Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Current whereabouts...O'ahu

This is a side blog for my current whereabouts.  I will continue to finish up my NZ and Australia travels in succeeding blogs.  

I've been feeling a bit BLAH for awhile, but it's off and on.  Sort of stiff-necked and occasionally lightheaded.  Been going to the chiropractor, which has really been helping.  I'm pretty sure I messed something up while in NZ, doing lord knows what.  I was also carrying around 80 lbs in baggage, so that could add to the tension.  We all know travel is not light, especially over time.  I've acquired things that at least I'll use, so that's a plus. Pepper grinders and bone necklaces that I've carved.  I guess somehow I'm a little lighter as well (not just in weight, but in emotional baggage).  In the last year I'd really been holding a lot of crap, which I've let go of (some of it).  I still have issues with my family, but what I've realized while I've been away is that it really doesn't matter anymore.  I'd made some kind of goal in which I said I'd smooth things out with my family and talk to them more.  It's not that I'd stopped loving them, I just put those emotions associated with cynicism and negativity on the back burner for a bit.  My family can be draining, always caught up in their things, hardly keeping contact with me, forgetting my birthday.  Over the years it seemed as though it was my job to keep up with them, for some reason.  But I'm getting older, and now I just want to move forward and let things go.  My life hasn't ever been easy, so I'm trying to figure out how to simplify it now.  Aren't things always easier when simple?  I learned that the happiest people live the simplest lives.  We are complicated creatures, but we don't have to live chaotic.  

I've been back in Hawaii for two weeks now.  It's been really strange.  The first week was post-travel funk.  I spent a lot of time walking around a city I knew, only to feel like a stranger.  I also had moments of unexpected sobbing.  I was alone around flocks of people.  I don't know why, but this time after traveling has been the hardest to get over.  I think it's because I made great connections and felt a lot of home-sweet-home emotion.  This trip really has been a journey, and I've realized that in the past couple of weeks during this wind-down.  I'd realized what direction I want in my life.  I've discovered how much I missed the island and it's beautiful water, but also how it's still the same, never-changing place.  That's why I left in the first place.  I'm too big for the island right now, and I don't want it to capsize.  Coming back to this place in the future is always a possibility, but right now I have more of a community in Portland that is actually begging me to come back.  Hawaii hasn't made it's entrance that great.  With all of it's light and beauty it still lacks something, which is why it's such a transient place (and why I'm moving forward).  I'm glad to be over my "funk" and back into a more fluid thought process.  

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Many Faces of Mt. Barker

It’s Autumn in Wanaka.  The leaves paint the landscape with their warm colors.  The mornings are fresh and the afternoons are sunny.  The grass often has frost and crunches under your feet.  It’s quiet out here. The only noise comes from male deer calls, bird songs, and the rare mammalian species, Bernie. The property resides on a mountain (or near there, rather) called Mt. Barker.  In my first week there I spent my time harvesting veggies from the garden, light housecleaning, and of course, cooking.  I was welcomed in the house and quickly formed a connection with both Anne and Bernie, both extremely different.  We molded as a family, and as new WWOOFers came in, they saw that and swore I’d been living there much longer. 

We had the first set of WWOOFers come in from Maine, Brandon and Mason.  Bernie began to tell them I was his niece, and it was easy to believe.  The farm at Mt. Barker acts as a family.  Anyone staying there is very fortunate, as the hosts are generous, kind, and knowledgeable.  There is hardly a dull moment at this place, really.  Most mornings are begun with walking the goats, all four of them, whose names are Whipper, Snipper, Lawn, and Mower.  This task of “walking goats” is a completely ridiculous, yet learning and meditative experience.  You get into the mind of the goat.  You have to talk to them.  Sometimes you have to run at them like a lunatic with your arms flailing up and bizarre noises coming from your mouth.  The trick is really to be smart about feeding them from the bag of nuts you carry.  They are stubborn like any other mammal, and they need to be coaxed with something yummy.  The farm also has six free-range chickens that also like chatting.  Anne and Bernie are convinced speaking to the ladies everyday helps them lay (but only in English, of course).  The other animals (besides the WWOOFers and Bernie) are two dogs, Kozo and Mitsu, and a cat named Tofu.  Yes, this place is full of charm and weird names.  It works well in the scheme of randomness. 

As I soon became the personal chef for the house, I realized I could make anything (just about) that I wanted.  I utilized the fresh produce from the garden, which became quite challenging with the endless courgettes (zucchini) and tomatoes.  I even put them in eggs benedict and mac n’ cheese.  Bernie wasn’t too fond of vegetables, but he didn’t have must jurisdiction in the kitchen, especially if I occasionally made a local Hawaiian dish to his liking. 

