The Woz in Auckland

It started with a Facebook post on our program group page.

“My boss wants me to put together a list of 10-12 BU students…”

I looked up the speaker at the event. I had heard of him of course, but I was only vaguely aware of what he did. After some googling, I thought, why not? When else was I going to see Steve Wozniak speak for free?

The first thing I noticed was the amount of nerdy testosterone that slowly filled the theater with nervous excitement. Studying at a college that boasts a 60% female population, I haven’t seen my gender visibly outnumbered in a while. It amused me to no end.

When the Woz finally walked on stage in his black outfit and neon sneakers, the nearly full theater erupted in applause. Sitting in front of a Think Inc. (Smart answers to BIG questions) banner, he turned to the moderator, ready to start explaining his life and philosophy. He has been there before. This is, quite literally, his job.

The nearly full theater sat silent and at attention as Steve Wozniak recited his stories.
The nearly full theater sat silent and at attention as Steve Wozniak recited his stories.

Yes, his words were clearly rehearsed and there were moments that the moderator had trouble steering the conversation, but that didn’t bother me that much. Wozniak presented himself like an enthusiastic grandfather. You know the type: The kind that lights up at the sight of their grandchildren, eager to tell the stories they’ve told a thousand times before, hungry to see the wonder and amazement in their eyes, keen to pass on the well-learnt lessons of their long life…

He recounted why he created computers, talking about ones and zeroes, microchips and processors like they were pieces of unfathomable beauty. Marveling at his own genius, he admitted that he doesn’t understand how he did it all.

“There was magic pouring out of my ears for about ten years,” he said, retracing steps that he had no doubt walked many times before.

It many ways he reminded me of Nikola Tesla. Both were/are idealists. They believed in creating technology to help advance humanity. Money was never on their mind. Tesla wanted to find a method to give electricity away for free. The Woz really did give away his design of the first personal computer, the Apple I.

“I wanted to be part of a revolution,” Wozniak explained.

Yet in a capitalist society, money was always going to come into play at some point. Tesla had Thomas Edison to sell his inventions. Wozniak had Steve Jobs.

“[In the beginning], once a year Steve would come around and make what I did into money,” the Woz joked, sparking a fair amount of laughter.

But unlike Tesla and Edison who’s rivalry, especially during the war over A/C and D/C electricity, has gone down in history, Woz and Jobs were friends until the end…at least according to Wozniak. This inventor doesn’t believe in making enemies. What’s the point?

But now his inventive spirit has left him, he said.

“I’m not a genius now except in making people think I’m one.” That joke received even more laughter.

Wozniak stood to address the questioners during the Q&A.
Wozniak stood to address the questioners during the Q&A.

Instead, nowadays he seems to focus on his other passion: Education. He spoke in great length about the injustices in the education system in America—about how one teacher, one student never fails and that the problem now is that teachers just don’t have the time or money to give everyone personal attention. He waxed on about his dream of technology someday solving this problem. He believes that with AI, every student could have their very own personal teacher. With that, the sky’s the limit. (See what I mean about idealist?)

The Q & A at the end livened him up, bringing some spontaneity to his speeches. Inspirational but borderline naïve, he rambled on about the positive influence of randomness and the negative, overbearing force of Facebook, Google, and even Apple. You could tell how enthusiastic and keen he was to imprint on everyone his grandfatherly wisdom. Out of his age and element in regards to today’s technology, he is still full of knowledge and is desperate to pass it on.

I’m glad I decided to see him.


The Myth of Rangitoto

It seemed at times that Rangitoto sat in the distance everywhere I went (particularly in Devonport), towering darkly over the water, recalling ages long forgotten. It always looked a little like a timeless pocket, trapping the original wild, green forest that used to cover New Zealand.

And here I was, on Rangitoto, sitting at the top on a manmade terrace poised over the volcanic crater, relishing the tranquility of height and nature and distance. That is, I was before three blond Americans came in blasting their pop music and sporting their $100+ sneakers. I looked over at my roommate, Kirsten, and groaned. It was then that we decided, yes, it was time to go back down.

