A trip to the edge, with the edge.
Today is Saturday, September 23, 2023. For those at home, it is still Friday the 22nd. That is one of the interesting things about traveling this far to New Zealand, you really do jump ahead in time.
I am in Mangōnui, a tiny town in the Northland, about two hours from the very northern tip of New Zealand. It is raining heavily and the wind is whipping the trees in intense bursts. I have jazz music playing and the crisp air from the open windows is damp and refreshing.
It is early spring here, which is funny because I mentally feel like it is autumn. There are buds on the trees and the birds, some I've never seen or heard before, twitter through the trees for most of the day and well into the night.
There is this one bird that sounds like a symphony of wind-up toys all playing different tunes in a slightly robotic nature. It is quite odd haha. And yesterday I saw two birds that were electric green and orange whose call was a continuous "teep teep teep" as they chased each other through the trees.
I am staying with this lovely couple named Kathryn and Ken and their dogs Daisy and Yodi. They live on top of a hill that overlooks many rolling pastures that have grazing cattle and llamas. There are tall pine trees, dense rainforesty plant life, and these tall fern-like trees as well. In the distance, there is this vibrant blue-green lake (it is attached to the ocean so I am not sure it is actually a lake, but it is circular and lake-like) with a tiny to wn with several sailboats on the other side. It is truly magical to be here.
When I thought up this trip many months ago, it was a shot in the dark in many ways. I needed a change, a true change from my normal. I mean, granted, my life was already drastically changing as I graduated from college and said goodbye to all of the people I love in Savannah, GA, and moved on to the next big chapter, but I still felt like I needed to spread my wings and fly somewhere I had never been before.
Picking as far as I could go (literally), I did just that. A solo trip for this solo girl seemed like the perfect solution to my wanting to postpone being a full-time adult.
So a quick recap is in order since I am a week and a half into my trip and have written nothing so far!
I arrived in Auckland on a Thursday at 5 a.m., after leaving Kansas City on a Tuesday at 5 p.m. I definitely forgot I would lose an entire day, so when I booked my hostel, I told them I would be there on Wednesday! Whoops.
Anyway, I arrived after a surprisingly full 8-hour sleep on the plane. My plane buddy was a woman named Anna who is a major Hobbit lover, and was on a second honeymoon trip with her husband who was seated seven rows ahead of us. She was very funny.
On my first day, after customs (they didn't even stamp my passport! - I was a little salty, I really wanted that stamp to add to my passport collection), I dropped my stuff at the hostel (I stayed at Attic Backpackers - it was alright but good for what I needed) and hit the city! (In the picture above down by the docks at the wharf. I couldn't believe the water was so green!)
I started by walking through this beautiful park and ended up at the WW2 museum where I got to see a bunch of Māori artifacts, boats (like the ones on Moana), and this recreation of a traditional Māori home. I also went to this cute coffee shop called Remedy Coffee. I was so surprised when they did not up-charge for non-dairy milk and gluten-free bread! I was in heaven.
The next day was my Hobbit day! I got up at the crack of dawn to rain and wind, and my bus driver Dave met me out front of my hostel. We drove for quite a while and the weather somewhat improved. But what had my jaw on the floor was the landscape we drove through. Rolling hills that were the kind of green you get when you put your saturation to 100%, sped past my window with more sheep and cows than I could count.
We arrived at the set and it was literally like stepping into the movie. It was so cool how they used forced perspective on the huts. Some were 90% human scale and others were 60% to show the different size characters without CGI. Down to the tiniest detail on real honey in jars in front of the bee keeper's house, this place was better than the level Disney goes to make its parks. They even had real crops in the gardens and fires lit in the hearths of each house to create the proper smell of this little village.
At the end of our tour, we were offered free drinks (I got a hard cider and tea) at the Green Dragon Inn. I sat next to a roaring fire (perfect for the chilly damp day) and chatted with some people in my group.
Afterward, we drive to the Waitomo glow worm caves. This was also breathtaking. We were led down into the rocks and then walked through staggering stalagmites and stalactites. At the end, we were put on a boat and rowed around the pitch-black cave and when you looked up, it seemed like a thousand stars glittered and blinked back at you.
I would say it was a day well spent between becoming a hobbit and experiencing the universe underground.
The next few days, I spent traveling to Paihia, where I met a bunch of interesting people from France, the UK, and Canada. I did a short hike up the schoolyard tract that gave me a full view of the deep blue-green bay, and I explored a little library that was floor-to-ceiling crafted wood.
I am now almost a half week into my first WWOOFing farm stay. Today I cleaned and replanted a strawberry patch. Ken and Kathryn are so kind and generous. They took me to the little town for a coffee and to see a small art gallery yesterday, and later on in the week I think we are going to where the Māori and English signed the treaty that made New Zealand what it is today.
I'm off to get some dinner at the house, I think it's chili today! Talk soon!