In the midst of all the cooking, I began bone carving.  I was initially introduced to the idea after one of Bernie’s Maori friends came over to tie a proper necklace for my current whale bone piece.  A few days later he brought spare whale bone and I started.  What started as a novel idea turned into a creative outlet.  Of course, my first piece wasn’t spectacular, but each piece turned out better.  I even toyed with carving ideas I couldn’t quite comprehend.  The majority of my nights for the next three weeks were associated with carving, drinking whiskey (which I feel helps the creativity), listening to music, and socializing with the WWOOFers and Bernie. 

The majority of the happenings are around either the dinner table or the social (or creative) bench in the shop.  Naturally, the dinner table is a bit more on the formal side (but not THAT formal), which includes saying grace, drinking wine, and eating with a knife and fork.  The creative bench is a bit more raw.  It is said that, at this table, “What happens at Mt. Barker, stays at Mt. Barker.”  So it goes that drinking and smoking are obviously in the picture.  Not to mention, the chocolate.  I’m talking about special chocolate that makes your legs go numb and lasts for 10 hours.  The first night “chocolate” was consumed, it was apparent that we had WAY too much.  I didn’t feel normal until noon the following day.  One of the WWOOFers didn’t feel normal until 24 hours later.  This special chocolate is made on the farm.  And the greens are grown in the garden.  The supply is pretty extensive, and although I don’t smoke, it would be a dream to any stoner.  In place of the greens, I stuck with scotch or bourbon.  Those nights at the creative bench were filled with endless bullshitting and creativity.  This place really is special, and as I said before, those to experience it are quite fortunate. 

In my time at Mt. Barker I was able to spend some good time with Anne, too.  It really was very different hanging out with her.  She’s a scientist, and thinks like one.  A highly intelligent, quick-witted, and kind person.   When I took over the cooking she was able to get back into her art, as she is a paper-maker.  I realized our minds were very alike and methodical.  She taught me how to make some really delicious chutneys and homemade tomato sauce (ketchup).  Anne may be a scientist, but she’s a farm girl at heart.  She grew up on the 70 acre property, doing the hard labor of a man.  She spent the 30 years working as a microbiologist in Australia, and came back to New Zealand to take care of her dying parents.  On a more spiritual note, she’s a healing minister.  Her faith in God, along with her visions, can make anyone question their beliefs (seriously).  She’s highly perceptive and real.  Initially, people think she’s a bit tough or anti-social, but it’s just her way of gauging the environment, which I can appreciate, as I do it myself.  She now spends most of her time playing on the computer, playing with her boy Tofu, or playing with her artwork.  

Bernie is a different story.  He’s on a completely other realm of thinking.  More of a child than an adult, he takes everything at first glance, rather than in stride (as Anne).  Very temperamental and compulsive, he has an interesting past that gives way for a better understanding of him, while giving him complexity (as most don’t realize he is).  His childhood was rough, having an abusive father and ignorant mother.  He’s a typical bad boy.  Broke some rules, paid the price.  Went into the military very young (younger than allowed) and became part of the Special Forces.  He’s traveled around the world jumping out of airplanes, killing, and being promiscuous.  His life has changed since Vietnam, and Anne has him on a tight enough leash that he can enjoy his life in the present.  He now spends most of his time harassing the WWOOFers and woodturning (which he's amazing at).  

In over a month I’ve learned a lot about their family.  They have become my family.  In a place so foreign to me, I have found a home away from home.  As I have always said, “My home is where I choose to be,” and it really has rung true.  My initial perceptions of New Zealand have been so skewed by Lord of the Rings and the unknown.  What I’ve done in the past few months have really been something big and amazing.  The people are the nicest that I’ve come across in the world.  The beauty is inescapable.  New Zealand has always been this mysterious, mystical country.  I understand now why the locals wish to keep it a secret.  When you come here and do it right, you’ll never want to leave.  It is indeed, a home away from home. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

And then there was Wanaka

Jillian and I had been hitchhiking for over a month, so we felt we had it under our belt.  The only thing that bugged me about it was the fact that none of the camper vans ever picked us up.  When we thumbed from Franz we were immediately picked up by a skydive instructor who dropped us off at Fox Glacier, 15 minutes away.  It was in this area that we saw heaps of camper vans, most of which passed us, and some of which gave us the awkward hand signal or attempt at sign language (which I’m still uncertain about).  I really had given up all hope of ever getting picked up by a camper, so when it happened this time we were sure it was a mistake.  We get a lot of people who tend to pull up in front of us, but only to check a map or they get scared of what we look like (I guess?).  We were picked up by a very wealthy German family going right to Wanaka.  The only problem with this (and the only issue we’ve encountered whilst hitching) was that Wanaka was three hours away, which meant three hours of chatting and bullshitting.  Sigh.  You see, most people wouldn't really think of this as an issue, but what you may not realize is that telling your "story" repeatedly is very exhausting, especially with as many rides as we've gotten.  So we rode along and told our stories, got nicely interrogated, and asked questions of our own.  Jill was having a hell of a time, but me, I was having an awful time.  This wasn't because of our new German friends, it was because I get motion sickness.  Now, on all of our rides have been in reasonably small cars on very narrow, loopy roads.  Sometimes in those cars I'd get a little queasy, but that didn't even compare to this ride.  It was like being stuck in the bathroom out on a boat with 10 foot seas.  Didn't do much talking after that, but maintained perfect composure and tried to nestle my way into the front to look out the window (which helps).  When we finally arrived in Wanaka I was glad to be on steady ground.  I was happy for the ride, however, I don't think I'll be hitching in any campers any time soon.

