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  • Writer's pictureCassie Stockamp


Updated: Feb 11, 2019

Imagine me fist pumping the air and then white knuckled in the drivers seat...

I was fist pumping because I was successful at another travel hack. I needed to get from Wellington to Auckland and had two days to explore, but I didn’t want to fly or take the train as I’d miss seeing the beautiful north island of New Zealand. It’s a nine hour drive without any detours. I had read about transfer car before I left, and watched some friends attempt to use it while at Swamis in Australia. This is one of the beauties of technology. Transfer car is an app that helps car rental companies balance their fleets between cities. Most people fly into Auckland and head south so there is an overstock of cars in Wellington. I signed up and scored a free car for two days. Fist pump. It’s kind of like discovering that really awesome find at the op shop (second hand store). It’s not really about the money...

This country truly is amazing... I had read about the volcanoes, rain forest, beaches, snow covered peaks, high plains.... all within hours of each other. It’s really true.

The first day of my drive found me laughing out loud and congratulating myelf after I successfully navigated my first roundabout, and then again two hours later when I made my first right hand turn. Yup, left sided driving makes a difference!

I had to pinch myself a couple of times as the scenery unfolded around me....

As I found my way through the rolling plains I remembered that 15 year old Lola from the flower farm told me there were more sheep than people in this country of 4.8 million. I think I saw half of them dotting the mountainsides.

The white knuckles came the next day as I drove to the east coast to the beaches. There are very few roads that cross the country and no interstates. On a hike to Cathedral Cove, a fellow Kiwi hiker told me that the US offered to help build an interstate after the war to which the Kiwi government politely declined. In my opinion that was a good move. The roads they have are well maintained, but I have NEVER driven on such curvy, windy, sharp turny roads anywhere in my life! My left butt cheek and left shoulder were screaming at me! LOL!

The pain was worth it. I was able to stop and hike around the lava fields, discover tucked away water falls and hike miles of beautiful beach shoreline not to mention seeing the iconic Cathedral Cove.

I still can’t believe I’m doing this...

I spent each night at a different hostel. I’m a little hesitant to share the experience as some of you will think me mad! Now, just for full disclosure, I am a fan of hostels and have stayed in coed rooms many times before. The first night of this little jaunt found me bunking with two young men. Yup, it was a little smelly - LOL! Devon from the UK had spent the last two weeks living the adventurers dream - bungee jumping, kayaking, helicopter ride.... He said he was going to spend the next day in bed and call his mum, and I stacked my backpack on top of the pile of packs. No locks. None needed. A silk black eye mask and ear plugs have led to a many good nights sleep!

I successfully dropped the car at Thrifty at the international terminal in Auckland with only two close calls. The first came at the hands of a roundabout, and I was that girl. I missed a turn and wanted to come back around but was in the outside lane. A Porsche was on my right and not happy with my sloppy driving. He sped around me. I screamed and slammed on the brakes. Near miss. The other came from a parking experience. Oh, I should mention that I was driving a nine passenger SUV. Holy shit it was a big car (that probably made the curves a little more challenging). Late one afternoon I followed a car towards Cathedral Cover even though all of the signage said to turn around as there was no public parking. Visualize a parking sign not unlike what you find outside of Speedway during the 500 race. The home owner took my $10 and directed me up a steep hill, past another large SUV, and pointed to a spot on a steep downward facing hill wedged between two cars. Shit. I looked at him and said I wasn’t sure I could get out....

Harbinger. When I returned he was no where to be found, but the cars around my car were gone. I did a three point turn and looked at what I had to navigate in order to get out. My heart started racing. House on the left, large white SUV next to the house, path to the right of the car and to the right of the path - a steep ravine. I took a deep breath and gently pressed on the gas. It was really frickin’ tight. I looked out my left side mirror and saw daylight between my car and the other SUV. I knew I couldn’t go backwards and was terrified of steering to the right... Two guys walked in front of me with alarmed looks on their faces. I was almost clear when one of the guys came in front of me and started directing me. After I got clear, I put my hands over my face and yelled, “SHIT!” He said he was really proud of me in his American accent. A heavy rain beat down the next morning and a rainbow briefly made its appearance. I knew I’d make it back to Auckland. LOL!

I have arrived at Fat Cat Backpackers which is an intentional community that sells fruit seconds at road side stands. There are hostel guests, permanent workers (those that have been here for multiple months) and volunteer workers like me. The accommodations are a bit, well, rustic. I think I’m sleeping in a van. Can you see me smiling? My experiment continues. I just had a long conversations with two young Brits about Brexit. It’s complicated.

I met a good looking train attendant on my ride here; I had asked about his beautiful tattoos. He told me that they represent his four tribes - three Maori and the other Scottish. He has a day off tomorrow.... Maybe a tour is in store. LOL!

My second volunteer experience in New Zealand is about to commence.

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