New Zealand: The Last Stop

It’s January 1972 and I’m now 22.  About three months have passed since leaving Toronto on my way to Australia.  All part of my backpacking “find myself/coming out” adventure:  West Coast of Canada & US, Hawaii, the Samoas and Fiji.

New Zealand was my last stop with the advantage that Kevin, my straight travelling companion since Samoa, lived in Auckland so I had a place to stay and a friendly guide to show me around the area.  Thank you, Kevin, wherever you are now.

In Auckland, I learned about its extinct volcanos and huge harbour, but not about its gay life.  Kevin couldn’t help me in that area and I wasn’t brave enough to explore on my own.

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Using my never-ending open Pan Am air ticket, I said goodbye to Kevin and flew to Wellington, NZ’s capital at the bottom of the North Island for more exploration.  I got to see their majestic Parliament Buildings and steep funicular railway, but, again, no gay bars that I could find!  These were the days before the Spartacus Guides were widely available which outlined where to find gay life in every part of the world.   Now that was a blessing.

New Zealand’s Houses of Parliament in Wellington undergoing extensive renovations in 1972

Up and Down the South Island

A beautiful ferry ride took me from Wellington to Picton which sits at the top end of the South Island.  From there, I stuck my thumb out and managed, because of kindness of New Zealanders, to hitchhike a thousand kilometres along the very remote east coast to Invercargill at the bottom of the South Island.  I had only one frustrating and lonely wait for a lift – seven hours.

Along the way, I visited the huge Franz Joseph Glacier, touristy Queenstown and the famous fiord, Milford Sound.  Gorgeous views were everywhere, including millions of sheep.  I felt that NZ was a very lucky country.

Visiting New Zealand also introduced me to the Maoris, the indigenous people of these islands, via historic sites, mentions in tourist guides and just being visible on the streets.  Although I grew up in Canada, I had learned little of the history or lives of our own indigenous Inuit, Metis and First Nations people.  Schools taught us virtually nothing, so they were invisible to me.  But, in New Zealand, I sensed that the Maoris’ people and their history had a greater visibility than our indigenous people in Canada.   Soon afterwards, I found this also to be true at my next destination – Australia.

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From Invercargill, out went my thumb again to head back up north along the more populated west coast through Dunedin ending up in Christchurch, a very pretty city with strong English roots.  I don’t have any photos from there or strong memories, so it must have been a quick visit.

My final night in New Zealand was spent sleeping uncomfortably in a deck chair on a ferry sailing from Christchurch back to Wellington.  I needed to arrive early in the morning for my scheduled flight from there to Sydney, squeezing the last miles out of my Pan Am ticket.


Before arriving in Sydney, I want to talk to you about money.  In an earlier post, I explained that I could afford to do this trip because my Nana left me $1000 in her will, I’d had a good paying summer job at Ontario Place and also because I was cheap.  By this point, I had given up, though, on sleeping rough as youth hostels were available everywhere.  They were also full of other backpackers ready to share stories and advice.  Here’s my NZ Youth Hostel Membership card of which I was very proud.

I was proud of my NZ Youth Hostel Card
My New Zealand Hostel Membership Card

Being slowly and increasingly infused with the ideology and lifestyle of the counterculture, I was also proud of my longer hair and beard.

I wish I remembered how much money I brought for this three month trip, but, whatever it was, it all had to be carried with me in the form of American Express travellers’ cheques.  Each cheque had to be cashed in a bank to get the local currency and each bank had its own rules – and its own fees for providing this service.  I remember the pang of guilt I felt each time I used a cheque knowing my stash of cash was being reduced.

Luckily my cheques were never lost or stolen.  If that happened, you needed lots of time and energy to find an American Express office and wait for replacements.  No credit cards in those days, of course, nor 24 hour banking machines.

I found this vintage travellers cheque on the web and it certainly brought back memories

The one advantage of buying these cheques, which I mentioned in an earlier post, was that you could receive “Poste Restante” letters at the American Express offices or their affiliates.   Here was Frank’s letter from Seattle.  I talked about him in this post.

Frank's NZ Letter

I think I travelled with travellers’ cheques on all my holidays up until about 1990.   Can any of you remember when you made the switch from cheques to cards?  Was it around that time?

The End

Since I had left Los Angeles two months earlier, I had now travelled thousands of miles, visited seven Pacific islands and kept on the move energized by exploring sights and sounds that I had never experienced before.  What would the next stop bring me?  Experiences of a very different kind that would change my life forever.  Gay Liberation, here we come.

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