white lighthouse on a tropical landscape

Week 1: Auckland to the Bay of Islands

No one talks about the challenges of travel. Our phones and computer screens are plastered from top to bottom with romanticized images of foreign countries, smiling faces with new friends, and extravagant or extravagantly simple experiences.

And why would anyone want to talk about it? Why should we show weakness when we know our friends and family back home are expecting we have an incredible time? Why talk to other travelers about our confused and frightened feelings, when we’re feeling certain that we are the only ones feeling this way?

I can tell you that if traveling comes as a challenge at first, you are far from alone.

Moving new places is hard for me. As an introverted homebody, being surrounded by so many new people and experiences can be exhausting. So why do I do it?

I push myself to travel and move because I experience disproportionate amounts of self-growth and development in these short periods of time. I learn more about how my mind works, what I like to do and what I don’t, and who I like to spend my time with. I learn how to manage money,  how to find my own jobs and housing, how to budget food and experiences and transportation. I relearn how to make friends.

So here’s my disclaimer: this first week in New Zealand has been equally thrilling and frustrating. So much has happened, and I can hardly even believe it’s only been just over a week. But I’m finding my way. I’m planning long road trips in a foreign country, making connections with amazing people, and learning a little bit more about myself along the way.

But enough with the background information. Let’s get to the good stuff!

New Zealand. Aotearoa. The Land of the Long White Cloud.

Following a 5 hour flight to Hawaii and a 9 hour flight to our final destination, we lost an entire day when we crossed the international dateline. When I wake up at 8am on a Saturday in New Zealand, it’s 1pm in Minnesota–on Friday. Crazy cool, right?

We rolled into our hostel dorm at 12:30am on December 3rd. The next morning I was filled with a mix of emotions: excitement, disbelief, anxiety. Fear has a way of planting itself in my gut, creeping up into my heart and throat and mind. This is one of the biggest leaps I’ve ever taken. When I meet others doing the same thing, I always feel like they’re braver than I am. Maybe I should give myself more credit.

John and I came to New Zealand through InterExchange, a work abroad organization that partners with IEP, their New Zealand counterpart. IEP can play as much of a role in our travels as we want, but they are always there to help us find work, offer support or advice, and book accommodation, excursions, and rentals. We arrived on a specific date to join a group of other individuals traveling like ourselves in an IEP “Welcome Week”.

On Tuesday we walked with our orientation group to the Auckland Museum, where we learned about natural history, pacific islander culture, and war history. We even watched a Maori cultural performance!

Here are some of the stories I learned at the museum:

  • New Zealand was the first country in the world to have “universal suffrage” when women gained the vote in 1983
  • There are 48 volcanoes in the Auckland region, with magma just 30 km below the earth’s surface
  • Many of the birds in New Zealand are drab in color, flightless, and giant, because they evolved on an isolated island without mammal predators. The kakapo lives here and is the world’s heaviest parrot!
  • The indigenous New Zealanders are the Maori. They descend from Polynesian ancestors who arrived here around 1200AD. Europeans arrived in the 1800s

Weekend in the North

On Thursday we bounced each other out of bed early to board a bus north. Our group was headed to the Bay of Islands, a region on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. The landscape consisted of rolling green hills, pastures filled with cows or sheep (there are 30 million of them in New Zealand), and big, bushy trees interspersed with conifers and palms.

After a brief stop at Whangarei (pronounced “fang-a-ray”) Falls, we checked into our beachy hostel in Paihia, a small coastal town that is much more my speed than downtown Auckland. We explored an arts and crafts fair in the park, rented kayaks for two hours with a group of 7, enjoyed a steak barbeque at our hostel, and grabbed the most delicious ice cream at a Swiss ice cream shop.

The next day was earlier than the last and jam-packed with adventure. We boarded the bus with our new friends at 7am. The end goal: Cape Reinga, the tip of New Zealand, where the Tasman Sea comes in from the west and crashes into the Pacific Ocean coming from the east. Along the route we stopped to see ancient kauri trees, drove the bus on a beach along the Tasman Sea, and ate locally caught fish and chips.

At Te Paki Stream, our bus hopped off of the gravel road and onto a sandy streambed next to towering sand dunes. We hopped off of the bus in our bare feet, grabbed a foam board from the rear bus bay, and started charging and trudging up the sand dune to try out sandboarding. It was a blast! What wouldn’t be fun about flying headfirst down a sandy hill using your toes as brakes as you splash into the water puddles at the bottom?

A photo of me shooting down a sand dune!
Photo credit to Sierra Molina

The Cape itself was beautiful. Maori believe it is the leaping place of spirits, which is what “Te Rerenga Wairua” translates to. From one look, I could understand.

The Bay of Islands

On Saturday, our group boarded a small inflatable speedboat that took us and our belongings to The Rock overnight cruise–a houseboat that was going to take around 40 people deeper into the Bay of Islands for the night.

The entire top floor was full of small rooms stacked wall to wall with bunks, and the first level was a bar complete with long wooden tables and lounge areas with views of the ocean all around. A metal spiral staircase connected the two floors on the back of the boat, where shelves overflowed with kayaks and fishing poles.

Our first activity with the crew was using a paintball gun to hit a duck decoy that was riding in our wake behind the boat. Maybe not that surprisingly, John and I were the only ones who even hit it, which resulted in a shootout that I won and earned me a free glass of wine at the bar.

We played games, fished off of the back of the boat, and had dinner by candlelight courtesy of the crew. After dinner we suited up in the dark and loaded ourselves into kayaks to explore the bay by starlight. As we followed our guide away from the boat, something magical caught my eye–when my paddle dipped into the water, it was suddenly illuminated by small blue lights. As I streaked the water, these lights followed in swirling patterns, like stars spinning and swirling in the sky. 

The reason? Bioluminescent algae, or phosphorescence. These small marine organisms are essentially charging using ultraviolet (UV) radiation during the day, and they are able to emit light at night. They activate this light when something comes into contact with them, like my paddle or hand. This light emission is a defense mechanism; when a fish is eating algae, they light up to draw the attention of other predators to the fish.

Walking around Paihia, New Zealand.

The trip north was a magical way to end our first week in New Zealand with friends; we have learned so much. Now, John and I are setting off on an entirely new adventure that I’ll feature in my next post, but here’s a hint: our newest best friend has four wheels, its own bed, a sink, and even a toilet.

Next time on The Curiosity Chronicles!

Best wishes,

One thought on “Week 1: Auckland to the Bay of Islands

  1. Rich Kunkel says:

    It was wonderful to get to spend a few fun filled days with you and the whole big crew in NC a few weeks ago! I sure enjoyed reading about your grand adventures in New Zealand. And as always, the photos are stunning. I’m sure your dad is so very proud of your duck decoy shooting skills. You’ve got me curious now about your “newest best friend” … sounds like it’s something awesome. A quote to ponder: “If you think adventures are dangerous, try routine: It’s Lethal.” – Paul Coelho

    Keep traveling!

    Uncle Rich


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