Note: The events in this post and the posts to follow happened before COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic. I’m only getting around to writing them now, after the pandemic’s been in full swing. I look back on these times with an ambivalent mix of happiness and grief — for what was and what could have been. In these uncertain times, I hope the last few weeks of my travels bring others as much joy (and hilarity) as they brought me in the moment.
March 7: Reefton, New Zealand is a town of about 1,000 people, situated inland from New Zealand’s West Coast, a region known for its gorgeous yet unforgiving landscapes and its ultra-hospitable people. I’d heard Reefton mentioned along my travels so I figured it’d be worth a night’s stop. As I drove into town, I knew I’d gotten myself into some sort of adventure.
On Google Maps I’d seen The Old Breadshop Backpackers, which had good reviews and seemed eclectic. Parking in front of the building, I noted that a dorm bed was $18NZ per night. A hell of a deal… but was there a catch?
I rang the doorbell on the side building. Out came Trevor, a cheery, middle-aged Aussie dude who loved to talk about a range of topics that did and did not relate to me reserving a dorm bed for that night. As the hostel owner, Trevor located me a bed and gave me a grand tour of the Breadshop. In the main lounge area, he introduced me to a couple other old dudes: Brian, who’d grown up in Reefton but now lives in Nelson, and Russell, who lives in Christchurch but whose uncle used to be a crossing guard in Reefton. They were both in town for some horseraces the next day.
Now that I was effectively surrounded by jolly old men, Trevor mentioned that he also ran the town cinema — it serves double-duty as the community center, owned by the city council. Trevor runs two showings per day, and the new Jumanji movie was playing at 5:15. Who am I to turn down a film?
Brian and Russell, whose Kiwi accents and lingo I found increasingly difficult to understand, told me a group was going pubbing that night, and I should join them all once the movie was out. I half-heartedly agreed and made my way down the block to the cinema.
Trevor sat at the makeshift ticket counter, and I bought a piece of raspberry taffy. Sweet treats forever. I was one of five human beings in the theater, including Trevor, who eventually dimmed the lights and put the movie on.
The Jumanji movie was surprisingly good. Obviously I have deep attachments to the original film, but this one featured The Rock and Jack Black and major comedic relief.
After the movie, it was still light out so I wandered down the main road of town, stopping to take a photo of Reefton Coffin Co. To this day I’m not sure what they do.
I heard a voice shout “Molly!” from behind me. There stood Brian in the doorway of Wilson’s Hotel, which housed a popular pub. Seemed like the crew had migrated there during the course of the evening!
Once inside, I was greeted by a crowd of West Coasters, all in town for the next day’s horse races (more on that later). I met Brian’s son, Wiremu, and his son’s fiancée Julia, along with a crowd of rowdy people whose names I will never remember and whose faces I also may not remember. Regardless, they ended up buying me four large pints of Speight’s 5 Malt Old Dark through the course of the night, and I became their little American friend. Talk about hospitality!
Interestingly, Reefton was the first place in the Southern Hemisphere (and by extension, New Zealand) to get electricity, thanks to the Reefton Power Station. Brian and Russell tried to tell me Reefton was the fifth city in the entire world to get electricity (behind the likes of NYC, London and Paris), but I couldn’t find a source for that stat. Just pretend they’re right.
In the morning I woke up for a walk around town, grabbing a flat white and a hot cross bun at The Broadway Tearooms & Bakery. I found out I don’t actually like hot cross buns at all. Worth the try, I guess.
After the walk I joined Brian’s family for breakfast in a hotel that had closed down a few months back. Apparently Brian’s family was still staying in the defunct hotel for the weekend, because that’s just how small towns work. He gave me a quick tour before leading me into the kitchen, where Wiremu was cooking.
You may ask how I get myself into these situations, and I answer to you: I just say yes. Brian’s daughter Anaka and her husband Tiny (or Tony? I couldn’t tell through their thick Kiwi accent) joined, along with Brian’s ex-wife. And ole Russell, who is now an extension of Brian’s family. Wiremu brought me a massive plate of toast with eggs, bacon, sausage, ham steak, some other kind of steak, and a latte.
They all talked about the day’s horse races, which I had agreed to attend the previous evening while slightly inebriated. The favorite to win the first race was a horse called Abadabadoo. The first race was starting soon, but we had one errand to run beforehand.
There’s a swing bridge right outside of town, and Brian drove me over to see it. I believe it might be a point of pride for Reefton folk, although it is a humble-looking bridge. He also drove me to significant places in town, like where he’d gone to school as a child. It was a cool little tour!
Then we were off to the races. The racecourse was on the other edge of town, hosting just one of many weekends of horse races all over New Zealand. This was part of Team Teal, a benefit for the NZ Women’s Cancer Foundation. This meant many people were wearing teal.
I should also note that these were harness races, something I was unfamiliar with. I don’t know much about horses, and even less about horse racing, but I did read Seabiscuit in fifth grade. In harness racing, the driver steers a two-wheeled cart that the horse basically tows along.
Entering the grounds, we spotted an ambulance and a crowd of people gathering — apparently a local had suffered a heart attack and would be life-flighted to the nearest hospital in Westport. It delayed the races for an hour or so, which I spent wandering around the empty clubhouse and being greeted as a VIP by the locals, who Brian kept introducing me to.
Wiremu and Julia led me through a VIP-lookin’ gate and into a special area where drivers were prepping their horses for the races. I felt simultaneously honored and worried that I would scare the horses before their big race.
And finally, the first race began! The drivers completed two laps around the track while a crowd of about a hundred people watched in earnest. Our boy Abadabadoo (whom Brian had bet on) ended up winning.
Then Brian said he’d given me a job to do. I met Ross, the race announcer, who said he needed me to help him hand out waterbottles to the crowd after the next race. When in Reefton… do as the Reeftoners say. In front of the crowd, Ross introduced me and asked how I liked the West Coast hospitality. I grinned and played along, holding up the waterbottles we were giving away as if I were Vanna White.
After the waterbottle hype, it was late afternoon and I had to head out to my next destination, a popular spot called Punakaiki. Brian insisted we get at least one “team pic,” but Wiremu and the rest of the crew didn’t want to be on camera. Instead, I posed with Brian and Julia. A fitting end to my 24-hour stint in Reefton.
I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the West Coast than Reefton. The people and their humor are all slightly (and perfectly) off-kilter. And I absolutely believe that Reefton was the fifth place in the world to have electricity. Abadabadoo.
Next stop: the incredible Punakaiki, to see rocks that look a bit like pancakes. Stay tuned.
Note: The events in this post and the posts to follow happened before COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic. I’m only getting around to writing them now, after the pandemic’s been in full swing. I look back on these times with an ambivalent mix of happiness and grief — for what was and what could have been. In these uncertain times, I hope the last few weeks of my travels bring others as much joy (and hilarity) as they brought me in the moment.
March 2: I’d heard a lot of hype about Abel Tasman National Park — out of New Zealand’s many Great Walks, this was one of the most popular. Classified as an “easy” track and boasting many stunning views of sunny beaches, it gives hikers lots of reward for not too much work. Or so I thought.
I had never before gone on a multi-day hike, but many of my co-woofers at Tasman Bay hostel highly recommended the 60km Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Though lots of tourists opt to catch a water taxi to one location along the track and simply hike for only a day, I wanted to do the full Monty — three nights, four days, camping in a tent.
My friend Lou was gracious enough to loan me her lightweight tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat to set up at each campsite I’d pre-booked along the track. I also had to bring enough food, clothing and supplies for four days, which ended up being more kilograms than I wanted to weigh. I’ll just give you a list of the food I packed, since we know that’s the most important part:
1.5 liters of water
2 small loaves of nutrient-dense bread (from Rodrigo’s at the Nelson Market!)
1 jar of Pic’s peanut butter
1 block of Edam cheese
4 small dried sausages
6 muesli bars
1 package of dates
1 bag of trail mix
1 freeze-dried chicken carbonara dinner
I chose not to bring a backpacker stove with me, so the freeze-dried meal was packed on the hopes I’d meet other campers who were willing to boil me some water. About half of the food listed was found in the free food bin at the hostel, which saved me some mad $$$.
All right, time for the journey to begin! I drove an hour to Marahau, a town at the the southern start of the Abel Tasman track. I left my Mazda in the car park, put on my backpack and embarked on day one of a hike that ended up being more than I’d bargained for.
At that point, I only saw two other people on the trail and ended up trekking with them for about half of the 4.5-hour hike to my campsite. They were a retired couple from South Dakota who had spent the last 20 years tramping (what Kiwis call hiking) in the US and around the world. They’d just come from the Rakiura Track a few days before, one of the gnarlier Great Walks.
Like many NZ hikes, the track weaves through tropical foliage but has an added bonus of lots of beaches. Abel Tasman is known as a sunny, temperate area, but I was a little worried at the forecast for rain in the next few days. I kept my fingers crossed.
I split up from the South Dakotans eventually, listening to podcasts as I passed other hikers. Luckily, the path wasn’t super full as shoulder season was approaching.
