This is the story of how I ended up in New Plymouth and a detailed recollection of the first month of adventures in one of my favorite spots in New Zealand.
Here’s some background on how I ended up in New Plymouth. I was spending a week in a beautiful place called Paihia (aka the Bay of Islands, which I will explain in a future post) and I was trying to figure out where I should go to find a job. Money was dwindling quite rapidly so I decided I would look for a work for accommodation at a hostel (this is where you get a free bed, internet and laundry for volunteering at least 15 hours per week – everyone knows it as WOOFing for short). I had a lot of places that I thought would be great to work in. But what I ultimately found was a WOOFing job for a hostel called the YHA Sunflower Lodge located in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Now most of the people that I asked had no clue where New Plymouth was or what it was like. It was one of those forgotten gems in New Zealand that travelers often overlooked. So I took a chance and emailed the hostel manager. Her name was Julie and she sounded enthusiastic for me to come help at the hostel. So I booked my coach bus and I was on my way.
I arrived in New Plymouth on January 17th 2015 and I immediately fell in love with it. It has a very chilled California type vibe. It’s a city that’s located on the West Coast of the North Island (West Coast = Best Coast!). New Plymouth is located in a region known as Taranaki because there is a dormant volcano called Mount Taranaki that’s pretty close to the center of the city. I loved that you had your pick of the ocean, mountains, or beautiful parks. You could actually see Mt. Taranaki and the ocean at the same time which was spectacular. It’s such a truly special place and it’s definitely somewhere I could see myself living in the future (if ever I chose to live in New Zealand).
The YHA Sunflower Lodge was a quaint small hostel that had a very homely feel. Julie, the hostel manager, and her husband Richard were wonderful and they made me feel like part of the family. And who could forget their dog Marvey, who was absolutely adorable and the hostel favorite of everybody. I settled in quite fast and I began training as a receptionist on my first day there. I was replacing a very bubbly and friendly girl named Emma, who was from England. Another receptionist was a French guy named Jacque who would also be leaving shortly after Emma. Liz, was a native New Zealander aka Kiwi, and she also helped out with reception in the mornings. Overall, everyone that worked at this hostel was amazing.
Emma was a very inspiring young girl who was using her time in New Zealand to really find herself and break down all her old ways of thinking. You could tell that she was really discovering what she wanted in life and she strived to be herself no matter what. Even though she was about 12 years younger than me, I really looked up to her for her strong confidence. She was the absolute queen of dating and flirting. I wished I could have been more like her. I even tried Tinder again because of her advice lol. But it sure was amazing to listen to all of her adventures. We had a lot of in depth conversations and I really enjoyed being roommates with her.
Jacque was a very good looking French guy who was about my age. He was very quiet most of the time but he was a hard worker and once he opened up to you, he had a lot of interesting things to say.
Oh yeah, I totally forgot to mention that I chopped all my hair off for the first time in New Plymouth (Emma’s face was priceless when she saw it). I had wanted to have a short haircut for some time and I found an awesome salon (with a good price), they had space that afternoon, and I spontaneously told the hairdresser to cut it all off (like Jennifer Lawrence and Kaley Cucco). I still think that was one of the best things that I did in New Zealand.
There was also an annual event called the Festival of Lights which was going on when I arrived. During this festival, they transform Pukekura Park (a botanical garden that’s within walking distance of the hostel) into this whimsical light-filled magical land in order to celebrate the month before and after Christmas. It was absolutely beautiful and I made a point of going twice because I loved it so much. They also had free live local music, which was awesome.
The night before Emma and Jacque left New Plymouth, we went out together to a bar called Decanta. Even though, I decided not to have any drinks, it was still entertaining to watch all the flirty banter and I was happy to be included in the group. It was a little sad when they left the next day but soon new workers would arrive (as is what happens in the life of traveling).
Stephanie, a native long islander, came to replace Jacque as the other receptionist (while I replaced Emma). Steph was an extremely kind girl who was soft spoken but she was a great listener. We couldn’t believe how close we lived from each other and that we met for the first time while on the other side of the world. It was great to reminisce about home with someone who understood what I was missing. Nothing like a fellow New Yorker! She once gave me an aquamarine crystal as a gift and I was so excited about it. I still have the stone to this day.
Gemma was a young girl from Canada, who was full of life at the age of 18 (I believe). She was definitely the life of the party and was a lot of fun to talk to. Keep rocking life Gemma!
Hannah was a girl from Germany, who I spent time with when Gemma and Rebecca were staying at the hostels. We had a lot of fun hanging around trying to finish jigsaw puzzles and just talking about life. Good times!
Rebecca was a very friendly, bubbly girl from Utah (I believe). She was one of the few Americans that I met who was completely free spirited and down to earth. She was the inspiration for my nose piercing because she rocked hers. I remember I even met her after I had my piercing done so that I could show her mine before she left. So thank you Rebecca for your stories and giving me the courage to face one of my fears.
