The First Trip: Bay of Islands

The group got up early on Friday (the 17th) to depart for our first excursion. I was glad to be going on a trip so soon because I knew it would be jam-packed and I’d be forced to adjust to my new time-zone and not think about being homesick. We were warned that it was going to be a long trip but I don’t think we were really expect it to be THAT long.We stopped at a little warf with a boardwalk along the way for a pit stop. Most of us were starving by then and got little snacks to hold us over until lunch. This is where I had my very first Hokey Pokey ice cream. It was so delicious! Vanilla ice cream with chunks of honey comb in it, it tasted a lot like caramel. It felt great on my sore throat. We also discovered the coolest playground too! Who says big kids don’t love a teeter-totter? Again, check out the pics. They are pretty funny! After another long and bumpy bus ride north we arrived at our lunch destination where we had a choice of a burger and fries or chili con carne. We all were feeling a little queasy from the ride so we stayed on the safe side and got burgers (except Catherine, she got soup)—much to our waiter’s amusement. They were delicious. Someone mentioned that the burger tasted like meatloaf and I have to admit there is quite a likeness in the comparison. On all of the burgers I’ve had so far there has been an array of yummy sauces that make it just that much better. And what meal wouldn’t be complete with the Kiwi soft drink of choice L&P? It’s a lemon soda that isn’t too sweet like Sprite but tastes more like natural lemons. It was really refreshing.

Anyway, after lunch we walked to our hostel—the first I’ve ever stayed at. As a group we break up pretty conveniently: 2 groups of 6 girls and 1 group of 6 boys. I don’t think I’ve gotten to know 5 girls faster than I did the ones I was bunking with. We had a blast the whole weekend! I can tell we are going to be spending a lot of time together during this trip. And the room itself wasn’t bad at all; smallish but very clean. We quickly got settled and put on our bathing suits because about 400 meters down the street was the beach. Win. It was a perfect day for a swim and with the memory of the stuff bus still fresh a splash in the ocean seemed like the perfect remedy. Our walk turned into a sprint to see who could be first in. My room was forced to forfeit due to lightly unfair circumstances; the key they gave us to our door didn’t work and the owner couldn’t seem to find the right one. None of us were dumb enough to just leave our things unattended so luckily one of our coordinators stayed behind until the nice maintenance man came and replaced our entire door. Sigh. We quickly joined the others to bask in our unbelievable surroundings. Because we were even farther north than Auckland the water was perfect. There were sailboats lingering in the bay and a parasail-er riding the breeze. We all couldn’t seem t get over that we were swimming and laying out on the beach in February and still hadn’t started classes yet. Over and over we exclaimed that this felt more like a vacation than anything else. But even the beach proved to a learning experience for some. A handful of my companions learned that even if you can't see the rock under the surface you can still be thrown against them by a particularly neak rip-tide. Lesson learned.

It wasn’t long until it was time to head off on our first activity. We cleaned up and put on some layers before heading to the docks where our speed boat was waiting to give us a tour of the bay and some pretty amazing natural wonders. We donned our trendy water-proof coats (mine was the only blue one, awkward) and life jackets, smiled for a picture, and headed on to the boat. Our captain gave us a quick shpeal about what we would be seeing and some safety info—most mportant of which was that if we needed to slow down we should signal him by raising our hand in the air. Can you see the problem with this? Think about it. As soon as we got out of the no-wake zone he gunned it and we started ridin’ the waves. Once we hit the one immediately we all put our hands in the air like a roller-coaster and then just as quickly pulled them down for fear he would stop. I don’t think I stopped laughing the whole time. Every wave we hit all the girls screamed (myself included, it’s more fun that way!), which the boys thought was hysterical and quickly began mocking us, only causing more laughter. We saw some amazing coastlines and rock formations. After innumerable years of being abused by the ocean waves and tides the surrounding rock faces have become pockmarked into all kinds of interesting shapes and contortions. The most impressive to me of course was the “hole in the rock”. Eloquent right? Check out the pictures at the very bottom of my blog. It looked like an archway just appeared in the middle of the ocean. Our VERY gutsy and obviously experienced captain drove us right through it. There was another formation in which the whole didn’t go all the way through to the other side of the rock formation. At least not yet. But we went in regardless. I was convinced he was going to smash the boat into one of the sides because there wasn’t space to turn around, only back up through the way we entered. It took patience and perfect timing with the waves but we did it! The whole thing had a very epic feel to it as huge thunderheads were rolling in giving the scene a dramatic edge. We were returning back along the coast when ahead of us a couple of dolphins were spotted. Before we knew it we had an escort of 5 beautiful dolphins playing around the boat! The captain slowed down so they could jump around and we could get a good look. They were so close one of us actually touched one. They stuck around for a really long time but I think that eventually we began to bore them because just as suddenly as they arrived they were gone. It was the closest I’ve ever been to wild dolphins before and something I won’t soon forget.

