New Zealand

An Unexpected Journey
May 2015

In the next six days I stayed in five towns. I was on a race to see everything and go everywhere, lest I miss something. I had already booked a flight back to the US and I wanted to see the entire country, both islands, before I left. Which is certainly possible in a month. Not. But I sure tried.

After the Tongariro hike I stopped in Taupo for a couple of days to rest and have another cup of coffee with my friend Alex, who was going south to Tongariro while I was heading west to the coast. I’d considered waiting to hike the Crossing with her but she had five weeks before her flight and I had just three, so I rushed to do the hike and lucked out that the weather cooperated.

On my way to the west I spent a single night in Rotorua, the rotten egg capital of NZ. The nauseating smell was not because someone let a city full of eggs spoil; it’s the natural sulfuric water from the volcanoes. Hot water boiled through the cracks in the pavement and parts of the road were roped off to keep people away from the scalding water. But in other places the steaming hot water ran freely down the streets, making it a dangerous place to walk carelessly.

The main reason I stopped in Rotorua was to see the Hobbits the next day in nearby Matamata. It was rainy and chilly, and expensive and touristy. But I loved it; it had the same magical feeling as in the movies. Walking down the streets of the Shire and peering into the Hobbit holes, looking for Bilbo and Frodo, and ending the day with a beer at the Green Dragon. But even with the glamour of Hobbiton, I was a little lonely. Exploring Middle Earth is more fun with friends. Don’t get me wrong, I was hardly suffering while I soaked up the exotic scenery, but it would have been nicer with company.

I pressed on, racing to reach the south island. The next night I paused in Hamilton, a seemingly random city to stop in but I had a reason: my French couchsurfing host was there. A year before when I visited Lyon I stayed with a couchsurfer named Alexis, and he jokingly invited me to surf with him again when he moved to NZ. Well a year later around the world, the joke was on him. We went out on the town to see some actual night life which consisted of a solitary street lined with bars, thus confirming that NZ is a sleepy country in bed by 8pm. Honestly I hardly minded, I enjoy being a grandma and in bed by nightfall. The real highlight was seeing my friend Alexis again, a familiar face, even if just for a night. As I walked through the city early the next morning on my way to the next bus, I was once again on my own but I didn’t feel quite so alone anymore.

I was headed to New Plymouth, a seaside town with murals and a long boardwalk, to hike Mount Taranaki. A guy at the hostel had the same plan (and a car) so we woke up at the crack of dawn, drove to the trailhead nad started hiking. I didn’t have the time or energy to summit (takes 8-10 hours roundtrip), and I had yet another bus to catch in the afternoon. Plus I didn’t have the gear to hike in the snow at the top, so I did a tranquil 3-hour loop and headed down. I wanted to give myself plenty of time to hitch a ride back to town but within 10 minutes I found two women who were happy to give me a lift and I caught my bus to Wellington with time to spare.

Spending one night here, one night there, bus after bus after bus, was exhausting. It was beautiful and exciting but the nagging feeling was still there, that some good company would make it even better. Little did I know that in Wellington, fate (and chocolate) would step in and change everything.

Categories: New Zealand

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