Parts 1 & 2
Don’t like the Coldplay reference? Tough. Ten years ago when I ventured to New Zealand for a 7 week “study” abroad program through AFS, I had my first iPod with me, loaded up with relatively few albums (compared to what I might be packing these days, though I pretty much exclusively stream… Anyway). I was listening to a lot of Keane, The Killers, the Garden State soundtrack, and Coldplay. 25 Coldplay tracks to be exact. A Rush of Blood to the Head and X&Y, which had just come out (and “Don’t Panic”, from the Garden State ST). I was young and had a romantic view on life, I was simply gushing with sentimentality, and treasured each little song from that album. If I remember correctly, the album was not received too well by critics, and in hindsight, it’s a fairly bloated album (you can read about my history with Coldplay here), but it was the soundtrack to that trip. Despite it being sort of superficial, I took every song and every lyric completely to heart.
On August 19, 2005, I boarded a plane home from Auckland. I’d been reunited with all my friends from the Outdoor Pursuits Centre; we’d all just been doing homestays for 3 weeks and were incredibly excited to tell each other what we’d done. These weeks weren’t as action-packed, and were sort of lonely, but I stayed with a pretty well-off family, so my opportunities were plenty. I got to see a lot of New Zealand’s North Island, as well as do service hours at a primary school. I was an adult and a kid at the same time; the best kind of person to be! Let’s go. Firstly, the family I stayed with – The Oakleys – had a fairly huge plot of land with a really nice house. Heated floors, private outdoor pool, a hot tub, a trampoline (which I jumped on for a solid hour one afternoon, by myself, while listening to Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound” on repeat), a tennis court and a cow. I don’t know what the cow was for. They lived in the city of Hamilton, which is a really pleasantly small big city. Like a micro version of Minneapolis. It had culture, a city centre, shopping, but also was sprawled out and offered plenty of green spaces. Every house in our neighborhood was situated on farm-like land. My first or second day with them, after having checked my email for the first time in a month and sending a seven page long email to my mom (we didn’t have Facebook in those days, kids), The Oakleys took me to Waitomo Caves. I’d already been caving in New Zealand, properly, a few weeks earlier with the OPC (now I’m thinking I never covered that particular adventure. It’s scary in caves, and sometimes you’re trying to pass through two rocks, and you get stuck). But this was fine too I guess. We sat in a little raft underground and looked at glow worms. And there were museum like alcoves in the caves too, with lights and walkways. Oh how luxurious. I woke up very early every day to my host sister (who was like two years younger than me) blaring music and running on the treadmill (oh yeah they had a treadmill too). My host mum would usually offer to pack me a lunch or give me money to buy some (two offers which I rarely took her up on) and then drive me to the school. She thought I needed to be there at like 7:30, when I actually needed to be there no later than 9. I never corrected her, so I continued to wake up super early. Instead, I would walk around Hamilton, listening to Coldplay, maybe buying a little snack. Generally, just getting the feel of a foreign city in the early part of the day. For some reason, the only photos I have of the kids (who were all the raddest group of kids) is from a Dress Like a Book Character day. I see a soccer player, a pirate, a gypsie, a Grinch… Dobby the Elf, and Spongebob? Some of these kids I’m not sure knew what dressing like a book character meant. Since I had one suitcase of clothing, my options were limited. But I *had* gone shopping since arriving in Hamilton. I managed to pull together some long brown shorts, a velvet brown blazer (yes! I bought one of those! shut up!) and smear dirt on my fee to be a hobbit. It was pretty craft and resourceful so SHUT UP. Kids that age, 7-9 years old, think “big kids” are the coolest. It’s when they turn 11-12 when they think they’re hot shit and all adults can suck it. They were always wanting to play with me and ask for rides. I found out later that I am not actually allowed to touch them. Bummer, dude. I got lucky in that Hamilton is about 40 minutes away from Matamata, where the Hobbit movie set was. Not too magical when not being used as movie set, right? These days, it’s all done up. People today are so fucking spoiled. I was in an early morning group, which had 3 other people, and that was bliss (host mum and sis were super not interested in going, but they nicely brought me there).Hey, younger me, make a frickin effort with the clothes, ok? You are embarrassing older you. Bag End is really just a big piece of plywood, with a hole cut into it, and then about 2 feet deep with chicken wire. Sorry. Wait, Mykonos?!? No, Tauranga. Check it out: Brown shorts. Brown blazer.Tauranga is kind of fancy, like parts of Los Angeles. We got some really expensive lunch, my host fam and me, and I did a little shopping and got a Green Stone (jade) Mere necklace. During the trip I also got a whalebone hook necklace. It’s all the rage in the pacific rim (on our honeymoon, I got another bone necklace to honor the first bone necklace). Another weekend (I got taken on trips like every weekend, but I only had 3? So, clearly these weekends were extremely packed), they took me to some waterfall in some place I can’t remember, and then my host mum wanted me to walk onto these rocks so she could take a picture. That was a bad call, because it was dangerous. Luckily, I had had badass training at the OPC and I was unfazed and calmly lead myself out of the treachery, with no help from the host mum to speak of. There was another family who I got to know while I was in New Zealand. It pains me that I don’t remember their name, but they took me in for a weekend. The matriarch was a teacher at the school, and the local AFS Liaison. She got me the job there, and had a host son named Henrik from Sweden, who was there for a whole year. He too was a great fan of Lord of the Rings and we became friends. Every Wednesday he went to the local archery range and I went with him a few times. But I digress! They (the dad, the son, and Henrik) took me out to Raglan for a little hike and a sit in this beach town. Much more chill than Tauranga (BUT, the thing I didn’t tell you? I went to Raglan *first*). I would’ve totally lived in Raglan. I got taken to just *a ton* of waterfalls. And we went to Rotorua, the Adventure Capital of the World! They have everything, including ZORBING. If you ever get a chance to do this, please do so without hesitation. And don’t do one where you go into a dry ball with your socks and jeans on. Get into one of these where they put some warm water up to your knees, then push you down a hill and you slosh around like Homer Simpson in the sensory deprivation tank. It’s one of the most fun, most giddy experiences I’ve ever had. They have a challenge to go down the hill without getting wet, but that sounds powerfully not fun. Some people, once upon a time, said that that picture up there makes it look like I’m peeing myself as I get out of the ball. WHY? Why would I do that?? I was covered in WATER.
So, my final weeks were not quite as thrilling, dangerous or outgoing as the previous four. But they were extremely enjoyable and fun. I got to see some hobbit holes, ride some rides, spend a lot of money (I got fish n chips almost every day for lunch. Fish, chips, a can of L&P, $5) and have an insane amount of alone time to just think and write in my journal. I even got to see a bit what the political climate was like down there, and immerse myself in local life (something you never get to do when you’re a tourist staying in a hotel anywhere else). Now the one thing I constantly ask myself: When can I go back? If I’d planned this out better, this summer could’ve been my triumphant return! And there’s a whole other 3/4 of New Zealand I haven’t seen. I can’t wait to take Alan there. And guess what: Those pictures will be siiiiiiiiiiick.