Monday, July 25, 2011

The Kiwi Chronicles - The Legendary Stories: Easter Weekend, Part I

Since it's been nearly 4 months since my last Kiwi Chronicle entry, I think it's only proper to tell another Legendary story from my study abroad experience in New Zealand. This 3-part story takes place over Easter Weekend and the roadtrip we took throughout the Northland. You can see the beginning of The Kiwi Chronicles here.

Easter Weekend came towards the end of April, and by that time I was very settled in my life abroad. I had a routine. I had a solid group of friends. I was recognized by all the Fish and Chips shops within a 5 mile radius of my house. I was a local and loving it.

I was also getting over the hump that is the homesickness phase. It's that period of time when you're abroad that you just miss everything normal about home. For me, it was the little things. I missed calling my mom on the weekdays to see how she was doing. I had some mad cravings for all kinds of Mexican food. I missed people calling cell phones....cell phones (they called them mobiles there).

More than anything, though, I missed driving. I missed my car, and the freedom I felt when I sat behind the wheel. Sure, you could take public transit to just about anywhere...but there was never that sense of "I can go anywhere I want" when I wanted to. See, there are only 4 things a man needs to survive. They are, in order:

  1. Field of Dreams on DVD
  2. Women
  3. Driving
  4. Beer
So young...so happy.
Since PAL and NTSC don't get along and, let's face it, 19 year old Ryan had no game...satisfying one of my core needs was critical at this point in my stay in New Zealand. So when my American friend Nick and my two Dutch friends Pim and Sam wanted a 4th for a road trip through the Northland, I was all in.

We hitched a ride from Hamilton with our Kiwi friend Campbell to the car rental place in Auckland. In classic fashion, we left a day early as to enjoy a proper Kiwi BBQ with beer and meat and plenty of good times to go around. Honestly, I could live in New Zealand just for the BBQ's. We had many a couch parties where food and beer were the centerpiece, and it was the perfect kind of shindig: no hidden agendas, no missions or purpose. Just friends hanging out, enjoying life. We all knew that our stay was temporary, so we took every chance we got to hang out with each other.

But I digress...back to the road trip.

Immediately out of the starting gate, we had a dilemma: the car wasn't big enough for our luggage. No, I'm not talking about bags and such. Most of us just carried a backpack or two. I'm talking about all the beer we needed for the weekend.
Campbell and his friend posing at our beer tower.

Let me say that, on the record, we are not heavy drinkers. But, if you refer to the list of carnal needs that ever man has, you can clearly see that beer is #4 on the list. And, considering that beer was on sale this weekend (beer is never on sale), we had to stock up.

Nobody took into account that 10 cases of beer would weigh down the car much, and for the first leg of our road trip we had to seriously contemplate hills and speed bumps before going over them. 

Like I said...carnal needs. A man will always find a way.

Our trip was hardly about beer though, and it only took us half an hour to realize how beautiful the Northland was.

The Northland is the entire chunk of the North Island above Auckland, and it is just beautiful. We had miles and miles of rolling green hills with forests dotting the landscape. Our road was never straight...instead, we curved through the hills not really knowing what we were going to find next. There were times that we had to consult a map, but we honestly weren't too heartbroken if we got lost a bit. 

That's how a road trip should be. Sure, we had a purpose for our journey. We had places to go. But it was never about the destination as much as enjoying the ride along the way. We would talk and chat when we weren't in awe of the landscape, and we each would take turns driving out on the open road. 

What I remember most about that first leg was the beach that we found while on one of our unexpected detours. It was just after lunch, and the heat of the afternoon sun was cooking us in our black car with no A/C. Most of our journey up to this point had been winding up the West coast, and we were eyeing the ocean for hours at this point.

Just on the other side of this hill was a huge bay, with two beaches nestled where the bay met the ocean. In the distance we could see these sprawling sand dunes (which we would visit in the 2nd leg), and we couldn't have chosen a more beautiful place to relax and stretch our legs.

On the beach were countless tide pools carved into these pillars of rocks. We would play in the surf for a bit, then jump in a tide pool with the local sea creatures and enjoy the sun in a natural hot tub. Hours flew by as we enjoyed a simple day at the beach. The ocean holds a special place in my heart, and I always take the time to enjoy a good beach day.

Towards the end of our day, we did run into some trouble. We never took into account the fact that this was Easter Weekend, and as such many of the food and gas stations were closed. We had a hostel booked in advance, but dinner was still up for grabs.

Lucky for us, we had two Americans in the car. For some reason, every American I know (myself especially) has a built in McDonald's radar. We can sense the proximity of the golden arches, and to this day that skill set has yet to fail me.
We're coming Big Mac...
That was also the beginning of my McDonald's tradition: in every country I visit, I must eat a Big Mac. To this day, I have had a Big Mac on 5 continents. Best tradition ever.

At the end of the day, we sat in the quad of the hostel, busted out the beers in the back of our car, and did what we do best: drink and talk. I was sporting a GL2 at the time, so I was stoked to show my friends the footage I was grabbing. 

This past Christmas, I took a look at all that video...one of these days, I'll post some of it. It was a terrible use for a camera like the GL2, but those travel videos are something that I cherish to this day.

We killed 3 of the boxes of beer that night, and our trusty steed was light on her feet the next day. It was necessary, as the 2nd leg of the Northland road trip took us to places that pictures just can't do justice.

That's Part 2 of our Easter Weekend, so I'll share that with you next week. For now, I challenge you to take a road trip. I'm sure you've had one before, but they are such a wonderful way to see this beautiful world of ours. Don't be afraid to get lost either...as it's all just part of the journey!

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