About two months have already flown by since I landed in Auckland, but reliable internet access was hard to come by during my last month and a half Down Under, and catching up on everyday life has left this page blank. So now I write from the home where I grew up in northwest New Jersey, but my mind often strays to those places that moved me while I was away.
I flew from Alice Springs to Cairns and spent a day at the Centre unpacking my summer clothes and packing warmer layers for New Zealand’s winter. On the plane from Cairns to Auckland, I watched the movie Tracks, based on the memoir of the same title by Robyn Davidson. Partly inspired by the images by National Geographic photographer Rick Smolan, the movie is phenomenal and the footage is breathtaking. Mia Wasikowska plays Davidson, who, in 1977, walked 1,700 miles from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with four camels and her pet dog.
The film (and the memoir, which I quickly read after watching the movie) was inspiring. Not only was the imagery incredibly powerful, especially for someone who had only days before been in the Outback, but Wasikowska’s portrayal of Davidson was moving, and left me grateful for the opportunity to have my own independent travels, even if I had a rented Hyundai Getz instead of four camels. Though the circumstances were extremely different, the movie and memoir set the tone for my solo travels in New Zealand.
It was my first time leaving Australia since I had arrived in late August. In some ways, it felt strange to be in another country; Australia was truly beginning to feel like home. I arrived in Auckland late in the evening and made my way through Customs, to the airport shuttle, into town, and finally to my hostel. Though not afraid to travel alone, it is usually figuring things out in cities that intimidates me the most, at least until I get my bearings. I had booked a hostel nearly a mile’s walk from the bus drop-off but very close to the car rental location, where I would pick up my car in the morning. I was going to have to walk that whole distance with luggage either way, so I figured I would get it all out of the way the first night.
In the morning, I picked up my pale blue Hyundai and set off, eager to leave Auckland as quickly as possible. (I had spent time there in 2009 and would spend time there again once the students arrived for our summer session; in the meantime, there were plenty of other places on the North Island for me to see.) I drove east toward the Coromandel Peninsula (separated from Auckland by the Firth of Thames), past rolling hills and fields filled with cows and sheep, and up and down twisty roads lined by tree ferns and forest. The early winter weather and gentle countryside was reminiscent of home in the autumn, and I was soaking it all in.
I arrived first at Hot Water Beach, where one can dig a hole in the sand that will then fill with hot water from geothermal activity below, creating a natural hot tub. It was much too cold for me to think about digging in the sand, but I listened to the sound of the ocean as the sun intermittently shone over the crystal green water. Interestingly, there was a scent in the air that smelled like cinnamon. I started counting New Zealand birds: Red-billed Gull, Black-backed Gull, New Zealand Dotterel, Black-billed Gull, Caspian Tern. I drove to Hahei, a pink sand beach completely empty except for a woman walking her dog and enjoyed a long, quiet walk with my thoughts. I then went to Cathedral Cove, a forty-five minute hike from the car park. Surrounded by tree ferns, farmland, the ocean, and the late afternoon sunlight, I was in heaven. It reminded me of a farmland walk I once took alongside the white cliffs of Dover in England. When I returned from the hike, a rainbow joined the ocean and the unique New Zealand vegetation, and I felt peaceful and happy to have spent the whole day outdoors. My first full day in New Zealand couldn’t have been more perfect.