We had arrived early, catching the 7:30am ferry to take advantage of early-bird ticket prices. But we weren’t the only ones. Not quite a hoard, but still a sizable crowd of hikers, campers, and backpackers streamed off the ferry with us. Most dispersed, but a few, including a noisy and carefree group of American backpackers, continued straight to the summit path with us.

What followed was a patchwork of moments: passing fields of black, volcanic stones, boarded with violently green trees, ferns, and moss; the peak of the mountain calling to us in the distance; snatched glimpses of Auckland’s SkyTower popping up from behind the trees; and the Americans giggling and loudly commenting with their neon workout gear, iPhones, and GoPros.

The moment the path towards the lava caves branched away from the main track, Kirsten and I turned off without a second thought as the Americans continued on to the summit. It’s not that we had to be alone. We were fine with others on the path, walking with us and uttering the occasional wows just as we did. It just would’ve been nice to stroll through the lava fields and forests without catching snippets of chatty American voices or having to worry about our groups constantly passing each other as we each stopped at different intervals for pictures.

Once away from the others, the sound or rather the silence of Rangitoto revealed itself. Because the forest is relatively young, the island boasts a rather small bird population, causing the forest to stand in a contemplative quiet. Sunlight trickled in between the leaves and crisscrossing tropical branches as moss gleamed in the morning sun. Our shoes crunched the dark, volcanic rock as we continued on, alone and in silence, save an Indian couple pausing to take pictures. Before long, sign posts pointed us in the direction of the caves.

The sharp tunnels ran beneath the surface for only brief spans, and using Kirsten’s phone flashlight to illuminate the way, we slowly picked through the rock-strewn passages. It looked so otherworldly, that I kept waiting for a gobblin or orc to pop out from a hidden crevasse. Of course no monsters were living in the dark.

We eventually made it back to the surface and back to the summit track where the chatty Americans were but an echo in the distance. After an intense series of stairs and slopes, we made it to the terrace on top. The island’s forest, the Hauraki Gulf, and Auckland’s islands lay below us, layers of color and shapes that were so lovely it didn’t seem quite real. We took pictures, ate our lunch, and relaxed in the now clouded sunlight. A handful of other tourists came and went, but like us they mostly kept to themselves.

As we chilled, I read the notes and scratches left behind on the wood of the terrace. Mostly, “I was here” stuff, save what someone wrote in marker fairly recently:

“Climbed Rangitoto #nextlevelshit”

We hung out there until the blonde, music-toting Americans came. As we worked our way down, more and more people were coming up. The underprepared, the overprepared. Hikers, families, backpackers, tourists.

Back down by the shore, things were fairly deserted. While walking around looking at the white, winter flowers and tiny, lingering Baches (iconic New Zealand beach houses), we only saw the Asian men who also climbed the summit around the same time as us.

Near the wharf a crowd, however, was gathering for the ferry. I had no doubt that things in the summer were worse, but as I looked at the Baches in the distance and the tourists trailing out from the summit track, I think it’s fair to say I got a taste of what Rangitoto really is like.

Tea and Devonport Peaks

The Victorian houses looked down on us from their lofty, tropical perches as we trudged up the hill towards our professor’s house. The sun, which had been hiding when we had gotten up that morning, was now peering between the voluminous clouds, warming our backs and necks. Butterflies were in the air and flowers were beginning to bloom. I took a deep breath and wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to live here.

I was back in Devonport, this time with my roommate Kirsten, to see more of the neighborhood and to visit our New Zealand culture and history professor, Vivienne (like many New Zealand instructors, she goes by her first name). She extended an invitation to tea to everyone at the beginning of our BU sponsored, program-wide class. She mentioned her dog and proximity to Lorde as incentives to go. Since then, Kirsten and I knew that was wanted to take her up on her offer when we got the chance.

The beginnings of spring can be see in the gardens of Devonport. | photo credit: Kirsten Johnson
The beginnings of spring can be seen in the gardens of Devonport. | photo credit: Kirsten Johnson

Her home, tucked away in a little dip off the road, was a comfortably small cottage, complete with a modest, well-tended garden in the back. Vivienne greeted us with her English bull terrier at her heels. The dog nuzzled our hands as she presented her house. Every wall was covered with books and art: shelves of social texts, collections of photographs, rows of masks. The place was full but not cluttered, an artful achievement in such a small space. Clearly, she was heavily influenced by her varied and well-traveled life. Before she made Auckland her home and teaching her profession, she had worked in fashion and music, living in Melbourne, Los Angeles, and London, the latter of which two of her children now reside in.

