Capital City – Wellington

Welly is New Zealand’s current capital. I say current because NZ apparently changes up their capitals and there has been discussion to move the capital once again due to Welly’s unpredictable weather and potential for natural disasters, like earthquakes. It is known to be the windiest city in the world. I have no idea how that would be measured, but that was what I was told and it was extremely windy while I was there.  The weather was probably the only negative I experienced of the city, everything else was lovely. It was definitely more of a “hip” city reminding me of Melbourne or Williamsburg in New York. I spent 3 nights here, but I definitely could see myself coming back and that’s saying a lot with the less than ideal weather. 

Wellington has a massive museum, Te Papa, which has free admission with the exception of some special exhibits. One of the running exhibits was an Alice in Wonderland interactive hall. They did a really great job with it and I didn’t mind paying the $20 for entry. It’s only running through March 8th so if you are making your way to Welly check it out! Otherwise, you can spend a decent amount of time just walking around the free portions of the museum. 

The food scene was incredible. Similar to Melbourne I didn’t have a bad meal or coffee here. There were so many other restaurants/food vendors (small shops without seating where you could order food, like waffles for example, these shops gave off permanent market stall vibes, but a street cart vendor) I would have loved to eaten at. 

Sweet Mother’s Kitchen

This place was recommend to me by the Stray driver and conveniently it was located just around the corner from the hostel I stayed at. It’s a New Orleans’ style restaurant and coffee shop. I made my way here for a breakfast/brunch my last full day in town. Wow it was consistently so busy here and it seemed like a lot of locals/regulars were dining here or grabbing coffee. I sat at the bar and it’s possible I was forgotten about because the service at first wasn’t great. I didn’t have anything else to do so I didn’t mind just people watching/waiting around for a bit. I waited over 20 minutes to order and then it was a total of 45 minutes before I got my coffee. My order was a little off and by the time it reached me it was cold. At that point I wasn’t very happy, but keeping my New Year’s goals in mind I decided how I wanted to react. The main server (possibly manager because she had fantastic customer service) took control and offered me a new meal and for the coffee to be on the house. I really appreciated how she handled the situation and I would say it was an overall positive one. I hate to say it though, but my food wasn’t mouth watering or anything life changing. It was good, but not the best thing I’ve eaten so I wouldn’t come here just for that. It is more so the entire experience – being in a small space, surrounded by people, with funky décor, and nice staff. 

Flamingo Joe’s

This is a totally Instagram decorated spot. Located right on the water the location couldn’t be beat. They also have boozy brunches and craft cocktails. I think this would be a weekend favorite for my friends and me if it was found in New York. I highly recommend coming here for a cocktail before a night out or late night bite. 

Aroy Thai

My last night in Welly I was really craving Thai food. When searching on yelp a “quick service” Thai place came up first on the list. I decided to check it out and was greeted with again an almost full restaurant – and I thought it must be good. I was feeling like I wanted to have meat one more time before diving into veganism so I had chicken pad thai and a side of roti. The roti was amazing, but the sauce was super sweet and they definitely did not give enough of it for the amount of roti. For more you had to pay an additional $1. The pad thai was less than amazing I’ve had a lot better, but I guess for the quick service-dining category it wasn’t horrible. Overall, I was satisfied with my meal.

I only went out my first night in Welly with the group we were traveling with. I had to be up at 6am so I didn’t stay out too late. We spent a good amount of time at Danger Danger. The music and drink specials were nice. I’m not sure how it would compare to other bars, but it was fun time!  

I was planning on maybe doing a hotel while here, but decided it against it and ended up staying in two different hostels. I’ve written a review for them, but there were so many accommodation options in Welly given that it is a major city feel free to explore them.  

I really loved this city and if/when I come back to New Zealand this will be a sure stop. 