It started pouring rain as soon as we got back to the dock so we all ran back to the hostel. We showered and got ready for dinner, of course while constantly talking about how awesome the ride was. The rain let up revealing an awesome rainbow over the hills and we walked to dinner at a really cute, but slightly feminist (I’ll explain if ya Skype me) restaurant called Over the Bay. We sat on the balcony and had a great view of the sunset over the ocean since the clouds had broken up so quickly after the storm. Even though I’m not keen on fish, I felt compelled to try it here. Everything tastes better in New Zealand, right? Right. It was a white fish called Dori, very similar to cod and I loved it. After dessert we left and walked around the little town a bit before heading back to the hostel. We had another early morning coming up so most of us wanted to keep it a low key night. About 8 of us took a walk along the water’s edge and found a stairway that led up to an overlook of the water relatively hidden from the lights of the town—perfect for star gazing. We laid down like sardines in a can and waited as the sky drew dim. It felt like every second more and more stars were appearing. It was breathtaking. Of course, as is common in such settings, deep conversation ensued about things like how fortunate we are for being in this amazing place, thoughts on prayer and God, how we can’t possibly be alone in all that space, and other things
best left under the stars. (If you want to know my most embarrassing moment thus far, let me know and we’ll Skype. It’s a good one.)

The next morning we woke up early again and had a great continental breakfast at the same spot we ate dinner the night before. This place was great! They had all kinds of great food and yummy hot drinks (which I especially appreciated since my throat was killing me from what I thought was the screaming the day before but eventually developed into a full-fledged cold) and even packed us back lunches—obviously this was part of the deal but it was still nice! Well fed and a little sleep we waited for a tour bus to come and pick us up. We got on and were a little surprised that we weren’t the only ones on it. A group of retirees were taking the trip to the 90 mile beach and sand dunes with us. I have to admit I felt bad for them. The majority of us slept for a while (I couldn’t because the view was just too beautiful to miss) but after we made our first pit-stop the Loyola crew was wide awake and ready to go. Our first activity was a quick walking tour through an old gum tree forest. And when I say old I mean OLD. More than a forest it was like a natural museum. The holes of the first gum diggers were still there and preserved. There was also a huge site where a 45,000 year old tree was found. The whole concept was a little lost on me but what I took away from our guide is that over the years the forests re-grew over the old ones. So the forest we were walking through was the third generation and the tree that they found was from the original one. It was the biggest tree—or part of a tree because the rest of it was still buried—I’ve ever seen. Its worth is in the millions of dollars. We piled back on the bus and kept heading north. Eventually we got to the northern most point of the north island. It is a sacred place for the Maori and I can totally understand why. I literally have never seen anything more breathtaking. One friend actually said, “if home looked like this I think I would pray more”. It’s one of those places that makes you think about things, ya know? You can stand on the ledge of this huge hill and look dawn and what do you see? Two oceans colliding. How awesome is that?!?!?! I stood there stand for long enough to get the back of my legs sunburned. The Tasman and Pacific oceans come together at the top of the north island and you can see them swirl and mix and foam in a really concentrated area, the two colors combining into one. There is a lighthouse at the peak and combined with the green rolling hills and the crazy-blue ocean the whole scene is devastatingly beautiful. No one wanted to leave. But we were all excited for what was coming next.

