Despite that, I thought I could pass off my initial distaste as culture shock. Everything was backwards, I didn’t know anybody, and it didn’t meet any of my expectations.
A final night in Auckland was mandatory before the bus moved down to the Coromandel. On our drive back from Paihia, I held on to the idea of giving Auckland another chance. This time, I’d at least made friends with the girl who sat next to me on the bus, Jen.
When we arrived at the hostel, I somehow ended up in the only room that didn’t have a single person from my bus. If not for Jen, I’d have spent the night friendless and lonely.
Jen, however, was much like me, and all of the other friends I had made so far: a solo traveler.
We eventually met up with a few more people from the bus, including three British girls, Jo, Millie and Katie, a Swedish guy, Ben, and a German guy, Paul. Although I enjoyed the bonding of new friendships, Auckland gave me weird vibes. Friendships in hand, I was ready to move on by the end of the night.
The next morning, we all piled on the bus as we ventured to Cathedral Cove and the Hot Water Beach. Being a fan of Prince Caspian, Cathedral Cove was high on my New Zealand bucket list. That, and I finally had the opportunity to experience something with friends.
I’d underestimated the cost of solo travel during the times I wanted to turn to someone and say, “Do you see where we are right now?”
There’s hardly ever a “we” when you travel alone.
Our bus pass, the Kiwi Experience, had a personal hostel built just outside the Hot Water Beach for their riders. Through that, we shared our first night all together as just a bus with no other travelers.
At this point, I still had to adjust to hostel life. Even though I had done the the college dorm life, traveling dorm to dorm is on another level. Sweaty laundry piles up quickly when upwards of twenty people share the same space.
The constant toss-up of whether you’ll like your roommate for the night or not adds additional stress. You never know when you’ll be cursed with the snorer, or the only person in the hostel you can’t stand.
When you stay with friends, however, it’s an entirely different experience.
It may have taken me until the Hot Water Beach to learn, but relaxing became easier once I did.
While some groaned at the prospect, I never turned down a walk in New Zealand. I happily whipped out my camera, put on my tourist hat, and joined the herd as we meandered down.
To my surprise, hardly anyone else knew this was a filming location for Narnia. I didn’t realize I’d be the only one excited about that aspect, but no matter. The mind of the fantasy author is not one to be questioned or tampered with, and just as I did as a child through the forests of Yosemite, my mind took me into the world of Narnia.
Before me laid the ruins of Cair Paravel, the same as I’d seen in the film. The lines between reality and my fantasy world danced before me in an effervescent whisper, but I refused to let my imagination take hold.
As much as I desire my world of freedom, I can’t lose sight of reality.
Though I contained my excitement and wonder, I left the beach revived and alive.
For the first time, I’d descended into one of the fantasy lands that inspired me my whole life.
I witnessed the real and genuine beauty behind what, before, I thought couldn’t exist.
When I’d seen it in pictures or on the big screen, I thought it had to be fake somehow.
But it wasn’t.
It was real.
And who was to say the fantasies I imagined never existed, either?
I’d thought the existence of something so magical to be unattainable, yet I stood beneath its wonder.
I knew I’d have that reaction to the locations from the films, but I found what I hadn’t seen more attractive. Akin to discovering the Bible has more verses than churches teach, learning movies had more land than what was shown opened my eyes a little wider.
This is incredible.
In the end, our visit didn’t last as long as I’d have liked.
Apart from the winter forcing an early sunset, Kiwi Experience throws everything under a quick time limit. With the amount of land covered, however, if we spent as long as we wanted in each place, we’d never leave.
After Cathedral Cove, we were meant to experience the wonders of the Hot Water Beach after dinner. The hot pools exist under the sand, but boil at a scalding 64 degrees Celsius (147 Fahrenheit). The only safe time to sit in them was when the cooler ocean water mixed in during low tide.
As the low tide came in around 8:20 and the winter sun set at 4:30, we were all but frozen as we trudged down to the beach in our swim gear.
Along the way, our Scottish neighbors Alan and Rachel from the hostel joined me, Jo, Jen, Millie, Katie, Ben, and Paul. We huddled together as we shivered our way down to the beach.
During my research, this location had sparked much of my interest, and though I purposefully chose to travel in winter with fewer tourists, I painfully underestimated just how cold the Arctic winds can be.
When we arrived at the beach, it was to dismay.
While we were able to dig up around two centimeters worth of boiling water to mix, we were unable to create any type of “bath” situation to let us sit. With that, we soaked our frozen toes in the lukewarm water, only to have them frosted once more by the chilled sand that clung to our wet skin like ants to a piece of sugar.
Despite the chill, the cloudless night and lack of light pollution provided an unbeatable view of the stars. They speckled the sky, shone brighter than I’ve ever seen, and emulated the grains of sand beneath our feet.
Though I didn’t experience the beach the way I’d envisioned, I learned to have an appreciation for any type of adventure. Things may not always go as planned, and might differ from everyone else’s experiences, but who cares?
It’s much more fun when you experience it in your own, unique way.