Cape Reinga And The Bay Of Islands
It was an early start for me on my first day of the Kiwi Experience. I didn't really know much about it, but I had heard good things and I was hoping for the best. My first destination was Paihia, aka the bay of islands, where I would be for two nights while also taking a day trip up to the northern-most point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga.
Arriving at the bus stop I was pretty nervous, a lot of people seemed to be chatting to one another as if they were all friends. When the big green hard-to-miss kiwi experience bus arrives and we all climb, I choose a window seat near to the back. Others sit around me, and only later will we realise how lucky we were to be sitting where we were with the people around us.
Our drive up to Paihia is about 3 hours. On-route bus driver acts as a tour guide, explaining where we are and what we're seeing out of the window. After a short stop to get a coffee and see a waterfall, I get to experience for the first time 'the kiwi experience sheet'. Every bus journey this is handed around the bus and it includes things such as accommodation, activities and trips. Basically whatever you want to do you can, all you have to do is make a note of it on the sheet and the bus driver sorts it all out before you arrive at your destination. Today, I signed up for accommodation, a barbecue and most importantly, an Eco Dolphin Encounter trip which would take place that afternoon. How crazy is it that it's only my first day on Kiwi and I'm gonna be seeing dolphins?!
After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we raced down to the pier to board our boat. We were sharing it with other tourists but it felt like the majority were from the bus. On board, we were reminded that there was a possibility that we may not see any dolphins, or that we would be able to swim with them. It was entirely dependant on the behaviour of the pods. It was also announced that the day before, there had been sightings of orcas, which was especially unusual for this time of year. Well guess what, we saw large pods of both! I can't tell you how incredible it was to be within probably 5 metres at one point to such a beautiful creature. Something that I will remember forever. The trip lasts a couple of hours, and while following these creatures, we get to see the beauty of the bay of islands; breathtaking at times.
In the evening we all had the barbecue, which was a great mixer. I guess now would be a good time to introduce everyone that I was rooming with (and who I had sat next to on the coach). There was Anna from Denmark, Jonathon and Rickard from Sweden, Kai, Adam and Rachael from the UK, Yannick from Switzerland and Emilia from Finland. Me being me, I was shy when I first met these guys, but I can't describe how friendly they were and how easy it was to get along with them. Most of them were first-time solo travellers so we all knew how each other we're feeling. They couldn't believe it when I said that I was 18, but age really isn't an issue when you're travelling because you all have so much in common.
After a late night, we get up early once again to get back on the bus for a long drive up to Cape Reinga. Our bus driver was legendary, a true Maori who wouldn't stop singing both the New Zealand anthem during the drive. I'm sure I know it off by heart by now! I'm really excited to see this area of New Zealand; Traditionally it's sacred land to the Maori and it really is beautiful.
Once we get to the lighthouse, I can't believe the view. It takes about 45 mins to hike from the car park to the lighthouse over a massive hill which gives you sweeping views along the coastline and out to sea. In fact it's where the Tasman Sea meets the South Pacific Ocean! We take a short drive to these massive sand dunes, where we get the chance to go sand boarding. I was pretty nervous about this, I was scared of getting grazed or hurting myself but of course I convinced myself to do it and I'm glad I did! I didn't enjoy the tiring hot walk back up the dune though! It was then time to drive along the insane 90-mile beach. It really is what the name suggests, but what I find incredible is how few people we came across. We must have been driving for at least 30 minutes on this beach and we came across probably 10 people. Because it's so remote, you can drive your car on the beach practically up to the sea and spend the day there. It was then time for the trip back home, which was made much better by a fish and chips stop!