Turns out it doesn't matter how much I prepare and plan for a trip. Somehow, stepping off the plane with little to no expectations and fresh eyes, always shatters my world - only to leave me putting together a new one.
I was overeager to book with Stray Travel - a "guided hop-on hop-off adventure bus" as they call themselves. It was perfect in concept.. I can meet people, not worry about transportation to remote areas, and hop off to do my own thing if I needed a break. Sometimes it takes a period of time to put things in perspective. Here are some pros + cons to my own experience and lessons I've learned on how I like to travel.
Arriving in Auckland to catch the bus, I was so pumped and ready to meet, greet, and befriend anyone I came across. BUT I completely missed my bus the next morning. Fortunately, I got to meet some awesome bunkmates the next day, making my time in the city short but worth it. I legit almost missed the bus AGAIN the next day, and after only 20 minutes to pack up and run to the bus stop, we headed to our first official Stray destination --
Lucky for us, we were gifted 1 perfectly sunny day on the waves and hot springs before a cyclone hit us - marking the wettest day in 58 years... womp. Being stranded for an extra night from floods helped us to bond with one another by learning jiu jitsu moves, doing yoga, and even going to the beach together while sand blew in our eyes 😂
On our way to the next stop we had a chance to join a white water rafting activity. Given that the big storm just filled the river with the best rapids possible, I couldn't pass it up!
One of Stray's perks is they reserve a bed for you at each stop (usually Base Hostel or YHA) so that we're guaranteed a place to sleep. If we hop off, we can find a different hostel and do our own thing. I wanted to hop off and booked what became one of my favorite hostels: Funky Green Voyager. We also played tourist and went to Hobbiton.
Here is when I started to see how potentially awkward things can get. I had hopped off for an extra two days in Rotorua and all the original friends I made left before I did. There I was alone, joining a new bus with new people. It was a sudden realization that the people I come across will come and go in a flash. So, do I grab a beer and attempt to make friends? or take a nap? (i chose nap..#introverting)
Whakahoro: Blue Duck Station
This place left me speechless...Super remote classic NZ.. no wifi, no signal, lots of nature. I joined the horse trekking tour of the farm, one of my favorite memories of the trip. I've never seen so much wildlife - I'm talking about galloping herds of different animals off in the distance. It felt like stepping into a Nat Geo documentary. I didn't take much photos! That's the downside of going with a group and guide (and on a horse), but upside is I got to be totally present in all the amazing moments.
There was one moment we were all just getting use to managing our horses ("remember, they are animals with their own minds.. NOT robots" as the guide said), when the lead horse suddenly stopped and acted all suspicious, and bolted backwards, causing the entire pack to freak out and scatter like a bunch of flies. We all hung on for dear life screaming "helpppppmeeeeeehelpp" til God put his hand over us and calmed them down 😂😂 we laughed about it after, anyway it's much harder to stop them from bending down to eat when we wanted them to keep walking!
Tongariro National Park
After the Blue Duck Station we left before the sun came up to the famous Tongariro National Park, location of the famous Mt. Doom from LOTR (Mount Ngauruho in real life). I was slightly not prepared for a 19km trek when they annouced that they'll drop us at the trailhead by 8am. There was a buzz of half awakened confusion and questions, but I filled my water bottle, bought a pack of bagels, and we all started on our way.
Again, one of the best things in travel is going into a situation with absolutely no idea what you'll see, then being blown away by views like this...
We were blessed with amazing clear weather!
Thanks Liz for helping me take some of these bomb photos 🙌
Excerpt from my travel journal:
"The more acquainted I get with a city, the harder it is for me to leave it. With memories of sitting on one particular bench for hours while eating an entire bar of chocolate, discovering cafes with free WiFi, knowledge of where all the public toilets are, and the way its streets smell after the rain. I won't forget the uphill road that made my lungs burn, the bar with weak tequila shots, the slide I chickened out on halfway, and the pain I felt on the first night of sleeping alone. Sometimes a city is kind enough to wrap your memories in a perfect little box with a ribbon on top. Wellington was one of them."
I'm one of those who like to walk around with my camera, hoping that i'll be somewhere at the right moment. I dont know about you, but this was it...
After a couple days catching up with work, it was time to keep going. I popped my ferry cherry with a scenic ride from Wellington to Picton.
On to the South Island!