New Zealand is somewhere that, for some reason, has always fascinated me. Perhaps it was the books I read about the place, the people, the amazing explorers, the strength and beauty of the traditional people or the grand landscape, for whatever reason I have long held a feeling inside that I may one day end up spending time there. This trip was the second time I've had a chance to visit and explore and experience some of the magnificent things this extraordinary place has to offer. It would also give me the chance to meet up with some of the people I have met along the way and present some amazing coincidences, which always helps to reaffirm to me that I am on the right path. It sometimes astonishes me that I know people in so many places, and am truly blessed to have so many friends in all corners of the globe that I can catch up with.
Leaving Panama and Kuhela was a strange feeling, but that slowly disappeared into the jet trails and my plane sped on, and in what felt like no time at all I was stepping off the plane in L.A. I had a chance to catch up with my cousin Adam and his mate Dennis, who I haven’t seen since before I left Florida. They’re out there following their dreams and living life and was great to hear the stories of what they’ve been up to and how their trip has played out so far. Its awesome to see people out there going after what they want. After a few short hours though it was back on board another plane and after a mind bending time of half sleeps and what seemed like many days, I landed safely in the land of the long white cloud, New Zealand. I had originally wanted to spend three or so weeks here but with a few things in the pipeline for possible work I thought it best to cut it down to a week and a bit but hoped to fit as much as I could in. Auckland itself is quite a cool little place and one of the things I really wanted to do was go see some live music. Didn’t have to go far for that, as within walking distance there were weekend markets and live music, something I have thoroughly missed on my travels. Even just on a walk through town you could come across amazing buskers entertaining the masses as they went about their weekend routines. I caught up with a friend of mine, Ali, who I had met while sailing in Belize and was really cool to catch up again on the other side of the globe. After a few days spent recovering from some considerable jet lag and the bizarre adjustment to a new time zone, temperature, and the shock of decent customer service (and lots of good coffee) we rented a camper van and headed off to explore a bit. Now I guess something has to be said for the camper, I seemed to have been borrowed from the local pre school and it seemed a very viable option to go buy some ice cream to sell to the kids for some extra cash on the way.
One of the things I love about NZ is that most people here are into getting out and exploring, the landscape here is some of the most beautiful, amazing and breathtaking I have ever come across. The use of these and a thousand other adjectives wouldn’t even begin to come close to what is on offer here. Within an hour or two of the city you can be totally surrounded by lush forest, towering mountains and smoking thermal vents. It is a nature lover’s paradise. The Tongariro Alpine crossing, listed as the best one day alpine trek in the world, was on the cards, and after a night spent in an amazing little campsite tucked away deep in pine forest, and with a few curious possums sneaking into the campsite during the night, it was up for an early start and on to the trail. The easiest way to do this trek is to drop your van at the end and get a lift to the start of the trek and walk the 20 plus KMs back to your van. Walking steadily uphill in the crisp alpine air was a welcome shock to the system, inhaling deeply you could feel the fresh mountain air surge into your lungs and feel the energy and beauty of the land energize your body. The morning quickly warmed as the sun peeked over the mountains, casting his gaze slowly over the surrounding hills and valleys and bringing everything into the light of a new day. To be back out in the mountains is something that I truly treasure, it is the only place I have ever felt anything close to what I feel in the ocean. There are a few optional side treks on offer and the climb up Mt. Ngarahoe, maybe better known as Mt. Doom from lord of the rings, was not something to be missed. This was a fair hike and I certainly felt the legs and lungs burn as I scrambled our way up the scree slope to the summit 7,500 ft. above. The view from there was worth any amount of sweat and strain and sitting at the top, looking out above the clouds and away to the mountains and valleys far in the distance, and with a volcanic crater smoldering away behind me I was filled with a sense of wonder, accomplishment and humility. The forces that are responsible for this breathtaking landscape are monumental and far bigger that I. If going up was hard work, then going down was exhilarating fun, imagine sliding your way down the side of a mountain on soft scree that gave away underneath you as you ran down the side. At first terrifying, then once in the swing of it, enough fun to make you forgot the consequences of a missed step or rolled ankle, two hours going up, half an hour coming down, and unscathed at that, thank god. From there you find yourself walking along flat, almost desert like terrain, up and over other smaller mountains, looking down on magnificent emerald colored lakes and volcanic craters that appear deep ochre red, as though painted by some giant of the mountains, entire sides of mountains smolder as the steam from the thermal heat below escapes to the alpine air. This is a place of wonder, of beauty, and a reminder of the power and awe of Mother Nature. Here she is alive and active, this place could well be some magical area from middle earth.
