This post is a few days late once again, with no pictures because they take up precious megabytes. Oh wifi, why do you elude me so?
It’s my last night in New Zealand. I have mixed feelings about leaving. On one hand, I’m incredibly sad to leave this astonishingly beautiful country. On the other, I’m ready to get back to Australia and enjoy more warmth and sunshine.
As I prepare to leave, I can’t help but feel that New Zealand was a hard nut to crack. When I arrived, I was coming down from the high of starting my vacation and I was now neck deep in the adventure. Christchurch was a tough start. It remains in pieces, and I think that fractured nature stuck with me throughout my trip. There have been a lot of ups and downs along the way, I think in part due to my solo navigating across thousands of kilometers of windy, hilly, stunningly beautiful land, in part to the lack of wifi and therefore a connection to the world I’ve always known, and in part to being so alone for so much of the time. I’m a true introvert, but I still need conversation and contact some of the time. I hope that Oz provides a little more on this next leg. But I digress.
Queenstown was gorgeous and fun. The trip to Milford Sound being a highlight—both for the scenery and for the company. I was really dreading that long bus ride until I began chatting with Gustavo. And to think it all started because I showed him where the footrest was under the seat.
Franz Joseph Glacier was by far my favorite adventure here. I felt giddy from the experience for hours afterward. Helicopters. Glaciers. Hiking. The view. It was all just perfect. And what a treat to see it now before it’s gone.
Greymouth was forgettable, Nelson cute. Picton I breezed through on my way to the ferry to the north island. The ferry between islands was spectacular, and such a charming and wonderful way to move through this epic landscape.
Wellington was my first bout of frustration since leaving, which says a lot. But when I think back on it, I still think fondly about the American I chatted with at breakfast and the bench by the sea where I took in some fresh air, was mistaken for a local, and relaxed for a while. How funny that Gene (the American) and I talked about the experiencing and the remembering brains and how differently they perceive the world.
Waitomo was exactly as promised: glow worms galore. I felt very peaceful there in the middle of nowhere, at the fantastic hostel with funny hosts and a farm next door complete with piglets. I also went out to dinner with a girl named Jenn who was eight months into her year around the globe. We shared a pizza and tried fejioa cider, which is delicious if you come upon it. (Fejioa are fruit. They’re guava-esque with a little kiwi love in there too.) After we returned to the hostel, Jenn showed me her pictures of the track in National Park that takes a day to hike. I instantly regretted driving past it in my hurry to see the glow worms and not doing this hike. That goes to the top of the bucket list now. When I actually get some decent wifi, I’ll look up the name of the hike so you can Google pictures. You won’t believe your eyes.
Rotorua was stinky and odd, but it had three major highlights: Green Lake, the hot pools in the river, and the green jade manaia I bought for myself at the museum. Traditionally, manaia are carved with the head of a bird, the body of a man, and the tail of a fish representing the sky, the earth, and the sea and the connection between them all. They serve as messengers between the living and the dead, and therefore are carved in profile, because one half of their bodies is in this world and the other half is in the next. Symbolically, manaia look after your spirit, and when the time comes they guide your spirit where it’s supposed to go. It’s not hard to see why this would resonate so strongly with me. I love how smooth and dark green the jade is, and how warm it gets against my skin. I can use all the guidance I can get, and I wouldn’t mind a few messages being sent into whatever afterworld there could possibly be, so my manaia and I are doing well. I thank the Maori people for lending me one of their traditions to help my spirit find its way.
My time in Coromandel can only be described as perfect. Holly and Jeff have a picturesque house up the hill from a beautiful beach, and from the moment I got there it was warm and sunny and gorgeous the entire time. They are such generous hosts, feeding me delicious food, giving me the most comfortable place to stay that I’ve experience yet, and miraculously offering all the wifi a girl could consume. And I did two loads of much needed laundry. My visit coincided with the Beach Hop, so there was a constant stream of mint condition classic cars whizzing by on the roads as I made my way around town. And they all congregated down the hill from their house on Friday so I could wander around taking pictures of them. I got some good shots, but I’ll have to post those when I finally get access to wifi. Sensing a theme here?
On Saturday I booked a kayaking trip to Cathedral Cove. I left in the morning, wound my way along the windy road up there stopping at a café, an art gallery, and Hot Water Beach where you can dig a hole in the sand at low tide and it fills with HOT water warmed from thermal activity below the sand. Steam fills the air; people lounge around. It’s odd and charming, like much of New Zealand.