Around the 3.5 hour mark, I knew I was getting closer to Te Pukatea, the campsite I’d booked for the first night. New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) created a helpful app with a map and suggestions along the route. According to the map, I still had an hour to pass through Anchorage Bay (a common route) on to Te Pukatea, a smaller and more secluded site.
There are four huts along the track, including Anchorage. For a higher price, you can sleep on a mattress in a hut (basically a cabin) instead of having to carry your own tent and sleep out in the elements like I was. Passing through Anchorage and looking at the ominous clouds forming over me, I was a bit jealous of all the hutters. But this is part of the adventure!
The remaining 20 minutes to Te Pukatea were partly uphill and seemed to go on forever. Finally, the campground came into sight like a little oasis.
When I arrived at 1pm, I was the only person at the campsite (which has ten sites). I successfully set up Lou’s tent and wandered down the private beach for awhile, savoring the weather before it turned rainy.
Along the Tasman Track, people often warn of the weka bird — a feisty animal who is mostly harmless to humans but is merciless when it comes to stealing food. Wekas will get right up to you and grab food if you don’t guard it properly. Plus, there are a lot of them! I’ve had to intervene before when they tried to steal another camper’s food.
Wary of wekas, I ate some bread with banana and PB, my stomach happy to be fed and afternoon sleepiness setting in. After a long nap, I re-emerged, saying hello to a few other campers who’d set up their tent sites while I was asleep. The rain soon began and I hurried back into my tent, listening to the drip-drops of water on the tent fly as I journaled and read Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” — quite the tale to entertain myself while solo tramping.
I naturally fell asleep as it got dark, sleeping peacefully until fate intervened. In the pitch black tent, I woke up as I felt something on my foot. At first I thought it was a weka bird poking the tent from the outside, so I instinctively kicked at it. Then I felt something on the other side of my leg, outside of my sleeping bag. In my sleep-addled brain, I thought somehow a weka had gotten inside my tent!
I quickly flashed on my headlamp — where I saw a rodent head peering at me, sitting on top of my backpack. A big rodent head. It was a rat, and it was at least half a foot long. I frowned, opened the tent flap and thanked the universe that I wasn’t afraid of rats. But I definitely didn’t want this little buddy in my tent for the night.
It had chewed a few holes in the tent netting, probably smelling the food in my backpack that I hadn’t wanted to leave out in the rain. I spent a good ten minutes chasing it back and forth around the tent until finally got the hint and scuttled out of the tent flap. Without tape to repair the bigger holes, I slapped a big first-aid bandage over the netting and went back to sleep, only feeling slightly unnerved.
The next morning it was still raining. Luckily, no water managed to get into the tent (the same doesn’t apply to vermin, though). I packed up my stuff, ate an apple and embarked on what would end up being a 7-hour journey to Onetahuti Bay. Here goes nothing!
As I mentioned, Abel Tasman National Park is known for its splendid sunny weather, so I’d caught it on a rare off-day. As I walked through the rain my pack felt heavier, my legs were still tired from the day before, and my shoulders started to ache from the pack’s straps. I reminded myself: this is the sort of adventure I asked for! After an hour I’d passed back through Anchorage and branched onto the main trail north toward Torrent Bay.
I tried to go the “low tide” route to Torrent Bay, which would save me over an hour of walking time. But when I got down to cross the sandbar, it was still pretty wet and I decided to backtrack 20 minutes to take the long route. Nearly two hours in and I hadn’t even made it onto the main path!
Determined to improve my spirits, I ate a muesli bar and listened to a podcast on meditation, which helped significantly. I passed a lot of beautiful (albeit soggy) nature along the way.
I also realized that my jacket was totally not waterproof — how had I not known this before? So as the rain picked up, I only got soggier. I was thankful it wasn’t colder out.
After about 5 hours I’d almost made it to Bark Bay, another popular campsite and hut. My campsite, Onetahuti, was the next campsite along the trail — I figured it would be at most another hour to Onetahuti, right?
Wrong. I looked at the trail sign at Bark Bay and my heart fell. 1 hour 50 minutes to Onetahuti. My legs complained, but I sucked it up and sat to eat a quick lunch before embarking once more.
I ran into some people who told me it’s a shame I couldn’t see Bark Bay on a sunny day since it was so much more gorgeous. Lol thanks! They forewarned me that on the way to Onetahuti I had to walk up a steep incline for awhile. How considerate of them.
Finally, finally, I reached lovely Onetahuti. The rain had cleared for a couple hours as I set up my tent and looked out at the water, appreciating the way my legs felt when they weren’t walking.
A British couple named Simon and Katie had set up at the tent site next to mine. They’d hiked from Anchorage that day and were also a bit dismayed with the rain. I told them my rat tale and they shared their backpacker stove with me, heating up some water so that I could make my surprisingly tasty freeze-dried carbonara.
After dinner the rain began again, so we retreated back to our respective tents and I settled in once more to read. As dusk set in, I fell into another slumber… until fate once again intervened.
In the middle of the night I felt something skitter across my neck. In denial, I rustled around in my sleeping bag but couldn’t get the thought out of my head — what if something was in my tent AGAIN? I finally turned on my headlamp and saw a tiny mouse face peering back at me in alarm. I took a deep breath. Seriously?!!?!?!?!
And so I spent the next ten minutes thrashing about the tent as the rain poured down outside. Unlike the rat, this mouse did not understand the concept of escaping through the open tent flap. I grabbed my shoe to try to scoop it up or stun it into submission, but it evaded all my attempts.
Finally, it skittered underneath my sleeping mat and I froze. I peeled back the mat to make sure he was still under there. It was now or never. At my wit’s end, I had to do what I never thought I’d do: I slammed my knee down on the mat. Several times. I am a monster.
I peeled back the mat once more and saw a lifeless mouse body and some other messy stuff that I’m glad I didn’t capture on camera. I grabbed some tissues, delicately gathered the remains and threw them out into the storm, figuring some weka could use an extra meal. After sanitizing the affected areas I took a few minutes to just sit and breathe. I think he’d crawled through one of the smaller holes in the netting left by the rat — so I put another bandage over those holes, too. Perhaps they wanted my nutrient-dense bread. Perhaps I just attract rodents. I didn’t sleep much that night.
In the morning, the rain had cleared to reveal a glorious sunrise! The mouse corpse was gone. Maybe it had never happened at all. I joined Simon and Katie to eat a quick breakfast before packing up and agreeing to hike with them to Totaranui, my campsite for the third night.
Simon and Katie were great tramping buds — they were in NZ for at least a couple months, maybe more if the coronavirus spread further. It was already affecting China, South Korea and Italy, along with myriad other countries. But we were in Abel Tasman, seemingly far away from the grip of the virus.
The trek to Totaranui was only 4-5 hours, so we had plenty of time to meander. After a couple hours we had to cross Awaroa Bay, which can only be crossed for two hours on either side of low tide (which changes every day, meaning you have to pay attention to the tide tables). If you don’t make it within that timeframe, you’re out of luck.
But luck we had. We timed our crossing almost exactly at low tide, around 11am, and spent about 30 minutes carefully walking across a sandy, watery plain. At some point we all had to take off our shoes to walk through the small streams until we reached the other side.
After successfully braving the Awaroa low tide, we continued on toward Goat Bay, where we stopped to have a snack before the last half hour to Totaranui.
And then we reached Totaranui — a large campground that serves as a main northern point of access to the Abel Tasman track. I had originally planned to camp at Totaranui that night and spend my fourth day hiking the northern Wainui loop before catching a water taxi back to Marahau car park. But Simon and Katie had booked a water taxi to Marahau for 3:15pm that day. Facing the prospect of increasingly cold winds and a chance of another restless night of mouse trap in my tent, I opted to cut my hike short and get a water taxi back to Marahau with them.
But not so fast! Due to some rare easterly winds, no water taxis were able to get in or out of Totaranui, rendering dozens of people effectively stuck at the campground until buses could pick us up in a few hours. They said this literally happens maybe once or twice a year. Just our luck, eh?
So we waited a few hours for the bus to come around 5pm. I didn’t technically have a reservation for the water taxi in the first place, so I hoped I could hitch an impromptu ride with the rest of the crew. Though I hate to say it, I was mentally and physically drained from this hike.
At long last, the bus showed up! And they had one extra seat left… right next to the driver. VIP status. I was pretty happy to evade another night of camping, even if it meant missing out on more scenery. Once we got back to Marahau, Katie, Simon and I grabbed a burger from Hooked on Marahau, a restaurant so cozy I wanted to cry out of relief.
We all agreed we’d like to meet up again soon to conquer another hike, but maybe just a one-nighter. Simon and Katie had booked a hostel in nearby Takaka, and I was determined to find a cheap campground in the area so I could sleep in the back of my car, like the good ole days in Coromandel.
My brain must have been fuzzy from the past few days’ events, because there was almost no chance I would find an open campground in the area at nearly 10pm. Looking back, my decision making was questionable, yes. But sometimes this is just what happens.
As it got later and later, I ended up driving back through Motueka to Nelson, where I saw rows of No Vacancy signs. I could have called a friend at Tasman Bay, but it was getting so late that I decided to pull in to the first Vacancy sign I found, which belonged to a sketchy hostel right behind the Rattle Inn (the hilariously bad Americana bar from my last post).
