from Wanganui to Auckland

SUNDAY, 27th November

Three sisters were leaving Wanganui on the same day as I was and when they had found out that I was going to Auckland, the younger ones had offered a lift to Hamilton and I could catch a bus to Auckland from there. I changed the booking on Sunday morning and was free to go with 2/3 of ‘Three Musketeers’.

Before B. got on her bus back to Wellington, we went to the Castlecliff Beach with black sand

Then B. went south and we took the north. Beautiful views along Whanganui River Road.

Raukawa Falls

We stopped for lunch in National Park

Te Kuiti, “the sheep shearing capital of the world and is host to the annual New Zealand National Shearing Championships”. The statue is 7 meters tall and weighs 7.5 tonnes. Three time capsules were sealed inside the statue in 1994 and are due to be opened in May 2024, 2054 and 2084.

Going through Otorohanga was like blast from the past. In September I saw real kiwis in the Kiwi House.

Near Hamilton airport we stopped at a strawberry farm and bought fresh fruit and strawberry ice cream for dessert. I had enough time before my bus to visit one of the sisters’ house and had delicious dessert. At 6 pm, I jumped on the bus to Auckland and in the evening I was back in Te Atatu at my friends’ having late dinner.

Being back in Auckland meant that those were my last days in New Zealand, but my mind wasn’t ready for that yet.

lazy Levin and windy Wanganui

WEDNESDAY to SATURDAY, 23th – 26th November

Porirua was my first stop of my ‘farewell parade’. I didn’t want to ‘waste’ my last week in New Zealand on going somewhere new and seeing more places, which after a while they might look all the same. I wanted to meet people who had been helping me during my stay and meant to me a lot.

I knew that C. from Levin worked in the morning, so I took a bus from Porirua to Levin in the afternoon. Until then I was helping D. in her garden. I’d love a life like this. The weather wasn’t nice and the rain made us go inside, but I loved digging in the dirt. We had some last pierogis for late lunch and then D. dropped me off to the bus stop.

One hour later I was taken over by C. in Levin. There’s not much to say about what I was doing there for the next two days, apart from spending time with friends, going for walks (the weather was very good!) watching tv and playing Skip-Bo. It was another home away from home.

On FRIDAY, I left Levin and went to Wanganui. I know I’d been there before, but it was one of those things I had to do and go back to that place. On a bus, which was from Wellington, I sat next to an elderly lady. When we started talking, she asked me where I was from. I told her that I was from Poland and she said that she had a friend whose mum was from Poland. They were neighbours and they both were members of a floral club. I remembered that D. from Porirua was a member of a floral club, too, so I asked the lady if her friend’s name was D., and she said, YES! Then I said, D’s last name and it was the same person! What were the odds?! I know that New Zealand is a small country and it’s quite normal to meet a friend of a friend, but I didn’t know it’d happen to me after spending only 3 months!

B. was going to Wanganui to meet up with her two younger sisters who live in Hamilton. They try to see each other every year and every time in a different place. This time it was a place where they grew up together. When we got off the bus, B. introduced me to her sisters who had just arrived by car. They offered taking me to my hostel which I accepted gladly, because it was quite a walk, although closer than last time. I stayed at Tamara Backpackers Lodge, which I really loved and can recommend to everyone.

We exchanged phone numbers and off they went to their hotel. I wasn’t sure if I was going to meet them again, but I had told them that there would be market near the Visitor Centre by the river next day.

It was late afternoon when I left my bag in my room and went for a walk along the river. It was busier than the last time I had visited the town. I did small shopping and then had dinner back in the hostel. I tried to work on my blog, but I was getting tired and sleepy and noticed that I was having some depressing thoughts, because of my last days in New Zealand. It was 7 pm when I took a nap till 9 pm. When I woke up, I thought there was no point getting up, so I fell asleep again and woke up at 9 am next morning.

