Day 31: Woke up around 7:00AM to a breakfast spread that had been laid out the night before because Dennis and his wife would be out of the house in the morning. When I left after breakfast, I walked to the ferry, adjusting to the newly heavy pack and making a mental note to fully repack my backpack later in a way that is more sustainable long-term. The morning is cool and cloudy and it looks like it will rain later. Morning walkers, joggers, and fishermen in Bucklands Beach all say good morning as I walk by and I make it onto the ferry 2 minutes before it launches. I write a little in my journal while the giant jet boat takes us across the bay and into downtown Auckland. When we land, I get a coffee and briefly talk to an ultralight American hiker by the name of Chopsticks who is attempting to do the thruhike in about 2.5 months, then I went to the Choice Plaza backpackers hostel, the best one I stayed at in the city, and got a room for 2 nights so I could catch up on blogging stuff before heading out for a long stretch of adventure. I spent a bunch of time working, but was soon distracted into having fun and meeting people. I played guitar in the kitchen while my food was cooking and the ice was broken. Giovanni, a long bearded jolly 30 something guy from South Italy, a sailor by trade and by lifestyle, and I struck up conversation. I showed him my packraft and my newly furbished paddles and we talked for a while about his boats, one of which is 18 feet long and the other is 28 feet long and made of wood- this one is his project boat. He wants to sail around the world solo in a small boat- it is his ultimate dream. He showed me photos of dudes who have done it in boats with decks that barely scrape above the surface of the water, and I told him about a friend’s idea to row an custom ocean rowing kayak from California to Hawaii, but Giovanni is sure that his trip would be totally off the radar, rather than be a sponsored awareness and fundraising campaign. He’s a really nice dude, always saying hey to everybody and “nice to meet you” every time he walked away from a conversation, as if every time was the last time you’d see him, listened well, and patted everyone on the back when they made him laugh. He’s also a Land Rover junkie and has done trips in Morocco, Spain and Australia while doing handy work for travelling money. Later, I jammed with a young eccentric German dude named Dorian on melodica (mouth keyboard) and Daniel the bowl-cut-leather-jacket-jeans-chuck-taylors-ramones-looking punk kid from Indonesia on guitar. Dorian was well versed in music theory and could follow anything with his well trained earn, and Daniel plays with more of a blues sentimentality where he may not be able to explain what he’s doing technically, but he knows what sounds good and can play that with great tone, bends, and note choice. I stayed up until about 4 in the morning playing pool and jamming some more. I talked with Dorian and a German girl named Sarah about being German and hating how many Germans there are travelling in New Zealand, how Germans are expected to go to University and always have an A,B,C-Z plan for everything. Dorian, however is an exception to this rule, and they agreed that its the Germans that stay in Germany their whole lives that are the least kind and open-minded. Watched How High before bed. Great night with fun people.
Day 32: Woke up at 9:15, got some more work done on the website, then talked to a dad from Chile that organizes an adventure triathlon there. He showed me videos from his youtube page of him and his daughter at a hut on a volcano and paddling a tandem sea kayak on a lake. His english wasn’t great and neither is my spanish, but we used google translate to talk to each other and we exchanged business cards. I made a video with him to send to his daughter telling her to stay motivated and strong, and it made my day. I played music outside for a while and a bunch of people stopped to ask about and try out my backpacker guitar and recieved a long unsolicited rant from a tweaker that had been circling the block about how it’s all about the delivery of sound in a spiral that makes things sound good, counting up to 3 and making a swirling motion with his hand a half dozen times. I went up to the kitchen to make dinner and talked to a girl from Santiago about how she came to NZ with her boyfriend to learn english so that she can do more and make more money with her degree in Business and Administration. Her boyfriend is an engineer and when he saves up enough money and she is done with school, they’ll buy a small car and travel around the country. As more people came into the kitchen, I talked to a dude from Bangladesh about the history of music and about how music is like a language with both grammar and emotional content. After dinner, I got a haircut in exchange for some beer from a Bohemian Mexican dude who knew how to cut hair and had the proper tools to do so. When I trimmed my mustache, I cut it a little shorter than I had intended, and it felt strange but I was told it looked good. I ended up talking hanging out with a young dude from Japan that night, sharing a smoke, talking about hiking, overpopulation in Japanese cities, particularly Osaka and Tokyo where people jam into the trains like sardines in a can every day to get to work, about the legality of marijuana in the US and the outright illegality of it in Japan.
