Aotearoa - The Land of the Long White Cloud
Today is my 5th day in New Zealand and except for the weather; nothing is what I expected it to be. The people are WAY TOO friendly, the nature is WAY TOO beautiful, the hitchhiking is WAY TOO easy and the food is WAY TOO expensive.
Few people know how bad my sense of orientation is. I get lost all the time and everywhere. That’s probably one of the reasons I hitchhike, because I can count on the locals to point me (sooner or later) in the right direction.
The same happened in Auckland when I got lost on the way to hostel and 2 Maori girls came to my rescue. They seemed overly friendly and I couldn’t figure it out if they were high, drunk or about to scam me. Soon it was clear they only wanted to help me out.
As I dropped off my backpack in the hostel, I went to a coffee shop. One strong coffee and one hour later, 4 different people approached me to talk to me and one of them even offered me a place to stay. Nothing seemed creepy, just kind of…overly friendly.
I e-mailed a good friend of mine who lives on the South Island to check if that was a normal behavior or what the ef was going on… He said to get used to it, because Kiwis are very warm and friendly people. It didn’t take long for his theory to get proven. As soon as I started hitchhiking (and actually caught a ride from the center of Auckland which RARELY happens when you’re hitchhiking out of a big city), my usual waiting time by the road dropped from 15 to 5 minutes! I was quite literally flying around North Island in the last 5 days.
Hitchhiking in New Zealand reminds me of hitchhiking in Turkey or Iran (similar level of easiness) except for the men who don’t tend to “accidently” touch my leg.
These are just a few drivers that picked me up in the last couple of days….
One of the most memorable rides was with 2 Maori gay partners with a baby. One of them happened to be partially Croatian thanks to his grandpa. I was the 1st Croatian person they’ve ever met. Luke was the 1st gay Maori/Croatian that I’ve ever met and it will be a miracle if I meet another one in my lifetime.
This lovely family took me around North Island. First we went to visit the Lord of the Forest – Tane Mahuta. It’s the largest kauri tree in New Zealand and Maori refer to it as one of the living gods. This big boy is assumed to be about 2000 years old.
Then we visited a town called Opanoni – known for its sand dunes on one side and pretty beaches on the other side of the coast.
Our next stop was a small town called Kawakawa and the only reason we stopped there was to go to a public toilet. None of us had any kind of “emergency”. We stopped to check out the coolest looking public toilet made by Austrian artist Hundertwasser. It was made of recycled materials from the local community and it’s surely one of the most photographed toilets in the world.
One of the special moments was when Luke decided to stop at local Maori cemetery and visit the grave of his father. We took all of our rings and earrings off and left the cameras and the cell phones in the car. According to Maori culture, you should always leave all of your possessions before entering the cemetery, because bad spirits hang on to them and you don’t want to take these bad spirits with you to the cemetery.
As I couldn’t take my camera, I can't show you one of the coolest graves I have ever seen. Luke’s father was a guitar player, so his family made a HUGE, metal guitar which was placed across the grave. There was also a big, beer glass placed by the stone which was Luke’s father favorite beer glass. That was the 1st time that Luke brought his little son to his late father's grave and I was humbled to be part of the experience.
My next stop was a town called Whangarei where I got dropped off by the family.
In the morning I decided to hitchhike to Coromandel even though I had no plans to stay there. Coromandel is known for its beautiful beaches, but I was more interested in the breathtaking road drive around the peninsula. On the way I got picked up by a guy who sailed in 1985 on a famous Rainbow Warrior until it sank (For the full story click HERE). Determined to make a difference, after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, he took his own boat to French Polynesia to protest again nuclear testing there, but the French discovered his plans and turned his boat around just before it reached Polynesia. As we know today, the protests were not successful.
Few rides later, I got picked up by a father and 2 sons. What seemed like just another ride, turned into a great friendship and yet another amazing story. The family lived in a small commune on the top of a beautiful mountain. A father was a full time marijuana farmer and didn’t try to hide it. I received the invitation to stay at their place over the night and it didn’t take too much thinking to accept it. Apart from a very similar life philosophy to mine, a father had that shine in and around him that it’s easy to see in a truly happy person. I knew I would be safe with that family.
So how does one become a marijuana farmer?
It takes a cancer (actually 4 of them in last 20 years and still fighting) to figure out that life has no guarantees and no one knows what the next day brings. He gave away his “normal job” and moved to the mountain in NZ where he lives sustainably, grows his own food and lives stress free. He wakes up every morning thinking if he is going hiking, gardening or maybe sleeping in a little bit longer. He does whatever he feels like and what makes him happy that day.
The morning I was leaving, he took me to the town and insisted to buy me a small gift as a memory. Soon, he appeared with a big smile and a small, wooden box. As I opened it, there was a famous New Zealand’s greenstone staring back at me. In Maori culture, the greenstone is considered a taonga (treasure) and protected under the Treaty of Waitangi. The name of my necklace was “koru” which means new life or beginning, harmony and peace. What got me the most was the fact that out of different shapes of greenstone, he picked the one in the shape of a spiral. The shape that has so much meaning and often can be found in nature. It has already shaped my traveling journey through Dijana Klaric “Traveler of the Year” award that I received in 2014. as the wooden statue was in the shape of the spiral, too.
He used to work with many people from Croatia and ex-Yugoslavia. Knowing the mentality of “my people”, his main concern was how I will fit in once I’m back to my home country. As I was leaving I received the invitation to return to this magical commune anytime I want.
(I'm sorry for keeping the secrets from you guys, but I won't upload the photos of this magical place in order to protect his privacy. Name and location unknown.)
Here are some more photos of my New Zealand journey instead....