She eventually showed us to her kitchen, which was also eclectically decorated and offered us a cup of tea and some cookies. It was there we sat, in the increasingly warming sun, speaking about politics and urban population growth and Boston verses Auckland before our stomachs reminded us that we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Vivienne recommended a French café a few blocks down the road as she collected our cups.

She bid us adieu, and we walked back into the sun in the direction of her recommendation. The café was crowded with locals when we got there, so we sat outside and ate our croissant croque monsieurs and watched as children ran barefoot across the street to the milk bar across. I wondered if Lorde ever did that and tried to imagine what it was like to grow up here.

Strolling down Cheltenham Beach towards North Head.
Strolling down Cheltenham Beach towards North Head.

Once satisfied, we strolled down to the beach, intending to make our way to North Head. The shells crunched beneath our feet as the water lapped the shoreline. We ambled in silence as we took in the sun and sounds.

North Head was just as breathtaking as I remembered it. More people were there of course, it being Saturday instead of the middle of the week, but they were still few and the beauty of the day and the view made up increased crowds.

After Kirsten took the appropriate pictures, we wondered down the volcanic hill and back into town, pleasantly tired. We refreshed ourselves with sweet treats from the famous Devonport Chocolates and made a couple of souvenir stops before looking up at Mt. Victoria and deciding, yes, we had to scale that height too.

The more popular and well-known of the two Devonport volcanos, the hillside was littered with many more people and cars. Partially up the side of the summit was a primary school. I had a hard time picturing the children in their uniforms laughing and playing as the tourists huffed up the slope. The place of normalcy didn’t seem plausible amongst the greenery.

Naturally, we collapsed on the grass once atop the mount. Those Victorian houses that had gazed down at us from their elevated positions now stretched below us in a patchwork of roofs and greenery. North Head stood before us, slightly shorter, as the sea glimmered in the waning sunlight. We sighed and watched the other tourists gap and pose for pictures.

“Two volcanos in one day. We can’t say we didn’t accomplish something,” Kirsten said, with a laugh.

I agreed and laid back on the cool grass, ready for a contended rest.

Wine in Waiheke

Her cheeks were red as she posed with her final glass of wine. I was starting to feel it too. The alcohol was finally catching up to me. I could also see my breath in the chilled humidity. I was ready to go home.

I was glad I came though. Like many things with this trip, it was kind of a last minute decision. The girl in our group had already booked the wine tour on the Waiheke, an island outside of Auckland, and posted in our program’s Facebook page that there were free spots. I thought, “Why the hell not?” and joined.

On the day of, a cold snap had swept through the country the night before, bringing with it unusually cold temperatures (upper 40s) to the area. We huddled around our warm drinks on the ferry, but the time we reached Waiheke, the sun was out and a man wearing a bowler hat greeted us with a sign and a smile.

“Follow the hat,” he informed us as he led our group of 19 young women to a van in the parking lot.

After a quick introduction in which our guide commented on our states of origin, we set off into to town for a quick lunch before the wine. Most places were closed in the off season, but we managed to find a Thai restaurant that served quick $12.50 lunches. With time to spare we drifted down to the beach and watched the waves and picked up seashells.

It wasn’t long before we were called back to the bus so we could get to our first winery. Comfortably seated, our guide started us along, weaving through the sheep-speckled hills and vistas on the island. He would often spurt out one or two slightly outdated facts, but mostly he talked to the person up front about his time in America and the lack of international travel mentality in the states.

Peacock Sky Vineyard, located near the island’s famous ziplines, was the first stop on our itinerary. A Frenchman greeted us and led us into the tasting room where food samples and wine pairings were laid out for us. He explained the subtleties and origins of the wine as we sipped and nibbled. The girls next to me complained about how now they can’t go back to their standard $6 bottle of wine after tasting this Pinot Grigio. I, for one, only knew enough to enjoy the smoothness of the sample, having basically nothing to compare it to.

