Posts in New Zealand

Are Hostels Safe? And Should New Travelers Stay in Hostels?

Hostel_Part_III_2011_CustomBD_001When you first start to travel, so many fears can pop into your head from getting robbed to missing flights to running out of money. And thanks to Hollywood horror films, hostels have been added to a list of things encouraged to fear, and for some, evoke images of kidnapping and torture.

In general, most news you see on TV around the world is bad news, and most western governments use scare tactics to keep people at home. The world is a dangerous place. That’s a silly generalization, and after hitting my 4 year travel anniversary it’s one that’s become even more laughable. But what of hostels? Those sketchy and dank places run by Slovakian mobsters? Sometimes I have conversations with friends or co-workers when I return to the United States and the topic comes up with a statement like “hostels aren’t safe, I don’t know how you do it” or “people get killed or robbed in hostels“.

I chuckle at them and shake my head.

Whatever you want to call them, hostels or guesthouses go hand in hand as a part of the travel experience for me over the past four years. They are the meeting place for new best friends. They are starting places for exciting and unexpected adventures. They can be a place where solo travelers find another solo traveler to connect with and sometimes canoodle with (take that however you want). They smell a little funky. They are places to perfect the art of cheap pasta recipes. And you will miss out on a huge part of the travel experience if you never stay in a hostel.

The debate will forever rage on whether or not to stay in hostels if you don’t have to which depends on what type of traveler and what tastes you have. But to argue if they are safe or not I will share the tale of my first time in a hostel to make my point.

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All month I am revisiting many of my travel firsts from my first trip abroad to New Zealand. For my first experience of a hostel everything began quite normal, but just like something out of a movie — shit got weird. So this is one story had to be told again.

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Photo By: Matthew Coleman

It seemed like a normal day in Auckland. I went on a birthday binge drink the night before with a new friend. Jaegermeister breath in the morning. Hangover. Rushed downstairs 5 minutes before checkout to book another night. But when I returned my room, I discovered a naked body in my bed. Lifeless.

What do you do when you find a mysterious body in your bed?

At the time I didn’t know if the person was lifeless or not. But the body wasn’t moving and didn’t seem to be breathing from what I could see. In some instances, one might panic thinking it’s a dead body. In others, one might also fist pump in silence thinking they got lucky or high five themselves. I knew for a fact that I didn’t get lucky the night before and come home with a girl

I knew for a fact that I didn’t get lucky the night before and had come home with a girl. My “it’s my birthday” line that worked so well in Vegas for smooches, failed that night on the ladies of Auckland. And the second reason was the bare ass staring back at me belonged to a dude.

I wasn’t that drunk.

Sure, one of the thoughts that raced through my head among hundreds of others was wondering if the person was dead, but I’m not a hobbyist of recreating Hollywood horror movies, and I can’t imagine someone being able to drag a body into the hostel room unnoticed.

I was simply confused.

Planking was a big fad around that time, yet I don’t think naked planking had caught on in 2011. Maybe it was a prank?

Then the other hostel mates saw the body. 

Slowly bunk bed by bunk bed began to squeak with the other backpackers coming to life. As some stretched out and rubbed their eyes or announced their own hangover with a moan, they began to notice the situation in my bed.

I was standing in the doorway with the definition of befuddled on my face. There was a naked body  slumped in my bed, half twisted and half hanging off the edge. One Irishman looked back and forth from my bed to me about 10 times before whispering, “Woot da heel is dat?

The only reply I gave at first was an extended “uuuuuuhhhhhhh…

As the rest of the room came to life and sat up to gawk, I looked around at them and whispered the only thing I could, “What the fuck is going on?

The Irishman replied the only way I’d expect, “Oim nawt drunk enoof for dis shite in da mornin“.

I wasn’t either.

Where did the body come from?

As I stood there, I tried to trace back over the whole morning to figure it out and hundreds of scenarios popped in and out of my head within seconds.

Flashback sequence commence…

That morning when I woke up to the scream of my alarm and saw it was just 5 minute before I had to check out. I know for a fact I rolled around in a Jaegermeister induced agony at first. After finding the energy to get out of bed, I discovered my half-full water bottle near the edge of the bed. Elixir of life.

And nobody else in my bed. I rolled off the bed still wearing the outfit from the night before and waddled out of the room, squinting through one eye as I made my way downstairs. The front desk was swarming with last-minute check outs, so I shuffled outside and into the searing sunlight. The hangover was too intense to do anything that day let alone think, so I listened to my belly instead and bought the last shriveled up meat-pies in the 7-11 nearby.

I rolled off the bed still wearing the outfit from the night before and waddled out of the room, squinting through one eye as I made my way downstairs. The front desk was swarming with last-minute check outs, so I shuffled outside and into the searing sunlight. The hangover was too intense to do anything that day let alone think, so I listened to my belly instead and bought the last shriveled up meat-pies in the 7-11 nearby.

When I returned to the hostel, the front desk commented on my glorious appearance with a “looks like you had an epic night mate” as they booked me for another night. Before going back to my room, I slumped down on the bottom step, lacking the energy to focus on juggling meat pies and water bottles while climbing stairs.

With the pies destroyed, I trudged upstairs and entered my room. No naked body in the bed. It was already 10am and I didn’t want to waste the day so I grabbed my toothbrush and went into the bathroom. Nothing out of the ordinary except that I found the remnants of meat pie in my beard. Yum.

Then I returned to the room.

And BAM. Naked ninja in my bed.

Cut to the Irishman waking and we’re back to “What the fuck is going on?

Either way, I knew through my brief flashback sequence that there was no way this naked-planking-ninja-dead-body was there minutes before.

That was the only time I put my Lonely Planet guide to use.

It was time to investigate. And when I say investigate, I mean use my Lonely Planet Guide Book for the first and only time ever during my trip in New Zealand. The guidebook was the closest thing to grab so I used that to poke his leg. No response. The butt cheeks stared back unmoving.

The rest of the room watched in silence (though there was a bit of giggling from one girl) as I walked around to the side of the bed and reached out to prod the dude in the shoulder. No response. I looked back at the rest of the room and held up my hands not knowing what to do. The Irishman nodded his head forward, and I took that as the sign to wallop the guy upside the head. If he was dead it wouldn’t matter, right?

So I walloped him in the back of the head. 

Lonely Planet proved useful and the moment I walloped him, he sprung upright. How he sprung upright from he twisted position he was in still baffles me (naked ninja skills I guess) but the sudden life of him scared the hell out of all of us. IT’S ALIVE!

I think I even yelled “Oh shit!

There wasn’t much life to the guy. As he sat on my bed, his eyes twirled around in his skull. Then he flopped back down.

Hey dude” I said, and proceeded to nudge him again with the guide-book. This time he did one of those moves where he tried to blindly swat me away. My hangover took hold, and now that I knew this naked dude was alive, I was furious he was in my bed. I hit him in the back of the head again, and again he popped upright. Eyes still twirling, but this time he mumbled something I couldn’t understand.

At that moment he came back to life.

Half-life at least. His eyes stopped twirling and he looked down at himself, realizing he was naked. He looked around the room but straight through all of us as though we didn’t exist.

You need to get the hell out of my bed man” I said, beginning to grit my teeth.

Instead of just wandering out naked after deflowering my clean-ish hostel bed, he reached down and began to grab my clothes from my backpack.

Great, now he was trying to steal my clothes!

He had two of my shirts and a pair of my pants and I yanked them from his hands. He still didn’t seem to realize anybody else was there, but he wrapped the blanket around himself and stood up.

Yes, take the blanket because I was going to burn it anyway” I called out, and he waddled out of the room and into the hall. Everyone in the room began to laugh, and even though I was pissed off, I could help myself either. By the time I poked my head into the hall to see if he was sleeping in it, he was gone like some naked phantom.

And that was the last I saw of him. But not the last I heard of him.

Later in the day word had spread of the naked guy in the bed, and while making some instant noodles and instant coffee in the kitchen, one of the backpackers in another room gave us his origin story.

He literally pissed off everyone in his room.

