At the end of April 2015, I left Southeast Asia and crossed the equator from tropical sunshine to rainy autumn. The first shock was the cooler weather in Auckland, I had to trade my flip flops for sneakers and dig up a sweater from the bottom of my backpack. The second shock was the lack of language barrier. New Zealand was the first English-speaking country I’d been to since leaving the US in December, five months before. The sudden shift to a Westernized, English-fluent country was both eerily familiar and comfortably foreign, like visiting the USA in the Twilight Zone.
The third shock hit when I went into a supermarket. Normally I go to the supermarket once or twice a week at home. It’s healthier to buy groceries, more cost-efficient, I like cooking, etc. While on the road I go more often but buy less, only what I need in the next few hours or days. Sometimes I go grocery shopping twice in a day, and other times I go just to explore. I like to pretend to be a local person doing my normal shopping, just grabbing a carton of milk.
The last time I’d been to a grocery store was in Japan, two months prior. I never even saw a grocery store in Thailand, Laos, or Cambodia, aside from a few open-air markets. I hadn’t couchsurfed since Japan and Southeast Asian hostels didn’t have self-cook kitchens, so I didn’t have access to cooking facilities. Plus there wasn’t any cost-saving motivation to cook for myself. Food was cheap so I ate in restaurants, and there was a 7-Eleven on every corner with snacks and toasties.
I went to my first Kiwi supermarket with Alex, a German woman from my hostel who was also on a trip around the world. Thank goodness she came with me because I was overwhelmed. Five types of humus. Baked goods. Dairy. Cereal. Tofu. Chocolate. Huge bars of chocolate, which I had sorely missed. Alex reminded me that Toto, we’re not in Southeast Asia any more. I couldn’t afford to eat out for every meal. Sure it wasn’t more expensive than Norway or San Francisco, but I needed to resurrect my cooking skills and find my inner thrifty backpacker if I was going to spend a month in NZ without going broke.
This time it only took three days to move on from Auckland, an improvement over the week I spent stuck in Bangkok. I fought yet another battle of where-do-I-go and once again faced my fears of missing that-amazing-thing-that-will-make-my-entire-trip-worthless-without-it. On my last morning in the city I went on a run by the harbor and saw a rainbow, a clear sign that Auckland was happy for me too. And that it was once again raining.
First stop was the Coromandel Penninsula and Whitianga, pronounced FIT-e-ANG-gah. Why? No idea, ask a Kiwi. Did you know, “kiwi” refers to the fruit, the people, and the bird. And in a surprise twist, the people get their nickname from the bird, not the fruit. Another fun fact is that Kiwis (the people) are outnumbered by sheep six to one.
There were two attractions in Whitianga: dig your own hot tub on a beach and visit the rocks at Cathedral Cove. Both were available by tour for the low, low price of more than I wanted to pay and having to follow a tour group all day. Prices aside, I like to go my own way so I rented a bike and pedaled to Cathedral Cove, skipping the hot tubs. Winter was coming (in the southern hemisphere) so it was very peaceful and, aside from the occasional tour group, it was clearly entering the off-season. The solitude was getting to be a bit much however, I hadn’t really talked to anyone in the last few days and after traveling with friends for a month, it was starting to get lonely. There were many young folk (18-20 years young) on year-long working visas who lived in the hostels but they tended to keep to themselves. Luckily I met Alex in Tauranga a few days later and we reconnected over coffee, trading tips of where to hike next.
Next time on Kate Has Wanderlust:
Name that mountain range!
Categories: New Zealand