Sunday, November 19, 2006
Escape From Auckland
My money transfer came through, so I have hit the northern road. I have signed up with Stray Travel to take me around New Zealand. They are one of three or four touring companies that compete for the money of backpackers such as myself. Stray promoted themselves as being the travel company for people who want to have more of an adventurous, mind-broadening trip (translation: more hiking & rafting, less rich drunken European teenagers). Since I am here for a year, I signed up for their most generous package. It allows me to travel all over the country as many times as I want. I even get to hop off and hop on at any point, too. Pretty sweet. Their drivers all seem like cool people. There are still plenty of drunken Europeans, but they’re a little older and have less money than those whippersnappers on the Kiwi Experience busses.
As a bonus for buying their most expensive package, Stray has sent me on a sort of free trip to the Bay of Islands, where I have been since Thursday. It is pretty nice up here. I am staying at the Pipi Patch Lodge in the town of Paihia. Paihia is one of the first stops for Auckland escapees, so I have bumped into a lot of the same folks I saw in the city. There is a little road here with about five hostels on it, and the Pipi Patch is clearly the one where backpackers come to party. These people have amazing stamina. I mean, I love to knock a few back and jump around like the goofball that I am… but every night? I don’t know how their brain cells or wallets survive.
On Friday, my little group took a trip up to Cape Reinga at the northernmost tip of New Zealand. Along the way we stopped to see a Kauri forest. Kauris are great big trees that Europeans loved to cut down and turn into masts for their ships. I guess they were pretty big. Not Redwood or Sequoia big, though. The Good Old US of A still has the biggest damn trees in the world and no amount of Kiwi eco-progressive conservation effort is gonna change that!
We then drove on the flat sands of Ninety Mile Beach. It is really only sixty-four miles long, but whatever. Our supercool van drove up a river (!) where we encountered giant sand dunes. We climbed to the top and slid all the way down on boogie boards. I had never inhaled sand before. If you feel the need to climb to the top of a giant dune and slide down it, wait for a calm day.
Next was the road to the tip of Cape Reinga. It was cloudy, but still spectacular. From the lighthouse you can watch the Pacific Ocean colliding with the Tasman Sea. The water was a shade of blue I have never seen before. There were Portuguese Men-of-war all over the beach, and I almost stepped on several of them.
Surreal moment of the week: Saturday night at the Pipi Patch, they had a Love Boat theme party. Lots of people came dressed up as various characters from the show. I was tempted to mention that my first paid job in the movie business had me working with none other than Ship’s Surgeon Bernie Koppel, but I didn’t want to be too boastful. Now for the really weird part. To get the party started right, a bunch of guys, mostly gigantic Maori dudes, performed a Haka. A Haka is a Maori war chant and dance. They are loud, scary, and awesome and I was psyched to see my first one in person. It WAS awesome, but picture THIS being performed by guys dressed up like Isaac and Captain Stubing. Very weird.
Yesterday, a bunch of people from my Stray group went sailing on a great big yacht. I hadn’t been sailing for years, and it was great. We cruised around a bunch of islands and got to hop off on one of them. Lots of cool trees, jagged rocks and tidal pools. I was tempted to go swimming, but it is still a bit cold around here. There was a nice breeze, so we moved along at a good clip. Fun!
I am getting a bit sick of hearing criticisms about America. A few folks (mostly Europeans) feel the need to tell me how much they don’t like America’s policies and culture. Usually these are people who have never actually been to America and have little to no knowledge of how the government works. In light of the recent elections, I try to explain a bit about congress and what Democrats and Republicans (and others) stand for, but it does little good. To them, George W. Bush is America and vice versa.
I wish I could get it through to them that America is a huge, diverse and amazingly beautiful country, that we have more natural splendor than you could possibly digest in a lifetime, that despite the actions of certain politicians we still have hundreds of millions of intelligent and reasonable people, that we’ve exported technology, medicine, culture, music and freedom of speech all around the world and if people really didn’t want it, they wouldn’t buy it. Some people don’t want to hear that though, and no amount of politeness or rational explanation on my part will change their minds. I wish I had the balls to ask these cultural critics to name one country that has a perfect track record and no skeletons in its closet, but I don’t want to be rude. Kill ‘em with kindness, I say.
Most of the travelers who actually HAVE made it to the states have lots of good things to say. They love our cities, our landscapes, our people, our movies, and especially our music. I hope all those critics will eventually jump across the pond and see what they are missing. Until then, I’ll just try to hang out with the cool people from all nations who are here to see THIS amazing country and leave preconceived notions behind.
Oh yeah, here's me with a Kiwi bird. Happy, Comerford?