Once again, I’m feeling a bit directionless at the moment. There’s a huge music festival in Auckland this weekend for which I had neither tickets nor accommodation, supplies of both of which were apparently depleted throughout the city. So I decided to pop up to the Bay of Islands. Aside from not knowing where else I was going to stay this weekend, my decision to come to Bay of Islands was based on three simple facts:
- I seemed to remember that when I truly skimmed my Fodor’s NZ guidebook in “preparation” for this whole adventure, there were quite a few pages on the Bay of Islands I literally thumbed right through without understanding. But the number of pages dedicated to the area was still impressive enough to lodge in my mind.
- I had heard some BUNAC people remark that Bay of Islands was supposed to be “quite nice” in the summer. “Hey, wait a sec,” I thought to myself, “it’s summer now!”
- Yesterday I bought a pretty extensive bus pass with a company called Stray. They do bus tours of New Zealand but in sort of an off-the-beaten-path way. You get to go to a lot of non-touristy places you can’t with other companies, they get you good rates on the best backpacker hostels, and they throw in free activities along your journey. I ended up purchasing a heavily discounted pass from them that’s valid for 12 months for unlimited travel between Auckland (the northernmost “big city” on New Zealand’s north island) and Queenstown (about 4/5 of the way down the south island) with lots of cool stops along the way. As part of the deal I got, Stray threw in a free passage to Bay of Islands, several hours north of Auckland, for free.
And here I am.
Turns out, the Bay of Islands is, I’m going to say, almost like a tropical Cape-Cod-meets-Santorini. In the main town of Paihia, where I’m staying tonight and tomorrow, there’s a long beach overlooking a huge sapphire bay with giant tree-dappled rocks jutting up out of it. Across the bay are a few other, quainter islands, if I’m the term “islands” isn’t a huge geographical error on my part. Along with all of this comes, as far as I can see, your typical beachy activities: kayaking, sailing, catamaran cruises, parasailing and the like. Tack on a techno-noisy, strobe-lighted bar smack-dab in the middle of hostel row, and it seems to turn into quite the juvenile misdemeanor sector at night.
Earlier today, as I sat outside my 4-bunk hostel room looking through the book of organic farming hosts in the area, a pack of what eventually proved to be about 20 15-year-old Italian girls came tramping up the steps, laughing hysterically and, in my exaggerated recollection, gesticulating wildly as they yelled to each other. Their accommodations are on the other side of the floor as mine and are, I can only imagine, in a 20-bunk dorm room.
A few moments later, their little male counterparts came stomping up to the floor above. I have yet to see a chaperone.
This brings up a few very good questions. Namely: What the hell kind of extended field trip are they on? Italy to New Zealand? For four-dozen unaccompanied 15-year-olds? Do these kids’ parents know where they are? Why is that old dude telling the girls what bars on the island don’t card? And, most importantly, in the words of one of my fellow hostel dwellers of at least legal drinking age: “Who’s staying up all night to make sure the girls and boys aren’t going back and forth between each other’s rooms?”
This last one is a question for which I only just now have found an answer while sitting outside my room typing: there is an actual policeman. Possibly of Italian origin. A few minutes ago, he walked up to the closed sliding-glass door of the darkened communal area on this floor. He went in. And when he came back out, six people came with him: three girls, who ran to the right tittering, and three skinny little white boys, all of whom ran to the left even as the runt of the pack tried desperately to pull his pants up from around his ankles. If this is some sort of cultural exchange, I don’t think their families back home will want to know what they’ve been exchanging.
Despite all this, I’d still say that Bay of Islands has thus far been a good experience. The really good news is, the more people I talk to, the less I feel as if I’ve left myself hopelessly, defenselessly, stupidly unprepared for this undertaking. Nearly every backpacker I meet seems to have no general plan: they’re here for six weeks, or three months, or 77 days, just bopping around from place to place. Granted, none of them have come here with the idea of actually working, but hearing about their intentional aimlessness makes me feel a little bit less like I belong, maturity-wise, with those Italian kids on that parents’ nightmare of a field trip.
Today, as I was sitting on the beach with a map, a German-Norwegian man came up and asked if I could point out to him where exactly on the map he was. Not on what street, or on what beach, but in what region. In what city. “I always try to avoid highways as much as possible and just go for the dirt roads,” he told me. “Most of them dead-end, but this one popped me out here, so I decided to stay.” It seems to me that not-so hidden in there, there’s a metaphor.