Hostel Review – Wellington

My travel route after finishing the majority of the North Island was a little wonky. I had made my way around and ended in Wellington, but then I was going back to Auckland, up to Paihia, then east to Gisborne, and back down to Wellington. If you look at a map it wasn’t the most efficient route, but it was the only way to get everything I wanted to see and do in. So the first stop time I stopped in Wellington it was just for a night. I stayed at a Base hostel. 

Base Backpackers Wellington

Our bus group was either staying at Base or Nomads. On the Stray app Base was categorized as the preferred northbound hostel, which is why I went with it, but I don’t think it would have made much of a difference. I was in a six bed dorm and luckily I got a bottom bunk once again – score! Two of the people I was traveling with were also in the room so it was nice to be with some people you know and not all strangers. The hostel itself has a huge reception area and then a kitchen/lounge area the floor above it. The furniture in the lounge area could be really only described as shabby. The wifi wasn’t working and you had to call support with reception if you wanted to be connected. This was the first hostel that I’ve been to that used a pin to enter the room or an app (so keyless entry). It was a cool tech upgrade to see a hostel utilizing. 

The best thing that happened was that I was allowed to store my blue suitcase here for 2 weeks. I had planned to find a place in the city to store it and I would have been paying $8 a day at a random location. I was happy when Base said they could store it long term – they also didn’t end up charging me at all. I am incredibly thankful. 

After my two weeks north and east (Christmas/NYE) when I went back to Welly I stayed at Base for another night. Thankfully, my suitcase was exactly where I left it. This time I booked a four-person dorm. I walked in and there was an ensuite bathroom (I must have booked this option, but didn’t realize) and nobody else was in the room that night. Of course there’s always the possibility someone will come in later, but they didn’t so I pretty much had a private room. Thank you again, Base! Oh in the bathroom they also had some single use shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel; but instead of being in plastic bottles they were in eco paper packets. The company is called Ecostick and it’s really cool!

This wasn’t the trendiest/hippest place to be, but what they lacked in appearance they made up for it with their people/extra touches. The location was also great to going out and restaurants. I highly recommend staying here. 

Hotel Waterloo & Backpackers

This place is interesting. I think at one point it was just a hotel and then it was converted to also being a hostel? I’m not sure. Our driver said that the last time the Queen of England was in town she stayed here (it was a dig that the Queen hadn’t been to the capital in ages). Not sure if it’s true, but that was what was the info passed on to me. This kind of reminded me of what accommodation would have been like in the 20s-40s, very much so like train car travel back in the day and really it still feels trapped in that time period. I actually just looked it up and it was opened in 1937 and was commissioned to be built with the at the time new Wellington Railway Station. So I was right on the nose!

I went for a private single room for the night and was happy with the decision so I’m not sure if was in the hotel or the backpackers category. My neighbor wasn’t the most considerate person, but I was happy to have my own space. The room was big enough to spread out my things and repack/discard some items. There was a tiny TV in the room and I watched some parts of movies (I can’t remember the last time I watched TV) and just chilled.

I choose this location because it was right across from the ferry terminal. I was told to be there by 7am and it was an easy walk across the street rather than being somewhere else in town. Walking to the main, center of town took only 20 minutes or a $7ish Uber.

If you are going on the early morning ferry to the South Island this is a good place to stay, otherwise I would skip it. Only book for convenience.

New Years in Gisborne

I ended 2019 and rang in the New Year at a festival. Afterwards, I took a couple of nights for some R&R in Gisborne. Gizzy (not kidding that is the actual abbreviation/nickname) is an east coast town known for being the first point of New Zealand (and first “major country” the contradiction is that there are some smaller islands further east) to see the sunrise and they also produce award-winning wine. It was the perfect place to spend the first couple of days of the new decade if you ask me. 