The “bloke” as they called him couldn’t hold his liquor or drugs apparently. The night before he had gone out by himself and re-appeared around 7am. At one point, close to when I was downstairs booking another night, he woke up everyone when one roommate caught him standing in the center of the room peeing all over everyone’s luggage. They did what anyone sensible would do in that situation and physically tossed him outside and locked the door.

When we compared stories, we figured out that somehow when I went to use the bathroom after booking another night, he managed to wander into the room and flop onto my bed before the door closed.

Looking back on it, it was a hilarious situation. For someone already battling hundreds of emotions as a first time traveler, I created tons of bad scenarios in my head that were usually based off of horror films. And that will make any experience seem dangerous. Go camping? Killed. Eastern Europe? Killed. Unless Liam Neeson can save me with his certain set of skills. Relaxing by a lake? Killed. Own a cat and bury it when it dies? Killed by zombie cats. Go to sleep at night and dream? Killed. Tomatoes? Killer tomatoes, you’re dead. Clowns? Killer alien clowns. Get the point? Well, I believe that last one. I hate clowns!

Get the point? Well, I believe that last one. I hate clowns!

Well, I believe that last one. I hate clowns!

Don’t let fear of the unknown or TV/movies delegate where you can travel to and not. Even when I traveled to Haiti, most warned me that I’d be killed or kidnapped because they saw it on TV and the news. Haiti is my favorite country to travel to.

Hostels can be weird, but they’ve never felt dangerous.

It’s true that my first ever hostel experience involved finding a lifeless body in my bed only for it to come back to life and waddle off. Freaking weird huh? Since then, I’ve heard stories of times when people have had drunk or drugged up idiots do things similar to that. I’ve experienced a fight in my hostel in Thailand that threatened to spiral out of control. I’ve also heard of stories where people have had their things stolen as well, but usually that’s because they decided not to take proper precautions.

Almost 99% of hostel stories I hear though are funny like my first experience, or about best friends being made.

Are hostels safe? After 4 years of travel and hundreds of hostels that I’ve stayed in, I can tell you that hostels aren’t dangerous or secret cults that will kidnap you or anything close to that.

My hostel experiences, though peppered with some weird shit like this one, has been pretty great. I’ve met friends that I’ve traveled with afterward and still keep in touch with. I’ve met hostel staff that I’m friends with to this date. I’ve even worked in a hostel, and it turned out to be a great way to save on budget. But I’ve never felt one was dangerous.

I’ve been to hostels that are incredibly dirty. I’ve been to some that outdo hotels in style. I’ve stayed at one run by an obsessive Christian who made us watch movies about Jesus. I’ve stayed at others that are run as a circus where you can learn to fire dance and juggle and tight-rope walk. Even some hold an incredibly high standard for eco-sustainability and environmental consciousness that outmatch most companies around the world. You can have a great experience or a horrible experience in some, but that is the same for most travel experiences.

You have to be responsible about staying in hostels.

Even though I’ve befriended plenty of people in hostels, there are always bad apples that you meet abroad. I’m not trying to tell you to distrust anyone, but to be blunt I’m telling you don’t be stupid. Most of it is common sense people.

  • Don’t leave your passports and electronics out in the open.
  • Don’t come home so wasted you don’t know where you are.
  • Always lock up any valuables in the lockers most hostels have.
  • If there is no locker, take a day-pack of your valuables with you.
  • Going out? Ask the front desk to hold it for you.
  • Read reviews about hostels before you go to make sure they are clean, in a good area, that they have locks on doors and lockers for your stuff, and that the staff isn’t sketchy.

Overall, don’t be scared to stay in a hostel. They are pretty fun places made for budget backpackers to meet and make friends. And who knows, maybe you’ll have a funny story to tell like the case of the naked planker.

SIDE NOTE: When I originally told this story on my old blog, the hostel that this happened at thought it was so funny that they sent me on a tour around New Zealand to write for them. Bless that naked ninja.

What was your first experience in a hostel like? Have a funny hostel story as well?

Battling Hundreds of Emotions When You First Start Traveling

Excitement. Fear. Elation. Anxiety. Euphoria. Hesitation. There are many words that can be used to describe the millions of emotions one experiences when traveling abroad for the first time, and when I first stepped foot into New Zealand — my first country ever, I experienced all of these and more.

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I’ve already stated that stepping onto my Air New Zealand plane and flying to the other side of the world was the scariest moment of my life (not because of the Richard Simmons intro they have), but stepping off the plane onto foreign soil for the first time was a whole different bag of emotions. Even though it has now been 4 years since that day, and I’ve flown well over 50 times and traveled to 18 different countries, I still remember that moment vividly.

It sticks with you, the feelings when you first embark on this great adventure not knowing what will follow, or what you will do, or what the country and the trip will be like. There are those of you that have been traveling since you were that crying baby on the plane, and surely there are some people out there that can’t recall the time a country stole your passport’s virginity, but for me everything about life was in a little town with a little town mentality that never thought much about the outside world.

I gave no real thought to the rest of the world. I cut grass on weekends. I worked in a job I hated. I drank more than 3 people should nightly. I obsessed over fleeting hobbies that usually involved get-rich-quick schemes. I dwelled over the small issues, I tried to date everyone I could and then got over them within days, I loved to talk shit about other people and lived in a constant state of anger.

It wasn’t until I started reading travel blogs and flipping through inspirational quote pictures on Tumblr for hours a day that I began to believe there was a much bigger world out there. Ignorance made me think that other countries were only seen in movies and on TV, something of fantasy. Those people, like me, forever stayed in their country and in their home city. Until the passport came. It still seemed like a fantasy — the ability to go to another country, but it was fast becoming reality. A mysterious reality.

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Beads of sweat crawled down my forehead as I crossed the gangway and into Auckland Airport from the intense nervousness that had made me gnaw off my fingernails, and probably because I was wearing a winter hat and it was summer in New Zealand. Summer! It was November and I had just left the nipply weather of Los Angeles and it was as if I landed in some mythical land where everything was opposite. It kinda’ was. However silly it is to read that one of my first emotions when I entered New Zealand the surprise that it was summer and not winter, I was then a person that thought getting a passport involved some impossible feat. Until I got one of course and realized it just involved a short trip to the post office. I laugh at things like this now, but it felt as if the plane ride was more like traveling to another planet and it blew me away that 12 hours could make the seasons flip.

 Elation

As I crossed the gangway and saw the words Kia Ora! upon entering the customs area glass labyrinth, I was filled with a rush of happiness. My stomach was tight and trembled, and I was trying to hold back from giggling. My skin tingles with a thousand needles and with this electricity coursing through my veins I couldn’t help but smile gigantically. I’m sure people hated me and were pushing to get by me as I stood in the way fumbling with my Lonely Planet guidebook, passport, and phone to try to take a photo. But dammit, I was going to take a photo of this sign and maybe everything else along the way. Right up until a security guard approached me and said, “Please keep moving and no photos in the customs area.

I got a photo anyway. And managed to drop my iPhone and shatter the glass. Thanks security guard!

Fear

Making my way through the glass labyrinth and into the customs area, I had no clue what to expect. I had never gone through a customs before, but all I saw was the lot of us being herded into queues and fear knotted up into my throat. What did I think? That we were being queued up for slaughter or something? Either way, I found it suddenly hard to swallow and my hands were shaking. It was probably because I had made the mistake of watching that Kiwi show Border Patrol on YouTube before flying to New Zealand about the customs police catching smugglers. At the time I found it hilariously silly, but now I felt as though they would stop me for some reason and I’d end up in jail. Of course I wasn’t smuggling anything at all, but the fear was there.

Do I smile or not smile? What do I say? Do I make eye contact or avoid it. Did I mess up my declaration form? Should I say “Kia Ora” or “Hello“? Does my breath smell? And then I was before the customs guard. I looked down to make sure my feet were in the right place and the blonde female guard with a stern face called me forward.

Passport?!” She called out half annoyed, and I fumbled to give it to her.

Hi how are you?” I blurted out louder than I should have.

Fine.” she said with a courteous smirk as she flipped through my pages.

It’s my first time doing this” I said, and realized as my cheeks flushed how embarrassing of a statement that was, but it cracked her stone facade and she laughed softly.

I can see that” she said, and then stamped me in. “Welcome to New Zealand Mr. Brown” she said with a smile, and handed me back my passport.

