The Kiwi bus – our home for the next 4 weeks – pulls into the university of Auckland at 6:45AM and we’ve already made some friends in the queue. Albin and Matilde are from Sweden and we all get into the bus sheepishly waiting to see who else is on board. We’re the first or second pickup so not many people were aboard yet. When we get to Queen Street that’s when the bus fills up and half glances dart around the bus.
The driver explains the deal, how the buses work, where we’re going and what to expect. Our first stop – the Bay of Islands is 4 hours away but we’ll stop a couple of times. As we pull into the first stop an American girl in the seat next to us throws up around her new found friend, profoundly apologetic.
The stop is at Whangarei is to see a waterfall. The signs instruct everybody not to step too far into the rocks but once someone does it we all try and get a glimpse over the edge. Well I kinda did, Kelly stayed back, safe and secure while her crazy husband went for the best photo opportunity.
When we get to Paihia we get a tour of the town, all 5 minutes of it, as it’s that small. But it’s a very pretty beachside place where yachts and rocks litter the bay. Captian cook counted 322 islands (there are actually only 140 odd), so there is plenty to explore around here.
We walk around and grab a pizza, with some more craft beer before sitting in the scorching sunshine looking out over the bay. In the evening we meet up with the Swedes; well Albin and Matilde of the Swedes as there are about 10 on the bus we discovered.
The hostel hosts a free BBQ and we four sit and sink a couple of beers before hitting the hay at the decisively non-rock and rock time of 10. But it’s been a tough day on the road.
Day 2 is a tour up to Cape Reinga the point where Maori landed 900 odd years ago on their way from Tahiti. The drive is long, mountainous and juddery so I stare out at the scenery. But our first stop is quick at Puketi forest where we can see and hug huge Kauri trees.
Then a long drive up to Cape Reinga where Dutchman Abel Tasman discovered New Zealand, we hang around there for a bit, and then after all this culture it’s time for some adrenalin. So we go sand boarding in the rain. At this point I wish I hadn’t lost my GoPro but I tackle it regardless. Now the toughest part of sand boarding is not diving down a huge sand dune or the impact when you hit the bottom, nope it’s the slog to walk to the top, fighting gravity and moving sand at a 20% incline. Knackered before I even start.
That enjoyment out of the way after 2 runs we head to the 90 mile beach to wash off the sand. The coach is slightly lifted off the ground so we can drive along a normal beach, and after a few doughnuts we bomb down the beach, metres away from on of the most dangerous beaches to swim in. But we’re in a bus so it’s fine, and a brilliant drive. We catch up with a motorcyclist who clearly has a better vehicle and weaves around us like a wasp showing off.
That evening we came joint fourth in a pub quiz, although Kelly gave away a 4 pointer question on Mario Kart to a bunch of locals who pushed us off our table rudely. A successful day all round.
Our final full day in Paihia was to swim with dolphins! Although we had heard the previous day’s expedition wasn’t allowed as the dolphins they found had babies, so for safety reasons no swimming. Alas we had the same dolphin pod so we could only watch from the ship, still elated as the Dolphins raced the ship, smacked their tails at us, rolled around as if taunting us, and jumping out of the water. About 8 huge bottlenose ones as well.
Following this we took a tour of the bay of islands, looking at the hole In the wall, a rock with a hole big enough to drive our boat through (!) and other millionaire islands.
Given our lack of dolphin action the captain decided to get us all in the boon. Which is not the suitcase from Pulp Fiction but a huge net designed to slowly lower people into the water so as to not disturb the Dolphins. Well with no Dolphins around we had to jump into the freezing water and then the boat dragged us around like we were caught fish. Fun but freezing and resulted in lost footing and accidental bums in faces as people where thrown about.
We had to catch the coach the next day back to Auckland, so we sunned ourselves and had some of the best sushi I’ve ever tasted.
After a brief stop in Auckland it’s time to head down into the North Island proper for the main bulk of our Kiwi Experience!