I, somewhat unexpectedly, spent 6 days in Paihia. However much I was underwhelmed with Whangarei, I loved Paihia. It’s a small beach town, just a few thousand people, right in the Bay of Islands, and about 90 minutes by bus from Whangarei.
My hostel, The Pickled Parrot, was fantastic. It was fairly small, pretty social, clean and had free WiFi. I stayed in a 6 bed dorm room, which had 3 sets of bunk beds. Since the bunks were bolted into the wall, they were very sturdy; you didn’t feel any movement at all.
Friday, the day I arrived, I walked around the town and discovered 2 hidden gems. 1) a gym. Completely bare bones and old, but a gym nonetheless. 2) a tiny cafe that had the best coffee and dessert. On Friday I joined the gym (a 1 week membership), enjoyed a coffee and pastry while sitting on a bench on the beach, read, wrote a postcard and went food shopping. And of course, worked out.
Saturday morning I headed to Russell, which is officially a peninsula but the quickest route to the town is by ferry from the center on Paihia.
Russell was a little dead. It’s still winter/ spring here and many of the shops were closed during the low season. After about 60 minutes, I had seen everything. Not wanting to waste my $12 in 60 minutes, I ducked into a cafe to escape the crazy wind and enjoyed some Earl Grey tea and a piece of apple, raisin spice cake with a coconut topping. It was incredible.
I also found a small antique store which was fun to browse. Right next to the antique store was a second hand clothing store, where I scored 2 tunic type tops for $10 each (NZD, so $7.50 USD each). After I got back to my hostel, I headed to the gym.
Sunday I went on a hike. Again, fantastic and beautiful.
The trail head was about 8km from my hostel so I used the free bikes from my hostel to get there. The hike itself was 5km one way, to Hururu Falls, which are horseshoe shaped falls. Though the falls are not tall, the river flows very fast so they are quite loud.
I made it to the falls in 90 minutes, excluding a 20 minute break where I laid on this bridge and didn’t move.
It was so peaceful. The only reason I ended up moving was because human voices disturbed me. At the falls I ate my lunch, attempted and failed to take a handstand photo using my camera’s timer, then turned around and hiked back to the trailhead. 90 minutes back to my bike and another 15 ride and I was back at my hostel.
Monday was a recovery day. I called my mom, skyped for 1.5 hours with friends from home, did laundry, went food shopping and worked out.
Tuesday I went on another hike. This one was quite long, probably close to 12 miles. I left around 10am and returned at 4pm. The trail head was about a 15-20 minute walk from my hostel. From there, the map said it was a 2.5 hour hike through the Ohuru Forest. Luckily, I made exceptionally good time and finished that part of the hike in 1hr and 45 minutes. I don’t have many photos from this part of the hike as the trail was very steep and it had rained the previous 2 days, resulting in very slippery and muddy conditions. It was at this point I started thinking about the safety of hiking alone. The previous 2 hikes I had done were on very popular trails and I passed people every 20-30 minutes or so. On this hike, besides seeing someone 5 minutes after starting, I didn’t pass a single person for 3.5 hours, at which point I had finished the hike through the forest and was continuing down a road into Opua, which is a very small town just south of Paihia. I had my cell phone with my on the hike and it was fully charged, and I know the emergency numbers in NZ (111) and had cell service and 3G the entire time, but still. It made me a little uneasy to think that if I were to get injured on the trail, probably no one was going to pass me for the entire day.
Anyway, the trail ended at a gravel road. From there it was about an hour walk to Opua, which is right on the coast. Once in Opua, I picked up the Coastal Trail Walkway and hiked right along the coast all the way back to Paihia.
Wednesday I went on a dolphin cruise. It was lovely. We went all over the Bay of Islands, including the famous Hole in the Rock, and even saw some bottle nosed dolphins.
The weather was beautiful and I met an American couple on the boat.
After that I took a short nap and then went to the gym. While at the gym I met yet another American. She was working on a boat and had been in NZ for 5 months. She invited me to go out and get drinks with her that night.
When we met up, she brought along another American, Caroline, who was staying in her hostel. I can’t tell you how nice it was to talk to Americans. Though that seems a strange thing to say, let me explain.
New Zealand, at least the backpacker trail, is inundated with Germans. Very young Germans (not all, of course, but a lot). There are some French, Swiss and British thrown in but really, the vast vast majority of people I meet are 18-22 year old Germans. Which is fine. They are very nice and their English is great. But English isn’t their first language and in an effort to make it easier for them to understand me I don’t speak normally. I speak more clearly, always facing whoever I am talking to, in complete sentences with proper grammar and I try to avoid big words they wouldn’t know. It may also be that I am impatient and don’t want to repeat myself 5x and if I speak like this I am 98% guaranteed to be understood on the first try. Anyway, speaking like this isn’t really a problem, but it gets tiresome to not be entirely understood and not be able to have a normal conversation with anyone (because EVERYONE is German. No joke). Additionally, there have been multiple nights in hostels where I was the only non-German and many times the younger Germans don’t make much of an effort to speak English, even when I am around and they are perfectly capable of doing so. Hence, wanting to speak to Americans, though British or Irish or anyone who had English as their first language would have been fine, there weren’t any of them around, though. (Actually, on Saturday I went to a local bar in Paihia, alone and talked to some Kiwi and Maoris. I have a bit of a time understanding Kiwis. Maybe it’s the mumbling, I don’t know).
Back to Wednesday. We went our for a drink, just us 3 American girls, and it was fantastic. I felt more connected to these two girls than anyone else I had met thus far. Having a common country, language and culture instantly bonds people plus we all had a ‘story’ if you will, about how we ended up in NZ. Most of the people I meet and talk to don’t have any idea that quitting your job and just up and leaving is not normal in the states and that many people in the US don’t understand it. We bonded over that; the questions, the disbelief, the whys from other people.
Anyway, turns out Caroline was leaving the next day and heading north and asked if I wanted to go with her. Oh Hells Yes!
Thus ends my stay in Paihia. After a chance encounter with an American at the gym (who also worked in biotech), I meet yet another American and then left Paihia with her 12 hours later.