There’s nothing quite like trying to quietly pack your entire life back into a rucksack at 6am, in the pitch black, surrounded by seven sleeping Germans. Especially when you also have to shower, get dressed, and try not to lock yourself out of the room with all your possessions trapped on the other side of the door. Because you totally forgot that your electronic swipe card will no longer let you into your room given that you’re about to check out.
Really, well done there Ellie. Totally not cursing past-me for last night’s booze fuelled choices.
And yes, my solution to this problem was to drag my ginormous rucksack into the showers with me. All I can say is - thank goodness it’s waterproof!
Despite the less than perfect, mildly stressful start to the morning, somehow I made it to Stray bus pick up point by 7.40am. It’s a cute little white bus that reminds me of the ones we used to get taken to school sports tournaments in, with a little trailer attached to the back to throw our luggage into. A tiny bit different to the type of bus I thought we’d be in - the ones shown all over the website - but according to our driver it’s their Winter season so its more economic to use the little ones as there’s less people. Fair enough, as long as there’s room to nap I’m not too fussed what we are driven in. 

So with all 20 of us piled in the back, the journey to Paihia begins! It’s a good 4 - 5 hour drive (aka perfect napping time. I’d bagged myself a little seat to myself so I couldn’t accidentally drool on a strangers shoulder) so thank goodness we stopped at Parry Kauri Park on the way for a leg stretch and pee break. We also got to see the McKinney kauri tree (not to pee against, I’ll just add! We were encouraged to hug it though, and it was so wide my arms couldn’t even reach half way around it) which at 800 years old hands down has to be the largest, oldest natural thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life!image
This tree, as well as the Simpson kauri tree down the road, are the two oldest of their kind on the East Coast of New Zealand, which is pretty cool if you ask me. Also on the grounds was the Warkworth District Museum - as our break was limited to 20 minutes we didn’t have time to go into the museum itself (for fear of being left in the middle of nowhere on my very first trip! If you haven’t guessed, I’m the type of girl this would definitely happen to) but if your a history nut you’ll love the external exhibits - an old Warkworth jail, a dunny, a pair of stocks and a bright red traditional telephone box all dating back from the 1940′s, to name but a few.
A couple more hours drive later we finally make it to Paihia, a beautiful little town in the Bay of Islands in the Far North District of New Zealand. We stopped the bus right next to Paihia Wharf and just take in the spectacular views of the Bay, and because it was gorgeously sunny we could see the island of Russell clear as day. It took a while for our bus driver to coax us away and check us into the hostel (Base Backpackers & Pipi Patch Bar, which will forever be cemented in my mind for reasons you will discover later…) but once we had thrown our stuff in our rooms it was off to go exploring!
Now for anyone out there travelling on a budget and are also exploring New Zealand with a company like Stray or Kiwi Experience, this is for you:
Lesson Number 12 - The activities and excursions that are offered to you are expensive, even at the discounted cost the company gives you. Walking is 99% of the time FREE! Choose which activities you definitely want to pay for in advance, then for the rest of the trip go for the walk. You’ll get to see more of the island that way, plus if you’re a photographer you’ll get more of a chance to take some stunning photos too!
A big group of us from the bus decided to go find the Haruru Falls we’d heard our driver talking about on the way here. Now heads up, this is experience talking - the round trip will take you 4 HOURS to walk. You can cut the time down by run it if you’re into panting and sweating, but half the walk it through intensely narrow forrest (not including the section on a wooden plank pathway over marshland. A plank pathway with NO barriers to stop you falling in) and the other half is on a road with no pavement and a GIANT HILL! But goodness if it isn’t a fantastic way to get to know your bus friends; Ally and Seb, a wonderfully funny couple from Canada who were so fit they were leading our little pack the entire route to the falls; Denise and Tricia, two very friendly ladies from Ireland who I was also lucky enough to share a room with; two lovely lads called Daz and Dave and a girl called Jojo who, coincidently, only happens to live in the SAME COUNTY as I do back home!! Literally within a ½ hour drive of each other, what a small, small world we live in…
Any who, we all made it back to Base just before dark - yes we went on a 4 hour hike with approximately 3.5 hours of sunlight left in the day - and just in time for a BBQ dinner at the Pipi Patch Bar. Now at the time, the Olympics were being hosted in Rio (let’s pretend I’m not horribly behind schedule in posting these blogs) so naturally the Bar was having an Olympics themed competition on the night we were there to win a $50 bar tab. So us girls, including Laura who was also on the bus, banded together to form Team Jamaica (Jamaica we have a bob-sled team!) to compete in the Arm Wrestling, Speed Drinking and Rhythmic Dance challenges. 
Now usually I only have one lesson per post, but the experiences I gained this wonderful night warrants a second one:
Lesson number 13 - If you plan on removing your jumper during a Dance Off decider, double check to see if you’re wearing a t-shirt underneath first. And if you discover you aren’t, and the jumper is already off… fuck it, rock those boobs anyway!!
I’m very proud to say I shared that $50 bar tab with not only the rest of Team Jamaica that night, but with half the bar too. How to make friends on the road, the Ellie way!


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