There I was, flipping through a guide book in my hostel bunk, while
crunching noisily on vitamin C drops and sniffing back the head cold
that I had picked up somewhere in the rainy streets of Auckland. It
was day three of my solo adventure to the North Island of New Zealand.
With limited time, I decided to explore the Bay of Islands at the
utmost tip of the land, rich with native Maori history, geographically
blessed with one hundred forty-four islands, and some of the best
sport-fishing in the world. I was dripping with anticipation—and as
sick as a dog.
I hopped on the Kiwi Express and rubbernecked at the beautiful vistas
that we passed by. The scenery was lush and green; an expansive
vegetarian buffet for feeding the endless herds of sheep that dotted
the hillsides. The bus was crammed with anxious travelers, most of
whom appeared to be young Europeans on their "rite-of-passage" trip
that is often a tradition just after graduating high school; a
brilliant custom that unfortunately most Americans have still yet to
adopt. Cutting the young loose to embark on a walkabout, to explore
the world and get to know themselves along the way; to travel, tramp,
trek, whatever you want to call it – too me, it was a more valuable
experience than any college education.
Just after my eighteenth birthday I had a similar journey. I hopped on a greyhound bus in rural New Hampshire and rode her for all her glory west, to the fabled peaks of Colorado; a backpack, a camera, a desire to explore, and a big shit-eating grin on my face. My "rite-of-passage" started me on a wild journey where I would never look at life the same way again, and it began a life-long love affair with adventure travel.
After a few hours of reminiscing on my own transitions in life, we
finally arrived in the quaint seaside village of Pahia, directly
across from Russell; the historic whaling port, who’s lawless past had
supposedly inspired the novel Moby Dick. I found a bunk at the Pipi
Patch hostel and crawled into my sleeping bag cocoon, hoping to emerge
transformed, feeling like a new and healthier man. Sleep turned out
to be fleeting, as one traveler after another arrived to the communal
bunkhouse. I listened to the strange accents and soon realized that I
might as well have been in the middle of a U.N. meeting. It was
intriguing, and I was soon drawn out of my cocoon and into deep
conversation that somehow morphed into a lopsided and somewhat heated
debate, fueled by less-than-positive opinions of America's world
affairs. I'm usually up for a good debate, but in this bunkhouse I
realized I was greatly outnumbered, and when the fiery Irish lass
high-fived the Brit for his cantankerous impersonation of a "fat
American tourist", I knew I was in trouble.
I made a hasty retreat from the stifling atmosphere of the bunkhouse
and bumped into Arjen, a towering Dutch college student. While on the
bus, I had noticed that he was carrying a case for a fishing rod and
we soon were sharing fish stories and laughing about the debate I had narrowly escaped. We decided to do some fishing together, and on our way to the local pier, we came across a kayak outfitter on the beach. There was an international grunt and nod
passed between my new friend and I, and we were signed up, paid in
full and booked for a trip to paddle around the Bay of Islands the
The pier fishing proved fruitful, much to the surprise of local
onlookers, as Arjen and I landed more than a dozen plump ocean trout.
As it turned out, it was a very rare occurrence for the trout to
school so close to land. We were informed that it was a tasty and
prized fish, so we kept a few trophies and spent that evening cooking
the fish on a makeshift smoker and handing out samples of the sweet
white meat to the other travelers at the Pipi Patch. I thought it was
a good peace offering to my grumpy bunkmates, who at least momentarily
forgot about their American grudge. Later that night, I settled in
for a solid nights sleep, recounting the sheep that I had counted
earlier on in the day.