Election Day

I woke up the night after the election with a message from my mom:

“So sorry we screwed this up.”

She was speaking as a spokesperson for the white American baby boomers, apologizing to me, a mix-raced millennial, for electing a narcissistic racist, sexist reality star to highest office in the land. I don’t think it/’s really sunk in yet. I’m still physically exhausted and nausea still lingers in my stomach. I guess you can say that I’m in shock and mourning. It’s not that I’m mourning over this idealized image of America. I’ve been slowly becoming disillusioned with the good ol’ USA for quite a while now. And it’s not that I don’t know how this happened. I do know, and I think that’s what hurts the most…

 

I had a final right when the results started to come in. I couldn’t go on Facebook or any news sites beforehand. I couldn’t let what was happening thousands of miles away across the sea affect my concentration or state of mind.

But once the pens were put down and the test booklets were handed in, all bets were off. A classmate and I decided to head off to a viewing party at the university bar afterwards. A line stretched and the entrance down the stairs as the curious and passionate alike came to watch the most important election in 50+ years.

My classmate was Dutch, studying abroad in New Zealand from her home university in England. As we waited in the queue, she talked about Brexit and how she was lucky enough to leave the country before the vote. I nodded. I was glad I wasn’t in America, but that didn’t stop the nerves growing in my stomach.

The University of Auckland's bar, Shadows, was all decked out in red, white, and blue.
The University of Auckland’s bar, Shadows, was all decked out in red, white, and blue.

Or the presence of Trump supporters. We were surrounded by them in line. One even tried to calmly state that Hillary’s emails and her Wall Street donations were worse the Trump’s myriad of evils.  A couple others behind us were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and loudly proclaimed that they were from San Jose, California. I ducked my head, hoping other people wouldn’t associate me with them. (If you want to know more about about my impressions of New Zealanders and Trump, read my Culture Shock post on the subject.)

The place was packed inside as more lines stretched out from the bar and people gathered around the giant screens with pints in their hands. I took one look at the numbers running across the bottom of the BBC World News feed and freaked.

“It’s so close! How could it be so close?!”

It was 5:30pm in New Zealand and Trump was slowly taking the lead. Despite my increasingly disillusioned view of my country of birth, I had faith that America would be smart, would do the right thing. My whole body tensed and my stomach threw fits. It really was just like Brexit, but on a much larger and more disastrous scale.

My Dutch classmate stayed for a little bit, then after a couple cheers from the Trump supporters who had gathered in a corner booth, she left. She couldn’t take it. She’d much rather crawl into bed and get the results in the morning. She couldn’t watch the madness unfold. I was literally shaking, but I didn’t leave with her. Some part of me still held out hope. My friends in America said I was in denial, but I couldn’t believe it. I kept telling myself that there must still be a way for Hillary to win.

The viewing party: complete with beanbags, beer, and the BBC.
The viewing party: complete with beanbags, beer, and the BBC.

Luckily, I wasn’t alone. I found myself with a first generation Chinese medical student. Being a minority and gay, he was grateful he had located a Hillary supporter to find solidarity with. After I yelled at the screen a couple times (“It’s so fucking close! No Pennsylvania! What the hell are you doing?!”), I left to get a drink. I needed something to calm me down, or I was going to have a heart attack.

The medical student found us a couple of stools, and so we sat, the weak beer warming in my hand, as the results leaked in. The commentators were discussing the increasing unlikely ways Hillary could still win, trying desperately to put a positive spin on things. The beer was successful in losing up the tension in my body, but I was still in shock.

This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be happening…What the FUCK?!

I had to see the results for Pennsylvania. All my hopes hinged on that state. If Trump won PA then the race was truly over, but even with 98% of the votes counted, it still was too close to call. And so I held onto my increasingly futile hope and waited.

Meanwhile, my viewing companion showed me the messages of sympathy and sympathetic outrage that his collection of international friends were posting on Facebook to try to distract himself and me. And as I went through waves of rage and depression, he also began practicing his bedside manner on me.

“When you reach the lowest of the low, the only way is up.”

His words helped me from going insane, throwing up on the floor, and punching out the joyous Trump supporters in the corner. I was immensely grateful for that.

It was closing in on 8 o’clock, Pennsylvania had yet to be called, and Trump had 244 delegates. The bar was emptying out and impossibly I was starting to get hungry. When management turned off the sound on the screen and turned on the music, we decided that it was time to go. No amount of waiting would change the fact that Trump was going to…win.

Chairman Donald Mao announcing a Winter Clearance on a street in Auckland. (For comic relief.)
Chairman Donald Mao announcing a Winter Clearance on a street in Auckland (for comic relief).

