Setting Sail in Northland New Zealand and Being Reminded that Ships are Not Built to Stay in the Safe Harbors

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“You, you want me to do what?” I stammered as I looked up at the captain completely puzzled. “Well I can’t do this all by myself. Raise the sail. Pull that rope; hand over fist.” He commanded loudly as he’s rapidly moving around the deck of the sail boat doing I don’t even know what with other ropes that looked to me like they were haphazardly strewn all over the place. I jumped to my feet with a willingness to help but a startled nervousness not knowing what in the world I had just gotten myself into. “Oh, this sail is heavy.” I thought to myself as I really had to muscle the rope down to move the sail up the pole. “What in the world did I just get myself into” was the thought that was stuck on repeat in my head.

The first place I was eager to see in Northland was the picturesque Bay of Islands and to get to the islands, well you have to go by boat. I walked into the visitors’ center in Paihia to book a ride on a boat. They told me about a handful of boat options and all were very normal touristy options that entailed getting on a larger boat with a bunch of other people and spending the day laying on the beaches, basking in the sun on the peaceful relaxing boat rides along the way, and sitting back and enjoying the scenery. That is exactly what I was looking for, a serene boat ride to the islands and the ability to lay on the beaches. A calm relaxing day on the water sounded perfect… minus all the extra people that would be on the boats and then the beaches. I asked if there was anything smaller to charter to the islands. The woman at the counter told me there wasn’t much else. A gentleman behind the counter who was listening in interrupted, “Well, there is a man who will take out small groups of about five people on his sailboat. I’ll give him a ring and see if he’ll go out tomorrow.” After a quick phone call I was booked, to go on a sailboat.

The others on the sailboat with me were his close friends, a single Maori mother with three young boys. As she was busy keeping up with the boys, I was thrust into learning to sail. “You’re going to have to steer the boat too. I can’t do it the entire time.” I think he sensed I was just now understanding that this was not a sit back and relax ride I’d thought it would be, this was going to be a very hands-on experience.

As we navigated out to and then through the Bay of Islands I learned how to read the depths of the sea and steer. We all took turns and when it wasn’t mine I laid out on the nose of this beautiful sailboat and took in the beautiful sights of all the different islands and sea life.

We anchored in the bay of Waewaetoria Island. There wasn’t another soul in sight. The woman who was on the boat with me took me on a hike to the top of the island; we were barefoot which was another first-time experience, hiking barefoot. We enjoyed the views and the beaches for the rest of the day. It was one of the most beautiful places on earth I have ever laid eyes on. We all talked and laughed together as we enjoyed each others company on this expedition. Doing things together, figuring out how to work together to complete a common goal, even for just a day is a bonding experience; and even with me at the helm steering we all made it back in one piece.

There are few places on earth more magical than Northland New Zealand. This is probably my top travel destination and a place I will explore again. Traveling up one coast line to Cape Reinga and then down the other is a trip that is worth taking as much time as you can. I chose to venture Northland for about three weeks. This meant three weeks far away from most civilization, no Wi-Fi for sometimes days on end, seeing tiny old settlement towns, and lands still rich with Maori culture and history.

Traveling up and down the coast I visited the Waitangi Historic Reserve where the treaty that made New Zealand a British colony was signed, went on several hikes some to waterfalls and others to lookouts and beaches, stopped and enjoyed the water’s edge and bites to eat in small fishing villages, went to old colonial churches, and walked along beaches where if you go at the right time, after lightening as struck, you can dig up glass made by the lightening and sand. I took the risky drive on 90 Mile beach, basked in the almost vacant beaches just before Cape Reinga. (I highly recommend traveling these dirt roads to get to these beaches. All the tourists miss them and go straight to the Cape beaches.) One of my favorite areas to venture on the way back down was the beautiful Opononi area. The walks, the town, the lookouts, and the beaches were jaw-dropping. However, I do think this of the entire area of Northland. I stayed a large portion of my time in an Airbnb in Opua. It was a bit outside of the more touristy Paihia and has perfect trails to jog along to my heart’s content.

