November 20

I left Paihia this morning (after a two hour search for my missing car keys…long story) around 10:30 am. I had arranged with Zhoel to arrive in Waipu at 12:30 pm so that we could spend the day exploring his town. Fortunately, I located my keys before I was late for our meeting time. The drive was uneventful, except for a bit of rain; the wet weather has been plaguing Northland for the past few days.

I arrived at his folks’ house and was given the grand tour of the garden and greenhouse. Zhoel’s mother, Liffy, grows a huge number of plants, including ones for the landscaping jobs that she does, and the micro herbs that Zhoel’s restaurant (where he works at a chef) uses. He has recently relocated from Paihia back to Waipu because of the job at this restaurant. (Previously he worked with Dan at Thirty30, the local craft beer bar.) We headed over to his work for a coffee and it became immediately apparent why he moved back. The food looked amazing, the restaurant had beautiful views of the ocean, and it affords him the opportunity to surf during split shifts.

He took me on a walk through the bush, along the coast. We climbed over fences, through fields, and across rocks. The hike took us about 5 miles over 2 hours. It was great fun. We embraced our inner children by doing the hike barefoot.

Zhoel’s knowledge of the local plant and animal life was unbelievable. He has an admirable respect for nature and a true feeling of responsibility and stewardship for our planet. I have met very few people who show this level of love for Earth. I was also very impressed by his range of interests and hobbies, everything from making his own music by recording the sounds of nature and manipulating them, to martial arts, to water activities. This is one thing that I have found consistently among Kiwis. They are so well rounded, with a diversity of interests. It has given me a great deal of pause about the way that Americans approach our lives. We are so career driven and focused that we tend to have a narrow view of life, with few other hobbies or interests. Kiwis know so much and they are so proud of their country and all that it has to offer. For example, we climbed through a creek and Zhoel stopped me. There was watercress growing in it so we stopped and ate some, while he picked some to bring back for dinner. I would never have known that it was edible. Also, we saw the first of the Pohutukawa blooms. These are the NZ Christmas trees; they bloom bright red. There are many of them throughout the area. The earlier that they bloom the longer and hotter the summer will be. Zhoel was very excited that we saw the first of them; apparently, this is an important yearly milestone.

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After we went hiking, we headed back to the house where I met Liffy and her partner, Mike. They are such lovely people; they invited me to stay for the night and, even, to come back for Christmas! After visiting for a bit, we decided to head out for my first real fishing experience! Zhoel brought me down to a pier (interestingly, next to the oil refinery that supplies most of NZ), where he goes fishing nearly every night. I was surprised by how many people were down there, nearly a dozen by the time we left. After about a half hour, I had my first, and our only, catch of the day. My quarry felt very strong and I was excited that I had caught a delicious fish for us to eat for dinner. Imagine my surprise when I discovered what I had actually caught…

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I gave my catch away to a man who apparently eats octopus. He stabbed it dozens of times in the head with a knife. I found this to be quite off-putting. When I mentioned this to Zhoel, he pointed out how the octopus had gone white. He said that it was dead and the continued movement was due to nerve impulses. We continued fishing for a few more hours, with no luck. Finally we were so cold that we headed home.

Liffy and Mike had waited for us for dinner and we had a delicious rack of lamb with fresh vegetables. Everything that we ate (excluding the potatoes, but including the lamb) had been grown on their property. It was all delicious. I felt so spoiled having a home-grown/home-cooked meal! I can’t believe how generous they were to have me for dinner and then to put me up for the night. I kept thanking his mother, and I think she found it to be strange. This is a huge difference between Kiwi and American culture. They don’t think twice about doing anything they can for someone else, even having a near stranger spend the night in their home! I took a hot shower (in a private bathroom, for once!) and spent the night in their spare room (the first time in two months that I slept without other people in the room!); it was heaven!

It felt really great to be part of a family for the night. They were so welcoming and warm. I will be sorry to leave to head toward Taupo. Perhaps, I will take them up on the offer to join them for Christmas!

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