Travel Notes: Wrapping New Zealand

Ok…it’s time to just catch up in time here. Considering I’ve just landed in Tokyo, and not posted anything about the 18 days in Australia, I’m simply going to put a wrap on New Zealand.

After Franz Joseph, Dwayne and I drove I don’t know how many hours up the west coast, making quicks stops in half a dozen towns and attractions, including the Monteith’s Brewery for a tasting, the longest suspension bridge in New Zealand, and plenty of others on our way to Nelson. Good stuff. 

Hours and hours of beautiful landscape slip by.

Realizing we’re not going to make it to Nelson that day, we held up in Reefton for the night. Yes, Reefton. Cute little bed and breakfast and some much-needed respite.

We arrive in Nelson the next day, where Dwayne is staying with a friend and he drops me at my hostel for the night. Having not spoken with Maciek since leaving Franz, we weren’t sure when or where we would see him again. Until he calls me, and find out he’s in staying in the room next to me. Small country (literally). Long story short, the three of us make plans to hike Abel Tasman the following day.

Abel Tasman is the most popular national park in New Zealand, for good reason.

A Kiwi, an American and a Polish go hiking…

We decided to do a 22 kilometer hike along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track to Bark Bay where we caught a water taxi back to the trail head. Really didn’t know what to expect, but was blown away. Abel Tasman was absolutely stunning. Beautiful coastal rain forest track, traversing the mountainside, crossing bays, and just taking it all in. We stopped for lunch on the other side of Torrent Bay, that we crossed just before the tide came in, then watched the water rise and fill the bay as we took a nice break.

One of the most beautiful hikes/treks I’ve done. We picked up a hitchhiker from Tahoe after the trail and spilt a couple of jugs and a couple bowls of chips after the trek.

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That night Dwayne, his friend, Maciek and I went out in Nelson, met up w/ some of my friends from Christchurch, and just had a great time.

Early the next morning Maciek and I got on a deplorable bus from Nelson to Picton, where we hopped on the ferry taking us the south island to the north island, dropping us in Wellington, the capitol of New Zealand.

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After arriving in Wellington after the gorgeous 3-hour ferry ride, little did we know there was a major concert going on the next day. Every single hostel in Wellington was full. Hmmm.

After two hours of calling, walking, attempting to connect to the internet, thinking, and failing to find a place to sleep that night, we decide we are sleeping in the train station. Damn.

Walking back to the train station we come across a young lady selling sausages on the street for $2. Ok, let’s get a bite to eat, regroup….and then go to the station. Haha.

So there we are, eating sausages on the street, and the father of the young lady who sold us our sausages comes up and starts chatting with us. Arnie Aston. Little did we know at the moment things were going to take an interesting turn in our favor.

We start chatting on the street corner, Arnie asking where we’re from and about our travel plans and so forth. I tell Arnie where I’m from, and then Maciek tells him that he is from Poland. Arnie pauses for a moment; “my wife is from Poland.” Huh. No kidding.

About three more minutes of chatting, and Arnie offers to host us at his house for a few nights. Maciek and I look at each other, very briefly, and accept the offer. After packing up the BBQ (which, after selling to Maciek and I, is inexplicably shut down but a city council member), which is set up as a fundraiser outside of the bar that Arnie’s wife works at, Maciek and I throw our packs in Arnie’s car and hop in, not entirely sure what to expect.

We drive to Lower Hutt, a suburb of Wellington where Arnie has lived for years and raised his family.

Arnie is a Māori , the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. He is still closely in touch with the Māori culture and traditions, which are important to him and his family.

Kia Ora, Arnie tells us, welcome to our home, with his wife Anne, his daughter Alex, and son Anthony. Anthony clears out of his room and sleeps in the living room for the next two nights to make room for Maciek and me.

That night we spent with Arnie in his kitchen, relaxing, talking, drinking wine (then gin and vodka), listening to Arnie play his ukulele, and becoming family. Arnie shared Māori culture with us, told us about his family, his wife’s family, business advice and stories from the years.

The next day Arnie took us out to a local festival in Lower Hutt, where we walked around for hours checking out the local people, booths, arts and crafts. We also got to try some Hāngi, a traditional Māori meat and vegetable dish that is cooked underground for hours and literally falls apart. Arnie also played his uke for the local talent show. 

Arnie is an avid fastpitch softball player. We went down to the schoolyard and fired the ‘ole ball around for an hour, and then went down to the local ballpark to watch the New Zealand championship fastpitch softball semifinals. He gave me some great tips on sprinting as well, which I’m working on.

Arnie and his family took us in as their own. It would take a lot to really get the feeling across, but suffice to say this was a highlight of the adventure so far. This was what it’s all about.

As I left early the next morning, Arnie and his family saw me off at the door, where Arnie told me kia kaha, walk tall, or stay strong.

Big thanks to Raqi Syed, Brother Jordan Wu’s sister-in-law, who gave up her Sunday morning to pick me up at and take me to the train station.

Twelve-hour train ride through the north island, back to Auckland, for one last night before flying out. Wow. What a journey.

Overall had a fabulous experience in New Zealand. Not surprisingly, I think the best moments were connecting with the awesome people, spending a day or a week together, then saying goodbye. The tours and adventures and everything is great, but it’s the people that have really made the journey so far.

Up early and flying to SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA.

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