I pressed a buzzer and a big steel door opened. I walked up a rickety ramp to the front entrance, trying to ignore the unexpectedly skeevy vibes this place gave off. Should I have stayed at Totaranui? The owner, a stout Russian dude, answered the door and asked me for $20 NZ. Cheapest hostel I’d seen so far. He showed me to a dorm room and I crawled into a top bunk, thankful that I’d found somewhere to stay for the night. Someone was snoring unbelievably loudly below me. I somehow fell asleep to the sounds of terrible karaoke emitting from the Rattle Inn until 4am.
And then the morning came! At 7am I was up and out of that place, somewhat confused and amazed as to how my camping trip had ended so absurdly.
Not yet ready to see real humans, I drove to none other than my beloved Tahunanui Beach to journal about the past few days, in all my unshowered, restless glory.
Feeling a bit more human, I went back to Tasman Bay Backpackers, where I updated everyone on my adventures in Abel Tasman. I especially felt terrible that Lou’s tent was partially eaten by a rat, so I picked up some tape from the Kathmandu store and repaired it later that day. Lou and I got boozy shakes at Burger Culture downtown, sharing feelings of exhaustion. I was glad to be back in Nelson for a bit.
I decided to stay at Tasman Bay another night before heading down the South Island’s West Coast. I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to my old hostel yet — it’s just too difficult to leave these beautiful people.
In the morning I ran down the path along the nearby Maitai River, my first official run since spraining my ankle hiking in early February. I ran slowly, cautiously, and ended up going three miles without any problems! Call me accomplished.
Afterward I walked to Atomic Coffee, a wonderful brew bar that serves *bottomless coffee* — a total rarity in NZ. They even gave me a little info card on the day’s Ethiopia blend.
I met Lou at East St, my favorite vegan eatery in Nelson, and she drew henna on my arm. I also took a bathroom selfie. Hehehe.
That night we had another small BBQ, so I picked up wine, kale and sweet potatoes. What more do we need? Lou also created a gorgeous plate of fruit that she’ll be happy I featured on the blog.
And then my ACTUAL last morning in Nelson arrived. Lou and I walked, once more, to the Saturday morning Nelson Market. We got vegan pies from the cute man at Rainbow Kitchen and Dutch coffee and apple fritters. A perfect send-off.
And so closes my month-long journey in the Tasman Bay area — hostels, hikes, beaches, vermin, the whole lot. As a bonus: I’m still keen to do more multi-day hiking and camping, even if COVID-19 travel restrictions mean I can only hike in the US for awhile.
But anyway! Next stop: a tiny town called Reefton, where I learn about New Zealand’s West Coast hospitality and sort of end up hosting a horse race. Stay tuned, folks!
Note: The events in this post and the posts to follow happened before COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic. I’m only getting around to writing them now, after the pandemic’s been in full swing. I look back on these times with an ambivalent mix of happiness and grief — for what was and what could have been. In these uncertain times, I hope the last few weeks of my travels bring others as much joy as they brought me in the moment.
February 21, 2020: With a magical trip to Golden Bay under my belt, I returned to Nelson refreshed and ready to round out my time working at Tasman Bay Backpackers hostel. The first week and a half at the hostel had involved getting to know the ropes of work and social life, and I was excited to see where the next two weeks would lead.
It was a rare rainy day in Nelson, so lots of people were sitting around the hostel despondently as I began work, making beds. That afternoon I decided to attend another class at Kindred Yoga, this time a wind-down flow taught by a lady named Jo.
It was a Friday evening and the hostel was poppin’ with people when I returned. I’d been craving a trip to the cinema and had heard great things about the new war film 1917, so I invited my new friend Nans (the one who looks like Andrew Garfield) for an impromptu movie date. The movie was quite gorgeously filmed — definitely worth it.
Discussing the horrors of 20th century war, Nans and I walked around downtown Nelson, grabbing a drink at Sprig & Fern (one of the only bars open at 11pm). They played live music on the back patio and we danced to somewhat cringe-y covers of Jolene and Wagon Wheel. There’s nothing like bad Americana songs to dissuade me from dancing, but Nans was a good sport about it and eventually agreed to sit away from the music.
The next day, Nans and his friend Mikey were departing to work on a nearby hops farm in Tapawera, so I insisted his last hours in Nelson should be spent at the beloved Nelson Market. I grabbed a Dutch coffee (duh!) and a vegan kofta burger from another food vendor — I clearly didn’t realize the burger would be deep-fried, but it was still pretty good. We wandered around the market and Nans told me to stop trying all the free samples. 😦
Bidding adieu to Nans, I did my usual work for the day as the woofer crew made plans to go to a gypsy fair in Richmond, a 20-minute drive outside of Nelson. After tea and cookie time, we all hopped in the car and arrived at a much smaller event than expected. Also, the use of the term “gypsy” to describe something is pretty suspect anyway.
We joined a circle of hippie-lookin’ kids who had a hang drum, a mysterious instrument shaped like a flying saucer that emanates beautiful frequencies when struck. I think the hang drum lulled us all into a sense of strange calm as we ate pavlova one of the hippies had found while dumpster diving. I am truly living my best life.
After our fill of the “gypsy” fair, we drove over to Tahunanui Beach to soak up some sparse rays of sun. Lou, Sophia and I grabbed a snack at the beach cafe before meeting Annelies and Martina on the sand. I decided this was a very good beach.
That night, the whole gang was keen for a proper night out on the town since it was one of Martina’s last nights here. If you know where to go — and as a bonafide Nelson resident, Fran knows where to go — you can even pretend you’re clubbin’ in a bigger city.
Our first stop was The Free House, a pub hosting a splendid selection of craft beers from the area. I believe it was an old church, too. Call me enchanted. I ordered a half-pint of Es Buah, a Japanese fruit cocktail sour brewed by the Garage Project (of course).
The Free House closed up shop at 11pm (typical New Zealand) so we ventured over to Sprig & Fern, where I ordered a pint of British Best — I find most of Sprig & Fern’s hoppy brews to be quite boring, so I went out to left field with a British bitter. Fun choice!
We played a game of Never Have I Ever, which usually involves saying something you’ve never done — “Never have I ever enjoyed Sprig & Fern’s IPAs” — while those who have done that thing take a drink. But instead, Jake ended up spouting out a bunch of scenarios that he had and hadn’t done. One involved accidentally killing his pet hamster, which I’ve been told actually happens a lot. Maybe they just aren’t a resilient species.
Then it was time to ramp it up. We walked to the Rattle Inn, a full-on Americana bar that would normally be my worst nightmare. Luckily, I was in a fun mood and took the various Harley Davidson and Bourbon Street signs in stride. They have $5 pints of a lager whose foul taste you can ignore for the cheap price tag. Let’s dance to covers of Sweet Home Alabama, folks!
I soon realized that men in Nelson clubs can be total creepy weirdos who don’t respect personal space while dancing. When Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” came on, I tried to un-subtly elbow a few creeps with some explosive drunk dance moves.
We moved next door to Bamboo Tiger, a club with a little indoor dance floor and a larger outdoor patio. I switched between dancing and looking at the books featured in their small library at the front of the bar. Despite the ever-present creepy weirdos, I was able to Get Low when Lil Jon came on.
Back at the hostel, we devoured a bunch of pizza brought home by Carlos, a long term hostel guest who works at Domino’s. Bless you, Carlos.
The next morning I woke up dehydrated, to say the least. I made myself a positively giant plate of egg & cheese toasties and slumped through my work for the day. That afternoon I drove back to Tahunanui to catch some sun and a Mr. Whippy ice cream, dipped in chocolate with peanuts. It reminded me of childhood, except I was less hungover as a child.
Though Tahunanui Beach tends to be sandy and windy, I found it relaxing to catch up on journaling and reading. It quickly became a place of comfort for me in my last week in Nelson.
Back at the hostel, I prepped for that night’s BBQ — it’s sort of a tradition to throw a BBQ/potluck every so often, especially before a woofer or long term guest leaves. In this case, Martina and Sophia were both about to leave. We grilled sausages, halloumi and veges, accompanied by salmon & brie on crackers and some killer salads.
Martina and I were both dressed in double-denim that day (or as I like to say, Canadian tuxedos). Chalking it up to our common Czech heritage, we had to document the event.
My friend Kai (who I traveled with in Coromandel) was spending a few nights at the hostel and joined us at the BBQ. Upon Kai’s insistence, I showed the group an iconic artifact of my hometown — a rap song from 2010 fittingly called Omaha Nebraska. I’m actually related to one of the rappers featured, but I don’t know how he feels about work done ten years ago so I’ll just drop the video link without further comment.
The next day I met Samantha, a new woofer from the San Francisco Bay Area. It was fun to have another American around — she was taking a year off after her freshman year of college, which is a rare and very cool decision for a young American.
After work I drove to Tahunanui Beach once again, realizing that autumn in New Zealand was coming and who knows how much more sun I’ll get.
That night we went to an open mic at Vic’s. During one set, they had a few girls with absolutely no sense of rhythm shake some maracas in the background. One of them looked like Ruby, but I have much more faith in Ruby’s musical abilities.
