I rarely miss waking up for an early morning flight.
But when I do, a friend FaceTimes me to wake me up… (yes, I’m very lucky– thank you, you know who you are!)
And thus began my rushed Christmas Eve. Half-asleep and calling a cab, groggily finding my way to the correct gate (thank goodness Wellington Airport is the smallest little thing), paying $80 to check in my bag since it was too big for a carry-on (damn), and making it just in time to board.
I wasn’t sleepy enough to notice the beautiful installation of the eagles in the airport (yeah, Weta Workshop!) as well as the domestic terminal gate hallway photo that was inevitably The Hobbit world premiere on the red carpet.
I made it to Auckland safely and after a rude bus driver encounter, eventually found the correct Naked Bus (yes, it’s called that) to board for my trip to Kawakawa. Four hours of riding in a bus proved to be serene, especially since I had a window seat with no one sitting next to me. Seats were spacious, the views were amazing… as soon as we pulled away from Auckland CBD, we began driving past the beautiful waterfront, across a bridge, and into the abyss of rolling green hills and forestation. I was finally seeing parts of NZ that I had dreamed about– the country.
I felt my mouth gaping open the entire time I was on the bus. When it wasn’t for surprise of the beauty, it was for me catching some flies. Stunning backdrops of lush greenery and farmland… Nearly every flat, green land with rickety posts doubling as a fence obviously looked like Hobbiton. Every forest we passed, every grassy land… I could just picture me dressed as a Hobbit with a trusty walking stick, running through the tall grass.
We passed heaps of cows and horses. Altogether, I only saw about 10 sheep (in only two different suburbs). Cute little guys, but definitely a lot less than expected. Apparently more thrive out in South Island.
Nearly every suburb we passed through as a stop was a place I couldn’t pronounce. Whangarei, Rakakaka, Rangitoto… Man.
Annie, a lovely Kiwi girl I had met while in the states, picked me up from Kawakawa and drove me to their place (where I’ll be for the next two weeks). Kawakawa seemed to be a very funky town (colorful, chunky designs next to the war memorial that the bus stop was at)… Tiny town with a very old-ish looking theatre and a pharmacy, tiny market, etc., but definitely for small-town living. Reminded me of upper countryside Kula, except much smaller and dryer.
The drive from Kawakawa to the area of Bay of Islands where Annie and her family live ended up being about 30 min. away. She explained that their area is populated by 95% Maori (hence all the Maori sayings posted around their house). The Edwards family has vast acres of beautiful grassy land… So amazing. A herd of cattle were grazing when she pulled us up to their pathway to their house, and one of their cats, Chubbles (aka Chubbs) greeted us when we got out of the car. Their front yard is visible as soon as you pull up, which has a large inflatable pool, a garden-like bench, hammock, swingball (like tetherball but with a baseball tied to the pole instead) and a trampoline.
Their house was built by their aunt, and completely done up to look very homey. All the doors have lacquered wooden knobs and locks and the kitchen/living room area is stunning. I don’t know the right words to describe it other than that it feels like a beautiful cabin in the summertime. The family is quite religious, with post-its of inspirational sayings and quotes dotted about throughout the house. Creativity and artistry runs in the family; nearly all of them can paint and write poetry beautifully (there are two “I Love You, Mumsy” long poems on their pantry door (a collaborative effort by all the kids). Annie said their grandma read one on the radio.
There are seven total in the family (including the mother and father); Annie is the oldest, Jono (Jonathan) is the second oldest; Sara; David; Rachel (whose beautiful artwork is scattered throughout all the walls). Some of them recently went to the Phillipines for missionary work; you can tell they all have very humble, generous hearts. I couldn’t be more blessed to spend two weeks with them. They’ve hosted many travelers and also open their home to couchsurfers, which is extremely generous of them… They have some hilarious stories from travelers (surely I top their list as the goob American who can barely cut hamburger buns in half).
The family has a day of cooking (and washing dishes) assigned to each of them, given that they have a larger family. Because of this, Annie said they all learned to cook at around age 9. So here I am, volunteering to help in the kitchen… We had burgers for dinner, but they made the patties from scratch (quite delicious) by whipping together eggs, meat, carrots, etc. and grilling them. In fact, they make everything from scratch, including chip dip (okay, they throw cream and some onion soup packets together but it’s generally more than how Americans buy everything pre-made). Since they live on the farm, it makes sense that they utilize their resources more sparingly… Much different from Wellington and Auckland CBD.
Anyhow, I helped to grate cheese and slice tomatoes… but when it came to cutting the burger buns in half, I failed miserably and cut them in half (literally) until I realized she meant to separate the top from bottom buns. Clearly, I don’t cook much. It was neat to watch Annie cook and prepare everything, since cooking has never really been a passion (or talent) of mine. I just eat the food and appreciate all the work involved. Lazy American, I know.
We also popped the buns in the oven for a few minutes to crisp them, and Annie made egg omelettes to put inside the burgers as well (a common Kiwi thing, I was told). Absolutely delicious! The family says grace before each meal, which usually is a bit odd for me, but also humbling in the sense that you realize after awhile just how kindhearted they are and how truly grateful they are for everything they have.
Given that the family lives in the farmland, it’s a bit similar to my dad’s upbringing in Maui: very laidback but also very mindful of resources. They try to use as little water as possible when washing dishes (they don’t rinse them, they just dry them after scrubbing and soaping them up), the dishwasher is run only after midnight, they conserve on electricity whenever possible, and they’re limited on WiFi (hence why I’m choosing to go WiFi-free for the next two weeks… They have a computer, but they don’t use it that often, which is understandable to keep costs down and because they have so many other beautiful things around them to enjoy).
I’d be a hypocrite if I said I could live in the country like this– it is quite beautiful, but Americans are typically used to having everything handed to them (i.e. frozen meals, WiFi everywhere, running water and wasting it in showers, taking things for granted). There are so many ways that this break has opened my eyes to a way of living where you can’t take anything for granted, where you love your family and appreciate them with all your heart, and where you take advantage of the outdoors.
Even Chubbles and Fatty Mc Boom Boom (the other cat) are loved on like part of the family.