Upon arrival we took a short walk in Wanaka to a backpackers to lay our stuff down and roam around.  Our bags had gotten pretty heavy by now since we brought some honey and chutney with us from Harihari.  We walked around the town in about 20 minutes and admired the Lake Wanaka.  The area is breathtaking, but pretty slow in summer.  It's winter that gets the busiest, since it's huge on snow sports.  We had heard this place was a pretty cool, laid back town, and easy to find employment.  The first thing we did was find work for accommodation, which I found easily at BASE, a three-story backpackers.  They only had one position open, so I decided to take it and Jill would figure out something at the backpackers in which we were staying the night.  It turns out that I'd be starting work the next day and Jill would be starting in two weeks.  It was then that we made a decision to part ways.  She would stay in Wanaka for a couple of days, then make her way down to Milford Sound.  Jill was on more of a time crunch than I was.  She has a plane ticket to fly out in May and I have no ticket to fly out.  Over the next couple of days we randomly ran into Glenn (whom we met in Springfield and drove us to Greymouth) in the grocery store and Maggie (who was WWOOFing with us in Harihari) who just happened to be in town.  I liked running into these people without an agenda.  It was either a sign I was in the right place or this island really is small (maybe both?).  

So Jill leaves and I'm already staying at BASE.  This place is really interesting.  I find it hilarious that I'm a housekeeper for this place that holds 300 people.  Of course, I'm not the only one.  I'm one of seven others that works for accommodation and gets to share one room.  I've found that most of them are just biding their time until they leave because they are bad at budgeting.  Most of them 22 or younger.  Interestingly enough, every night I was woken up by someone in the room yelling or screaming from night terrors.  It was absurd, really.  I guess one night was expected because I filled this Czech girl's head with ideas of an earthquake happening in our room.  That was a fun wake-up call with her shaking the bed and asking if we felt it.  Yeah, creepy.  I spent a week there and learned how to make bunk beds with efficiency (and poise, of course) while learning a few tricks.  After 1pm (when work ended) there wasn't much else to do except a few small hikes in the area and bullshit with the others.  I also looked for a job in this time, but I wasn't able to apply for one because I had one hang-up: my passport.  I'd left my bag long ago in Cambridge before the road trip.  I know, it's dumb that I didn't bring it with me, but when this planned road trip was only supposed to be a week, how could I have known things would go awry and I'd need it?  Positions were passed up because of a lack of passport, so I tried to get it sent to me, but there were issues with that, too.  They were eventually cleared up by Traci, the friend in Cambridge holding my backpack, and I was grateful for that.

Before my week ended at BASE, I called up Bernie, a WWOOF host that Jill and I were supposed to stay with weeks ago after Harihari.  It never worked out, but I kept his number, as he was from Hawai'i and wanted to get together to chat anyway.  Bernie came and picked me up and we went to check out his place 7 km away at Mt. Barker.  His place was truly spectacular, overlooking Wanaka and the surrounding mountains.  His partner, Anne, is a microbiologist and paper-making artist.  Bernie woodturns art himself, and their house is strewn with a creative ambience.  I fell in love with the place with ease, as well as Bernie's generosity and unconventional style.  I was invited to stay for dinner, accompanying two WWOOFers who had been staying there for 2 weeks already.  After dinner we went to a neighbor's million dollar house for a dance party.  Although completely underdressed (sloppy jeans spotted with white paint and a wife beater...yeah, seriously) I went and had a blast.  Open martini bar and 70s retro dance music...it was something out of a movie.  All we needed was Laura Bush and Jim Morrison to complete the well-roundedness of the group.  It was a good night and a full moon.  This was only the beginning of randomness associated with Bernie, and it wasn't until I was invited to stay at his house two days later that I realized that truth.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Franz Josef Glacier

While in Harihari our next move was to make our way to Wanaka to possibly find work. When we decided to stay longer, our plans changed. We hadn’t originally expected to visit Franz Josef, but after meeting one of Dan’s friend’s, John, who worked for DOC (Department of Conservation), we really hoped to take advantage of that. It all worked out in our favor and we didn’t even have to seek it out. Things tend to happen that way, and what I like to think is that if you will it, it will work itself out. So, we got back out on the road and thumbed it. A guy from Australia traveling alone picked us up and brought us right there. We met John for a drink that evening at the local bar (which we became regulars at the whole time in town). John is an interesting bloke. Bachelor, from England, hard worker, BIG drinker.

