Jun 2, 2010
Even as a kid, I always fancied travelling, see new places and seek a bit of an adventure in the process. I remember while doing my High School and College studies in Mangalore, I used to wait for my holidays and annual vacations to come, and no sooner they were around, I used to dash to my home at Kajebail, near Moodbidri, and later on to my grand parents home at Amai, near Venur, and get myself engaged in all sorts of activities on the family farm, and among other things, climbing the trees, fruit picking, fishing, etc. But my favourite hobby included hiking up the Holy Cross Hill that streched from the Taccode Church right adjacent to my house and beyond, and also the massive Stony Mountain of Amai, that ran across my grand parents home there.
I used to spend hours together on these hills simply watching the flora and fauna, the distant scenery, and the serene beauty that spread around and beneath. I also had a great desire to travel no sooner I had done with my studies, but those days, I am talking about 45 years ago, thanks to the pressure from parents as well, the priority was to get a proper job straightaway, and contribute towards the ongoing expenses of the large family that we had. So, my plans and dreams about travelling and see new places did not materialise; instead, I settled down with a steady job and in due course of time, my interest gradually diminished and ultimately disappeared altogether, as I got busy with my work and career, got married after a few years, and then the two kids came along, and then I got fully occupied bringing up the family.
However, after working for a continuous period of 45 years, earlier in Pune, and later for 20 years here in Sydney, now that I am in my late 60`s, and fully retired, and my wife being much younger and still busy working, and the fact that my two boys have fully grown up into young men and moved away, and the fact that, lately, I had little to do sitting at home except to watch on the computer screen the value of my modest shares fort-folio sliding downwards, day by day, thanks largely to the financial and debt crisis of Greece and elsewhere in Europe, the idea of travelling came back to me once again. Going through the travelogues recently of my elder son (www.kenonthemove.com in case anyone interested), who travelled extensively as a Backpacker for a total period of 2 years, covering 123 countries and 818 cities in the process, in- between his University studies and 10 years service with the Australian Army, also largely contributed to the re-kindling of my drive and passion for travel.
I suppose there are mainly three ways one can travel. You can join an organised tour, conducted from time to time, by the Tourist Companies, where you will travel along with a group of people, and there will be an expert guide to show you around, or you can travel by yourself independently, either by making use of the public transport or hiring a car, and staying in hotels of your choice. While shopping for the suitable travel packages, however, I found that these modes of travelling worked out rather expensive, at least I felt that way at this particular time, being in a retired situation and with the limited financial resources at my disposal, and so, I had to find some other alternative. The third option left for me, naturally, was to travel as a Backpacker, making use of the public transport (trains and buses), and arranging my stay in a shared situation in various YHA (Youth Hostel Association) and other Backpacker Hostels, which were available rather cheaply, yet they were run professionally and efficient manner, as I had learnt from my son, as also through the number of comments posted on the websites of these hostels by the various Backpackers who had earlier stayed there.
So, I chose to travel independently as a Backpacker. Initially, I was a bit sceptical though, because travelling alone as a Backpacker can sometimes be fraught with some danger, for I had read earlier on my son`s website that he was attacked and robbed twice during his backpacking expeditions, the first time, was with a knife at his throat in Peru while at Machu Pichu, in the broad daylight, while walking on the main street, by three robust looking and strong men, and the second time in the Republic of Congo, by five huge men of African descent, dressed and disguised as Military Policemen, who had physically dragged him to their car, pointing out the machine gun at his head all the time, but luckily he was spared of his life on both the occasions, after robbing off all his valuables, including the cash that he was carrying (for those who are interested in details, once again, may go to his website - look for the archives). But then, such unpleasant events do take place, every now and then, and specially in rather poor countries like Peru and Republic of Congo, where travelling alone could be dangerous, but one has to take a few chances in life, I suppose.
The next task for me was to pick up the country where I wanted to go, and while surfing on the Internet, luckily, I came across the cheap return airfares that were being offered by Air New Zealand to fly from Sydney to Auckland, almost half the normal fare, so straightaway, I jumped in and booked my flights for a 8 days trip from May 12 - 20, 2010. The next step left for me was to decide how many cities that I could cover within those 8 days, and where I should book my accommodation etc., but luckily my younger son, who had travelled the country last year as a Backpacker, was at hand, who suggested me that I should cover only the North Island, since to travel through the whole country of New Zealand (both North and South Islands), one needed a minimum of one month. He also pointed out that the South Island being very cold at the moment, would not suit me, specially at my advanced age. So, I heeded to his advice (though, I must say, I was not impressed with him referring to my age!), and decided that I will cover only the main four cities in the North Island, viz. Auckland, Paihia in the extreme north (Bay of Islands), Rotorua in the middle, and Wellington, the capital of NZ in the south, and promptly arranged bookings through the Internet for my stays in the YHA Hostels in Auckland, Paihia and Rotorua, and in the Base Hostel at Wellington. The rates I got for the rooms, on a sharing basis though, between NZ $ 22 and 30 per night, were quite cheap and reasonable, compared to the NZ $ 70 - 80 per night for a room normally charged by a decent hotel.
