What’s “real New Zealand” A glimpse into Kiwi culture to start with: (just kidding) . But hands down, on this stage I met more locals than before, to prove my thesis. They are crazy as…
1000 islands, more or less, and just about as many thoughts in my head. Paihia, the Bay of Islands, was where I wanted to spend the winter, to let the mind wander, to get down from 55 hour work weeks and the last exhilarating road trip, and to find my passion for the travel life again. Did the bliss come back to me as I had hoped? It was a long way to go; slippery slopes, roots and sharp corners included.
Far north on “holidays”
First off, leaving Daniel behind in Auckland (or him leaving for the airport) meant once again starting from scratch, making my way solo. The comforts of a travelmate gone, I found myself in that hostel that withstood all chances to become another home. When I applied for the place it sounded too good, working for accommodation by renting out bikes. And hands down, I could hardly complain about a laid-back 13-hour week of cleaning bikes and designing new promotions. Plus the odd bike trip on behalf of work. Most of all, entry to the brand new MTB park around the corner.
Just, what had made me most happy anywhere, good company, was the big question mark. I don’t want to imagine this place in the summer, when winter Saturdays already killed my nerves with partying people all over. An atmosphere that’s inviting and social – which all of my previous favourite hostels had – was completely missing here, in this empty hellhole of backpacker industry.
So instead of enjoying the picture-perfect setting of the turquoise bay, I kept asking myself what the heck I was doing there, for quite a while. Since riding my bike didn’t really get me back into travel-and-enjoy-today mode, I resorted to the other passion that had come short since summer. Surfing did the trick. More than just perfect waves and a gorgeous beach, that trip to Ahipara/ 90 Mile Beach gave me what I was craving for most – good company. Ended up being five days of perfect morning surf and social evening surf with friends. We gathered mussels on the beach, cooked them together and visited the local farmers market – affordable avocados and real food at last! Most of all, I finally found people for good talks again, not the drink-and-get-pissed-tribe of Paihia (which included backpackers and locals alike).
Riding with the pigs
Eventually I had to return to the lonely bay. Not that there wasn’t anything to do, I walked just about every track, took the boat to the other side of the bay, rode my bike here, there and everywhere. By no means ugly, native forest, waterfalls, bays, beaches…
Waitangi Bike Park became my second home (or first, actually); riding it almost every day was the purpose of my stay in Paihia after all. Most of the days I didn’t meet a soul, just enjoyed the flow, the views and worked on my skills. A memorable encounter was the little pig on the aptly named “Kunekune” trail (meaning wild hog). When I heard a deep grunt from the bush I broke all speed records to get down, didn’t fancy meeting the entire pig family…
Twice I joined the volunteers crew fight the mud in the park. We spread new gravel, barrow by barrow, to make for smooth rides again – except for the onset of winter, even in the “winterless north”. Icy southerly winds and showers by the hour took away most of the fun riding lately, turning the trails into slippery and sticky mess.
A weekend in the city and its bush
One more time I got away for a few days to discover Whangarei, the nearest city. Huge, mighty Kauri trees as wide as my bike’s length, a beautiful waterfall and hidden gardens plus the odd hike-the-bike adventure. The other day I aimed for the summit of Mt Parihaka, the magic and historically significant mountain of 400m from sea level, another great day’s riding all over.
The way it always seems to go, just as I had made my decision to leave Paihia, people arrived that I actually liked to hang out with. For the final week I made my friends, enjoyed beach walks together, had breakfast in the morning sun, art sessions and cooked up a bbq feast. All that I’d been craving for five weeks ago. More than that, the rain, rainbows and sudden showers finally passed, gave way for another day of Awesome Riding. 7 laps up and down the trails beat not only my personal record but had me right back in the flow. Maybe “only” 30km, 500m vertical climb, that’s all it takes.
On the very last days I found my bliss in this paradise. Sitting on the beach for sunset, I can feel my mind reaching out for more. Open again, and more than ready for the next move. Thankful for the last encounters that reignited the spark of my travel passion.
Some targets are set, plans made, some still remain open. The last bit of horticultural work is due, and who knows what will happen. If anything, I’ve had two months to relax, all to get ready for the next adventure.
Next: A winter holiday off non-winter holidays off holiday life. Semi-spontaneous detours south.