Well, I had meant to write a post about my next journey about six months ago. I’m sure the burning question on your eager minds is something along the lines of: 
“Why, dear wayfarer, hast thou withheld thy explosive travel blogging talents from the world for a thousand eternities? Thou hath forsaken me! FORSAKEN. MEEEEEEE.”

Behold my answer – it lies within the riddle below!

Writer’s block
General life distractions

Oops. I was never too gifted in the art of riddling. Now you know!

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Ohinemutu Village, Rotorua

So..I had been talking to my pal Chris who I’d met during my time living in Scotland, since he was coming to New Zealand for a working holiday as well, in a couple of weeks. I had been checking adverts on noticeboards to see if there would be any places for which I could work in exchange for accommodation in a central location where we could meet up and maybe do some traveling together. I found a hostel in Rotorua that was really well reviewed, had a fantastic name (my basis of judgment for worthiness of where I rest my weary head at night), Funky Green Voyager –  and they just happened to be looking for a cleaner at the exact time I was looking to leave Whitianga.  I emailed Anja & Gerard (the absolutely awesome owners), and they were happy to take me on the very next day!

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Nick, a ‘murican (bald eagles and sheeit, yeah?) from St. Louis checked me in to my room. I was sad that he didn’t have a super strong southern accent and also that he didn’t say y’all nearly often enough like a true American ought to. I was quick to be introduced to the rest of the Funky Crew hanging out in the lounge – Kyle, a fellow Canadian, who happily introduced himself by performing the legendary ‘Canadian Secret Handshake’, his German girlfriend Astrid, and my fellow roommate Andrea from Bavaria. There were some cool long-termers – Marky Mark from England, and Major Tom ‘ginger leprechaun’ from Ireland. Everyone got along super well, and it was a matter of maybe a week before I felt like this was actually becoming my wee hostel family. Later on, Nick’s brother Jack joined the Funky crew, further awesomeifying the awesome awesomeness. Eventually Jack went on travelling and was replaced by my most favourite taquito enchilada, Karen from Mexico.

I had been at the Funky Green for around a week and a bit, when my Scotsman friends Chris and Sam (Samwise) came to visit me. We went to Hobbiton, the filming location for The Shire in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy – near Matamata. We had to return Samwise to the land of his people.

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We also went some 80km out of the way to visit Paeroa. What could possibly be worth a journey that far out of one’s way, you ask?
Ask, and you shall receive:

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Samwise with his L&P

My reaction:
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I know what you’re thinking, and you’re welcome. For those who are unaware, L&P is a popular kiwi soda. That was the most life-changing, amazing, dramatic and incredible travel experience of my life! Simply a magical time. Highly recommended for the niche demographic of giant roadside attraction aficionados.

My ‘two week’ stint at the Funky Green had turned into three weeks, four weeks..yeah, screw it – over three months. There were countless days and nights of kicking back, meeting interesting passing travelers and their stories, hanging out, redwood forest hikes, and pretty much just enjoying each others company.

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Redwood Forest

I could write so much more of my time here, but how can one possibly sum up such a huge chunk of time in one blog post? One might suggest perhaps posting a series of shorter blogs and writing about it closer to the time of being there. Yeah, nah! Too logical for this crazy cat. I do, however, want to shout out to all of the amazing, wonderful people I met here.

Gerard & Anja (and their adorable kids Don and Lola), Astrid, Kyle, Andrea, Karen, Nick, Jack, Tom, Mark – it was such a pleasure to be able to spend my months in Rotorua with you guys. It wouldn’t have been my first New Zealand home without you! Go Gang Green (thanks Kyle)!

Also, to all the great folks I met who were passing through – it was a pleasure to have the chance to meet you guys!

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My Top 5 recommended must-dos for the overcommercialism-conscious (read:budget) traveller in Rotorua:

1. Ohinemutu Maori Village (on the lakefront)
2. Redwood forest – I personally recommend the yellow track which offers views over the city and, if you’re lucky with your timing, a pretty impressive geyser eruption from a thermal park.
3. Saturday food/arts/crafts markets on the lakefront and Kuirau Park
4. Thursday night market on Tutanekai Street. Food, entertainment and other little crafty stalls! Pay a wee visit to Mistress of Cakes – best brownies ever!
4. Rotorua Arts Village, if only to appreciate that they knitted a sweater for a tree.
5. I never had the opportunity to visit it – but have heard fantastic things about a natural spring. It’s called hot and cold river and it’s exactly as it sounds! Worth a try if you’re keen on a free thermal experience. Also, check out Kuirau Park any other day – there are some smelly bubbling mud pools to check out which, if you had forgotten before, will be an instant reminder that there’s a lot of thermal activity going on beneath your feet.

