Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Kiwiland and I

Posting here is long overdue, and even though I owe this blog tales about Lisbon and San Francisco - two absolutely fantastic cities I've visited since logging something here last - right now I'm going to talk about New Zealand. This is where I've been for the last week, this is where I am now and where I intend to be in less than a year.

I'm typing this on the road to Wellington aboard our Stray bus, onto which Isaac and I hopped last Friday and which has been driving us all around the North Island for the last seven days. For the ill-informed here, New Zealand is comprised of two giant islands (each bigger than England, if I'm not mistaken), called, not surprisingly, the North Island and the South Island. Because my trip is so miserably short, I could only really choose one of them in hopes of seeing at least some of the treasures each has to offer, and I decided to start in the north. With Stray's help, I managed to see quite a lot, I feel, and our orange bus has taken me places I never would have gone otherwise.

Let me tell you a bit about Stray: it is a crossbreed between a bus network (i.e. transport) and a travel agency (i.e. sightseeing), so with Stray you can go to various places either all over NZ, or over your island of choice according to the pass you buy. The driver acts as a tour quide, telling stories on the way and booking accommodation and activities in every place you visit (or you can do it all yourself, no obligations to buy or book anything suggested). You can hop off any time and hop on any other Stray bus passing through (every two days usually).

This is what I understood about Stray before starting my tour. It is all true, if course, but what I failed to predict was how close I would grow with some of my busmates. Our group on Stray stayed pretty well put: we "lost" a few people in Rotorua and a couple in Raglan, and new people hopped on as well, but otherwise we have been pretty inseparable for a week, eating together, sleeping together (new hostel every night, new roommates - we shuffled around), doing crazy things together (like swimming in ice-cold underground river in Waitomo caves, or zorbing, or hiking way above the sea level or my personal comfort zone), drinking moderately (honestly,  Canada's got nothing on New Zealand's booze prices and policies) and bouncing up and down on our bus seats thanks to North Island's winding roads.

In the last week I tried surfing, swam in a hot stream appropriately called Kerosine River, ate the freshest fish and chips, took pictures of Mount Doom. I have also taken part in a formal Maori ceremony that turned me from "Sacred feet" (a stranger with unclear intentions) into a part of the tribe and this Maori family. I believe them when they say that I can show up at their Marae (village) and just hang out there forever, because it is my home away from home now. How can you not fall in love with an indigenous culture like that?

New Zealand is the lushest green country I am ever likely to see. It is a country of farmers, funny accents, expensive micro-brews, sheep ans cows, gently undulating hills and tall waves, the Middle-Earth and Maori culture. It is beautiful and  absolutely fantastic. I don't think I would be able to forgive myself if I never come back.

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