Dear Loved Ones,
First off, apologies for my lack of communication these past couple months. I have wanted to talk with everyone these past six weeks, but I also have many excuses for why I haven’t (work, time difference, finding a home, and lots of exploration).
As this is my first post about my time in New Zealand, here are some fun facts about this country.
According to Wikipedia’s quick blurb:
New Zealand is a country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean consisting of two main islands, both marked by volcanoes and glaciation. Capital Wellington, on the North Island, is home to Te Papa Tongarewa, the expansive national museum. Wellington’s dramatic Mt. Victoria, along with the South Island’s Fiordland and Southern Lakes, stood in for mythical Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films.
I find this description very interesting, mostly for the last two sentences. There could be so many ways to describe New Zealand, but Wikipedia went with the museum and Lord of the Rings. But it’s also strangely perfect, as Arthur and I have just recently started re-watching the Lord of the Rings series (to find spots to visit on our next long road trip), and many people in the past couple days have told us that the Te Papa Tongarewa national museum is INSANELY AWESOME and you can spend a whole day in the exhibits that feature NZ’s history, culture and environment. Te Papa Tongarewa broadly translates from Maori as: the place of treasures of this land.
Anyway, Arthur and I have been in New Zealand for two months, and we live in Gisborne, on the East Coast of the North Island. We have a room in a house, sharing it with the owner, Tegan, and her childhood friend, Anna.
Gisborne’s name in Maori is Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa, meaning the “Great standing place of Kiwa.” Who is Kiwa, you ask? Kiwa was a leading figure aboard the Maori ancestral canoe that first came to this region around 1450 AD.
Gisborne’s highlights include being one of the sunniest spots in New Zealand, being the first area Captain Cook discovered when he sailed to the North Island, and being home to a large Maori population, with about 49 percent identifying as Maori (the national average is 14.9 percent).
Gisborne was not where we were planning to live – our first spot was going to be Dunedin in the South Island – but we happened to arrive right before NZ’s six-week summer holiday break. Friends told us that Dunedin – a college town – would be very empty and lacking jobs, as would most cities, since people use this time to visit the beaches of the North Island, go hiking in the mountains, and spend time with family members around the nation. So we went to the heart of the summer area and got jobs immediately at a beach-side restaurant called Peppers. Arthur works as a bartender, and I stated cooking in the kitchen, but moved to serving after a few weeks when they needed more help in the front-of-house. I’ve been pleased to discover I’m actually decent at it, compared to the last time I served, which was in college, and I was horrible.
Our days off have been dominated by exploring. For my birthday in December, Arthur and I went to the Rere Waterfall, Rockslide and Champagne Pools.
Link to Arthur’s Video: Rere Rock Slide
Over the past six weeks in Gisborne, we have tried to visit as many places as possible. First, we visited the nearby cities of Tauranga and Mount Maunganui.
We had several days off for the holidays, and we celebrated by creating a driftwood Christmas tree, cooking a big meal on Christmas eve, and exchanging gifts the next morning.
Then we packed up our car and drove south to the Mahia Peninsula so Arthur could go surfing. After that, we continued on to see Napier, which is known for building a cohesive, art deco architecture style after it was flattened in an earthquake in 1931. They also have a series of murals decorating town to promote the care of our oceans.
Just south of Napier is Cape Kidnappers (named by Captain Cook because the Maori in the area tried to kidnap a young Tahitian boy from his ship in 1769), where we hiked several hours along the beach to a famous Gannet bird nesting area.
Recently we had two days off in a row, so we drove north along the East Cape, which is peppered with tiny towns that used to have a large presence in frozen food shipping, but now are largely abandoned. Along the way we stopped at the Tikitiki Church, which features stunning examples of Maori carvings and weavings.
We also recently went on a day hike to Cook’s Cove, near Tolaga Bay, where Captain Cook’s ship, Endeavour, anchored in New Zealand and where the crew members first interacted with the Maori people. The crew was also fascinated with the naturally formed rock arch, called the Hole in the Wall (Te Kotere o te Whenua).
Last weekend we went back north to hike Mount Hikurangi, the tallest, non-volcanic mountain in the North Island. From its peak at 1,752 meters (5,748 feet) elevation, it is also the first spot in New Zealand to see the sun rise. According to Maori legend, Mount Hikurangi is the first piece of land pulled from the sea by Maui when he fished up the North Island.
The hike had a rough start, with me forgetting my shoes in Gisborne, two hours south of the mountain. With only the tiny town of Ruatoria nearby, my options were to hike in socks, buy rubber rainboots, or beg people to help me. I asked the woman at the Ngati Porou (the local Maori ‘iwi’ or tribe) DOC office about where I could buy some shoes, and – finding no other option – she loaned me her own pair. Her kindness stunned me, and I would not have been able to summit this mountain without her generosity.
Our first day of the hike lasted 3.5 hours up a winding sheep-farm road to a tiny hut for the night with candles and flashlights for illumination, and a wood stove for warmth and cooking. We started our second day’s hike at 3:30 a.m. in the dark from the mountain’s hut up a rough bush path, and the last 400 meters to the summit featured steep, loose rock scree.
And although I was uneasy with the climb in the dark before sunrise, when I stood at the summit, watching the sun climb over the pink clouds, I knew it was worth it. The views took my breath away, and the mountain cast a shadow on the hills behind it.
Below the summit, at 1,000 meters elevation, sit eight statues commemorating the demigod Maui. These statues were installed for the new century, so that Maui could face the New Year’s sunlight in the year 2000.
Mount Hikurangi was our training for our future hike of Mount Taranaki on the West Coast, and our training for Mount Hikurangi was our small, local Kaiti Hill, which sports multiple paths and stairs up the slopes to the view over Gisborne.
We feel lucky to have come here, because there is so much we would not have known about the culture of this area. Besides the outstanding beauty, there are also some less pleasant things, though. There are several gangs in the Gisborne area, including “Black Power” and “Mongrel Mob” – both comprised primarily of Maori and Pacific Islanders. (Weirdly enough, NZ has more gang members per capita than any other country in the world.)
In Gisborne, the worst of it allegedly is that they beat each other up occasionally and steal dogs for illegal fighting. (Unfortunately, some animals are not treated very well in this area.) But in a very NZ way, they also volunteer their time in many community service projects. Anyway, this makes Gisborne sound very unsafe, but it’s not, really. Arthur and I have seen a couple fights at bars (and once in a park), but I’d say the most dangerous thing is drunk driving, which happens a lot.
And while the beauty of this area outweighs any negatives, Arthur and I are excited to move on to our next stop: the South Island. We hope to find waves, dancing and cool people our age.
Our last day of work is Feb. 5, and we leave for a three-week road trip down to the South Island. We plan to drive through Rotorua/Taupo, Taranaki (to hike the mountain), down to Wellington for a few days. Then we take the ferry across to the South Island, where we will drive along the rugged West Coast until Christchurch and then Dunedin.
I’ve been missing everyone a lot, so I hope we can Skype soon. I’m going to start sending post cards, so keep an eye on your mail.
Sending so much love!