Stray Bus Jill Pass around the North Island

by Melissa on February 11, 2011 · 0 comments

Seems as if it was just yesterday I was saying goodbye to Australia, and just arriving here at Auckland international.  28 days later, I have returned to the airport to leave this amazing country.  My last entry mentioned the fact that I was going to be joining Bradford on a Stray bus tour around the north island.  At first, when I booked the bus pass I was kind of wary, but figured at least I’d know Bradford – so at least if it sucked, we’d be in it together.
  stray bus
Well, I would like to just say that it most definitely did not suck.  Not only did I manage to see a good majority of the North Island, and do some pretty awesome things – like going on a caving adventure in the Waitomo Caves –I met some pretty incredible people.  With the exception of a few people, our group of 30 or so 18-38year olds bonded within a few hours and had an amazing time together.
Digger, our trusty Stray bus driver, picked us up from Auckland bright and early on Tuesday morning and before we knew it, we were at the top of Mount Eden for a photo op, and then back on the bus to the stray offices.  While there, the bus was taken in because we needed a new wheel or something.  An hour or two later (behind schedule) we were on the same familiar road to the Coromandel Peninsula to stay in Hahei and visit Hot Water Beach.  By about 3:30-4:00 we had finally arrived at our hostel for the evening and the majority of us quickly made our way to beautiful Hahei beach.While we all enjoyed the sun and gorgeous beach, Digger made us a delicious – and VERY filling – BBQ for dinner.  After supper and a few hours of socializing and getting to know each other, it was time to head off to Hot Water Beach to enjoy the hot pools.  That night was incredible – there was no moon, and about a gazillion stars in the sky.  I even saw about 7 shooting stars.
The next morning we were on our faithful bus, Beth v.1.0 bright and early and off to head down to Raglan.  After a few stops here and there, we arrived in Raglan around 3ish (I think?) and a couple of us headed down to the beach.  I opted out of surf lessons – as I thought paying $75 for less than 2hrs was a bit pricy – but enjoyed swimming in the giant waves and laying out on the beach with some of my new friends.  That evening, about 85% of the people on the bus went on the evening boat cruise – it was a rather crappy cruise, with a crappy dinner—but it was a good opportunity for everyone to chat and get to know each other even more.  That evening was spent drinking some wine and beer courtesy of Stray since we had the delay the day before, going on a walk to see glow worms and jamming with Steve on the guitar until really late into the evening.
Another early morning and we were back on the road – this time to the Waitomo Caves to either go Blackwater Rafting or do some crazy caving adventures.  I did the Hagges Honking Holes activity that allowed us to abseil down waterfalls and rock climb and explore a cave 70m below the surface.  It was such a cool experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone.
caving
After an adventurous afternoon, it was back on the bus and off to Maketu, where we were doing a cultural stay with the Maori people.  The boys learned and performed an excellent rendition of the Haka (a Maori war dance) and us girls learned and performed a subpar but hilarious rendition of the Poi (a dance that requires you to swing balls on a string around).  We had a hangi dinner and all got to sleep in one big room – well I slept out on the deck with about 10 others because it was hot as hell in there.
The next morning we were up bright and early (starting to notice a trend?), hopped on our new bus, Bethany v.2.0 AKA Freedom.  A few hours later, we were in Rotten-rua… Rotorua.  Since I had already seen the geothermal hot pools and went zorbing during my previous stint in the city, I decided to take treat this stop as a time to relax and have a good breakfast.  The majority of the original group of people on our bus joined in a great breakfast at the Fat Dog Café.  After we were all fueled up, I played tour guide to a couple of the guys and showed them the hot pools and of course we all got bored of them within a few minutes.  So it was back to the bus to continue our trek – next stop Huka Falls for a photo op and then on to Taupo.This particular leg commenced my stint as bus DJ – aptly named DJ Canadia. 

Once in Taupo, everyone split up and did their own things – some went skydiving, some went shopping in prep for the big 19km hike around Tongariro (the national park), and I decided to take this time to give Darcy a call.   After a lengthy conversation, I realized that almost all of my fellow strays had gone out… so I took up place at the bar with Digger who was now on his day off and commenced the drinking (at 6pm) – to make a long story short, there was drinking from 6pm til 3:30am, 4 bars, one stripper pole, a threat of Maori biker gang rape (buzzkill!), and finally me passing out in my own bunk for a good solid 2 ½ hrs until my alarm went off.  Thank goodness I had a) thought to pack and b)set my alarm before we went out to the bars.
party in taupo
The next morning was extremely painful for me, and I know my new Irish friend, Nicole, was also feeling the adverse affects of partying in Taupo.  I had already decided that the 19km hike up a mountain wasn’t for me, and had been trying to find a place to go horse trekking – but after asking around at the lodge we were staying at, as well as with some locals, I discovered that I was pretty much shit out of luck.  Instead I embraced the hot tubs that the lodge had, and the nice loft style rooms.  All day I kept thanking god that I was NOT on that hike.   I was going by the motto: you’ve gotta DEtox before you REtox.  Everyone who went on the hike got back to the lodge later in the evening, so we settled in with some dinner and had a nice little social night in the lounge area of the lodge.
The next morning we got to sleep in a touch – didn’t have to be on the bus until 9am! WOO!  However, today was a long driving day… we ended up having to detour since the state highway 1 was closed, thus making our planned 5hr drive into a 7hr drive.  I got to be DJ Canadia once again, sitting up front in the captain’s seat next to Digger.  We rocked out to everyone from Fat Freddy’s Drop, to The Rolling Stones, to Spice Girls and Dixie Chicks.  I had opted out of staying at the Base hostel in Wellington, and splurged on a twin room with Nicole at the YHA, which was literally 200m down the road (if that).  It was pure luxury (remember, I’m speaking in backpacker terms of luxury here).  That night was the last night that we were all going to be together, as Digger and about 13 people were heading down to the South Island – Bradford included.  We decided to have a big night out, starting with Trivia at the BASE bar. We ended up tying for 1st, but in a sudden death shootout a bloody POM beat us with his obnoxiously loud voice.  We still managed to get free shots of Jager… which I will never complain about.  That night also ended up being a very sloppy one, but everyone had a great time.  Little Neil  (the 18 year old in our group) even managed to get his own Kiwi Experience (eeek!).
wellington
My liver really didn’t like me the following day, but seeing as I didn’t have a bus to be on, I managed to take it easy.
  Nicole and I got a fabulous brunch and I pretty much lazed around all day – it was rainy and cold, so I really didn’t feel too guilty.   Went to see The King’s Speech with Jill, a girl who had been on the Stray bus with Digger a few weeks prior, who had also come out with us the previous night.  It was an early night.  The following day, I figured since it was my last day in not only Wellington, but in New Zealand, I had to make the most of it.  I went to Te Papa (the national museum), and amazingly enough Nicole and I managed to bump into Elizabeth, Jaqui and Steve from earlier on in the Stray tour – they had hopped off in Taupo for a few extra days.  A bunch of the girls decided that we’d all go to a sushi train restaurant for dinner and it was beyond delicious.  We all met back up to have a drink and to say our final goodbyes.  It was rather sad.
Going into my week with Stray I really didn’t have any expectations of making friends.   I am so glad that I went though, because I met absolutely awesome people from around the world.  I hope that we do keep in touch and who knows… maybe one day we can all reunite and do the haka… for old times sake.  Tominakinaw! hahei beach
**Please Note: I was NOT contacted by Stray to do any promotion or advertising for their company- I am simply sharing my experience from the Stray bus**
Now Playing: Roady by Fat Freddy’s Drop

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