The Tippity-Top
of the North
Our Dune Rider on the beach.
January 26, 2006

All I can say is that this morning was a close call. Very close. Too close.

I set my alarm on my watch. Instead of waking me up, the alarm became part of my dream. There is definitely something to be
said about the ‘internal alarm clock’. Mine went off at 6:54am. My bus was picking me up at 7:20am. This gave me 26 minutes to
pack up, get ready, grab my stuff from the kitchen, get everything I needed from my car and go to the curb. Thanks to adrenalin,
I did all of this in 14 minutes.

I am
sooo thankful that I woke up this morning as this day tour was pretty darn incredible.

It didn’t really start off that way though. We went to the rainforest and, true to its name, it was raining while we were there.
After having been to a handful of rainforests now, I can say that if you’ve seen one rainforest, you have pretty much seen them
all. Some are definitely more special than others but this one was a pretty basic one which made it feel…well…like just another
rainforest. The only thing of significance here were the Kauri trees for which it’s known.

The next thing we did was cool. We went 4-wheeling on the 90 Mile Beach (a pretty deceiving name considering it is only 64 miles
long). This is one of those things where a picture does it no justice. It is hard to describe a beach that is so long that you can’t see
the end of it (of course the rainy and overcast skies helped contribute to this). Never mind seeing it…the fun was in
driving on it.
This actually happens to be a public road (I’m assuming just meant for vehicles that are built to take on the conditions) and it has
a speed limit of 100 km/hour – the same as the highways out here. I happened to find this an interesting fun fact. And now for an
interesting sign we saw. It read: ‘Danger: Increase speed’. I suppose the only time you will see a sign like this on a highway is
when you’re driving through quicksand.  

We also learned some survival skills. I now know that if I am on a certain part of a beach and at a loss for food, I can dig my hand
into the sand and collect shellfish (called ‘tuatuas’). These can be eaten raw and are the slimy and salty little things that you would
imagine them to be. Being on ‘Survivor’ may very well be one of my worst nightmares. But if I
was ever on the show, I now feel
like I could bring something to the table.

Most of the time on tours, it is easy to feel like a blob whose only activity for the day is getting on and off the bus. But not today.
We went to the sand dunes and if we wanted to go boogie boarding, we needed to climb the sand dunes. This was equivalent to
doing the StairMaster on Level 15. Very steep. Very high. And it doesn’t help when your feet sink into the sand with every step.
But, man, was it fun. We laid our stomachs on the board and went down head first. And it was steep. They told us the necessary
way to brake (putting your feet into the sand) but that only does so much when you are speeding down a dune that seems to only
get steeper and steeper as each second goes by. Somehow I was able to control the increasing speed – I really have no idea how.
One thing I couldn’t control were the words coming out of my mouth - “HOLY &*%$!!!” But talk about a rush! It was too much
fun to
not do again!

The great thing about this daytrip was learning a good deal about the Maori culture and the Maori language. The Kiwis seem so
eager to share the country’s history with visitors – and, of course, you can’t talk about the history without talking about the
Maoris (the first people to come to the country). The next place we would visit would be one of the most spiritual places for the
Maoris – Cape Reinga. This is where the spirits of the Maori people go when they die. The spirit is said to go up 90 Mile Beach
and then give a final good-bye at the cape before heading off to a group of islands in the ocean. To respect the culture and the
spirits, people are not to eat or drink while in this area. And of course, there were lame people who were standing outside eating
their apples with complete disregard for any of the signs that were posted. Thankfully they weren’t Americans.

Not only is the significance of Cape Reinga beautiful but so is the scenery. We were lucky enough to get there when the clouds
were breaking and patches of blue were showing up in the sky. There was a thin layer of mist that was sitting on the ocean at
Cape Maria van Diemen creating a scene that almost didn’t look real. When I got to the top of the hill, I stood there in awe. Then I
heard people talking about something they had just seen in the water – sharks! They showed me where they saw them and, sure
enough, within seconds I saw one of them. I mean he wasn’t out and about doing flips in the water…but we could see the dark
shadow come right up to the surface. Pretty crazy stuff. By the time arrived at the lighthouse, something was different as I looked
around. I think it was the fact that everything had become invisible. Somewhere in the ten minutes that had passed, the fog came
in and sucked away all of the scenery. Cape Maria van Diemen – what was absolutely stunning just minutes ago - was now
invisible. Talk about perfect timing!

After a great lunch on the beach (the ‘greatness’ factor had much more to do with the scenery than my crackers-and-hummus
lunch that I brought), we set out for a long drive back to the Bay of Islands which included a couple more stops.

We stopped for an early dinner (or late afternoon snack for some???) in Mangonui at a place that is said to sell the best Fish ‘n
Chips in the country (they actually do their own catching of the fish). Not only did they do fried fish, but they also had about ten
different kinds of smoked fish. I got the smoked hapuka. I only wish that I could live near such a place to make this a staple in my
diet. Man, was it good!

The last stop on our tour was at Stewey’s little fruit stand. Here we tried kiwifruit. Spike put emphasis on the fact that the fruit’s
name was this and
not 'kiwi' as a kiwi is either a person from New Zealand or a bird. In fact, he likened the bird to Barbara
Streisand – big nosed with a fat arse. He also didn’t have the most flattering things to say about kiwifruit. This he compared to a
‘brown, hairy bollocks’ But Spike…tell us how you really feel…

I went with Rebecca and Catherine (two girls I met on the trip: one Brit and one American) to grab some drinks later on in the
night. They were sweethearts and it was good hanging out with them even after the tour was over.

And that would conclude my final night in Oceania. Tomorrow I leave for San Francisco before heading out to South America. Is
this for real? It doesn’t feel like it is.
Back to New Zealand.
After conquering the sand dunes.
On 90 Mile Beach.