This little break was just what I needed. Being that RnV just ended and that it was around New Years, Gisborne seemed a little sleepy. Truthfully the small town/community was most likely recovering from the mass of people coming if from the festival. I’m not sure what a “normal” weekend looks like here. I spent my mornings hanging out, reading, doing laundry, etc. and I didn’t feel like I needed to load up on activities. Then I would walk into town and stop by the beach. The weather was sunny and warm throughout my stay. Thankfully, when I was finally walking about the town the shops were closed so I couldn’t be temped into shopping. Window-shopping sufficed. 

Food

Some restaurants tempted me, but I was trying to make healthier and economical choices (New Year’s resolutions and all). I finally caved to try Burger Wisconsin, which is claimed to be the “best burgers in New Zealand,” however it seems like every burger joint in NZ makes that claim. I ordered the veggie burger and they had the option of making it petite. I thought having the option of a smaller portion was so cool. I seriously wish that was the norm whilst eating out. All in all it was a good meal. Was it the best burger? Not sure I can judge that because I had a veggie burger, but there was constantly a line and a steady flow of people so it was definitely popular spot and apparently it is a chain. 

During these couple of days I started feeling as if I may have been coming down with something so I reconciled that I needed lots of veggies and nutrients. I saw a Tank in town and kept craving it since getting an awesome smoothie and wrap in Rotorua a few weeks back. It is a healthy food chain similar to a Sweetgreen in the States, but with salad, wrap, and smoothie options. 

Accommodation

After camping for 5 nights I stayed at an Airbnb in Gizzy. It was a lovely back room in a house facing the yard with plenty of fresh air and sunlight. Also, being that I don’t think this area is very touristy, the prices were reasonable/affordable after the RnV crowded left. This was the perfect little oasis to spend a couple of days before traveling on.

I wouldn’t say Gisborne is a must if you are traveling the North Island, but it’s nice and not as touristy as other areas of the country. If you were looking to fill your schedule and have your own car you should carve out some time to check it out!

Paihia

Paihia is a beautiful area in the northern part of the North Island in New Zealand. It is part of the Bay of Islands. This is an area known for its beaches and many locals vacation in this section of the island. This is where I was advised to spend Christmas. I made my way up here on Christmas Eve from Auckland arriving fairly early in the afternoon. We had all day to explore. The main town is small and walk-able, but it’s quaint. I could have easily spent a few more days here just on the beaches catching some sun.

There were a lot of nice restaurants for the families and non-backpackers who also vacation here. The treat yo’ self meal we had in Paihia was at Zane Grey’s. This was right on the water with gorgeous views. I actually was planning on also coming here for breakfast the next day and they ended up having a special Christmas buffet for $25. Score! It was a really nice spot. Not for a backpackers budget, but I always admit to being a bad backpacker. There were a lot of places I also wanted to try out, but I had so little time here unfortunately.

I would say the main attraction and thing to do is to go all the way up the coast to the most northern part of the island, Cape Reinga. There’s a bunch of tours that go up there and different ways of going. You can go via helicopter, boat, or bus. Doing the bus tour was included in my travel pass, but it is through a third party company, GreatSights. It was a lovely tour, albeit a long time on the bus, but our driver was fantastic. Keep in mind this was on Christmas Day and his spirit and energy never faltered. In hindsight though, this is not how I would have or should have spent Christmas Day – it wasn’t my ideal use of time on this special day. I think that any other day the tour would have been more enjoyable. I liked the tour I did, but if you are looking a tour I would recommend going by boat rather than by bus. You may not hop off at as many stops, but you make full use of the ocean and getting a different vantage point.

Base Backpackers Paihia

I always hear that Base hostels are hit or miss and usually more of a miss. They are known as the party hostels. Honestly, I have had good experiences with them so far. This hostel had more of a beach vibe with different sections around the property – all separate buildings. The room was an 8 person dorm, but I think we only had three people including myself maximum either night I was there. There was an ensuite bathroom in the room and a small kitchen area. They also had Christmas dinner options, which was a nice touch. It did get pretty rowdy at night, but from I heard that is pretty typical for Paihia. It makes sense though, because for many travelers this is the first stop on the North Island from Auckland and usually the start of the trip. Christmas to me isn’t about partying so I wasn’t in that mindset. I did like this Base hostel and would recommend it, but I didn’t stay at any other hostels. Besides hostels there were a lot of motel options in the area. I think that would be a fun way to travel if you had a small group.

