On the first of July I took a short three hour flight from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand. My remaining flights leading me back to Washington, DC are booked, which means my month in New Zealand is more or less on a deadline. While I’ll still have the freedom to pick up and leave a place at my own leisure, my list of places I want to visit and things I want to see has led me to create an organized timeline and be a little less spontaneous with choosing my whereabouts.
The winter weather here in New Zealand has been much more tame than I had originally expected. I was expecting cold frigid temperatures and heaps of snow throughout the country, but in actuality it’s been the opposite. Sunny days with short scattered showers and an occasional burst of high winds set the tempo during my two weeks in the North Island.
Hiking is called tramping in New Zealand.
The 19.4 km Tongariro Alpine Crossing has been listed in several local publications as the best one day hike in all of New Zealand. A trek that starts with a hike through steep volcanic terrain, a number of lakes and ends with a walk through a lush green forest. It sounded both doable and scenic, but there were two key factors that proved to be the biggest challenge in completing the crossing, wind and snow. Doing the crossing in the winter isn’t recommended so an experienced guide can be hired, but at a cost of $130/per person. There was no way I was going to pay that much for someone to walk with me for a day so I tried finding a mate to go with me for the following day. Most people at the hostel were there to ski and snowboard, but after striking up some conversations with people over dinner I found someone who was interested. Funny enough, they were from the US and went to school in Washington, DC at GWU. The hike was closed to the public the last three days due to high winds, but the day we decided to go, the receptionist at the hostel said the weather improved enough for it to be safe to hike. I don’t remember a whole lot from the Lord of the Rings, but the first hour and a half of walking on the flat terrain torwards the Tongariro Alpine Crossing seemed straight out of the movies. During the next two hours of the hike, a change in elevation became our worst enemy and showed just how out of shape we really were. A dusting of snow soon covered our tracks and a short time later our grip on the path got bad enough that we had to put on our crampons. Not even 10 minutes later hell froze over. A heavy set of clouds came in from the north, covering the sun and dumping 90+ kph winds and snow. It was my first taste of snow in a long time, and in July, nonetheless. I knew it was bad when I saw dark clouds below us and not above us, but I figured we were almost at the point that we would be descending on the other side of the mountain so we pushed on. I’m not sure how high we got or how far we had reached at that point, but the weather went from bad to worse and my crampon for my left shoe was now hanging by a string. From time to time I would slide down one side of the rocks, but prevent myself from falling even further thanks to my properly fitted right crampon. The paths were non-existent and the winds, wow the winds, they were down right brutal to the point where you could fall back and not hit the ground. My thin gloves I received from my moms friend’s house in Melbourne couldn’t hold out the cold air from the wind and snow so my fingers were starting to numb. It wasn’t the easiest of calls because we thought we were close, but the decision was made, so we turned around. It’s a bit hard to describe the entirety of the day through typing, but I’ve never been so scared in my entire life. Even writing this right now has started to make my heart pump faster and faster. I had just finished reading a book several days earlier about Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild) and his successful summit of Mt. Everest. Where we were cannot compare to Everest even on the smallest of scales, but the moment things got serious and I could start picturing scenes from the book, where people had to turn around from the summit, it made me feel like I was on Everest. It was probably one of the dumbest things I had done on this trip because I felt completely unprepared in the snow, but with time it has become more of a learning experience for future hikes. Seeing the sun again on the descent down to the car park put a big smile on my face. Thankfully, we were alive!
I hate it when you wake up and you go to clean your eyes of the gross gunk that was created in just a few hours time, and when you remove that one big chunk it irritates your eyeball so you can’t help but shed a few tears.
For the duration of my time in New Zealand I’ve been taking buses to all of my destinations. There are a number of services that travel to all parts of the country, which has made getting around quite easy. I chose to use the NakedBus for my travel needs since it was one of the cheapest and more convenient options out there. Cheaper has proven not to always be the greatest choices. With the winter season in full force and not as many backpackers roaming around, there have been several times where I have been the only person on the bus. To cut to the chase, the bus service had some issues and forgot to pick me up for my trip to Wellington. I was pissed, but had no other option than to stay another night at the hostel in the National Park. Come to find out the hostel was already booked full. Desperate, the guy was nice enough to help me out. Since there was a climbing wall gym at the bottom of the hostel, he put a mattress on the floor and said I could sleep there for the night. Cheers mate!
Tires in New Zealand and Australia are spelled, tyres.
Over the last few months a number of people have asked me how I’ve been able to fund this extended trip. To put it in a nutshell I’ve worked two jobs for the better part of the last five years. Long hours and hard work helped me save up for this once in a lifetime trip. To make things work I took 25-30% out of each paycheck and placed it in my savings account. Splitting my time living at home for a number of years and with cheaper than average priced accommodation with some friends for the better part of 2009 was a huge help in saving. While it wasn’t something that was accomplished overnight, I can say that it’s something that anyone can do. The amount of time it takes to raise money for a trip this size depends on a number of factors. Where you want to go, the type of accommodation you choose, what you want to see, what you want to do, the length of your trip, your choice of transportation and so on. The flight to your destination is going to be your biggest expense by a long shot, but from then on out it’s up to you on how your money is spent. Staying at hostels instead of hotels, preparing your own meals instead of eating out at restaurants and taking slower modes of transportation such as a bus as opposed to a flight (in most cases) can stretch your dollar even further than one might think. At home in the states I would go out to eat with friends or hit up the bars, but I was conscious of how I would spend my money. I would constantly think, alright, I could get two beers at a bar or I could have accommodation for one night in a hostel. The decision was easy at times, but of course you’ll have the nights where you’ll cave in and have a big night out.
I think knowing that I wanted to do this trip and having a goal of how much I wanted to save was key in getting me out here. Even if you end up running out of money on your trip (as I have right now), you shouldn’t stop yourself from doing the things you want to do. “Who knows if I’ll have the opportunity to do such a trip again?” is a common question I ask myself at times when I have no money. Yes, I will be in debt when I get home, but who cares, I know it’s something that I know I can eventually get out of when I get back to the work life again.
As I stated before, I created this blog with the purpose of getting others inspired to hopefully do an extended trip of their own. If anyone has any questions at all, even if extended traveling has skimmed through your mind for a split second, feel free to contact me. I don’t care if you’re a complete stranger who I haven’t talked to in ages or someone I’ve never met, just ask me and I’ll do whatever I can to help.
Pictures during my two week visit to the North Island of New Zealand have been uploaded and can be found on the Photos page.
I’m currently in Nelson, which is in the northern part of the South Island. Tomorrow I’ll leave for Abel Tasmen National Park to do some hiking and kayaking over three days. The 13th of this month marked the one-month countdown till I get home and I’m not quite sure what to make of everything just yet, but I have a lot of questions that need to be answered. What will I do when I get home? How long am I going to have to live at home before moving out again? Will my transition back home be easy? Hopefully by the time I write my next post I will make sense of these questions, but one thing is sure for the moment, home is right around the corner.
Listening to: This American Life Podcasts
Up Next: South Island of New Zealand for 20 days