With my first Trimester at the University of Wellington completed… I was itching to get out and explore as soon as possible. This blog entry not only documents my journey across the North Island of New Zealand as I travelled from Wellington up to Auckland, but I hope it will also allow me to return to it for the lessons I can carry into the future.

Hawkes Bay

My first stop was Hawkes Bay on the east coast and it was my first foray into wider New Zealand. It wasn’t until this point that I realised how accustomed I had come to living in Wellington as departing the small city sparked a flurry of unexpected nerves. Having already travelled across the world, I berated myself for it and how it shouldn’t have been as stressful as I was making it. However, it really goes to show how easy it can be to adapt to life abroad and the nerves were a completely normal reaction to a solo venture into a broadly unfamiliar landscape.

Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, I chose instead to focus on the sheer thrill and excitement of the opportunity I had ay my feet. It would not be wasted. My first stop was a Workaway placement in North Havelock and I nevertheless spent the six hour bus journey nervously playing out scenarios in my head. Similar to ‘WWOOF’, ‘Workaway’ is an online platform that is particularly popular in New Zealand that allows members to stay in local homes and work in exchange for bed and board. This is an absolute boon to travellers such as me who would otherwise have not been able to afford to stay in hostels everywhere I went and it allowed me to see much more of New Zealand that I might have missed out on. That being said, it was to be an experience divorced of anything I was familiar with. What would my hosts be like? What jobs would I be expected to do? What if I couldn’t do them? What if I did a bad job? It was, of course, a lesson in overthinking and worrying, as the experience was an incredible one and gave me the confidence to keep going. However, even with many more Workaway placements under my belt, it never truly detracts from the peculiar and alien feeling of walking into a stranger’s home.

Te Mata Peak

When I wheeled by luggage over the threshold, I felt as if I was walking into someone else’s life – their daily routine, their dining room set up, their school plans. Cheerfully given my own room downstairs, I quickly found myself sitting overwhelmed on the side of the bed, unable to escape the sense that I wasn’t meant to be there. It took a good half an hour before I mustered the energy to tentatively slide into the common area and into an old routine that was so new and unfamiliar to me. Of course, it didn’t take long before I found my bearings. Within just a couple of days, the family entrusted me to watch over the house and their adorable border terrier, Blue, on my own for a few days. Not only was a struck by the trust I was being given, but this also meant that I soon found my feet with the chores and surrounding area. The days picked up speed with each passing by faster than the last and I was lucky enough to be treated to a hiking trip up Te Mata Peak and an evening excursion to Ocean Beach completed by a surprise ice cream stop on the way home (Tip Top’s “Goody Goody Gumdrop” is a must-try New Zealand treat!)


Huka Falls

My next stop was a hostel a few hours away from Hastings in the beautiful Taupō. Or at least I am told it is beautiful as it was difficult to see it through the rain… I am joking, of course, as even through the near-constant showers, Taupo was a treat to the eye. The lake was the main attraction, but I particularly enjoyed the nearby Huka Falls on the the Waikato River and the roar of water before a luscious green forest. According to ‘New Zealand Travel’, more than 220,000 litres of water per sec barrel over the 11meter high waterfall and it is certainly a sight to behold.

Craters of the Moon

Taupō was also the spot I stayed in my very first hostel and it initially painted perhaps a too nice picture of them. Although the air in the cramped room was warm and viscous with the smell of shoes and body odour, I was pleased to find I had a curtained pod to myself. With a lamp and a charging port to myself, I was contented enough for my three nights’ stay and things only got better when I found a friend in one of my roommates. I have never been particularly good at forming new connections, so I was excited to be invited with her to the nearby Craters of the Moon. The thermal walkway felt like entering another world where smoke billowed out of the ground and the rainy weather only enhanced the sense of mystery and supernatural intrigue of the place.

Waikato River

One of the few things I do almost regret about the summer was my unwillingness to rent a car. Unreliable in many places and non-existent in others, New Zealand is a country made with cars in mind and therefore its public transport is not very good especially when compared to the UK. As a result, destinations like Craters of the Moon would have been an impossibility to me if I hadn’t found someone willing to take me along in their car and I can only imagine the other sights and experiences that passed me by because of this. If you are thinking of travelling to New Zealand and are able to rent a car, I would highly advice you to do so as I certainly will do if I ever return. The roads are far less congested than they are in England and they conveniently also drive on the left side.