With my passport virginity taken by New Zealand and the blonde officer, I strode with awkward confidence through the gate.

Confusion

I was past the gate and into New Zealand, but my confident stride stopped there. Where do I go now? There were signs pointing to go right and so I followed, but there were more queues and this time I had to choose. I ended up in the customs declaration line simply because I didn’t want to somehow get in trouble for leaving and accidentally not declaring anything. Then I realized I hadn’t even gone to get my backpack from the baggage carousel yet!

Either me turning around fast and walking away or blurting out “Oh fuck” must have caught the attention of the customs agents. I went to my baggage claim area and found my bag already on the ground, wrapped in plastic. That was strange. I didn’t before loading it on and I started to freak out a bit like it meant I was caught for something. As I tore away the plastic, two border patrol agents stepped over. “Need help with anything?” one asked.

Uh, I just don’t know where to go after this” I said, secretly looking for TV show cameras nearby.

Can I see your passport please?” the other asked, and my stomach dropped. I was in trouble for something.

Do you have anything to declare in your bag” the one who wasn’t looking at the passport asked.

Uh, maybe my goldfish?” I said

Goldfish?!” he retorted, “You got live goldfish onto the plane?!

No officer, no, these crackers” I said, and pulled them out.

They both laughed. And I chuckled nervously. “First time eh?” the one with the passport stated as he saw my lonely New Zealand stamp there.

Yes, first time outside the United States.

Just head to declaration and show your goldfish” A guard said with a smirk, and handed back my passport. My first time was fast becoming a joke, but I was just happy to move on.

Declarations did take away my beloved Goldfish crackers.

Hesitation

New Zealand was almost there. I conquered my fears and traveled abroad. I made it (awkwardly) through customs and had my passport stamped. All I had to do was leave the airport. And I hesitated. I hadn’t booked any hotels or hostels. I didn’t know anyone at all. I was afraid to speak to a stranger and ask for directions. All of these “what if” scenarios flooded my brain and made me hesitate. It was as if I thought some sort of ferocious beasts lay in wait for me ahead. I couldn’t connect to wifi so I couldn’t just use my phone to make decisions for me on what to do and where to go. And then I met Scott. He saw me standing there, frozen, when he approached.

Hey man” he said with a California cool. I was hesitant to respond to him as well. Was he some slick scam artist? Did he want to rob me? But he seemed like a nice person, and though it was hard to drop my guard I did.

You’re from America too aren’t ya?

“Yeah, DC area but I just got in from LA.” I said.

Me too, we must have been on the same plane.” he replied. “Where are you staying?

I have no clue at all” I said. And it was true. I may have stood there all day, but instead, he forced me from my hesitation and my comfort zone and we left the airport to both find some accommodation.

I felt the weight of fear and hesitation and confusion drift away.

Curiosity

Once I left the airport, I suddenly became curious about everything. It was a rush of excitement and eagerness to just wander and explore and find out more. Just to walk for hours and take everything in. New Zealand, especially Auckland, is a very easy city to have as your first because everyone speaks English and most things are familiar. But everything was still different in a sense. Scott fed that curiosity as well. He was someone who I wanted to be like. I didn’t want to be him, but he had an air of weightlessness about him when it came to talking to strangers and doing something without worrying too much and I wanted to be like that. Though I still had my worries in the back of my head, I was curious about things for once. Curious enough to take a chance even if the outcome could be bad.

That is what travel is and has become for me since; a curiosity, knowing that a decision could turn out bad, but it could also be the best decision ever. The only way to find out is to give into your curiosity and do it. If not, you’ll never know, and not knowing and not taking a chance is the worst thing you can do in life. Desiring to find out about cultures and people and curious enough to talk to strangers and make new friends.

In Retrospect

Since that original trip, every new flight and new country bring a floods of emotions. Not like that first time though. These days, I pass through airports and land in another country and wonder “I’m already here?” because most of that has become automatic for me. I still get immensely excited in airports watching people coming and going and knowing I am too, but the procedural part of it is now automatic. But that first time flying to a foreign country at the age of 23 and only knowing a world that existed in a few states I had traveled to in the United States brought hundreds of emotions at once. Some of them made me second guess my decision, but most of them were overpowering in a positive way. Many of those emotions told me that because I was feeling these emotions, it meant that what I was doing was worth it. There wasn’t a numbness in my heart anymore, it was thudding rapidly with happiness and curiosity.

For those of you that haven’t been traveling and have always dreamed of hopping on a plane and seeing the world — there are plenty of emotions that will try to stop you from doing this. I felt these fears and anxieties and hesitations before my trip to New Zealand, and even afterward. Much of life for many of us, especially if you grew up in the United States, exists only there. And people in your life and societal norms will say that it’s crazy to quit your job and sell your things and pursue a passionate endeavor.

From 4 years traveling around the world since that first fateful day, I tell you to listen not to outside influences, but listen to your heart. There are many countries around the world that the people can’t travel or chase their dreams. Countries where people dream the same dreams as you, but it isn’t fear that holds them back from leaving, it’s poverty or inability to get visas or political instabilities or war.

It is our responsibility as a human beings with the ability and freedom to travel to face our fears. To get over comfort zones of not having secure jobs and not having a big screen TV or not having our Starbucks. To travel to feed our curiosities, which will be the best education you ever have just by gobbling up all observations and experience that come from travel. To travel for people who won’t ever have the chance to, and when you meet those people, to connect with them and share your culture. To share a smile and a meal. To share emotions. Because though you may have these emotions flood you when you begin traveling, in your travels you will see that this is what connects every human being on the planet. We all feel the same emotions and desire the same basic things in life.

It’s perfectly normal to experience all of these emotions when you first start traveling.

In the battle of hundreds of emotions when you first start traveling, once you conquer the conflicting ones and continue this amazing journey, you will then discover nothing divides the human race as a whole except the fear of the unknown — and it is the one thing that was holding you back from surpassing your boundaries as well. You will be a piece in the puzzle connecting the world by surpassing boundaries, on a map or of the mind.

What were some emotions you experienced when you first started traveling?

Lord of the Rings Tour Guide for International Travelers

There are an obscene amount of things to do in New Zealand. However, there’s one particular attraction that has fascinated a number of international travelers over the years.

Since the first Lord of the Rings movie was released in 2001, millions of people have flocked to see the scenes where the films were captured. J. R. R. Tolkien’s first three books turned movies (Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King) were filmed entirely in New Zealand across destinations such as Wellington, Canterbury, Southern Lakes and Nelson.

Though not all of us have the financial resources to set out on an extensive tour to visit every single location the LOTR films stopped, there are alternatives.

Luckily, there are several tours that cater for LOTR fanatics’ desire to take in the sights where Frodo Baggins and his fellow Elves lived. The Lord of the Rings official tour was curated by Mellissa Heath who has garnered global fame for her specialist insights into the Middle-Earth and other notable LOTR stops.

All the tours depart from Queenstown and are led by a number of highly knowledgeable guides who have an unbelievable amount of information on the history of the film, actors, props, costumes and storylines – it’s even rumored that one of them was in a LOTR movie.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Where the tour excels is that it provides each visitor a personalized journey through Middle-Earth. You have the opportunity to see the weapons used in the movie, costumes, photographs from the sets and “the comprehensive LOTR experience,” many hope for.

While there are a few of these tours across New Zealand very few are actually endorsed by Ian Brodie. As the author of the LOTR Location Guidebook, Brodie rates tour guide Mellissa Heath as “the perfect guide” through everything LOTR related.

The tours on offer include:

Trails of Middle-Earth (Queenstown)

Into the Vale of Wizards (Queenstown)

The Quest (Queenstown)

Touching Middle Earth (Queenstown)

Edoras (Christchurch) 

The best part about this particular LOTR tour is that there’s also on-site accommodation options which are available via a series of packages listed on the website. Additionally, the tour has accommodation available in Wanaka, Christchurch, Arrowtown as well as Queenstown. All prices for the tours and accommodation are detailed on the website.

Travel Tips for International Visitors:

While the trip is a fantastic experience it’s always best to plan for every eventuality. Here a few things to consider for your LOTR trip to New Zealand.

