Here's a shot of our group underground:
Josh got a job and I started an intensive teacher training course, so the last couple of weeks have been insanely busy. We're very early to bed, early to rise these days--and sometimes late to bed, early to rise. Luckily that didn't keep us from running off and making our first anniversary a memorable one. It's traditional to give paper, but black water rafting seemed like a more exciting alternative. Plus, we got to wear these awesome outfits.
It turns out the company we booked through had one of the less intense excursions, so it was a nice, easy intro to cave exploration. I learned to abseil and I didn't die! Sitting in the dark with glowworms felt like sticking your head straight up into space to hang out with the stars. Except, you know, underground. Rafting was so much fun! Surprisingly, the only scary part was climbing back up the cliff to get out of the cave system--about midway up I wasn't sure where to find the next hold and hung there, frozen on the cliff face, imagining all the dramatic ways I might have to be rescued. Then I reached a moment in my panic when the only thing worse than moving became staying put, and I forced my way up. Naturally, Josh took the climb like a champion, didn't hesitate for a second, and popped his head over the edge in like, 3 minutes. We all have our talents.
Now that we're experienced spelunkers, we can't wait to try the Black Abyss next! I hear you have to jump down a small waterfall, which sounds mildly terrifying.
Here's a shot of our group underground:
We had no idea how tired we were until we stopped moving and exhaustion whacked us over the head. We were so grateful to have a shower and a bed nearby. Even better because what we rolled up to turned out to be the most beautiful hotel; it was like stepping straight into a glamorous 1920s evening for which (being covered in mud) we were seriously under dressed. Thankfully this is New Zealand, where at its heart, fancy is just a plug-in fountain and some extra forks next to your napkin with a cartoon trout on it. A middle aged saloon girl, some cowboys, and a unicorn passed by us during dinner. We followed them into a costume party where there was blaring music, but only three people holding down a pretty bare dance floor. It was charmingly lame. (Is that a thing? Well, we loved it.) We crashed for a few songs and the party just accepted us.
This hotel is absolutely haunted by the way. I don't even need to google it. It's straight out of a Stephen King novel. For some reason I find that hard not to love about it.
In the morning we went hiking through the woods with the Year 1 bottle from our wedding. We wound up dragging it up into a cave on our way, which is why there's mud all over my pants. It was worth it.
We had a great time reading everyone's messages, thanks guys! It added a nice sense of occasion to the day. Here are a few of our favorites.
Now I'm really craving some of that flavored water. And all that awesome company! Lots of love to all of our loves out there in the world. We miss you guys!
We spent the last week house/dog sitting in a very suburban area of the North shore, which meant a week without rent! We've landed an extremely laid back subletting situation. The owner is off in Germany without a care in the world, so he's been fine with us coming and going, renting the place a week here, a week there. Sweet as! It turns out a lot is based on personal connections here, but not always in ways you'd expect. Apparently the reason for this super chill arrangement is that we're friends of a friend of the owner, which is funny because we'd only actually known his friend for two weeks when we started the sublet. Before that one of the owner's flatmates had put forth a candidate she knew really well, but got turned down. Somehow as a pair of foreigners he's never met, but sort of know this friend of his, we were good as gold. Oh well, I'm not complaining!
Between finishing our housesit and heading back to our flatting situation we decided to drive up to Coromandel for a couple of days. Getting out of Auckland felt amazing. If we didn't have interviews to get back for, I'm not sure I would have wanted to come back, ever. Through our car windows we watched the view change from urban harbors and freeways to vistas of rolling technicolor hills, one car bridges, and finally a long spine of blue mountain peaks. We camped in our car the first night. We arrived at the campground after dark; the gate had a sign tacked on: "Camp Manager will be back tomorrow afternoon," but it seemed pretty likely it had been there for a long time. That suspicion was confirmed when I used the bathroom by the entrance. It was the kind of scene a horror movie crew would drool over: no lights, nobody for miles, and behind a squeaking wooden door, a toilet seat covered in flies. Not flies that move away at the slightest woosh in the air, but ones that stick hardily in place in a really unsettling way. I know I shouldn't have, but I peered down into the septic tank with my flashlight and saw all the waste down there was alive, teeming with maggots. We didn't spend a second night there.
In the morning we drove up to Hot Water Beach, where we found a few people hopelessly digging in the sand for the underground hot spring. We dug a few ourselves, but we had missed the window of opportunity. It turns out the hot spot is only accessible for a couple of hours around low tide. A girl at a cafe gave us the local paper with the high and low tide times for the week, so armed with the knowledge that the next low tide would be at 9:45pm, we went out to find a place to stay for the night. We passed over one place for being way overpriced before heading down the road and discovering what I'm guessing is the nicest hostel in New Zealand. (Maybe even in the former British Empire.) It felt like a hotel, but with a communal kitchen, which, let's be honest, is a better offering than most actual hotels. Plus, they'll lend you spades for digging at the beach. (Other places make you rent.) Either way, get some spades! It's much nicer not to have to burn your hands scooping up palms full of steaming hot sand.