Every night we were coaxed into drinking.  It really did get old.  His ex-wife was Chinese, so I questioned whether I’d have some issues with him coming onto me, due to the Asian fetish (of course). I was right. The first night we got shit-faced and he went for a feelsky. Hell no. I’m a young thang and you’re an old man. Dream on, dude. Surprisingly it didn’t make it awkward after that first night. But our time there wasn’t over and I grew a bit wary.

The next day we were due to go up on the glacier. I didn’t know how things really worked on the glacier, but apparently you must have a guide. Most tours run $300+, but we were lucky enough to have John work out the kinks. He got us boots, crampons, and even took us up on the ice himself. We lucked out and spent the entire day on the ice. The only downside was the rain, but he had extra waterproof jackets (that actually were waterproof!), and what’s the rain when it comes to beauty? (Not counting when hitchhiking, then the rain just sucks) Anywho, the glacier was breathtaking. We spent nearly five hours on the ice; went through tunnels, made our own paths, drank pure glacial water (yummy). I even felt the urge to climb up a steep 20 ft shaft with a ice-axe. It was actually pretty dumb and I drew a little blood, but I didn’t fall and die, so that’s a plus (damn, what WAS I thinking?). After hours of gracefulness on teh ice we make our descent and what happens? I bust my ass. Hardcore busted up my knees. No one ever told me how hard ice was (haha). So hard that they left mean bruises for a couple weeks. Temporary battle wounds?

Our last day in Franz we spent chopping firewood. We were unaware that it would be a six hour day of full on chopping wood. After the first two hours we were over it, but the wood just kept appearing. Fuck me if I ever volunteer to chop firewood again. Don’t get me wrong, it was an awesome workout and my skills were a bit impressive (not to brag, lol), but that was unnecessary labor. Bah! We finished off the night with drinks upon drinks and then it happens. He gets the impression that I want him and he’s going to make a move on me (this was all said to Jill, who was being asked if he should "go for it"). He said I flirted with him, which may have been true, but I flirt with everyone, naturally. What makes him so special? After Jill gives him the low down on what the reality is, he takes off back home. Awkward. The next day we take off to Wanaka, completely justified to leave. Our time was well-spent in Franz Josef, but there was nothing more to do there. The glacier was great, but that’s all the area was good for (besides frisky older men, which aren’t my bag). As I like to say, onward and upward!

Getting Wild in Harihari

The day we began hitching to Harihari it was drizzling. I gave up on using Jillian’s holey poncho long ago and was happy to have Heidi give me an old poncho of hers. Not long after I was in the rain with this poncho did I wonder why I was still getting wet. Turns out it was so old the waterproofing was nonexistent. So I continued to get wet whilst the material stuck to my skin. Anyway…thumbs out, smiles wide (but no too wide otherwise we’d look crazy) and hopes of getting a ride quickly. A fellow named John picks us up in a van full of crap. He owns a secondhand shop in Hokitika. We ride with him there. Before he drops us, he shows us the quaint town and where his shop is. Not long after we are dropped off does Jill realize she’s left her entire purse in his car. She sprints across the bridge and returns 20 minutes later, purse in hand. It was a good thing he showed us where he worked. The next person who picked us up was a woman named Mary who was driving a half hour out of town. She’s a kayak instructor in Greymouth, and had Ethan (Heidi’s son) as a student. This is just another example of how small NZ really is. We get dropped in a random spot, not the best for getting picked up. The rain comes down harder and the wind starts up. Super awesome. We stand there for over an hour and no one stops. We ponder a pint we passed a mile back. Guess our guilt-tripping stares weren’t working. Freezing and close to losing hope, FINALLY a tiny car pulls up. In it is Doris the saint (and an elementary teacher)! She lives and works in Ross, about 45 minutes from Harihari. She owns a farm and has a bunch of cats. Lives alone. Has a nervous, unique laugh. The kind that you use when you don’t know what to say and can’t stop rambling. But it really didn’t matter because she saved our freezing asses. To top off her saintliness, she drove us completely out of her way to Harihari. That’s some good karma.

We arrive at Wildside Backpackers, entirely off the beaten path. It wasn’t really a backpackers, but used to be. Danny and Kathy are our hosts. Dan looks like a blonde, long-haired hippy with a loooong red beard. Kathy looks a few years older and a little rough around the edges. They have two kids, Shea and Dylan, 3 and 1. Dan shows us around the property, which is two properties in one. The entire place covered in green, they have a very large garden which constantly produces veggies, and they spin and extract honey.