My final call on Paihia? It was too rushed and I wish I could have stayed longer. Well I guess I can always go back.

Hostel Review – Auckland

Although, it is not New Zealand’s capital city Auckland sure does act like it. It’s the most populated city in New Zealand and by a million people. It is also the only spot in New Zealand to have Classpass. I spent three nights in Auckland, but not consecutively because it was always just an in between stop. I was actually okay with that because I have my fill of large cities already. The first night (also being my first night in New Zealand) was spent at Frienz hostel. 

Frienz 

This was such a mishmash of everything – from décor, furniture, bedding, etc., but I really loved it. This totally eccentric hostel also had the loveliest workers. I was in a six bed female room, but there were only three of us – always a treat. This was the first hostel I’ve been to that assigned beds at check in. Thankfully, I had a bottom bunk, so it worked out well in my favor. 

Each floor had a different wallpaper and color theme. The hostel was situated in an extremely old building, but it didn’t feel run down in the least. It felt comfortable, as if you were in someone’s home. It was in a bustling section of town in Auckland. I would say the only negative was that it was uphill from the main street (this I learned was normal for Auckland later on). It was rough walking up though with luggage after a flight, bus, etc. and just a full day of traveling to be honest. The common areas included a TV room and library as well as an outdoor patio section. It also seemed like there were a lot of social activities and opportunities to meet people every day during the week.

YHA Auckland City

I spent two nights here and really it holds up to the classic YHA standards. Everything was clean and orderly. This hostel was also located straight uphill and I was so happy I didn’t have my large blue suitcase. There weren’t any negatives about this hostel in my opinion so I would also recommend it to anyone. 

Auckland is a busy city with a lot of accommodation options and I can vouch that both of these are solid. 

Frienz would be your spot if you want a quirky/artsy place. YHA if you want something solid and at a bit of a higher standard. 

Eco Tracking – Weeks 3 and 4

Wow I’ve been slacking on this front. The main thing I’ve noticed is that plastic is everywhere. Cutting out small things like a throw away coffee cup really just isn’t enough. I guess plastic is cheaper to make than other materials and it is a hygienic way to separate items into single serve sizes. The use and ease of plastic products is so ingrained into our modern way of life. I’m saying this sitting in a country that does have reduced plastic already – like no plastic bags anywhere. While traveling I’m basically changing my environment daily so it’s difficult to get into a routine, but I will continue to be more mindful. I also think my next eco-purchase will be my own set of utensils/straw to cut that kind of waste out. Although, I’ve been mindful about my plastic usage I admit I haven’t been extremely diligent in tracking it. I do know I haven’t eaten meat in the past two weeks and I don’t think I had cheese daily, but I just didn’t track everything.

Week 3

Sunday – all clear; I was still recovering from the crossing and I think kept it very minimal this day. For dinner, I used the remaining groceries I had and then gave away the rest of the spinach I didn’t use.

Monday – Coffee cup and a styrofoam container for at lunch (seriously?! I thought styrofoam was no longer in use at all here). I left my keep cup in the bus and wasn’t planning on getting coffee, but it was part of a meal combo.

Tuesday – single serve butter served with my scone; candy wrappers (you’ll be seeing these a lot – there was a lot of driving or sitting/admin work in this week and I indulged more than I should have. Candy wrappers are made of a combo of plastic and aluminum and probably the most wasteful thing I could reach for barely 5 seconds of sweetness. I’ll list these as “CW”); cutlery served with my peaches and creme snack from a market, but they were listed as bio friendly.

Wednesday – CW, single serve popcorn bag, and plastic water bottle with lunch (these all came with the tour we were on and I didn’t order this).