The kayaking trip fit into the perfect descriptor of the stay. A clear and warm afternoon, barely any chop on the water, and a young, adorable British guy sharing a kayak with me. He asked loads of questions about America, and I guided him towards where to visit and what he would like. Kayaking is a peaceful activity. It’s quiet on the water except for the splashing of the paddles and the chatting of the person with you. We stopped at Cathedral Cove and our guide made us coffees like we were at a café. We snapped pictures, we swam in the water, we sipped our drinks, we paddled home. Then I went to a winery and got a glass of wine and some snacks as I watched the sun set. There was a little Maori girl running around the grounds of the winery, and a soft old dog named Shelby who took a liking to me. I wish I could remember the girl’s name in Maori, but it meant the binding of everything above the sky, namely the heavens, to combine her mother’s and father’s histories into one, embodied by her. Remember how I said this was perfect? Yeah, that.
I made my way up to Auckland this morning and encountered the same frustrations here that I had in Wellington, namely nowhere to park and no wifi. This will be the last of my parking woes, but seriously people, $5 per 30 minutes to park your car? What the hell is that? I had an afternoon in the city. Figuring out a bus without any wireless access is next to impossible, and I’m staying in a shithole motel by the airport, I’m not exactly on the main drag where all the buses go. The lady at the front desk of the hotel wasn’t particularly helpful, and she didn’t take it kindly when I told her that advertising free wifi is NOT the same as offering 200MB for free and then charging $5 for every 200MB after that. Wifi is my key to the world. This world and the other world that I still call home, even though that term has come to mean so many different things in the past month. If you don’t know how little 200MB of Internet is, try uploading a couple of photos, checking your email, or booking a hotel room or ferry passage. The last one is the worst: You get to the last page, enter all your credit card info, and then you watch the site spin and spin until it becomes an error. It costs $5 for another 200MB. And you start the cycle over, crossing your fingers mightily that it’ll go through this time. Oh, and my phone? Done. Can’t use that data, or minutes, or texts anymore because they timed out. WTF New Zealand. Stop nickel and diming me and just give me a plan I can work with.
I’m so frustrated that I can’t write to my blog that I turned on the TV. What’s playing? A news feed from California talking about the quakes, with American accents and everything. And suddenly I’m home for a minute, confused. There’s a lot of seismic activity here, so I guess they like to monitor other places as well. I got bored almost instantly and turned the TV off. At home, I watch TV. Here I’d prefer to read. I’m not sure what that means, but I like reading better on vacation, that’s all I know.
When I told people the agenda for my trip, namely that I would follow my bliss and let it unfold spontaneously, they looked at me like I was strange or stupid for traveling that way. Why on earth would you start in Australia, go to New Zealand, and then end up back in Oz? There are so many reasons why I did what I did, but the most important one is: It doesn’t matter. I chose to bookend my trip by visiting friends, and I’m really glad I made that decision. It was nice to start out with advice and direction, catch up with Bea, an old friend from college, and meet her beautiful family. And it will feel really, really good to hug a different set of old friends, meet their precocious and delightful children, and sail the ocean blue with them in a few days hence. Could I have saved myself some time and money if I’d planned things better? Absolutely. Do I care? Not one bit.
The people I ended up chatting with the most in New Zealand were almost all American. I’m not exactly sure why it happened that way, but I do know that I was unusually grateful for their company and familiar patois. Normally when I travel I avoid Americans. We’re loud and brash and often rude, and mostly they don’t feel like my people. But I felt lost amongst the trees and mountains of En Zed, so America the beautiful won. I guess it’s good to be reminded of home—where it is, what it means, why you’re not there at the moment. I was fortunate to encounter similar souls, who just happened to have accents that matched mine.
On the morning I left New Zealand, I had the biggest frustration of my trip thus far. I drove to the rental car place to return my car and they were closed. CLOSED. There was an address on the gate for where to go, but my phone had no minutes, it was pitch black out, and my GPS wouldn’t find the new road, nor the address of the car return so I couldn’t even return back at 8am, when I assumed they would open. I was screwed. I ended up driving around for an hour searching for a sign or options or direction, eventually stopping at a different rental place asking for guidance. They were mostly obliging, although one of the men took the opportunity to shame me for “not reading my rental agreement better.” Thanks, guy. I’m sure that’s the problem. Also, fuck you. Eventually, I found my way back, the sun came out, and I got the hell out of there.
And that’s that. New Zealand was some of the highest highs and the lowest lows thus far. I don’t really know what more to say about the matter. All I know is that Oz feels like home to me. And I am seriously, SERIOUSLY glad to be back.