The next morning while cleaning hostel rooms, I found a giant pile of empty water bottles in one of the private rooms. I was confused and concerned. Just another day on the job.
That afternoon, my friend Maarten arrived with his girlfriend Sanne, who I’d heard so much about and was excited to finally meet. They were cycling through the South Island together. We sat outside and ate dinner with a big group of hostel guests from all over — Kai, Laura (German), Quentin (Canadian), Steve (Luxembourg), another Steve (British), Hannah (Swiss), and a few others. Luxembourg Steve shared his story of nearly burning down a hostel in Paihia while frying some eggs.
I stayed up chatting with Kai, Annelies and Carlos in the lounge. We talked about how much we complicate life, and how simple it can be. Maybe it just seems that way when we’re all traveling, suspended in a fantasy. Still to be determined.
The next morning I walked to 7010 Cafe with Annelies, our friend Charlotte and Luxembourg Steve. I ordered a golden milk latte, made with turmeric, before heading back to start work once again.
I made myself some lunch — tomato, corn, pepper and black bean salad — and Lou found some Camembert in the free food bin to share during tea time.
As a sunshine addict, I had a hankering to go to the beach again. Annelies joined me and we grabbed real fruit ice cream, like the fruits we are. Then we spent the next few hours lying on the sand. A dream.
Back at the ranch, Maarten and Sanne had offered to make dinner — a very welcome spread of salmon and baked potatoes with salad. Why am I surrounded by such good human beings?
That night, we drank white wine and talked about the absurdity of Dutch royalty, along with discussing how travel has changed our ways of thinking about our career possibilities. I caught myself wondering where my career path would go at the end of my yearlong travels… looking back now, it’s funny what life ended up giving me instead.
Coronavirus had been on my mind — it had successfully taken over parts of China and was rapidly spreading to Italy. One of the woofers at the hostel, Ying, was finishing up her working holiday visa but couldn’t return home to China because of the virus. So she had to get a work visa from an old employer and stay in NZ another year. Another year away from her family and friends who were all quarantined back home.
Ying asked if I’d seen Parasite — I had — and quoted one part of the dialogue toward the end of the film:
“You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan. No plan at all. You know why? Because life cannot be planned. Look around you. Did you think these people made a plan to sleep in the sports hall with you? But here we are now, sleeping together on the floor. So, there’s no need for a plan. You can’t go wrong with no plans. We don’t need to make a plan for anything. It doesn’t matter what will happen next.”
— Parasite, 2019
This placated me as I tried not to worry about the future. I was here, in New Zealand, and I would take it day by day. In light of all that’s happened since this conversation, I am still taking it day by day. But that’s for another post.
The next morning I had a day off, and I was determined to work out! I walked back down to the park and filmed another Park Workout on Instagram, ever-accountable to my half-hearted fitness routine.
I grabbed breakfast with Maarten and Sanne, enjoying my morning off of hostel work. Opting for a hip restaurant called Hardy St, we all chose salmon on rye — a swell decision indeed.
I split up with my lovely Dutchies to grab a coffee and catch up on journaling at Kush, a cafe whose unintentionally 420-friendly name went severely unappreciated by everyone except Americans. Their mochacchino, though? So appreciated.
I took a slight detour into a random shopping center downtown, coming upon some really cool specimens of bugs and spiders. As a former tarantula owner and the reigning Spider Queen, I was obligated to take photos. You’ve been warned about spider pics — sorry folks.
Back at the hostel, I cooked myself dinner and sat outside talking to Sophia, who had arrived back from her 4-day hike on the Heaphy Track, another hike in the area. Even after a multi-day trek she still looked impossibly put-together.
Later on, Lou told me some people from the Fat Cat were coming through Nelson to visit us — Lou had worked in Waihi picking fruit for the Fat Cat, so she and I both knew Karin, a wonderful Dutchie with a big heart. We sat out on the back patio and drank wine, per usual. New Zealand is a small place, and friends always come back around.
The next morning I woke up with an increased sense of purpose: I was going to climb to the geographical centre of New Zealand! Good thing there’s a well-worn walking path and monument to guide me. The hike is about 45 minutes return, mostly at a gradual slope (happy for my still-healing ankle). The view of Nelson from the top is pretty rad! Going at sunrise or sunset would be equally beautiful.
I walked back to the hostel along the Maitai River, which runs through town and features a lot of tropical foliage. People also like to swim in it, but at the moment there was some concern over dangerous algae in the river. Good thing I didn’t bring my swimsuit, I suppose.
After the day’s work, I sat around feeling restless. The perceived threat of the Coronavirus had increased — there was one confirmed case in New Zealand, but most people didn’t seem too concerned about it. Adding to my low-level anxiety was the fact that I would leave for the Abel Tasman track in a few days, meaning I’d have to plan what to pack for a four-day, 50+ kilometer hike, including all my food and shelter necessities. But I was exhausted by the prospect and put it off till tomorrow, opting to once again kill time at Tahunanui Beach.
After enjoying a long walk along the beach, watching parasailers and swimmers and careless, happy families, I decided it was an opportune solo night at the cinema. Little Women was showing at 8:15pm. Consider it done.
The movie made me tear up a few times, and it was a perfect antidote to so many of my lingering fears. Walking back from the movie, the air felt dark and alive and strange. In just three days I was about to leave my simple life at the Tasman Bay hostel and embark on another part of my journey, which brought both excitement and uncertainty.
The only person sitting outside at 11pm when I got back was a Texan named Todd. His calm demeanor automatically chilled me out, and we talked about his long stint in New Zealand farm work, along with laughing at the fact that nearly every foreigner assumes he has a large Texas gun collection (he doesn’t). Todd, you’ll never know how much our little convo helped me put my anxieties aside.
The next morning was February 29 — Leap Day. Lou, Ying and I walked to the Nelson Market, a happy Saturday ritual that I’d be sad to give up. We got hemp burgers from D’Hondt’s, a kindly Belgian dude with who sells honey and vegetarian specialties. And also… I got the Dutch coffee again.
Later that day, Annelies stopped by while I was catching up on my journal. Being the earth angel that she is, she gifted me a New Zealand greenstone necklace — it’s supposed to bring you good luck, although you should have it given to you by someone else. Buying one for yourself is considered bad luck.
Annelies and I were both leaving Tasman Bay in a few days, as she was going to Motueka to look for a long term fruit picking job. The greenstone was a special gift to me — but even more special was the friendship we’d cultivated over the last few weeks. Sometimes a blog can’t quite put the nuance into words.
Restlessness still stirring, I walked into town to pick up a few groceries for the evening, as Annelies had organized a send-off BBQ in honor of both of us leaving the hostel. An actual angel. On the way I saw some cool art and a randomly placed shopping cart, which I laughed at maniacally.
I came back and started prepping for the BBQ, assembling a cheeseboard with assistance from Samantha’s bell peppers and Ruby’s beetroot hummus. Righteous. I also picked up a crazy Garage Project beer at the store — flavored with none other than beetroot. This life is good.
The BBQ was probably the best yet — I’m biased, as it was my own going-away party. But still! The friends and the foodstuffs were out in full force, and my heart was happy. I ate so much. It was so good.
The next morning was my last official day of hostel work. I showed the newest woofer, Theresa, how to clean bathrooms and showers (my favorite!), and I relished in one last tea & cookie time after work.
Annelies was leaving for Motueka that day, and we all decided to make it a group trip. Annelies, Ruby, Lou, Theresa and I hopped in my little car and drove up to Bloom Cafe — if you remember from the last post, it’s our absolute favorite place in Motueka and perhaps the entire planet. We ordered a ton of desserts to share. Bloom was bliss.
We then visited the Janie Seddon Shipwreck, watching the tides splash around an old rusted ship that was apparently stranded long ago. Ruby and I talked about Zoolander. We all sat and looked pretty pensive, knowing that the tides of our lives were going to change soon.
And then… it was time to drop off Annelies at her new home, the Hat Trick Lodge. It was sad to see her leave, but I knew it was the beginning of a new chapter.
Back at Tasman Bay that night, I ate one last ceremonial chocolate pudding & ice cream (well, sort of — I would be returning for a night or two after I finished the hike). Regardless, it was delicious.
That night I packed my bag for the three-night, four-day hike in Abel Tasman National Park, just an hour away from Nelson. It had been a blissful, crazy few weeks working at Tasman Bay Backpackers, but I was on to the next adventure.
After starting work at Tasman Bay hostel in Nelson, I wanted to take full advantage of my day off. I booked a couple nights at Gazebo Backpackers — a clothing-optional hostel in Takaka, a hippie town two hours north of Nelson in Golden Bay. What’s the worst that can happen at a place that calls itself clothing-optional?
The drive to Takaka involved many winding roads and a very large hill, which residents of Takaka apparently call the Big Hill. I stopped at Hawkes Lookout Point to catch a nice view and shake out my legs.
A bit later I found myself driving down the main road of Takaka, which houses just over 1,000 people and some tourists. Its reputation precedes it — the Golden Bay Area is known for its sunny weather and laid-back residents. I wandered to the Gazebo hostel, which is basically just a house with a big front yard and a lot of bikes.
