Up North: After leaving Hamilton I headed for the far north of New Zealand.

December 27-28
I enjoyed my time with Gareth, but it was time to leave.  I wanted to be on the road traveling with what I could carry on my back.  I arrived in Auckland and stayed at some anonymous big-city hostel.  Every sitting room had a TV and instead of hanging out with each other, people just stared at the idiot box.  That night I went to a club, but they didn't allow me in because I was wearing running shoes.  I was not impressed.  Would anyone in a darkened dance club notice my shoes?  I really didn't like Auckland at all and this club made me sure that it was time to leave.

I was going to get out of Auckland one way or the other.  I went to Whangarei, north of Auckland, where I had heard that there was decent diving.  It turns out that I couldn't go diving as a cyclone was coming.  I met an English woman named Kate.  We went out for hot chocolate that evening, something that I would become quite accustomed to. Later on it started to rain and continued all night.

December 29-30
I caught a ride with Kate north to Paihia.  I wasn't sure why I was going there, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.  It was raining cats and dogs and almost all the rooms were full in Paihia.  There was one last spot left at Tommy's hostel so I grabbed it.  Tommy and his wife are really good people and came and picked me up so I didn't have to walk in the rain.  It was a pretty dreary day as all it did was rain (and rain and rain).  Cyclone Fergus was upon us.  I met Jan from the Czech Republic.  We talked for a while and he seemed pretty interesting.  Paihia had a certain feel to it.  The travelers in Paihia seemed to be pretty interested in partying and tended to stay for a long period of time and of all things...work (a concept completely alien to me).  The people there seemed nice enough, but I really didn't spend much time with anyone except for Jan.

I didn't do much the next day as it rained the whole day.  Jan asked me if I wanted to go kayaking.  I hadn't been kayaking before and thought it would be fun.  Jan had been in Paihia for three weeks and couldn't found anyone to go on an overnight trip until he met me.  I wrote a bunch of letters to pass the time and let the folks back home know what I was up to (which today was mostly writing letters).

December 31
Spirals in the FernsThe rain finally stopped today and the sun came out.  This morning I went to the Waipuo Forest to see the giant kauri trees.  I walked the Yamas Track, which would take three to four hours.  I thought that this would be a good way to get an introduction to the forests of NZ.  I was amazed by what I saw.  The ferns were out of this world.  I really like the way the spirals in the ferns grew.  Some ferns had spirals within spirals within spirals.  Now I understood why the Maoris (indigenous people) used this motif in some of their artwork.

Kauri Tree on the Yakas TrackSince a cyclone had just gone through, there was plenty of mud and water on the track.  It was the muddiest track that I had ever been on, but this distinction wouldn't last for long.  The track went up the side of a mountain into the kauri groves.  I was astounded at the trees.  I would be walking along, paying close attention to the track as I was walking over slippery tree roots and then look up and see a tree 3 meters in diameter right next to me.  There is something wondrous about seeing a tree that is 50 times as old as you are and thinking, "This is actually alive."  At the end of the track were the biggest of the kauris, which are 5 meters in diameter and 2000 years old.  People have been in NZ for 1000 years and kauris have been there for millions of years.  Whether or not people are there to see them, they stand in all their glory.  I've seen the sequoia trees in California, which are bigger than the kauris, but it doesn't really matter whether a tree is 5 or 8 meters in diameter.

I had a feeling that New Years Eve in Paihia might not be my favorite place.  I had been told that Paihia would be filled with underage drinkers who came to get drunk.  Things were starting to look that way.  I was hanging around the hostel when a group of young Swedes offered me a beer (which I had declined several times before).  I thought they were asking me if I wanted a beer at the moment, but it turns out that they were asking me if I drank at all.  When I said no, they looked a bit surprised that someone wouldn't drink.  One of them looks at me oddly and totally out of the blue asks, "Do you skydive?"  It was a strange question but I answered, "No, but I'm a hang glider pilot."  He smiled and said, "It's ok.  You have a good life after all."

The Swedes asked me to meet them at a place outside of town.  As I was getting ready to leave I saw two Japanese women, Keiko and Asami, who were getting ready for bed.  If people want to be alone that's fine, but I didn't want to see them going to bed early on New Years Eve for lack of company, so I asked them to come.  We had fun at the bar, but we didn't stay that long.  Someone said that they had an inside track to getting admitted to one of the better parties back in Paihia, so we caught a taxi van back to town.  The party panned out and the two women and I got separated from the rest of the group. The crowds in the street didn't exactly appeal to us, so we went back to the hostel.  We went up to the balcony where we met Tommy.  We had a small party with the four of us and shared hugs at midnight.  The best way to celebrate New Years as far as I'm concerned.

January 1
I went on a dolphin swim boat at 6:30 a.m.  The tour was pretty empty as most people were still passed out.  I was quite impressed at how gracefully the dolphins swam.  We didn't get to swim with them, but I was happy enough just to watch them in their element.  Later on that day the sun was warm and the wind kicked up waves, which were great for body surfing.  I've been to the ocean before, but it was always too cold to swim.  The ocean was warm and I had an exhilarating time.  There was something essentially human about what I was experiencing.  It's something very basic in our nature to swim in the ocean.  I played in the water, sometimes getting turned topsy-turvy in the waves, sometimes not.  The oceans cover most of our planet and it was good to experience that part of our world.

That evening I sat out on the balcony and the talk turned to politics. There has been some friction between the U.S. and NZ on allowing nuclear-equipped ships to dock in NZ waters.  This was particularly galling to one Kiwi.  We discussed the issue for a while and he finally said to me, "I think you're well informed and have well thought out opinions.  But I only hear half of what you say because you're an American."  He didn't seem proud of this, but he was being honest with me.  Kiwis are very proud of their no-nuke policy and this certainly wasn't the last time that I would hear of such opinions.

