Downtown Auckland from Hauraki gulf
They say that traveling is good for the soul. Unfortunately I, like most Americans, don't travel nearly as much as I'd like to. It seems like I either have the time but not the money or the money but not the time. But after saving and planning for a couple years, I was able to take off for a long-overdue holiday. I was asked a number of times, by both friends and strangers, why I chose New Zealand for a vacation and my answer was simple: lots of people talk about going there, but few actually go. It's just this small scrap of land, a couple big islands and lots of little ones, tucked away in the corner of the map. Out of all the places in the world, it's looked over more often than not. And that was reason enough for me.
I'm a late bloomer as far as traveling goes. At least internationally. I've been from one corner of America to the other and most places in between. But I'm just now at the point in my life where I can roam further. And so I didn't really know what to expect. Leaving the states I had a stop-over in Honolulu which was appropriate since that's the farthest I'd had ever been. Once I took off from that airport, I was truly over uncharted (for me) waters.
Being alone, I had plenty of time on the plane to think about the coming days. I wasn't worried. I couldn't stop smiling. My soul needs new adventures and this was the biggest one yet for me. Honestly, if someone would have been with me, there would have been a part of me that wouldn't have felt the adrenaline that I felt on that plane.
Looking to Auckland from Devonport
By the time I got to Auckland, it was night and I was, understandably, disorientated. A bus got me into the city and I found my hotel easily only because I had poured over my Google map on the ride into the city. Which was comforting but also took some of the fun out of it. But I didn't really want to get lost my first night there.
For the next ten days then, every day was a new adventure. I spent the first day exploring Auckland. Just getting my bearings. Learning how the city worked. Cars drove on the other side of the road. Walk signs go off in all directions at once. Drinks cost way too much. Everyone is friendly. I couldn't stop smiling.
One thing I learned quickly was that every island in the waters around Auckland (the Hauraki gulf) all have a distinct feel and environment. I went wine tasting on Waiheke. I hiked Rangitoto, a volcano that exploded just about 600 years ago. I wandered around Tiritiri Matangi which is kept as an open sanctuary for native birds and plants.
Looking out into Hauraki gulf from Rangitoto summit
In the city, I hit the zoo, the aquarium, museum and art gallery. I tried to balance nature with urban as much as possible wanting to feed both sides of my soul. I tried to keep the 'tourist' activities to a minimum although I couldn't pass up a visit to Hobbiton (aka the Shire from Lord of the Rings) and Waitomo caves where thousands of glow worms light up the darkness. And I couldn't pass up an afternoon of going out into the gulf looking for whales and dolphins, both of which we found.
Bagg's End in Hobbiton, the Shire (near Matamata)
After experiencing a small slice of the country, I left New Zealand rested yet tired, happy I had gone yet sad I had to leave. Mostly though, I felt hope. Hope for the future of this world. And I felt that because of how New Zealand has dealt with their problems. For example, the country, like so many others across the globe, was torn apart by violence between the native Maori people and the European settlers. A lot of blood was shed on both sides until they reached an agreement. At this point, it was impossible to give back all the land that had been stolen from the Maori tribes but a council of both the government and the tribes agreed to a compensation deal where each tribe would receive fair value for the land taken. Sounds like it'd break the government, right? Except the catch was that the tribes couldn't spend the actual amount, only the interest earned. So, let's say a tribe agreed to 5 million in compensation. They can't touch that 5mil, only the interest it earns. How clever! That way, the tribe is guaranteed income basically forever and the government didn't go broke.
Another reason I had hope was because this was the first place where everyone, and I mean everyone, is equal. Man, woman, black, white, yellow, brown, gay, straight, bi, or whatever other label you want to tack onto someone. Doesn't matter. Everyone is treated the same. Everyone is respected. Now, obviously that's never really going to happen but I have to say, I never once saw someone talking down to another, calling them a slur of any kind. Nothing like that. Maybe I was lucky and only saw the good. But I want to believe differently. I want to hope that we can all learn to treat each other as equals.
When I got back, a friend asked me to describe Auckland. I struggled for a minute before saying "Auckland is like if Vancouver B.C. and Honolulu had a baby that was adopted by San Francisco." Meaning it's a water city, part British, part Polynesian with a healthy dose of spiritual seekers both young and old.
I'll be back.
Sunset behind Rangitoto