The whole property has old parts and bicycles laying around, useable bathtubs outside, and everything else is a step back in time. There are already two other WWOOFers there, guys from New Jersey. Jill and I jump right into jarring honey, which tastes absolutely delicious. Our entire time there we never used a drop of sugar for our tea or coffee, just honey, of course. So dinner rolls around and it’s white-tail deer stew. I guess this first meal was just an indoctrination into the type of things we’d be eating there.Game, or more generally, things caught by hand. That evening we take a hike to a secluded hot spring, and thus begins our epic time at Wildside. The naked hot spring soaking was a beautiful and memorable point in time I will never forget. Digging out a hole in this huge sandy pool with shovels, naked, and then laying in it for four hours staring at the ridiculously clear night sky. No one around, just good people along with good conversation.

What was originally 3 days turned into 6, and we found ourselves wrapped up in the extraordinary lifestyle of hunting and gathering. Every day seemed to be interesting and something new. One day we went fishing, in which seemed like a simple ride, however turned out to be a whitewater drive through the river. We were to get to the most secluded spot, I’m sure, and when we were arrived it was unreal. We rode to where the river met the ocean and no one was around. At one point while walking along the beach, mussels on the ocean rocks were spotted, this signaled the stripping of clothes to gather them off of the rocks. Without question everyone took off their clothes and got continually slammed by waves to get the most large and succulent emerald mussels. The clothes could’ve been optional, but that means we’d be walking back in wet, cold attire. I only wish I had a cameraman to tape it, because it was absolutely a hilarious, epic scene. The fishing ensued and a beautiful trout was caught. We watched the sunset and eventually made our way back to steam up our fresh mussels, and, believe it or not, I ate a lot of them (which is unheard of, if you know how I hate mussels). When in Rome? Er, when in New Zealand, rather.

It wasn't until the next day that we dressed up the fish and smoked it in Dan's rigged smoker (made from found objects). It was the best fish ever! That day we also dug up the spud bed (for 2 days), which was enough to feed the family for the entire year. I found the most amusing thing about this place was how there is a constancy of friends coming over to hang out everyday. This is where I’d met some good connections; one friend who let me choose a green stone (jade) of my choice, and another friend who offered a tour around Franz Josef Glacier (which I took a week later). The rest of our time there was spent making cucumber chutney (a damn good one), harvesting veggies, and just having a good ol time. The only downside of this place was the fact that Kathy did all of the work while Dan went off and played. It was hard to watch her in the conventional woman’s role, which is the reason why we didn’t stay longer. We could’ve easily stayed there for weeks, but it was too painful to watch that abuse. I will still say this place was completely amazing and that whomever comes by there MUST SEE IT. It may change your life.

A couple more things about this place. With beehives everywhere I managed not to use my Epi-Pen, STILL, and did learn a thing or two about honey spinning and extracting. They also made home brews, in which we drank most nights and consisted of the many fruits on the property.

Final notes: This place is called Wildside for a reason. It is, in every way, wild. It brings out the wild in any person that stays there and brings them closer to the earth. I appreciate that and am glad to have experienced it.

Greymouth and beyond

When getting rides to Greymouth we’d heard bad things about the town. Not many people were too fond of it and we couldn’t figure out why. I guess because there was nothing to do? Glenn (aka Gimli) was driving south and offered us a ride. He drove us right to the house. This was going to be a different experience, seeing that we were staying with complete strangers that were opening up their house to us. Heidi, the head of the house (and whom we made the most contact) was a wonderful, tranquil spirit. I instantaneously felt comfortable with her. She made us feel right at home and we pitched our tent in the backyard the first night.

That night was also very wet and cold. The days after we stayed in the house in one of her son’s rooms. We fell into a nice routine at the Pace home, roaming around during the day and making dinner at night, everyone eating together. It’s wasn’t as abnormal as one would assume with complete strangers being in their home. I did some gardening for Heidi and Jonathan (the husband) and at night we all played Scrabble. It was like being with the hippy version of the Brady Bunch.

Heidi had two sons, Ethan and David. Ethan was a kayak guide in Abel Tasman and David was home from school since the Christchurch quake (which is where his school resided). They were both so different, Ethan outgoing and David introverted, yet both very respectful and fun. They never seemed to be weirded out by two random girls crashing at their house. We spent some quality time with them, but mostly with David, who was a natural, bleached cutie. One night we went over to a friend of David's house, Morgana, for drinks and games. She lived off of the coastal road in an old sailor's house that overlooked the ocean. That is where we met other fellow travelers Matt and Jamie, the latter of which we had briefly met in Abel Tasman a week prior. A sign we were in the right place or was this island just that small?

We had a hell of a time at the Pace residence and they made us feel as welcome as their own kin. Heidi was truly a comforting woman and the most gorgeous of beings. She exuded light. By this time I realized how lucky we’d been in our travels thus far. The rain had began and we had dry shelter.

