Houseless but not Homeless

The process of moving to New Zealand is almost complete for me. All the details that must be rushed through in the beginning (banks, tax stuff, a place to stay, etc.) has all been finished. The last few days have been spent simply enjoying the freedom of living in a new place. I can’t even begin to try to guess the number of new people I have shared conversations with and laughed with throughout the past few days. The day after getting the van, Nate and I spent some more time back at the campground we had been at. The Ramarama campground provided us with quite a few new friends from all over the world, and that was just the beginning. After battling through a crazy storm that almost dropped a tree on our van, we said goodbye to the area and made our way further south.

There are certain tourist things that must be done, even if you refuse to consider yourself a tourist. After leaving Ramarama, we headed down to Hamilton to prepare for our adventures in Hobbiton. Seeing this permanent film set is the one unashamedly tourist thing I knew that I needed to do in New Zealand, and it didn’t disappoint. Nate and I took the 8:30AM tour and it completely blew us away. Hobbiton was an incredibly beautiful place that can be appreciated even if you haven’t seen the movies or read the books. The skill and care that was put into this set was jaw-dropping. The two hour tour around the area ended with a stop in at The Green Dragon, the pub seen in the movies, for a beer and some food. For those of you who don’t know me super well, Lord of the Rings is my all-time favorite film series, so having a drink in this pub was a dream come true (and the beer was quite good as well).

As much as I was obsessed with this incredible tour, I was also surprised by the place we decided to stay for the few days before and after the tour. The hotel by the Okoroire hot springs was a phenomenal experience for only $10 a night. We parked our van near the hotel, which looked as if it was out of an episode of The Twilight Zone, and enjoyed the quiet of the country and the hot springs just down the path next to a hidden waterfall. Over the few days spent in Okoroire, I spent more time than I’d like to admit sitting next to the falls and just listening to the total lack of any humanness. There’s something incredibly peaceful about being feeling like the only human in the midst of nature that was perfectly achieved in that space. We spent our nights there looking at the southern night sky, and talking to groups of French, German, and Swiss campers.

Unfortunately, peaceful places like this can’t be stayed at forever if you have a constant curiosity and a heart for adventure. The move from Okoroire placed Nate and myself in Rotorua for a few days. I had heard others say that the city stinks of Sulphur, and I figured it was a bit exaggerated. Nothing could have prepared me for the smell that assaulted my nose upon my arrival in the city. The entire city has an incredibly powerful odor of Sulphur due to the geothermal activity around the area. So while the smell was bad, at least it provided some fantastic hot springs and geysers to see. Leaving the city behind, we took to the surrounding forests for some entertainment. Lake Tikitapu provided us with a few hours of hiking in the fresh air away from the stink of the city, and the redwoods gave us a good ending to our time in Rotorua. Being from Northern California, the redwoods will always make me feel home. I felt as if I was walking back in the forests by my home for just a few hours, and didn’t realize how much I missed it. I don’t think I have ever appreciated or felt more connected to any species of tree more than I did on that hike.

Despite the feeling of home that the redwoods provided, the smell of the city prompted Nate and I to move on further south. We drove a bit further south, and settled in a free campsite to be greeted by a huge group of Germans that were insistent that we join them for drinking games and a few hours of talking (almost everyone we meet here at a campsite is German, and it’s incredible). As citizens of the USA, we seemed to be a bit of a novelty to them since there are absolutely no others from our home country here (seriously guys, step up the traveling. The rest of the world is shocked by the fact that we are here for some reason and it’s depressing). As happens almost every time someone hears about the fact that we are from the states, we were asked about what’s going on with us politically, a topic which we try to avoid in general. I won’t get into politics on this blog because this is not the place for it, but I encourage those from the states to speak to someone living in another country to get their perspective on what’s going on because we can all do with a little outside perspective. Meeting people from other countries and hearing their stories has been the biggest joy of this trip so far, and I’ve found that those living in a similar style (out of a van) tend to be just as relaxed as I am. The last week has been a lot of moving around, yet it’s been a joy to meet new friends and experience this country as much as I can.

