Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Zealand Adventures Ahead!

It was a huge step for me to buy my first one-way plane ticket to New Zealand. And then... I just had to figure out to do once I got there.

I went into decision-making mode this past weekend and finally have a general itinerary in place!

First, I'll land in Auckland at 8 a.m. NZDT on Feb. 5. I've booked a hostel for my first few nights — 12-bed dorm style — so I can explore the city a bit.

Then I'll head up to the Bay of Islands, which is kind of pretty. (You might not want to click that link if it's currently snowing outside where you are, as it is in Seattle.)

GQ Trippin' just posted about their experience in the Bay of Islands, where they snorkeled, kayaked, fished, hiked, sunbathed and more. It looks like a ton of fun!

From there, I'll head back to Auckland, and then set off on an adventure through both islands of New Zealand. Use your imagination to add a trip from Queenstown northeast to Milford Sound — another not-ugly place.

How am I doing all this, you ask? I'll be cruising on a Stray bus!

Stray is a hop-on/hop-off bus network for travelers who want flexible transportation across New Zealand. Once you purchase a pass from a wide range of route options, you can use it for up to 12 months. That means you could hop off at any point, stay there for a few days, weeks or months, and then hop back on the bus to continue the route.

I'll be in New Zealand for about a month and my route takes a minimum of 19 days to complete, so I can stay a few extra days here and there to take a break from constant bus travel.

You can also book activities and accommodation through Stray, or just do your own thing. And from what I've read, it's easy to make friends with fellow travelers on the bus — good for me!

There are several "backpacker buses" that run similar routes, like Kiwi Experience and Magic. I first learned about them at a Meet, Plan, Go! happy hour, where co-founder Sherry Ott told me about her experience with Magic.

I just loved the idea of being able to travel with other people and have easy access to tons of fun activities. I ultimately chose Stray after reading many positive reviews that painted it as a great experience for adventurous young travelers.

Check out this video to see some of the activities I'll be able to do as I travel with Stray. It starts out a little slow, but give it a few minutes!

People keep asking me if I'm excited or scared to leave, and if it feels real yet. Now that I have a good idea of where I'll be going and what I might be doing, it feels very real and I'm definitely EXCITED!

Those capital letters represent the fact that I'm dying to escape Seattle's frigid temps for summer in the South Pacific. And yes, I'm aware that it rains quite a bit in New Zealand all year round, but I'm from Seattle — I can hang.

I am a bit wary — but not scared — of a few things:

  • For the first few days, I'll have to learn how to make my way around Auckland alone. 
  • I'll check into and sleep at a hostel for the first time. 
  • I'll meet a bunch of new people and worry, as always, that maybe they won't like me and I won't make any friends. I know it's stupid, but I can't help that little insecure part of me. 
  • I'll have to learn how to handle New Zealand dollars and interpret time based on the 24-hour clock. I know these things might be easy for some, but words are my forte — my brain has to work harder when numbers are involved.

Those are all things I'll figure out as I go along, and my little worries are nothing compared to the excitement I feel for all the adventures to come.


Where will I decide to hop off the bus and stay for a few days? I've chosen a few stops already, but I'm also open to suggestions!

WELLINGTON: I actually know (and "know") a few people in Wellington, and I'd like to meet up with them while I'm in New Zealand's capital city.

I met one of them under unusual circumstances at the World Domination Summit in Portland. I found an iPhone in the restroom at the WDS after-party and, since I was a bit tipsy, decided that it was my mission to find the owner.

Luckily, the phone wasn't password protected and the owner's Facebook profile was open. I simply walked around the party full of hundreds of people with the Facebook photo in front of my face until I found the right woman: Christine Brooks of Wellington, New Zealand.

Christine hadn't even realized she'd lost her phone and was beyond grateful for its return since she was heading to the airport shortly. She insisted on buying me a beer, but — since I was a bit tipsy, remember? — I declined. I said she could buy me a beer in New Zealand instead. I'm gonna get my beer, people!

The person I "know" in Wellington is Nick White, who was also a WDS attendee, but one I didn't get the chance to meet. Nick is a mountain runner and a head and neck cancer survivor. I highly recommend you take five minutes to listen to him speak:

When I asked Nick via Twitter if we could meet up in Wellington, he replied, "Definitely! Bring your running shoes."