I had never heard of sand boarding until this weekend, but it is awesome. I guess it’s like tubing summer-style. Our bus had special tires on it so it could drive on the beach so after we left the *BAY* we headed for the dunes. I had never seen a mountain of sand before, but now not only have I seen one, I’ve climbed it and hurtled down it face first on a buggy board. It took a solid 10-15 minutes just to march to the top. By the time we were all up there we were panting and sweating and rubbing our burning quads. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it up again! I was the first girl to go down and it’s a good thing I didn’t have to wait long because I totally would have chickened out. There was a guy sitting at the top to help hold the board while we got positioned. Like they says, position is everything in life (and I learned that the hard way… you’ll see). I handed my little boogie-board to the nice man, knelt in the sand, grasped the front edge, laid down and off I went! I didn’t dare scream because I was terrified I’d wipe out and eat my weight in sand. Hester warned us that we would be finding sand in, on, and around all kinds of places for days after we did this. So true. As I was flying down I suddenly began to turn. I used my feet to steer myself back on track but it slowed me down. There was a small stream of water flowing at the base of the dune and the goal was to get all the way down to it before losing steam but I didn’t make it. But I was exhilarated and determined.

After taking a moment to catch my breath and watch a few friends come down, a few of them crashing in frightening glory, I headed back up. I tried a slower pace this time with much more success. I got into position with the help of my nice board-holding friend and woosh—I was off again. This time, about half way down I hit a pocket where someone had fallen from a previously crashed and spectacularly flew off of my boogy-board and proceeded to barrel-roll down the dune completely out of control. At first I was totally freaked out and tried to stop myself but realized that I was just making it worse and relaxed and I stopped. I took a second to lie dazed under the hot sun before collecting myself and my board before I got run over by the next person. I walked down the hill and Hester got one look at me and started dying laughing. I was COVERED in sand. I cleaned off as best I could but she had my camera and had to photo-document the pitiful results of my efforts. Luckily I wasn’t the only one who looked like a sand-monster. After everyone finished (Chris did the most, 5 turns in total) and we took some photos it was back on the bus for the last leg of the adventure. When I got on the bus I was met by the numerous gazes of the retirees. They had stayed on the bus the whole time after briefly taking a look at the dunes. Meanwhile the 18 of us are laughing and getting sand everywhere. Oh well. We headed out to the beach for a drive for about 70 miles. It was here that I had my next excellent first. Raw clams. The driver stopped and told us it was time to try some Tora Tora. Did I know what it was? No. Did I care? Nope. I hopped off the bus and followed good old Kevin out onto the beach. He stopped and started wiggling around in the sand. Confused I walked over to him and he pointed at his feet. After a few more seconds his feet were an inch or two under the sand. He picked them up and about 20 clams appeared. They were everywhere! He told me to do the same and I did. Next I was to choose two good sized ones, hold one in each hand, and smash them together. I did as I was told. Next we peeled away the shells and Tah-Dah! Tora Tora. Down the hatch it went. I shrugged my shoulders, turned to my friend to photo-document the moment and at a raw clam on the beach. And heck, it wasn’t awful! Once we all had tried a few we loaded back on the bus and finished our cruise down the beach. It was beautiful and relaxing after a crazy day. Once we got off the beach and hit the highway I did my best to sleep but again I could peel my eyes away from the rolling green hills peppered by countless sheep and cattle. One thing I didn’t know and didn’t expect was the amount of biodiversity New Zealand, and more specifically this region of the north island has in its tree population. I saw everything from palms to pines and it was such an odd combination. After about an hour we stopped at a sea food restaurant and had what the Kiwis consider to be the best take-away meal, fish n’ chips. Again, before this trip I never ate fish but how could I resist? It was the most delicious meal I’ve had yet. After all that time in the sun and running around, the hot crisp fried fish and soft thick-cut French fries hit the spot. Then it was back on the bus and time to go back to the hostel. I slept like the dead.

