Life in the Land of the Long White Cloud
This essay is a reflection on my time traveling abroad in New Zealand, which was written in the style of a scrapbook/journal for my Readings in Nonfiction class at The University of Pittsburgh in 2010.
It may contain a copious amount of commas, but it also gives a raw heart-felt glimpse into my many experiences and epiphanies while wandering my way through New Zealand. I hope it’s as eye opening as it is enjoyable.
Life in the Land of the Long White Cloud
* February 11th 2010*
Drive: Bethlehem, PA to Philadelphia International Airport (2 hours/76.9 miles)
Fly: Philadelphia, PA to San Francisco, CA (5 hours/2,915 miles)
* February 12th 2010*
Fly: San Francisco, CA to Auckland, New Zealand (13 hours/6, 533 miles)
I was someone studying abroad as an alternative, one that actually allowed me to pack it all up and put it all off without my parents worrying. I imagined being abroad as a balance between responsibility and revelry, where I could travel as a student and still tune into something more meaningful than the melancholy drone of daily life.
Within fours days ‘down under and over a bit’ I drank cheap pink champagne from a water-bottle while dancing with merry monks on a crowded street corner chanting something about Krishna, slept in two hostels, skateboarded down the country’s busiest street, chased a herd of sheep, white water rafted down a twenty-one foot water fall, went tubing through a cave covered in glow worms, and wandered around the thermal pools of a native Maori village. I was exuberant and living a life where love was ever-present in each experience. Where each second spilled over with potential and wonder eclipsed all evidence of worry. Integrating imagination and instinct into actions; awash in the way splendor seems to reflect off of and reverberate through you.
I was truly happy having found harmony between my realizations and my reality in a land where there was beauty budding all around, ready to stir the sleeping poet to his full potential.
In Language Literature and Desire, one of the four classes I took every Tuesday, we discussed Empiricism and how through observation and experience you can create truths about the world we live in and about George Byron, the British poet who was a founding father of romanticism. Also how Romanticism arose as a reaction to the industrial revolution, rebelling against social norms and the scientific rationalization of nature.
The power point projected a poem entitled “She Walks in Beauty,” and the sunlight seeped past the blinds reminding me of the beauty beyond the walls that close off the classroom. My notes were much more of a creation than a copy. In my margins next to sketches of surfboards and barreling waves I wrote “Education is a cookie-cutter for individual imagination” and “Why eat stale bread when I can bake a loaf of my own?” My new found life as a nomadic surfer had shown me a learning propelled by personal passion, which was guided by a genuine interest in the way the world was unfolding under my feet. I was overwhelmed by the confines of conforming to a curriculum, wanting to live and learn to a different drum – discover Alan Watts, be blessed by Ginsburg, ramble and rant like Kerouac, while re-writing words of wisdom from J. Krishnamurti!
“Intelligence is the capacity to perceive the essential, the what is; and to awaken this capacity, in oneself and in others, is education. It is only when this creative intelligence is awakened in the individual, that there is a possibility of a peaceful and happy life.”
On the cover of my green banana paper notebook was a ‘100% REAL’ sticker stolen off of an organic orange juice container and a ‘HELLO my name is SuperTramp’ tag written with magic markers. It went with me everywhere, starting with my first ferry ride to Waiheke Island where I wrote:
Yea to Naysayers!
My future is not a flicker
It’s a flash
A shooting star streaking across the sky
Simultaneously seeming to free fall and fly
A single star
Aligning with me
The sky showing me the magic
Of what it means to be
Below there is beauty
Between the trees and concrete
Where each day’s divinity
Allows Heaven and Earth to meet
Do not fear or fight
Stand strong in truth and love
Create a world for everyone
To transcend and rise above
Searched for sand dollars, and swam to an uninhabited island maybe a mile or so off shore. Popping-champagne at sunset, so much fun I forgot to pack my clothes, naturally naivety had not imagined the idea of cold nights. Dug a hole about 3 feet deep in the sand and started a fire for everyone. Burning through my bushel of bananas and 200 grams of turkey turned out to be a lot less than my mental metric system made it out to be. Played Pretty Lights while talking to a man from Christchurch about sacred geometry and going to Mexico for a vision quest.
