3 days of catch up!

February 28, 2012 by Zoe Flanagan

Pre-Script (P.S. in the beginning) I will sometimes write on this blog, but not a lot 😉 Enjoy!

I got to fourth for the first time, on the right side of the car and the left side of the road! In my previous two standard driving parking-lot lessons, I was terrified and I was only able to reach second! Admittedly, I was still terrified when I got to fourth, but I had a good teacher, or at least a seriously persistent teacher. Oh and I didn’t mention, I also went in reverse 😉

But, this monumental event, while quite a big moment in my life, takes place later. I must first start at the beginning. Because, just as the date was set to zero when Christ was born, Jeramie and my trip was set to zero when, with a simple $9 transaction fee at the post office, we transferred the ownership of a van into our name.

Our new home, bought from an Austrian traveler, is a bright red, 1989 Mitsubishi L300 with 239,300 kilometers of travels on it. She comes with a full mattress in the back, two pillows, three blankets, a pot and two pans, an ancient Chinese single burner stove, and pretty much anything a traveler needs in New Zealand. As soon as Jeramie and I bid farewell to its owner (one of many I assumed), we took to the highway, north out of Auckland. We were over the cities and overdue for the country, eagerly anticipating all the uncertainty and beauty it would surely bring.

On our first day out, we stopped at a beautiful beach for a quick sandwich. A Kiwi parked next to us sparked up a friendly conversation, as most kiwis do. He was shocked by the value of our recent purchase, continuously proclaiming how great a deal we had found, almost with a hint of envy.

After a walk on the beach, we continued north to Leigh. In Leigh, the patron of the only general store in town engaged us in a long conversation, while giving us our change. Topics ranged from the Christchurch earthquakes, to how he ended up moving to Leigh 20 some odd years ago, and how much he loved his small town. I proclaimed he must be the mayor of the sweet town and he admitted he had been called that before. Despite the allure of Leigh, we decided to only have a quick Tui while watching the sunset and taking photos at Goat Island along the coast.

That night, after a quick dinner in Manataka, we decided to make a little more northern progress and drive about forty-five minutes up the coast. We had read in our handy dandy Frenzy book, that there was a surfer’s point where we could freedom camp with little worries.

The next morning, surely enough the sun shown down on a parking lot full of surfers, however I might say the wave didn’t look all that exciting (not that I know much about that kind of thing).

We got on the road again, with the idea of hitting up a waterfall where we could swim later that day. Before too long we drove past a farmers market, which made my day. I LOVE FARMERS MARKETS! Lots of yummy produce and for great prices. We left with a full bag including: honey, eggs, a pretty new ring, and Indian chapatti wrap for breakfast. Happy, happy Zoe.

The swimming at the waterfall was pretty chilly but also pretty beautiful. With the wind blowing and the sun playing peekaboo behind sizeable clouds, we didn’t last too long. However, we both did achieve complete submersion, along with a feeling of excitement that only swimming at a waterfall can provide.

Next on the itinerary of adventure, spelunking! According to our handy-dandy Frenzy book, yet again, there was a hidden gem of a cave filled with glowworms just fifteen-minutes drive north. We were all over it.

The Waipu Cave, which is located out on a country road in a sheep field, was a unique experience. Neither of us had ever seen glowworms before, and I am sure seeing them in this capacity would blow away anyone who had. Looking up in the cave is nothing less amazing then looking up at a clear night sky away from city lights. I found myself hoping to see a shooting star, only to be reminded I was in a cave by the drops of water occasionally falling on my face.

The antechamber of the cave feels like a grand ballroom, with unnerving dangling stalactites instead of chandeliers. Once you’ve entered the large mouth of the cave, you navigate into the dark by means of a stream. The winding of the stream brings you into “hallways” and “rooms” that are all lit by a ceiling of glowworms. In one room, the Milky Way glows on the ceiling, as if the glowworms were inspired by the night sky and wanted to create their own version.

In the end we were probably in the cave for two hours. Most of our time was spent trying to capture the almost alien spectacle. We played with our headlamps to light the scenes, while families walked by with children screaming in delight or fear… There were sections where the quant stream quickly turned into a waist high river, and the high ceilings became so short you had to hunch while wading your way through.

