tried to figure out if we could get another night a hostel to go, I realized the table next to us had fallen silent.  I looked up to find Jacob, in his glorious yellow sweater, staring at us.  Totally star struck, we congratulated him on surviving the party, and promised to try to come to the after party.  We went back to the hostel to see if we could book another night, and found that it (and all the hostels in the city really) were booked except for a couple 20 person dorms in really low rated hostels.  We opted to pass, although sad about missing what sounded like a really fun event with some fun and funky people.

The next morning we struggled to find a place to hitch out of, since in the city there are so may places a car could be going from any given roadway.  We took a train for about an hour north, hopping off in Waikanae, and discovered we really should have gotten off in the 20170223_173613previous town.  This one had no tourist info, and really didn’t even a place that would be safe for cars to stop and pull over, but we found the safest place we could and held up a sign that simply said “NORTH.”  We managed to get a ride to the next town with a super sassy awesome Maori lady, and then got picked up pretty quickly by Dave, who was transporting a car for work from Wellington to Auckland.  He since we didn’t have a real plan of where to go (I needed to get to Hamilton and Nicola didn’t have a set destination but was aiming for Rotorua), we decided based on Dave’s trajectory that Taupo would probably be a good place to aim for.  We ate the rest of our hitching chocolate, talked about music and advertising, dropped some profound truth bombs (Sometimes you have to be something you’re not to figure out who you really are), and made in Taupo in no time.  We got dropped off a ways outside of the town where we found a holiday park in Thermal Valley.  This holiday park turned out to be the coolest place, full of chickens, ducks, alpacas, guinea fowl, a couple sheep and goats, and even a number of peacocks.  The proprietor, John, was amusing as anything, playing a straight face and handing me a package with tarantula eggs,” which turned out to be a spring-loaded contraption that spring as you opened the paper while his wife gave me a spoonful of their home-produced honey for my tea to ease my cough.

I decided very early the next morning to stay another night, and after paying for the hammock site we walked to Taupo.  There was a neat walking trail, where we came across a spot called “Hot Water Beach” which was not actually hot water, but was a nice place for a refreshing dip; passed Huka Falls; and finally wandered into town.  At this point, I was very dehydrated and sun sick, so we headed straight to Burger Fuel, where Dave told we could get a great burger.  He was correct.  We sat for a couple of hours people watching, slowly eating, and using the WiFi so Nicola could book tickets to South East Asia.  We 20170224_083800grabbed some groceries, and started walking to the highway, hoping to hitch back.  It was cloudy and a bit late, and although we wanted to check out some hot springs that were a short walk down the road, we quickly became concerned as it grew darker.  I had a migraine at this point and was not looking forward to another 10 km walk, but once we made it to the highway we pretty much gave up hope.  Cars were hurtling past us around a corner with nowhere safe to slow down and pull off.  We resigned ourselves to our fate and began to walk.  I tore apart the box for the granola bars we had just purchased, and as a last-ditch effort, wrote “7 KM” on the small surface and walked with it behind me as we trudged along the highway.  After a minute of walking, a tiny car zipped past us, slammed on the brakes, and reversed up the narrow shoulder.  We hopped in, immensely grateful, and rode for a couple minutes with the guy, who was headed to Auckland for a Bruce Springsteen concert.  We walked the remaining two km to the campsite with a happy step.  After a shower, part of a bell pepper, and copious cups of tea over showing Nicola my favorite music, I found my migraine had subsided.  I slept well that night.

We packed up fairly early to get back to the highway.  We walked back to the roundabout, stopping when I realized I had lost a ring.  After running back to the campsite, I decided it was fitting to lose a ring in the country where the Lord of the Rings was filmed, and gave it up for lost.  Nicola and I hugged and parted ways, as Nicola would take one side of the roundabout to get to Rotorua and I would take the other to go the Hamilton.  She hadn’t even finished walking to the far side of the roundabout before I was picked up by a super sweet couple, originally from Fiji but living in Auckland for thirty something years, and they told me all about the economy and political structure of New Zealand, and helped me understand quite a bit about everything from agriculture to topography before dropping me off in Hamilton.  I had booked two nights in Central Hamilton Backpackers with plans for my WWOOFing host, Kerry, to come and pick me up on Monday.  I settled into the hostel, talked to Jon for a minute, and then met David, who occupied the bunk below me.  We quickly decided the weather was way too nice to waste indoors, and so we walked to the Hamilton Gardens (which also has free admission!).  There was a lot going on as the arts festival was occurring at the same time , and we skirted around the main gardens talking about what David had been doing in his much longer time in New Zealand.  We ended up wandering into a cemetery by accident, where we discovered trees filled with green and red parrots, and a couple of Tui birds (local mimickers that can make an utterly astonishing range of sounds).  We wandered back on the river walk next to the Waikato River, found some curry for dinner, and watched Kill Bill in the common room before going to sleep.