Make sure you don’t forget travel insurance

While many travelers choose not to purchase a travel insurance policy when they go on vacation, it’s not recommended. Travel insurance helps over 4,300 people every week. If you run the risk of not getting a policy then you might have to foot the bill for medical costs, lost baggage, flight cancellation and stolen money.

Another variable to consider when purchasing travel insurance is where you obtain your policy. Travel agents and airlines tend to charge huge commissions so it’s always best to entrust a reputable online comparison website. There you can find the best policy that’s relevant to your specific needs and at a cost that suits your budget.

Check for weather updates

The weather in New Zealand is extremely warm during the summer, however that doesn’t mean everywhere is beach-worthy. The South Island can drop to -10°C in the winter so make sure you have packed accordingly. January and February are the warmest months in New Zealand, and although this might not be practical for everyone, these are definitely the best months to travel.

Never forget your camera

The photo opportunities are endless on the LOTR tour so make sure you come equipped with your best camera. If you haven’t got a camera then obviously a smartphone will do. However, always bring a backup power supply, especially if you have an iPhone. There an abundance of external battery packs available online which can mean the difference between capturing a priceless moment in Bag End or your battery failing on you.


About the Author: Simon Harrison is a Kiwi born expat currently living in the UK. When not hiking around the Yorkshire Dales and dreaming of Hobbits in his homeland, he spends his time on tenterhooks awaiting the release of the latest Star Wars film.

 

 

Weekly Photo Mojo: Doubtless Bay, New Zealand – My own private Paradise.

 

Coopers Beach in Doubtless Bay, New Zealand is a small coastal area in the Northland that holds a very significant part of my travel memories. For the first time in my life I was traveling in another country, and for the first time in my life I jumped in a car full of strangers on a whim.

A german couple, a Canadian, and I all ended up stopping in the Doubtless Bay area where we happened across a private cove hidden by a treacherous hike. Over a rocky crag that could only be traversed at low tide, with climbed over the crest of the hill and discovered paradise.

And for 2 weeks we stayed here, sleeping in out hammocks. This was the view I woke up to everyday, quite marvelous huh?

A photo essay about my hammock adventures will be landing this week, stay tuned!

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Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?

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Weekly Photo Mojo: A Hammock and a Sunrise from New Zealand.

Molten gold poured across a black sky, setting the dark afire. The hottest whites and blues roared out and across the view, consuming all of the black with the bright dawn.

This was a sight from the woods where I had hung my hammock for the night. Peeking over my sleeping bag, I enjoyed a sunrise money couldn’t pay for, and sleeping for free with nature in the wild north of New Zealand vindicated that.

Weekly Photo Mojo: A Hammock and a Sunrise in New Zealand.

Molten gold poured over the darkness, setting the sky afire. Past the silhouettes of scrawny trees, flames of the hottest white and blue fanned outward, conquering all blackness with a bright dawn.

This was the sight just beyond the tips of my toes cocooned within the sleeping bag. A did not move a muscle as the light of the morning danced across my eyes, a sunrise money couldn’t pay for.

I was in my beloved hammock, slung up in a random wood in the wilds of New Zealand’s north. There was no place to stay before reaching Cape Reinga, but no need, because this freedom was truly free.
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The photo of this sunrise in New Zealand above is a teaser of a photo essay to come, involving that hammock and the numerous adventures I had in it all over New Zealand, so stay tuned!

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?

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What to do in Auckland – Escape from Queen Street!

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I can’t wait to leave Auckland!

This is a phrase often heard from other backpackers during the numerous times I was in Auckland. At first, they would be head-over-heels for the City of Sails, but after a week of two partying their faces off on Queen Street, they were “over it“.

The City of Sails seems to always get a bad reputation for being all sorts of things except delightful. I know exactly why this is — and I’ll even admit that I thought Auckland was kinda crappy after just a few days there.

At first.

But I was very wrong to judge it based on what most other people do mentioned above: Queen Street.

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When I first got to New Zealand, I spent my first week after arrival strolling up and down Queen Street with a rad backpacker I met at the airport.

After the dazzle of the ever-present Skytower sighting fizzled, it seemed a little dirty, extremely busy, and horribly expensive.

We did a LOT of walking, but no genuine exploration of the city, and we couldn’t wait to leave based on what we saw.

Just up and down, and up and down Queen Street some more.

And a couple wicked hangovers.

Then, I returned from the Northland of New Zealand after doing a tad bit of guerrilla camping in my hammock, I figured I would come back to Auckland for a couple of days to reconnect with the world. And I might as well give Auckland another try.

I’m happy I didn’t write off Auckland.

Once you step off of Queen Street and see the harbor, the numerous parks dotting the city, the old reconditioned factories in the Britomart, and everything else, Auckland becomes quite a charming place.

But Queen Street isn’t to be written off either. Queen Street is one of the main places in Auckland that have some of the finest retail stores and restaurants around. While visiting the city it’s always best to stay in one of the Auckland hotels near Queen Street. With so many great tourist attractions there is to experience, it’s always nice to be able to go back to a great and relaxing hotel that is stress free. This should leave one only thinking about what the next experience will be while visiting Auckland.

I started by trying to find some greenery, and no, not that kind. After spending two weeks living in the wild all I wanted was to chill out under a tree some more. I wanted to walk in a park, and I wanted to get away from the noise.

The Parks

me-on-tree-in-aucklandTurns out, Auckland has tons of parks all over; Parks large and small, usual and unusual, and some of the most interesting parks I have ever seen.

I was walking back to downtown Auckland with a new friend and we stumbled upon Western Park. This park was fascinating, and popped up out of nowhere while we were passing through Posonby.

Chunks of buildings are strewn across the green grass, a beautiful ode to nature and chaos. A travel guide told me it was the old Auckland museum that sunk into the ground, and I gullible ole’ me believed him completely, but it is just an awesome art project.

 

 

Another park to soak up some sun and chill out is Albert park, smack dab in the middle of the city if you stray just a block or two from Queen Street.

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(Western Park)

Waiheke Island

Talking about escaping the city, Waiheke Island is just a short ferry ride and an amazing place to spend a sunny day.

I went to Waiheke Island for a day, known as being the Island of Vineyards, to look for a job. But a half an hour in, my friend Pirmin and I ended up wandering all over and getting lost on the Island. It is a place to easily get sidetracked with the beauty.

We walked everywhere! The island has such a crazy diversity when it comes to the beaches and geography. White sand beaches, rocky beaches, and beaches made completely out of shells.

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Every place we went to was unique. The highlight was a small cove right outside of Oneroa with star fish dotting the rocks all over, and natural rock arches climbing out of the sand. Unfortunately I didn’t get to go on any wine tours which Waiheke is really known for, but I’ll be back to check those out.

We took the cheap Island bus to explore, about $5 all day, but wait times are long per stop. Seems like a perfect place to rent a scooter as well, especially if you want to go vineyard hopping.

TIP: Make sure to talk to your hostel or go to the ferry website, you will most likely save money on a ferry ticket that way.

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Piha Beach

Back in mainland Auckland, you have another hidden beach escape just a 30 minute drive the city, Piha Beach,

After a snaking drive through rolling hills lined with trees, golden reeds swaying in the breeze and the crisp ocean air greets you as you pull up to the sparkling black sand beach.

Hike up “Lion Rock” to get a bird’s eye view, chillax on the beach, or walk along the outskirts and explore the unique cliff-lined shore with pools of vibrant ocean life.

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Mount Eden

High up above Auckland’s cityscape it Mount Eden, topped with long grass, an interesting crater, and some of the most stellar panoramic views in all of the region.

Bus or walk up there, bring a picnic, and spend the day on the mount relaxing or reading a book. It’ll be a good way to see Auckland in all it’s glory.

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The Harbor

Back in the Central Business District of Auckland, or CBD, I noticed a pattern that was happening. I was naturally gravitating to the harbor. The white flapping sails of the boats coming in and out of the harbor, the seagulls soaring on a light breeze, and the bright green water.

They do call it the city of sails after all…

Every time I was in Auckland at some point during the 10 months I was in New Zealand, I would always end up here sometime during my day whether it was to grab a pint or just walk around.