If you have a few dollars to spend, there are plenty of budget activities to satisfy – parasailing, kayaking, cycling, even zorbing (roll down a hill in a human-size hamster ball).  Check the isite (tourist information) for more ideas!

-A.

After a week in Piha, I was hitting the road again – it was back to Auckland for me. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to pull myself away from the village that so quickly came to feel like a second home. I had a pretty entertaining last night mingling with the locals, my Aussie friend Emma and a Scotsman, John at the village RSA (a locals bar with overpriced delicious fish & chips).
The next day, my buddy ol’ Petey managed to appear on time and he gave John a ride back as well.

Back to Auckland, Back to Base

..the only place in the world where you can book a female dorm and end up being checked into a room with only guys. I had a couple of really great roommates – Milan from the Czech Republic, my fellow Canuck Nic from the east coast, and a Chinese man who must have been well into his late 70s. Good mix.

Can you imagine being well into the golden age of hip replacements, Matlock marathons & lawn bowling..and  somehow still have the energy and patience to actively  choose to sleep on a top bunk in the dorm of a hostel? Yeah, I can’t either. Never mind that Base is probably the worst possible choice if you are expecting actual sleep.  Props, good sir.

I had some really good times in Auckland – went to the zoo with the super awesome Milan for our first kiwi bird encounter (I’d say that a solid 30 seconds of kiwi was experienced but IT WAS A REAL LIVE KIWI), went to my first Super Rugby game (Blues vs Brumbies), checked out the museum and sky tower. A rainy day was spent on Waiheke Island. Epic (in all possible facets)  fish and chips at Shakespeare’s pub.

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These are the faces of rugby. I could not have chosen a more awkward photo.

Caught my next bus – by a hair – to Thames, in the Coromandel Peninsula.

Actually, just a second. Let me go on a brief tangent here – I gave myself all the time in the world to plan this trip to New Zealand. Do you think I’d be organized enough to give myself some basic directions on how to get to important places such as where I am sleeping? Nah, bro. Small town = easy to find such things. 

Anyway, on an unrelated note, I arrived in Thames after dusk only to notice that I didn’t know where the hell I was going. The grumptastic bus driver who had done the same route for years chose to be of no help to me, so I was left to my own device. Of course, at 7pm in a small town, next to nothing is open. After walking aimlessly for some small while, I found a Four Square that was just getting ready to close for the night. I went in. They had absolutely no idea about the existence of the hostel I was looking for, never mind where it was. A customer had overheard me, though, and piped up.

“Gateway? Of this I am familiar. The owner, that fellow is good friend of mine. A brother. Hop in my car and we shall embarketh on a magical, questical journey to this mythical land of gateways. For I, good lady, am the Gatekeeper.”

He may have put it a bit (a lot) differently, but he was very kind and turned out to be the owner of a major business in town. We had a good chat and, quite literally less than a minute later, we were in front of the hostel. It was on the street behind the bus stop. I literally could have started my aimless walk in a slightly different direction and would have been there within seconds. All in a day’s work, folks. My first and only (self claimed) hitchhiking experience.

My hostel wasn’t too much to boast about, but the people were great – some friendly Germans, an American, and a couple of Dutch guys. One of the Germans tried to convince me he was Swedish to sound more exotic than the hundreds of German backpackers one inevitably meets in New Zealand (New Zealand? More like New Germany, pfft). We had a great and relaxed night, sitting around the kitchen table with some drinks, swapping stories.

Thames was a cute, sleepy seaside town. Not much to do. I spent my first day there cycling on a trail that took me through rolling hills and a lot of farmland. My second day was spent walking for a number of hours just for something to do – found a really cool butterfly sanctuary.

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This photo is relevant to my experience in Thames. Really, it is.

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Coromandel Town was the next stop on my list. I had actually booked it without researching the place, naively assuming all of the main sights of the Coromandel Peninsula were in this place – Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach, all of that. Yep..wrong side of the peninsula – none of these things were here. What was there, though, was a great bush walk. It started off as a simple hike to a scenic viewpoint on a hill, which turned into a rather difficult but well marked track with massive steady ascends and descends on hills of doom,  which then became a proper muddy,
slippery, barefoot stream-crossing, forested good ol’ back-country adventure.

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Achievement unlocked – Angela has reached Level: Huckleberry Finn in pure outdoor hiking skills.

