Magic, Word-play, and Intimacy. The Wonders Of Wandering In New Zealand.
Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist
Being locked in has some advantages…
(This is the fournteenth post in a series. Missed the first 13? Click here to see them all.) I’m halfway through my fifth month being stuck in New Zealand. It’s not where I planned to be, and I greatly miss Africa and South America, but I am thankful, every day, of how lucky I am to be stuck here, of all possible places, on this earth, at this time. My American neighbors Jess and Aaron, were an absolute godsend during lockdown. They kept me from being isolated and alone, went on almost daily walks with me, taught me how to cook, gave me lessons about the flora all around us, and at night, seeing the light in their cottage made me feel watched over. Sadly, they had to return home to America for a job this past week.
It’s winter here, and it rains almost every day. Though that can be depressing, the flip side is that rainbows are a normal occurrence. Jess, Aaron and I seem to see them all the time. I’ve never seen rainbows like the ones here. First, I see the entire bow. Second, I’ve seen the actual end of the rainbow and it looks like the pot of gold is in reach! The rainbows are always at least double – I once saw four bands, and some of the bands repeat the spectrum within the same band! They really are magical.
Rainbow seen from the bus with the moon in view.
Photo by Heather Markel, copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.
To lessen the sadness I feel about their departure, I jump the bus with Jess and Aaron – they head to Auckland, and I get off at Whangarei. It’s about two hours south of Kerikeri, where I’ve been living. We see a giant rainbow on the way, this time with the moon! This is my first solo travel/discovery trip in quite a while, and some interesting things are about to happen. I go on two hikes. They’re grueling. In fact, my legs feel like such sludge after the second one I have to phone a cab to make it back to town. Both hikes make me realize this odd gift I’ve been given, as have all of you – being locked in to a country. Previously, I’ve only been locked in to a bar after closing time. We enjoyed free drinks with the bartender for hours while they cleaned up. Now, I’ve got the entire country of New Zealand, virtually to myself. There are very few tourists, no crowding at any event or site I want to see, and, finally, I can book accommodation last minute because I’m not competing against the entire world for them. (Sorry, I know that’s not so good for the tourist industry which is deeply upsetting, but, it does make for a very nice and relaxing travel experience!)
On one of my hikes, I’m the only one on the trail and, walking towards me, is a lone man. In some places of the world, I might be terrified, check for mace, or run the other way. Here, this nice man just wants to gab with me. It turns out he’s from Whangarei and hasn’t seen many of us tourists, so is happy to know there’s a few of us around. He’s been to New York so empathizes with my feelings about the president and what’s happening there. We chat for a while, and then he heads up the mountain I’ve just come down.
“I dearly miss international travel, but give thanks every day for how lucky I am to be here, now.”
All alone in the middle of the forest.
Photos by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.
Earlier along my hike to Parihaka, which offers a beautiful view of Whangerei, I find myself alone, surrounded by nature. It seems so magical that I say, out loud, “OK, where are you fairies?” Later in the day, after coming down the mountain, I have lunch and wander into a boutique. Barely inside the door, I look to my left, and there, on a bookcase, is a collection of fairies! I of course buy one to remind me of the magic in life and the connection to travel.
This is Mahuika. In Maori legend, she gave fire to Maui. For me, she is a symbol of sharing her light and energy with the world – a beautiful symbol for us all to live by.
Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.
One evening in Whangerei, when I walk back to my hotel, I see a car across the road with a very curious sign, shown in the photo.
I’m not sure what to make of it. My impulse is to cross the street and ask what white bait is. But, being white, I fear it might be a trap to get me to cross the road, so I don’t. I’m perplexed as to why I don’t see any fishing lure, so it seems safest to keep walking. After being in some dangerous countries, I still keep my guard up which may be preventing me from some fun, in this country. I later learn I missed out on some great fish and will have to look for it another time.
The funny thing is, being an English speaker in New Zealand is not necessarily an asset. I am frequently confronted with signs for CBD…in every town I visit. I look around for the CBD oil (note, it’s not legal yet in New Zealand, but they’re voting about this in September, stay tuned!) only to learn they are talking about the town center, or Central Business District. I’m bummed every time. The first week I was in Kerikeri I asked where I might find postcards, and was told to have a look at the Dairy. I was confused about this, but if there are postcards next to live cows in the center of town, I’m certainly not going to complain! I learn later that the Dairy is what we would call a bodega in New York – a store open odd hours that has pretty much any strange food or drink you might crave.
After a lovely few days in Whangarei, I board the bus back to Kerikeri. The driver, who normally checks us in, doesn’t seem to be doing so. I ask him if I need to confirm my reservation. He says, “Heather? Going to Kerikeri?” These are special times.