After four samples, it was off to our next stop. More sheep, more vistas, and finally we were at Passage Rock Vineyard. The moment we stepped off the bus, a University of Auckland wine science major stepped out with a tray full of Rosé. We sipped as the clouds rolled in and he pointed out which hardened vines produced which grapes. Then it was into the heated patio where we received samples of three more wines including their most popular, Sisters. I felt bad, but I didn’t like it. I’m not usually one for dry red wines.

More sheep covered vistas, and we were at our third stop: Batch Winery, the newest and most modern on the island. I was already feeling warm and content from the last two places, but after Batch’s sparkling wine and Riesling, I started to really feel the alcohol.

With a fresh sample of Rosé in our hands, the winery’s guide led us into the bottling room because unlike others on the island, Batch both makes and bottles on sight.

“It’s like Willy Wonka for grownups,” she explained as we were led into a room full of shinny machinery and humming tanks.

Once the appropriate amount of oos and ahs were said, she led us into their restaurant for a final glass of dry red wine. I couldn’t finish it. All the tastes of the day were starting to blend together for me. So instead, I took pictures of the views and the others, trying not to freeze in the cold, humid air.

Maori History on the Road

Obnoxiously bright orange entry stickers dotted everyone’s jackets as we gathered in front of the wakas (Maori canoes). Still tired from the activities from the other day, most of us just stood on the platform, blankly looking at the intricate carving while our Maori guide explained the boats’ traditional purposes as well as their modern, ceremonial functions. The sun was reflecting on the water outside the waka building and after his spiel, we wondered down to the beach to look out at the morning sun.

We couldn’t stay long however for there was more to see. Up the hill was a flagpole with the three flags of New Zealand (the pre-colonial flag of the northern tribes, the Union Jack, and the current) towering over a field. No, it wasn’t the flags that were important. It was the field. Here was the sight of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the controversial pact between the British and Maori tribes that led to the colonization and eventual subjection of the Maori people.

With sweeping gestures, our Maori guide described the scene in 1840. The tents, the horses, the chiefs, the officers, all leading to the mad rush to sign the treaty. Off to the side was the Treaty House where the first British Governor resided and in the distance was the marae, which instead of serving as a meeting house for Maori, serves to embody unity between all the tribes that signed the treaty and the British Crown. We visited each of those buildings before we left the complex, recognizing at each place the injustices that followed after the signing of the Treaty. After that bit of historical sightseeing, we moved on as other tour groups started to crowd the area.

The following is an edited excerpt of my journal entries while on the bus heading back towards Auckland:

11:12 Left Waitangi, now off through the forested hills again. Girls talking about the grocery store Countdown in the back. Our Maori guide singing in Te Reo Maori with his guitar in the front.

11:14 More black cows dot the fields.

11:20 An outlook over fields and houses accompanied by a lesson in the poverty of the area caused by the closing of the freezing works. In the town: murals and closed shops, short squat houses and a kid on a bike.

11:38 Stopping at the “famous Kawakawa toilets” designed by native Austrian and adopted New Zealander Hundertwasser. Known for saying “straight lines lead to Hell.”

11:55 On the road again. Story time: our nature guide’s adventures growing up in the area with Hundertwasser. He spent summers painting the artist’s boat, which is now on display in Europe.

11:59 Finally some sheep.

12:03 Maori reggae accompanying more forested outlooks and rolling fields and farms.

12:13 A grove of leafless foreign trees forma a silver line amongst the green.

12:16 Weaving through the hills on a dirt road on the way to Ruapekapeka Pa, giving us more outlooks and views of cows.

12:18 Stopping. Only bus in the car park.


It was cold on that windy hill at Ruapekapeka Pa. Our Maori guide was peppy and excited. We were chilled and hungry. Yet we gathered as he started his story about the history of this area. This was the sight of the final battle in the War of the North. In 1845, a collection of northern tribes, led by Hone Heke (who cut the down flagstaff in Russell) and Te Ruki Kawiti, held out in their pa (fortified village) against British bombardment for ten days. The Maori used various techniques including the first ever instance of trench warfare to hold off the colonizers, but after ten days they believed they had sufficiently accomplished their goal of embarrassing the British and left the pa. The British went on to declare the siege a victory.