From Coromandel Town, I finally began to make my way towards Whitianga – my base for Cathedral Cove. My hostel there was incredibly accurate to it’s name – On The Beach Backpackers. It was a bright, colourful, yet slightly dated converted house with incredible views overlooking the sea with beautifully dramatic coastline. Absolutely loved it. I met some lovely folk there, including an older Swiss man named Bruno (he was hitchhiking his way around the country, kudos dude!), a Danish girl named Julie, and a fellow Canuck (Vancouver), Serena.

I hadn’t yet figured out how I was going to get to Cathedral Cove – it was a bit of a trek and there was actually a smaller town much closer to it which I hadn’t realized – so I decided to spend my first day hiking just outside of town. By just outside of town, I mean a two minute ferry across to another part of the peninsula. After some couple hours of wandering, I saw a path that would lead up to Shakespeare Cliff. About twenty minutes into the ascent, BAM.


..
.
*suspense*

No, I didn’t fall off the cliff into the harrowing depths of the cold, unforgiving sea.
I must’ve been too busy checking out the scenery around me, because I crashed into some rocks and slid forward on them on my knees – I still have the scar to prove it! I took that as an omen that it was time to turn back, should I decide I want to keep my leg from being amputated due to an infection of some sort – I never did finish that walk :(

Next day, I found a bus going to Cathedral Cove since I decided to perhaps not try cycling with my recent history of extreme clumsiness. Good idea? Yeeeeeah. Good idea. The walk started off well. Beautiful scenery, walking along the beach. Dipping my toes in the sea. Around half an hour into my walk, I couldn’t help but notice that there was no-one else around except locals. I stopped and asked some friendly Kiwis where on earth I was meant to be going – turns out I went in the exact opposite direction.
Alright, back ’round the right way, let’s go. Soon enough I found my way, going back up a steep hill, back down again, up many more. Finally, down to the beautiful Cathedral Cove. Worth it.

My next stop after Whitianga would be a little longer than expected..

-A.

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And so it began.

My second day in Auckland greeted me with buckets of rain. I didn’t care. I was going to Jurassic Park! Actually, Piha..whose surrounding forest looks crazily similar to it. Needs more dinosaurs. Velociraptors.

I lugged my backpack full of bricks outside my hostel in Auckland for my shuttle, and waited. I waited a little longer. Then..I waited even longer than that. About an hour later, I called old Petey (the driver, who was a retired police officer) and it had turned out that he thought he picked me up a week ago when, in actuality, he had mixed up the bookings and picked up my Canadian friend Arielle. We Canadians are all alike, y’know! About an hour after that, he finally pulled up in the Petemobile, apologetic and jolly.

As my first experience on New Zealand motorways, I can’t deny the fact that I was a bit queasy.

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My illustration of typical NZ roads.

My pro illustration displayed (above) is a painstakingly accurate likeness of your average New Zealand motorway. It is apparently thrilling to pass other cars when reaching curves that have the most possible blind spots.

Piha is a tiny surf village on the west coast of the North Island, pretty close to Auckland. You wouldn’t expect it, but even though it is practically the suburb of a metropolis, you feel as though you are entering an ethereal otherworld as you descend through the forested mountains to find movingly dramatic coastline – only to discover that it is truly more stunning than in postcards.

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My hostel was the Piha Beachstay Lodge.

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It was easily the most beautiful and well-located hostel in the history of hostels I’ve stayed ANYWHERE. It had an open concept living area and kitchen, and just emanated a relaxed atmosphere. The owner was a chilled-out surfer type of guy, and made everyone feel welcome.

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Chewy, the resident feline

I met a few very cool people there. There was a lovely 50-something ‘well-travelled’ woman from Quebec named Danielle while I was there. We had some really good chats about her positive outlook on life even when handed lemons. Emma from Australia was only around for a couple of nights but we had a great visit and road trip to Karekare.

One of my favourite films is The Piano..in fact, it was one of my major inspirations in coming to this region but also New Zealand in general. My first thoughts after watching it for the first time were ‘I MUST find this beach’ and ‘Shit, I also need to get a piano, place it on the beach, learn how to play said piano, and then cartwheel across the beach like mini-Anna Paquin’. Well.. I found that beach. I started walking on a track called the Hillary Trail, part of which has a stretch going to a waterfall, crossing a pond, climbing on a steep slope to get to the top of the falls.

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Kitekite Falls, Waitakere Ranges

I kept walking for about three or four hours until I hit a gravel road leading down a mountain. Long story short, I made it. I found my most amazing black sand beach in Karekare.

And I totally felt like I was in the film. Awwww yeeeeah!

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I won’t tell you how exhausting the hike back up the mountain and to Piha was. I will just say that my legs became noodly for the days following. ;)

-A.

