North Island Appreciated!

View from Henrys Peak – Mt Egmont National Park

As I find seat B in row 68 and try to get comfy for the long flight back home, I have sadness in my heart that this trip to New Zealand (NZ) has come to an end. The end of any trip is always a bag of mixed emotions, and I guess this time is no exception.

As I look out of the window and get my final view of Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud) our ascent takes us out of and over Auckland, I have to admit that Auckland isn’t the best memory with which to leave. Auckland was one of the disappointing places we visited on this trip; maybe if the flight path had taken us over New Plymouth or East Cape I would have been reminded me of happier times. The memories I have created on this trip to both the south and north islands will last with me for a lifetime.

My return home doesn’t excite me; ~28hrs flying time and a 4hr stopover in Hong Kong Airport gives me enough time to realise that I’m leaving behind my escape from routine and returning to the mundane daily grind full of busyness and gridlocked roads. The lack of excitement is also because I don’t have my next adventure planned as yet. Thinking about it, though, it may be that this is a good thing for all the plans that one makes may mean that one misses out on whatever opportunity arrives tomorrow. Planning was a big part of the preparation for this trip but changes to plans meant that unexpected alternatives were enjoyed.

I read something well known that challenged me while I was away, and I feel applies to me more than anything else that I have read of late – work to live, don’t live to work. Some people aspire to be successful in the workplace and devote their lifetime to the pursuit of position and status – that isn’t me. Yes, I work hard but only so that I can fulfil the dream that I have, which is to discover as much of my homeland and to learn and appreciate as much of this beautiful world as possible. It strikes me that until one travels one does not realise what a wonderful world it is we live in. Travelling has been the greatest education I’ve ever had; it has shown and taught me life, opened my eyes when I was ‘blind’, and for that I can only be grateful to my parents for instilling this travel lust in me and for friends who have been prepared to share my experiences.

I thrilled in an action-packed adventure, some of the best scenery this world has to offer, witnessed nature enjoying freedom, have endured endless miles of driving, sipped on some beautiful wine, met and partied with some delightful people and I wouldn’t have wanted to change a thing. I have covered more than 5500 miles in the 5 weeks spent on both islands. The NZ roads are tailored for road trip lovers and driving enthusiasts. Being neither, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the almost regular occurrence of having the road to myself for most of that particular part of the journey and with outstanding views around me – how different from driving from city to city and within cities back home. 5 weeks probably wasn’t long enough to do the country justice. It feels that I just scratched the surface, and probably didn’t spend enough time enjoying this incredible country.

The North Island is almost a different country from its neighbouring South Island. My feelings are so mixed and torn about this island. It is light years ahead of the South Island in commercial terms and its similarities to the rest of the world make for my lack of enthusiasm for the North Island compared to the South Island. The modernity of the world in which we live with its commerce and technology, necessary though it may be, can be depressing. I make no secret of my belief that we find far too much entertainment and pleasure in modern technology, lack the ability to communicate with the gifts we were given (ears and mouths rather than fingers and thumbs), and have little enthusiasm to get outside and enjoy the free things in life. We’re more concerned with what other people are doing rather than living our own lives. It is probably only a matter of time before the fear of doing anything other than checking Facebook finally takes over. Parts of the North Island are, in this respect, like the rest of the world, and as I flew out I found no desire to return to these places. The next trip to NZ will bypass certain places. Perhaps this is why I fell in love with Havana in Cuba and appreciated the South Island so much more.

The North Island, apparently fished up by the demi god Mauri, is replete with rolling hills, lush green land, wonderful coastline and dense forests. Parts of it resemble rural England or Sweden. As a whole the landscapes are less dramatic than the South Island but there are some wonderful volcanic mountains to be seen especially in the centre of the island. Wonderful displays of culture may be witnessed in places like Rotorua.

Over 75% of the country’s population live in the North Island, and 60% of the nation’s population live in Auckland!! Like London in England, Auckland is almost its own country within a country, and so completely different from the rest of the land.

Travelling the west coast led to the discovery of New Plymouth, one of my favourite spots on the North Island. It is home to the usual NZ power icons, an impressive mountain, beautiful beaches, endless treks and incredible surf. It was easy to see why this part of the North Island soon became my favourite. Almost undiscovered by international tourists it is more of a holiday destination for locals. It was charming, peaceful and provided everything I need for how I would love to live my life.

Forgetting my stop in disappointing Raglan and Auckland, the next part of my trip took me to the Bay of Islands. We were lucky to avoid a massive thunderstorm (what would the boat trip have been like had we been caught up in that?) and I was able to enjoy a truly wonderful day, blessed with unexpected sunshine, exploring one of NZ’s iconic locations. This pleasure was made even more so by the brilliance of Captain Billy, not a Kiwi by birth but clearly has adopted the nation’s passion for the outdoors. His knowledge and skills were truly incredible, and my appreciation can’t be put into words. When you see nature in the raw one cannot help but feel a slight anger towards these waterparks and zoos that trap these animals. After seeing so many species on this trip and recalling previous encounters on a safari, I never want to visit a zoo/aquarium again. There is something truly wonderful about experiencing these animals in the wild but, to be fair by not forgetting how blessed I was to be able to get to the other side of the world for a third time, to get to see them may cost more than going to the local zoo. Sighting dolphins was a small part of this whole day trip and all too brief, but Captain John and the wonderful coastline made for more than adequate compensation.

I fell in love with the East Cape just like I had the west coast. It has been a long time since I have stood a while and appreciated the sunrise. What an experience it was in this location.

It was here that, again, I realised what an incredible world we live in. Standing on the beach, filling my lungs with fresh air, watching the sun change the colour of the sky almost like evolving art, the birds singing in the trees behind, the fresh sea water running over my feet as my toes dug into the ground, I was whisked away into a semi trance. Not disturbed by anyone, a smile and happiness on my face at that moment, thankfully not captured on camera (resisting the temptation to take the ubiquitous selfie) this was unbridled joy. Wherever we find ourselves shouldn’t we all really take the time to ensure that we start each day with the realisation of its newness and freshness, how blessed we are to be alive and enjoy that alone, forgetting about all the worries and problems in the world and get lost in that moment in preparation to go out and live. We should be grateful for each day – we do not know if tomorrow will come. Carpe diem and all that.

This blog gives a brief insight into a few of my favourite moments of this island. I could talk and talk about each and every day, but there is no need to bore you all. I haven’t even covered the discovery of Tauranga, delightful Doubtless Bay, the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua, brilliant Gisborne nor criticised the disappointing Hawkes Bay. The memories are etched in my mind forever and ever. Perhaps these will be shared one day, in a blog or over a pint, but for now they will remain in my memory bank. Until the next adventure!!

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