After dinner we headed back to the beach. The moon was so intensely bright we cast crisp shadows on the sand, which felt unreal. It's a short walk to the spot, maybe 10 minutes, but the world feels so much bigger at night that it seemed to take longer. The waves sounded more ferocious, and in its night clothes the sky felt huge and heavy, as if at any moment it might swallow you whole. We felt so keenly aware of how alone we were in all that quiet and dark, but not afraid, exactly. It was a strange sense of communion with the hugeness of the world but also alienation from it. A part of me did feel a little relieved when we saw a pair of flashlights further down the beach, and we saw we weren't the only ones out. We dug ourselves a little spa pool, sat back and enjoyed the ocean and the stars. And actually, our timing wound up being pretty good because just as we were happy and boiled pink, twenty people showed up to look for a spot. We wrapped up and let them get to it, but not without taking a few pictures because they looked so cool digging in the dark.
In the morning we went back for the day time experience--also fun, but I'm glad we got to do it at night when there are fewer people out. When we got there at 8am the only place still available was right on top of the hot spot, so our pool was practically boiling until we got a nice douse of cold water from incoming waves. Actually, several. Once the tide started coming back in we had to devote a lot of time fortifying our sand wall. It was a losing battle, but it was one of the best times I've ever had on a beach. As a redhead the beach is my natural enemy, so that's high praise.
After that we hopped over to Cathedral Cove while the tide was still low. It's a beautiful hike and a gorgeous beach. If I wasn't already married I'd be planning my wedding there right now. Not only that, it had the nicest outdoor bathrooms: built out of nice-smelling wood, and elevated, with a view of the beach! Seriously, what outdoor toilet have you ever known to have a view? Or smell good!? Must have been the universe rewarding us for all our bravery against those maggots.
The winter sun casts long shadows all day, giving you the odd feeling that every hour of morning is very early, and every hour of afternoon is very late. It feels brighter than it does at home, giving everything a surreal quality; magnified, like in a dream. It's taking me some time to get used to. We'll go on a hike and I'll be convinced we have to turn back soon before we lose more daylight, but then Josh will look at the time and remind me it's 2pm.
This city is built on a volcanic field containing just over 50 volcanoes: some dormant, some extinct. So far we've climbed four of them. Before you get all impressed, they're small volcanoes. The tallest one (Rangitoto) is only 260 meters high. Small potatoes.
If like me, this led you to wonder what a really big volcano looks like, here you go:
Props to Hawaii!
Back to something smaller...
Rangitoto has only been around for about 600 years. Maori were living on a solitary island called Motutapu when this volcano erupted out of the water right beside it, practically kissing its shore. Apparently a few people may have even escaped and lived to tell about it! What an incredible story that must have made.
On Tuesday we started a short tramp across these islands. We came late in the day, so we reached Rangitoto's summit right as the last ferry back to civilization was leaving the wharf. It's quite a feeling, to know you're alone on a volcano.
On our way back down, we were struck by a relentless earworm for the lava song from the latest Pixar short. Let's hope we weren't tempting fate by singing it so much, because when we finally headed back to Auckland one of the locals from Motutapu told us he noticed some unusual bubbles forming by the dock. DUN DUNDUNN!
There's no place to camp on Rangitoto itself, so you have to walk for a good 4+ hours to get to the campsite on the other island. The islands connect over a short bridge, but really, if there wasn't a bridge would that stop you? Judge for yourself:
Crossing over to the next island takes you abruptly into a different world of smells. Rangitoto is earthy, whereas Motutapu is filled the familiar, sweet smell of manure, damp trees, and grass. I guess farmland smells like farmland wherever you go. I can't remember if we took any pictures, but trust me when I tell you...mossy, dramatically rolling hills at sunset: gorgeous.
We should have arrived at the campsite on the other side just before dark, but after mile or two the tramping trail fizzled out into the tall grass and we couldn't find where it led. At one point, the grass caught my boot and the weight of my pack sent me falling over like humpty dumpty. Eventually the sun set and we decided to backtrack towards the road. The temperature dropped and I had to tie my scarf around my head like a turban to keep the high winds from blowing hair into my eyes and obstructing what little I could see. We had to stop a few times because the packs were wrenching our shoulders, and I was tempted more than once to drop my bag and sleep on the side of the road. In the end we overshot the campground a little bit. We realized we'd gone too far when the road starting turning back into the mountains, knowing the only legal campground was on the shore. We hobbled back and blindly picked a spot on the grass, exhilarated by the thought of a bed for the night. Or more accurately, a tiny inflatable sleeping pad.
In the morning though, everything was beautiful.
Before your mind runs out of control, in New Zealand tramping means to hike through the wilderness for days at a time. The word comes from the Middle German trampen, to walk with a heavy step, and it reminds me simultaneously of children stomping through the woods with exploratory zeal, and very heavy backpacks. It stirs up memories of every time I've ever been wet, exhausted, and enthralled by life. That is what we're here for.
For the next year I'll be living and working in New Zealand with my husband. We won't spend the whole time tramping, but we might as well embrace its spirit of exploration in general. Follow us here for updates on our travels and experiences. First stop, Auckland!
Like our photos?
You can thank the talented
Josh Salim for taking most of them. Check out his other work at joshsalim.weebly.com
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