[The post below was written about a week ago, but with lack of good internet connection, time in the Australian bush and a hectic past few days, I’m only posting now!]
I’m writing to you now on a bus, having left Melbourne at 10pm to arrive in Sydney around 10am tomorrow. Things are far in Australia. Not that far though, we’re stopping a few times for breaks and there’s a transfer in Canberra. The express bus is 8h30 I think, but those weren’t running until Boxing Day. I almost booked that, but realized just on time that that was completely wrong!
Anyway, this isn’t about my time in Melbourne but rather about my time on New Zealand’s North Island. I started in Wellington, capital city and WINDY city! I felt like I was in St. John’s all over again, had to brace against the wind and I had to pull out my jacket! Hadn’t used any of those yet apart from up in the air or on the boat in Milford Sound! Arriving by ferry, I was greeted by a CISV friend from Canada. It was the first time we met, despite knowing dozens of people in common, and as it goes in CISV, of course we meet in New Zealand! It was so great to be taken around for a change, not having to worry about orienting myself or how to get places, simply letting myself be shown around a new city. It was wonderful, and so nice to finally meet Amy! Over the weekend I got to catch up with Tracey, a really good CISV friend of mine from London (well, she’s from New Zealand, we met in London). I also took the time to sort out the next couple of days, adding Rotorua to the itinerary and resting a bit when not visiting Zealandia and Te Papa, the national museum. Zealandia is a wildlife reserve, essentially an island on the mainland by virtue of it being surrounded by a wall to keep out the pests (rats, stotes, cats, etc). The goal is to restore the area to its previous untouched state – a goal that is estimated to take 500 years to achieve. I got to see so many fun birds and some reptiles. The kaka, a type of parrot, are particularly entertaining to watch because they’re so incredibly clever. Just watching them eat and drink is so interesting. Their food is kept in boxes and they have to stand on a weight-activated ledge to open them. Other birds try, but as they’re calibrated for a kaka’s weight, can’t get in. My guide (I got a one-on-one tour as I was the only one interested at the time! Also, she was Canadian!) mentioned some research done with the kaka where they blocked the boxes from opening by putting a rock under the ledges. They still got to the food in the end, though the younger birds got to the food faster than the older ones. I spent some time (though not enough!) in the Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa, which was incredibly done! I never enjoy reading about war, but I think it was important to learn about this battle that I knew nothing about, as Canada wasn’t involved in it. Giant life-like statues of soldiers, and one a nurse, introduced each section, with the narrative focusing on those particular individuals as we moved through history.
Early morning on the following Tuesday I was on my way to Rotorua, a journey that would take most of the day, again with stops (cause buses in NZ don’t have toilets in them.. so you have to rely on a stop every couple of hours for a toilet). Rotorua was bigger than I expected, having it in my mind that aside from Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington, everything else in NZ was pretty tiny, particularly from my experience so far on the South Island. I spent my first afternoon/evening just walking around, through the lovely sulphurous smell to the public park where you could put your feet in a hot pool and see lots of geothermal activity. It’s totally mesmerizing to watch water bubble or just smoke off the surface of a pool of absolutely clear water or just hear bubbling coming from holes in the ground. I ran into a French Canadian couple and we walked together for a couple of hours, following the coast until we were back in town. I then went to get a tattoo! I had popped into a shop earlier out of curiosity and got a great quote and the artist had time later in the evening. I wasn’t quite prepared mentally to do it then, but at least I had a couple of hours. I was nervous right up until I saw the finished product. I’m very happy with my cute ‘lil Hufflepuff badger J
For my only full day in Rotorua, I went to Whakarewarewa, the living Maori Village nearby, the only place in the world where humans live on geothermal land. They use it to cook and to bathe daily. We got a tour, a piece of corn cooked in one of the pools and saw a cultural performance, which of course included a haka but also songs with poi, little white balls at the ends of strings used percussively and a love song among other pieces. I learned more about these performances later, as I was sitting beside a performer for the first little bit of my flight to Melbourne. Each performance starts with an introduction and can be in the form of the group’s choosing i.e. haka or chant. Then there’s a chant, a haka, poi, and a closing song and the whole thing takes about half an hour. The competitions are a big deal and each region has their own styles. Groups are judged on content/message and dance as well as the music. Anyway after the village I went to the Redwood forest, which brought me right back to San Francisco! I was really tired by mid-afternoon and realized I was fighting a cold, so I went back to the hostel and rested for the rest of the evening.
The next day, I headed to Hamilton to meet up with a friend from 33Sixty! We went to Hamilton Gardens, which are so much more impressive than I expected, with probably about a dozen (fairly large) gardens, each with a different theme. There are new gardens being developed now too! Plus, it’s free right now, though they are introducing a charge for non-residents soon. We got Vietnamese for dinner and went to see the new Star Wars, which, without spoilers, I will say I really enjoyed, despite it feeling kind of never-ending. Really nice character development for Kylo Ren going on. Got to help out a little at a Red Cross event, a market where all stalls are run by refugees, before heading to Auckland, my final stop for New Zealand!
Auckland was a place to rest. I spent a day sailing, which was great fun and made me realize that I know more than I thought I did, which is always nice. Being a much smaller sailboat that the Clipper ones I’d only ever sailed on previously, it was a bit of adjustment, but I think much easier to go smaller than to go bigger! The main sail could be moved along its track by hand!! No winches needed. Amazing. I also realized that I’ve not only been trained to sail, but I’ve been trained to race. I was a little surprised when no one seemed bothered that the sails weren’t trimmed for maximum performance, because there’s nothing less on a Clipper boat! But we were out for a leisurely sail, as long as we were moving it was all good. Still, with one of the other crew, we took turns on the helm and at one point with myself helming and him trimming, we got the boat to 6.3kn, apparently among the fastest speeds it can do! It was great fun and very satisfying! I drove the boat out of our parking spot in the bay we visited and drove it back into its berth, skip seemed quite happy to let me do that and I was surprised how comfortable I was doing it too! Not that I’d want to do the same with a Clipper boat just yet, those things are much too big! Aside from a day of sailing, I spent a lot of time indoors just watching Netflix. After a month of travelling, I didn’t feel up to being a tourist and needed a break, especially in a city. I’m sure there was lots to do, but I don’t regret it or feel like I missed out on anything. I climbed Mt Eden (picture), visited another friend from 33Sixty, and went to my CISV friend and host’s birthday party on my last day and that was enough for me. It was great to catch up with friends and to have the time to cook in a kitchen with all the basics, and to just relax for a bit. For that, I really enjoyed Auckland.
My favourite thing about the North Island was the change of pace from the South. I got the chance to let myself be taken around a lot more, saw a bunch of friends that are so far away otherwise, got a little sail in, learned more about Maori culture (though primarily at the airport just before leaving from a new friend I met at check in and the lady in the plane!), and got the chance to relax before heading to Oz!