“the road eventually leads too…”

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Boarding flight 411, my preparations went as far as a ripped journal page of scribbled recommendations from Cath, my loaned, unread, and out of date Lonely Planet travel guide, and a booking number for Rent-a-Dent (promising name for a car rental service). Three hours later I had a rough, I repeat, rough itinerary, but the confidence to freely explore this unknown land and faith that I would discover unimaginable destinations. “Kia ora, haere mai,” the captain exclaimed as the plane rolled into the terminal. Hello and welcome.

Day One

A thirty minute ferry ride from the Auckland port brought meDSC00805 to an island radiating creative energy filled with artistic passion.

After hauling up 187 steep steps to Kina’s Backpackers, I bundled up and followed the stairs back down to Onetangi beach.

Day Two

While Waiheke lay silent beneath a fresh rainfall, I hopped on a bus back to the ferry port. Ditching my bags at the ticket counter, I walked about a mile into the nearest town. Oneroa quickly made a spot for itself on my growing “Amy’s places to live” list. The main road was home to coffee,vintage, and craft shops as well as artist’s unique galleries. I dedicated my first day to Oneroa, finding delight in every minute activity I entertained myself to.

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“Enduring Love” by Maori sculptor, Paora Toiterangiuaia (left)

A memorable shot from the vintage shop I scavenged through (right)

Late afternoon I left Oneroa anxious to begin my long awaited adventure. Back in Auckland, I immediately went to Rent-a-Dent to pick up my home for the next nine days. “You’ve driven on the left side before?” the manager asked, hearing that I was an American. “Oh yeah, I’ve been living in Fiji, so they drive on the left too.” He took that as a yes and confidently handed me a set of keys. I turned out of the lot and smoothy cruised onto State Highway despite the sudden downpour, unidentifiable beeping (don’t worry Dad, it was only the emergency break engaged), and the four lanes of traffic merging into two. With my hands gripped tightly around the wheel at ten and two and my spine stiff as a board I rolled into Raglan two hours and twelve rain showers later.

Day Three

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Being one of the few early morning risers allowed me to roam Raglan’s bare downtown.

During their 1964 documentary The Endless Summer, Mike Hynson and Robert August plunged into Raglan’s surf on their quest for the perfect wave. 50 years later…I found it.

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Three Little DSC01080Birds, one of the many boutiquesin Raglan, is filled with inspirational craft ideas, vintage clothing, and a strong energy from the shop’s owner Tony. Every shop I visited had a unique spirit and was run by exceptionally genuine and spirited locals.

Day Four

Thanks to Cath’s recommendation I visited the Geothermal Maori village Whakarewarewa in Rotoru. Our Maori guide led us through the inhabited village  while our camera lenses fogged up due yo the steam of gathering over the hot pools, geothermal oven, and geysers. After the tour, the locals entertained us with traditional Maori dances including the Haka.

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 Driving in to Rotorua the night before, my headlights passed over the sign for a blueberry farm. On my way out I spotted the sign again. A left down an undeveloped farm road and  two km later I pulled into the quaint Mamaku Blue Blueberry Experience and Winery. Blueberry wine, liquor, jam, chutney, soap, lotion, tea, juice and, of course, blueberry pie. While I didn’t pull off a Violet Beauregarde, I had enough blueberries for the whole of New Zealand. Support the farm and the lovely Kiwi’s who run the shop by visiting www.mamakublue.co.nz/ and order the freshest and most nutritionally beneficial juice on the market.

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On a full and satisfied stomach I drove two hours away to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. The Arachnocampa luminosa, the glowworm, is a species of fungus gnat found in moist, underground, and dark spaces amongst the humid forests of New Zealand. The no photography rule wasn’t  a disappointment, a camera wouldn’t truly capture the magic that lives amongst the damp interior. Surrounded by 30 million year old limestone formations 18 meters over head, with the gentle echoing of continuous water droplets, I was mesmerized by earth’s dramatic and natural beauty. Still in awe of the cave itself, my reactions went numb when the guide led us through the underground river where the glowworms were most prominent. Close your eyes. Imagine the starriest night you have seen. Triple the amount of stars in the sky. Replace the star’s colorless shine with a sharp blue-green luminescent glisten. Though I’ve since tried, my mind cannot recreate the intense wonder of the caves attraction.   

My plans after Waitomo were spontaneously modified on an invite to explore the country side’s hidden treasures with three adventurists I met during the tour. Well into nighttime, we discovered an enormous limestone archway opening on the other side to a gorgeous stretch of valleys, a huge waterfall standing out amongst a backdrop of bush, and a hidden cave inhabited by glowworms. We walked through shaking, yet still frightening each other while water dripped eerily into the unknown crevasses.

Day Five

Another early morning led me to Taupo’s Spa Thermal Park for a dip in the natural hot bath. The crisp chill against my cheek blended with the spring’s steam was an essential pre-hike muscle relaxer.

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A drive alongside Lake Taupoand Mt. Mount Ruapehu.

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The highest landing during my two hour hike through New Zealand’s bush and mountains.

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Day Six

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Halfway through my trip I arrived in Cath’s city, Wellington. With open arms, Cath’s friend Alex (also a CT native) invited me to stay with his friends in their house just outside the city. Alex and his friends immediately won me over with their distinct and unique personalities, sense of humor, and they brought me to a Mexican restaurant my first night. Staying with the boys in Wellington was a step into a lifestyle I’ve been escaping for three months. When you constantly crave and feed on adventure, sometimes watching movies on the couch until 12 in what you’ve been waiting for. After a morning of veggin’ out, we went for a walk along the sea wall, visited Te Papa museum where I was introduced and completely addicted to the mystery of the giant squid. For lunch they brought me to Alex’s favorite turkish restuarant, Abrakadabra. With the boys, their friend Kate, and a bundle of other friends, we were meshed together the genius in each us to become the quiz night champions at a downtown bar.