One day on a side trip we decided to go to Punakaiki to see the Pancake Rocks. It wasn't too far from Greymouth to hitch, so we went for it. Our first ride was by a cosmetician whom may have been on cocaine or meth. She was a bit nervous and shakey, eventually dropping us in the worst possible spot. It began to rain and a middle-aged man took pity on our pathetic faces and picked us up, noshing on a pink pastry. He was a bellhop at the resort next to our destination. Gold. We had a nice drive there and made our way on a short tramp near the rocks. It was cool and rainy, but we still enjoyed ourselves. Getting a ride back was easier, as three gorgeous Argentines scooped us up and dropped us at our door, yet again. Couldn't complain about the scenery.

When figuring out where we were heading next, we remembered the words of Sonya (the Maui girl in Marlborough). She had previously told us that if we were ever to go near Harhari, on the west coast, we “Must stop there.” We figured we’d see if they were taking WWOOFers. We knew absolutely nothing about this place except that they were into honey and were hunter-gatherers. They didn’t even have a website, just by “word of mouth.” This was intriguing, and when they said “Come on down” we jumped at the chance and left the next day from Greymouth. This was going to be interesting. Greymouth was interesting and very homey, but it was time to move on. I’m glad to have found a family environment in this trip. I will always have a soft spot for the Pace family.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

WWOOFing Springfield and Exploring Castle Hill

Leaving wine country was hard after all the free tastings, but we managed to drag ourselves away. We were on the road again, heading to Springfield, a long ways away. This drive was supposed to happen with Richard, our friend from Christchurch, but the earthquake happened. We decided to bypass Christchurch and take the split onto Arthur’s Pass from Kaikoura. Our first pick-up was with Evelyn, a typical Kiwi mother, young and kind. She dropped us 30 minutes up the road. On a side note, we realized you have to take every and any ride you can get, even if it's 10 km up the road. So our next pick up was by Nick, a clothing designer heading down to Christchurch for a meeting about moving the office from the quake disaster. We rode with him for hours, occasionally stopping to show us a waterfall or a nice beach. When we reached the split, he dropped us off, and it started to pour. We hoped for an instant ride seeing that we were two girls standing in the rain, one with a shredded poncho and another without anything. That was me, poncho-less. Yes, I'm stupid (or maybe stubborn and frugal). After waiting ages, and looking like a wet rat, a jaguar pulled over. Mistake? I think not! An older, conservative couple was giving us a ride. This was going down in hitchhiking history! We were amazed and it was great to see new types of people. They definitely felt bad for us, but who cares, hitching is all about guilt anyway. They were so nice they drove us right to our destination, not wanting us to get rained on any more. So sweet.

We arrived at our WWOOFing destination. A backpackers/pub. It looked nothing like the pictures. Definitely needed some work. The owners weren’t even around to give us the low down, so we sat around for awhile. We finally got ourselves a “Pod” via phone call by the barmaid who was angry we didn't buy anything. This pod, the place in which we slept, was basically a trailer box with bunk beds and electrical outlets. Nothing special and definitely budget. The one reason we chose this place was because we figured out the owners were gay men. I love, love, love gay men! Unfortunately after meeting these two they weren’t as lovely as we expected. There was Malcom, who was the butch and ran the business. Then there was Chris, who looked like the blonde guy from Queer Eye, who was the bitch in the partnership. They were all over the place and needed to get their shit together. We cruised the first day and joined a little soiree in the backpackers lounge that night. That day we also met Glenn, a fellow traveler, on a solo journey. We partied with him as well. I liked to call him a skinny Gimli because he had a long red beard. May as well if we’re talking LOTR.

The next day all we did was paint a wall. Seriously. All white. Whomever painted it prior needed a lesson on painting. We made that shit shine. Later that day we took a little side trip with Glenn (who had a car) to Castle Hill. This place was known for rock climbing and bouldering, or just plain fun. We also discovered they’d filmed parts of Narnia and LOTR here. Sweet! We roamed around for awhile and enjoyed ourselves. The next day we decided to leave. This place wasn’t what we expected and although we get food and board, it wasn’t anything special. We said our goodbyes without hesitation and made our way to Greymouth. Jillian had a friend who’s mother had a friend and wanted to make sure we were safe after the quake. We were also feeling aftershocks here (in Springfield), so it was no joke. Knowing nothing of these people and hoping for the best, we hitched our way there. Good thing for good people in the world. You never know where they are hiding and when you will get to meet them. This next stop was randomness at its best. The outcome was completely unknown and we were okay with that. That has been the entire mentality of this trip. Just go with it.