Thursday – CW

Friday – cutlery with lunch, orange juice bottle, and CW.

Saturday – This was the first full day at Rhythm and Vines. All of their food containers, utensils, etc. are said to be eco-friendly. CW during my volunteer shift.

Week 4

Sunday – The plastic cups at RnV are posted to be “made of plants not oil,” but it’s still a single use cup so I’ll track it with the orange juice I drank today. I also finished a bag of trail mix in a plastic bag.

Monday – possibly just CW while on shift.

Tuesday – cup of orange juice.

Wednesday – CW.

Thursday – finally back in civilization and out of the festival world. I finished a bag of trail mix, single cup of yogurt, and plastic top from sauce top with dinner (the container was cardboard, but the top was plastic).

Friday – two spoons from taste testing ice cream, plastic container from ketchup, lid and straw from a smoothie.

Saturday – I was on the road from 9:15am to 7:30pm and all my snacks/food wasn’t plastic. Woo!

So yeah I would say that the past four weeks of “eco-tracking” hasn’t been the best, but I guess it’s a start and I’ll continue to be super mindful.

Check out Week 1 and Week 2 tracking.

Book Review 6: Jane Eyre

I picked up Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte at a hostel in Auckland. I was so hesitant to go down the classic genre route again after Anna Karenina, but decided to give it a go. It is a classic for a reason after all. The story is written as an autobiography of the female main character, Jane Eyre. It was published in 1847 so this was truly the first novel of its kind at publication.

The book starts in Jane’s childhood when she is 10 years old. Then it spends a bit of time there, but quickly fast fowards to when she is 18 and her life truly begins. The story follows along her character and moral development in a very personal way. There are times Jane addresses the reader directly and it feels as if you are hearing a real person tell their life story. It does become a love story, but not in mushy way. I think the book is really realistic for the time period. I wouldn’t say it’s dry, but it definitely lacks the flourishes, flare, and dramatics that we find in today’s novels. I don’t think that kind of writing was used yet. It is a nice change of pace especially if you want to immerse yourself into a former time period.

If you are looking for a classic book to expand your repertoire this is a good one to do so.

Goodreads Synopsis

Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit. She falls in love. Hard.

But there is a terrifying secret inside the gloomy, forbidding Thornfield Hall. Is Rochester hiding from Jane? Will Jane be left heartbroken and exiled once again?

Read my previous book review.

I was scammed?!

**Well actually a bus full of people were “scammed.” Let me explain, but it is two-sided – one more personal and the other totally unjust. So what exactly is this relating to? This is about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is a 13 mile trek through Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage Site. The crossing includes crossing over Mount Tongariro and also has views of two other mountains, Ngauruhoe (NZ’s youngest and most active volcano) and Ruapehu. If you’re a Lord of the Ring’s fan you may know it as Mount Doom.

Let’s start with my personal woes to get it out of the way. For weeks I had heard how amazing the crossing was and how it was a top thing to do while in NZ: a “must do.” And well my friends that was just completely false. I think it is only a must if you like extreme hiking or if you want to really push yourself. Yes, the views are pretty cool, but honestly I have seen better. It isn’t something that is going to be a top thing I’ve done/seen in my life or even on this trip. And so if you are a normal traveler not looking to push your body to it’s limit I think this is something you can skip. Honestly, apart for the first hour every second of the experience was miserable and I consider myself to be fairly fit/active. It was windy and freezing and I wanted it to be over. So the fact that it was sold to us as something we couldn’t miss was the first injustice I felt. I can’t understand how something so extreme as this could have been pushed onto us so hard. Only two people from the bus opted out and the Stray drivers were basically trying to convince them to change their minds up until 15 minutes before. It just left a bad taste.

