After a fantastic weekend in Wellington I got back on the school grind (sort of). It is kind of hard to stop myself from browsing through travel and photo spots when sitting in a lecture of 400 people. The weekend was fast approaching and Josh, Anna, and I were booked for a Northland adventure to the Bay of Islands. We had a tentative idea of what we wanted to see, but as you quickly learn in New Zealand most of your ideas can't influence the weather. You just need to accept that at any given point in your day it might start pouring rain so you better be prepared.
On Thursday my friend John and I grabbed some Thai Chef and sat at a nearby park for dinner. We had some great talks about transitioning to Auckland, finding community, and sharing about our experiences so far. I threw out the idea that he should join our TU crew for the weekend trip, and (very persistently) informed him that there would be a spot in our car up until 12pm when we left. A little short notice, but we all need those "when abroad" stories.
One thing I am starting to learn is that when you do trips every weekend you start to run out of good times to do laundry.
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With my last clean set of clothes I hopped into the driver seat of our rental and picked up the crew: Anna, Josh, and a last-minute John. I'm not sure what was going through their heads as they surrendered their lives to someone driving on the wrong side of the road! It really isn't that different for anyone who is wondering, I am just being dramatic. Now to set up the story for later it is important to know that I prepaid for a tank of gas, meaning that my mission was to return this car on fumes or human power. Heading north we wound our way through New Zealand's very windy coastal roads -- to give you an idea it took us about an hour and a half to go the last 40 miles (20 as the crow flies) of our journey. When we showed up at our AirBnB we took a minute to detox and sit on the porch, Josh picked up a guitar and we took in the view.
After an hour of driving through pop up showers I was eager to get to our destination. John called out from the back of the car "wow that's the sickest rainbow I think I have ever seen." I asked him if it was worth turning around for and got a resounding yes. I whipped the car around and parked at the first turnoff. Just another reminder for me of how important stopping to smell the roses is.
We finally stretched out on the porch of our AirBnB after our drive from Auckland was complete. A beautiful backdrop of the bay paired with sounds of light rain and Josh strumming away put us all in a relaxed mood. We lingered here for around an hour and soon I was tempted to pull out a book and call it a day. After weighing our options we finally summoned the energy to head out for dinner and a hike.
After a quick meal we set out on an evening hike, the short trail led us along a cliff to a lookout over the Bay of Islands. The storms had rolled away and we were left with cool air and a beautiful sunset over the water. It was a little slippery in parts but we ran around like it was nothing -- it wasn't until later that we would see the point from below and realize how precarious of a cliff we were on!
The next day we started off early with a 7am ferry across the channel, our first stop: Rainbow Falls. On our way there we stopped by a local outdoor market for a leisurely breakfast. We sat and enjoyed some live music, and per the recommendation of our host Andrea we checked out a chocolate shop across the street. While it turned out to be a little too much of an upscale place for us, John and I split a chocolate moose for the mems. Fueled for the day we hopped back in the car and made our way to the waterfall. Just as we arrived the Heavens opened and the rain came down. There would definitely be no rainbow at Rainbow Falls today. Unwilling to let a little water get in the way, we decided to just spend the day in swim gear and embrace it. By the time we got down to the edge we were already so wet that you would have thought we were getting out of the falls!
I was told that a nearby sign suggested swimming isn't a great idea, but I never actually saw it so that means it was ok. The water was a bit chilly but not enough to deter us from jumping in. We were able to swim up to the falls and climb out behind them where there was a deep cave in the hillside -- it also had perfectly protruding rocks that were prime for launching off of. We spent an hour or so playing around in the rain, and once we had had enough of the cold we scampered back up to our car. One of the benefits of having a rental is you probably don't have the same impulses to keep it in pristine condition when compared to your own vehicle. Whoever has this one next might smell a hint of river in the seats!
Soaking wet from Rainbow Falls we jumped in our car and drove to our next destination: The Giant Sand Dunes. They seemed incredibly out-of-place in New Zealand. After a hike to the top we were rewarded with panorama views of the sea and forest, and made some (failed) attempts at sand surfing with a board we found in the parking lot.
