For the first time in six weeks I'm in a new country. My swim shorts and my flip flops are now collecting cobwebs at the bottom of my rucksack, and my jeans and my hoodie are seeing light for the first time in a while. The new country is New Zealand; home to the Kiwi Bird, the All Blacks, Lord of the Rings, lots and lots of sheep, and, my personal favourite Kiwi export, Flight of the Conchords. I'm really excited to explore New Zealand, for I've heard great things about its people and its natural beauty. I'm also travelling it via the Kiwi Experience; a hop on, hop off coach tour designed for younger travellers on a tight timescale. This way I should be able to cram all of the essentials into my one month stay, as well as make some new travel friends along the way.
Having said this, I was really sad leaving Australia behind. The friends I made there are now friends for life. Saying goodbye was tough, as you spend so much of the journey living in each others pockets. The realisation that I wouldn't see these people again for months, maybe even years, made for a rather downbeat and reflective flight from Cairns to Auckland. It didn't help that the guy sat next to me had cough Tourette's either. He looked just like Chris from the quiz tv show Eggheads too. It was quite a turbulent flight but, thinking about it now, I'm not quite sure if it was the instability of the plane or instead the vibrations from Chris's coughing fits.
On a positive note, my last four days in Australia were fantastic. Cairns itself is relatively small, but it has enough there to keep you busy. The streets are lined with shops, there's quite a few nightclubs and bars, and, as you can't swim in the ocean for all its sharks and other dangerous creatures, there's a lagoon for the public to swim in. The hostel was huge. It was called Gilligans, and as luck would have it, it was where pretty much everyone I'd met along the way was staying too. It had a pool (which from my third floor balcony looked just like a penis), four floors each with their own kitchens and tv rooms, and a nightclub on site.
We arrived late on the first day, so once we'd checked in and dropped our bags it was time to don my dancing shoes and head to the discotheque. Yes I'm fully aware that last sentence was Dad-speak. Get over it. That night I was understandably tired, so after a few hours of robot dancing to the works of Pitbull and David Guetta, it was time to hit the sack. Mid-way through the night I was woken by a rather unhappy American girl screaming at me for snoring. It's tough being a snorer. I remember a family holiday to Center Parcs where my sister (in tears) refused to stay in the same room as me for my snoring was that bad. In stepped my Dad to replace her, only for it to be too much for him also, voluntarily sleeping on the couch instead. I think I'm going to start having to duct tape myself on my side before I sleep. I apologised and drifted off back to the land of nod, praying that the unconscious me could somehow bring my warthog like breathing to a halt.
The next day, me, Celeste, and Alex decided to venture to the lagoon. I made the most of the sun and the swimming pool, as it was only two more days before the tropical sunshine would be swapped with the rugged and mercurial temperatures of New Zealand. There was one problem, however. Upon returning from the pool, it suddenly dawned on me that I'd forgot to pack my towel. By this time it was slightly overcast, so I had to spend the rest of the day with soggy shorts. I had remembered to pack my sandwich though. Fed up of having to take out a loan every time we wanted lunch, Alex devised a plan for the budget sandwich. I like to call it the Man-dwich, as its literally just meat and bread. You purchase a single bread roll and about 100g of deli meat, and for about $2 you have yourself the Man-dwich. A backpacker revelation, I say.
The walk home was very creepy, as at about 6pm each night in Cairns, thousands upon thousands of bats flood the sky and nest in the trees. It was both mesmerising and terrifying at the same time. My shorts started to feel soggy again, and this time it wasn't the lagoon water, so off I hurried back to the hostel.
That night we played drinking games in room 130 (the party room). There was me, Shannon, Gavin, Alex, and some new additions to the east coast family, Stacey, Sarah, and some guys from Bristol who I don't think I ever knew the names of. We went to the club and, again, I was able to bust out my robot dance moves again. This was my last proper night out in Australia, so it was the cherry on top of an already spiffing cake to spend it with the people that made my 6 week trip so special.
The next morning it was a 6.30am wake up call, as I'd booked to go snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef. Slightly hungover, and unfashionably late, I arrived at the harbour with Celeste and Alex, and in no time we were sailing towards Green Island, the location of our snorkel. Boy was I sea sick. Everyone else was too. You picture the Great Barrier Reef to be as calm as anything. You would be wrong. The sea was insanely choppy. Luckily I wasn't sick overboard (I waited till we got to the island before spewing), but quite a few of the other guests were. The snorkel was fun, even though the visibility was poor. We did see some white tipped reef sharks though. Green Island itself was slightly underwhelming. The beach is littered with snot-like seaweed, with the resort centre mainly comprising of over priced shops and restaurants. The birds there weren't half greedy either. One flew right up onto my lap to steal a chip. You can steal my iPhone, my Kindle, even my passport, but you never, and I repeat never, steal a chip from Charlie Whitfield.