There are some awesome, and sometimes expensive places to grab a bite to eat. Sitting there staring out at the green glass colored water and watching the action while enjoying fresh seafood — simply amazing.

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Graffiti Galore

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What about the city though? Inside the business district of Auckland there is sill plenty to be seen. I was walking around one morning trying to find a unique coffee shop to feed my caffeine addiction when I stumbled unto an old warehouse district. Every inch of concrete in this place was covered by sponsored graffiti, and the artwork was gnarly.

Each section was divided up for different graffiti artists. The art on the walls were stunning and intricate, colorful and explosive. I have always found a fascination in legitimate graffiti art, but I had never seen anything like this.

The city is one of the most colorful places I’ve seen, promoting artwork and imagination all over. So cool.

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Put it simply, Auckland is an awesome city.

The couple of weeks I was there were a blast, and I’m so glad I gave it another shot. If you are staying at any hostels inside central Auckland, don’t judge the City of Sails by Queen Street.

Auckland is so much bigger than you think, you just have to wander. If you are looking for what to do in Auckland, take my advice – get the hell off Queen Street!

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Have you been to Auckland? What were your first impressions?

 

 

Weekly Photo Mojo: Pier out into the Sea from the Island of Waiheke.

Like a path into the unknown, this pier that dipped into the glass green open waters of Waiheke Island in New Zealand is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken.

I look at it from time to time, and each time I do, it always inspires that wanderlust again. While traveling through New Zealand, places like these always made me stop and think of where I was, and how I would have never believed I would be here. And over all, you may not be able to see where it leads to, or it may seem to lead nowhere, but it’ll always be an adventure worth taking!

So listen to the wise words of Mark Twain:

“Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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(click or tap to experience the moment)

Share this inspirational image below with friends!

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Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?

 

 

Swimming with Sharks in New Zealand (with video)

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Eeeeerrrrrrrbrrrrrblublublub

That, my friends, is what a scream underwater sounds like, and it is exactly the noise I made when I saw a 10ft shark swimming right at me.

Luckily, nobody can hear you scream underwater. Of course it was a manly scream no doubt, and of course I didn’t pee myself a little as it got closer, staring into my soul with those black glossy eyes.

I wasn’t afraid at all.

Okay, that is a small lie… I was terrified. My stomach tightened up and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. All I could do is let out a mewing sound as the shark cut through the water like it was thin air, and I couldn’t move fast enough to brace myself to be chomped.

Would all of those episodes of Shark Week I’ve watched help me out of this underwater pickle? I don’t think so…I was dead meat.

*Cue the Jaws music* Dundun…dundun…dundun dundun dundun dundun

Speaking of Shark Week, Discovery Channel just ended another season of this gnarly show, and it inspired me to write about the time I swam with sharks in Napier, New Zealand.

SPOILER ALERT! I did survive.

Drats, I hope I didn’t ruin the suspense…

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Napier is home to the National Aquarium of New Zealand, one which lets you snorkel with the sharks. While visiting the Art Deco themed town located in the southeast of the north island, I knew I had to knock that one off my bucket list and finally see just what it is like to come face to face with these horror movie mascots.

They are all blood thirsty killing machines after all right?

The aquarium itself is quite a bit smaller than others I’ve visited in the past, but it does still have a ton of information to take in, and was the only one I had come across to offer this kind of a unique experience.

Before we suited up to go snorkeling, we took a quick tour around the aquarium and watch some of the feeding in the tank. Yes, feed them until they are STUFFED, so they’ll have no room for me.

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Besides your normal array of underwater animals like stingray, various types of fish, and sea turtles, the aquarium houses 4 different types of sharks and one behemoth (dead) giant squid.

Fun fact: One of the long time aquarium employees actually came up with the best known preservation method for the giant squid, and this is why the display isn’t murky or has bits floating around in it.

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Watching it from the tunnel kind of calmed my nerves a bit, being that sharks are one of my own biggest fears. Probably from watching Jaws too many times as a young lad.

Oh, they aren’t THAT big.” I said when I first saw the sharks come around the diver.

Little did I know, the rounded tunnel we walked through made the sharks look about a third of their actual size.

I was pretty stoked at this point. I hurried to slip on the wet suit and rushed to the entry point of the aquarium.

“Now, you don’t have to do anything except flout there, your wetsuit will keep you a the top of the water. Just swim around, but don’t touch them.”

Easy enough I thought. When I got in the water though, it turned out to be way colder than I expected.

When I mentioned earlier that my stomach had tightened up and I couldn’t breathe, a lot of it was due to the temperature in the water.

I was literally shivering already by the time I let myself sprawl out and dipped my face into the water for the first time.

I had never been snorkeling before, so that was an experience in itself.

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It’s a whole different world underwater. Some senses are heightened, and some are hindered. The world goes completely quiet, and all you can hear is your breathing (or my hyperventilating) and the swish of your flippers.

But everything else underwater can surely hear, sense, and feel you way better.

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And then I spotted the shark for the first time, and I remember mumbling something into my snorkel around the lines of “Oh my god” when I saw just how big they are!

It was like the size of a freakin’ car! And of course it was swimming right at me. This is the point where I screamed underwater as mentioned before, and it hits you just how potentially defenseless you are underwater to any wildlife there.

They swim better and faster than you, and as the shark came closer to me I froze. I was holding my breath. I was shivering. And I hoped I wouldn’t be eaten.

And the shark swam right beneath me like it had no care in the world. Well, it also helps that it was a Seven Gill shark that just so happens to not have a hankering for humans.

But that was the really cool thing about swimming with the sharks. Even though the don’t have the flesh- shredding teeth of Great White or Tiger sharks, sharks in general really don’t eat people.

From watching TONS of Shark Week episodes, sharks seem to be highly mis-understood creatures with most attacks being that of mistaken identity. And swimming with these made me see just how fascinating sharks really are.

Now, I’m not saying I’m going to go out to South Africa and dive with Great Whites just yet, but swimming with the sharks in Napier shed a whole new light on them.

And made snorkeling one of my new favorite things to do.

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Here is a video of some footage from the aquarium. Listen at the end to my terrified laugh after a shark brushes me!


Have you ever swam with sharks? Do share =)

If you fancy reading about Swimming with Great Whites, check out this article by Don’t Ever Look Back!

 

 

Best Ways to Get Around New Zealand for Backpackers

New Zealand is known for a lot of things; Sheep lovin’ (according to Aussies), adrenaline sports, Lord of the Rings locations, an exciting warrior culture, and its diverse and ravishing natural beauty. But deep down at its heart, New Zealand has become a country made for travelers.

The country boasts a wildly transient population, with 25% of the 4 million people in New Zealand being travelers, backpackers, and individuals on working holidays.

And with THAT many travelers in the country, it has evolved itself to cater to this, making it incredibly easy to get around both the North and South Island.

After a year traveling the Land of the Long White Cloud myself, I’ve tried and tested (and failed) at the many ways to get from one amazing destination to the next. So I’ve compiled a somewhat unorthodox list of the easiest ways to get around New Zealand to make it less of a stress for you.

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Rental Car

Obviously a no-frills  way to get around without having to worry about insurance and finding a car to buy (if you trust rental companies).

I had a few friends that went the rental car route, but it seems like it’s only good if you will be needing a car for a couple of weeks to a month. After that, it gets a tad bit pricey.

If you land in Auckland, there are literally 8 rental car companies at the bottom of Queen Street, so make sure to compare prices and quality of the rentals offered.

Prices will range from $400-$1000 for a month.

Nakedbus

No no no, this is not a bus filled with nudist touring New Zealand. Nakedbus is to New Zealand as Megabus is to the United States. Offering up mystical fares of $1 (though I’ve never met someone who found it that cheap) it does offer quite inexpensive fares for getting all around both islands.

Just like most charter buses, the accommodation are basic and the stops are few, but you get what you pay for right?

Most legs were around $20-$80 depending on the distance.

Guided Bus Tours

This is probably my favorite way to get around New Zealand, but slightly more expensive. Companies like Stray Bus, Magic Bus, and Kiwi buses have expert drivers who know tons of information about New Zealand and constantly update you on what you are seeing on the road.