Sunday was much more relaxed. While we still had to get up early for breakfast we had time afterwards to check out of the hostel and walk around a bit. At this point I realized that my sore throat wasn’t just from the yelling but that I was getting really sick. Hester ordered me some hot lemon water and honey to drink and it was one of the most delicious and soothing drinks I’ve ever had. The honey here is thinner and less bitter here than I think it is at home. The tea helped for a while but I had to go to the drugstore because it was going to be miserable without some medicinal help. I had no idea what to get so I talked to the pharmacist for a while and she helped me find a throat lozenges and pain killer that did the trick. I was finally able to sleep on the bus until we reached our last stop of the trip. I finally got my big fix for some Maori culture at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. We were met by the warmest and most enthusiastic guide if ever had in the main building and I could tell that she loved every bit of what she did and had so much pride and respect for the place we were in that I couldn’t help but feel honored to be there. The site land commemorates the signing of the 1840 treaty between the British and Maori. There are only 4 main parts to the treaty, 3 articles and one amendment. At this point, the Maori had no written language as a westerner would define it so in order for the whole arrangement to work 2 British men (Captain Hobson and his son Edward) who could speak Te Reo Maori worked on translating the English draft. So their written language was literally developed over night. Obviously there were instances where there was no equivalence in Maori for what the British were trying to achieve so the men did the best they could but in the end there were some big miscommunications that eventually led to major wars. What I think I’ve found most interesting is the amount of respect and reverence the Maori have still for this document even though it was made with the intent to dominate the natives and turn New Zealand into another British colony. When walking around the grounds I was struck by the incongruity of what I saw. On the left was a white, traditional house that you would expect to see somewhere in the States like Colonial Williamsburg surrounded by manicured gardens of brightly colored flowers and roses around the doorways. And to the left there was the Te Whare Runanga, the sacred building that symbolizes the Maori participation in the signing of the Treaty. The frame is painted bright red as a symbol of authority, carved with the most elaborate designs each to tell a story of the culture. The Maori waka, or canoe called (get ready for this) Ngatokimatawhaorua is also near the British Treaty House. It is an unbelievable 35meters long that requires a minimum of 76 paddlers and is housed under an impressive structure as intricately carved as Te Whare Runanga. I couldn’t imagine three building more opposite than these. But each is important to that moment in history and are treated with respect and dedication to preserve. The Treaty is still revered as one of the most important documents in Maori history and is the center of all politics and government here. There is constant debate about the wording in both documents and there are two councils to represent both the British and the Maori whenever a rule or facet of the Treaty comes into question so that both may come to a consensus. It has been demonstrated to me continually that no matter what the circumstances the native culture here is paramount to the identity of ALL New Zealanders and that they have the most uncanny ability to see the best in everyone and everything. After our tour of this important place we finished the weekend with a picnic by a waterfall. After hearing so many stories of the Maori culture this seemed like the perfect place to let my new understanding of what New Zealand is to sink in.

One of the many reasons why I feel like this trip was such a
success was because I was able to try so many New Zealand classics for the
first time like:
1) Remarkable fish n’ chips
2) Hokey Pokey Ice Cream—vanilla ice cream with honeycomb bits in it (tastes a lot like caramel)
3) L&P—what the Kiwi’s call the best soda in the world. It’s like a cross between lemonade and sparkling water. But not Sprite, more natural than that.
4) Tora Tora—clams. I ate them straight off the beach after digging them up!

Check out my pics at the bottom of the blog!!

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