I have found that there is a certain joy to the simplicity of living out of a van. This was something I expected, yet was pleasantly surprised by exactly how much freedom one has when living out of a car. Adapting to any situation becomes much easier when you know that you at least have a roof over your head, a bit of food (mostly rice, pasta, and PB&J), and friends around you to laugh with. Life slows down to a crawl in the best possible way, and the small get gloriously delicious things can be appreciated to the fullest extent (shout out to hot showers and café food). As I sit in a small café on the edge of Lake Taupō using their Wi-Fi shamelessly and eating a lamb pie (I challenge you to find anything more New Zealand than a lamb pie), I can’t help but feel how lucky I am to be houseless in a foreign land.

I believe “homeless” and “houseless” to be two very different things. I may not have a house to live in here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be at home here. True, my real home will always be in California, but our van has a simple and important message written on it: Home is where you park it.

 

Headaches, Costal Adventures, and My New German Family

This has been one of the more stressful weeks of my life, although as I have said to myself at least a thousand times, it’s all part of the adventure. This all began when Nate and I crashed at a friend’s place for two nights, only to unintentionally offend the host (still not sure what we did) and make a quick escape from the area. We appeared at a tumultuous time in that household, which of course makes for a stressful and awkward beginning of a trip. After our speedy departure from there, it was back to camping. Claudia and our new friend Kristina (who is part of the best Kiwi family ever) decided it was time we took a road trip for a few days up to Cape Reinga, far out in the North of the island.

The first leg of the journey was a three hour drive out to Whangarei from Auckland. We took a break at the local waterfall for a dip in the insanely warm waters, and to take a quick shower under the falls that Nate and I desperately needed. We all piled into Claudia’s car for another few hours of driving (and belting out songs at the top of our lungs on the drive) to end up at the Cape.

 This was a truly phenomenal place. This edge of the island is where the Māori believe their spirits depart this world, and enter into the underworld. It also happens to be the meeting place of the Tasman and Pacific, which was incredible to see in itself. The two bodies of water are different colors, and the point between them is clearly visible as it snakes away into the turbulent waters off the coast. Spending sunset here at the lighthouse on the edge of the island, watching gulls and the slow sunset, was the most peaceful time I have had in this country thus far. There are some moments in which one cannot help but feel as if they are small. I think these are the moments that we must chase relentlessly so that we keep ourselves in perspective.

Following this 6+ hour drive up to Cape, we decided that a new adventure was in order on the way back down to Auckland. Our first stop off was at the massive sand dunes of Te Paki. This was one of the most visually odd places I have ever encountered. After driving through lush rolling fields for hours, we suddenly encountered what appeared to be a desert between the tree line and the ocean. The dunes here were huge, and a popular sandboarding place. Unfortunately we had no boards, but that didn’t stop us from walking out into the “desert” and leaping down the dunes for a while! Our excursion eventually had to end though, and the drive down south continued. We continued on to the mermaid pools (basically excessively large and deep tide pools) for a taste of ocean. We ended the day with another great night of talks, beer, and the incredible stargazing that New Zealand provides. This trip was a great distraction from the awkward position that we had left, yet there was still one problem that needed to be solved.

 We needed accommodation. We needed a van.

Our worries have finally ended though! We are now in possession of a bright yellow, incredibly hippie, surfboard toting, 1990 Toyota Hiace. This absolute gem of a car has provided Nate and myself with not only a place to stay, but with two incredible new friends. Our new friends, the lovely German couple named Lasse and Marisa, sold us the van and camped with us for a few nights. We all got to know each other quite well, and bonded over stories, ping pong, and countless games of pool (one of which determined the price of the van). These two new friends left for their home country of Germany, and entrusted us with the care of their beloved Helios (now known as the Banana Van). Making friends (we consider each other distant family now) from all over the world, has been one of the greatest experiences thus far in New Zealand. No matter where you go in the world, people are people. We can always find ways to laugh together, bond over random things, and create memories together. Nate and I were sad to say goodbye to our new German family, yet are confident that one day we will see each other in one of our homes.