They offer travel packages based on legs of a journey, and along the way you make stops often at well-known hotspots, as well as secret places the drivers only know about and stop at.

If you don’t want to worry about driving yourself around, and if you will be doing a lot of activities and would really like the advice of a local, this is the best option. Drivers also have deals with hostels they stop at, as well as deals on excursions and activities.

I used Stray Bus extensively and absolutely loved their services.

Hitchhiking

Unlike most American horror movies, hitchhiking isn’t that terrifying or dangerous, and is quite common in New Zealand. Many backpackers will scoop up other backpackers looking for a lift to a place along their own route, and sometimes just offering beer or gas money goes a long way.

As always, be smart if you are hitchhiking. If a driver stops and they sketch you out, you have no obligation to get in the car.

Ride Share/Couch Surfing

Another popular way to get around is with other backpackers. Many travelers will join up in a Couchsurfing group and post in a forum that they are looking for, or offering a ride to somewhere in the country.

When I was in Auckland, another backpacker read that I was looking to head North and contacted me offering a ride in exchange for splitting gas money.

Buy a Car

One of the absolute most popular ways to traverse New Zealand is by getting a set of your own wheels and seeing where the road takes you.

In Auckland, you will find huge car auctions going on year round offering decent cars and vans to get your around. Yes, you can find a ride starting at around $500 but think to save up $1500-$2000 to get a roadworthy car that won’t die out on you.

Another option is scouring hostels and message boards for other backpackers selling their own cars. Usually, in the winter months, you’ll notice tons of backpackers who are headed home listing their cars, and they are willing to take offers.

The awesome thing about having your own ride will be the ability to explore anywhere your lil’ heart desires, and most of these caravans are stocked with mattresses, stoves, camping gear, extra gas tanks, and everything else you may need on a road trip.

Have you been to New Zealand? What was the best way you found to get around?

St. John’s: Stunning Sights From Signal Hill.

Two trains, two planes, and a combined 20hrs of traveling (not counting local buses and shuttles) I finally reached St. John’s Newfoundland, Canada!

Rest? Rest is for the dead it seems, because the moment I arrived, it was already time to go exploring. Though I did feel quite dead from lack of sleep.

Before embarking on an epic upcoming road-trip with three other travel bloggers(Candice, Seattle, and Zak) to the Travel Blog Expo in Toronto, Candice has been showing us around much of her hometown of St. John’s.

First thing on the list? A hike.

Overlooking the city below is Cabot Tower, a stone citadel built atop Signal Hill in commemoration of Queen Victoria and used as a defensive lookout over history. The hike to reach the top takes you along a snaking trail beside the coast gives you some wicked views of the city and the harbor. The hike itself wasn’t too rough; the trail was a tad rocky and we did have to climb a few hundred stairs, but the payoff was well worth it.

With a retro flare given to the photos, I present to you Signal Hill National Park and Cabot Tower!

Oh, and feel free to tap/click the photos for full-sized beauty.

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St. John’s harbor shimmering as the sun sets.

 

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A weather-worn abandoned shack on the shoreline. Once upon a time it saw better days, but you can’t get a better view than this waking up in here.

 

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A ship with a shallow wake cruises into the horizon.

 

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The snaking Signal Hill trail giving you an amazing sight of St. John’s harbor.

 

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Cabot Tower perched high above. To reach this, we would have to hike 241 stairs. Needless to say, I can now consider myself a stair master.

 

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The jagged and beautiful coastline of St. John’s.

 

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Cabot Tower, constructed in 1897 in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s landfall.

 

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Fort Amherst in the distance.

 

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Just look at the view.

 

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George’s Pond, or from what I heard — Dead Man’s Pond. Maybe it’s an “old wives tale” but I was told that after someone was hanged in the town during the settlement years, they would toss the dead bodies in this pond.

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Dusk over St. John’s.

Have you been to St. John’s or Newfoundland? What’s you favorite photo?

 

Weekly Photo Mojo: Auckland City from a Ferry in Freemans Bay

Auckland, New Zealand every year celebrates itself in all it’s glory on the Monday that falls closest on January 29th. Known as the City of Sails, the city is surrounded by emerald waters and countless bays. While heading to the wine island of Weiheke, I took this photo from the ferry looking out over Freemans Bay at Auckland.

The city holds New Zealand’s largest density of people at 1 million+ and is actually one-third of the entire country’s population of 4 million. Piercing the fluffy white clouds is Auckland’s famous Skytower, 1076ft tall (328 Meters) and is the tallest building in all the Southern Hemisphere.

Auckland, New Zealand from the Ferry in Freeman's Bay

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.

Wellington’s Wicked, Wild, and Wonderful Street Art

Why does graffiti always have to be in bubble font?I love street art and graffiti. I’m not talking about that rubbish amateur tagging, I mean the really good stuff. And in the Capital city of New Zealand, there was an endless buffet of gnarly street art to indulge in.

Wellington was already on my list as one of my favorite cities in New Zealand for it’s history, architecture, liveliness. But there was a reason I would spend hours wandering aimlessly about the city; through alleyways, backstreets, to the tops of buildings (if I could gain access). It was for the sole reason that each day I could find some sort of new amazing street art I had not come upon previously.

Graffiti was literally EVERYWHERE! 

So I have gathered a collection of my absolute favorite finds for you to eat your spray paint loving heart out!

(click photos to enlarge)

 

The Gent & The Lady

This guy is a total creeper...  Gangsta Chicken

Alleyway graffiti monster brawl!

Dancin' with the Devil

Well he seems mad...

So High he has Three Eyes!

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MUAH!

Mind F**K!

Green Lantern's arch nemesis?

No bones about it.

Must give GREAT massages!

All tangled up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three eyed man AGAIN!

 

Ironic isn't it?

 

 

 

Which gnarly piece of street art was your favorite? Where is your favorite city to see strew art?

Weekly Photo Mojo: Woah, a Dragon Statue! Shit, BIG Mistake.

It’s Monday again, and I felt you needed a chuckle from a pretty funny travel instance I had in New Zealand. When I say instance, I actually mean a REALLY big blonde travel moment.

I happened to be wandering around Wellington aimlessly as I would most days, examining all of the interesting modern art and unique buildings that make up the wonderful capital.

As I was wandering the harbor for the first time, I suddenly found myself face to face with a dragon. Yes, I say “dragon” because that is the first thought that passed through my head when I looked up from my iPhone and saw this below.

It's a Dragon!

“Woah, cool” I probably blurted out, and like a true quick draw tourist I whipped out the digital camera and snapped a photo. I even remember thinking, “What an odd place to have a dragon sculpture.” But no matter, it was cool looking and I wanted some photos of it.

And as I was snapping photos, a whiff of something foul snuck up into my nose.

“What the hell is that smell?” I thought to myself, and I wondered if another tourist had stopped for a quick photo as well, and a quick fart as they walked away. I’d do something like that and laugh about it later.

Then I heard the flush. The noise came firing through the neck and out of the vents, carrying with it that terrible smell.

Then it dawned on me…I had been standing there for the past 10 minutes taking photos of a public restroom.

No wonder why everyone was giving me odd looks!

Nope, a bathroom.

Have you ever found yourself taking embarrassing photos of something that wasn’t what it seemed?

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.

My 5 Biggest Travel Regrets of 2012.

“Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets” -Arthur Miller

In life, I try to live with as little regrets as possible. My motto Live Gnarly stems directly from this practice — To wake each day and embrace the possibilities, to take every opportunity presented to do something epic, and to overall lead an awesome existence.

But it doesn’t always pan out that way; especially with travel, and especially when you are a complete travel noob.

Trust me, mis-adventures made up the majority of my trip. But that’s what makes it exciting right?

Inevitably after traveling to New Zealand and stepping foot in my first foreign country, living the backpacker lifestyle, and being forced to return home early, I find my self left with some regrets.

And a few far more blaring than my regret of trying Vegemite…

So below you will find a list of my top 5 Travel Regrets, a nifty and reflective blogger game I was tagged in by Rexy Edventures Blog!

 

Not Scoring a Job In Wellington.

Windy Welly: The capital of New Zealand and by far my favorite city in New Zealand (okay, tied with Napier) also held the biggest roller-coaster of emotions and experiences for me.