Rotorua was perhaps one of my most anticipated destination in New Zealand if only because of my long awaited trip to Hobbiton – a trip I had pre-booked months in advance and that I had been looking forward to since deciding to go to New Zealand in my first year at the University of Southampton. A scheduling conflict meant that I was to stay in Rotorua for two weeks instead of one with two Workaway hosts from the same family. However, as usual, I was blown away by the wealth of experiences open to me and was never short of things to do. My first Workaway placement was with a older Kiwi couple who were renting their spare room out to a visiting German couple and their one-year-old daughter. It is one of my favourite Workaways to date. Once again, I slotted right into the family dynamics helping in the garden and washing the windows, eating dinners on the couch and joining them on trips to the city centre. I was treated to a ride on a motorbike, a trip to the lake, and enjoyed exploring the Sulphur Hot pools and Gardens. And, oh yes, I didn’t mention the smell…

Rotorua Hot Pools

Rotorua has the pleasure of smelling of rotten eggs. Whilst the smell varied in intensity depending on where you were and what the weather was like, the smell would follow you. All this is thanks to the hydrogen sulphide emitted from the local geothermal activity and it was something no one had warned me about before I arrived. I must have read about it in passing when doing my research but I certainly didn’t appreciate the extent of it until I arrived and it certainly didn’t help my ensuing sickness in my second week…

Sulphur Point

My second week in Rotorua was spent across the other side of the city with another Workaway host – the mother of my previous host. Staying with a delightful older lady with whom I was already familiar, it was all set to be the perfect placement. However, it was here that I came down with a terrible cold that left me dizzy and nauseous for days. The guilt that arose from this was just as terrible as I was initially unable to work in exchange for my bed and food. Moreover, and likely as a result of feeling under the weather, it was also here that I first began to truly experience the homesickness that had been eluding me thus far. That will be a blog post on its own, but I would like to emphasise the importance of active communication with important people in your life. Modern technology is a blessing in situations like this as it allowed me to have an honest face-to-face conversation with my family across the globe and was instrumental in improving my mental health whilst I wasn’t feeling great.

Rotorua Skyline

Nevertheless, the illness didn’t last more than three or four days and I was soon able to return to work and exploration. Further highlights in Rotorua included the Redwood Tree forest and the Skyline Gondola and luge. However, the true star of the show was my trip to Hobbiton. The Middle Earth set was an immersive delight! The people around me were just as excited as me, the guide was knowledgeable and amiable, and the lunch was absolutely delicious. The day was well worth the hype and one I won’t be forgetting any time soon!



View at the top of Auckland Sky Tower

My final stop on the North Island before I flew down to Christchurch was the largest city in New Zealand and the one no seemed to have positive opinions of… From what I gleaned from the local people I spoke to on my way north, Auckland is not a well liked city, renowned for being noisy and crowded and unfriendly. Despite this, I was still enthusiastic about seeing it and the first thing that struck me when my bus pulled into the station was how much of a true city it felt. Of course, I had been in New Zealand “cities” before Auckland as, alongside Wellington, Upper Hutt, Hastings, and Rotorua are classified as cities. However, none of them really felt like cities as I understood them, coming across more so as large towns and this can once again be attributed to New Zealand’s comparatively small population and the more casual atmospheres these places conveyed. This was not the case for Auckland. With its towering high-rises, its busy overlapping roads and bridges, and its fast-paced population, I quickly understood how this would be a jarring contrast for people living elsewhere in the more laid-back country. I, however, didn’t mind it and was eager to see some of the popular tourist sights.

Wētā Workshop

The hostel in Auckland was probably one of the worst I have stayed at, but this wasn’t a surprise and nor was it so bad that it impacted by visit. The main issue was the grubbiness that I haven’t seen to the same extent elsewhere on my trip with both the bathrooms and kitchen unavoidably dirty and overused. However, I avoided falling ill and there was no horrible odour so I was contented enough to look past it and instead turned my attention to the famous Auckland Sky Tower and the Wētā Workshop, a company specialised in creating props and special effects for television and film (including Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Labyrinth, and Stranger Things among many others). My final day here also gave me the opportunity to catch the ferry across to Devonport and explore Maungauika/North Head Historic Reserve which long had strategic importance during the Russian Scares from 1870 and during the World Wars even if it never saw battle.

Devonport, Auckland

And with that, my summer explorations on North Island came to an end and I was soon on a plane for Christchurch where I was to spend Christmas with my cousin and her family. Despite the warm weather, my festive spirits were raising around the trees and tinsel decorations coming up around me and I was looking forward to setting foot on South Island for the first time.

My Study Abroad Year: The Kiwi Summer Adventure (The North Island)

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