Neon colored clouds, hyper, highlighter colors – a peach and purple sunset. Our campsite consisted of an L shaped log, bleached by the sun. This really is the famous right hand break from The Endless Summer.
Coromandel Peninsula –
Cramming into a compact car, made even more cramped by the five people and loads of luggage, still sitting with a six-pack of Lion Red beer between my legs.
Hiked many miles in the dark and stumbled upon a bonfire on the beach with a sign that said “ALL FIRES PROHIBITED” ignited in the center of it as people danced around as freely as the flame.
Used dinghies from their sailboats to bring in a generator and a large speaker system along with enough petro and piss to keep the party going through the night. Met a captivating character named Roger as I helped him drag his dingy onto shore; waves of ink black salt water washing over our bare feet revealing the man from the front of the ZigZag package permanently inked on the top of Roger’s right foot. Followed by sitting in a circle around the fire passing plums, apples and fijoas from his home orchard.
Base of rugged rocks berried beneath blue water and white sand, jetting out of the ocean, smoothed with water, washed over, eroded with every tide of time, yet standing steadfast as the solitary vestige of some larger land mass that must have been there before I was. Our tents are tucked behind the branches of Banyan trees that created a curtain of green on the backside of the beach. I wet my toothbrush with water dripping off of a root dangling down from a tree that clutched the cliff above me and stretched out over the sea.
“Satisfy yourself first then the reader cannot fail to receive telepathic shock and meaning – excitement, by the same laws operating in his own mind.”
Bay of Islands –
Boarded a bus to Paihia, a port-town in the Bay of Island where I will catch a ferry to the island of Russell and realize I wasn’t right about the big swell when the water is still, and sheltered from winds that would potentially produce waves. Trying to make the most of my newfound landscape, which was isolated enough to lack a sewage system. At a convenience store I scrounged together some change and courage to ask the friendly female behind the counter for a Rainbow-Pop and if there was any possible place where I would find waves. She was surprised by me mentioning surfing since swells are few and far between here, but she smiled and sweetly shook her head having no directions other than traveling south in search of an exposed shoreline. Mounting my pack and placing my surfboard securely under my arm I made my way out of town, towards the single street that tailed south towards my mythical waves. Hitchhiking on Hope Road.
I wonder what people think as they pass by? Asking myself why I wasn’t getting a ride. Am I not holding my thumb out far enough? Am I being a bit aggressive? Should I stop walking and stand still? Do I look homeless? An hour and a half later, down on my luck and desperate I decided to wait for seven more cars, I could see the sun wanting to set and couldn’t stop thoughts of shelter and food from popping my pipe dream. Finally found a ride from a friendly fisherman with copper colored skin who took me to Elliot’s Bay in his beat up white work van.
Afloat in an ink black ocean, only staggered streams of white wash spilling onto the beach and back into the sea. The moon peered out of a cloud like a lazy eyelid, light reflecting off the rip curl, the wave’s smooth surface shining as I surf the sublime.
The Farm –
Never imagined I’d end up here when I was about to break into an abandoned campervan or search the shore for a cave to curl up in. Just asked one of the surfers who was walking in with me well after sunset if he happened to know of anywhere I could lay my sleeping bag and stay dry for the night. He asked all about what I was doing, since seeing an American surfing a remote cove on the coast of a small string of islands in northern New Zealand wasn’t a common occurrence, let alone anyone accompanied only by a backpack and a board. He turned out to be Luke, a scruffy looking lad from England, who was working at a farm just a couple miles up the road in return for room and board. When I told him I had a week to wonder the Bay of Islands but nowhere to stay and no set plan, he said I should come cram into his yellow corolla station wagon with the gang of other kids gathered outside of it. We had to use a headlamp to pour enough petro in the tank to get us back, and somehow fit seven surfboards and bodies into that cramped car.
It doesn’t surprise me that I love life here on the farm! I’d rather look off the porch and see rolling green hills speckled with wild horses and cows then gaze out a window and see streets crowded by cars and buildings. What a great change of pace, I’ve felt my mind and my heartbeat slow down. Still haven’t worn shoes since Wednesday and had tea with milk for the first time after Ellen offered fresh milk from their calf. They’ve renovated some sheds to be pretty homey and have bunk beds for anyone who needs some shelter.
