Some believe in fate. Others believe in a higher being or spirit. I like to consider it... timing timing that brought the ever so inconvenient ash cloud to New Zealand, cancelled my Jet Star flight that would bring me to my Kiwi Experience bus trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound during my last weekend overseas, and rerouted me to the 144 beautiful Bay of Islands.
I first found my way to historic Waitangi ("noisy/weeping river"). It was here on February 6, 1840 that the historic treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Maori and British crown, establishing British control over New Zealand governance. After attempting to read the monument's plaque (written in Maori...unsuccessful), I walked along Ti beach toward the town center, greeting the locals that were sitting on buckets with their fishing poles in the sand,
waiting for a pull from the fish that would become their week's worth of dinner. I soon found the city shops, walking in and out of each store, tasting the fudge, sipping hot chocolate, and glimpsing through the Kiwiana goods that I had not yet come into contact with. Once realizing that the temptation to buy unnecessary souvenirs was growing to a consuming level I quickly evacuated the town's center and made my way to the Opua bush walk. The hour return hike led me through the canopy of dense Paihia bush to a summit presenting the Bay of Islands (conveniently, during sunset). After returning to the entrance of the hike, I began heading to what I would call "home" for the next two nights: The "Pippi Patch." This would be my first backpacker lodge experience, and boy was it... well, it was what it was. Simply put, I was given one bed in a co-ed dorm of 4 bunks, with a small bathroom and kitchen area. After introducing myself to the four others in my bunk, my new friend Louise and I walked down to the barbeque dinner that the base was hosting. Absolutely famished from the day's walking, I ate my hearty meal and drank my free beer with ease and soon found my way to "bed." Now, pay attention, because this is where I really sell the idea of staying in a backpackers base. I was in bed by about 9:30. The rambunctious (or, to generalize, UK) backpackers were drinking on the other side of the paper thin dormitory walls until 12:30. Once finally able to fall asleep on the also-paper thin mattress with paper thin pillow and paper thin blanket, the base was awoken at 3:30 by base sirens directing us to evacuate the building. After standing outside in the dark and pouring rain for 15 minutes and listening to rumors of tsunamis (mind you, we were in a bay...) we were told that within the paper thin walls there was a smoker, who ingeniously decided to indulge within his non-smoking dorm before bed. If you do the math, I got about, oh, 5 hours of sleep before needing to wake up and prepare for my Northland day trip. But, as I have learned with every other New Zealand challenge, my efforts would be rewarded by the experiences that the day held.
Before I describe my second day in the Bay of Islands, I would like to apologize for my lack of detail that follows. You see, during all the hustle and bustle of the trip, I seem to have...misplaced...my map and associated annotations. So, we're going to have to do this from memory (sorry...).With that said! The day's journey began with a visit to the Puketi Kauri Forest, where we were given time to walk amongst Kauri trees, the second largest type of tree in the world (after the California Redwood, woot!). The forest is so well preserved that trees as old as 2,000 years old still live within the area! After our walk, we headed towards Cape Rienga (or, Te Rerengawairua, "departing place of spirits"). Along our way, we passed Whangaroa Harbour ("long harbour," known as the Marlin capital of New Zealand), Doubtless Bay (ever so creatively named by Captain James Cook during his exploration of the Bay of Islands), Coopers Beach, lined by pohutukawa trees, and Cable Bay, covered in pinkish-colored sand. During the final stretch of our journey to the cape we drove on 90 Mile Beach. You heard me, beach. 90 mile beach is a registered highway of New Zealand, providing visitors with a true "scenic route," not alongside the coast, but on it. Unfortunately, the beach is not true to its name; given its title during the days of wagon wheeling when it took travelers 3 days to complete the journey, it was presumed that if it took one day to travel 30 miles, 3 days of work must have meant 90 miles. Although I am a little disappointed in the misleading name (seeing that the beach is really on 64 miles...way off, pioneers), I'm more concerned with why after all my attempts to master the metric system the country is throwing my back into empirical measurements.
Nevertheless, our bus veered to the right at the end of the "90 miles," and stopped at the bottom of a very large, steep sand dune. Here, we would become acquainted with the environment via sand board. After a strenuous hike the the top (keeping close to the gentleman in front of me so that I could use his footsteps as a staircase) we got to the top, and within seconds zoomed down. I must say, I'm awfully proud of myself - after studying the many people that literally "ate it" mid-travel at speeds up to 80 kph (50 mph), I managed to make it down not once, but twice, with an impressively clean finish (and newly exfoliating feet) :) For some reason, I'd like to thank snowboarding for my success...
Once cleaning ourselves of the unavoidable sand and dirt that covered us from head to toe, we once again took our seats and completed our trip north. Arriving to the cape within the hour, we were given time to slowly venture along the provided pathway towards the meeting of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean. It is here where the Maori believe their spirits leave our living world and move on to the homeland. The site, 290 meters above sea level, is indescribable - to the left of the large white lighthouse standing on the edge of the cliff is the aggressive, turquoise-colored Tasman Sea, and on the right, the calm, deep blue Pacific Ocean. Where the two meet, there is a blending of the two colors and a creation of disorderly waves and tides. Now, as exemplified in the beginning of this entry, I don't consider myself a highly religious individual. But the elements and feeling of this site were extremely convincing of its spiritual purpose. Watching the two oceans meet on the northern-most point of New Zealand, one cannot help but feel confident in the purpose of life, and inspired by the beauty of the world.
Ending my day with an order of world famous Mangonui fish n' chips, I arrived back to the Pippi Patch for a much needed good night's sleep before my final day of the trip.
After a full night of rest, I woke at 7:00AM and prepared for my day. Once checking out of the base, I walked along the beach in search for breakfast. This task, of course, was much more difficult than necessary seeing that it was a Monday and the town was on New Zealand time. But after window shopping for about 45 minutes I found Hansen's, where I enjoyed a toasted "brekky" sandwich and watched as the fog rose from the islands and sailors awoke from their cabins, before departing to the nearby wharf for my half-day boat tour. While on the tour, we journeyed through many of the 144 islands within the Bay of Islands, learning about Captain James Cook's discoveries and Maori myths and legends of the different land masses. During the day we visited islands such as Motuarohia (Motu meaning island, Arohia meaning of a desire), Moturua island (one of the few homes to the endangered kiwi) and Assassination cove. Due to the low tide and calm weather, we were even able to go through the hole in the rock (something that the boat company can only do 30% of the time due to dangerous conditions)! Legend says that if you catch a drop of water that falls from the ceiling of the hole you will be rewarded eternal youth. Read into this as you may, but I had a drop of water fall onto the top of my head... I'm still waiting for results. Towards the end of the cruise, my friend Louise and I spent time on Russell (or Kororareki, "how sweet is the penguin"). Please do not be fooled by the penguin reference as I was - Russell, where we had lunch before departing for home, was referred to as the "hell hole of the south Pacific" in the 1800s, harboring whalers and sealers needing a little R&R (or lack there of) while interacting with an immense amount of alcohol and just as many brothels.
As our Kiwi Experience bus departed from the Bay of Islands, I couldn't help but consider the sites outside of my window the last New Zealand memories I would have until my return. While thinking of all of the wonderful memories, my eyes began to tear, and I could do nothing but silently thank all of the people I've met, the places I've seen, and everything I have learned for providing such an unforgettable overseas experience.