Day 33: New Years Day. After checking out early in the morning. I talked to Mario, the Italian guy that looked like Prince over breakfast, and another nerdy German guy who had a shirt with a joke about binary code on it (there’s only 10 types of people. those that understand binary and those who don’t) about how his visa to Australia fell through and how he’s just waiting for it to all go through before he can leave the country. Funny sort of guy. Very stereotypically German. Lots of grating of the teeth and clenching of the fists when describing his job, bald headed with glasses originally from Kiel, where they still make U-boats. He went to school for biology but became a programmer because it suited his skill set better. He ran a bunch of encryption stuff on his computer, ran his own operating system, did everything through command prompt, and opened all his tabs in private mode. I charged my phone while we talked, and when it was full, started walking South toward an exit ramp where I could stick my thumb out. Struggled at first just to find some cardboard for a sign, and upon arriving at the exit ramp, realized that it was an impossible place to hitch from because there was nowhere to pull over. I Kept walking to the nex one, which still was not ideal, but finally a Chinese dude motioned for me to get it while he was at a stop light and I dove in as quickly as I could. Really really nice dude. We talked about the differences between China and the US and NZ- about weed, social expectations, class systems, race, and our own lives. He grows mushrooms for a living, as do his parents back, who intend on moving back to China soon where they could retire comfortably, but have no intention of doing so. I asked him when he thought they would stop working and he laughed and said they might not stop. As with the Japanese dude yesterday, this guy was shocked and totally stoked on my lifestyle of minimalism and travel on foot. When he dropped me off at the Countdown grocery store in Hamilton, he gave me 2 delicious and fresh Mangos and wished me good luck. I resupplied and got some trash bags to waterproof my backpacking for packrafting trips, and without access to wifi and having lost my bearings a bit, I asked a dude which way to hitch to get to Tamaurunui and he pointed me in the right direction. I still double checked his advice when I passed up the bus station and got wifi for a couple minutes, though he was right. Some teenagers at the bus station sat around me at a table, gossipping and cursing loudly, asked me where I was from and where I was going and I put on my best Clint Eastwood and told them that I was going on a river trip. One kid asked if he could sign my cardboard sign, as if he were a vain and needy celebrity and I let him do it, and I asked him if he was famous as he did. “Only in the hood”, he said. Then surely I could sell it in the streets and make some extra money right? I wished them a happy new year as I left and walked to the beginning of the motorway just out of town. After about half an hour, Graham stopped to pick me up. He was a reserved kiwi dude that like to golf and has traveled Australia, Europe, the US, and Canada by car or train. He works as a telephone mechanic and described the areas we went through as they passed; small agricultural towns, Maungatautari to the east- a mountain wildlife sanctuary with a predator-proof fence around its perimeter- and the kiwi reserve in Otorohanga. He dropped me off at the BP station at the south end of Te Kuiti and I got an L&P (lemon and paeroa soda sort of like sprite), waited half an hour or so, then got a ride all the way into Taumarunui from a couple from Auckland. One American guy and an ethnically Indian chick from the US who both met while working at a ski resort in Lake Tahoe. They’re starting their Whanganui River trip tomorrow as well, and we talked all about adventuring, guided outdoor recreation and how the limitations of taking a commercial trip in a foreign place. We talked about Donald Trump and I felt free to voice my concerns about the environment with them, to which they strongly agreed. They dropped me off at the McDonalds so I could get wifi to search for a place to camp for the night and I didn’t see anything obvious, so I started walking towards the south end of town by some open land that looked like I could stealth camp there. While walking through town, a couple of backpackers hailed me over to the other side of the street and said that they could bring me to the Holiday Park in a van they borrowed from the owner of the campground. We all got some takeaways (to-go food. I got smothered fries, called Blood and Guts on the menu) and as we drive towards the campground, I realize that this group of now 7 or 8 people stuffed into this van were all Te Araroa thru hikers and there at least a dozen more at the Holiday Park waiting to start their river trip. All their tents and tarps set up so close to each other on the lawn looked like a hiker trash shantytown. Food was devoured, camping was paid for, and everyone else drank until 2AM (i’ve never been much of a drinker), ultralight jokes in abundance, many explanations of why I got off trail and the benefits of creating your own route/adventure, and having to listen to a drunk American dude play shitty Oasis covers on my guitar for like 3 hours while we played card games. The wife of the dude that let them borrow his van came over and handed everyone sparklers just before midnight and we all lit them and commented on the apparently arbitrary nature of everyone around the world celebrating at distinct hour marks rather than in a fluid sweeping motion. I talked to a dude named Jake from Montana about he lived in a truck camper near West Yellowstone for a few years, and an old dude named Choop (short for chupacabra) from British Columbia about hiking the PCT in 2014 and all the people we knew in common. It became clear that drunken, guitar hoarding Rob, who was a repeat triple crowner had hiked the most out of anyone in this group and almost everyone else was a first-time thru-hiker, and I finally understood the feeling so many thru-hiking veterans have told me about- wanting to inspire and being annoyed by the sense of obligation and all the ultraheavy yellowblazing thats impossible to ignore, though admittedly I had been ultraheavy yelowblazing quite a bit recently. I played cards with Jake, Choop, Meg the wilderness therapy chick from Colorado, the cute redhead chick from Montreal, the Petit Couplé (6’3″ French dude and his equally tall, dry and funny Dutch girlfriend), Alex the charismatic English bike-touring guide, another dude from the UK with a charming crooked smile that dove for pearl meat in Australia, and three other nondescript American dudes. When I started to yawn and fade out of the conversation, I quietly left the group and crawled into my cowboy camp, the only one at the campground, and went to sleep for the first time in 2017.