So what was I thinking when I got my nose pierced? I was thinking that I wanted to do something out of character and be brave and face one of my fears. So all by myself, I walked down to the tattoo parlor (which performed piercings upstairs) and I asked how much it would be to get my ear and nose pierced. Because I only needed one ear pierced and she had an open package of earrings that she couldn’t use, I got both for 40 dollars (which was a steal!). I’m not going to lie, the nose piercing hurt a lot but I got through it and I loved it. Now it fell out two days after I got it put in and I had to go back the following day to get it put back in by the lady. It actually hurt a ton worse than the first time and I vowed that if it fell out a second time, I would not put it back in. Well, as you can probably tell from my pictures, it did end up falling out and I decided to let it heal this time. I may decide to get it re-pierced in the future because I do miss it. But only time will tell. I’m proud that I faced a big fear of mine 🙂
One of my roommates was a local Kiwi named Jessica. Now she was super laid back and awesome. She actually gave me the name of an amazing tattoo artist in New Plymouth (and I still have the name of that lady just in case lol). I remember being with her when she wasn’t sure if she was pregnant or not. Turns out that she was pregnant and she’s since had her baby boy. We had some really good late night talks and although she was a lot younger than me, I learned a lot from her. Thanks for being an amazing person Jessica!
I remember the one time that my brand new bottle of olive oil was stolen from the pantry. I was so devastated and I needed it to cook my dinner. I got really angry and wrote a well-written note explaining that I would kindly appreciate it if it was returned. I went into the office to find some tape and when I turned around, this GORGEOUS guy was standing there asking if we had room for the night. Now, the office was closed and people don’t usually just show up so this was a little strange. But he was tall, dark, and handsome and I could barely speak. My heart was pounding so fast. He instantly calmed me down and I sadly told him that we didn’t have any room for the night 😦 He asked where he could go in the area that may be available and I showed him a few places on the map. Did I mention he was standing extremely close? I asked if he was from New Zealand and he was Australian! By the way, never confuse the two countries lol. But he was cool about it and had such a dreamy accent. So off he rode away on his motorcycle and I never did see him again. However, the next morning, Steph let me know that my olive oil was back! It was like Christmas morning and thankfully this story had a happy ending.
Gina, a girl from Slovenia, was another receptionist who started after I did at the hostel. She was a very intelligent and insightful girl. We didn’t always agree on life but she definitely opened up my eyes to new ways of thinking and got me to start challenging myself. We bonded a lot over the little time we spent together and she was one of my biggest motivators to go to the silent meditation retreat (which I’ll also explain in a future post). Thank you Gina for your encouragement and support.
By far the BEST couple I met along my travels throughout New Zealand were Will and Kate (I think they’ll be flattered that I’m comparing them to royalty lol). Instantly after meeting them, I felt like I had known them forever. I know it sounds funny, but they allowed me to be myself because they were comfortable with themselves. We could talk about anything and usually did. Watched loads of movies too! Like that time, that me, Will, Kate, and Steph tried to watch “Top Gun” to no avail. We were the three amigos for the 3 weeks that they were in New Plymouth and I even convinced them to stay and work at the hostel because they loved it so much. I even supported Kim when she got her nose piercing and tattoo (Was I a bad influence? Possibly). They would always be in the kitchen cooking or baking something amazing and they almost always offered to share. There was so much laughter and good times. Plus, they convinced me to come to England in the future (which I had written off before I met them). I will always be thankful for the memories we shared and that they showed me that I can be myself and still be accepted wholeheartedly. Thank you for everything Will and Kate.
I remember the time that Steph, Gina, Will, Kate, and myself had a Tim Tam party. Tim Tams are a beyond delicious cookie from Australia (and they have them in New Zealand too). It was insane and loads of fun. We were definitely high on sugar that night! Or the time we shaved Steph’s head in our dorm room which was amazing. There was also Valentine’s Day which turned out different than I expected. Still, it was nice to hang out with Steph, Gina, Will and Kate while having a few drinks.
I would often find myself walking around the town either ending up at the library, the grocery store (Pak N’ Save was my favorite but so was the Crazy Pumpkin), or just exploring the area. New Plymouth was great for just chilling out and there was this amazing coastal walkway right next to the ocean. Absolutely stunning at sunset! I loved that one day I found an impromptu wedding taking place outside in the Pukekura Park and I decided to stop and watch the rest of it. I actually cried because it was so beautiful.
I watched some of the most beautiful sunsets in New Plymouth and when the sky was clear, Mt. Taranaki was a breathtaking sight. I never got to climb the summit of Mt. Taranaki, as most of the guests who stayed at the hostel attempted to do, but maybe I’ll go back and do it next time I visit.
After spending a month in New Plymouth, I made my way to the 10 day silent meditation, but what I didn’t realize is that everything would be different when I returned.
To be continued…