I rang a doorbell and was greeted by Paul, a Canadian-American in his sixties who was wearing an open button-down shirt — and only that. Nudity is what I’d signed up for, and nudity is what I got.
Friendly and exceedingly normal, Paul showed me around the hostel and introduced me to a few other fully clothed guests. Paul explained that sunny days are usually the “nudey” days, while most guests stay clothed as the weather gets cloudy or cold. The hostel stays open from December to April, after which Paul closes up for the winter season. It only has room for about 10-12 people in all, so it’s a family atmosphere.
Perennially hungry and craving a beer, I walked into town to grab a burger from Roots Bar, choosing their goat burger — a decision I was so, so happy I’d made. Their chunky chips are also a “cut” above the rest. Hehe.
Since I was feeling indecisive, the bartender let me sample at least five brews before I landed on the Pale Whale Ale, brewed by a famous eatery outside of town called the Mussel Inn. It was the perfect IPA for a sunny evening. I sat out on the porch and heard an old Kiwi couple telling some Czech guys how Americans never travel here. I just sipped my beer and smiled.
After enjoying a couple hours of people watching (and listening), I walked back down to Gazebo. I met Zak, a dude from Vermont who works as a park ranger in Yosemite and is traveling NZ for a couple months, and Melissa, an American software designer (like me!) who’s working remotely as she travels. I also met Sacha and Hannah, two woofers at Gazebo. Sacha works at the Mussel Inn and brought back a lager that was most definitely meant to make fun of the lovely Garage Project.
I also met Kike (pronounced kee-kay), a teacher from Spain who was biking around NZ in the process of getting a work visa here. The conversation was all-around wonderful (and once again, fully clothed), but I needed to get some sleep for the night.
The next morning I walked down to the Wholemeal Cafe to grab a coffee and a snack — a savory beetroot and feta tart. I actually got it from their day-old section so it was a few dollars less. 😉
Back at the hostel, I told Paul I wanted to drive an hour north to Wharariki Beach and Cape Farewell, two apparently gorgeous areas of Golden Bay. Paul hand-drew me a map of Wharariki Beach as if we lived in 1891, insisting that I walk through the caves at low tide for an incredible experience. Zak and Kike tagged along and we set out for a day of exploration.
The roads near Wharariki completely turn into gravel, and I ended up losing a hubcap in the process. We threw the hubcap in the back — that’s a problem for Future Molly to solve.
Finally making it to the Wharariki car park, we stopped at the Archway Cafe to get an espresso boost and a snack before our beach adventure. Aiden, the barista, had heaps of recommendations for me if I ever wanted to work in the Golden Bay Area in the long term. I can’t say I wasn’t tempted.
We walked for 15 minutes through grassy hills, wondering when the beach would appear but enjoying the sweet NZ views nonetheless.
Finally, we saw the sand dunes from Paul’s map — and the full horizon of Wharariki Beach. What a dream! Zak immediately began to play in the dunes, and Kike and I followed suit.
Following the map, we veered to the far right to find the three cave inlets Paul had told us about. It was almost low tide time, around 3pm. We peeked around a few crevices and even caught sight of a bull seal, which I initially thought was a small child. Do not go near the bull seal.
I even got out my *real* camera to catch some of the smaller cave details.
Finally, the tide was low enough to walk through the first cave we’d encountered — the one Paul told us we could walk almost all the way through. He warned that it would get really dark for a few seconds but just around the bend would appear a brilliant glow of light coming from the other side of the cavern, out to the open ocean.
Zak, ever the adventurer, went first while Kike and I followed suit. We were the only ones in the cavern, surrounded by the almost menacing sound of the tide rushing in and out from the other side. In the dark Zak disappeared in front of me and everything went black — till a few seconds later I saw the light, entering a giant cavern. I think I felt my spirit leave my body.
As Kike would go on to say, “It felt like time and space disappeared.” We couldn’t go all the way through the cave to the ocean, as the tide was still too strong this time of year, but it was enough to stand in the cave for a few minutes in awe.
After our come-to-Jesus cave moment, we continued to walk along Wharariki Beach, which I believe is literally featured as a Windows screensaver and thus why it’s a pretty popular destination for those who want to make the trip out here. I made Zak take a few touristy photos of me in front of the hole in the rock.
I did take a few photos of Wharariki on the Fuji, just for kicks. And for alliteration.
After basking in the light mist of the beach, we walked back up through the sand dunes and the hills to the car park, driving the short distance to look out at Cape Farewell. It’s a gorgeous view and a prime influencer photo op.
After so many adventures, the three of us were getting hungry once more. We drove back toward Takaka to the infamous Mussel Inn, where I ordered a beer and a heaping bowl of mussel chowder. A blessed experience for my stomach.
Well-fed, we drove back to the hostel and picked up some wine and cheese to finish up the evening. Rachel, Paul’s very chill dog, was passed out on the couch when we got back. Good plan, doggo.
After experiencing a highlight of my time in New Zealand, I was excited to get some sleep and head back to Nelson the next morning to finish out another couple weeks of work at Tasman Bay Backpackers.
After a few wonderful days in Wellington, I was finally ready to begin my adventures on New Zealand’s South Island. Besides flying, one of the only ways to get from North to South is a three-hour ferry ride from Wellington to Picton, a small town on the tip of the South Island.
Begrudgingly handing over $56 NZ, I did enjoy passing through the Marlborough Sounds near the end of the ferry ride. There’s also a movie theater and some restaurants on the ferry, so it’s not a bad trip at all.
Arriving in Picton, I picked up my new rental car — it costs a pretty penny to bring a car onto the ferry, and nearly all rental companies will allow you to drop off your car in Wellington, take the ferry, and pick up a new rental in Picton for no extra cost. My new car was still a Mazda, although it was white and a few years older with no remote lock. No complaints, though.
And we were off! There isn’t much to do in Picton besides a few treks outside of town, so I just made a quick pitstop for a donut at the Picton Village Bakery. If you’re a fan of sugary donuts and whipped cream, it’s pretty good, though I was all sugared out at this point.
I made the two-hour drive to Nelson, where I’d found another job on Workaway working at the Tasman Bay Backpackers hostel for three weeks. Nelson’s a cute city of about 40,000 people, known for being one of the sunniest places in New Zealand with many surrounding beaches.
For 2-3 hours of hostel work a day, I’d get free accommodation, breakfast, and a chance to stop feeling like such a damn tourist all the time. Every night at 8pm, they also serve chocolate pudding and ice cream — a dangerous combination for Molly.
When I got to Tasman Bay, I was greeted by Uli, the hostel manager who’s originally from Germany but has lived in NZ for over 30 years. The hostel has two other staff members, Fran (from the UK) and Henk-Jan (from the Netherlands). They have six WWOOFers at a time — woofers are just another word for someone working for accommodation, like myself. I met a few other members of the crew and settled into my new living quarters.
As new woofers arrive all the time, there’s a rotating cast. When I got there, I met Femke (Dutch), Anneleis (also Dutch), Sophia (British), Ruby (Aussie/British), and Dana (German). All were on working holiday in one way or another.
That night I also had my first taste of the famed chocolate pudding — for the American homies, by “pudding” they mean a bread pudding with sauce on top. Much better than our Jello stuff.
The next morn, it was time to officially begin my new job. Work for the woofers starts at 10am every day, so we have the early morning to chill. My first day’s assignment was to clean bathrooms, which is straightforward enough.
The hostel was in a unique situation — every February a youth orchestra rents out the entire hostel for a week, so there aren’t many normal hostelgoers besides longtermers. Since the orchestra is gone most of the day, it’s a less social environment, but it also makes for less intensive cleaning.
Around 12:30pm, everyone’s chores are usually finished and we have tea and cookie time. This ritual is very important to the woofer crew — some days Georgie, the hostel owner, even brings muffins.
After that, we have the rest of the day to chill. The hostel’s only a few minutes’ walk from town, so I decided to explore a bit. My first impressions of Nelson: crossing a pleasant green bridge. Appreciating the views of the surrounding hills. Scoping out a few cafes. I found a little grocery store, Halifax Fresh, and talked to the owner a bit — she’s from India, living in Nelson for the last few years.
Once at the hostel (henceforth referred to as “home”), I ate some veggies and sat reading in the hammock for the afternoon.
I spent another night sitting around, being happily bored, meeting people and eating chocolate pudding. Even then, I knew I’d made the right move coming to Tasman Bay.
The next morning, I woke up early to get in some exercise, walking down to one of those outdoor exercise stations and attempting to use an elliptical-like machine. It was immediately dumb and I did some body weight exercises instead. I felt good being active again! And my bum ankle from the Tongariro Crossing was healing quite nicely.
After that, it was back to work! I was on bathroom duty once again, happy to feel useful to the rest of humanity, even if it’s just cleaning a hostel.
After cookie time and lunch, the woofers took a road trip! First stop was Motueka, a little town an hour north of Nelson with an incredible little restaurant called Bloom Cafe. It’s the unofficial favorite of the Tasman Bay woof crew. I got a beetroot latte because BEETS.
