In another illogical move, I left Whanganui and headed North, up the coast to New Plymouth. After a few dismissive comments from kiwis regarding the place, I didn’t have very high expectations but let me say straight away, I had the most fun in New Plymouth than anywhere else on my trip so far. The drive out was beautiful, though hampered by rain. I got my first glimpse of Mt. Taranaki but it quickly disappeared into the rain clouds and I wouldn’t see it again for a while!
I arrived at Ariki backpackers and faced a mountain of stairs, not a good start admittedly, thanks to my 25kg bag, but hey, no problem, I’m gonna be ripped by the time I’m done here in New Zealand. At the top of the stairs I was greeted by a cheeky kiwi fella called Rob, who set about checking me in at the same time as a German guy called Michael. Michael and I were down to be roommates and luckily we got on really well from the off, bonding over a trip to Pak’n’Save, the huge bargain supermarket that I find ridiculously exciting, and going halves on toastie ingredients– the hostel had a toastie maker!!! (For three days I would eat little other than toasted sandwiches, do not judge me).
The next day was easily the worst day I’ve had, weather wise, whilst here in New Zealand. It absolutely poured down, and I mean POURED, all day. After a very lazy morning around the hostel, my new friend Michael and I, decided to hit up the local art gallery. Now, I like art, I regard myself as a bit of an arty person, but…. I don’t know, perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood, but I wasn’t hugely impressed. Within about twenty minutes we’d seen everything and, with a knowing nod, we decided to leave. We scooted over to Puke Ariki, the local museum, where we interacted with several rainy day activities including a mountain climbing themed game of snakes and ladders; I was robbed of victory on the last roll of the dice and I’m still mad about it.
We also took in a bug themed exhibit, despite neither of us liking bugs at all. Though a little underwhelming, we did actually have fun, and honestly I’m really glad I had someone to hang out with on this occasion. We headed back to the hostel to refuel (with toasties) and made plans to share a bottle of wine that evening, because ey, what else are you gonna do on a rainy evening at the seaside. It’s worth mentioning that there is so much street art in New Plymouth, with murals of all shapes and sizes everywhere you turn. I didn’t much fancy getting my camera soaked though so I didn’t manage to snap any photos.
Armed with cheap wine and snacks (I tried my first Tim Tam biscuits with milk and I am a big fan) we settled in fer a night of chatter. After a wine I will literally talk to anyone and so I took it upon myself to eavesdrop and involve myself in some neighbouring Canadians’ conversation, and luckily they didn’t mind. We had a fun night and all agreed to team up for a small hike the next day.
The next morning, true to their word, Ben and Harrison were waiting for us, primed and ready to go. We all set off to Paritutu Rock, which was about an hour’s walk along the seafront, though it didn’t feel to take that long with such good company. As we neared the small mountain, we began to notice how steep it was, with the people above literally scaling the rocks, and I began to feel butterflies in my stomach. The first part of the walk up was literally that; a walk, albeit up a load of calf-killing stairs.
I am not the fittest person at all so obviously I lagged behind the three boys, but I didn’t care. Soon though, the stairs were gone and we were left with a guide chain and just a rock face to awkwardly clamber up. Michael and Ben stormed ahead, however I’ve got vertigo (so probably shouldn’t even be up a damn mountain) and Harrison doesn’t like heights, so his pace slowed riiiiight down. Team sloth took our time getting to the top, but we made it! And I’m certainly glad we did because the views were stunning. You could see right across to Mount Taranaki on one side, and out to sea on the other. It was breathtaking.
We eyed a beautiful black sand beach at the foot of the mountain and decided to head for it, but there was the small matter of getting off the damn mountain first. It was so steep and so bloody high, that my vertigo sent my legs to jelly as we slowly climbed down. Again, I refer to just myself and Harrison as the other two were so speedy! We finally made it to the bottom, though my legs continued to shake uncontrollably for literally another three hours.
We proceeded onwards to find the black sand beach, which we found to be at the foot of a huge sandy hill, which fell away beneath your feet as you walked down it. There was no one around, so it was like having our own private beach and it was so beautiful. Before long Ben and Michael had jumped in the sea; Harrison had forgotten his swim shorts (fool) and so looked on longingly as the rest of us frolicked in the waves. Now, the waves; the waves were huge and a little terrifying. I’m pretty wary of the sea but I’d been longing for a swim for so long that I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to get in the water. I was very conscious not to go beyond where I could stand as I could feel that the current was pretty powerful and I managed to get whacked by a huge wave and dunked. In that moment, as the wave smacked me into the sand beneath my feet and I couldn’t tell which way was up, I thought “this is it, this is how I die”…. but here I am! I quickly decided I’d had enough of the sea for one day and decided just to paddle from then on! (Admittedly, the pictures do the waves no justice)
The main issue with that beautiful beach was its location at the bottom of what felt like a mountain of sand. When it was time to leave, I seriously considered giving up and just living my life on that beach because I had ZERO enthusiasm for climbing another hill that day. After a long struggle, I made it, pleading “no more hills”.
The light at the end of the tunnel, the thought that guided me off the mountain and off the beach was this; we had spotted a fish and chip shop on our walk to Paritutu and it was next on our list of activities for the day. With great relief, we made it to the cafe and ordered up four “fush and chups” (that’s a kiwi accent if you can’t tell) and they were so goooood (and cheap!) With full bellies and an ice cream each for the journey, we set off back to the hostel, to take a break from the sun and to hope that my legs might stop shaking!
That night, we regrouped to visit Pukekura Park for one of their light nights, which was ridiculously pretty. Illuminated fountains, trees bathed in all colours, a UV garden, giant disco balls, gloworms, little boats with lights on… you get it, loads of cool lights basically. Very beautiful and very fun in very silly company.
After this we headed back to the hostel once more, but this time, armed with EIGHT DOLLAR WINE. From then on I won’t describe the scenes to you, because it was mostly a lot of silliness, but I can tell you it’s the most fun I’ve had since I got here. New Plymouth has been ACE.