As we were leaving the cave there was a man preparing to enter stream. Not too long into the conversation, Jeramie got a sudden suspicion that he new the man standing in the dark. Jeramie asked where the man was from, he responded the US. Jeramie asked which state, he responded Oregon. At which point Jeramie asked if the man was a writer (since his name embarrassingly enough eluded him). Turned out that yes he was a writer, the very same who wrote our hard to find, only order on Amazon, AMAZING, guide book for New Zealand, NZ Frenzy.

We spoke with Scott for about a half hour, standing in the dark. We were amazed that we had actually had the chance to meet the author of the book that brought us to every spot we had visited yet. He as well seemed excited to see readers, especially readers coming out of “one of his favorite” spots (he has many). As the author of a guidebook, he was often disheartened that he never saw any of his readers at the sights he mentioned in his book. He gave us some advice for our next adventure. A place he was planning on putting into the next edition of the guidebook. We bid each other farewell and Jeramie and I walked out of the cave giggling in shock that “that just happened.”

Once back to the car, the parking lot was empty. We decided to sit, dry off, pull out our fold up chairs and have a planning powwow. Once we came to the decision that we had gone north enough, and in light of our limited time we should head south, a van showed up. The van was unmistakably a part of the foreign travelers fleet. Once they parked, Jeramie caught a glimpse of black and red on the driver’s shirt. Without any hesitation, Jeramie blurted out in excitement “tell me that’s a Blazer’s jersey!” And of course, it was. Andrew was from Salem traveling with Chantal, who was Dutch-Canadian. Chantal had been on the road for about a year, working on farms in Australia. Andrew fought fires half the year in Oregon and used the other half to travel and explore the world.

We ended up chatting with the traveling couple for a while. Scott came out and joined us, surprised to see us still there. Our plans to head north that night were thrown out the window, given the absurdity of the situation: four out of five Oregonians meeting in a sheep field on a country road in New Zealand.

That night, in the absence of a fire, we sat in a circle, put our headlamps on red light and gathered them into a cluster on the grass. The result was a pleasant fire-like glow. The conversation was light and fun. The group was a well-traveled collective, so stories flowed easily. At times throughout the night, I caught myself, and others, drawn to gazing at the ambers.

We reconvened the circle over coffee in the morning. The conversation’s ease allowed us to leisurely waste the morning away, sitting in the sun, dodging five-minute rain showers, and shooing away lone sheep from vulnerable campervan kitchens.

By the time we got on the road, it had been nearly 20 hours since we arrived at the cave. We had only planned to stay an hour or so, but this is what happens when you travel. Tell god your plans to make him laugh.

Our new friends had given us a plethora of advice on where to go. Upon their insistence, we headed north for one last day, in search of a white sand beach they told us would blow our minds; and a freedom camping spot at the foot of a volcano overlooking the ocean.

The beach was just as our friends had described. Remote, clear and unbelievably blue water, soft white sand, and we were lucky to get about a half hour of warm sun. Sadly after a quick dip, the wind picked up and despite our efforts, the goose bumps and blowing sand made the beach far less inviting.

Now we are back to the big event, me getting to fourth. On the drive from one beach to basically another, where we planned to camp, Jeramie insisted I take the wheel for the first time. The road was basically straight and the traffic was quiet. I fought him most of the way, wishing I could be sitting safe in my seat on the left. But eventually I not only got to fourth, I drove on a dirt road AND went up a hill.

Our camping spot was perfect. From our van, the view consisted of white sand beaches to the north and the south, turquoise colored ocean, Irish green rolling hills, and a volcano just behind us.

In the morning, I took a walk to pee. Mid stream, I glanced up at the ocean, and there was a pod of dolphins leisurely making its way down the coast.

Posted in New Zealand |

2 Responses to “3 days of catch up!”

  1. Jeanne says:

    This is fantastic! Thank you for sharing – I know how hard it is to take time to write when you are traveling but this is great! Can’t wait to see all your pictures. Love and safe travels!

  2. Rick Hildenbrand says:

    Hi guys, Stumbled onto your blog while glancing through FB this morning. I fondly remember my trip to NZ in 2003 with Eric. Of course, we rented a new SUV, stayed in BnBs and had a clearly defined itinerary, but we still enjoyed the spectacular beauty of both the north and south islands. Keep posting. I am enjoying your blog. Hope the rest of your adventure is fun, informative and absolutely spectacular. Cousin Rick

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