After WWOOFing for two weeks in Northland, I was ready to be on the move again and I was craving new adventures and travel. I am not sure how I am going to handle being home for three months at once after my journeys! I left Baylys Beach and Trish behind, and decided to hitch the 180km from Dargaville to Auckland. My hitchhiking luck persisted, and I got picked up by a German 24-M traveler, in the second car that passed me. He happened to be going all the way to Auckland, and was able to drop me at Tori's (mate from OB) house so I could get my camera I accidentally left there two weeks before. One of the benefits to hitching is that often the driver offers to drop me wherever I need to be in the town or city, so I get front door service to backpackers or friends. You can't pay a bus to do that!
After a brief stop in Auckland for a couple hours, I bussed to Tauranga. Hitching out of cities is difficult, and I don't like hitching in the later afternoon/evening in the dark. Winter has arrived here in the southern hemisphere, and the sun sets around 5:30pm. Anyway, I got into Tauranga in the evening, where Dee's mom picked me up. Nadine (Dee) is Susie's friend from Christchurch I have been staying with, and when my parents were in NZ two years ago they stayed with her family for a time, as well as Susie spending a month holiday with them. Therefore, I was the last in the family to visit, and it was something I didn't want to leave the country without doing. I spent two nights there and it was great to be with a family. Elsie, her mom, did my laundry and sent me away with a packed lunch :-) I felt well taken care of! The day I spent there I went to The Mount, a popular summer holiday destination with surfing beaches. I climbed Mt. Maunganui (only 250m) and soaked at the salt water thermal pools at the base afterwards.
Then next day I got an early start on a bus to Rotorua, a very touristy destination with thermal springs being the major attraction. I decided I needed some exercise, and wanted to take advantage of the hundreds of kilometers of mountain bike trails through native forest. I wanted to take advantage of the time I had the bike (5hrs), and that I did. Mountain biking can be quite extreme on single tracks, and without much experience it can be quite tricky, especially with mud and slippery surfaces after rain. I had the mountain to myself and only saw one other rider the whole time. I had a great time, but boy was I sore 30km later.... But I loved it! I only took one tumble over the handle bars, and have a colorful bruise on my leg to prove it :-P
After one night in Rotorua, two girls from my hostel with a van dropped me off two hours south, in a small town, Tarangi. I spent two nights at a great little backpackers there, where I had a double bed to myself in a share room! I decided to go rafting with German, Canadian, and Australian girls, and the four of us enjoyed the cold river and impressive scenery. I was a little disappointed by the class 3 rapids, it seamed quite mellow and un-extreme, but then again everything after ob feels that way to me. Neverless, it was a fun day, and the 4 hr half-day trip included a soak in the thermal pools and hot tomato soup afterwards.
Yesterday I decided to have one final hurrah of hitchhiking, the 322 km journey south from Taurangi to Wellington. Again, I couldn't believe my luck when not more than 5 minutes after holding my thumb up, a woman stopped who was going all the way to Wellington. She said she normally doesn't pick up hitchhikers, but I looked nice so on a whim she stopped. I get that response frequently, by the way. After starting on our way, she apologized for needing to make two stops, one at a cafe to get a late, and another at the icebreaker outlet store. I laughed and agreed to the stops, which were right up my alley. Icebreaker is the NZ brand that sells marino wool products, similar to smartwool. The products are so good, but expensive. I had a fun little shopping spree, and was very happy with my purchases. Sue then dropped me at Dane's door (ob watchmate again) where I was planning on staying for two nights, and insisted on giving me her cell number in case I needed anything while I was in Welly. She also offered up her spare room should my friend's flat not work out.
I have been amazed by all the kind people I have meet while traveling, both Kiwis and other travelers alike. I have made so many friends and connections here in NZ, it will be very sad to say goodbye for good and go back to the other side of the globe. It is such an easy country to travel around alone, and relatively safe too. It was such a good choice for my first true longer solo travel experience. I can't believe I have just 3 days left here... I know I will be back for sure someday, more likely sooner than later. I have a long list of things I still want to do in the country. The list is probably longer than my original list... but so it goes.
Stay tuned as my journey continues... It's not over yet! Tomorrow I am going to the national museum, Te Papa, and viewing the Monet exhibit currently on display. I fly back to Christchurch tomorrow evening (Monday 11 May), and back to see Anne in Sydney again May 13-23. Following my 1o days in Aussie, I return to Oregon for my graduation for a week, and finally June 1st I fly home with my fam to PSG.
It has come to my attention (thanks Gillian!) that some of my terminology is a bit confusing, so I thought I would do a brief Kiwi lingo guide for you.
kiwi- new zealand resident
kiwi fruit- the real thing, the eatable fruit. don't forget the 'fruit' part.
tramping- backpacking in america
backpacking- traveling around with a backpack, normally staying in 'backpackers'
yankees- what kiwis call Americans
zed- how you pronounce 'Z'