My viewing companion left me then to join his other friends and so I was left alone, wandering the grounds in a daze and hoping my American nationality wasn’t obvious. I didn’t want to be American right now. How could’ve this happened? I thought over and over again. The painful thing was that I knew exactly how: fear of change and the “other,” disillusionment with the system, lingering racism, overt sexism, and anger, overriding anger. I was sick, sick and disappointed with my country.

I took a shower the moment I got home (after barely scarfing down a bowl of cereal). I needed to wash off the nervous sweat that had built up the past few hours in that stuffy bar, watching my country throw its immediate future into the garbage. I couldn’t picture Trump in the white house. My imagination refused to stretch itself that far and yet, to the ire of my nerves, my mind still tried.

I went on Facebook afterwards, to briefly read my friend’s messages of disgust, anger, and tired rallying cries. I don’t think I fully absorbed it all, not that I really wanted to. It was 9 o’clock and I was exhausted. I feel into bed and tried to fall asleep.

 

Even as I write this, the day after the shit hit the fan, it still hasn’t fully sunk in. In two weeks, I’ll be flying back into Texas, into a changed country. In six months, I will be graduating into an uncertain economy, an uncertain world. I’m scared and tired and am not really sure what to think.

I do know that I’m not going to let this taint my last breath of freedom in New Zealand. As I start to pack for my trip to the South Island, I’ve already blocked Facebook and news sites from my browser. I need a break, detox. I need to take some time to let my feelings settle, to allow myself to mourn. I’m lucky that I can do that, though, that I can escape into a foreign landscape and temporarily run away from America’s troubles. God knows, I need that. But not everyone is so lucky.

My friends in America say they’re also in shock. They feel sick and depressed, but strangely they also say that that, despite what happened last night, things are going on as they normally do. Public transport is still running. Classes are still being held. People are still going to work. Even so, there is no doubt that the fallout from this election will rock the country and the world in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. I’m afraid, but I’m trying hard to take comfort in what that first generation Chinese medical student said to me in that crowded university bar:

“This is going to be a defibrillator for change.”

God I hope so.

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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.

Touring Sand and Forest

The black sand still peppers the bathroom, glimmering in the florescent lights and gathering in pools in the corners of the shower. Our shoes are still full of the volcanic powder, eking out the sides as we attempt to wash them. We were warned that the sand will stay with us for the rest of our time here, and possibly even continue to cling to us as we leave this country behind. Even now I’m still finding grains on my sheets.

The day started out pretty clean. The program directors thought it would be appropriate to give us a tour of the area from urban to rural. We started with the top. The top of Mt. Eden that is.

The familiar view of the city stretched below our group of 34. Things were different this time however.  The day started off sunny but the skies soon sagged with mist, eventually shrouding the distant volcanic hills in grey and shadow. The sun was fading. It felt like some presence was on the horizon, closing in. And yet we stayed, in our rain jackets and hiking boots, snapping pictures on our phones and cameras as our guide and University of Auckland professor told us about the geological history of the scene below us.

Our tour continued with a slow trundle through what used to be the most expensive street in New Zealand and then on to something much more unassuming. Simply put, it was a field. Off to one side was a grand memorial to PM Michael Joseph Savage and on the other was a traditional Maori marae (tribal center). In between was just an undulating green expanse.

Our guide gathered us in the middle, and as the mist rolled in, he gave us a brief history of the past that lay beneath those bright blades of grass. In 1977, Maori occupied the land to protest pakeha (white New Zealanders) settlement of what used to be Maori tribal land. Police eventually broke up the protest in 1978, but the area remains undeveloped and has become an important historical landmark and tourist attraction.

After that solemn history lesson, we made our way to the nearby Orakei beaches to gaze at the pulsing waves, the looming Rangitoto Island, and the milling Pokemon Go! players. We stayed long enough to make a bathroom stop before hoping back onto the bus to drive out of the city.

The volcanic hills we spotted through the encroaching mist on top of Mt. Eden now surrounded us. They were fuzzy with vegetation and moisture as we drove through their valleys. A few sheep dotted the green fields that sat along the along the roads; their bodies hunched in the drizzling rain.

We soon stopped at Cascades Kauri Park, and rushed through the rain into the shelter of the trees. We took our time in that tropical forest, stopping here and there as our guide pointed out local flora and fauna including the famous Kauri trees. Leaves dripped, birds called, and we continued walking.

