“Restful sleep” and “peace of mind” are two phrases not often used when describing the night before you go on a life-altering trip, but they would perfectly portray my last night spent at home. I pulled back the covers and fell asleep just like I would have on any other night. It wasn’t because I wasn’t anxious nor because I wasn’t thrilled. It was because I knew what I was doing was right and no one could tell me otherwise. With that belief came a calming sense that whatever may happen, it would all be all right. And, so far, it’s been more than all right.
While planning my flight to New Zealand I came to the realization that however I flew there I’d have to fly to the West Coast and make a connection to cross the Pacific. That meant heading through Los Angeles or San Francisco, the latter of which is the city in which my good friend, Matt, resides. Upon seeing that, of course I had to plan to spend a few days in San Francisco, a city I had been to when I was younger, but where I had yet to get the local perspective.
I landed in San Fran late and the plan was to spend a short night downtown so we could get some sleep and wake up early for Yosemite in the morning. As we all know, things don’t always go according to plan, and we spent quite a late night in town with quite a few drinks. But even a nagging hangover couldn’t stop us from leaving the house at the crack of dawn to venture into the great wilderness that is Yosemite National Park.
After an obligatory stop at Chic-fil-A (and my last before leaving the States) we headed out on our four-hour drive to the park. What I knew about our trip was that Yosemite was bound to be beautiful but what I didn’t know was that the drive there was going to be spectacular as well. The golden landscape cascaded by and the bright blue sky welcomed us as we left the dreary fog of the city behind. Even though I had been in northern California before I had failed to soak in how beautiful it really was until that drive. The car ride itself would have been enough to make my day but the ultimate destination blew my mind.
Though not much was visible right after we entered the park, within 15 minutes Matt said, “Jack, look to your right….now!” And sure enough one the most amazing views I had ever seen popped into sight. El Capitan and Half Dome soared into the air, dwarfing the 100-foot trees that rested below them. Matt actually laughed at my jaw that was gaping from amazement. The day was spent bouldering, climbing, hiking, and chilling out above a waterfall. It’s truly incredible that places like Yosemite exist, and I’m ecstatic that I was able to visit.
The rest of my time in San Francisco went by in a flash, full of delicious food and great people. One day was spent almost entirely in Golden Gate Park, where I completely misjudged how huge the place was and wore myself out. But it was all worth it, especially after seeing buffalo roam in the park (quite an interesting sight). I have to give a shout out to Matt and his girlfriend, Amanda, for being awesome hosts and for not showing their embarrassment as I took many photos and dressed like a backcountry explorer for most of my stay. They are great people. We said our goodbyes at the airport, I boarded the plane, and I was off to New Zealand.
Knowing I was seeing the US for the last time for at least a year was as exciting as it was sad. I’d been blessed to live in this country for so long but it was time to go. The thirteen-hour flight over the night darkened Pacific was uneventful. While I had hoped to meet people on the plane, almost instantly everyone fell asleep. After I had my complimentary meal I too dropped off and was fortunate to get six hours of, albeit cruddy, sleep.
Jet lag was in full swing when I landed in Auckland at 6am. I made it to my hostel by 8 with my eyes half closed and was greeted by a lovely receptionist telling me I couldn’t get a bed until 2pm. Oh, joy. I tried to make the best of the situation and started to stumble around the city. Thankfully, there was the FREE Auckland Art Gallery that took up much of my time and I got a quick lesson in the historical art of the native Maori people. Tired, delirious, and alone, I made my way back to the hostel and slept…forever. Well, I actually woke up at 4am the next day, wide awake. But while I was awake lying in bed, trying not to disturb my roommates, I had something to look forward to: my travel bros, Mike and Grant, were arriving in town that morning.
The next few days in Auckland went by pretty fast. We were all of the same opinion, that we needed to make it out of the city as soon as possible, but we needed to handle a few things first. The biggie was buying a car. After a few failed attempts we found a 1997 Camry station wagon in plum. We paid about 1000 US dollars for it. What a glorious sight it is. It was sold to us by a seedy ol’ character, but after test driving it we decided to get it because it’s a Toyota and had no issues mechanically. In between looking for cars we did get some time to see what the city had to offer. We spent half a day walking to and seeing Mt. Eden, one of roughly 50 volcanos in the Auckland area. It offered sweeping views of the city and showed a glimpse of what the country had to give in the distance. We also made our first foreign friend in Luisa, a young German lady on her gap year between high school and college. It seems that coming to NZ from Germany is a common occurrence as we have, no doubt, met more Germans than we have Kiwis.
After settling most of what we needed to in Auckland (paperwork and bank account; NZ really doesn’t require much to come here) we decided to leave the hustle of the city and head to the “Winterless North.” That name doesn’t really make sense to three guys from the southeast US as the temperature was a high in the 50s when we arrived in Paihia, the main destination in the Bay of Islands. Upon arrival we checked into the Bay Adventurer hostel. It was a great relief from the crowded hostel in downtown Auckland, though we heard that it is just as crazy during the summer months (the northern hemisphere’s winter months) when the Bay becomes infested with hard-partying backpackers. The Bay is appropriately named because it is, in fact, a bay full of beautiful islands. We made some friends almost immediately—four German girls of course: Hanni, Ani, Tabea, and Eileen. They were our partners in crime most of the time while there. At the risk of being too lengthy, I’d feel bad if I left out mentioning Javier and his El Café restaurant that filled our bellies every morning. You must go there when you all decide you must travel to New Zealand.
Paihia is a pretty small coastal town with not much to offer before the summer season but we did get to experience our first awesome hike while there. Rainbow Falls caught our eye in a guidebook and we decided it was worth a try. After a short walk from the trailhead we were amazed to see the waterfall before us as shown in the picture. The guidebook also said you could get behind the falls if you wanted to risk getting soaked in the 45-degree water. At first glance both Grant and I thought it was a not a wise idea to try it as the route to get behind the falls was very wet and vertical at one point. But Mike, throwing caution to wind, started careening across the rocks and made it behind….so of course Grant and I had to do it too. We made it across as well and thanked Mike for leading the way, after which Mike exclaimed something along the lines of “I almost fell twice and the only thing keeping me from falling in the water was the thought that my phone was in my pocket. I was scared as #!@%.” While Mike expressed all of our thoughts with his words it was absolutely worth it, as what we saw behind the falls was a giant cavern full of green moss, probably big enough for a couple of basketball courts to fit in and 30 feet tall. This was the New Zealand we had come to see. Pristine nature surrounded us and we had a great time exploring it.
Even though Paihia was a slice of paradise for us we needed to find a way to make money, or at least spend it more slowly. We went to every restaurant and store front in town but none were hiring. That’s when we started searching for work through the internet and Grant quickly found us a gig at a holiday park (a nice rv campsite) across the bay working for free accommodation. So that’s where we are now, in Russell, Northland, New Zealand. We’ll be here for two weeks and I’ll try to post more frequently from now on. We hope everyone is doing well. Cheers!