We got up at the crack of dawn Monday morning and headed to Queen Street to catch the Kiwi Experience bus – the big green backpacker bus that’ll be taking us round New Zealand for the next 5 or 6 weeks. We didn’t know what to expect to be honest, as we’d heard all sorts… it’s the party bus, the “big green fuck-bus”, it’s rammed full of 18 year olds who just want to get pissed… I think it’s fair to say we were very curious about what it was actually like.
Turns out that yep, at 29, we’re pretty much the oldest ones on the bus. But while we’re thee oldest, we’re certainly not the best travelled by a long way, or the most tame, or unable to keep up with the kids. Yes, the majority of the backpackers on the bus are in the 18-25 bracket, but what we’ve found so far (after a grand total of three days) is that backpacking is a great leveller… the young ones seem older and us old ones seem younger. I admitted our geriatric age to one 18 year old and she was amazed, she actually thought we were 25. Which is what we’re saying from now on.
It’s also not the big party bus that it has the reputation of being. The hostels they recommend for you are certainly on the large side in order to cater for the numbers, and they have a good nightlife on offer if that’s what you’re after, but both nights in our first stop, Paihia, saw our dorm room of 8 people all in bed by ten. Not even joking! At least 4 of them were 18-20. I think it’s because a lot of backpackers get the big boozy nights out of their system early on in their travels when a) it’s all new, and b) they can still afford it. New Zealand is not a cheap and cheerful night out, even in backpacker bars, so I think people are saving themselves for a few big nights rather than getting pissed every chance they get.
Anyway, we hopped on the bus at 7am and the driver ticked us off the list, then waited five minutes for the last straggler before going without them. You snooze, you lose. They’re not waiting for anyone. I suppose running a company catering for 18-30 year olds means you lose patience and sympathy for the unorganised ones pretty fast. If you can’t get yourself out of bed in the morning, the bus driver is certainly not going to play mother and do it for you.
Our driver broke up the 4 hour journey to the Bay of Islands with a stop for a ‘pie and a pee’ and then a quick half hour at a nice waterfall to stretch our legs and get a few nice pictures. Very considerate. At the first stop, everyone sat around awkwardly avoiding eye contact with everyone else, except those few that were already chatting and laughing while the rest of us looked on wondering if they knew each other already and secretly scared we’d be left out forever and no one would like us. However, joy of joys, by the end of the waterfall walk we’d managed to strike up a conversation and make our first bus friend. Win. It quickly becomes obvious that the first conversation among backpackers is to establish travelling credentials and goes something like this…
“So how long have you been in New Zealand?”
“5 days, and you?”
“2 months, and 5 months in South east Asia before that”
“Oh wow, that must have been amazing! Where to next?”
“Yeah, it was great, Australia next. How about you?” “Where have you been?” “Where are you going? How long for?”
Repeat about a million times with every new person you meet.
You get those veteran travellers who’ve been going for 6-7 years already (and therefore a similar age to us, hurrah!), just going home in between trips to save up enough for the next extended adventure, then there are those who stretch out their time away by working in the hostels for free accommodation as the thought of going home to reality does not yet appeal. At the opposite end, you have the newbies who bring suitcases and enough underwear for every day of their 2 month trip (I kid you not) and take all their washing home to mum at the end, or the backpackers out for half a year who seem to accumulate more stuff with every country and end up with bags bigger than they are, and are prone to falling over backwards with the smallest gust of wind.
It’s a really interesting mix to be honest, and we’re both looking forward to see where the next few weeks takes us. So far the people are a good bunch, and we’re enjoying ourselves a lot.