We eventually ate our packed lunches on the bus to hide away from the rain as we drove on to our next stop. Before we got off, our guide suggested that we take off our shoes for this next area. It was optional because of the cold, but highly encouraged. Knowing my feet’s tendency to freeze, I decided not to. I would later regret my choice.

Once again, we filed off the bus and followed our guide through a car park and down a violently green path. The people with bare feet complained about the gravel and the prickly grass, but everyone quickly shut up when the path ended and we saw it: The black sand dunes of Lake Waimanu.

After the initial shock wore off, a general euphoria swept the group. Some people ran through the sand, stretching their arms wide to take in the beauty. Some laughed and yelled, shouting about the awesomeness of their surroundings.

“I wanna cry,” one girl said, “because…nature.”

I felt that rush, a bloom of excitement within my chest. The landscapes around me were unthinkably beautiful, unspeakably gorgeous. It didn’t matter that the wind was picking up or that the mist obscured the distant hills or that we were slowly getting soaked in the light rain. In fact, it added to the general surreal and breathtaking atmosphere.

We slowly made our way to the lake, occasionally stopping to take photos or to frolic along the way. Once at the lake, some people jumped in. (We had been told to bring our swimsuits the day before.) More photos were taken as the sand began to cover our bodies and our backpacks.

The wind was becoming ferocious as we moved on, all climbing to the top of a dune. Once there, our guide then showed us how we could safely jump off. And so screaming and laughing we went, falling a few yards down the side of the sandy cliff before being caught in its soft volcanic embrace. That is how the sand made its way into the crevasses of my clothing, into my shoes, and deep within my socks. But it was worth it.

As soon as we had our fill of jumping, our guide then bounded down the sandy cliff towards the creek at the bottom, motioning us to follow him. Wanting to protect my camera, I took a longer route down and ended up with a few others at the back of the group. As we carefully tried to pick our way through the waters, we fell further and further behind until we could see no one else upon the horizon. We were all alone.

But we continued along the creek because had a vague notion of being told before that was what we were going to do. However, we began to doubt ourselves as the waters soon creeped up our legs. My “waterproof” shoes began to squelch with every step. My feet were freezing. And I wasn’t the only one.

We were tempted to turn around or at least down a fork in the path to escape the encroaching creek, when our guide showed up to rescue us from his own abandonment. Turns out we were headed in the right direction. He soon guided us along to a path next to the stream so we were able to finally step out onto dry land. Then after a while, cold, wet, and covered in sand, we eventually made it back to the bus with the others.

We were exhausted. Everyone was. But the tour wasn’t over. There was still one more stop on our itinerary.

It was a short drive to Te Henga (Bethells Beach), a west coast expanse full of waves, black sandy plains, and mounds of volcanic rock. It was this wild beach that some of the first European settlers were set down, alone in a Maori-controlled land. No settlement awaited them, just the forests and the black sand.

We were allowed free reign upon the beach. I had broken down and taken off my soaked shoes and was now filling up the last bit of my camera’s memory card. We were heading back when my camera beeped. 647 pictures and I could take no more. I looked up and took in the wind-swept, black sand beach and knew this image would always be with me, years after the last bits of sand finally disappears from my things.

Devonport Views

It was her birthday. A cake came in the mail as did a case of champagne and a pair of woolen shoes. Cupcakes came yesterday along with a preemptive call from her sister. For days, the Birthday Girl, my roommate, concocted plans for the big day with the help of the Assistant Director of the Program. Eight people, including me, agreed to join her when the day came. She decided on one place: Devonport.

Devonport lies just on the other side of the bay, a mere 15 minute ferry ride away. Our New Zealand culture and history professor lives there, as does the musician Lorde. We were told that the views upon its volcanic hills were fantastic.

After a posh breakfast in Britomart next to the harbor, we jumped aboard a ferry and sailed in the sunshine. Once on land, we strolled along the coast, watching the few kids picking at the sand in their winter coats.

We passed houses decorated with Victorian trimmings surrounded by bright tropical plants. We passed dozens of docked boats, their lines whistling in the increasing wind. We passed the Royal New Zealand Navy Museum with visitors milling outside, staring at the sea. North Head was our goal.

This dormant volcano has been a strategic military point since the Maori settled the area. More recently it was used to protect New Zealand against a possible Russian attack in the 1880s. That activity left the sight with tunnels and buildings that have since been left to the birds and the tourists.

On the way up we stopped, pushed back strands of wind-swept hair, and stared back at Auckland. Greenery surrounded us, the houses of Devonport stretched below us, and there on the horizon was Auckland, clouded in rain and sunshine.

“Okay,” one person said. “Now we never go back.”

