North Island — Part 2

Back on the sheepskin couch.

I was fortunate enough to have a 12 hour delay in Australia, I seriously mean that. This gave me plentyyyy of time to search the Internet for all things New Zealand. I came across a listing in a backpackers forum for volunteers needed. I didn’t really understand the job but what I did understand was that I would be fed and housed for a week, so I inquired.

The volunteering was to take place in Te Urewera National Park. Ask any of the locals and they’ve never heard of it, despite it being quite large. It can be found in the north central region of the North Island, about 5 hours East of Auckland. It’s got a ton of Mauri roots and was told that in 5 years time the land will be given back to the Mauris, and no longer be a National Park. Whether this information is true or not, I am not responsible.

View From the Chopper

There were about 20 volunteers, and 8 of us got helicoptered to a remote hut about 19 kilometers in. The hut was cozy, but was occupied by more mice than humans. We split up into teams of 4, 3 volunteers and 1 Ranger. Our job was to set Stoat (weasel looking things) Traps, you know, to kill the stoats and possums. You see, these stoats are not native to NZ and were introduced from Australia awhile back and are killing the native birds. Totally screwed up. They have no predators and do as they please, eating Kiwi eggs for breakfast in order to fuel up for their tree killing sprees in the afternoon — all the while, feeling not one ounce of remorse. Damn stoats. I felt good about being part of the killing force, I’ll do anything to save a tree!

Home, slept 6 but we had 8 people. So 2 slept outside haha

 

The traps we set averaged at 40lbs, and we strapped them to our backs. We hiked 12 hours and laid about 30 traps each day, per team of 4. The Te Ureweras is not your everyday Yosemite, these “trails” were not maintained, meaning we had a GPS and bushwhacked our way through the forest looking for the drop sites. We’d mostly be on our hands and knees crawling up mossy slopes hoping each step would hold. The huge horizontal box rattling on your back didn’t help much. It would have been nice to see a view after climbing all day but the canopy was so rich you couldn’t see out. We were in deep, we heard only the birds, and it was a completely enriching experience. I welcomed it all, I loved it. Even the 27 river crossings a day. In fact, on the very FIRST river crossing of the very FIRST 5 minutes of work, I tried to stay dry (my toes were still numb from the night before) and rock hopped. I SLAMMED my tailbone on the rock. It hurt pretty bad, but I was wet and cold and it was 7am and I knew it wasn’t broken, so I got up and promised myself to never rock hop again. Besides, you aren’t having any fun if your boots are dry! And they weren’t, ever, until Sunday.

  

The legend, and a bunch of rope

Both groups stayed at the same Hut and we would cook dinner and hang out at night. We all got along great and had a lot of good laughs. Most people were from Auckland area and it was fun chatting with them. The leader of my group was a legend by the name of Jinx. He is probably early 50’s, thin build, but has more strength and stamina then I’ve seen in anyone of youth. He doesn’t even drink water. Since we were in the bush for 12 hours, everyone was quite outgoing with how much food they were packing, 2/3 sandwiches, 8 pieces of fruit, 2 bags of gorp (oh I’m sorry kiwis, Scroggin!), 12 bags of fruit snacks, huge chocolate bars, and of course a watermelon. But jinx? Nah, he threw in a 3litre bottle of fruit juice and a handful of random packaged snacks. He didn’t even look to see what he packed, he literally reached down into a food bin and whatever was in his hand, was his fuel for the day. It was inspirational, in a weird and twisted way. Every time we’d stop for a snack or lunch he didn’t eat anything, he’d just smile and say “all good!” And keep moving. He didn’t say much, but that didn’t stop me from learning an abundance from him. Just the way he worked, his attitude, his patience, his perfection, and his complete disregard for nutrients while maintaining the same amount of extreme stamina throughout the whole day. My favorite Jinx moment was on our hike back to the Hut the first day. We got caught in the dark and saw glowing possum eyes, Jinx sees it and goes “oh yeah, Possum?” Takes the Pick Mattock and chops its head off in 2 swings. It squeals first, an awful high pitched screech, and then nothing. He took the glow right out of those eyeballs. “I don’t like doing it, it doesn’t make me feel like a man, but if it’ll save a tree…”

They failed to mention to us that yes, we’d be helicoptered in, but no, we wouldn’t be helicoptered out. Although not a strenuous hike, it was long and it was through the river, so I bet before I left I was gonna lose an ankle during one of the crossings. I lost that bet, thank goodness.  