During my time, away from the majority of civilization and forced to do without phone reception and internet service for most of this time, coupled with my unexpected sailing adventure I had time to dig deep and pray about my next steps. Money was dwindling rapidly and the logical answer would be to go back to America and find work, settle back into a routine, and nestle back into the safeness and security of desperately missed friends and family. I had been searching for jobs in New Zealand to no avail. I was forced to think about making some logical decisions for my future and so I was in heavy prayer ever night, listening, waiting for affirmation from God that it was time for me to return home. I didn’t want to give up pursuing writing, but I equally wanted to be able to provide for myself, be a responsible human being able to contribute more to the world than I was taking, and use wisdom in my decision making. Why did I have this unnerving, guttural feeling that my travels weren’t done? Everything logistically was affirming that they were. I went into the town library to check my email and there it was, a three week housesit request in Australia. I immediately thought “Well that’s nice but God, You and I both know three weeks isn’t long enough for me to spend all that money to fly to Australia, rent a car, drive to this house and then have to fly back out of Australia because I wouldn’t be able to afford staying longer.” I randomly put in an application for another housesit that literally started 3 days after this one ended. I went back the next day to check my email… and there it was, a letter from the owner that she chose me to housesit and this one was for four weeks. The wild ride of faith begins where logic ends, and the doors were clearly opening.

I was on my way to Australia.

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Things To Do in Mount Maunganui

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Although the South Island, with all of its grand beauty, is any outdoor enthusiasts dream, it is whipping with southerly winds blowing in from Antarctica that bring a startling chill, and I was ready for some warmer weather. My North Island discovery began with the explorations of Mount Maunganui.

This little beach town has become quite a popular surf spot and its soft sand beaches with warmer summer waters bring in tourists from all over the world. As I strolled through the main stretch of shops I heard European accents from the student workers behind the counters of several privately-owned shops and cafes. This place does draw a younger, energetic crowd that fills the atmosphere with a youthful upbeat vibe.

A must do while on The Mount is to hike up to the top. The hike itself is beautifully line with shrubbery and green foliage which also helpfully provides a bit of shade from the intense sun this mountain can get. The panoramic views of the multiple shorelines, various inlets, and the city of Tauranga are a more than worth it reward. Many people do this hike for either daily exercise or simply for the views as a visitor, so I highly recommend going early. While at the top venture out a bit and explore the various paths along the peak that will take you to different viewpoints.

The Mount has multiple hikes going around the base and to the peak; there are days filled with exploring at various fitness levels so a leisurely scenic walk with an ice cream from one of the various ice cream shops is a fun way to end the day and watch a sunset. Coming down from the hike puts you right on the main beach and the beginning of side streets filled with shops. The main beach is beautiful and full of activity from volleyball to kayaking to surfing and of course, lots of people watching.

The multitude of restaurants and cafes make where to eat a perplexing decision. The mount has food choices for every desire, from vegan cuisine, to Mediterranean to Thai this place leaves a hungry person bursting with decisions. The Mount is a great getaway for beachgoers looking for a small but lively surf town to explore and enjoy.

The Road to Queenstown is as Beautiful as Queenstown Itself

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Pulling my tiny rental car over to the shoulder became a much too frequent occurrence on the way to Queenstown, but I just couldn’t help myself. The scenery had an untouched beauty that is rarely scene in more developed areas. I was planning on the drive being about four hours due to icy conditions but it turned into about eight, and I don’t regret a single second. Dressed warmly for the snow thanks to my dad who sent me some money because he knew all I has was summer clothes, I was well prepared for some freezing weather sightseeing and snow- filled experiences, cold weather hiking boots, wool socks, and all.

Along the way, the landscape is continually changing. There are dry, rocky areas that have boulders the size of large houses strewn long the fields, lakes that seem to have no end to them, and quaint towns that sit along the shores. The architecturally impressive bridges allow passage over rivers with such clears water you can see the stones that lie at the very bottom. Though it was cold and icy, the sun was shining and I could feel its warmth as I took breaks to walk along the lakes and rivers. The small little cafes were worth the stops as well, for their fresh brewed coffee and homemade baked goods. There are wineries, vineyards, farms, and orchards all along the way and they are all fun places to stop and buy goods for the stay in Queenstown.

And alas Queenstown, a town that sits among snowcapped mountains and is filled with snowboarders and skiers all along the streets walking with all their equipment to the buses that come every twenty minutes to take them to the lifts. In the town center the narrow streets are lined with restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops for every need. As for me, I skipped the tourist trap shopping and went straight for the snow.

Skiing and snowboarding is a given must do while you’re up here but one of the free and usually missed and incredible experiences is the hiking that starts right in Queenstown. It is a cold climb however it is such an uphill climb I warmed up rather quickly. The mountainous views from hiking were stunning and the fact that most of the time there was no one else on the trail was astonishing to me. I passed the occasional guys carrying their skis up a trail to apparently back country ski but that was about it. I had found the beauty of Queenstown away from the crowds.

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And Wanaka is a treasure all its own, therefore owed its own blog post.

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