The Bay of Islands
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Where I stayed
Bay of Islands Holiday Park
First day of Flying Kiwi! Found the bus with only one wrong street crossing, then motored north out of Auckland with beautiful views of the harbor in front of the city skyline. We had a picnic lunch at a pretty beach, made a stop in the town of Paihia so people could get ice-cream and buy alcohol for tonight, then reached our campsite, called the Holiday Palace.
The Holiday Palace is really nice. We're next to a river lined with plants and trees and dotted with tiny waterfalls that create soothing white noise when I’m trying to sleep. There are ducks waddling around and birds chirping. As far as facilities go, there are large, clean communal bathrooms, a pool, playground and trampoline. I was smart to upgrade to a single tent for the duration of the trip. The double tent I have all to myself is just big enough for me to sit in alongside my unrolled sleeping bag and backpack. I can spread my stuff out nicely, whereas most other people are keeping their suitcases/packs under the bus and carrying clothes, toiletries, etc. back and forth.
Dinner was tasty - spaghetti (eh) but in a tasty meat/tomato/mushroom sauce. The salad had lots of veggies in it, and even pine nuts and alfalfa sprouts, so not skimpy there, either. The quantities were huge. I certainly won’t go hungry on this trip.
There’s a "fruit box" on board the bus, which currently has bananas, oranges and kiwis in it. I found the kiwis odd, since (I thought) you need utensils to cut it up or peel it. Dec (Irish dude) taught me that you can just eat it straight through, like an apple. I had no idea the skin was edible. It actually makes the sour fruit taste a bit sweeter. Ooh, and I also learned that you’re supposed to call them “kiwi fruit” because “kiwi” means the people who live in New Zealand.
After dinner, a bunch of us went to the Maori cultural show. The brochure made it look boring, but I’m so glad I went. It was held on the site of the historic Treaty House where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, declaring that Maori and Europeans would peacefully coexist in New Zealand.
First, we stood in the yard while our host explained traditional Maori protocol, as well as what we’d see throughout the night. Then, we turned the corner and found a huge, traditional wooden ceremonial building with a totem pole on top. Maori warriors crept from the trees, barely visible in the darkness. As the drums began to beat, it wasn’t hard to imagine that it was the 18th or 19th century. Then, our three elected “chiefs” had to endure the Maori greeting ritual, which involves the Maori warriors testing newcomers with waving spears, prancing and weird cries. By doing this, they tested whether our intentions were peaceful or harmful.
Once our group had passed the test, we went inside the communal house, where we were greeted with ceremonial songs and dancing. Next, we listened to a grandfather telling the story of the Maori arrival in NZ, with the other actors stepping in to act out scenes of war, games, discovery and love. The women were beaming as they performed and the men stomped their feet and slapped their chests until the floor rumbled. It was really well done, not going down the road of cheesiness that many of these types of shows do.
After the show, we met the actors and asked some questions. I really liked how everyone was happy to be there and proud to share information about their culture, not just going through the motions or doing it because they needed a job. The two guys who wrote it (one being our host and the other the “grandfather” character) took two years to write the script. Then, the grandfather discovered that he had multiple brain tumors. He had surgery and needed to relearn how to walk and talk. It took him a full year to learn the script again. Now that is admirable dedication.
Tuesday the 26th was my first full day with Flying Kiwi. Had a great night’s sleep thanks to their quality gear. Lucked out with a new tent and sleeping bag - hopefully I can hold onto them for the trip.
We started the day with a delicious pancake breakfast. Then, ten of us spent he day aboard a big sailboat. We motored out into the Bay of Islands, passing the Treaty House, and stopped at an island. We anchored and took a dingy in to the island. It looked like a postcard: emerald hillside, white sand beaches and turquoise waters.
We hiked to the top of the island for amazing views, then hiked back down to have lunch on the beach. There were great seashells to be found - giant scallops, bits of anemone and conch, and those skinny, ripply iridescent ones.
Before we went back to the boat, I had a chance to explore the waters around the island in a glass-bottomed kayak.
The winds were good, so we had an easy sail back. I laid back on the sunny deck and slept. The gentle rocking of the waves, the flap of the sail and the warm sunshine helped me to take the best nap of my life. I woke up every so often when we tacked, appreciated the views for a bit, then fell back asleep.
Back at the camp site, I relaxed for a bit on the banks of the river, then ate bacon and cheese on sweet potatoes for dinner. At night, we all sat around talking, just getting to know each other a bit. The majority of people on the trip are about my age. We have a bunch from England and Ireland, a few from the U.S., a couple from Germany and one guy from Switzerland. The social dynamic of the group is pretty good. People seem to have pretty inclusive (rather than cliquey) attitudes; and, so far at least, everyone has behaved respectfully towards each other.