I’ve just finished up 3 months in New Zealand. During a good portion of this, I was working at the University of Waikato in a smallish town in the middle of the north island, called Hamilton. More recently, I just wrapped up a 12 day long, mostly-solo journey in a campervan (basically a minivan with a bed and sink in it). All told, I put in just under 3000 Km’s of driving and saw a whole bunch of the north island. Just before the roadtrip, I also had the opportunity to travel to the south island and give a talk at the University of Canterbury. I explored the city of Christchurch and got into the mountains at least one day (weather only permitted one day) to study the (icy, slopery) boulders at Castle Hill and the beautiful Arthur’s pass. Winter isn’t the best time for the south island and 4 days (10 if you count my trip to the region around Nelson in June) isn’t much time, so there’s alot left to explore, but I’m happy to say that I’ve at least done my due-dilligence in exploring the North Island.

Christchurch Sheeps

Let’s start here: there are two things you should know about Kiwis (that is, the people from New Zealand not the birds, fruit, or bears (possums)) which serve to summarize them to a large extent in my mind.

Number One. When driving, one-honk is meant to be alerting, or perhaps angry, but two short honks are generally something positive. A thankyou, or hello, for instance. On runs in the country (the “country” starts about 2 blocks from my house in Hamilton), it is quite common for a random passing driver to give a short bee-beep followed by a friendly smile. At first, I was thoroughly confused. Are they upset I’m running here? Do they know me? Are they just being malicious and trying to startle some poor running sap on the side of the road. Nope, it turns out, as I would learn, that they were really just random people, who saw me doing something they approved of (running), sometimes in inclimate conditions (I’m here in the winter, rainy runs are par for the course), and wanted to give a bit of friendly encouragement: “Good on ya’ mate”.

Number Two. You can’t drink alone in a pub. In the states, I’m used to being able to walk alone to a bar, grab a beer and work on a crossword or a good book or write in a journal. In New Zealand, good luck. Every pub I’ve been to, in every town, if there are people there and you’re alone, they’ll walk up to you and start a conversation. “Who’s that bloke sittin’ by ‘imself? Must need some’on to talk to, eh?”. Similarly, If I found I’m making a bit of tea (or coffee) on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and a car passes, they’re likely to stop and see how it’s going. “What are you up to? Where are you going? Where are you from? Sounds like a grand adventure. I remember when I had a similar one. Sweet-as weather, eh? Go The All Blacks. (etc.)”.

These two things are very different from what I’m used to back home. To me, they quickly summarize the friendly and altruistic nature of the people of New Zealand, who have, as a whole, been remarkably hospitable and accomodating during my time here.

What about the country? Well, my road trip started in Auckland, then I ventured south along the west coast (Tasman Sea) to the mountainous region in the center of the north island. Next, I moved north and kept going north. The geothermal area around lake Taupo and the coromandel Peninsula and the east coast (Pacific) were next. I picked up a friend in Auckland and continued north up to the northernmost point of the north island (Cape Reinga at 34-degrees longitude) and then back south to Auckland and finishing up in the Waikato valley around Hamilton, where I called home for the two months prior. Here are some assorted highlights from the 12 days in the campervan:

Sausage Pie

  • Bill and Brenda at the Oparau store and their amazing hospitality (and home-made curried sausage pie)

  • Running on the beach at Kawhia with the waves crashing and then running a trail in the inland bush later in the same day

  • Discussing rugby over beers with some celebrating (having just won a match) players in Taupo

  • Running around lake Taupo dodging geese and running in the redwoods outside Rotorua in the pouring rain (and twisting an ankle and limping/jogging out 4K or so)

  • The hotsprings in Taupo with hot waterfalls and walking into the cold, crystal clear Waikato river afterwars

  • A Barry Crump novel and a Croucher’s beer on a rainy day in Rotorua

  • Kayaking around Cathedral Cove and the amazing beaches and islands there

  • Sitting in my own custom hot-pool at hot-water beach and watching the sun set on the crashing waves

  • Swimming out to the rocks to pick some green-lipped mussels and boiling them up in (the remainder of) a bottle of Sauv. Blanc while dancing by myself to Sublime in a carpark in the middle of nowhere (half hypothermic and half high-on-life)

  • Amazing local produce from farm stands in the Bay of Plenty (Avos, apples, and carrots, oh my).

  • More single-lane bridges and windy-as roads than I can shake a stick at. Owls, Hawks, Possums, Wild Pigs, and tons of unidentified birds of all colors shapes and sizes

  • Driving into Auckland and having the overwhelming feeling that I was leaving New Zealand

  • A pile Beers with folks at a brewpub in Whangerei and stories about (those bastardly) possums, cowboy hats, and the rural northlands

  • Hiking out to an isolated cove in the Bay of Islands, skipping stones and jumping in the cold Pacific

  • Running by the beach, far north in Spirit Cove.

  • Sheep right up to the last, rugged, northernmost kilometer of New Zealand

  • Climbing up and tumbling down giant Sand Dunes in the far north

  • Beers with friends in Raglan and feeling like a surf-bum waking up at the beach to be the first to check the conditions.

  • Good craft beers at the Ruakura Campus Club with friends from Hamilton

  • Climbing Mt. Pirongia and watching the clouds clear while walking down the ridge overlooking the Waikato valley

I took a few pictures with my crummy camera phone which are on Flickr. I took a few more with my film camera, but it’ll be some time before I get them developed and uploaded.

It’s been a good summer/winter and I’ve found a second (third?) home in New Zealand. I’m sure I’ll be back as I now have a pile of friends to visit along with a whole heap of didn’t-get-around-to-its. Right now, however, sitting and waiting for my flight to board in the Auckland airport, I feel content and am excited to see my loved ones back home (who will surely make fun of me for the kiwi slang I’ve picked up) and get back to work in Boulder (on my research, cycling, and boulder-projects). I’m looking forward to catching the tail end of summer back state-side before diving into my second winter in a row. My next travels will probably take me to Lake Louise (where I have a conference to attend) and Quetzaltenengo (where Becky has wandered off to). But, those trips are still a ways off and I’m excited to spend a bit of time at home.