Well, you know what they say – time flies when you’re having fun. I planned on updating this blog from the moment I landed in New Zealand, but I personally take it as a positive sign that I’ve been far too distracted with the pure enjoyment I’ve taken in my re-adopted life of a backpacker. Four months after arrival..here’s a recap of my last days in my homeland and my first glorious day in New Zealand.

I left my Manitoban homestead near the beginning of May en route to Red Deer to visit my brother, Erik, my sister-in-law, Jen and my brand new beautiful nephew, Keaton. After some tough farewells, it was time for the real adventure to begin..

Note to self – next time I fly to Vancouver..explore it.
It looks rad. The airport was pretty great, though – there was plenty of Timmies (ah yes, good ol’ Tim Horton’s..quite a vital part of Canadian culture) and a massive aquarium, not to mention a clear mountain view from the landing strip.

Vancouver – Auckland
The flight was, actually, …not that long. If you compare it to flying from somewhere like Europe. It was somewhere around fifteen hours and I made a cool Aussie friend to kill the time with. I basically remember arriving at around five in the morning and feeling like a complete drunken zombie in desperate need of a shower. An excitable one. Yup.

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The 'couve airport.

I arrived at my hostel, Base, at around 6am and by the glory of all things magical on this earth, I was able to check in instead of waiting half of a day passed out in a common area. Got to my room, sent some emails, collapsed in a state of complete resign onto my bed, and..couldn’t sleep. What?
I ended up getting all of the important stuff that comes with moving to a new country done on my first day there. BAM, look at me go! Productivity at it’s finest.

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The view from my room that I was far too tired to appreciate

By the time the clock hit the late, late hour of 5:00 pm, I was finally going to allow myself to sleep. This time, it worked.. And tomorrow would be another epic day..

-A.

On May 15, the next adventure begins. 

Stay tuned…exciting posts to come.

-A.

It took until I was twenty-three, a second chance and the epiphany that life was never meant to be lived in a metaphorical box for me to decide that travel was the only logical path I could take to open myself up to the world.

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It began when I was twenty years old. Like many people my age, I was attending university. I was struggling a bit, not really finding my place. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in, I couldn’t keep my focus on any particular subject and, for the absolute bloody life of me, I couldn’t picture what my life would be like post-academia. Not ten years, not five years. Not even a year. You know, when you ‘grow up’, pursue your career, achieve the goals you’re meant to set when you’ve graduated high school. To keep a long story short, I eventually left school. Though I loved the ‘university’ style of being taught to think outside of the box, the classroom setting proved not to be where I could really learn valuable lessons that would teach me where my potential for a happy, balanced self would be achievable. I suffered from severe anxiety.

Age twenty-two – Upon moving home with feelings of utter defeat, a quiet voice within reminded me of my childhood dreams of seeing the world. Was I actually capable of this? Could I be one of ‘those’ people who could live out their visions fearlessly and ambitiously? Well..perhaps not fearlessly, but I decided to plan for it anyway. A working holiday. After about a year of saving every penny I earned, I had to stop myself again. What on EARTH was I doing? I could NOT do this! I had enough anxiety to hardly be comfortable in many social situations, let alone bring myself completely outside of my comfort zone and learn how to meet new people again.

Let me tell you, it took a lot of self-analysis and soul-searching before I decided to take on the challenge and think of it as something of a form of self-therapy and emotional experimentation. I didn’t have a single thing to lose. My first stop was London, UK. My second would be Helsinki, Finland – a city I had dreamt of visiting after falling in love with their music scene and their history/culture. Yeah, that’s right! I booked myself to fly to a country where English wasn’t a native language. In my panicked state,  among a thousand other worries, I wondered if anyone would understand me. Well..it definitely didn’t take me long to learn that most people in urban areas speak English perfectly well. People were overwhelmingly welcoming and friendly. I was inspired. I’m not exactly sure what it was about it, but a visit to this cold country warmed my heart. I would come back again.

My ultimate destination was Edinburgh, where I’d find work. Many travels, laughs and wonderful spontaneous friends later, I’ve become rather learned in social culture, history and language. I’ve met some incredibly awesome people, too. I’ve broken myself out of the mould, done something completely different and inspired myself to open myself up to every new experience possible. I’m happy to say that my anxiety is at a normal level and I’ve learned to control it – this would never have happened if I hadn’t taken that monumental step for myself to ‘break out’.

