This morning, Jay and I get up bright and early once again to board the Stray bus with our friendly neighbourhood Maori bus driver; an ever enthusiastic Chucky; our new Canadian friends that we met on the bus yesterday, Christa and Heather; along with a whole new slew of excited travellers, including yet another couple of Canucks. We happily roll along past Auckland proper and through the areas where, Chucky tells us, the "bogans" frequent - a local term applied to mullet-sporting metalheads - and up into the hills, with New Zealand comedic folk faves Flight of the Conchords providing the soundtrack. We make a brief pit stop for coffee and snacks at a local bakery, and I know I'm definitely out of the city when I spot a cluckin' chicken meandering around the parking lot.
The bird was actually walking swiftly away from a fried chicken joint - with a blazing sign reading "Fried Chicken" out front, in case it didn't know - just opposite, so perhaps it was trying to make a clean getaway? Guess that answers the age-old question: "Why did the chicken cross the road?"
Once everyone has loaded up on sugary, carb-o-rific breakfast treats, we board the bus again and make our way along the windy roads. And when I say "windy" roads here in New Zealand, I mean the most windiest, twistiest, vomit-inducing kind. Actually, I don't even notice just how much the roads twist 'n' turn this way and that until Chucky points it out. All of a sudden, I feel greener than Kermit the Frog hiding in a lettuce patch. Chucky says years ago, when the Kiwis were building the roads, they would get paid by the spike. Therefore, they laid extra spikes to make more money - which resulted in the insanely snaky roads the Kiwis have today. Not sure how true this story is, and neither is Chucky, so I just chalk it up to an urban legend and roll with it - all the while trying not to lose my breakfast!
Shortly, our bus pulls up to the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and we all eagerly pile out to feast our eyes on the breathtaking scenery. One word spills out of my mouth over and over again - "lush." Really, there's no better word to describe the gorgeous, green scene that unfolds before me.
After a quick trip to the Arataki Visitor Centre, where we take in a short film about the area and pick up a few postcards to send to the nieces and nephews back home, the group gathers for the mandatory photo inside the huge picture frame. Let's have a quick game of "Where's Lindo?" shall we?
After another brief stop to take in some more of the amazing scenery, we make our way through some more twisting roads and eventually wind up at the entrance to some native rainforest, which we trek on through. By the time we hike up a few hills, my clothing is sticking fast to my body thanks to a combo of sweat and humidity. Eventually, we reach the amazing Kitekite falls and all hands jump in for a quick dip to cool off, as we watch a few more adventurous souls (not with our group) rappelling down the rockface. One English guy splashes happily in the water, a big grin on his face. "Now, this is what I came here for," he says. I couldn't agree more. I smile and flip over onto my back, gazing up at the puffy white clouds in the blue sky as I glide along.
Once we've quickly towelled off, it's onwards and upwards, hiking further along the hill until we eventually reach another cool pool at the top of the waterfall. Again, most everyone eagerly hops in as if they've just spent the last few days dying of thirst in the dessert. I stand on the sidelines and snap a few pics - like this cool one of Christa taking a flying leap.
We continue along, most of us now just donning our soaking bathing suits with towels wrapped around. I, for one, am certainly not complaining about the heat. Before we leave the rainforest, everyone has to rinse off their shoes with a disinfectant liquid to help prevent spreading kauri dieback - a disease which attacks the North Island's beautiful, mighty (and huge!) kauri trees. If there is one thing Kiwis are protective over, I have learned, it is the gorgeous environment that surrounds them.
Before we leave, I get a picture with the remnants of one of these awe-inspiring giants of the forest.
Everyone piles onto the bus once again to head to our next stop, Piha beach - a popular black sand, surf beach. The area is peppered with beautiful batches (or holiday homes), one of which, Chucky says, is rumoured to belong to everyone's favourite mellow folk rocker/surfer Jack Johnson. Before we head down to the sand, we hit Blair's on the Beach - which Chucky describes as the "best, and only, burger joint on the beach." I devour a Hawaiian burger - topped with a pineapple ring, of course! Yummm...
We've been told beforehand about the powerful rip currents that can pop up in the area. These occur so frequently, in fact, that a New Zealand reality series called "Piha Rescue" - which follows the work of the lifeguards of the Piha Surf Life Saving Club - is filmed here. After being warned to swim only inside of the red and yellow flags, a brave few souls venture out into the waves; but since I only started taking swimming lessons a couple of years ago, I decide it's best if I stick to the sand for now.
Jay and I, along with a couple of our new English friends, decide to hike up to the top of the famous Lion Rock - so named because it kinda looks like a lion laying down - to take in the awesome views from high up above. Before we head up, a local surfer dude strolls over and asks Jay to help him zip up the back of his wetsuit. I watch him stroll over the sand, board in hand, and daydream about the day when I, too, will be confident enough in my swimming abilities to be able to ride the waves!
As you can see, the views from near the top of Lion Rock do not disappoint.
After heading back down and laying our sweaty selves down on the sand for a while, we all pile back onto the bus and zip along the twisting roads back towards Auckland. While the others head to a local bar for a brew to cap off the day, Christa, Heather, Jay and I head to the Fullers travel office to buy tickets to the ferry which will take us to the volcanic Rangitoto Island tomorrow. More adventures to come! Better pack the Gravol!
About me...Linda Browne
I recently quit my job as staff writer at Downhome, boxed up all of my belongings, sold the car and moved out of my apartment - all to hang out in New Zealand for a while. Will it all be worth it? Keep reading to find out!