David had plans the following day to go the Wiatomo Caves, so after breakfast (included at20170304_140914 the hostel) I opted to walk over and get ice cream at Duck Island Ice Cream, which came highly recommended.  This was a just recommendation, and I have gone back and will go back every chance I get.  After filling up on some delicious ice cream, I walked back along river and stopped into the Waikato Museum and art gallery (also free admission), learning more about the ANZAC unit as well as the New Zealand contributions to WWI on the western front and Maori history including some star lore and the Waitangi treaty protests.  The day was pretty much gone at this point, so I went back to the hostel where I found David had just gotten back.  We decided to go eat (even though I had just finished my leftover curry from the previous day) , and found a steakhouse on the corner of Victoria Street that offered $6 steaks after 6:00 PM on Sunday.  We were stoked, and went back to the hostel to drink more tea and watch Kingsman.

20170227_135150Kerry arrived at the hostel the next morning to take me to the farm, where I am writing this now.  I’ve been here for just over a week and could easily stay here forever.  The farm inhabitants currently include seven horses, most of which are Arabian endurance horses in the family’s racing business, along with a couple chickens and dogs, plus the cat and dog.  There is nothing quite so lovely as waking up the morning, scarfing some oatmeal and tea, and then walking through the lush grass to deliver food to the various horses.  The local wildlife is amusing to me as an outsider, from the pilfering Magpies to the insanely angry sounding (see video below, and turn the sound on!) Australian cockatoos that fly over to pick the almost ripened walnuts from the tree in one of the paddocks.  The horses are incredible, especially since I was raised with disdain for Arab horses as crazy and unpredictable.  There really could be nothing further from the truth with the lot out here, and I’ve enjoyed having my prejudice smashed by these amazing horses, who are so calm and so talented but who also have so much personality (something I see lacking in quite a lot of the show horses I grew up with).


Along with the horsey chores, there has been some fun sight-seeing and whatnot as well.  Tyla (Kerry and Richard’s daughter) dropped me off in town the other day to wander the gardens, where I discovered that David and I had really missed the entire thing.  The gardens are split up into amazing, fully enclosed small gardens with very particular themes, including gardens from around the world (a collection of six smaller gardens modeled on Japanese meditation gardens, English flower gardens, and an American “modern” garden), a Tudor garden, a local and native plant garden, and a backyard kitchen 20170303_194031garden with chickens and compost.  I spent a couple hours there in what felt like a matter of minutes, and would gladly go again to see if I missed anything else (and to go get more Duck Island Ice Cream, of course).  Kerry and Lisa took me with them while Lisa and her horse, Monty, practiced some jumps for the weekend’s event.  A couple days ago, I borrowed the car to go walk around town, and after ice cream I grabbed a sandwich at Novi Roast (which was bomb and CHEAP!) and sat in the park watching a recreational cricket game.  In the following days, Tyla, Annete (a former WWOOFER here), and I went over to Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, where we explored the enclosures looking for giant crickets (Weta), birds of all kinds, and Tautara.  We spent lots of time hiking around and a bit climbing the platform into the canopy (there was a film crew recoding for a documentary that decided to perch about halfway up the stairs to the platform, so we had to wait until they finished. On the plus side, a Maori man playing traditional instruments was part of their recording, so we were able to wander the forest with the beautiful music in the air).  Yesterday, Kerry took myself and two of the horses, Shimar and Prima, for a short endurance workout at Raglan Beach.  although I grew up with horses and near the beach, these two things had never overlapped for me.  There are few points in my life I can pinpoint as giving me such profound joy as cantering an endurance horse down a beautiful beach in perfect weather.

All this is really cool, but most of all, I love that this family has welcomed me so deeply into their home.  It’s one thing to travel and see the sights in such an incredible and picturesque place, it is something completely different to feel like I live here, to wake up every morning to smell of wet grass and eat dinner with a family every night. I’m so grateful for all the opportunities afforded to me here, from the utterly incredible workout for the horses at the beach yesterday in Raglan (I’ve never felt a more comfortable canter than Shimar’s) to having a roof over my head and a hot meal while it is raining out (which it is currently, with a vengeance) to talking to Tyla about art and politics and capybaras over a cup of tea.  I’m so excited to keep doing this into the endish of March, and then off to some more grand adventures until Jon gets here in April, and then we will double the fun!

For now though, off to do some rainy day chores, drink some more tea, and maybe catch up on postcards.  Love you all!

T

Side note/shameless plug! If you appreciate my blog and want to help in future travels, please consider making a tiny donation for my upcoming volunteer trip to Thailand and Cambodia HERE!  This donation will go directly to the organizations I work with there, I will never see the money myself.  Make a difference in the world, one community to another!  If you’d like more info, please read this post. As of March 8th, we are 84% of the way there!!  Thank you SO MUCH to all the people who have helped by donating and/or spreading the word, you lovely folks make my world go ’round 🙂

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