Cameras and phones out were now out, and we began to take pictures. We didn’t stop when we explored the pitch black military tunnels or when the wind battered our ears as we walked around the summit. We only put away our cameras when we reached the other side of the complex and rested along the rooftop of an abandoned outlook post. The rest of the peak sheltered us from the wind as our feet dangled, and we gazed out over the water at another volcanic mass, Rangitoto.

“It’s like Narnia,” one girl said. “Everything here is beautiful.”

We soon left the spot and wandered down to Cheltenham Beach and strolled along the deserted sands, shells and seaweed bolstering our steps. We didn’t stay long as people had classes to attend, so we repeated the long walk along the shore, back towards the ferry station, content in our tiredness to say nothing and simply take in the beauty of our surroundings.

Auckland’s Pockets of Green

The rain drenched streets shone dully in the filtered sunlight as I strolled down the hills of Auckland. The rush of irregular traffic and the piercing tones of crosswalk signals followed me into the parks. But the bright greenery hushed even those sparse urban noises.

One of the first facts I learned when I arrived here was about the trees. Those that lose their leaves aren’t native. Only the New Zealander trees keep their green.

And I noticed it. Not only visually but also in the air. The air smelled cleaner, fresher. Except for the faint whiff of gasoline as lines of cars passed, based on the smell, I would say I wasn’t in a city, much less one of the biggest in the country.

Auckland is still urban, don’t get me wrong. Crowds, especially around the university and the shopping areas such as Queen Street and K. Road, still bustle and hum, as traffic flows down the hills and around modern buildings.

But the city’s parks and greenery give the area quiet literally a breath of fresh air. So when the opportunity presented itself, I took the chance to explore some of those pockets of green.

When researching Auckland I ran across a hiking route that takes one across the Auckland isthmus, from one coast to the other. The route is appropriately named the Coast to Coast walkway. It starts at the harbor, crosses the heart of downtown, snakes through Albert Park, briefly dives into the University of Auckland before crossing the highway and climbing through Auckland Domain park. After a passing through residential neighborhoods, the trail peaks at Mt. Eden volcanic crater and then eventually continues on to the other coast.

That path sounded like a good way to see Auckland’s nature, so I when I had a free day between my classes, I deiced to give it a shot. Already living next to Albert Park, I started there. From there I plodded my way along the path, deviating a little here and there but eventually making it the top of Mt. Eden. I turned back from there partly because, well, nothing was going to beat that view. I mean, the pictures speak for themselves.

Going on a Kiwi Adventure

It began with time travel. We were high in the air, the lights of civilization shinning in the distance like so many expertly crafted jewels. Soon we were zooming over clouds and oceans, blank expanses serving as backdrops as we journeyed through time and space.

Houston, Texas had been our origin. Auckland, New Zealand was our destination. It would take us 14 and a half hours, and by crossing the dateline, we would skip a day and travel into the future and then enter a land of mythic beauty.

Even as I was sitting on the plane, struggling to sleep, it still didn’t feel real. I was going to be studying in New Zealand for three and a half months. I had made the decision almost on a whim. I had the room in my schedule and in Boston University with its idiosyncratic ways, studying abroad is actually cheaper than studying on campus. So I thought, why not?

But then with the jet lag clouding my vision and the sudden winter chill cooling my body, I couldn’t help but ask myself, what am I doing here? I wasn’t as prepared as when I went to London. I knew little about New Zealand, it’s culture, it’s history, besides the abbreviated rundown I read in my guide book. I had only just recently watched Lord of the Rings in full, and even those movies only give one a glimpse of the landscape of the country and nothing else.

I knew even less about the people I was with in the program. The rooms they assigned us were meant to be doubles, only they squashed four of us in with only one dresser, one closet, and one vanity to share amongst us. We were isolated from the other BU students. Everyone was scattered about in the hotel, which sat across the street from the University of Auckland were we’ll be studying.

I’m a senior. I should be living out my glory months in the comfort of Boston with my friends, lording over the lowly freshmen and taking advantage of my momentary superiority? But I remembered the trapped feeling I experienced after coming back from London and the wistful eyes of last year’s seniors, bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t go abroad again. I am here because I wanted to be, because I could. A normal semester isn’t enough for me anymore, and this opportunity only presents itself once in a lifetime.

And now that I’m looking out over the city with the sun rising in the east and a good night’s sleep under my belt, I can feel it: the nervous excitement and wonder of exploring and experiencing something new. The next few weeks are going to be rough, no doubt, but it’ll be worth it. As Bilbo Baggins would say:

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