Greetings from Christchurch!
I’ve made it down to the South Island (the “mainland” as I’ve heard some Kiwis say) and will be staying in the earthquake-ravaged city for the next few days. I’m pretty surprised on how much damage there still is from the 2011 quake. I knew things wouldn’t be looking good, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. There is a lot of reconstruction going on throughout the city, but I would say about 80% of the buildings in the downtown area are either abandoned or demolished. Outside of this “red zone” however, there are still plenty of nice parks and neighborhoods. It’s still a beautiful city, but I wonder what it was like before the quake. More on Christchurch later…
Earlier this week I was in the far north of the North Island in an area called the Bay of Islands—and it was amazing! When I was planning my travels during my first few weeks in New Zealand, I almost decided not to go up there since I figured I wouldn’t missing out on a lot. But I had heard about a good day cruise around the bay, so I hopped on a bus and rode 4 hours from Auckland to the small town of Paihia. Little did I know, it would be my favourite part of the country I’ve been to so far!
For one, the weather was awesome. Warm, sunny skies every day I was there. I guess there’s a reason why they call it the “winterless north”. The town also had a very relaxed atmosphere to it. I hear that would change in the next few weeks when it becomes packed with tourists on holiday, but at the time I went it had the small beach town vibe to it. I could feel it the moment I got off the bus.
The hostel I stayed at was really nice as well! Everyone there was very welcoming and easy to socialize with. I met my first group of fellow Americans in NZ (one of whom was from Bainbridge Island, WA…small world!), as well as a Danish guy, a few Brits, a Kiwi who was walking from one end of the country to the other, and a few others from here and there. It was nice having a group of friends around after feeling rather lonely while spending my first week in a campervan. The place was always very clean, even the kitchen, which isn’t always common in hostels. They also offered free bike rentals, so one day I took one out for a spin into the countryside to see some waterfalls. And it’s close to the beach! Just a block away. If you ever make it to the Bay of Islands, stay at the Saltwater Lodge on Kings Road. You won’t regret it. 🙂
For a small town, there’s a lot to do in and around Paihia. You can take the ferry across the bay to Russell, one of the oldest communities in the country. You can go on a sailing trip to some of the islands and swim with dolphins. Scuba diving is pretty good I’ve heard. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are just a 20 minute walk from town, the site where New Zealand became a country. You can drive or take organized day tours to Cape Reinga (the northernmost point in NZ), the famous 90 Mile Beach (which is really only 50 miles long), nearby glowworm caves, or Kauri forests. Or you can just chill out on the beach with your mates!
The cruise I took was sweet as (Kiwi lingo for “awesome”). It’s called the Rock Overnight Cruise, but most of the activities I wanted to do were during the day so I saved some money and booked the daytime option. We caught a sea shuttle from Paihia Wharf out to the boat where we met up with the rest of the gang who had spent the night. We then went underway to a small island where we went snorkeling off its rocky coast. The water was cold, but not freezing so after swimming around a bit it wasn’t too bad. We did that for maybe half an hour, exploring little coves, chasing the fish, and collecting sea urchins to eat later if we wanted to. After snorkeling, we went to another island which had a big beautiful beach and rolling green hills. There we did some kayaking and went hiking up to a viewpoint that gave 360 degree views of the whole bay. On the way back we tried the raw sea urchin we had harvested earlier in the day. Not bad! Kind of like salty crab meat.
One day I also walked out to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to check that out. It costs $25 to get in on a self-guided tour (cheapest option) and it will probably be the only historic attraction I would pay to see in NZ, but it was worth going to. I learned quite a bit on the Waitangi Treaty and how New Zealand became a nation.
Anyway, I had a great time in the Bay of Islands—four days was nowhere near enough time. If I hadn’t already bought a plane ticket and made plans for the South Island, I could have easily decided to look for a job and stay a while. I plan on visiting again sometime in the next few months or at least right before I leave NZ, but for now I’m ready to spend the summer in Queenstown!