Yesterday was quite the adventure. The evening before, I started looking into visiting Waiheke Island, which had been recommended by Anne and her friend as a nice day trip. I figured out which ferry I wanted to take and in the morning, I packed a few essentials into my backpack. At breakfast, another couple who had arrived the evening before just to stay overnight was already at the table. They were very friendly and from a town about an hour and a half north. At the end of breakfast, they gave me their info and told me I was welcome to crash them for a few nights if I was ever in the area. Kiwis have quickly been living up to their friendly reputation!
I hopped on an early bus and headed for the ferry terminal. After a bit of chaos and confusion in the queue, we were told that the ferry we booked was nearly full and many of us would have to get another one. A man who was standing behind me (later I would learn his name is Andrew) was vocal about figuring out what we were to do next. A group of about ten of us were directed to take the ferry to Auckland city and then catch another ferry from there to Waiheke. Upon arrival, the Waiheke ferry was about to start boarding and we rushed to the line. A worker there stopped us and began to say that this ferry was full too, but Andrew explained our situation and we were put to the front of the line to board first! Thank goodness.
Climbing aboard, I decided to head to the upper deck for a view during the 40-minute ride. I noticed Andrew sitting alone and took a seat near him. We chatted a bit, joking about the monopoly that Fullers has on the ferries and what a mess it's become, and I learned a little more about him. The ferry began to fill up and a woman asked to sit next to Andrew, which of course he obliged. Andrew and I went on talking and he asked me what I planned to do with my day in Waiheke. I replied that I didn’t have much of a plan, but had my swimsuit and a book and would just spend the day relaxing on the beach or walking around the shops and cafes. The woman perked up and asked if I might be interested in joining her for a little adventure.
Her name was Kay, and she had an extra ticket to a very unique event: a flamenco show in an underground tunnel at the less-visited side of the island, opposite of where the ferry would drop us. Immediately, I was interested. She seemed surprised that I so quickly said that I would be happy to join, and I tried to explain that this is how I love to travel: keep plans to a minimum, take time exploring, and if an interesting opportunity presents itself–take it! Andrew laughed as we tried to work out the details of transportation, but he also encouraged the adventure.
When we disembarked from the ferry, we started looking for a mysterious bus labeled “Man of War.” After we found it and got settled in our seats, the driver began a very engaging narration that would last most of the trip. I learned that the bus we were on was headed for the large Man of War Vineyard on the east side of the island. She told us some of the island’s history and pointed out landmarks, adding a healthy number of jokes into the mix.
Along the way, Kay was messaging someone from her flamenco dance group (Kay also does flamenco, hence this odd excursion). Just after I agreed to tag along, a young woman named Anastacia had expressed interest in the extra ticket. At first it seemed that she wouldn’t make it in time, but as the morning went on Kay realized how determined she was. It seemed we would have to rethink our plan. The site of the event was Stony Batter, a historic reserve set on a picturesque hillside. Knowing this much, I agreed to stay on to at least explore the reserve and then find my way back to town.
When we arrived at Man of War Vineyard, we waited for all the other passengers to get off so that we could approach the driver. A bit sheepishly, we explained that we were going to Stony Batter (a few kilometers up a steep hill from the vineyard) and could she please drop us off on her way back to the ferry? She kindly obliged, and even took us a little off-route to bring us right up to the gate. She was so kind in explaining our options for getting back to town, and we were so appreciative! My nerves about navigating this remote area were quelled.
Kay and I headed up the hill on the dirt road leading into the reserve. Sheep wandered and munched on bright green grass around us, and the ocean crashed far below. It was a breezy, beautiful day. We read a few signs about the site’s history and wandered the grounds until it came close to time for the event, and Anastacia arrived. We met briefly and laughed about the odd situation. Kay and Anastacia both felt awful that I couldn’t join, and were also fretting over me getting back to town, but I insisted that I was happy to have made it all the way out to this area of the island and wasn’t worried about hitching a ride back. Just then, a young couple with a baby was walking toward the exit, and Anastacia walked right up and said “Hello! Are you driving back? Could you please take my friend here with you?” I laughed, slightly embarrassed, but they immediately agreed to take me and soon we were on our way.
The couple was on holiday from Singapore, and knew about as much as I did about the island. But we found our way down the dirt road and back to the west side, where they dropped me at a bus stop near Onetangi Bay. My first time hitchhiking (I know, bit of a shocker given my lifestyle) and I’m so grateful! They were really sweet and it was so easy.
From there, I walked another kilometer or so downhill to Onetangi Beach. It was absolutely beautiful and there was hardly anyone around. I walked slowly down the beach, letting the cool water lap at my ankles. I spotted a cafe that the bus driver mentioned as a favorite local spot, and stopped in to finally get the fish and chips I’d been craving since arriving. Three different people commented on my tattoos, including an older gentleman who chatted with me for a few minutes. We shared some laughs and he returned to his table. A few minutes later, the waitress approached me and asked if I’d like something to drink, because he wanted to buy me one. I laughed and told her I didn’t drink alcohol, so she brought me a ginger beer. I thanked the man on the way out and walked a couple blocks to a bus stop.
I rode the bus west until we got near Oneroa beach. This one was even more stunning! Jagged rocks dotted the ocean and seashells covered the sand completely in areas. It was almost painful how cool it was to look through handfuls of beautiful shells, surrounding me on all sides. I’d never seen anything like it. I took my camera out and tried to take a few shots to capture my awe of this little beach, then wandered up the shore.
On the way to the bus stop, I saw several people walking with ice cream cones and eventually came upon a little gelato shop. There were a couple of vegan flavors, so I got a scoop to enjoy while I waited for the bus.
Soon enough, I was back on the ferry headed to Auckland City. This time I was joined by a different man named Andrew, and who I am guessing was his partner, Peter. Andrew is also a massage therapist so we talked about that, their avocado orchard near Tauranga, and work options on Waiheke and around Auckland. They were so friendly and kind, and chatting with them made the time back to the city fly by! Before parting ways, we exchanged info.
I walked into the ferry terminal with my eyes lifted to the departure board, and was surprised to suddenly see Kay standing right in front of me! We hugged and she said she was relieved to see me, because they were so worried wondering if I made it back okay. She told me about a job she heard about on Waiheke, and made sure I had her phone number before we departed.
On the ferry home, I couldn’t help but smile to myself. The day was absolutely full of kindness and laughter, plus the awe of exploring a beautiful new landscape. Back at the AirBnb, I took a quick shower and then Anne gave me a massage. It was so nice to swap and experience her different style of massage. There’s something special about trading bodywork with someone. It was just after 9 when we finished, and I went straight to bed for a long sound sleep.