We arrived in the City of Sails at 10:00pm on the night of Thursday the 12th. After some minor complications trying to hail an Uber using spotty airport WiFi, we made it to the first bed of our year long adventure. Our Airbnb host, Jay, doubled as our driver and we will continue to stay in touch with him going forward. We were greeted in the morning with a light breakfast and some eager plans from Jay to get us started off on the right foot.
Jay wrote down a list of banks and hostels we should try, we hopped in his car, and set off down the left side of the road. We didn’t notice it so much the first night due to the darkness and lack of other cars on the street, but it was bizarre how different everything becomes when you are driving on the opposite side of the road. We spent the fifteen minute drive to the bank quizzing Jay on what he likely saw as the most mundane traffic questions. Bank after bank we were either told we didn’t meet their qualifications for setting up an account or they wouldn’t be able to meet with us until Monday at the earliest (some couldn’t see us until the following Monday!). We eventually settled on a Monday morning appointment with Kiwi Bank (which has been our source of free WiFi since we learned of it) and made our way to our hostel in downtown Auckland.
“A true melting pot” as Dana would put it. Auckland seemed to be home to every nationality and as a result you’d likely hear four or five different languages when walking from one block to the next. I loved watching Dana’s eyes every time a new language passed by. They shot wide open with joy and her hands would cover her mouth as if she couldn’t contain her excitement. For those who don’t know, this was Dana’s first time really being out of the country. There was the spring break trip she took down to Rocky Point, Mexico, but I think it’s fair to say that cultural exposure didn’t extend far beyond what she had become used to living in Tempe, Arizona.
Jay dropped us off in a little alley and we walked up the steps to our new home for the next five nights. This hostel was different than the hostels I’d come accustomed to. Nearly every resident had been there or planned to be there for months. They came from France, Brazil, China, the UK, and each of them were in Auckland working and saving up for their eventual tour of the country. We spent the majority of our time getting all of the paperwork ironed out for our trip (namely acquiring a van), but we made sure to break up those necessary tasks with having beers at a friends’ nearby apartment or by scouring the city for the best and/or cheapest dumplings in town.
It was fantastic getting to experience New Zealand’s biggest city and everything it had to offer, but our main objective had yet to be met: to buy a van. We spent every day searching Facebook, TradeMe, and BackpackerBoard.com for the perfect whip. Each van we found was nearly perfect!… except for one thing. Then we found Mitsi! Mitsi is a beautiful black with green stripe 1996 Mitsubishi L300. She belonged to the most amazing English couple, Chris and Rosa. We have never met two more genuine people. After only talking with them for 30 seconds in person, they asked if Dana and I wanted to take her for a test drive…on our own. They were willing to let us take what Rosa described as their “third travel mate” away from them without any clue of how to track us down in the event we decided to never come back. Extremely trusting. I, of course, opted to take Chris instead of Dana given that I would be the only one driving during our trip and he would certainly be more helpful given it was my first time driving a manual on the left side of the road.
I had a chance to chat with Chris while Dana and Rosa hit it off on the steps of our hostel waiting for Chris and I to get back. Once back, we immediately made a full cash offer at their asking price of $5000. We continued to keep in touch with them until the money transfer went through and they only became more and more amazing over that time. When Chris came to drop her off, we handed him the wine we got them as a gift and he handed us the keys. Rosa couldn’t be there, but Chris let us know about the tears she shed earlier that morning over having to let Mitsi go. We promised to keep the name they had given her and so far she’s proven to be everything we hoped for.
We likely won’t be back in Auckland until the final week or two of our trip. It was a beautiful city and we met a lot of amazing people, but the real adventure was about to begin. Wednesday the 18th we began our tour of New Zealand’s North Island.