Everyone welcomed me in with that same sincere sense of Kiwi kindness. It’s a modern miracle to not know anybody and be greeted genuinely with smiles, a warm shower, a shed to sleep in, and a homemade meal of meatloaf and mashed kumara. Still trying to comprehend such a compassionate country. I need to keep this layback loving way of life alive after I leave! Especially when there is no sand in my toes or salt water to swim in, when I’ve returned and realized that this moment, smiling shirtless with a notebook and no worries –will be a memory.
Hitchhiked with a couple on holiday that happened to sit next to me on the flight from Auckland to Christchurch and could carry me out of the city. At the rental office as we were given an overview of how to operate the RV, I scrounged a brown box from the trash so I could make a sign to show while I walked on the side of the road. In the rear of their RV I sat with a Sharpie scribbling, “ANYWHERE NEAR QUEENSTOWN” and “PLEASE! I HAVE $”. Had to part ways just past their first campground and throw my thumb up in hopes of having any luck hitching on this secluded stretch of road.
Got picked up by two dairy farmers from Sweden who asked about America, about where I was coming from and what I was doing walking down this dusty road. Wish I had a copy of that Polaroid picture we took together.
After 40 minutes and 4 miles I found luck in the form of a scruffy Scottish man in a forest green Land Cruiser, who was the retired captain of a BP oil-tanker that took tons of oil around the cape of South Africa. He told me of hunting wild game while hanging out of a helicopter and his profound reasons for picking up all hitch-hikers he happened to pass and how he traveled around Africa without much money, “I just put my pack on and threw my thumb out whenever I was given a break from being on the boat,” he said slouched backwards and stretching his arm out to pet his old Pyrenees Mountain dog who was patiently passed out on the back seat. “So I know how it feels to be out on the side of the street, hoping you’ll find something or someone to get you to where you want to go.”
Met a man blaring drum and bass music so loud it shook all sides of his car and caused me to feel slightly unsafe as he hand rolled cigarettes, speeding and steering with his knees through the only southbound road that hugged the ridge of mountains and weaved its way towards Queenstown.
If New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world, than this is its nucleus. It’s alive with adrenaline and almost everyone looks like they could be cast in a Mountain Dew commercial. The town is tucked inside a string of snow-capped mountains that look like grey-gummed horse-teeth rising out of a reservoir. Their ridges like the rim of a cup containing the water that created them; bottomless, a big blue puddle surrounded by every shade of evergreen like wet paint dripping down from the tips of trees.
The hostel has enough ramen to feed an entire class of college freshman. There’s a blindfolded bar crawl tonight, but I’m more interested in actually seeing the sites and I still have a bottle of sauvignon blanc to finish before I can consider spending some of the little money I have left to ration out over my remaining days here. Wish I was able to buy a bungee jump, but I’ll just have to suck it up and settle for other forms of free fun. This morning I was the only one in my underwear who wanted to wake up with a swim instead of a shower; some curious Asian couple with a camcorder made a movie out of it and kept laughing and leaning over politely saying something followed by, “funny blonde boy.”
Going to the store today to stock up on apples, peanut butter, nuts and cereal bars before we head-off to TeAnua hitch-hiking – hope to make it to the first camp site maybe seven miles or so from the start of the Kepler Track. Still don’t know why Kiwi’s call trails tracks but I’ve learned to love their lingo without trying to correct it or compare it to my own culture. After all I am an American tourist, not a native, just a person passing by before I head back to my home.
The pen and page are good friends. There’s a time and place for typing, but you can’t spill rum on a laptop and no font feels as heart-felt as handwriting.
The heart goes numb and so do you
Going through the motions – it’s what we do
This day and that day – tomorrow and the rest
Are we trying or merely failing to be our best?
“Education in the true sense is helping the individual to be mature and free, to flower greatly in love and goodness. That is what we should be interested in, not in shaping the child according to some idealistic pattern. If there is joy, if there is the creative fire, it will find a way to express itself, one need not study a method of expression.”