I don't know what was in those chips but I'm convinced they had healing qualities, as for the journey back I felt as good as new. Unfortunately not everyone else felt the same, with a few more people adding their vomit to the reef. I distinctly remember the moment when Coldplay's 'Paradise' came on the speakers, and I couldn't help but bask in the irony of it all. In metronomic timing with Chris Martin's chimes of 'Paradise', the girl next to me was throwing up overboard, making the most inhuman noises. I just about withheld my laughter.
All in all my trip to the Great Barrier Reef was average at best. I met some great people on the boat, and to say I've been there is an item on the bucket list I can tick off, but was it as good as I thought it was going to be? If you were to ask Les Dennis, he'd reply with,
"Our survey says....*ergh ergh*".
Maybe it was marred slightly by the fact I was a little hungover and initially sea sick, and that greedy chip stealing bird, but I still believe the Whitsundays was the more impressive of my two Australian nautical adventures.
It was my final night in Australia, so Celeste kindly decided to take me for dinner. We were joined by Alex, Jimmy (the Swedish guy we met in Noosa), and Rebecca, the Irish girl we met on our boat for the Reef snorkelling. After much deliberation we settled on Cactus Jacks, simply as we saw it had BBQ Ribs on the menu. Much fun was had, especially at the expense of Alex who, having spent the whole day with Rebecca on the boat, didn't recognise her and proceeded to call her Natasha all night.
My flight wasn't till 5.30am, so I had to get the 3.00am shuttle to the airport, which meant a lot of waiting around. When packing I discovered that my iPhone charger had been stolen. First my chips, now my charger. I bet it was that bird from the Great Barrier Reef as well. Rebecca kindly gave me her charger, as she had two. How kind is that?
After my rather depressing flight, I arrived in Auckland. I hadn't been in a big city since Brisbane, which was almost one month ago, so from the laid back beach towns of the east coast, Auckland was a bit of a shock to the system. The hostel I stayed in was nice. It was cheap and centrally located, but it was heavily populated with people who work in Auckland. Long term workers don't socialise as much and tend to stay in bed for large periods of the day, so it can be hard to make friends, especially when you are on your own. Absolutely shattered from Chris from Egghead's coughing, I had an early night.
The next day, after checking out of my hostel and checking into Base, my new home for the night, I decided to go shopping for warm clothes. Two pairs of jeans and two hoodies for £60. Thank you very much Cotton On. Armed with the days purchases, I made my way back to my hostel and checked into my room. It was there that I met a French chef called Remi, Fita and Ferdy the Dutch couple, and Urska, a budding Clinical Psychologist from Slovenia. They were all really nice. Me and Remi headed to the hostel bar together, where he taught me some tricks on baking the perfect cake. The Great British Bake Off here I come.
I woke up the following morning ready for my first day on the Kiwi Experience. I'd been told to be outside the hostel at 7.20am, with the bus scheduled to leave at 7.30am, yet when I got there there was no bus to be seen. The plonkers had left early, which meant me staying an extra two more nights before the next departure on Friday. Urska offered some philosophical words, informing me that Friday's bus was meant to be. Determined not to let this Kiwi calamity ruin my day, I went to the Auckland War Memorial museum. For only $10 it's packed with information and artefacts. I learnt a lot about the Maori history, the natural history of New Zealand, and the Kiwi's place in the Second World War. It was on the way home that something rather embarrassing happened to me when queuing up for the bus. It was my turn to buy a ticket, and without looking up, the driver shouted,
"Hello my little Princess, have you got your Princess clothes on today?". The whole bus was looking at me and I had no idea what to say. I laughed, nervously, and it was only when he looked up that he had thought he was talking to a young girl and her family who were stood behind me. We both saw the funny side, as did the whole of the bus.
That night me and my roommates sat and talked in the hostel, opting to save some money. I've still got Fiji and USA to save for you see. Yikes. A good 'yikes' though.
Today, me and Urska decided to climb Mt Eden together. Mt Eden is the second highest natural point in Auckland, and it offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city. After a rather steep 30 minute hike we made it to the summit. The view was spectacular. When up there a girl asked us to take her photo. We chatted for a while and ended up hanging out with her all day. Her name is Van (cracking name hey?) and she is Swiss/Vietnamese. That's what I love about travelling. If you open yourself up you can meet people and make friends anywhere, any place.
I'm settled in New Zealand now. The transition from being somewhere with a real strong collective to a big city where you don't know anyone was always going to be tough, but I've found my feet and I'm so excited for the Kiwi Experience tomorrow. That's if I don't miss my bus, mind.