Surfing Sand Dunes and Cape Reinga – The Land of the Long White Cloud

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I am winding down recounting my trip to the Land of the Long White Cloud.  In an earlier post I mentioned that I packed a great deal of activities into the week I was in New Zealand.  Even so, one needs way more than seven days to see the North Island properly.  (I haven’t even mentioned the South Island, which I unfortunately did not visit, but there are a zillion incredible activities to do there as well.)

I signed up for a bus tour geared towards young, hip travelers lasting one very full day.  I was young, and a traveler, but as far as hip went, well, I’ll just note that I fit two out of those three categories!   One of our activities was visiting the famed giant sand dunes to “surf” on boogie boards.  When I got to the top of the steep dune, I froze in terror.  Even though I was a sometime daredevil, for some reason looking down the dune scared the living daylights out of me.  I was so disappointed, but I knew I couldn’t go through with it.  One of the tour guides, in an attempt to motivate me to face my fear, started making fun of me.   That backfired, and I said in no uncertain terms, “Ain’t gonna happen!”  When done properly, surfing the sand dunes did look very fun, and I had looked forward to surfing them.  However, I felt completely validated in my decision to pass after the next person attempted to surf down the dune. She wiped out very hard at the bottom, getting sand up her nose and in her eyes, and it was an ugly scene, complete with tears.  I was glad that I went with my gut and refused to surf despite the intense pressure I felt when the tour operator egged me on, as well as the eyes of my fellow sightseers.

The best part of that day was reaching the northernmost tip of the island: Cape Reinga, which in Maori means “underworld”.  Cape Reinga was known in the Maori culture as the leaping-off place of spirits.  That concept was briefly explained to us by our non-Maori tour guide in his “pakeha” way and I loved it.  (“Pakeha” is the Maori word for a person of European descent; some people find the word offensive, some don’t.  I couldn’t care less!)  At any rate, when we walked en masse to the lighthouse pictured above on that day,  it may have been the power of suggestion, but I felt a unique sort of gravity in the air.  I believed wholeheartedly in the spirit world and how certain places on our Earth had a special vibration.  (Now I really sound like the other folks in the town where I live: Santa Cruz, Homeland of the Hippies!)  It was a stunningly beautiful day and I found the setting to be perfect for contemplating the indigenous people who died and, according to their Maori tradition, whose spirits used that very point for a jumping off point into the next world.

At that time in my life I was not yet jaded by mental illness – my bipolar disorder experience was still light years away, and I was able to take in those experiences in a naive-but-wondrous fashion.  It has been gratifying for me to remember that epoch in my life which was virtually free of any thoughts about my ever having a mental illness.

We are more than our diagnoses, thank God, but it is so easy to forget that fact; at least it has been that way for me.  By my writing about the trip I took to New Zealand thirteen years prior to the bipolar diagnosis, it has been a mini-vacation for my weary brain. While looking at pictures of myself taken at Kare Kare and at other North Island spots, I see a young woman who did not view herself as seriously damaged.  Sure, I wasn’t thrilled with my shyness, my frizzy hair, my zits or my zaftig figure, but I felt that my brain was fairly intact and, compared to the surfers and hippies back in Santa Cruz, it was actually pretty damn good! 😉  I was still 100% drug-free at that point in time!  I was also wrinkle-free! (I now have what I call my “bipolar wrinkles”, i.e. two deep furrows between my brows, but ah, I’m in my 40’s now.)

The bit of authentic joy evident in my expressions in those shots would become almost permanently wiped out with my clinical depression later on.  Now some of that joy has returned with writing this blog, with reading my friends’ and strangers’ comments and “likes” here, and for being able to once again focus upon goals other than getting out of my bed.  Thank you for traveling with me just a wee bit into New Zealand.  I hope with all my heart that if you feel drawn to that country, you will have the opportunity to go there someday.

Kia ora!  (That is Maori for “be well/be healthy”.)

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The Trip of a Lifetime – Land of the Long White Cloud – Aotearoa – Part Three

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I should let you know that today’s reminiscence focuses on being a Kiwi music groupie, rather than upon the magnificent natural beauty of New Zealand’s North Island.  I will be writing about the scenic wonders I visited over the next few days.  I only went to a handful of them (Rotorua, Kare Kare, Waiheke Island, Cape Reinga, Ninety Mile Beach Sand Dunes)  but I’ll never forget their grandeur.  This journey took place over twenty years ago, and I thank God that electroconvulsive therapy/ ECT did not wipe out those memories!   

