from Hamilton to Wellington

THURSDAY, 8th Sept.

That was another enjoyable trip by InterCity bus. It takes about 9 hours to drive from Hamilton to Wellington and I thought I would have some sleep, but it was difficult when you had such a great driver and good atmosphere on a bus, that you didn’t want to miss anything. Oh, and the landscape was breathtaking.

I had booked one night at YHA hostel in Wellington in the city centre, but InterCity has its terminal at the train station which is further north, so I’d have to take a bus from there and look for the hostel. I asked the driver, his name was James, if the bus goes through the city centre. When I told him where I want to get off, he said to ask him again when we get closer to Wellington and we would see, because it all depends from his mood and how the journey would go. There were a few other people with the same request, so we said to each other not to tease the driver.

And I wasn’t worried about it. James made this trip unforgettable from the very beginning. He announced safety features with a Scottish accent and Kiwi humour making everyone laugh. He said that there was no toilet in that bus, so Hamilton was their chance to make a pee and if you didn’t go, shame on you. In case you wanted to go to the toilet during the drive, he could open the door and you could water the sideroad. That’s why the grass is so green in New Zealand. He also warned us to fasten our seatbelts. If there was an accident, no one would want to land on his front naighbour’s lap, unless it would be a match made in heaven then don’t forget to thank InterCity on the way out. Those are just a few examples of James’s jokes.

Further south, the hills were taller and covered with forests. Every time we passed something interesting, James told us about it, like buildings in the shape of sheep or a dog in Tirau. He said he likes doing something different every time he drives, so we had a 5 minute detour to Huka Falls.

At noon we got to Taupo and had a 40 min lunch break. James recommended a couple places where we could eat, because he knew what he was talking about. He liked eating and you could tell that when you looked at him. 😉

We left Taupo before 1 p.m. and went along the eastern shore of Lake Taupo. It’s the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand and the view from the town on the lake and the mountains behind it was astonishing! I took some pictures on my phone from the bus, but they are worthless. We had the lake right behind our windows and this is Motutaiko, an island where Te Rauparaha. hid himself when British troops wanted to kill him during 19th century’s wars. When they went away, Te Rauparaha jumped out of his shelter in the ground and composed Ka Mate haka, which is now performed by the All Blacks before their matches.

We left the lake behind, crossed winding roads in the mountains and entered Central Plateau still having the mountains on our right and Mt Ruapehu, the largest active volcano in New Zealand, which played Mt Doom in The Lord of the Rings.

James didn’t stop entertaining the passengers. This time the safety features were read by one of the passengers, a Canadian and they were in a rhyming form. Then the driver announced a karaoke competition to make that trip less boring. He had some chocolate bars and if anyone would like to sing something, there was a free mic for him or her. You can guess that no one came up to him, so he said he’d just found out that one couple had their fifth wedding anniversary and he played a song “Happy Anniversary” by Little River Band. One older Maori woman went to wish them all the best (the couple was sitting in the front), so James forced her to sing something. She did, something like a happy birthday, but more anniversary version. She got a round applause for her performance.

After a while, when no one wanted to compete with her, she wanted her chocolate bar, but James said that she couldn’t win it, because it wasn’t a competition as long as there was no other contestant. She said he was ‘meanie’, ‘mean as’ and at least she was younger than him and more beautiful (which wasn’t true, in my opinion). All that exchange with the driver was of course funny and made us all laugh again.

In the meantime we passed waving Keven, a local celebrity who always stands by the road and bus and train drivers know him and every time they drive pass his house and see him, they horn and ask the passengers to wave him back, so we did. Keven had a plastic red bag in his hand, I guess to not to miss him. He looked very happy to see us all waving.

The Canadian joined the karaoke competition and sang with his beautiful deep voice “The River/I Will Sail My Vessel” by Garth Brooks. I’ll never forget the sound of his voice, the view from my window and the joy of travelling by that bus.