Things looked much better when I got up next day. I met an Israeli guy at breakfast who was the biggest LOTR geek I’ve ever met and we talked about his passion almost till noon. I was afraid I was going to miss the market, but it was still on when I got there. It was the election day, as I was later reminded, so it was open longer than usually. On the way I passed Whanganui Riverboat Centre and I met the guy from “Waimarie” who I talked to when I took the trip on the Paddle Steamer last time. I actually wanted to thank him for the conversation we had had, because he had asked me some good questions I couldn’t forget. He was surprised with my thanks and we had a short chat. Then I went to explore the market.

Look at those motorbikes made of bottle tops!

Something I didn’t expect to see at the Wanganui market

And guess who I met there? Three sisters! They were happy to see me too and the rest of the day we spent together. First, lunch, then a visit in the Sarjeant Gallery. I liked Marian Maguire’s works which is a mixture of Greek and Maori art.

a snap on the windy hill with a Christmas tree in the background

Then Whanganui Regional Museum, which I enjoyed as well. After that we went to Durie Hill and I went on the Elevator Tower.

Then the sisters or ‘Three Musketeers’ as they called themselves (mind you, they were ladies in their 60s, 70s and 80s!) took me to Cooks Gardens, Virginia Lake and after we bought Chinese for dinner, we went to their hotel room to have a ‘party’, which was dinner when they made me feel like I was surrounded by three grandmums. B. was throwing some food from her plate on mine and the rest of them were making sure I wasn’t hungry sticking cake, chocolate and nuts under my nose every minute.

We watched the results of the elections. I squeed quietly when I saw Hayden East being interviewed on TV. I had met him in Wellington after Fabulous/Arabia concert. He’s a musicians, but he also studies politics. He was supporting left wing, but unfortunately, The National Party won the elections.

Nevertheless, it was a great day which I hadn’t planned. Days like that are the best.

chilling out in Hamilton

WEEKEND, 24th & 25th Sept.

I was planning to go to Rotorua for one day just as I did with my trip to Matamata, but when I started checking out what I want and should see there, I realized that I need to stay more days there. So I’ll try to organise my visit another day. Besides, I was already a bit tired after busy days in Bay of Islands and E. didn’t mind me staying home, so I took a weekend off.

Most of my time I spent watching tv, mainly rugby, American shows and dangerously addictive Shortland Street, catching up on the Internet and playing with E.’s cats.

On Saturday, E. took me to her friend, who lived in the middle of nowhere, on a birthday party. I think one of tourist attractions of Kiwi Experience or Magic Bus should be a Kiwi birthday party. Oh, I forgot they’re not really interested in showing day-to-day life of New Zealanders.

First we were outside, just a couple of K.’s friends. Then, when it was getting dark and cold, we moved to the garage. After some time K.’s family and neighbours started arriving, everyone with their own beer, wine or other drinks. K.’s dad lit up the barbecue and soon some sausages were ready. I nearly tried a chicken kebab, which looked like shashlik, but they were very popular and too few. But I had unintentional Flight of the Conchords moment. When they served kebabs, I remembered the song Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room) and at the same time Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd played on a stereo, which the Conchords also made a twisted version of. 😀

other food was cheese, cheaps, crackers and dips and of course pies. People were usually standing, talking and sipping from their bottles or glasses while in Poland we sit at the table, drink vodka and some people believe that the sooner you get drunk the better party it is. Well, at least this is my observation. So I did enjoy the evening and we left the party early enough to watch the All Blacks playing with France and WINNING! 😀

Charlie and Molly

A couple of random photos taken in Hamilton:

Christmas is coming

Just because I like The Phoenix Foundation, posters like that make my heart go faster 🙂

And next time I’m in Auckland, I should take a photo of an ad with Dan Carter. 😉

Matamata

FRIDAY, 23rd Sept.

Matamata is an hour from Hamilton by bus, so I left Hamilton after 10 a.m., because I’d booked a Hobbiton tour starting from Matamata iSite at noon. At the Visitors Centre, before I got my ticket, I had to sign a confidentiality contract. I could take pictures or even record everything, but I couldn’t show it to anyone, even friends or family, which is absurd. But I think their biggest concern was about publishing it on the Internet. So, sorry, guys, no photos from Hobbiton this time. The ladies at the iSite couldn’t tell when I’d be allowed to show them online, maybe after the release of the movies next year. So expect an update on it in December 2012, right after the premiere of “The Hobbit, part 1” and hopefully the Hollywood bullies won’t have any reasons to persecute me.