We stood, listening to the elongated version of the story, shivering under the gray sky. But the moment he stopped and we were allowed to roam and hunt for pictures, the sun showed its face and the views the hill offered. We were ecstatic.


1:24 On the road again…How is everything so beautiful?

1:33 Zoning out to guitar chords and the constant up and down flow of the landscape.

1:45 The wind squeals around and through the edges of the front windows.

1:48 “Walking on the Moon” by the Police on guitar.

1:58 Entering Whangarei. Cars and roundabouts and discount grocers and squat houses and churches and bus stops and construction sights and rain.

2:03 Lunch, finally.

3:12 Comparing the Assistant Director to Will Wheton and watching as Yvonne drinks her milkshake in the rain.

3:19 Music resumes.

3:26 “New Zealand, the land of cows and rainbows.”

3:30 Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” and learning about the Kate Bush Festival.

3:40 Signs for Highland Games and Pipe Bands as volcanic hills loom and cows roam.

3:49 Winding through tropical forests down freshly paved, wet asphalt.

3:55 Making Hobbiton plans.

4:26 Billboard: “Wood – The natural choice.”

4:35 In a yard next to a petrol station stand horses in coats.

4:54 Auckland, 39 km.

5:12 SkyTower in sight, poking out behind the trees and suburban houses and shopping malls.

5:16 The Auckland skyline now sits across the water as a kumera (sweet potato) is given as a prize.

5:25 Home.

Northern Off-Season Hospitality

The streets of Russell were empty save the dogs and their walkers. Restaurants were closed and the only place that seemed to be lively was the 4 Square (a cross between a convenient store and grocery store that for some reason is an icon of New Zealand kitsch culture). Kirsten, Yvonne, and I had gotten up early in the hopes of getting something to eat before the group gathered for the day, but that was proving more difficult than it seemed in this off-season seaside town. It just never occurred to us that the sea would be deserted at the end of July.

We eventually found a bakery and the only open café and bought pastries and coffee. We sat and watched the bouncing sail boats as the others gathered. Most had found a gelato place and had settled on starting the day with brownies and other sweets.

Once together we made our way down the seashore to Pompallier House, the sight of Catholic proselytizing back when the British only just formally took over, when pirates still ruled the area, and when Russell was still lovingly called the “Hell Hole of the Pacific.” The group split here, as there was too many of us to tour the complex at once.

As Group A went off to explore the grounds, Group B was left to the attentions of our Maori guide. He regaled us with tales of Maori defiance, particularly Hone Heke’s repeated and successful attempts to cut down the British flagpole on Flagstaff Hill, and his final attempt to cut down the pole which led to a British ship bombarding and destroying the town.

Before that happened however, unlike what the name would suggest, Bishop Pompallier never actually lived in Pompallier House. He just managed it while it churned out the first Maori translations of the Bible. We were eventually shown by a very monotone tour guide the recreated printing works, complete with working tannery and still operational printing presses.

On the ferry to Paihia.
On the ferry to Paihia.

As soon as we had enough of the 19th century technology, we made our way to the beach where our Maori guide recited a traditional Maori prayer to bring us luck while we headed out to for the day back to Paihia to participate in various water-based activities.

As the group split up to do either parasailing or kayaking and we paid our fees accordingly, I noticed that we seemed to be the only ones in the town besides the locals. We were such a big group that we seemed to take over anywhere we went, creating unseasonably long lines and attracting weird looks. I felt like a self-conscious American once again.

Around 1 o’clock the kayakers trooped down a mile down the beach to the mouth of a river where four enthusiastic guides waited for us with smiles and lifejackets. One by one, we paired up and filed into the kayaks. Yvonne was my partner.

Both of us being extremely inexperienced kayakers, it took us a while to gain a rhythm and we ended up trailing behind the others as they headed up the river. But I didn’t mind. It was a peaceful ride. No one else was on the water besides our group. A chill lingered in the air but the sun often peaked out from the clouds. We moved slowly against the current through swaths of trees, clumps of marshes, and rows of suburban houses as we attempted to find songs we could both sing as we traveled.