Okay now time for the actual “scam.” I think at this point it is well known I am traveling with a hop on/off bus company, Stray. They have an app where you book your travel, follow along the route, book accommodation and activities. The crossing activity on the app was listed at $69 NZ and you know we did question the cost with our driver. We were told that park fees were increased 400% or something wild this year so that was why it was so high. We all took it at face value mostly because we trusted our driver and also because we wanted to do the hike. I’ll review the actual hike at the end, but again I didn’t enjoy it and wanted it to end, especially after the summit. As a result I finished the crossing family quickly, in under 5.5 hours and I was one of the first 5 in our group to finish. Now is where it gets interesting…

We finish the walk and have to shuttle back to Adrift’s base. On the drive back we are asked if we wanted to be dropped off at a bar. Are you insane?! I almost just died (okay being very dramatic), but seriously I can think of a lot of things I want before a drink – shower, bed, food, bathroom, etc. The five of us decline and are dropped off at Adrift where we drop off our rented gear (I had rented gloves for $5 – which someone also made the point that the rentals should have been included with what we were paying). Okay cool so when is our ride coming to drive us to our accommodation? Well it wasn’t easy to get an answer, but when we finally had it clarified it was that it wasn’t coming until 5:15/5:30pm (3 hours waiting around) and that we had to wait for the entire group to finish so they only do one trip. This was just so messed up on so many levels, but the main two being:

#1. We are traveling with a bus company. Why couldn’t our normal driver come to pick us up? I even gave him the benefit of the doubt thinking that maybe today was one of his days off after he dropped us off. Nope it wasn’t so he pretty much wasn’t working after 9am that day, but getting paid for the day. I don’t see why he couldn’t have made at least one trip back.

#2. We all paid $69 and multiplied by 20 that is $1,380. There are no fees to actually hike the crossing and therefore the fees Adrift has to pay are to be a commercial operator at the park – meaning they are listed on the website and can send guides with groups. We didn’t have guides we just had shuttles. So we paid money for transportation when we are traveling with a bus company….logic. And the icing on that is that we are paying for transportation, but they won’t take us when we are ready to go. We had to wait 3 hours outside (oh yes I forgot to mention that after we dropped off our gear they closed down and we were left outside) after hiking in brutal conditions for over 5 hours.

For the amount we were paying compared to the distance Adrift should have at least made two trips back to our accommodation. It was bull, but I have since let it go it is just a solid reminder to be diligent while traveling even when you trust a company like I did with Stray. Honestly, look up different options if you are looking to do the crossing – maybe rent a car with some mates to split the cost and do it on your own time. There are other options don’t feel like what is offered is the only one.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Now to the actual crossing… We were given the green light for the next morning at 7pm the night before. The conditions hadn’t been great earlier in the week and safety of the crossing is very weather dependent. When we heard it was on we were all stoked. It was our last night at Blue Duck Station and ended up being very chilled. I think most of the group retired to bed around 9pm. I’ve never been one to go to bed early and as a result inadvertently I stayed up until around midnight. Total error on my part because we were leaving at 5:45am.

It was too early to eat a proper meal, but we knew what was ahead of us so we all tried to fuel up. When we were finally on our way our driver was speeding down the winding roads. I’m really not exaggerating a couple of people were getting car sick, but he kept saying we didn’t have a choice because we were running late. After arriving, checking in, gear check, and briefed we had 45 minutes to wait for the shuttle so there actually wasn’t a need to drive wild.

I just mentioned our gear had to be checked. To do the walk you need to have a minimum three layers, a rain jacket, 2 liters of water, and proper shoes for “all conditions.” I was so concerned about the cold that I totally overdid it on layers. I brought/wore my shirt, lulu sports zip jacket, a big sweater, a lighter sweater, a scarf, and the rain jacket. Then I had 3.5 liters of water. I wore the big, black sweater maybe for the first hour or so, but even though it’s windy and freezing the layers are heavy and you are sweating from the physical exertion. So I was wearing my shirt, lulu jacket, and rain jacket for the majority of the hike the other layers and excess water was just more weight on my back. I am really glad I rented the gloves otherwise my hands would have been totally wrecked. What I really needed was a headband or hat to cover my ears.