But I’m going to show you what bus took us to the farm where the movie set was about 20 min ride from Matamata.

On the way the bus driver talked about the town and people who were extras in The Lord of the Rings. Probably there are some involved in The Hobbit now, but of course she didn’t tell us anything about it. It’s a secret, which I don’t think is possible to be kept in such a small town like Matamata (population 7800 people, according to my guide book).

In my confidentiality contract, I signed that I must keep what I “see and hear strictly confidential.” So I think I can tell you what I didn’t see and hear. I didn’t see the inside of Bilbo and Frodo’s hole, Bag End and I hadn’t heard before purchasing the ticket that it’s closed for the visitors at the moment. I understand it’s being prepared for the filming, but at least they could have mention it on their website to avoid general disappointment, because I wasn’t the only one who said, ‘Oh, NO!’ when we heard that news. So my advise is that if you want to see the Hobbiton Movie Set, visit it when the filming is completely over, or even after the films’ release and you should be really satisfied with your tour there. I was in 50% happy to be there (at least they should have made the tickets cheaper, which now cost $66).

After the tour, we saw sheep shearing in a wool shed. It was just part of the attractions. I always feel sorry for sheep and after being disappointed with the tour, it didn’t make me feel better seeing poor scared sheep being sheared. Probably I’m talking silly, but that show made me feel like a stupid tourist and I don’t like that feeling. Another attraction was feeding lambs, so the farmer who’d just sheared sheep for us, brought two little lambs and bottles with milk and I fed one. The lamb meat doesn’t taste that good after that experience. If I worked on a farm I think I’d become vegetarian.

Some people stayed for lunch at Shire Rest, but I wanted to go back to Matamata and have my lunch in town. It was after 2 p.m. when I got off the bus, so still pretty early and I had to wait till 5 p.m. for my bus back to Hamilton. I should have booked an earlier bus, because apart from Hobbiton, there was nothing to see or do in the town, so I just wondered around the main street, had a pie, tried frozen L&P at McDonald’s (I prefer the classic drink) and chatted with a girl while waiting for the bus. She had a cute laugh and asked me if I tried ice cream from Challenge (she used to work there). I didn’t and it was too late to go and buy it, because my bus could have come any minute. Maybe next time, because I want to come back and have a better experience with Hobbiton and remember it in a better light.

[Edited on 25th Sept. 2012: see the suplement post Hobbiton]

Kawakawa

THURSDAY, 22nd Sept.

Before I left Paihia, I took the last walk along the second main street. I like what Flying Fish sell, so when you’re there, you should visit them even if you don’t want to buy anything.

I was going back south and wanted to stay in Hamilton at the girl I had met earlier that month when I was couchsurfing at I&J. The invitation was still open so why not? We were going through Kawakawa again and this time I was so lucky, because one passanger had to catch a train from that town, so the driver drove through the town centre and we stopped right by the Hundertwasser Toilet!



And this is a typical view in New Zealand: cows, not sheep and lilies by the rivers.

I had to wait in Auckland about 1.5 hrs for my next bus, so it was enough time to have late lunch/early dinner. Denny’s was all right. Then back on a bus and after 6 p.m. I was again in Hamilton. E. was waiting for me and the rest of the evening I spent on a couch eating lasagna, cuddling E.’s two cats and booking buses and a Hobbiton tour for the next day.

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.

Hamilton Gardens

WEDNESDAY, 7th Sept.

J. droped me off by the Transport Centre on her way to work in the morning. The weather was beautiful and I thought that the best place to go first would be Hamilton Gardens. I took a bus number 10 to the Gardens. The distance wasn’t that big, but I didn’t know the way to get there.

I took the plan from the information centre and head first to Paradise Collection. I think my favourite gardens were Italian and Japanese ones.


In Productive Collection, you can see Te Parapara, a Maori Garden.