Winetasting and Couchsurfing in Marlborough

When in Marahau we decided on our next move. Would we WWOOF or would we couchsurf? We both utilized our resources and sent out emails from each. First hit back was a couple from Maui living and working in Renwick, wine country. When I sent out the email I knew it was a shot in the dark, but I figured they wouldn’t pass up a fellow Hawaiian. I was right.

Hitching from Marahau was a bit tricky from the area we were staying. We both made cardboard signs saying “Motueka/Nelson/Blenheim” and “Anywhere is better than nowhere ;)” We were picked up by Herman the German going to Motueka.
Then we were picked up by a son and father, Simon and David, going to SCUBA dive near Nelson. Finally, we were picked up by Adam from Nova Scotia. He turned out to be a really sweet guy living and working in the same area we were going. He made a
couple of stops, one in which we hopped into the river for a swim in our underwear. He dropped us at a gas station and not long after that Sam picked us up. We immediately went for a few wine tastings, a good ice breaker for sure. When we made it back to the house it was a beautiful area with a big garden, a cow, chook (chickens), and two adorable dogs.

Sonya was a breathe of fresh air. We instantly got along with her. We also learned that Sonya went to the same university as Jill in Colorado. What a small world. The next day Sam was leaving on a trip to tag some possums and we had solo time with Sonya.
Staying with her was like staying with family. Comfortable.
For the next four days we went wine tasting anywhere we could in Renwick and Blenheim, tasting the best Sauvignon Blancs of the Marlborough region, what they are known for. Jill was finished with tasting after the first two days, but I kept trucking, making the most out of the free wine tastings.
When it was time to leave it was almost like leaving an old friend. I felt as though I’d known her for years rather than days. These were amazing people to better our journey in the South Island.

New Beginnings: Hitch-hiking and Abel Tasman

When Jill and I finally embarked on our journey together from Wellington, everything seemed right. Except for the fact that we had to take three modes of transportation just to get to the ferry (that wasn’t very far away in the first place). I found it amusing that the ride from the North to the South Island was only three hours. What was even more interesting is that locals living in Wellington had never been to the South Island. Bizarre. The ride was gorgeous.

 A perfectly painted picture and more gorgeous the closer we got to our destination. We passed the Marlborough Sounds, dozens of islands, some of which people lived and had to get to by boat. When we finally arrived in Picton we began our hitch-hiking journey. At first we didn't have much luck because of all the tourists getting off, but we were eventually picked up by Suzie, a Bahai eccentric white lady. She did most of the talking, eager to get us to work in the vineyards or to join her cult, we were unsure. She dropped us off in a spot that we later realized was the worst spot ever. Our endeavors continued with various drivers, one of which owned a vineyard that produced grapes for Kendall-Jackson, so that was interesting. 

The most amazing ride happened to be from Richard, the local Kiwi from Christchurch that made the excursion to Nelson each week. We drove us nearly four hours, and if it weren't for his kind presence we would've have stayed in Nelson. That night we had dinner and he paid the tab. He was one of the more gracious drivers that showed us local sites without asking.  We hitched ride into Motueka and finally Marahau, which is where we planned to hike for a few days. We stayed at a backpackers called Kanuka Ridge, which was kind of ghetto and a bit miserly. I swear we were being scammed for everything, including the campsites we had to book in advance for the hike. I got Jillian hooked on Scrabble, so we played every night we could. It really has been a great travel companion and I'm thankful for it. The next day we embarked on our tramp from Mutton Cove, the very last beach that you could be dropped off at. We had 50 km to finish in three days, and when we were dropped off by our water taxi, we were ecstatic to see the beach so secluded.

The Abel Tasman track was pretty popular. I wasn't ask excited to do it because I knew how many people would be on it and that I had to pay $12 a night for a camp spot. The track was spectacular; picturesque beaches and coast, it reminded me a lot of Kaua'i's Na Pali Coast.A lot of the hiking was done on the beach itself, which made for really awesome sand blisters later on. This hike was our first encounter with a plethora of bees and sandflies. Not charming. Luckily I had no bee stings, which would have been fuck-all seeing that I'm allergic. But those damn sandflies were little bastards, eating away at my ankles and fingers. They are relentless, and quite possibly, the only horrible thing about New Zealand. You will itch for weeks because of these buggers, leaving gaping wounds because they irritate so much. We stayed in Tonga Quarry the first night. Epic sunset. The next night we stayed in Watering Cove, which has the most peaceful sunrise I've seen in ages. Throughout the three days we were eating the most minimal of food and water, consisting of carrots, apples, peanut butter, tortillas, and honey. For dinner we'd have tuna and pasta. The last nigh we were hiking out to Marahau, we both realized we had pains in our ankle, possibly a sprang or hairline fracture from overexertion. I also realized that I was in a state of euphoria...possibly from lack of water or a bee sting. I will never know...
When we finally finished the hike, we ate the most amazing meal at The Fat Tui. If ever in these parts again, we must have food from here. It's probably the best I've had in NZ, even if it's only a food cart.

