This time I stayed at the luxe Dwellington Hostel, just across the street from the U.S. Embassy. It was, without a doubt, the nicest hostel I stayed at in New Zealand.
An early ferry to Picton the next morning was enhanced by Hidden Figures, which was playing in the ferry’s theater room. It was solid. And reminded me I have a crush on Janelle Monae.
Upon docking, I took the scenic route to little Nelson. Unfortunately, The Free House – a desacralized church turned into a pleasant little craft beer pub – was closed that night. Sad face.
The next day I had an absolutely unreal experience at the airport that I still can’t believe. It was such a throwback to a bygone era of travel that after finding my seat on the propeller plane, I wrestled with two thoughts.
- This is awesome. What a delight! Wow.
- This is crazy. I hope no one on this plane is a terrorist. Not ready to die.
I’m not joking. Crazier than the time I was allowed to board a plane with a full liter of water in my carry-on in Peru (they took my word that it was water!). Or when the guy working the baggage xray machine was texting and didn’t look at the screen for a few minutes, in Egypt, of all places.
So, what happened?
I boarded a commercial flight headed for the capital of a developed nation and there was no security procedure. No mag & bag. No puffer. Nobody scanning you with a wand, checking for metal. Hell, not even a guy standing there, eyeing you. Nothing.
After the gate agent scanned my ticket, I simply walked down a long tunnel, onto the tarmac, and into the plane. It was pretty unbelievable and enjoyable. So innocent.
Wellington, the coolest little capital awaited on the other end of the 30 minute flight (it was only $5 more than a car/ferry combo and 4 hours shorter, a true win!).
I can’t say enough good things about the awesome Te Papa museum. Massive, airy, well-curated with interesting exhibitions. And free, a word you hear or read in New Zealand as often as the All-Blacks lose. Which is practically never.
Mount Victoria was woody, clean, serene, and beautiful. The National War Memorial and the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior were touching. The Embassy Theater was gorgeous. And another visit to the Third Eye, Tuatara Brewing’s tasty pub, was a great call.
Also a great call? Adele.
On the drive down to Nelson I heard she’d be playing three sold-out shows in Auckland. It piqued my interest, even if I couldn’t name more than a handful of her songs.
Having worked in ticketing, I knew that unused VIP holds get released 24-72 hours before a show. So, after much internal debate, I decided that if I found a ticket to Adele at face value, I’d nab it. Which I did, 3 days before the show. Sorry, wallet.
Now I needed to get to Auckland.
I got one of the last seats on a nice, modern bus that would take me from one end of the North Island to the other in about 11 hours. Clean, comfortable, with usb ports, and licensed driver, it felt like mere child’s play after what I’d experienced in Africa.
But a stop in Palmerston North went awry. And the bus went to Auckland with all my belongings on board while I was grabbing a snack a block away.
I laughed at the situation in disbelief. Several times. It was my own damn fault. Once I was done laughing, I began formulating a plan that would get me outta there…stat!
I was at least 6 hours from Auckland, where I needed to be less than 24 hours later.
As I went down the list of options, things weren’t looking good. After 2+ hours of calls, knocks on doors, and pleads, here’s what I had:
- Every bus was sold-out for the next two days.
- Every plane was sold-out for the next two days.
- Exactly zero car rental companies did one-way rentals.
- The girls at Fastway Couriers loved that I had no qualms about asking to ride shotgun in one of their cars, but said I’d have to talk to the individual drivers that evening.
So that was fun. But it wasn’t the end of the world.
I sweet-talked the receptionist at the VW dealership into letting me borrow a box top and a sharpie. Then I hit the road. It was time to hitchhike.
After two hours of smiling and thumbing in a strategic place, I had…nothing.
People smiled at my sign. But no one stopped.
Raindrops began falling and I was hungry. I took a break and literally laughed aloud when I saw this place, as it’s the name of an Adele song.
After grabbing coffee, I went back to my little corner, trying to stay positive and smile. I mean, someone had to be going to Auckland or even in the general direction.
Thirty minutes passed before a smiling Fijian who went by Tiny (and was anything but), offered me a ride. He was going to Auckland to see family. And I was going to make it to Adele!
The roadie was long, dark, winding, and seemingly endless. We talked rugby, family, New Zealand, grad school. I definitely appreciated the gesture, so I took care of drinks and snacks along the way. I gave Tiny the only cash I had, 20 NZD, upon arrival. Truly not enough (20 NZD) given the distance, so I felt bad. But I’ll pay it forward.
After an untimely, unexpected, and unfortunate transportation twist, I’d made it to Auckland. Tired, without clean clothes or toiletries, I was simply happy to be there. It was nearly one a.m.
It wasn’t a great morning. After much phone work and frustration, I picked up big blue (my backpack) from an office that was nearly impossible to find. My book, food, and phone charger didn’t make it back. But it was a small price to pay.
The evening was memorable, though.
No opening act, just Adele. And, boy, did she put on a show.
Her British banter game is on another level. And, damn, can she sing.
She genuinely sounds just as she does on her records.
Adele brought down the house when she welcomed a local group on stage for a powerful haka. And, despite the forecast, it only rained hand-written confetti that night.
Adele was one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen, and a perfect way to end my adventure in New Zealand. And getting there was half the fun.
A few days later, Emirates got me to Melbourne. Which was awesome!