We eventually caught up to the others as they gathered in front of a waterfall. The only other tourists I saw that day stood on land, taking pictures of us and the water. Our guides explained waterfall safety to us as we clung to each other’s boats, creating a lumpy island of colorful plastic and wet college students. Then one by one we broke off and tried to skirt the rock wall and go under the waterfall.

photo credit:
Emerging from the waterfall. | photo credit:

One boat flipped. We ran in head on. Needless to say I got soaked. Dripping with cold river water, we let the current push us away from the rushing waterfall. Excited screams of the others could be heard in the background as we floated farther and farther away. I fished out my glasses, and we began to make our way back. We took it slow and steady, Yvonne singing songs along the way.

After a while, we finally stepped upon the shore, feet bare and body soaked. I rung out the fleece I had on the best I could and hitched a ride with one of the kayak guides back into town. I was tremulously grateful. The wind was picking up and with my wet leggings I wasn’t sure that I could make it without freezing to death. After some quick souvenir shopping, we hopped on the ferry back to Russell to change before our group dinner.

Flash forward two and a half hours: Saturday night, 6:30 pm and the streets were empty. Our 30+ group felt like a swarm bearing down on the local RSA (Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association). It was the small building in the corner of the main road. Inside was decorated with wood paneling, honorary plaques, and vintage metals. It was full of a few bleary eyed locals, questioningly looking at us over their pints and burgers. We were led to a back room where they had set up banquet tables and a buffet fit for Thanksgiving dinner (save the turkey and cranberry sauce). And there we sat, thankful for the chance to be in dry clothing and stuffing our faces with warm food and hospitality.

The North’s Twinkling Canopy

We hadn’t really done much that Friday. The program-wide group trip didn’t even start until 2:15pm because people had class in the morning. And then we just sat on a bus for four hours as we drove north to the Bay of Islands. By the time we got to the coastal town of Paihia, it was dinnertime so the 30+ group splintered in the search for food. Funnily enough, we mostly ended up at the same restaurant (a Thai and Indian place).

Afterwards, we ferried across the bay to Russell on our way to the cabins we were staying at. During the walk through the darkened, off-season streets of the tiny town, we were drawn to the sky.

Peppered across the black were more stars than I’ve ever seen, and as we moved farther away from the lights of the town center, the more appeared. We gaped. We ooed. We awed. And in amongst the twinkling canopy was what looked like a glowing grey cloud. Most dismissed it as such, but the Assistant Director of the program told us we were wrong.

“Oh no,” he said offhandedly. “That’s the Milky Way.”

What?! I couldn’t believe it. The Milky Way, that starry stretch of legend, was visible, right above my head. There are very few places in America where one can see our home galaxy and I’ve never had the chance to make it out to these remote areas, nor had anyone in our group. The closest most of us got got was the sprinkle of stars that littered the sky in the cities. And then here was: the Milky Way.

“If you go atop of that hill where that flagstaff was chopped down,” the Assistant Director pointed, “and get away from the streetlights, you’ll see it better.”

photo credit: More stars at the Fern Burn Hut via photopin (license)
photo credit: More stars at the Fern Burn Hut via photopin (license)

I knew instantly I had to do this. We dropped off our luggage and my friend, Yvonne and my roommate, Kirsten agreed to come with me. It took us a moment to look up directions, having to google the name of the hill which appropriately turned out to be Flagstaff Hill. Once we found a route, we set off into the night.

Walking in the middle of the street with only a phone flashlight to illuminate our way through the pitch black, we slowly made our way up. I had to reassure Kirsten that there were no carnivorous animals that could attack us here (though we did find a sign telling us that kiwis were present). Still, we linked arms and trudged on as Yvonne led the way with her phone.

We eventually made it to the top, and in the car park we laid down and let out a gasp of amazement. It certainly was clearer up here. We got lost in the cosmic beauty above our heads. I wished I knew the constellations in the Southern Hemisphere so I could see the ancient patterns above my head, but in reality it was simply enough to let immensity of the Milky Way wash over me.

We were silent until a couple shooting stars zoomed overhead, and we gasped and yelled as we pointed them out to each other. Shortly afterwards the clouds started to roll in, and we decided that we’d rather not get caught in the rain. And so we walked once again into the dark, the stars fading as we moved back into civilization.