On and on the path stretched out before us, winding snakelike to the last hut for a quick rest and a bite to eat, with about seventeen kms travelled and three to go, the legs certainly a bit more jelly like than in the morning. A burst of rain and hail caught us just on leaving the hut and made for an enjoyable run downhill, I was actually quite surprised how good it felt to run considering the terrain just covered, but this also gave another quality to the walk with everything wet and glimmering for the descent into the lower moss forest below and on to the car park. The legs were certainly weary by the end and removing shoes and putting on a cup of tea was as magical as you could want. With thought of a warm shower we made our way back to lake Taupo only to find the showers closed, an absolute disaster, but then I remembered reading about some natural thermal springs nearby and twenty minutes later I found myself soaking in a natural bath of hot water just out of town, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better…NZ, like I said its amazing. It was one of those days where you struggled to take it all in, where you wondered how any of your other “normal” days are ever going to live up this and you feel amazing awe and connection to the earth and all the beauty and strength she posses. That night I slept soundly, the van parked in a car park next to the lake. Before drifting off the many scenes of the day coasted past my minds eye and I was filled with so much gratitude. For the chance to see these things, to do the things I have done, to share the time with the people I have met, to be able to have a warm bed and food at the end of a long exhausting day, just so many things that I am so profoundly grateful for. You know its been an amazing day when as tired as you are you have a huge smile spread across your face.
We didn’t have much idea of where exactly we were heading after that; we started out for the Coramandel peninsula but weren’t too sure of which town to head to. Stopping into one of the larger towns along the way for ideas I picked up a brochure that said that Whagamatta (pronounced fangamaata) was one of the best surfing beaches in the area and that was that, if I could get a couple waves I would be a truly happy man, actually this would put me up around the level of insanely happy. Driving up, down and around windy roads bordered by fern covered hills and with a heavy bought of rain beating down upon the camper I didn’t really know what to expect as we pulled into town and followed the signs down to the beach to find an awesome little point break with fun little lefts peeling away down the beach and again the gods smiled, the rain stopped and the afternoon sky put on a exquisite display of color. Didn’t take long to run around to a few shops, rent a board and get given a wetsuit to try out by some of the friendliest and helpful surf shop crew I have come across before running down the beach and into the water like some over stoked grommet. NZ it just gets better. The rest of the afternoon was spent trading waves with the local crew and figuring out how to surf the board I had rented which was more like a mini mal that my usual short board, different feel, but one thing was clear, this was seriously fun stuff. Such a difference surfing in a wetsuit to surfing in boardies though but was a welcome change and to be honest the water was a lot warmer than I thought it was going to be. I emerged from the water a couple hours later a new man, given a good dose of salt water medicine, having surfed somewhere new, and stoked beyond belief. This was almost too good to be true. Got chatting to some of the boys in the water and got told that it had been flat for a week or so and that today was the first day of swell, nothing really else to do but smile and say thanks. Spent the next few days there surfing and relaxing and meeting some fun and friendly people. Like I mentioned there were a few coincidences along the way and on chatting to Shane and Jess, the couple in the camper van next to us, I found that he had been on the beach in Cusipin in Panama when Andrea and I were out there exploring and he also knew a bunch of crew that I knew in Bocas, and here we were, never having met in Panama, parked up next to each other and having a chat. Awesome. Another I day I got out of the water and walked up to the car park, only to head someone call out my name and see Tristen, a mate from the last dive course in the Bahamas standing there, the world is a small place. To me, these little coincides, little things that can be dismissed as nothing, are the little reminders or hints that I use to show me that I am on the right path. I don’t try to over analyze them or read too much into it, but again all you can do is smile and say thanks.
After a few days there we had to return to the city to drop off the van unfortunately. Would loved to have spent more time exploring and seeing what else NZ has on offer, but this would be just a short trip to wet the appetite, and it certainly did that. I long for more of NZ, its one of the most amazing places I've been to. I spent the next few days hanging out around Auckland and caught up with a few other friends, and even some soon to be family, in my brother’s fiancé’s family (which is even funnier as I haven’t even met her yet) before having to say good-bye and head back to Australia. There was so much mixed feeling as I headed off early that morning to catch that plane, it would mean coming full circle to where I had been before, but would I be the same as before? Would things be the same as before? What would I find? What would I do? So many questions and all I could do was just trust that everything was going to be exactly as It should. It was the end of the first leg of the journey, the completion of something I set out so long ago to do, the start of the next phase. I just didn’t know if I was ready for it to be over yet. Touching down in Perth and seeing all the familiar sights, so many memories and feelings came back that I kind of felt numb to the whole thing actually. I had arranged to borrow a mate’s car and he had left it at the airport for me, again so lucky and blessed to have good mates, and was looking forward to getting home to see the family. Though I did consider running to the beach for a swim first, not that I didn’t want to see them really badly, I just needed to dip my head in the ocean. As I stepped on to the steps to head to get my bags though, two familiar faces stood at the bottom beaming up at me, Mom and Joseph had made the trip out to welcome me home. Again so blessed to have family like this and so amazing to see them, almost forgot about the swim, almost.
It’s been a few days since I'm back now. I'm still unsure of things, how I feel, what to do, my next step, but I know I will figure it out. Didn’t take long to go get that swim though and to dip my head in the Indian Ocean again. Standing on Scarborough beach, where I have so many memories and feeling them all flow through, around and over me left me feeling a bit lost actually, but also gave me clues as to things I need to work on and where to put my next step. That’s it really, step by step, no idea where the final destination is, but I know deep inside that I am on the right path and just have to trust in that. Till I figure that out I'm just going to enjoy spending time with the family again. To get to meet and know my little niece and catch up on all those cups of tea with mom and dad that I owe them.