||May 1-5, 1999 Upper North
Island, New Zealand
"Welcome to your new home!" he
says as he throws open the sliding side door of the little white Toyota van, allowing us
to toss our packs inside. I feel a distinct twinge in my stomach - an odd mix of anxiety
and excitement, as I realize that this would indeed be our new 'house on wheels' for the
next few weeks. But before we hit the wide open highways and byways of New Zealand, we get
a few sound, friendly words of advice from the owner of the van, a New Zealand native.
"Number one, don't chase the weather, let it come to you. It changes so fast 'round
here, the weather people can't predict it anyway. Number two, when the rain comes, and
trust me it will, just relax and enjoy it. Enjoy it like you enjoy the sunshine."
got a feeling we'll need to remember that, I think to myself as we walk up his front steps
and into the front room to sign the rental agreement over some tea and homemade scones. We
then load the van with some kitchen utensils and a few sleeping bags and get ready to head
"Oh, one more thing" he says as we're getting organized, "who's
"I guess I am" Laura offers (we decided on one of our last trips that
it's better that I read the maps, and she steer the car).
"Right then, come 'ere. Now push your sleeve up your arm - no, farther, up
past your elbow."
"Uh, O.K." Laura does as instructed.
now's that a tad bit uncomfortable for ya?"
"Yeah, it's pretty tight" she answers with a puzzled look, one sleeve up
and pinching her bicep, the other still down around her wrist.
"That'll help you keep thinking about your left arm - should help you stay on
the left hand side of the road - an important little detail when touring 'round New
Zealand, don't cha' know". And with that, we're off - just the two of us in our
little white rent-a-dent van, intent to explore what many say is one of the most beautiful
countries in the world.
Well, fortunately we still have the rest of the month, for tonight
we only make it about 25 miles outside of Auckland before the sun starts to set. We pull
into a motor park, back right into a slot with a twilight view of the crashing waves, and
watch the sun dip down behind the lip of the inlet. After walking into town for dinner and
a nightcap, we're back to the van to get settled.
nothing but the aid of our little AA flashlight, we stretch the white cotton sheet-like
curtains over the side windows, hang a sleeping bag across the back window, lay down, and
pull our sleeping bags up to our necks. Laying here in the back of the van, the dim
circles of the flashlight shining against our 'sleeping bag wall', makes me feel like a
little kid again. I turn and whisper to Laura in my best boyish voice: "Hey, wana
It's strange, but even though the 'fun' of
our first day of 'camping out' has worn off, I've still spent the last few days of our New
Zealand adventure lost in thoughts of my innocent, early childhood. Every now and again
Laura asks "Are you O.K., is there anything wrong?" "Oh no, just
thinking" I say quietly as I gaze out the window, simply taking in the passing
scenery. Actually, it's more remembering than thinking. Remembering the long summer days
at my grandparent's house.
when I'd spend hours and hours down on my knees cutting narrow, winding roads through
strips of bumpy green moss and patches of gritty brown dirt, constructing little roads and
building tiny towns for my collection of Matchbox Cars. Roads and towns that looked just
like what I dreamed that every place in the world should look like (if the world were a
perfect place according to a ten-year-old, that is).
As we drive through the countryside of New Zealand's north island,
it's like I'm touring a life-sized model of my long-forgotten miniature playlands. The
roads towns, and countryside look EXACTLY the way I'd imagined they should look. Dark,
majestic mountains rise up to spawn threads of creeks and rivers that, in turn, slice
through peaceful, pristine valleys, and eventually flow into small, sparkling lakes and
ponds, finally spilling into the ocean's gently lapping surf. And sprinkled throughout are
patches of trees.
of all kinds, all shapes, and all sizes - all sporting different shades of green, from
faint and light, to rich and dark. Crisscrossing it all, are the neat and tidy two-lane
highways, with nary a piece of trash or scrap of litter, winding through and over rolling
hills of moist emerald pasturelands. They connect perfect little towns, nestled in and
among the hills. Gatherings of neat white clapboard houses with red, green, and black
Perfect little towns, just the way a
ten-year-old would imagine them, orderly and peaceful, neat and tidy. Life in them
smoothly humming along like the carefully tuned motor of the occasional tractor rolling
down Main Street. In fact, there's one now. Its over-all clad driver casually cruising
past the butcher shop and baker, whistling and waving a casual 'hello' to passerbys like
us. Perfect little towns whose citizens neither want or need 'dem new-fangled traffic
lights, but instead prefer the casualness of 'give way' signs at the corners of their
say these New Zealand communities, despite quickly adopting modern conveniences such as
microwaves and cash machines, still have the charm and simplicity characteristic of the
small towns of America twenty years ago. Charms like gas stations that are still of the
full-service, 'check the oil mam?' type.
Simplicities like the rickety little fruit and vegetable stands,
selling the yields of their own trees and vines, still of the no-service, 'we trust you,
grab a bag and leave your payment in the box' type. All reflections of an easier time. A
time twenty years ago, when a kid like me would spend the entire day, playing outside with
his Matchbox Cars and building little roads and towns in a way that only an innocent,
untainted ten-year-old would.