QUEENSTOWN: I don't know anyone in Queenstown — yet — but it sounds like a helluva fun place. It's known as the adventure capital of the world, so I'm sure I'll find no shortage of things to do. Remember that travel insurance I bought? Places like Queenstown are the reason why!

NELSON: I'd like to say I want to spend some time in Nelson because it's the sunniest area of New Zealand, or because it has an amazing arts scene. Both of those things are true, but the real reason I'd like to visit Nelson is because it's where my high-school English teacher, Prudence Hockley, was from.

Ms. Hockley (as I knew her) tragically died on Christmas Day. She was an incredible teacher, and the type of person who absolutely lit up any room she entered. I am so saddened by her death, yet feel so lucky to be able to spend some time in her hometown. She often spoke fondly of New Zealand, and would draw a kiwi ("the bird, not the fruit," as her saying went) on my essays along with her commentary.

I don't expect anything in particular from Nelson; just some time to wander and reflect on an incredible life cut short. Life is to be lived. With her unapologetic tattoos, piercings and overwhelming zest for the day-to-day, Ms. Hockley helped remind us all of that.


Sorry to end on a sad note, but that's all I've got for now. My travel planning is chugging along, and I feel adequately prepared for this huge transition that's just a few weeks away.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Life. Is. Short. Do what you have to do. There's no time like the present.



  1. I love hearing about your traveling plans! I'm so sorry to hear about your high school teacher but wonderful teachers like her are exactly why I'm going back to school to become one. Thanks for more inspiration!

    1. Good for you! We need more teachers who will so positively affect her students, like Ms. Hockley did.

  2. New Zealand looks amazing! You are going to have so much fun - and I can't wait to read about it!

  3. This post got me so EXCITED! Exactly a year ago, me and my boyfriend were in NZ travelling on the Stray bus! Just reading this post brings back all the memories and, being home in a rainy and cold Sweden at the moment, really makes me realize that I have to get out into the world again.

    We had an awesome time in NZ, even though we were on a kind of tight schedule and didn't have much extra time to stop extra nights in places we liked. Still, it was an amazing experience. We went down the Waitomo Caves, hiked up on the Franz Josef glacier, river rafted at Rangitata, hired surfboards at Raglan, went katamaran sailing in Abel Tasman... There is just no limit to the cool things you can do! I'm almost a bit jealous of you, having all that in front of you :)

    I really really hope you'll have an awesome time, and I'll continue to follow you!

    1. Ahhh, that gets ME excited to learn that you had an awesome time with Stray!! Very happy with my choice. And some of the activities you named are the ones I'm most looking forward to!!

  4. You are going to LOVE New of our favorite places on Earth. Blenheim is a great little town in wine country (not too far from Nelson)... a great brew pub (run by some US expats), great wine tours and good food. Kaikoura is on the beach just south and is one of the more scenic places anywhere. You stand on the beach looking at the ocean, turn around and are looking at the Southern Alps...absolutely spectacular!
    Queenstown is adventure capital and gorgeous as well and we really enjoyed Lake Taupo. Really, you just can't go wrong in New Zealand!
    Enjoy! Rhonda

    1. I'm VERY much looking forward to wine-tasting and visiting pubs! And eating, of course. Thank you for the tips. I have a feeling I won't want to leave NZ : )

  5. Hey Devon! We met forever ago at a Seattle Meet, Plan, Go! happy hour. Looks like you had an amazing trip. My next stop is New Zealand and I was wondering what you overall thought of Stray? Decent age range and group size? Wish you'd tried out a different bus company (there are too many, ha)? Thanks! -Dawn

    1. Hey Dawn! I really loved Stray overall! I was in NZ in February, at the end of the summer, and had a decent group of 20+ bus-mates throughout the trip. I'd say most of the people ranged in age from 19-25, with a few people in their late 20s/early 30s. It is known as the adventurous bus that still likes to party every now and then! Everyone participates in the activities that are available at each stop. It seemed that Kiwi Experience skewed younger (late teens/very early 20s) and it was known as "The Big Green F*ck Bus" — as in, everyone hooked up with each other, ha! The Magic Bus seemed to be a much older group and honestly looked pretty boring. I recommend Stray 100%!!

      My only tip: Try to book a pass that is on sale; I booked one for full price that went on sale the next day and had a hell of time trying to get a price match. They eventually refunded me the difference, but I could tell they don't usually do that.

    2. Awesome, thanks Devon! I was tempted to be an old lady and book Magic, but I booked Stray (on sale too!). Exciting! Thanks for the tips!


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