TRAVEL THURSDAY: Five More Things I Learnt on that Chicken Trip

Whangarei Falls

Welcome back to Travel Thursday! Last week, AJ shared a few things he learnt on his recent trip to Whangarei. Apparently, that chicken trip was so educational, he has five more things to share with you! Buckle up, it’s about to get saucy (probably…).

6) It’s okay to feel uneasy in a new town

My first opinions on Whangarei were not the best. There was a shooting in Tikipunga earlier in the winter, just around the corner from the hostel I was staying at, and it had me on a White Cliffs of Dover edge. My first walk through the city was a cake of anxiety with paranoia icing, and I noticed every small detail. The neighbourhood was full of shops with signs reading, “We do not have money in our tills after locking. We don’t sell cigarettes here” (alluding to the mass spate of robberies New Zealand experienced). While run down Honda Civics and dodgy modified Skylines were aplenty, I noticed a lot of very expensive cars hidden almost completely out of view.

There was a lot of unfriendliness from the shopkeepers in town. Everywhere else, I find it easy to have a smile and a laugh and standard small talk with almost every English-speaking retailer. In Whangarei, it felt more hostile. Only one gift shop owner returned my friendly smile. The backpackers I stayed with experienced the same hostility, although noted that the woman at the Clock Museum was incredible.

7) The pain of loss is a powerful message

New Zealand is in the midst of an election, and as always the big issues are on display nationwide. This was definitely the case in Whanagei, which hosted the first series of events run by the Yes We Care group – an event I wasn’t aware of until I stumbled upon a man with a camera on a ladder. There were 606 shoes, all laid out along the Canopy Bridge: lots of gumboots, some flip flops, a couple of newborn booties, all sorts. Confused, I asked someone who looked like they’d organized it.

She told me how many shoes were there, and that each pair represented how many New Zealanders took their life in 2016 alone. It was a movement to bring attention to the alarming suicide rate in the country – one of the worst in the world – and a big issue in this year’s election. It was a sobering and deeply upsetting experience: especially when I recognized a pair of taped up football boots belonging to a friend of mine.

Barry Neal
Barry Neal in Blenheim, looking over a pair of football boots which used to belong to my friend Matt
8) Nothing fixes bad weather better than good company

Whangarei had dreary weather the two days I visited. I scrapped my Chicken plans because of rain, I had to cancel my hike up a volcano because I didn’t come properly prepared, and I looked at thousands of clocks just to get out of the Hydro Pump from the sky.

Whangarei Falls
A rare break in the rain allowed me to capture this photo of the falls

While the hostel I was staying in provided WiFi, I didn’t realize it was limited, so I used it all watching the latest Dragonball Super episode. So while outside was torture, I was forced to socialize. It was a fantastic decision.

The first night, I befriended a Canadian girl and an Icelandic bloke. We chilled in a “hot” tub, and then went to watch some movies in the TV room. While we were there, talking life, cracking jokes and the usual, we heard the door open and then shut. Okay, that’s a bit weird, but we thought nothing of it… Until we tried to leave and realized that the owner had locked up in by mistake.

A successful breaking out led to the owner giving the Canadian the keys the next night. Me, her, a cute German girl and a well-travelled Spaniard with butchered English played a drinking game until very early Tuesday morning. The German joined me on the bus back to Auckland the next day, leading to a very memorable trip.

9) Fancy hotels aren’t for me

As I was travelling on my birthday, I figured I’d splash out on myself for a change. So my second night in Auckland – and last night away – I decided that instead of staying in a hostel like I normally would, I would treat myself to a 5-star hotel room close to the CBD, to see how I’d enjoy it.

To put it simply, I didn’t like it much. I felt like a fish out of water thrown in the frying pan. Dressed in my plaid shirt and grubby jeans with my big heavy travel bag, I was out of place. The hotel clerk might as well have been a robot for all the emotion and friendliness he showed me. He made sure to mention to me – FOUR times! – that there’s a pretty hefty fine if anything gets damaged. The people there all looked down their noses at me. They were diplomatic with how they spoke (if they weren’t in a mad rush, of course). I respect those that enjoy that environment, but it certainly wasn’t my thing.

10) Bartenders are really cool people

On my birthday’s Eve, I went on a small bar crawl in downtown Auckland. Starting at Dr Rudi’s Rooftop Brewing Co., which overlooks the Viaduct Harbour, I settled on a cocktail called Call the Doctor: a bittersweet blend of Makers Mark bourbon, grenadine, lemon, mint and Kombucha (fermented tea).

Call the Doctor cocktail
The first of many. Dr Rudi’s Call the Doctor cocktail, the perfect opener for my pub crawl

From there, I moved down the Harbour onto The Fox Sporting Bar and Restaurant, where I enjoyed the classic Cuba Libre, and football highlights from the night before. A half an hour walk around the city brought me to the Cornerbar, and a gorgeously strong Blood and Sand drink. I was getting tipsy, so decided I’d go to one more bar and call it a night.

I walked into a prohibition-styled bar called the Gin Room, and grabbed myself another cocktail. Halfway through my drink, the bartender came up to me. “Hey, I’m just doing some admin stuff, but you’re welcome to come sit with us at the bar and have a chat.” There, I bonded with the Scottish and Australian bartenders, and a Russian customer. They discovered that it was my birthday in a couple of minutes, so the Australian gave the four of us a round of Beefeater shots on the house.

After two more cocktails (the name and contents of which I cannot remember, though one had a bland of mandarin and beetroot foam) and another birthday shot at midnight, I decided that finally – an hour and a half of chat later – it was time to adjourn back to my fancy hotel. I don’t know how I managed to stumble my way up Queen Street safely, but for a moment I felt like the fanciest drunk in the world.