The same Canadian sang one more song but I think he never got his chocolate bar, because the Maori lady snatched it when she was getting on the bus after one of the coffee breaks.

When I saw we were getting closer to Wellington, I went to James and asked him how he was doing. He was still in his great mood and replied how he could help me. When I reminded him about the hostel, he said it wouldn’t be a problem as he was taking three more people near it. All the passengers left the bus at the train station and the four of us got on again. On the way to the city centre we were telling jokes and I totally didn’t feel I had spent the last 9 hours on the bus.

I WAS IN WELLINGTON!!! When I took my baggage and waved goodbye to James with all the blessings, I decided to put on a warmer jacket and leave my hat in a bag, because the wind was too strong to have it on my head. Windy City. Walking along the street I saw on my right The Embassy Theatre, where Return of the King had its premiere. Further down the street there was Bats Theatre, where Flight of the Conchords and Taika Waititi used to perform regularly. And all that right across the street of my hostel! My fangirl heart just exploaded.

The YHA hostel in Welly was awesome! I was sorry I was staying there just one night, because the location was perfect and it was clean, quiet and everything you’d want from a hostel and more.

In my room, there was waiting another surprise. I was sharing it with a girl I had passed in Waitomo on my way to Junohall! She said, she remembered me with my bag. I remember asking one Asian girl how far it was, but I didn’t remember her face. And now we met in Wellington in the same room after three days of going to completely different places. She was from South Korea and going to South Island the next day. We had a good chat, but I had to control the time, because later in the evening I was seeing a friend from Norway who is on working holiday visa and has been living in Wellington since January.

We met up at the Bucket Fountain. When I found Cuba Mall, I had again that surreal feeling that it wasn’t really happening and I was just seeing it thanks to Google Map or Earth, but the quality of the picture was much better and I could hear the fountain spilling water in crazy directions, live music from pubs and smell coffee from bars and different dishes from many restaurants. A. took me to Midnight Espresso, where I tasted flat white almost as good as the one in London. Opposite the café, there was Slow Boat Records, where you can get any album you want. The Phoenix Foundation had their free gig there in December 2009.

Maybe it will sound a bit silly, but when you’re far away from those places and just hear about them, you may think they don’t really exist until you finally get there. They do exist. They fully exist.

6 responses to “from Hamilton to Wellington

  1. James is a personal friend of mine, and has been for over a decade. He is one of those genuine people who goes out of their way for you out of the goodness of his heart and never expects anything in return. There’s been many a time in my previous job where he’s ‘rescued’ me when I’ve had to work a night shift ending in the wee hours of the morning with no way to get home, and he’s travelled half an hour to get me, same again to take me home, and then begun an opening shift in his (former) job only a couple of hours later. He is amazing, and I couldn’t wish for a better friend. He really loves his job as a bus driver, he gets to see so many people – and he comes back to us with the funniest and craziest stories. He really bonds with his passengers and it’s not just a show he puts on – he really is that crazy, happy, spontaneous, and fun guy that drives the bus! I’m glad you enjoyed your trip with him, it is wonderful to see such great feedback about him and that the enthusiasm he puts into his job is appreciated. Enjoy your travels! 🙂

    • Wow, thank you for your comment! How did you find my blog? 😀
      I really appreciate what you wrote about my favourite bus driver in NZ. You are very lucky to have a friend like him. I hope when I come back to NZ and travel by bus again, I get the chance to sit in the one driven by James. He is a real gem and after that trip with him that day I knew, that my visit in your country will be unforgettable. Thank you again!

      • James was so proud and pleased with what you wrote, he posted your blog on his facebook timeline, hehe! 🙂 I’m very glad you enjoyed your trip with him, and passengers like you are why he loves his job!

      • Really?! Now I understand why I got so many hits on my blog via facebook 😀 I thought it’s because of this bad fame around bus drivers in NZ now (talking on cell phones etc.) and someone wanted to show that not all drivers are like that.

        Anyway, I’m really honoured. Send my love to James. x

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