 During the hike out I invited the 2 other American guys to join me for the weekend, I was going up to the Coromandels and would love some hiking and camping buddies. They jumped at the invite (they’ve been hitchhiking). They ended up staying with me and the wagon for a whole week, and all the way down to Wellington. We camped for free every night (except one where we stayed with a wonderful couple that Nate knew) and we did a lot of tough hikes. Although, we did have one beach day, that was nice.  

  

 

I learned a ton from Nate and Kyle, and it really shaped the way I have been taking on the South Island. I can’t believe I used to pay for campsites! Now my stomach drops if I have to pay, it’s the worst. We got along really well and it was wonderful having people to chat with at dinner and guys to take on the days with. It’s exactly what I needed, and what I wanted. I could do a whole blog post just on that week. So many stories, so many adventures. What a time. 

North Island — Part 1

It’s Easter. I am laying on a sheepskin couch watching the Final Four and surfing the web. I just got back from Easter service with Peggy and the girls. How did I get here? Where am I? Good question, it’s been a series of gifts over the past 2 months that have landed me here, and if I may repeat, on this sheepskin couch.

New Zealand has been wild. It deserves a full blog post everyday, but that would just be silly. I have been here for almost 2 months and for the first time I am in a place with unlimited and free WIFI, as well with intentions on staying put for a couple days. Let’s rewind to mid-February, shall we?

I arrived in Auckland at 4am after massive delays and uncertainty. I was really scared coming into New Zealand by myself, I had nothing planned and 3 months of it. I decided to let my excitement override every negative feeling I had, and not look so far ahead. One day at a time jules, that’s all, that’s it.

My moms cousin Kathy moved to NZ 40 years ago and she was kind enough to take me in for the first several days while I got settled and searched for a car to buy. I couldn’t be more grateful for Kathy and her home during that first week — we had great chats, wine, and she loaded up my brain with advice and crazy stories from when she was my age. Funny enough, her sister Linda came in from California for her first ever visit to NZ during the same week! What a treat! To start my trip with family instead of hostel stays was invaluable, and although they shook their heads at me when I told them my general plans (and clearly labeled me insane) they supported it and said go for it… They knew this was going to be the time of my life, and were really excited about it.. miss you guys!  

  

 

After a few full days of car searching and test drives, I found the one. My only requirement was that the seats folded down flat in the back so I could sleep in it. Oh, and that it had an engine. I bought it off 2 German backpackers who were rather great. They gave me a ton of camping equipment and a cheese grater, I was set. For the curious, it’s a  1997 Nissan Avenir Station Wagon, with 185,000 kilometers on it. I paid $975 American, case closed. Goal met. Time to hit the road.  

 

My general goal for New Zealand is simple: experience everything. Easy enough right? Wrong. Could I have made it harder on myself? I was all packed up, ready to camp, but sat in my car in the driveway frozen solid. Have you ever been so overwhelmed with ideas, places, activities, people, that you physically couldn’t move? I had no idea where to start. When I came back to life I decided to make it simpler, just head north, you’ll know what to do, and where to stay tonight once you get going. Just. Head. North. Go!

The entire population of the South Island and the population of Auckland are the same. It’s the only place in NZ with traffic, and that’s where I learned how to drive on the left side of the road. It came rather easily, and I tell people it’s because I’m left handed, and they seem to buy it, so I’m sticking with it.

The next 4 nights were spent doing a loop from west to east in the Northland. I camped on lakes, beaches, and saw the most amazing coastline and forests. Every road I drove on was comparable to the PCH back in California, really nuts. It was gorgeous, and as I sit here on this sheepskin couch (had to) the beauty resonates with me. I was blown away, I loved it. 




I spent the next couple days with the one friend I have in NZ, Jade. I used to lead road trip tours across America and she was on one of my trips. The second I found out she was from Auckland I told her with certainty that I’d see her again. Jade took me right in, invited me to play on her soccer team, and showed me around Whangaparaoa where she grew up. We spent the next day around Auckland, starting the day with a paddle board session in her backyard. It was an awesome couple days and really good to be with a friend after camping by myself all week!  

My first 2 weeks went as expected (which is a really good thing, I tend to expect a lot). I had tons of fun with the people I stayed with and learned a lot from the time I spent alone. This NZ trip is definitely going to be a solitairy one, and I have welcomed that. There is a lot of work to be done, a lot of things to be learned, a lot of emotions to be overcome, and a lot learning opportunities to be seized. I plan on meeting people, introducing myself where I feel both comfortable and uncomfortable, but for the most part, I will be relying on myself, and learning most of all, how to be comfortable with my own thoughts. When speaking about my upcoming months with my Moms cousin Linda she said, “there is a reason you are alone on this journey, you might not know what it is now, but it will become clear. There is a reason you are alone on this trip. You are going to have the time of your life.”