But at least we didn't have to master driving on the opposite side of the road

A few years ago - okay, like, SEVEN, good gawd I'm old - my friend Fashionista and I took a little tour of the South Pacific. And by 'little' I mean many months long, living out of a backpack and making money doing things like killing our souls picking oranges.

One of our first major stops was New Zealand. Having booked our flights through a travel agent, she also suggested a bus called the "Kiwi Experience". It wasn't a tour bus, she assured us, we could get on and off where we wanted. It was much cheaper and easier than having to navigate NZ Rail, and though it stopped in pre-determined locations, NZ isn't that big and hit all the ones we wanted to go to, anyway.

So, starry-eyed and refreshed after Singapore, we arrived in Auckland with only the lingering stench of German armpits to remind us of our flight.

(I have nothing against Germans. Just THOSE Germans. The ones that apparently had a personal vendetta against underarm deoderant, who insisted on reaching up to the overhead bins oh, at least 30 times in that flight, their overhead bins which were inconveniently located right next to ME)

We spent a few days in a cute little hostel, adjusting to the time zone and travel and spending 24-7 with one other person. There may have been some growling, and the realization that I left the fucking charger for my digital camera in Canada, but we survived. And when we were ready to go on, we called up Kiwi Experience and told them to send the bus. They'd pick us up at the hostel! How awesome is that!

We figured it was only, at most, a 2 hour drive to our next stop. The bus was arriving early in the morning, we could be there by lunch, and on Hot Water Beach by 2.

The bus pulled up and the driver hopped out. He was kind of...bleachy. With an orange tan, and one large earring. Fashionista and I glanced at each other. Was there a pirate theme we were unaware of?

"Hi girls!" he chirped. "Let me get your bags!" He fired our backpacks into the belly of the bus and ushered us up the steps. We glanced around. Everybody looked...well, youthful. And kind of hungover.

"One more stop!" the driver announced. We chose our seats, picked up a few more travellers, and we were on our way!

Um...weren't we?

Apparently not. The driver switched on the microphone and started narrating cheerily. In an "I'm still young and hip oh aren't I cool you guys can relate to me right?" kind of way. And then we stopped, to view Auckland's dormant volcano, which was interesting as a narrative but in practice was a grassy hill with some cows on it. Everybody piled out of the bus to take pictures except for us. I glanced at Fashionista. She had her eyes closed and was rubbing her forehead and chanting something. It sounded like, "It's not a tour bus it's not a tour bus it's not a tour bus".

But it was. The drive that should have taken us two hours at the most took ALL DAY. We stopped at every nook and cranny and lame point of interest between Auckland and Whitianga, all narrated in an irritatingly upbeat tone by the pirate bus driver, complete with tired jokes. When we finally arrived at our destination he announced, "And we'll be staying at the XYZ hostel downtown!"

Um...no we won't. We'd already booked ourselves into a hostel that sounded FAR more appealing. I quickly looked up the XYZ hostel in our "Let's Go" travel guide, which confirmed that, OH HELL NO NO WAY were we staying there. And there, in black and white, something I'd totally missed: "The XYZ hostel is the usual stop of the infamous Kiwi Experience bus".


I dashed to the front and informed the driver that he had to drop us off at the hostel we'd chosen. He didn't seem thrilled, but apparently it was in his contract, and he silently piloted us (and one other person) to our hostel after dropping everybody else off. He didn't help us unload our bags. Like we'd somehow personally insulted him.

We stayed a few days in our hostel of choice, which was fantastic, and made friends with the other girl the bus had dropped off there. The hostel owners informed us that the Kiwi Experience bus was locally referred to as "the Fuck Bus". It's main function, it seemed, was ferrying 19 year olds from party to party.


Now, Fashionista and I weren't there for antiquing and shuffleboard, but we weren't intending to be unable to remember our travels, either. This little turn of events was casting a sour shadow over our original itinerary.

As it happened, a friend of ours was travelling NZ at the same time. Having intended to work, stay, and surf, he'd done the sensible thing and bought a used vehicle. He and his rattly, leaky sleeper van picked us up and we spent some time touring around the North Island.

We eventually hooked up with the Fuck Bus again, since our friend showed no signs of moving further south. It had a driver that was a clone of the first, and passengers that were mostly clones as well, but it wasn't ALL bad. We met some great people, and we did some things we wouldn't otherwise have done (like climbed a glacier, and went inner tubing in a cave).

We also went places we wouldn't otherwise have gone. Like a whitewater kayaking resort in the center of nowhere, which would have been fantastic if the country had not been in the middle of a drought. And a mining town where everything but the one hostel closed after 7pm. And a 'hostel' that was really a bunch of trailers by the side of the highway, with nothing for miles but a bar conveniently owned by the same people that owned the 'hostel'. And nowhere to eat but the steak dinner they offered (for $12). And nothing to do but sit in your trailer OR participate in the fun 'garbage bag costume' activities that the bus drivers made up.

Ahem. Anyway. Bygones.

We DID have fun despite ourselves. But we still got refunds on our tickets for the AUSSIE Experience bus.

(Totally claiming this as my Driving Spin Cycle for the week, too)