Day Seven

Exploring Wellington solo, I took a Bikram Yoga class at New Zealand’s first yoga studio, had a rejuvenating lunch at Cath’s favorite restaurant, Midnight Espresso, and bopped through Cuba street, the live and thriving city center. On this gorgeous October afternoon, the streets were bustling. My day in Wellington ended in the Botanical Garden’s. With Alex’s friend James, we ventured through the fascinating beauty of the fauna and flora blended with unique and unexpected artistic displays.

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Day Eight

Eager to join the road again, I left the boys with all the gratitude from my heart. Blasting Abba’s Dancing Queen as I drove out of the city, I cruised back up New Zealand’s coast.

Around 10 pm, I pulled into The Sunflower Lodge, a decision I made solely due to its name. In a room to myself, cocooned in layers of blankets and pillows I slept soundly until the sunrise (and rooster calling) welcomed me into the day.

There were hardly any shops open before 9; another walk through a foreign town’s sleepy streets. Two blocks from the city center, and across a railroad track, I strolled along down the Coastal Walkway. Early risers biked, ran, and power walked around me while I paused every so often to study the crashing waves on the rocks to my left, the limestone patterns to my right, and the sun moving along the cliffs in the distance.

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A brochure I read in the lodge that night shared the ‘Top Ten Things to See in New Plymouth’; one of the ten had a memorable description, so after my coastal walk, still only 9 am, I drove a few minutes to Pukekura Park. Walking from the car park into the park itself felt like Alice falling into Wonderland; having already felt the Dorothy’s  wave of disorientation into an unimaginable place. Surrounded by ferns and other unknown, to my knowledge, tree and plant species sat a natural pond; home to the ducks aimlessly swimming around and the foreground to a shocking red, traditional japanese bridge spotlighted by streaks of sun rays. Just a bit further into the grounds was a cement building. Partially covered in vines, it was small and seemed out. Placed awkwardly in center left was a white button and in the top left a plaque read “Push button once to activate fountain”. As directed, I pushed the button and turned back to the face the pond. If fountains could speak this one shouted, “Good morning! Welcome to my home.” As if the water rocketing in each direction from a metal floating device granted me permission, I carried on into the park.

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In the middle of the park, beside one of the ponds, there was a small white house. The Pukekara Park Tea House had freshly baked scones, an assortment of teas, and a large glass case of homemade fudge. By the door was a rack of post cards. In search for a card to send to my mom and grandmother (who would adore the park and were together in a NYC museum while I was visiting the park). One of the cards had a stunning image of the tip of a snow capped mountain peaking through the bush. In the photo was a small body of water and the side of a white house. I looked up questionably and ran outside, “of course!” I openly exclaimed. There I stood between a white house, a small body of water, and the tip of Mt. Taranaki, an active volcano.

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Only thirty minutes through the country fields and up the narrow and frightening winding roads into the mountains rests Pukeiti: a rainforest and a garden mingled into one park.

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Day Nine

My final destination, the Alderson family kiwi orchard. Ten days prior to my arrival, Cath’s mum and dad moved from their suburban home in Tauranga to a kiwi orchard in the back country. The road to their house is surrounded by orchards and packing houses. If the sticker on your kiwi says ‘Zespri’ your kiwi came from No. 1 Road, Te Puke, New Zealand. Upon arrival I was greeted by Steve and Helen Alderson, Barry their new puppy pranced behind. Cath and I met my first day at USP. Three months later I’m sitting in her new house (which she has yet to see) with her pure hearted parents. The beauty of where life will lead you.

When I woke up Saturday morning the kitchen table was set for breakfast. The three of us ate together before Steve, a veterinarian, was off to work. Before heading out for the day Helen showed me around their orchard. While she shared her immense knowledge of the kiwi fruit business I was mesmerized by the natural excitement in her words.

Within the first week of meeting Cath she shared stories of her mountain. Though it will forever be Cath’s mountain in my mind, it is publicly known as Mt. Maunganui. Helen and I breathlessly made our way to the top. I was amazed by the amount of people passing us along the way; mums and dads, grandparents, toddlers, teenagers, babies. Every living generation for one day sharing the experience of this adrenaline boosting climb. As my eyes traced the white line where the waves roll onto shore I was reminded about the beauty of where life will lead you. The mystery of why people enter your life and the magical moment when you unfold it.

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Day Ten

When I arrived to Auckland Airport on October 3rd there were a lot of things I had yet to do and see; road tripping for over a week in a foreign country alone was definitely a big one. There will always be a list, an extraordinary, unfathomable list of possible experiences we may never imagine for ourselves. Gather your dreams; those planted in the past ten years and those conjured ten minutes ago. They tell us to follow our dreams, but lend no direction of where to go once we get there. Because along your journey those dreams have developed and grown. You’ll never reach a ‘destination’. There’s no flashing sign that reads “You’ve reached your dreams”. Dreams and the adventures they’ll offer you are limitless.

For the ten days I entered a start and end point on my car’s GPS. It always got me to where I intended to go, but every time I went further.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. shercher17
    Oct 27, 2014 @ 04:56:57

    I love the last line! And the ones before as well! But the last one sums up your whole outlook about adventure … Keep going! Your NZ adventure is mesmerizing! You’ve been exploring your heart along with the land. And your heart is your compass. Love you and your sense of direction! XO💗Mama

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