The reactions which people have to a single person travelling across New Zealand alone for four weeks are diverse and varied and I have already experienced 3 significant ones since arriving here yesterday:
1. Suspicion -as expressed by the NZ immigration authorities, their concerns heightened by the list of “countries travelled to in the past 30 years” including Sudan,DRC, Congo, Sierra Leon, Afghanistan and Colombia
2. Surprise (sometimes coupled with a degree of envy and/or admiration): the friendly chap who explained the campervan to me yesterday, Bill the painter and my “tent neighbour” Doreen (more anon)
3. Pity ( the sort of “wonder what she is running away from” reaction): the lady posing with pink sunglasses on the beach to take a new facebook profile picture ( “what are you leaving behind over there”?)
I have experienced all 3 reactions since arriving here and have found them both amusing and insightful…..furthermore, being able to write about them is a sign of something hugely important to me: travelling is all about encounters…..and being alone can make encounters more likely.
A busy seagull was my first encounter of the day (apart from the odd “good morning” from others walking up or down Mount Maunganui); he was busy gathering a significant quantity of large twigs by and on the path.
Unfortunately, his hard work was interrupted by a jogger running down the mountain (honestly, people here take fitness to a new level…..I mean……who would choose to run up or down a mountain????Well, here ….more people than you may think).
My next encounter took place during a brief pause going up a particular steep bit of hill: Bill arrived breathless at a corner where I was also catching my breath (though I may have been pretending to look for my water bottle to hide my embarrassment about my fitness level …compared to that of the over-zealous up-the mountain-runners……)
A retired painter (of the decorator variety) who was one of the pioneers during the 1970s construction boom here in the Bay of Plenty, with a strong gripe against business men in suits, pharisees and hypocrites, some noticeable misgivings about the Maoris (these really surprised me), regret about the loss of notions of honour in our society and an ability to talk the hind legs off a donkey, this chatty kiwi accompanied me for the rest of the walk up and down the mount.
It was Bill who enlightened me about the tree with the beautiful red flowers which I have seen and admired since arriving here yesterday, which apparently is called Pohutakawa.
Bill’s delight about seeing a giant cruise ship arrive at Tauranga port was not to be missed. Apparently this is quite rare, as evidence by many others who looked on as this giant floating multi-storey building was guided into the harbour
We also encountered an Australian immigrant , a paraqueet, playing amidst starling and blackbirds on a field, as well as one of New Zealand’s famous sheep who was oblivious to the spectacular backdrop against which he was grazing
Although it was only 11 am when I reached the foot of Mount Maunganui, it was already very hot and so I was glad about having some time to relax in the shade by the campervan. This is when I met my tent -neighbour Doreen, who has been coming to this campsite for over 40 years with her family–every Christmas. You could tell she was a pro at camping…her caravan looked tidier and more living-room-like than my own ever has, and even her walking frame has its own designated space in her tent outside.
I also enjoyed my beach walk to the little peninsula just off the mainland, passing hundreds of surfers, volleyball players, very tanned people roasting in the sun and seagulls…..this was also when I met Wendy, who was undertaking contorsions to take a selfie on the beach. She had dolled up for the occasion with pink sunglasses and bright red lipstick, though we had to re-take the photo a few times to ensure it was sexy enough but not too “booby” to show on facebook to her teenage sons , who were waiting to go for dinner with her back at their holiday cottage. She was quite a pro at posing ….no wonder my selfies (rarely taken) are not up to much. Either way, I was enjoying the feeling of supersoft sand on my feet far too much to worry about that, and loved the views from the peninsula. I cannot get over how turquoise the water is here.
Since sunset, the weather has cooled down a bit , so I am glad to be warm and snug again in the campervan and will soon be scrambling about to assemble my bed above (it involves shifting 3 wooden boards into place and the climbing up ….) and then getting some rest. Incredible how tired one can feel after a day of spectcular views, fun encounters, sun and wind on face and skin.
Due to internet connectivity problems, other photos I planned to share with you today could not be uploaded.