The board has been set for New Zealand. All the pieces are in place. All that is left for Nate and I to do is play the game.

Within 24 hours

I’m officially in New Zealand. The 11 hour flight to Nadi (with the worst couple ever that reclined as far as humanly possible in front of me), 3.5 hour flight to Wellington (most terrifying and turbulent landing of my life), and a 45 minute flight to Auckland (delayed 5 hours), finally got me here. Unbeknownst to me, I was in for a far better first day in this country than these ghastly flights led me to believe possible.

First off, it must be stated that when travelling, Murphy’s Law (“everything that can go wrong, will go wrong”) is usually in full effect. The many issues that took place before, and during the flights to New Zealand are evidence enough of this (thinking of you reclining couple). The accommodations set for the first week in this country fell apart the morning I was to get on the plane, so Nate and I were gracefully scrambling whilst in transit to our new home. However much we should have felt stress, we were keeping in mind the spirit of adventure and letting these discomforts simply become part of the experience. It hasn’t stopped us from making friends with random people in the airports, and realizing that all of this just makes the start to a stay in New Zealand that much more exciting. I came here looking for unknown surprises and adventure, I just didn’t know that would be delivered so soon.

Upon landing, Claudia (the contact I have had over here for the past few months) picked up Nate and I. She took us to the family she was staying with, who promptly bombarded us with kindness, food, and beer. This was honestly the most welcoming experience either of us have experienced in a foreign place. The kindness of the Kiwi is legendary, yet it was still a shock to get the welcome from these people that we received. To Claudia and her host family, we will always be grateful for making the first few hours in New Zealand some of the most memorable.

The kindness to us two weary travelers was nowhere near its end. Claudia informed us that a group of her friends were camped out of the city about 45 minutes away, and we were welcome to join them since we didn’t have a place to stay. We gratefully accepted, and the first gloriously spontaneous decision was made. Having our accommodations drop out was the best thing that could have happened. We drove out in the dark to the campsite, all the while really not knowing what we were surrounded by in the darkness. Upon reaching the campsite, we were greeting with warm welcomes and new friends. Ben, Rachel, Brittany, Josh, and Michael, became our first New Zealand friend group (along with Claudia who had to work the next morning, so left us to their mercy). These individuals have been the biggest blessing Nate and I could have imagined. We shared a camp, stories, and plenty of laughs. Nate and I slept the sleep of the exhausted, finally content to be anywhere but on a plane.

The next morning (beginning at 6AM because of the birds) revealed an absolutely gorgeous scene. I knew that New Zealand was beautiful, yet it hadn’t occurred to me just how much so until I stepped from the tent. The morning quickly led to multiple walks out to the waterfalls in the area, making breakfast together and enjoying the outdoors, and driving out to the beach at Piha to climb Lion Rock above the ocean and watch the paddleboard competition going on below. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that this is my life for the next year. Yes I’ll be working, but the freedom to explore this country and all the things that it has to offer is an absolute dream. As Nate and I prepare to buy a campervan within the next few days (fingers crossed that we can get a good deal on one), we have come to realize that all the preparation for this trip has already been worth it.

Throughout the difficulties, it’s become evident that this was something I drastically needed. The entire process so far, whether that be saying goodbye to family and friends, travel struggles, or just uneasiness in general, have begun a refining process in myself. It is one thing to believe that you are ready for something, yet it is quite another to know that you are ready for it. Going through this first 24 hour period of unfortunate circumstances mixed with the pure joy of this new adventure, and coming out the other side unscathed and completely energized, is an amazing feeling to have. The new friends, new scenery, and incredible hospitality that we have received thus far is worth everything we have done so far.