Like a mashup of Marilyn Monroe and Beyoncé, I fell in love with the city’s architectural curves and class. Every wall was splashed with gnarly street-art, every corner had a musician playing, a lane called Cuba Street was filled with nifty cafés (bloggers drink your hearts out), and it was always active.

 

Wellington City

 

They even had bean-bag chairs in the grass by the harbor to drink beer in the sun.

 

Chilling in Wellington

 

Yeah, freakin’ sweet.

This was the city I wanted to work in. To live in.

Except there was one problem. I waited way too damn long to look for a job. It turns out, my first time traveling abroad can be used as an example how NOT to budget correctly.

I suddenly found myself with less than $25 in the city (watch this funny video confessional). For two weeks I illegally guerrilla camped in the woods above the city to survive, and after failed attempts to find work, I took a kiwi fruit packing job hours away that saved my ass.

Regretfully, I was never again to see the city I so dreamed of working in before I left…

 

Not Exploring more of The South Island.

The South Island is a nearly untouched jewel of New Zealand. With most of the country’s population living in the larger business cities of the North Island, the South Island is left to nature’s ravishing beauty.

Sure, you do have large cities like Christchurch (which was unfortunately ravaged by earthquakes). But the main expanse is covered by rolling hills, awe-inspiring fiords, Milford and Doubtless Sound which are said to be one of the most magical places on the planet, and glistening antarctic glaciers.

(Photo Credit Trey Ratcliff)
(Photo Credit Trey Ratcliff of Stuck in Customs)

Anytime you hear fiords, it’s worth seeing. And there are probably some cute penguins at the glaciers.

Enough said.

Due to a trip doomed from the start, I ended up missing out on the best of the South Island.

After a horribly botched attempt at hitch-hiking, I made it down to Christchurch to pick up a girl from the airport that was coming to see me from the US. We had plans to make it to one of the two famous Sounds, but instead we found ourselves stuck in the city wrestling with our schedules.

By the end of the first week together, the girl that I was quite infatuated with had a sudden change of heart about our relationship. What followed was a month of bickering, arguments, and frustration instead of adventure and exploration.

It was miserable.

Luckily, we did make a quick trip to Queenstown and had a chance to relax in it’s lakeside and mountainous beauty and had a chance to bungie jump again!

 

Lake Tanake New Zealand.

 

But after two quick trips to Queenstown and Christchurch, we were back on a bus to the North Island leaving behind what most backpackers raved was a lush and soul changing landscape to be experienced.

I will erase this regret someday and explore it…

 

Not Hiking the Tongariro Crossing

 “In the East there was a dull red glare under the lowering cloud: it was not the red of dawn. Across the tumbled lands between, the mountains of the Ephel Dúath frowned at them, black and shapeless below where night lay thick and did not pass away, above with jagged tops and edges outlined hard and menacing against the fiery glow.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

The Tongariro Alpine crossing is home to the volcano Tongariro, one of three active volcanoes in New Zealand, and also the range Perter Jackson chose to star as Mordor.

 

Mount Doom

 

You can literally hike to Mordor, pretty wicked huh?

And you would think if I passed through this area three times and also had the chance to hike the crossing twice I would have.

The first time I was in Tongariro National Park was on a sponsored Stray Bus Tour around the North Island. Everyone was jabbering about hiking the crossing and passing their Lonely Planet guides around to show everyone who didn’t know just how awesome the place we were headed to was.

Well, when we pulled up and our bus driver chimed over the loudspeaker, “Alright everyone, there is a big chance you cannot hike the crossing today because of the rain” we were all up in arms and looking to chop off heads.

It’s just a little rain right?

Turns out our guide wouldn’t take us. Even when enticed with a bus load of eager travelers willing to dish out $65 each, the guide said the weather conditions change so fast on the crossing that it was too dangerous for even him to hike.

Instead, we did a hike around the base. Beautiful, but nothing compared to the crossing.

Tongariro Fail

Damn.

The second chance I missed was while I was packing kiwi fruit the small town of Te Puke. A bunch of friends from the factory decided they were going to leave at 4am to drive 3 hours and hike the crossing. By this time it was in deep winter, and I hate the cold, so I decided not to take them up on the offer.

Plus the trip was put together at midnight while they were drunk.

Yes, they returned having seen the beautiful emerald lakes resting in the crater, but they also returned miserable. It was one chilling cold and they were all exhausted and frigid.

(Photo Credit: Aron Teo)
(Photo Credit: Aron Teo)

Oh, and one of their cars broke down and they sat in the freezing cold for 4 hours waiting for a tow, and being in the middle of nowhere, they were forced to pull the car along by a rope attached to the other.

Still, I regret not hiking Mount Doom one of those times…

 

Not Skydiving in New Zealand.

Slap me in the face; I know I’m a fool.

New Zealand is a country that oozes adrenaline out of every pore; offering up heart-pounding adventure and tonsil rupturing extreme sports even in the most remote areas.

Throughout my trip I found myself shooting over the highest legally raft-able waterfall in the world, absailing into caverns hundreds of feet below ground, and leaping off bridges with a bungie cord strapped to my ankles (twice.)

Bungy Jumping Taupo

So how the hell did I miss my chance to jump out of the plane over one of the most stunning skydive destinations in the world?!

Idiocy. Well, mainly a busted budget. But that’s linked to idiocy.

I was even hired to write an article pretending to be a hostel’s camel mascot that went skydiving. Yes, I got to take photographs of a plastic camel in a plane, but never got to go myself.

Camels can Fly

Lamesauce.

In the middle of my trip I was suddenly hit with a brick in the face, which is a fitting analogy for completely running out money. This led me to working in a kiwi packing factory for 3 months instead.

I was even in talks with a guy I became good friends with that ran Auckland Skydive and said he wanted to toss me out of a plane REALLY bad, and I was totally down, but it never panned out.

This is one I may regret forever…

 

Not Staying the Full Year.

You only get a year-long Visa in New Zealand once in a lifetime.

I left at a mere 8 months in, cutting that once in a lifetime chance by a third.

After 8 months of being in the country, I realized travel was definitely the lifestyle I want to live. The last three months of that time had been spent packing kiwi fruit in a factory and had given me plenty of time to reflect.

I want to travel longterm. But I was not ready yet.

Sure, I had changed drastically as a person and realized this was my dream, but I was not yet the person that could do this long-term.

Before I sold all of my belongings, quit my job, and left for New Zealand, I had just ended a 2 1/2 year-long court case from a drunk driver that hit me. They crippled my car, crippled my credit, and I received barely any compensation for the destruction they had caused on my life.

Instead of paying off the debt from my medical bills, I used the winnings to buy my ticket to New Zealand without much forward planning.

Adventures that start like that are stellar, but I was still haunted by my debt. It was time to take care of that anchor that dragged me down once and for all so I could travel worry free. So I returned back to the United States and work two jobs currently to tackle this task before my big planned trip this May.

I can’t say I don’t regret leaving New Zealand, because I do, but it was what I needed to do at the time.

“There are no regrets in life, just lessons” – Jennifer Anniston

Wew, Jennifer Anniston isn’t just a hottie, but she nailed it on the head. As much as travelers and people chasing their dreams try to live a regret free life, it WILL happen.

You will have regrets. You will wish you had done something you missed out on. That’s life. But instead of dwelling on them, take them as life lessons learned.

And I learned PLENTY of lessons on my first adventure abroad.

One day I will return to the Land of the Long White Cloud to do what I regretfully missed, but until then I am tasked with crushing my debt, buying my mother her gravestone, and saving for an epic adventure in May!

Please, share your travel regrets and lessons learned below!

Now time to tag 3 of my favorite bloggers for the game!

Kathy at Live The Fine Life (view blog) (Twitter @LivetheFineLife)

Lyn at Lyn Midnight Blog (view blog) (Twitter @LynMidnight)

Taryn at Wanderista (view blog) (Twitter @Wanderista)

Weekly Photo Mojo: Swing Life Away in Doubtless Bay, New Zealand.