South Island thus far: Fantastic
Abel Tasman hike: Pretty lovely, but too touristy to do again.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Road Trip

After far too many days the road trip began. Unfortunately it wasn't that simple getting to that point. Sarah was to move out of her house in three days and those closest to her (I guess me?) were sucked in to help. Three crappy years of acquiring junk between her boyfriend (ex) and herself was not that easy to eliminate. If it were me, as I repeated (naturally), I would've just thrown all of the shit away and pack up a suitcase. Why bask in the miserable past? Either way, her gorgeous friendsand I cleaned it to perfection (meanwhile Sarah is on her phone...surprise, surprise). The previous two weeks I was accompanied in the house by a lovely South African girl named Andrea who was really a godsend in helping out and keeping some of Sarah's rants at bay. When we (Andrea, Marika, and Traci) finished the house, we were finally on the road to Whangarei (pronounced fang-array).

This road trip consisted of four women: Sarah, Marika, Jillian, and myself. We all get along well so I knew it'd be a great time with everyone. I haven't said much about Marika, but let me tell you about her. She's a hilarious chick from Yorkshire, England. Funny enough she has never made Yorkshire pudding, however she does have the recipe (and will be making it for me on command). She really is an exceptional person. Loads of laughs and much younger than her age. She's a psychiatric nurse, which is how Sarah knows her (Sarah is an occupational therapist at the hospital), and has been living in NZ for a year. Back to the road trip...we packed in the car and drove north to Whangarei where we'd be staying with Sarah's mum. What was supposed to be a lovely holiday turned into an interesting series of events.

We arrived at the house. Lush and set back in the bush. Beautifully constructed and decorated. Filipa (her mum) was nice at first. The only warning we had was her inability to stop talking. I figured between four women that would be no problem. We could take shifts talking and listening. That was the least of our worries. This woman spent the majority of our stay there hounding us about the amount of water and electricity we were using. It wasn't long before we chose to move houses and ended up in a far more comfortable environment near Mt. Manganui. This house was pretty quiet with the only tenant being Shane, a childhood friend who has Asperger's...but was a bit more social than expected. We had a hell of a few days there. Touring around the North Island with a local would've been great, had this local actually known the spots where she were taking us. A lot of the spots were beautiful, don't get me wrong, but she hadn't been there in 10 years. Some of the tramps we went on were blocked, and it was strange to see her reactions (Sarah's) when she realized they weren't as concrete as her childhood memories.

The most wonderful thing about the Northern North Island were the secluded, perfect beaches around every cove. it was funny that the only problem we had with these beaches was which to choose from. You're walking down a tree-covered path, come around a switchback and then see this breathtaking beach like something out of a movie. One of the beaches we went to, Ocean Beach, had a lot of surfers (and hardly surf) and a steep hike to a cove. If you hiked past the cove you could get into the lush of the forest and get amazing views. It was a challenging, beautiful, and endless hike that the girls weren't too fond of after the first two hours. Jillian and I, of course, tramped ahead and stumbled upon an epic lookout. The other girls were so fixated on getting out of there they missed it. And so it goes that one person's ideal holiday is completely different than the next.

After much beaching and topless sunbathing we made our way down to Wellington. Now, I had practiced driving previously just for the trip, but I hadn't really expected to drive over 10 hours on windy roads in shitty weather. I'm not sure if it was my pride or being in control that kept me in the driver's seat, but I drove the entire way there. When we finally got into Wellington we crashed with a friend named Mithun (mih-toon).

The next day we wandered around the city and into various shops, playing tourist. That night we went out on the town to drink and dance. At first Jillian and I went to this Irish pub to get a $9 Guiness (dear GOD!) and crash a hen party (bachelorette party). From there we met up with the rest of the gang and went to Boogie Wonderland, probably the most fabulous disco pop club EVER! It was a blast from the past and I'm not even sure how long we were there, it was like eating magic mushrooms...time just elapsed! When we finally left we went to another club where I received oodles of free Patron shots and danced the night way. Or at least into oblivion, which is where I was at when we finally left there. If I had any money I'm sure I would've bought some Subway, but I was so damn stubborn that I stumbled back to the apartment, shit-faced. No worries, I slept like a baby ;)

The next day we find out we are being ditched by Sarah. She's had a breakdown, can't be around us, and we are left to sort out ourselves. This is going off of the fact that we ALL were supposed to go to the South Island together. We all make our decisions and mine is to continue onto the South Island with Jillian. I'd be an idiot to come this far and not go there. It's only three hours by ferry. And that's how my decision making has come to be...effortless and on the whim.

Final take on Wellington: completely walkable, likeable, edible, and friendly. Probably my most favorite city. It has something for everyone.