Fantasy Collection was under further development. I really enjoyed walking through Cultivar Collection and was sorry that it was too early for roses to blossom. I’ll have to go back there later in October or November. (I’ll also have to visit the Hobbiton before 5th October, because later it may be closed till 18th November. I can’t tell you why 😉 ). I spent a couple hours walking around the gardens. There was a sun clock and some of the dates amused me. It takes time to get used to things like that.

I left Hamilton Gardens at about 2 p.m. and went back to the city centre walking along Grey Street and then along the bank to Memorial Park, saw the remains of an old boat of 19th century settlers’

crossed Victoria Bridge (Waitomo River just flows through the city almost as if bot being noticed).

I turned right after leaving the Bridge, went up the road and visited Waikato Museum. You can see Te Winika, a Maori war canoe there, a gift from Maori queen Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu. At the moment there’s also an exhibition about rugby in Waitomo and the impact the region has had on the whole country.

After the museum, I took a walk along Victoria Street with many bars, pubs and restaurants, which was quite nice and you could see everyone getting ready for the beginning of the 2011 RWC.

At around 4 p.m. J. picked me up. We went back to their place and again spent a lovely afternoon and evening with my hosts. This time we had fish and then Goody Goody Gum Drops ice cream for dessert. It tasted like a bubble gum and had jellies inside. I felt like a kid. 😀

from Waitomo to Hamilton via Otorohanga

TUESDAY, 6th Sept.

The next day the weather got worse. It was cloudy and rainy. I had a shuttle at 2 p.m. to Otorohanga and then a coach to Hamilton at 3:45 p.m. I didn’t want to go to Hamilton too early, because it was the middle of the week and my hosts were working, so I didn’t want my arrival to collide with their plans.

I stayed at the hostel. At about 2 p.m. came Bill, a slim with grey hair, about 70 year old gentleman. He took my heavy bag and loaded it on his van, talking all the time cheerfully. We stopped at the village to pick up another passenger and all the way to Otorohanga Bill talked about limestone, Maori, volcanoes, cows and sheep. When he found out that I want to stay in New Zealand a bit longer, he said we should find a rich farmer, never mind that I don’t want to live on a farm. But he was very convinced to his mission and we stopped by his friend’s farm to see sheep and meet the farmer of many skills: shearing, milking, hunting… drinking – added the farmer. He already had a wife, but Bill didn’t seem to care about it.

When we got to Otorohanga, the Kiwiana Town of New Zealand, I still had a lot of time before my bus would come, so Bill asked me if I wanted to see a real kiwi. He offered he’d take me to Kiwi House and a shorter visit would cost me $10 instead of a full visit for $20. I thought it was a good occasion to finally see a live kiwi bird, because I doubt I see it in the wild. I couldn’t take photos inside the house and Bill took this photo. I’m telling you, full service!

Kiwi birds were so funny and cute and I could see them very close! After that Bill dropped me off by the bus stop. I promised him to tell my friends about his service, so here it is: Bill Millar, Waitomo Shuttle, freephone: 0800 808 279, email: waikiwi@ihug.co.nz; cost of the shuttle $12.

It took me 1 hr to get to Hamilton from Otorohanga. This time the bus driver was quiet. He took my bag, he didn’t even ask about my name, just where. In Hamilton, there was my CouchSurfing host waiting for me at the Transport Centre. His wife and him were my first CouchSurfing hosts and what a great couple they were! J. welcomed me at the door, I got my own room with a double bed, my own toilet and bathroom almost the size of my room back at home. They were about my parents’ age and so hospitable. After I had some rest, J. offered me some New Zealand wine. We sat down in a living room and talked eating crackers with New Zealand cheese while dinner was getting ready in an oven. In the meantime their younger friend arrived. She was about my age, had a good job and had just bought a house and had 10 month old kittens. She works in Cambridge (20 min drive from Hamilton) and by the end of delicious dinner (lamb, yams and kumara, the proper New Zealand pavlova with kiwi fruit and hokey pokey ice cream from Tip Top for dessert) and the lovely evening, E. said if I ever wanted to stay at her place, I’m very much welcomed.

Before I went to bed, J. had turned on an electric blanket on my bed… CouchSurfing RLZ!