This week’s injection of worldly beauty comes from Doubtless Bay. In the Northland of New Zealand where the wi-fi is scarce and beauty is rampant, there is a small town called Cooper’s Beach which many might pass by without a glance. Sure, the beach might catch your eye, but there is a hidden gem that many don’t know about.

For two weeks, A two German backpackers, a Canadian, and I slept in this hidden cove with no electronics or communication; just this gorgeous sight every morning. To get here, you had to plan the tides just right and scale a rocky crag that proves treacherous even without a 50lb pack. But wouldn’t you say that is worth it for your own slice of paradise?

Doubtless Bay, Coopers Beach, New Zealand.
(click photo to admire the scenery)

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.

Weekly Photo Mojo: New Zealand Stole my Travel Virginity

Everyone is nervous their first time, right? I know I was. That “butterflies in the stomach” feeling you get as you wonder if it’ll be easy, if it’ll be magical. Well, let me tell you — upon entry, though it was a little rocky, it was quite glorious.

Don’t feel the need to cue the Barry White music, I’m talking about losing my travel virginity people!

Peer down from the tiny window of my seat on Air New Zealand as we descended through the silky white clouds, anticipation building as we soared over the voluptuous hilltops of Auckland, and see just how magical it was as I entered my first foreign country EVER!

(click for Eye-Gasm)

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

A Chrismas Story: First Holiday Abroad.

A golden sun beamed down from the bright blue sky, warming my face as I looked up smiling. It was Christmas day, and I was standing on a black sand beach basking in this delight, soaking in the fact that I was only in swim trunks and sunglasses.

Why? Because it was my first time celebrating the Holidays abroad, and it was a stark contrast to how Christmas is normally spent for me.

This year Christmas will be spent with friends and family in the U.S. for the first time in 3 years. Even though seeing their warm smiling faces is nice — damn do I wish I wasn’t in this bone-chilling/windy/rainy/gloomy east coast weather!

So we’re going to hop in the sleigh and do a little time travel. Off Dasher, off Dancer, off Prancer, stay Vixen (I wanted a travel vixen under the mistletoe…) and those others — to the Land of the Long White Cloud and a small beach-side town for a Christmas story about a travel noob and his first holiday abroad.

Flashback to December 22nd, 2011.

Ah, that is much better. The thought already makes me feel warmer.

An early Christmas present had literally landed before me in the form of a naked Frenchman. No, that wasn’t what I wanted for a present, but writing about that hostel horror story found its way to Nomads Hostels, and apparently they found my ordeal quite hilarious.

You’ll read about that someday…

 

After a few meetings, and a test article creating a personality for their camel mascot Clarence, I found myself on an all-inclusive Stray Bus adventure through New Zealand, and it just happened to be during Christmas and New Years!

What a bad-ass present right? I guess I wasn’t on the naughty list (yet).

The first few days of the trip held some bland activities like kayaking to Narnia and a BBQ on a beach. Just kidding, that was awesome, but we will save that for another time as well.

Back on topic: Christmas Day – December 25th, 2011

Big Bertha!

Our rickety “sleigh” or our bright orange Stray Bus aptly named Bertha snaked up a long fern sided driveway. As we crept along, hoping nobody else would be barreling down the blind turns for fear of a head on collision, our bus driver Nana chatted up the glow worms that line these hills and can be seen at night.

Who the hell needs Christmas lights when you have glow worms?!

We squeaked to a halt and rushed off the bus after a bum busting 5 hour-long drive. Peeking out from the shrubbery was a sun worn plank with “the lodge” painted on it, now faded and chipping.

Giant ferns, palm trees and vines climbed upward everywhere, with the hostel barely visible through the vegetation that had nearly swallowed it whole.

After scooping up our bags that were being hurled out of the bus, we shuffled into the small wooden hut labeled “office” in the same faded paint giving it quite the Gilligan’s Island feel.

Totally gnarly dude!

It was what you would expect from a secluded beach lodge; cramped, musty, with an unhappy office attendant rolling her eyes because we stopped her from clipping her toenails with the task of checking in a bus load of eager backpackers.

Oh, and there was freshly laid eggs from the neighbors chicken for tomorrow breakfast too. That part gets a !

After figuring out the chess game like task of who is staying in what room (at this point you could see the clicks and hook-ups forming) we scurried up the overgrown paths that ran like a zigzagging labyrinth through the brush.

Up and up we went to the third floor. Once at the top we all dropped our bags because of this view! Completely inspiring a feeling like I was in the Swiss Family Robinson living in the tree tops.

Swiss Family Robinson House

We even had a Christmas tree on the right!
Still cool. We even had a Christmas tree on the right.

 

The tin roof, balcony above the tree-tops, the graffiti art along the cinder-block main building, and that stunning view of the beach in the distance made it feel like I was in a jungle bungalow on an island paradise.

I was really digging this lodge besides the front desk encounter. It was lush, colorful, and quiet.

Though that serenity wouldn’t last forever.

Rest is for the dead, and we had only 4 hours to chillax on that beach in the distance, because Nana was only making one trip down and up and, “if you aren’t on the bus, your ass is left behind”.

All the backpackers scattered like ants trying to figure out where the hell the bathrooms were to get changed so we could enjoy what little time we had on the beach.

With the Nana blaring on the horn and calling up final warnings before he leaves, everyone rushed down and hopped on board.

Except me.

You see, my camera had gone missing and there was no way I was leaving without it.

I was frantically searching for it with no luck. The other backpackers joined in to help me look, but it was nowhere to be found. Most started sneaking off so they could make it to the bus before it left, and I don’t blame them.

Finally, some of the others convinced me to look for it later, so I reluctantly tagged along.

And I’m so glad I did.

Raglan, like a diamond in the rough, was shimmering before us.

It is known as one of the best surf spots on the North Island, and it just so happened to be the first black sand beach I ever saw!

Miles of beach stretched out ahead, and with the bright sun shining down from a clear sky, it sparkled like stars in a night sky.

Backpackers dotted the beach here in there, relaxing under the sun. People frolicked about int the clear blue water.

Damn it was a near perfect beach.

And like bugs to a bug lamp, we ran straight at it. Oh we got BURNED!

Most people would think twice about running onto a sunny and potentially searing beach (especially black sand). But not us. We stormed that beach like Normandy, swinging our towels in the air and shouting. Then we were hit.

The sand was SCORCHING hot, and we suddenly found ourselves retreating, hopping about in pain, or full-out sprinting ahead toward the ocean.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh

But once we had paid for our stupidity, then the fun began.

Opting to leave the swimming for later, a group of us decided to talk a stroll down the beach.

Which turned into a LOT of photo posing.

Peek-A-Boo!

Yeah. There’s more…

A little Captain.

And more…

Who said white men can’t jump?

After a stressful and tiresome hour of posing by the gorgeous green sea cliffs, it was time to hit the water before heading back.

The thing that astounded me most was just how warm the ocean water was.

At home it is below freezing out right now, maybe I’ll pretend to be relaxing in a warm ocean with my rubber ducky in a bath tub…

But when I say warm like bath water, I mean it!

If it wasn’t for the gaping hole in the ozone layer above New Zealand threatening you with guaranteed skin cancer, you can be damn sure I would be in that water all day, every day!

 

Note to self: Look out for rogue waves when posing with babes. Though I don’t mind when I have to save one that is knocked over from it =)

Looks like my presents just fell into my arms. Thanks Santa!

To cap off a Christmas which was drastically different from any other before, all of us crammed into the kitchen and helped cook a feast to share.

And when I say feast, I mean standard backpacker fare: Pasta, chicken, vegetables, more pasta. And of course beer. Nothing compared to the massive turkeys, the waterfalls of gravy, and massive amounts of pie I normally consume.

Yet, I was fine with that. it wasn’t the warm weather or the beach that made it an awesome day for me. And I wasn’t missing the home cooked meals at all.

It was the fact that I was in another country, thousands of miles away from home, enjoying the company of amazing people who were living their dream too.

A year prior I would have never guessed I would be there.

With my new friends helping me celebrate my first Christmas abroad, I don’t know if I could have asked for a better first experience of celebrating Christmas abroad.

The first supper

Untitled artwork 2012-12-25 (03.32.22-729 AM)

Have you celebrated the Holidays abroad or are you now? Be awesome and share your story below!