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?