After reveling at Bloom and slyly asking about employment opportunities, we drove over to Kaiteriteri Beach, an absolute gem of a place with perfectly turquoise water. We all hopped into the rapids, which carried us out toward the open sea. Possibly dangerous, definitely the most fun I had that day.
Sunbathing on the beach, Dana and I talked about the frustration of being identified by your country rather than by who you are as a person. I can be really guilty of this — even on this blog, I introduce people by their country of origin. It’s a strange line to walk, eh?
We made the drive back home around sunset, just in time for chocolate pudding and more hard chillin before going to bed.
In the morning, Femke taught me how to clean the kitchen and do laundry, and I made myself a smorgasbord of veggie stew and salad for lunch before planning my next laughably, blissfully uneventful afternoon.
I walked into town, spending the afternoon journaling at East St, an all-vegan restaurant/cafe/bar. Even though I only got a chili-spiced latte (v recommended), I knew this was my favorite eatery in Nelson.
Nelson’s also got a cinema with an impressive selection of films. It felt like a movie night, so I walked over to catch a showing of Richard Jewell in the afternoon. The film was pretty good, but even better? I was the only one in the cinema. Private screening, as the usher told me.
The next morning, I woke up early yet again to film my new Instagram series, Park Workouts, which consists of me making a fool of myself trying to stay in shape while traveling. It keeps me somewhat accountable to strength training at least once a week, especially since running is still a no-no for my ankle.
The walk back over the green bridge was gorgeous, and yet again I felt that sense of the ineffable — the joy of waking up to work out, to do a job, to take photos of flowers like a tourist dork. The equation is so simple.
I worked as usual — washing windows, drinking tea, cooking lunch. Seeing as it was February 14, Dana and I agreed to have a Galentine’s date at nearby Tahunanui Beach. We grabbed a couple $8 Domino’s pizzas, some candy bars, and a liter of good ole Scrumpy’s raspberry cider. We arrived after sunset and stayed till after dark, wandering back into town.
The next morning, I went to the Nelson Market with Femke — the market is probably my favorite thing about Nelson, featuring dozens of fruit and vege stands along with food vendors and artisan goods. Femke insisted we visit the Dutch booth to get proper coffee, poffertjes (mini pancakes), and apple pie with whipped cream. Incredible.
We also stopped by the Rainbow Kitchen’s booth to buy takeaway vegan pies — as a bonafide vegan, Femke recommended the scrambled eggs pie. The color was crazy, but eating it for lunch later was a vegan dream.
After work and lunch, the woofer crew voted once again to drive to Motueka and Bloom Cafe. This time Femke and I split a carrot cake — making this the best food day I’d had in a long time.
Femke, Sophia and I drove to the Motueka Sandspit, a nice jaunt along a sandy beach. I still don’t know what a “spit” technically is, and I annoyingly still say “split” instead. Whatever! English.
About an hour in, we met a couple middle-aged women who both live in NZ on eco farms. We had a pretty in-depth conversation about conservation and the image New Zealand has of being a green country, while in reality there’s so much waste going on behind the scenes. Being from the US, I’m pretty impressed by any other country’s efforts in the way of conservation.
Exhausted from the day’s adventures, we came home to Tasman Bay and ate pizza with the rest of the woofer crew. No photos of the pizza, because it was gone in about three seconds.
The next morning, it was my day off! To celebrate, I went to breakfast at a cafe called DeVille’s with Martina, a long term guest at Tasman Bay. Martina’s from the Czech Republic and part of my heritage is Czech, so we joke that we’re cousins. Or sisters. Maybe both? I got a cheese scone and thought the butter on the side was a piece of cheese.
Walking through town on a cloudy day, we passed by graffiti that said “Yeet the Rich,” and I attempted to explain to Martina what yeet means. I didn’t succeed.
We walked to the Nelson Market once more, which is significantly smaller on Sundays than on Saturdays. It was also rainier, so there weren’t too many vendors. I still got a Dutch coffee while we talked to Martina’s old coworkers, Sara and Nikki, who were visiting from Auckland.
We met the rest of the gang in the center of town at Burger Culture, an absolutely slammin’ joint. I got a peanut butter burger with bacon on it and some sort of cheese substance. Hold UP, this seemingly touristy place is truly a gem.
I stopped next door at The Vic, a brew bar serving taps from Mac’s brewing. To be honest I’m not a huge fan of Mac’s beer, but it was a cozy spot where I could catch up on journaling on a cloudy day.
Back at home that night, it was time to celebrate (and mourn) Femke’s last day as a woofer before she departed for the four-day-long Heaphy Track. I picked up sprinkles from the grocery store to adorn the night’s chocolate pudding — a smashing success and (possibly?) a new Tasman Bay tradition in the making.
The next morning was rainy — obviously the earth mourning sweet Femke’s departure — and I felt like doing nothing after making beds for that day’s work. The orchestra was departing that morning, so I was excited for normal hostel guests to come back. I did manage to craft a pumpkin and kale salad for lunch in an effort to offset the copious amount of excellently sugary food I’d consumed over the weekend.
Deciding I’d put on a jacket and mobilize, I walked over to 7010 Cafe for a hot chocolate with coconut milk (so much for my health). I then meandered to Suter Art Gallery, free to the public with both rotating and permanent exhibitions, along with a cafe and garden paths.
The Suter’s collection is small but impressive — I especially loved the art of Cathy Jones, a botanist-turned-acrylic artist who interweaves themes of botany and feminism.
I also walked into a disco ball room and meditated for a few minutes before ordering a kombucha at the cafe and running into Sara and Nikki once again — their flight to Auckland was cancelled due to fog, so they were stuck in Nelson another day and ended up staying at Tasman Bay for the evening.
That night, I reveled in the fact that we had a full hostel of guests again! Despite the chilly evening, I sat outside talking to Sara and Nikki, along with Rebecca (a fiercely funny Aussie), Holly (a wonderful Brit) and Ian, an older Kiwi dude who’d been traveling for decades and had a heap of good wisdom to impart. Mostly centered around not paying a bunch of money for “spiritual retreats” in New Zealand.
The next morning I awoke to heavy rain — no park workout today. It was uncharacteristically rainy for Nelson, and all the guests were lounging around the hostel with nothing to do, increasing the humidity and unrest in the building.
Thankfully, my friend Emma (who I’d hung out with in Coromandel, among other places) was passing through town. We got brunch at Morrison’s, a stellar cafe where Ruby’s boyfriend Jake is a cook. (Should I create a social web diagram at this point?) Anyway, Jake made me a killer plate of Turkish eggs.
After lunch, I bid Emma adieu and met Martina and Anneleis at the Nelson Provincial Museum, a local museum that costs $5 NZ and currently features an exhibit about the moon. I’m not sure what it has to do with New Zealand, but we walked through a tunnel of Magellanic Clouds and took photos by a giant moon recreation. Martina’s a better photographer than I am.
I was still tired from all the gloominess, so I walked to the nearby Kindred Yoga studio to catch a Hatha yoga class. It’s $15 drop-in, not a bad rate for notoriously expensive yoga classes. This session was taught by Jane, an intense Eastern European woman who called me out for bad form but then helped me correct it. The studio looks out to a calm view of the harbour, and they offer eye pillows during shavasana. I decided I’d come back to this place.
It was my turn to serve the night’s chocolate pudding/ice cream, with guests lining up to be on time at 8pm as always. After getting my chocolate fill, I sat down to play a game of Avalon with a big group of guests — Avalon is basically a board game version of Mafia/Werewolf, where there are silent, secret killers and innocent townsfolk. Amid confusion and deceit, it was a lot of fun.
I continued playing a game of gin rummy with Caroline, a fellow American studying in Wellington, and Mikey and Nans — a Quebecois and French duo who’d been traveling together since meeting in Auckland. We all determined (loosely) that Mikey looked like Shia LaBeouf with a hat and Nans looked like Andrew Garfield with a mustache. I made them take photos with their celeb doppelgangers, then I made everyone watch Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf.
The next day after work, I planned to leave for a road trip to Takaka, a town in Golden Bay, to take advantage of my day off. Before heading out, a big group of us went to East St for a proper vegan lunch (yay!). I met Lou, the newest woofer, an intimidatingly cool human being who accompanied us to East St and showed her self-drawn henna tattoos. I took an absolutely stellar photo of my patty stack with Lou & Sophia looking pouty in the background.
Halfway through my three-week stay in Nelson, I was ready for a mini-vacation in Golden Bay, a hippie haven a couple hours north of Nelson.
After primarily staying in small towns all across the North Island, I was ready for a change of pace in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital and second-biggest city after Auckland. In short: it has a reputation for cool shit, and I was here for it.
The drive from Napier to Wellington was about 4 hours, in which I managed to get sunburnt despite sitting in a vehicle. I did make a quick pit stop at Manawatu Gorge, which has short and long(ish) walking routes.
Driving into Wellington I could feel the “big city” energy (even if it’s a comparatively small city with half a million people on a good day). I pulled up to The Dwellington, a more upscale hostel which offers private rooms and dorms. Slightly pricier but totally worth it, the hostel’s about a 25-minute walk from the city centre, away from the hustle and bustle in a charming neighborhood called Thorndon.