After a perfect landing at Auckland International Airport, I experienced deja vu when I walked by its lovely gift store.  I was tempted to stop in to buy more of the New Zealand milk chocolate (I wanted to actually taste it this time now that my cold was gone!) but I was distracted with finding the baggage claim.  I made my way to a Auckland youth hostel and was lucky enough to register for a single room at a reasonable rate.  After opening the door and throwing my heavy backpack on the floor, I promptly passed out on the bed.

The next day it was sunny and temperate, and I walked up and down Queen Street, one of Auckland’s main thoroughfares.  Queen Street reminded me a bit of Santa Cruz’s Pacific Avenue in that there were hippies and street performers galore.  I hit Real Groovy Records and bought a sleek, silver-colored, special edition Split Enz CD box set.  I would never find anything like that in the States and the price was reasonable with my beneficial exchange rate.  The set would be my most indulgent purchase while on the North Island and definitely worth it.  After I left Real Groovy, I found a nearby bakery and sat down inside for a snack.  On impulse, I looked through my box set and spotted a folded-up sheet tucked between the CD’s.  I opened up this paper to find I had the original autographs of Enz band members Neil and Tim Finn, Nigel Griggs, Eddie Rayner and Noel Crombie.  This was a true autograph boon as the band had broken up, and surprisingly it was included with the box set with no fanfare.  I crowed with glee over my unexpected luck!  I put away the box set in my roomy purse, and took out my well-thumbed North Island travel guide to review my itinerary’s must-see spots.

One of these must-sees not in the book included “Hang out with Auckland John”.  Over the past few years I cultivated an internet and phone friendship with John Dobbyn.  We “met” in a Crowded House fan club internet forum.  John originally hailed from Seattle and worked at Microsoft.  He immigrated to Auckland’s Microsoft branch to work there for a year.  We arranged to meet up after I settled in Auckland so he could show me some North Island sights. I had corresponded with John for so long that I felt relatively safe in terms of meeting him in person.  Now that I reflect upon my trip, I realize that it wasn’t the best idea to trust a strange man, no matter how comfortable I felt with him.  I was very, very fortunate that he was a stand-up guy.

John was even more of a Crowded House groupie than I was, so we were quite the pair.  He too had just gone through the end of a relationship, but we had a low-key, brother-sister dynamic between us that set me at ease.  We drove to Te-Awamutu, the “Rose Town” of New Zealand located in the Waikato Region.  Te Awamutu means “the river cut short” in Maori language, as it is the end of the navigable section of the Mangapiko Stream.  Te Awamutu is the birthplace of Neil and Tim Finn of Crowded House/Split Enz fame.  There is now a Te Awamutu Museum with a Finn Brothers exhibit, but unfortunately it hadn’t been created when we were there.  (The Finns have been called the “Lennon and McCartney of New Zealand”.  Like Sir Paul, they were awarded OBE’s by Queen Elizabeth II for their contributions to New Zealand music.)  All I remember of our Te Awamutu sojourn is taking a picture in front of Te Awamutu’s entry sign festooned with roses, and another photograph in front of the obscure Te Awamutu Shell.

To our credit, we didn’t stalk the proud Finn parents who still lived there, thank God.  If we did accost them, Neil may have written a song about us like he did about an American girl who stalked him in New Zealand.  Neil wrote “Mean to Me” for Crowded House’s first hit album about his stalker, and it’s a great song.  John and I drew the line when it came to stalking.  However, later on after I left the country, John would cross the line from fan to actual friend in a most enviable way.  Somehow John was able to contact Neil Finn in Auckland.  I don’t remember how he pulled it off, but he impressed Neil with his computer expertise.  This was the era just when the internet took off big-time.  Neil, who had a keen interest in technology of all kinds, decided to get to know John and arranged for some computer help.  He invited him to his home in Parnell, known as Auckland’s oldest suburb.  John visited the Finn home numerous times for dinner, and he would tell me about Neil’s wife Sharon cooking lamb chops for them.  I was wistful and a bit jealous, but at the same time I knew that I would never be able to handle having dinner with the Finns.  It would be a bit like watching how sausage gets made.