After returning to New Zealand proper from our trip to Middle Earth, we headed north to Tauranga and into Mount Maunganui to visit with our wonderful friends (and eventual NZ hosts) Al and Natalia. I’ve known Al since 2007 when our paths crossed on a sweltering bus ride between Bangkok in Thailand and Siem Reap in Cambodia.
The moment is famous in our minds; while I was the last person, technically, to board the bus, my friend Jacob Goldfarb had saved me a seat, leaving poor Al (clad in a Superman t-shirt and everything) without a seat. While Jacob and I initially had a laugh at poor Al’s expense, we would later learn that he was driven to the Cambodian border in an air-conditioned van. In spite of all of the drama that could have been stirred up by three grown men all vying for an international Asian bus ride, we would become the closest of friends as we experienced the majestic Angkor Wat together with our other friend, Phil Gray, and Al and I would later go on to hang out with each other on four different continents (and counting), and that’s to say nothing of the epic things we saw in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand together.
Suffice it to say, I was pretty stoked to finally arrive in The Mount, as the locals call it. I hadn’t seen Al and Nati since September of 2014, when they flew back to Vancouver to surprise Phil in a trip that required secrecy, subtlety, and subterfuge to pull off without Phil finding out. Ah, friends. Al was recently in Canada again to be the best man at Phil’s wedding. It’s amazing where you might meet your best friends. I love these guys. Al was so excited for our arrival that he managed to convert one of their spare rooms into a little B&B set up, replete with love and liquorice.
We still hadn’t been on our bikes in New Zealand, so part of driving to The Mount before heading back a couple of hours to drop off the van in Auckland was dropping our belongings off with Al and Nati so that we wouldn’t have to take our boxed bikes between Auckland and Tauranga in a bus. We were getting keen to jump back in the saddle, but the two steeds would require a significant tune up.
After unloading all of our junk into one of Al’s spare rooms, we had some Indian food, laughed about old times and had an early night. We’d be back after our weekend in Auckland to see these guys and would end up staying for almost two weeks.
The weekend in Auckland involved a lot of walking around, including a trip to the Auckland Museum. We were a bit nervous when we arrived for our visit because the tour groups and other museum attendees were all standing around outside with a blaring fire alarm sounding. A Japanese school group waiting to re-enter and attend a traditional Maori performance give us a twinge of nostalgia for the previous leg of our tour. The museum is really something special and an extreme level of care has been put into the first floor in particular, which chronicles the history of New Zealand’s first people and their sometimes-complicated history with western colonial visitors who would later settle here.
Drained from the city in less than 24 hours, we were really keen to get back to Tauranga and The Mount to see Al and Nati. There was a birthday party for another mutual friend on the Saturday night and we wanted to make sure we were back for that. I met Lane (the birthday boy) and his wife Sarah when they were Kiwis living in Vancouver and it was wonderful to go full-circle and be Canadians visiting them in their country. Festivities ensued:
All in all, we spent about two weeks in the Mount with Al and Nati. While they both worked at their jobs during the week, they were awesome about spending time with us in the evenings and hosting us in their home until we must’ve nearly outstayed our welcome. Two weeks is a long time to host a couple of bike travellers with a very limited wardrobe. Many of the things we did don’t have photos, but we had such a great time exploring the area around the Mount, soaking in the nearby community hot baths, playing volleyball on the beach, taking a trip to McLaren Falls, and meeting some of Al and Nati’s colleagues, friends, and neighbours. They even took the time out of their busy lives to drive us all down to Rotorua for some incredible fish and chips and a visit to the living Maori village Te Whakarewarewa.
We’re so lucky to have these guys in our lives. They were a big reason – bigger than they even realize – why we wanted to come to New Zealand on part of this tour of amazing days. Amazing days indeed. Thanks, Al and Nati.
Next: our second trip to Rotorua and a friendly Kiwi intervention to make sure we made it all the way there.
Middle school teacher on hiatus/budding permaculturalist currently cycling the world. Sometimes he acts in plays and film. Mostly he travels and blogs about it. Christian is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com