To sum it all up, I’d like to hope this will have inspired even a single reader who might even slightly doubt their ability to travel. It’s the best education I’ve ever received in my life thus far, it’s helped me break through many an emotional barrier and it’s something that inspires and motivates me to continue doing something new every day without a second thought. It may sound cliché, but folks, when someone says that life’s short – it really is. We’ve got one go at this and we should never hold back our dreams for ourselves.

Roll on New Zealand, I’m ready for ya!

-A.

Why Working Holidays Are Awesome

I just wanted to point out a few things that completely set apart short periods of travel from life in a foreign country (for me, anyways). I honestly wish it were realistic for me to spend more time in all the countries that I’ve visited over the past few years – a girl can dream – but for the one that I did get the opportunity in which to live and work, as well as serving as inspiration for the two countries I will be living in the near future, I want to highlight the absolute best aspects of working abroad.

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1. Making friends with locals, tourists and fellow working holidaymakers.

I dare say it’s the best and most sound reason to work abroad. At first, I spent my first three months living in an 8-bed dorm in a city centre hostel. While it was really, really amazing to meet all sorts of transient/nomadic travellers, there were also a lot of people just like me, looking for a means to live there.

When I eventually began working at a tourist attraction and becoming something of a ‘local’ myself, it was a changing experience. The difference between living in a hostel amongst like-minded travellers and working alongside people who’ve lived in the area their entire life is rather drastic! I should also stress that working in a touristy place that attracts international attention is that of a unique one – working with locals, but with guests who are visiting the city from around the globe make for what I’d call quite an interesting mix of culture.

What I’ve found is that it made for the best experience to be able to interact with both tourists and people who call Edinburgh home. People who are on a trip have a tendency to always be up for brand new adventures around the city/country, and people who live in that particular country are already going to know where all the cool places to go are, what there is to do, etc (not to mention getting a feel for what life’s like there and all that wonderful stuff!).

2. Learning about yourself

As someone who is self-analytical (to a fault) by nature, I learned a lot just by placing myself in a totally unfamiliar environment. It’s pretty amazing what you can learn about yourself – your limits, new-found interests, your ability to depend on yourself, setting and achieving goals, and, probably most importantly, how capable you are of accomplishing great things.

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3. Working holiday = MORE opportunity for travel

Just because you’re living and working at a destination of your choice doesn’t mean you can’t stray elsewhere..

Because I was working with a major focus on travel in mind, and because I moved to a place that was incredibly accessible to the rest of Europe, I was able to travel to places I had only fantasized about. I was able to do a lot of travel both within the UK as well as throughout Europe!

I’m not going to lie, the best part of deciding to travel in Europe is how INCREDIBLY AFFORDABLE it is! Fly to Norway for ten quid? Italy for twenty or thirty? Sure! At home in Canada, I’d be shelling out hundreds of dollars to go the exact same distance for far less exposure to different cultures. Ryanair and Easyjet, I love you. <3

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4. Experiencing the culture and the history first-hand

Well, I wouldn’t say that there is a massive gap between Canadians and Scots when speaking about culture – much of Canada’s predecessors’ are that of colonizing Brits anyway, so, pfft, we’re practically siblings in national identity.  What I CAN say is that there’s definitely a lot more history still alive in Scotland and it speaks volumes in their culture, their values and even their sense of humour.

Perhaps my favourite and most extreme/amusing example is a man who has christened himself ‘Lewis, King of Scotland. He’s a poetic bard of a rather rough exterior who walks the High Street and surrounding areas of Edinburgh regularly, spouting words of wisdom through the majesty of his poetic/lyrical medium.

My point, though, is to stress that if you were to spend less time where you travel, you may not have the chance to encounter the little quirks, characters, and cool ‘underground’ places that make the destination what it truly is.

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I’ve learned a LOT more just from travelling than I ever had in a structured educational system – and there’s something of a satisfaction that comes from teaching one’s self by choice rather than by obligation.

-A.

P.S. Is there anything about travel/UK/working holidays/tourism in general that you’d like me to write about? Let me know! :)

Välkommen till min blogg!

I’m not leaving on my next phase of travels for a few months yet – but I think I’ll try and do a bit of posting about my past ventures. I spent two years living in Scotland (the majestic land of kilts, haggis, scotch whiskey and resident Groundskeeper Willies), which in itself was one of the easiest and most scenic countries in which to travel. 

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While I spent a lot of time working in the hauntingly beautiful city of Edinburgh, I was definitely no stranger to the rest of the United Kingdom and, any time I had the chance, I’d catch a flight to some of the places in Europe I’d only dreamed of seeing in real life. 

I digress – I’m going to keep this one short. Stay tuned for more magical postings!

-Angela

 
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