We finally arrived at Cape Reinga, the northernmost part of New Zealand, around 3pm. The rains had driven away all but the most serious sightseers which worked out perfectly for us. Hiking along a side trail we had awesome views of the lighthouse and observed the two seas crashing together in the distance.
Racing to beat the sun we drove to a sheltered bay and began looking for a campsite. The wind made it a little tricky to pitch tents, especially because we were using pens as stakes in one of them! Our efforts were rewarded however, and we spent the evening relaxing by the water and gazing at a the stars.
Waking up to the sound of waves we quickly packed up our tents and headed towards Paihia. We had booked a island-hopping boat tour prior to our trip, and had kept a close eye on the weather throughout the weekend. Fortunately it looked like the looming cyclone would stay away long enough for us to enjoy some beach time! Upon arrival (and a short but frantic search) we located our guides Adam and Catie. They informed us that we had booked a good weekend as there were only two other people who would be joining us -- essentially a private tour! I learned that the bay of islands is home to 144 islands, although most of them are only the size of a small house. There is only one island that is privately owned, and the rest are a combination of government and Māori land. One of the locations we boated by had a nice luxury home that you could book as a group, you can check it out here if you are looking for a nice island getaway and have $16,500 to spare for each night! After our brief tour of some historic locations such as where Captain Cook first met the Māori people, we stopped at Motuarohia Island. While our group headed on a short hike to the top, Adam and Catie prepared some afternoon tea for us under the shade of a tree.
The second half of our day was spent in a private bay where we snorkeled, paddled, and lounged. It was tucked away from any harsh wind and waves and was the perfect place to spend a few hours. While it wasn't teaming with wildlife, I was able to get up close and personal with some very interesting fish and urchins. Towards the end of our stay Adam went diving and collected a few tasty treats for us, and Catie showed us how to cut them open and get the good bits. I am very curious about the trial and error process someone needed to go through to figure out what parts of these things are edible. Wrapping up our tour we boated back to the docks, getting thoroughly soaked as the wind blew ocean spray into us. Along the way I asked Adam how he felt about dogs, much to our surprise he was not a fan of them in New Zealand. Primarily because they can kill kiwis, and due to the fact that they are not native. Hence the many signs around NZ stating that "any dog can kill a kiwi." All in all it was a fantastic trip, and all that remained now was to make it back home to Auckland.
Getting back to Auckland proved to be a little more treacherous than I originally planned. As we pushed the limits of our Corolla to the max, I became more nervous we would run out of gas on the road. The indicator on our dashboard slowly ticked down...30km...20km...10km...0km... We dropped John off on the top of Parnell Rise (a street near the university) and coasted down in neutral all the way to the rental shop. Problem was that the rental agency closed at 6pm, and so I opted to park in a nearby lot for the evening--fearful that any attempt to drive further would result in an empty tank. It was 8:20pm on a Sunday and we hauled our gear back to the Carlaw flats, and collapsed for the night. When I woke up the next morning before class and went to return the car, I was startled to find that it was nowhere to be found. I called all the numbers I could find and was unable to reach property managers, parking agencies, or anyone helpful.
Finally I began calling the towing companies in Auckland. On my third try I found a company that had in fact towed a Toyota Corolla at 8:50pm from a lot near Carlaw. Yes that is correct, 30 minutes after we parked our car it was towed. An Uber and hefty fine later I was standing in the towing companies lot with the keys to a car with no gas. Fortunately one of the employees gave me a tank to go fill up at a gas station and I was on my way back to the rental return. It is safe to say I learned an expensive lesson this trip. What adds insult to injury is that later in the day the property manager of the parking lot returned my call. He informed my that "if you would have just left a note on the window that you ran out of gas I wouldn't have towed you." Thanks Mate. Not Sweet As. What a great way to start out my 21st Birthday.
After a series of unfortunate events revolving around our rental car, we celebrated my belated birthday with some dinner and dessert in Parnell.
The University of Auckland has selected me to join a team of Instagram Ambassadors for my time abroad, and to feature me in their next brochure for global studies. This will be a neat addition to my study abroad experience!