January 2-3
Jan & Mr. Moose at the Bay of IslandsJan and I started our kayaking excursion this morning.  Jan had some ideas where he wanted to go and I was content to let him lead.  He chose quite a nice route.  There are 150 islands in the bay, so it is pretty obvious why they call this area the Bay of Islands.  There were plenty of beaches to relax on.  We would paddle for a while and then land on a beach and then paddle some more.  When we were on the beaches, Jan would often find a hill to take pictures from and I would scour the beaches for clamshells and rocks.  When I got back home I made earrings from the shells and necklaces from the rocks and gave them to people whom I met on my travels.  It was a perfect day, the skies were blue and the water was warm.  Later we landed on an island and set up camp for the night.

The next morning we paddled through the islands, stopping whenever we felt like it.  We paddled through a mangrove swamp, which was different--I hadn't seen that sort of environment before.  It was my first time kayaking and it certainly wouldn't be the last.  It was a beautiful place to kayak and Jan was a good partner who appreciated just being where we were.

When we got back to the hostel I met a woman from Switzerland named Corinne.  It was the first of many people from Switzerland whom I would come to like.  Jan, Corinne, and I stayed up late and talked.  They asked me where I would be going in my travels.  I really didn't know so I told them, "Que sera sera."  Whatever will be, will be.  This would become the motto of my trip.

January 4-5
I went with Jan to the restaurant where he worked and he picked up his last paycheck.  He was leaving his job and moving on. Before he left he told me that he would be in Te Anau on the South Island for a month starting on February 5th.  He said, "You will really like the Te Anau area."   He would turn out to be more correct on this than I would ever know.  The last I saw of him in Paihia, he was walking down the road to start hitching south.

Corinne and I went out for the night.  Corinne had to work at English.  I thought she spoke well enough in that we could have conversations and know what the other was thinking, but it didn't come that easy for her.  I was trying to explain how to use the word 'Duh'.  She would say the word quickly and without emphasis.  I tried to get her to stretch out the pronunciation and emphasize the 'D'. She never quite got the hang of it.  However, wanting to grasp the unique power of this word, she said, "Every time I should say 'duh', do this." as she held up her fist.  So that became our symbol for Duh.  For the next few days our conversations were peppered with clenched fists.  She did try to get me to pronounce the Swiss-German rolling 'r' sound.  After repeated tries, we both gave up on this.

I didn't do much during the next day, but it was Corinne's birthday so we went out for a good night for hot chocolate and conversation.  We decided that we would spend a few days together and go to points north.

January 6-8
Hiking Among the FernsCorinne and I drove north from Paihia and ended up in Pukenui.  We went grocery shopping and she asked what foods I liked.  I just kind of shrugged my shoulders.  So we buy a bunch of things that I've never tried before.  We took off for a beach we had heard about just north of the town of Ngataki.  It was an absolutely stunning beach.  There was not another person on the beach, the sun was shining, the emerald green waves were gently breaking, and the sand was perfectly white.  It was a beach unlike anything I had ever seen.  Corinne and I layed in the sun, played in the sand, and swam in the waves.  It was the sort of time you never forget.  She really is a lot of fun.

Later that evening we drove to the western side of Cape Reinga to see the sunset.  We were walking to the ocean when we met two young Maori girls about 15 years old.  They asked me if I had seen the film Once Were Warriors.  This is a film that deals with some of the social problems that Maoris have had and how they can overcome them.  I ignored the film a few days ago in the hostel as it seemed overly violent, though it wasn't a senseless violence.  They told me that I must see the film while I was in NZ.  They started asking me about U.S. pop culture.  I repeatedly tried to involve Corinne in the conversation.  The girls, though they were polite about it, basically said, "Yeah, yeah, she's from Switzerland, big deal.  Tell me about the singer who..."  I guess kids are the same all over.

Tree FernsWe walked along the shore with enormous waves breaking wildly over the rocks.  In places, there was two feet of sea foam and the sight and sounds of the waves were absolutely primeval.  It was as if what we were seeing hadn't changed in millions of years and would be the same way at the end of time.  We didn't see the sunset as there were too many clouds, but the setting was so wild that it didn't matter.  It was a great feeling just to be on the Earth with Corinne at that moment.  It was so primitive...so wonderful.

Later on we drove back to the hostel and made a meal out of all the new (well, new for me) foods and enjoyed our evening.  She taught me how to play a card game, Last Card, and we played this late into the night.  We worked a bit on her English today.  One thing that she often confused was pronouncing her V's as W's.  So instead of saying, "I'm very happy", she would say, "I'm wery happy."  This became a part of the way I remember her.  When I would write her postcards, in my mind I would pronounce all my V's as W's.  I told her of my plans to go to Europe when I got back home.  She asked me if I would come to Switzerland and see her.  This surely deserved a raised fist and good long "Duuuuuh!"

The next day we drove to the Ninety Mile Beach.  We had to walk a few kilometers to the beach past giant sand dunes.  Once again we had a beautiful beach to ourselves and clear, brilliant skies.  We  sat in the sun and enjoyed the ocean and enjoyed the day.  It was a good way to celebrate my birthday.  That evening Corinne decided that she would be going back to Thames to stay with her sister.  Soon we would be saying goodbye.

Corinne wasn't sure what she wanted to do on our last day and I told her that if she hadn't seen the kauri trees, she really should.  She was not disappointed at their magnificence.  We slowly wandered in the direction of Whangarei where I would try to go diving again.  It was sad to say goodbye to her, but it was something that I would have to get used to as long as I was traveling.  I guess it was time for me to head south.