Some upsides of The Dwellington: beautiful facilities, a solid community, and full breakfast included. Freshly made-to-order omelettes on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Is this love?
I checked in, set down my bags and set off walking into the city. I wanted to exercise my bum ankle, and I had a mad hankering for a piece of pizza. The walk into town was pleasant with perfect early-evening sunlight.
At a large cross-section in the CBD sits Tommy Millions, a pizza joint with $6 pepperoni slice. All things considered, it settled my craving as I sat on a bench and journaled.
It happened to be Waitangi Day, an NZ holiday commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (New Zealand’s founding document). Many businesses were closed, but a lot of people still milled about.
And then out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone standing and staring at me — Tobi! My German friend I’d reunited with in Rotorua and Napier. After he assured me he wasn’t, in fact, stalking me, we agreed to explore the famed Cuba Street together in search of an excellent beer.
But first, coffee: we discovered Midnight Espresso, one of my favorite joints in all of Wellington. It’s a rare NZ cafe that stays open late — like, past midnight, hence the name. A barista standing outside told us it was the second-cheapest coffee in Wellington at $3.50 for an Americano and $4 for a flat white. Along with the kitschy interior, I was absolutely sold.
With a little caffeine pick-me-up, Tobi and I walked to Golding’s Free Dive, an unassuming back-alley bar that ended up being my beautiful introduction to Wellington’s craft beer culture. I ordered something called the Garage Project Cereal Milk Stout and fell in love. Absolutely in love.
I expressed my passion for this beer to Tobi, and as someone who prefers a simple lager he sort of played along. He couldn’t deny the appeal of the bar’s cozy interior and excellent back patio.
We ordered another round, where I opted for another Garage Project brew: a 180 degree turn to Shinrin Yoku, a cherry blossom/green tea sour that nearly made me weep with joy. I imagined my life in Wellington: get a job at Garage Project despite knowing nothing about breweries. Come to Golding’s every day. Never doubt for a second that I’ve done The Right Thing.
Figuring we should head to another bar before I just camped at Golding’s overnight, we walked to Little Beer Quarter in search of more Garage Project brews. LBQ has a side room outfitted with antique chairs and patchy rugs, reminding you of any good auntie’s living room. I saddled up and ordered a pint of Garage Project’s Party & Bullshit, an East Coast IPA filled with deliciousness. Another Garage win.
From there, we continued to hop (heh, heh): this time to The Rogue and Vagabond, a music venue that happened to be celebrating its birthday! We ordered more beer — I found another Garage Project hit called 4 to the Floor, a solid West Coast IPA. After spending so long pretending to like the craft beer in NZ, you can understand how relieved I felt in Wellington.
Finally sorta tired after our beer extravaganza, Tobi and I soaked up the alcohol with a kebab from Camel Grill, one of the only open kebab places we could find at midnight. Early NZ closing times strike again!
Back at the Dwellington, I sat at the kitchen table eating my kebab and admiring the rose centerpiece. Then I was happily off to bed.
The next morning I found myself at the kitchen table once again, eating hostel-provided breakfast of egg and toast with jam and honey. Coffee with almond milk, as always. The morning light was perfect. I paged through The Cuba Street Project, an informative picture book about the history of ole Cuba Street. Worth a look if you find a copy!
I met Jenn, an American from Virginia, and a German woman named Andrea. We all wanted to walk into town, along the bustling waterfront with its pop-up market.
We visited the Te Papa Museum, a giant free museum with lots of Māori and natural history exhibits. We only walked through a few exhibits, including one with an earthquake simulator. I haven’t experienced an earthquake firsthand yet, so it was an eye-opening experience.
They also had the world’s largest preserved giant squid, and a sea spider specimen. I’m sold.
After touring Te Papa, Jenn and I walked down to Cuba Street, grabbing a deliciously cheap lunch at Aunty Mena’s, which specializes in vegetarian Vietnamese and Chinese dishes. I got a dumpling soup, which I believe was $11 NZ for five dumplings and a heap of vegetables.
We continued on to grab flat whites at Fidel’s, a cherished Cuba Street institution inspired by the revolutionary himself. They serve great coffee and manage to avoid having the stereotypical “college dude” vibes that a Fidel Castro-themed cafe might have.
Jenn had just been to Colombia before heading to NZ, and she was off to visit the Philippines with a friend at the end of the week. We talked about different lengths of travel — she’d once met a woman who took half the year off to travel and worked the other half. Let’s just say it gave me some interesting ideas for my own future.
Jenn’s also a craft beer lover, and I told her about the Garage Project. In my excitement, I’d discovered that Garage Project has a cellar door with free tastings, along with a killer taproom. All of this is located mere blocks away from Cuba Street. Thankfully, Jenn was down for any and all of these shenanigans, ready to get our afternoon buzz on.
We went to the cellar door first, where we tried all 8 beers currently brewing, equating to about one full beer (all free of charge). My personal favorite was the Electric Dry Hop Acid Test, a hoppy sour that hit all the spots. Jenn and I were both big fans of Fresh, the monthly hazy IPA.
To my delight, our wonderful bartender also pulled out a bottle of Shinrin Yoku he was offering for another group’s tasting. He let us try a sample, too. Life is grand. We walked across Aro Street to the Garage Project Taproom, a separate building with a proper bar and 18 different beers on tap. Bartender #2 convinced me to get an IPA called Pernicious Weed, strong and grapefruity and absolutely perfect.
Exhausted from our adventures in dumplings, coffee and beer, we walked across town in search of dinner. We found Thorndon Chippery, a fish ‘n’ chips place right by the Dwellington with prices on the cheaper side. I opted for baked fish with a lemony squeeze — and some mean chips.
Back at the Dwellington, we both collapsed into bed and wordlessly agreed to fall asleep embarrassingly early.
The next morning, I awoke to find a French man in the hostel kitchen, offering to make omelettes that looked like a Michelangelo painting. I chose tomatoes, spinach, feta and a little sprig of basil. Like wow.
Jenn and I sat around the hostel for the morning, reveling in omelette glory and general sluggishness. We agreed to make reservations for high tea at Martha’s Pantry, a well-known bakery and popular spot for high tea.
I thought I knew what high tea was, or at least what it meant in its British origin, but I’m still not so sure. Regardless, at Martha’s it meant an afternoon meal served with unlimited tea and three tiers of food — literally, food on tiers. We dressed up (sort of) for the occasion, seated by some little girls who were having a birthday party.
I chose a masala chai, and the server brought out our tiers of food, explaining the bountiful array of savories and sweets we’d been presented. Here’s what I can remember about the day’s menu.
Bottom tier, with a savory focus: crustless egg salad sandwiches, vegan slider with incredible yet mysterious purple fluff, caprese skewer, cheesy tiny meat pie, and small but mighty salmon pancake with cream cheese
Middle tier: perfect scones with whipped cream and raspberry and passionfruit jams
Top tier: blueberry macaron (a godsend), mini choco cupcake, mango purée with strawberry and mint garnish
Everything was perfect. I still don’t know what high tea is supposed to be, but I can see a group of girlfriends grabbing a table at Martha’s on a Sunday afternoon as a sort of social club. Just remember to make reservations! $35 NZ per person.
Afterward, we took full advantage of “casual Saturday afternoon window shopping” time. Cuba Street’s full of goodies, with many shops featuring sustainable and locally sourced goods. At a place called Good Housekeeping, I picked up a bar of coconut soap for $3. A steal!
We drove over to the Underground Market, a collection of artisan booths and food vendors on the waterfront, only open on Saturdays. We picked up dumplings (well, I bought a pork bun) at a little stand.
I also met Ollie and Kata, two wonderful humans who run a zine called Sisterhood and had a booth at the market. I told them I was headed to the South Island in a couple days, and I arranged to meet with Ollie the next day to scheme on helping distribute zines across NZ while I’m traveling. Sisterhood focuses on intersectional feminism and gender identity, among many other topics, and I was keen to help in any way I could.
Out from underground, Jenn and I wandered into the Wellington Museum, focused on the city’s history. Totally free and pretty rad! We only explored a level or two, but I was impressed with the short documentary film about the Waihene disaster in which a ship sank in 1968 and caused many deaths.
We finally got back to the hostel after another hard day’s work of being tourists. Although I’d consumed more than my fair share of beer in Wellington already, we agreed to change (the weather had turned cold and rainy) and head back to Cuba Street for a few more craft good-goods.
We caught an Uber to Hey Day, a cute brewery at the end of Cuba. After sampling a few beers, Jenn and I both settled on the Berry Ice Cream NEIPA, one of the most enjoyable IPAs I’ve ever tasted. Though Garage Project still reigns supreme for overall quality, this IPA is truly a taste bud trip.
I swear Jenn and I had great conversation at Hey Day, but I can only honestly remember this IPA. It’s that good. We continued down the street to Laundry, an establishment that transforms from a daytime cafe to a dinner restaurant to a late-night dance bar. What a dream!
I ordered a beer from Funk Estate, a sour called the Jungle Boogie. Solid, but not nearly as impressive as the other beer I’ve tried in Wellington. It’s tough competition, though.