The first part of the hike was tough. That was what pushed you physically. The weather was against you and the uphill sections were straight uphill. Even though it was hard I didn’t mind it because it felt like you were working towards something. At 2.5 hours I summited and it was spectacular. We were walking on volcanic debris sans path. At the top is where I should have turned around and went back the way I came. The second part of the crossing was all mentally grueling. At that point you just wanted it to be over and there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel. It just kept going and going. Every time you thought you were close to the end you just had to keep walking more and more. And at the very end the signage became so scarce I kept thinking I could possibly be lost. Ugh it was a nightmare, but I did it and I survived and truth be told I would recommend the crossing to others just not to everyone.

Snowy Waters Lodge

For the night we were staying in Raetihi at Snowy Waters Lodge. I’m not sure for how long they have been opened, but it did seem like all the pieces weren’t there. The hospitality was great, but it was a little rundown. The heaters weren’t working in any of the rooms which wasn’t ideal after a crazy, cold hike. All in all it was an okay place to stay, but not a favorite. I think because we were all done with the crossing at 5pm we all would have rathered to keep driving to get a little closer to Wellington. Another bitter discovery was that to get to Tongariro National Park and back to Snowy Waters (so two ways) is advertised at $40 – where we paid $69 for the one-way.

**In full disclosure this situation happened two weeks ago and I’ve honestly gotten over it at this point. I almost didn’t want to post about it at all, but thought it was important to be transparent about the ups and downs of my travels. Also, when we were stranded for the 3 hours waiting for our transport we did look into options like taxi, uber, bus, other shuttle companies, etc. we just were limited because of not booking in advance/not much around.

I Went to a Festival?! Rhythm and Vines Rundown

One of the main reasons for coming to New Zealand was to attend Rhythm and Vines. So what is Rhythm or RnV? It is a three-day music festival situated on the East Coast of New Zealand and coined for having the “first sunrise of the New Year.” It has been a bucket list item for me to attend for over four years and I’m so glad to have finally checked it off my list. There were some great acts in the lineup, but let’s be honest festivals and big events like this are better with friends and I was going totally solo. If this festival was in Australia I maybe would have been able to convince some of my new friends to attend, but it was in New Zealand, a country I just entered a mere three weeks prior.  That being said I was going solo so I decided to volunteer. 

I thought volunteering would be an easy way of making friends at the festival and also give me something to do (because I cannot party 24/7). I am so glad with this decision and I had a great experience. So what does volunteering at RnV entail? Basically you work a couple of shifts to earn back the cost of your ticket (and camping if you are camping onsite). I was camping so my shifts were to make up 24 total hours in the days of the festival to get the refund of almost $400NZ. The shifts mostly were made up for four 6 hour shifts or two days of doubles (working two 12 hour days). Honestly, I saw this as a win-win; I would earn the cost of my ticket back (and at the time of purchasing the campsites were already sold out and staying in the surrounding area wasn’t an option either) and it was a chance to meet new people.  You could be doing anything from guiding guests, customer service, being stationed at the Artist’s house, picking up cans, doing surveys, etc. Based on my application/qualifications I was placed in customer service and eventually was engaged in logging lost property. In hindsight I had an easy job, it was out of the sun and my shifts although they started early, 8am, ended in time to not miss a thing festival-wise. I really enjoyed being helpful and using my brain/working again. The volunteering part of the festival was a complete positive. I ended up working more than my mandatory 24 hours, but I really was enjoying being helpful.

RnV is a three-day/night festival officially starting on the 29th. If you are camping and have a three-day pass you can enter the site on the 28th, which becomes a pre-party night. If you are a volunteer you can stay even earlier or later depending on your shifts, and so my camping experience started on the 27th and consisted of five nights (I actually could have stayed another night, but decided to re-enter society on the 1st and go to an Airbnb). It amazes me that I enjoyed camping as much as I did. I think the most I ever camped was for three days and that was when I was in my early teens. This was full on camping for five nights and although it was cold at night I think I slept better in my little tent then I do in hostels.

