The Wheels on the [Big Green] Bus Go Round and Round


I write this from the patio of an adorable AirBnb in Kaiteriteri on the South Island, with birds chirping in the surrounding trees and the faint crash of waves bringing in the evening tide in the distance. Mary and I have been keeping a mental list of good decisions we’ve made on this trip, and booking an AirBnb a week into our bus tour has jumped quickly to the #1 spot. Having both stayed in our share of hostels throughout our lives, we had the foresight to guess we might be a little tired of bunking with four to eight other people each night—many of whom are in the beautifully hangover-free age range of 18-21 years old, and so have no aversion to staying out until all hours every night.

In addition to every manner of sleep interruption you can imagine, we have also been following a pretty non-stop itinerary, which means we’ve spent hours and hours on the bus with said youthful travelers. Under normal circumstances I would consider myself a fairly youthful and spry 25-year-old, but this past week has honestly made me feel like a senior citizen, or maybe more accurately, a chaperone on a high school field trip.

Elderly feelings aside, the Kiwi Experience bus has been a great way to travel across the country. The stops are already planned for you, so you don’t have to worry about missing any highlights, and the best part is that someone else is driving, so you can take in the scenery or catch up on sleep you missed in the hostel. The drivers are all quite quirky, with their own assortment of dad jokes with a noticeable tinge of the distinct kiwi humor. If you’ve ever watched Flight of the Conchords, you’ll know what I mean.

Our itinerary so far has been as follows:

Auckland>Hot Water Beach

Hot Water Beach>Waitomo



Taupo>River Valley

River Valley>Wellington


Got it? Yeah, me neither, so here’s a map:

Got it now? Yeah, me neither, I’ve basically just hopped on the big green bus every day and trusted it will take me somewhere cool. And every day it has.

And now, to answer the question you’ve been asking: “Carly, what the heck are you even doing there?”

Here are a few highlights:

I kayaked Cathedral Cove

The Hot Water Beach stop was the first night of the trip and honestly one of the highlights for me so far. Mostly because this stop included Cathedral Cove, better known as the entrance back into Narnia in the second movie, Prince Caspian.

I remember looking up the filming location of that movie and finding out that Cathedral Cove was actually a real place. That was probably about ten years ago, and it was the first time that I thought to myself, “I’m going to New Zealand someday.” And now…I’m here! Life is funny.

I turned 25

I celebrated my quarter-life crisis in Waitomo, 65 meters underground with some wacky limestone creations and glowworms. Now, I had never been caving before, but it was pretty much just as I imagined it. Entering the cave felt a lot like entering the Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland. Pretty much the whole thing felt like a movie set or a theme park ride. The unreal quality is certainly amplified by the gnat larvae attached to the cave walls and ceilings that excrete glowing waste (hence the name, glowworms.)

Headlamp and grocery store wine got me feeling pretty festive in the hostel.

Headlamp and grocery store wine got me feeling pretty festive in the hostel.

I saw The Shire

Yes, the Shire. There’s really not much to say here, because the pictures say all you need to know. Look, I’m not even a Lord of the Rings fan. I’ll willingly admit that I’ve only seen one and half of the movies, fallen asleep to both of them, and never read any of the books. I still had a grand ole time skipping around Hobbiton; so I’m here to tell you if you ever get the chance, go. Also if Peter Jackson ever comes knocking on the door of your sheep farm asking to use your land to film a movie, say yes.

I witnessed the Haka

In Rotorua we had the chance to visit a traditional Maori village called Tamaki. The evening started with a welcoming ceremony that was just as terrifying as it was awe-inspiring. Then we visited the different houses of learning that would have been found in any ancient Maori village, each representing a different aspect of the Maori culture. Following that, we watched a performance that included the Haka, which is the traditional Maori war dance that includes a lot of eyeball-popping, tongue-wagging, and spear-wielding. Let’s just say I really wouldn’t have wanted to run into these dudes in ancient New Zealand.

I ate a geothermally boiled egg

There’s not much to this story really, I just wanted you to know I ate an egg that was cooked in the ground and it was really good. This was part of the guided tour at Te Puia, a geothermal hotspot and Maori sacred land.

I survived the Tongariro Crossing

There actually is a lot to this story, so I’ll save it for a full blog post. In the meantime, here are a couple of teaser photos. 

I avoided an orgy pit

I wish there was less to this story, but it’s a bit of a long one. River Valley is a whitewater rafting lodge located in what Kiwis call the Wop Wops, or as we would say in America, the boonies. It’s truly in the middle of nowhere, nestled in the heart of the green and mountainous farmland between Lake Taupo and Wellington.

As we twisted and winded our way through the mountains, our driver came over the intercom, as he does every day, to give us the lowdown on the next stop. He proceeded to explain that River Valley accommodations were, shall we say, special. We were given three options: 1) A large room with 50 mattresses lined up side-by-side (if you haven’t figured it out already, this is the orgy pit); 2) Dorm rooms of 6-8; or 3) Private rooms for two.

Up until this point, Mary and I had gone for the budget accommodation at each stop, so we decided this would be the perfect place to treat ourselves and splurge on a private room, which amounted to a grand total of $20 USD more for the night. So, while we were sleeping like babies in a little private cabin next to the river, most of our busmates were…not.

A quick walk from the River Valley Lodge takes you along the river to this little view, clearly not an area where they raft the class five rapids.

A quick walk from the River Valley Lodge takes you along the river to this little view, clearly not an area where they raft the class five rapids.

I got blown away in Wellington

We made a really brief overnight stop in Wellington, which really only gave us time to eat dinner and sleep. Wellington weather reminded me a lot of the typical gray Seattle drizzle, except for the part where constant 35 km/hr winds blow you sideways. Since then, a South Islander told us that when Wellington has a good day it makes the six o’clock news. Yikes.

All that in under two weeks of travel. We’re not even halfway through our itinerary yet so you bet there will be more to come—onward and southward! Here’s to the founders of AirBnb, I’m eternally indebted. Cheers!