As the dancing intensified, Jenn and I decided to move on to one last bar for the night, meandering down the street to Black Dog Brewery. After climbing a quick flight of stairs with lots of Sharpie wall quotes, we entered Black Dog’s cozy taproom, full of hip people deeply invested in beer-fueled conversation. I opted for the Grapehound IPA, ever the safe bet. Deliciousness.
And yet again, Molly’s found herself happily inebriated thanks to the undeniably lovely Wellington craft beer scene. We grabbed kebabs from the first place we could find and booked an Uber home, once again falling into bed with the exhaustion of a day well-spent.
The next morning I took a nice, long shower and a Dwellington mirror selfie, knowing I’d miss this place. I still had another night in Wellington, but this hostel was all booked out so I’d be moving to a Base hostel downtown. More on that later.
I walked to the Wellington Botanic Garden, a somewhat quick jaunt from Thorndon. Though I hate to say it, the gardens are nothing spectacular, but they’re pleasant enough to stroll through. Many people ride the famous cable car to the top of the gardens, but I figured I could use the exercise on foot.
I also used this as an opportunity to take more photos on my Fujifilm, as I really love photographing flowers — this trip, I’ve just found that I use my “proper” camera less, and 99% of the time I capture sites with my iPhone. It lessens the pressure to take gorgeous photos all the time, and I mostly feel like my phone camera captures the moment in a more authentic way, at least for my life right now. In any case: I did use the cool camera for flower pics.
I walked back down Tinakori Road (a lovely stroll), stopping at Goods Cafe & Manufactory for a coffee sit. It was one of the first proper filter coffees I’d had in ages, served in a mug American-style. I felt known.
Soon after, I checked into my hostel at Base Wellington — to be honest it’s a pretty crappy hostel, but the view of downtown Wellington from six floors up is a big plus.
I met my new friend Ollie (from Sisterhood Mag) to discuss distributing the zine across the South Island. We stopped at Kikki K, an adorable stationary shop, to get fancy notebooks and pens, and then we grabbed some mango eggplant in a hotel restaurant in which Ollie used to work. We talked business, but I also got to know some of Ollie’s life and how they ended up in Wellington after starting Sisterhood.
We picked up some Garage Project beer at the grocery store (I KNOW, I’m obsessed) and ordered pizza back at Ollie’s apartment from a place called Hell Pizza. It’s made with all free-range ingredients — Ollie even ordered fried Camembert on the side. Once more, life is grand. We watched YouTube videos and talked business, but mostly Youtube. I agreed to plant copies of Sisterhood around cafes on my route, excited to see Ollie’s efforts flourish.
To learn more about Sisterhood, head to sisterhoodnz.com and explore their mission, current issues and subscription options. It’s only $89.95 NZ (about $60 USD) for a 12-month subscription to excellent content. The best part: Ollie ships internationally!
Seeing as I had to wake up for a ferry ride to the South Island the next morning, I bid Ollie farewell and drove back to Base, where I tried to fall asleep despite impossibly loud party noises. Youth hostels, amiright?
All in all, Wellington was a wicked stop on my NZ journey. As a city with great beer and even better people, it was a wonderful bookend to my North Island adventures.
Now, onto a couple months spent in New Zealand’s South Island. So many more posts to come.
Napier, New Zealand considers itself the Art Deco capital of the world — for good reason. As I write this post, I’m listening to Lana Del Rey’s “Art Deco” on repeat just to amp up the Gatsby vibes a bit.
My friend Charlotte recommended I spend a few restful days in Napier, a little town tucked away in Hawke’s Bay on the North Island’s east coast. It doesn’t always make it onto tourist must-do lists, but it’s an impressive region all its own. I booked two nights at the Hillhaven B&B and made the two-hour drive from Taupo. I picked up some gummies as a snack for the ride over.
Hillhaven B&B is owned by a retired German couple, Charlotte and Kurt, who’ve been permanent residents of New Zealand for over 35 years. They turned their house into a bed and breakfast awhile back, offering housing for three people while living there themselves.
The house is nestled in the hills just outside of the city centre — normally something I would rejoice in, but my busted ankle hurt just looking at the stairs to the front door. Luckily, my sprain had improved significantly and I was able to hobble myself up and meet Kurt for check-in.
Hillhaven is absolutely surrounded by foliage, to the point where it feels hidden even in a bustling neighborhood. It fondly reminded me of a different Airbnb in Medellín, Colombia I once stayed in nicknamed “Salsipuedes” — translated as “leave if you can.” Once I stepped inside Charlotte and Kurt’s cozy home, I wondered if I should book a few more nights.
Kurt suggested I go to Ahuriri, a neighborhood northwest of town with a lovely beach and bike paths. I parked outside of an antique store called Whales Tales, whose offerings were way too expensive for a backpacker budget ($100 for a teacup). However, their mirrors were absolute fire, and I took the opportunity to take more ankle pics in hopes of garnering sympathy from my Instagram followers.
After convincing the store owner that I neither had the budget nor room in my backpack for a giant mirror, I hobbled to Milk & Honey, a little cafe with a mean flat white. Then I gave in and got ice cream from a Tip Top seller across the street, Cool Cat. Cookies & cream, how I’ve missed you!
The Ahuriri beach looked beautiful as the sunset drew near. I wasn’t in the physical state to swim or to bike, and my ice cream was blowing all over from the surprisingly strong winds along the shore. So I just settled for people watching.
For dinner I found Sri Thai just around the corner, which serves up a delicious bowl of green curry for about $20 NZ.
Back at Hillhaven, I sat on the porch and talked to Charlotte and Kurt as they cooked dinner. They told me how they’d traveled the world for a few years in their late twenties, backpacking through Asia, working in Australia, going back home to Europe, and eventually coming to make a permanent home in New Zealand. They’d even biked the whole country in the 1980s — an impressive feat.
Kurt’s somewhat of a wine aficionado, explaining to me the wonders of Sauvignon Blanc and white wine in general. He brought out a bottle of Villa Maria, a New Zealand wine, along with another brand, and had me taste them both. I felt like my palette (and general wine knowledge) was slowly but steadily increasing.
Napier is known as a great wine region of New Zealand, and Kurt promised to pick up a couple bottles of Merlot for a wine tasting the next night. I couldn’t say no to new knowledge.
The next morning, Charlotte prepared breakfast for me and Johanne, another Hillhaven guest from Germany whose working holiday visa in New Zealand is about to run out. We had the typical spread of coffee, toast, jams, muesli, yogurt and fruit.
Then it was time for Charlotte and I to depart for a dancing ceremony at the Buddhist Centre, which Charlotte attends every Wednesday morning at 10am. We drove into town and met Bhavna, who was leading the day’s Tara dance.
Tara Dhatu is an international org formed in the 80s which celebrates the Buddhist mother goddess Tara. The dances, primarily performed in a circle and focused on women/feminine energy, vary in length and focus. Thankfully, the foot movements weren’t complex and my ankle was a-okay for a couple hours of meditation, connection and celebration.
We all grabbed a “cuppa” after the Tara dances, around the corner at a unnamed but excellent coffee shop. Bhavna gave me a Tara flyer in case I wanted to find another Tara dance ceremony along my journey.
For lunch, I met my friend Tobias (once again!) at Mister D, a wonderful cafe that apparently serves giant donuts with syringes of different sorts of filling. I’m not really into that, so I just got the fish of the day — roasted tarahiki (a common NZ fish) with kumara mash and broccoli. Heaven on a plate, worth the $34 NZ price tag.
After lunch, Tobi and I walked over to the Napier Museum, a small (but totally free) collection of Māori history and stories of the Napier earthquake of 1931, which wiped out much of the city but caused an architectural resurgence in its wake. They also had a little exhibit on F. Scott Fitzgerald and fashion in the Roaring 20s.
Tobi and I walked across the street to i-Site, the tourist info center available in nearly every larger town here. I purchased a $10 self-guided Art Deco walking tour pamphlet (the official guided tours are more than $40 NZ, which I don’t personally find worthwhile).
I said goodbye to Tobi as he was headed toward Wellington that day, and I departed for my self-guided tour. The Napier city centre is truly a gem, filled with countless Art Deco buildings and public artwork. I started near the water, taking a few photos of the beautiful — albeit windy — coastline.
I followed along the brochure’s guidelines for about an hour, starting with the Marine Parade (lots of yellow arches surrounding a public gathering place) and continued on to The Dome, an iconic building in the Napier “skyline,” if you will.
I passed the Masonic Hotel (another icon) and walked along Emerson Street, passing countless gorgeous examples of Art Deco architecture. Unsurprisingly, I saw more than several people driving around in classic Art Deco-era cars (for lack of a better word). I’d say the city is a haven for Art Deco fans.
I found myself especially drawn to the Provincial Hotel, which is now a whiskey bar, across from a pleasant park called Clive Square.
Turning onto Tennyson Street, I saw a small orange caravan called Donut Robot, which serves five fresh cinnamon sugar donuts for $5. The best deal I’ve seen in this expensive country — it may not be ice cream, but how could I turn it down? The owner and I talked about the absurd state of American politics while the donuts fried.