I obviously don’t carry camping gear with me and had to go on a search on my one spare day back in Auckland for gear. I ended up getting really great deals (thank you extended boxing day sales) for a sleeping bag, tent, air mattress, and pump. I think I spent around $35 USD for all of that and that was okay with me. I ended up giving all my gear away at the end of the festival to fellow volunteers so I didn’t feel wasteful and I hope it serves them well in their future endeavors. 

Now to the actual festival…again I loved it. I loved that people from all around the country, both nationals and working holiday visitors, came for the festival. It seems like the fest life is really big in NZ with multiple festivals going on back-to-back and simultaneously around both the South and North Islands. The majority of the crowd was a little young for my taste and I feel like in the U.S. you can more easily see the difference of above 21 and under. At RnV everyone is legal and it seemed like the attendees were skewed towards the younger end of the spectrum. I didn’t make it out very late any of the action nights (28th-31st) because I had early shifts, but I did make it later and later each night.

Seeing so many artists in one set of time was totally overwhelming. My favorites included: Ziggy Alberts, Disclosure, Sachi (omg they were so good – I may become a super fan), Culture Shock, Dave Dobbyn, Mako Road, Drax Project, Theia, Leisure, and Dom Dolla. Also, Alice Wonderland, Jauz, and Wilkinson were fantastic at keeping the party/energy going. I truly loved the whole experience, but it is a bit (no a lot) exhausting. I can’t wait for my next festival, but I will take comfort in small luxuries like actual showers/running water, beds, and microwaves until then. 

Off the Grid at Blue Duck Station

Another Stray exclusive stop was Blue Duck Station. It is described as an “outdoor enthusiast’s playground.” It is a private farm with zero cell service so we were literally off the grid for two nights with an abundance of nature around us. Blue Duck’s mission is to “conserve its endangered wildlife, increase the health of native bush and rivers, and preserve the history of the area, while educating visitors about the endangered New Zealand blue duck, other native species, and local history.” Everything they do from the farming to education supports their mission. It is a family run business and the owner came by our campfire the first night to chat.

Our first night we had the option of having a farm to table meal in the main cafe. Goat curry was on the menu. Afterwards, we all hung out by the campfire for hours and eventually moved inside when it started drizzling a bit and spent the rest of the evening playing card games, ping pong, etc. .

We were not lucky with the weather, and our full day at the Station was rainy from early in the morning through mid-afternoon. This prevented some activities like the jet boating to take place, but it was nice to have some down time. In the afternoon the rain stopped just in time for my group to go horse trekking. I was so disappointed in my experience at Rainbow Beach I had told myself I wouldn’t go commercial horse riding again. I was seriously contemplating for a long time whether or not if I should go at Blue Duck. I finally decided to give it a go thinking that since it was a farm it would be a better experience.

I’m so happy I went! The horses were beautiful and the majority of the horses on the farm are rescues. They are also very healthy, happy, and well taken care of. They roam and live outside freely, except for the occasional rides, and even then never working more than 3-4 days a week. After all the rain the conditions were muddy and it was a totally different kind of terrain than I’ve ridden in years. There were also only five of us riding and the guide, it was a great size for the group.

After the ride, I went for a walk on the property to see a waterfall. Upon returning we heard that the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was on for the next day and we would be leaving at 5:45am. It was an early, chill night.

Accommodations

We were sleeping in adorable cabins with two bunks in each (sleeping up to four people). The cabins were built within the last year so they were in great condition. I’ve been getting really lucky with my sleeping arrangements and have been on the bottom bunk…score! Hope this doesn’t jinx it. The bathrooms were in the main campsite building, but it was only a minute walk. There was also a huge kitchen, game room with ping pong table, dining area, and a library/reading room.