May 12, 2010, came along much earlier than I had realised, and off you go, and I was at the Sydney airport, with my limited luggage not exceeding 12 kg, as I boarded the Air NZ flight for Auckland at 8.30 p.m., and hardly I had a short nap after the complimentary drink and the dinner that was served on board, it was 11.30 p.m. local time, and I had already landed at the Auckland airport. I went through the Customs formalities, which were smooth and easy, specially for the Australian Citizens, and there, Mr. Solomon, the driver from the Kiwi International Hotel, where I had booked my stay for the night, was waiting for me to pick up. This hotel provides free shuttle services to and fro the Airport to its clients, which I thought was great, specially at those nightly hours!.
The next day (13/05), I had to get up early so that I could catch an intercity bus from Auckland to Paihia, a distance of 214 kms to the north, where I had arranged my stay in the YHA for the night. Unfortunately, I missed the earlier bus, and reached Paihia only at 4.00 p.m., after a 3 hours of journey, so I could not see around or do much in this beautiful town, much to my disappointment. I did enjoy though through my journey, the grand scenery - the lushly and green forests, valleys and mountains, the curly and steeply roads, etc., which were quite enjoyable and relishing. I also met a couple of Backpackers in the Hostel and promptly exchanged all sort of pleasantries and information.
I had to get back to Auckland the very next day (14/05), so I caught a bus in the morning at 8.30 a.m. from Paihia and was back into the city at 11.30 a.m. The Driver took a different route on the way back from Paihia, and thus, we covered different towns and enjoyed new set of pictures and views, which I thought was a bonus. After depositing my non-essential luggage in the locker that was provided at the Auckland main bus depot, for a nominal charge, I walked to my hostel accommodation at YHA Auckland, which was situated about 600 metres away, and promptly booked in and settled down in my room.
After a quick shower (YHA hostels by the way, do not provide bath towels and one has to carry their own) and freshening up, and enjoying a nice hot meal from the closeby take-away shop, and also after a short afternoon siesta, I set again for a brief tour of the Auckland city. I started with the tour of the Sky Tower, a 192 metres travel up by lift (no, I did not venture for sky-walk or the bungee jump as most of the youngsters did), where I enjoyed the fantastic views of the city, from all the four corners, (unfortunately it was cloudy, and so, I did not get the clear pictures which was a shame), and then I walked along on the main streets of the city, viz. Queen and Victoria, for two hours, mostly window shopping and watching the passing by crowd comprising mostly of the tourists and office goers. The city of Auckland was great - neat and tidy, well developed and maintained, just like the city of Sydney, for those who have visited Sydney, except that Auckland did not have the famous Opera House and the Harbour Bridge that Sydney has, but I thought Auckland was less crowded and less congestive.
Back at the YHA Auckland, in the evening, I met a lot of Backpackers in the kitchen and the dining area, young men and women from different parts of the world, cooking, drinking and eating, and later on cleaning the kitchen premises as well, for I had learnt and experienced by then that eating outside in Hotels and Restaurants was very expensive, and these youngsters brought provisions from the nearby Super Markets, and cooked the food themselves, thus making full use of the kitchen facilities that were provided by the Hostel authorities.
I did not venture out to see the night life in Auckland, though was available in plenty, as I had to catch a bus to Rotorua the next day early morning, to my next destination, but my room-mates and the other hostel inmates all went out, seeking fun and enjoyment, and returned late in the night, some even in the following early morning, hardly noticed by me though, as I was fast asleep.
I reached Rotorua at 2.00 p.m, on May 15, a distance of 235 kms from Auckland to the south, a 4 hours journey in the bus, passing through the country towns like Hamilton and Cambridge, which were mostly engaged in agricultural produce, and also the dairy and stud farms, but the views were all flat and green, very pleasing to see and enjoy. I promptly clocked into the YHA hostel there, where I had booked my stay for 2 nights. Once again, I met more backers in this hostel, and promptly obtained valuable information and ideas from them as to what I should see and/or do with the limited time I had at my disposal.
I will be failing in my duties if I do not briefly talk about this interesting town of Rotorua. The city of Rotorua is situated somewhat in the middle of North Island of NZ, and is famous for its vibrant Maori culture, forest fringed huge lakes, as many as 5 of them, and more importantly, spectacular thermal areas. Over here, one can watch a geyser erupt, and pick your way around a bubbling mud pool, practically every nook and corner of the city. The rich landscape that surrounds the city of Rotorua, with its lush fields and thriving agricultural industry, dates back to the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera that covered the entire countryside in ash.
I could not find sufficient time to do all the sight seeings and the activities, which were available in plenty, like visiting the Agrodome where you could see the sheep shearing display and sheep dog trials, Te Puia, a place of Maori culture and a thermal wonderland of impressive geysers and boiling mud pools, the Rainbow Springs Nature Park, which show cases the native flora and fauna, as well as the NZ Kiwi, and last but not the least, a tour to the buried village, a fascinating location where the Te Wairoa village was entirely gutted by the eruption of Mt. Tarawera. I did, however, make time to embark upon the popular Amphibious adventure, affectionately known as the Duck Tour, which involves travelling in this so called Duck Bus, which travels both on roads as well as in the water, and we sailed through the three popular lakes, of the five, that were surrounding the city.
I am yet to come to terms though, whether the NZ $ 62 that I had to shell out for this 90 minutes trip was justified!. But then, I suppose, when you want to go through a new experience, one does not think too much of the costs involved. Later in the evening, I paid a visit to the Polynesian Spa Centre, where I experienced the hot and highly humid mineral bathing and spa therapies, an unique experience that brought back some of the memories of my younger years, when I was working for INS Shivaji in Lonavla, Pune, when, as a member of the Jolly Club, we had gone on picnic to Vajreshwari, near Thane, where I had enjoyed the same sort of bath. I am talking about the early 1960`s, and wonder, if these bubbly ponds still exist at Vajreshwari!.
It was a long bus journey of about 8 hours duration from the city of Rotorua down south to the city of Wellington, a distance of 460 kms, starting at 8.30 a.m. on May 17, and reaching the destination at 4.30 p.m. On the way, once again, we passed through various small country towns, distant mountains, rivers and valleys, plenty of diary farms, both cow and sheep, and the scenes and the pictures were so breathtaking, I did not feel a bit the travel fatigue - the weather was also luckily cool and pleasant as well. To put it simply, it was a comfortable and enjoyable journey.
At Wellington, I had booked for my 2 nights stay in the Base Hostel, which was right in the city centre, very close to the harbour and to all amenities. Just like the YHA hostels elsewhere, Base Wellington Hostel was cheap, neat and tidy, and well maintained. It was not so crowded since it was not a peak season, so, I was lucky to have the entire room for myself for the 2 nights, even though it was meant to accommodate 4 people. This also was the case at Kiwi International Hotel, near Auckland Airport, where I spent 2 nights during my trip- a night each on my onward and return journey.
Wellington, the capital of NZ, is a beautiful city throughout, with well laid out roads, buildings and gardens, - neat and tidy all around. Over here, I really got into some physical action, to begin with, climbing the famous Mount Victoria, by walking through the bush way on the western side, which took me almost 90 minutes to reach to the top, but I was richly rewarded for my efforts at the end, with the spectacular views of the entire city, as can be seen from some of the photographs that are accompanying. Later on, my visit to the Botanic Garden by cable car, which situated at the opposite end, was also quite memorable and worthy of mention. I also visited the Parliament House and watched the debate in session for a brief period. I also visited the historical and famous Te Papa Museum, which is a must, for the tourists and visitors!.
After spending the two days and nights in the city of Wellington, it was time for me to catch a flight on the morning of May 19, for Auckland, in order to make it on time for my connecting flight to Sydney on the morning of May 20. I caught a bus to the Airport from right next to my hostel, and at the Wellington Airport, I had to go through this new experience that we had to book-in ourselves and obtain the boarding pass through one of the number of kiosks that were in place, simply typing the booking reference number etc, which was quite easy and very cool I thought! I came across the same sort of experience at the Sydney Airport when I returned on May 20, while coming out of the customs, for those who hold the Australian Passports, and I had one, instead of passing through the counters manned by the Customs Officials, I could check out by myself by going through one of the kiosks in place, and then another machine, simply by feeding in some information, and following some procedures.
Before I conclude, it will not be out of place for me to mention in brief, a few of my observations about the traits and cultures of the number of Backpackers that I came across and bumped into during my brief trip. They were basically young men and women between the ages of 18 and 30 years, (in fact I was the only oldie who looked out of place, but I was well accepted and respected by them), mostly hailed from the Western countries like USA, Canada, UK, Western Europe, Israel, Australia, Japan and South Korea. I did not across anyone from South-east Asian countries like China, Malaysia or Indonesia, nor from the Middle Eastern or East European origin. There was none from India as well - I believe the concept and culture of backpacking is yet to catch up with India. The Backpackers that I met were mostly belonged to middle class families, well educated or on the verge of taking up higher studies when they returned to their country; they were friendly, well behaved and conducted themselves, throughout. There was a great fraternity and comradeship between them, and they welded together easily, and parted with equal ease as well. Some of them took up casual jobs like fruit picking , bee keeping and worked on the farms, while others worked in Restaurants and Hotels, in order to sustain themselves and earn some extra money, and when they had some extra cash, they gave up their jobs and re-commenced their travelling. They constantly got on to their mobile phones and/or on the Internet and kept informed their parents and siblings back at home about their latest movements and whereabouts.
To sum up, in a nut shell, my trip to NZ went off smoothly and without any hiccups, though, I felt that I needed more time to see around. Finally, no, I did not get any cash reward or any sponsorship from the NZ Tourism Office to say this, that New Zealand, the country as a whole, is well developed, beautiful throughout, and a safe place to travel. The local people were friendly, helpful and cooperative. The only negative aspect was that I found that the food in the Restaurants and Hotels was very expensive.
In conclusion, it was a different experience for me than my previous travelling ventures, and by the way, travelling as a Backpacker, I saved a lot of money as well.