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kelli, meet new zealand

“Kelli and Susan drove down state highway 47, looking out the windows at volcanoes and eating chocolates while listening to Flogging Molly,” Kelli narrated.

Fear and Loathing has nothing on us!” I returned.

“Except hallucinogenics.”

It’s a whole new phase of my NZ experience – Kelli Time!  It’s strange to me: here I am, back on the North Island, revisiting old haunts, recalling experiences and adventures from nearly a year and a half ago, but this time with a friend from home.  Time and place blur as we discuss Clark events while driving along the Desert Road in the central North Island.  The last time I drove this road, I was returning to Hawke’s Bay to see George for the second time.  In Napier, I point out the orchard where I lived in a shed with Anne and Kathrin, my German friends, while Kelli updates me on the lives of our Worcester friends.  …where am I?  where have I been?  It’s a crossing of cultures that is both wonderful and disorienting.  I’m showing off the country like a proud parent, wanting Kelli to see all that makes me love this place.  At the same time, I’m looking at the landscape and culture through her eyes.  I’m seeing things again, for the first time.  Things that I now take for granted, Kelli exclaims over, and I am reminded of what it was like to be here eighteen months ago, when everything was fresh and different.

After our first day in Auckland during which Dr. Gonzo and I balked like spooked horses at people, traffic, stop lights, the motorway and buildings, we drove south, out of the city!  “Auckland is not New Zealand,” I explained repeatedly, and breathed easier with each kilometer of farmland I put between us and the urban scene.  Lake Taupo was the next stop, where we hid from the rain at Mulligan’s Irish Pub.  It was quiz night, and we joined up with Steve and Dave, two oil rig workers, to make “Team USANZ” and to take third place!  More rain the next morning found us a little bored, wandering the shops before heading an hour south to Turangi and the home of Lynn McGregor – a friend made on my last North Island travels.  Lynn had to work during the day, but she left the key next to the door and told us to make ourselves at home, which we did, grateful for the warm, cosy, free accommodation.  I stood in the kitchen and made tea (coffee for Kelli), while she leaned in the doorway.  “Susan, this is your life!  This is what you do…drive around…stay places…meet people…” Her tone was one of realization and respect.  I laughed, but then I had to think twice.  She’s right.  This is my life – and it’s not the norm.

On Thursday we did a “Kelli-Sized Hike” to the Tarankai Falls at the foot of Mt. Ruapehu: an active volcano!!!!! Two hours, including a small picnic stop and some fence-scaling and some standing-next-to-the-edge-of-cliffs by Ms. Blank!  This should be an advertisement: “New Zealand – release your inner adventurer!”  After another night with Lynn (yay Kiwi hospitality!), it was south along the Desert Road with stunning views of the three central volcanoes (the last time I drove the road, it was cloudy – this was fantastic!), then east to Hawke’s Bay and Napier, the Art Deco City.  Three nights spent in Napier was enough time to take in the Art Deco architecture, a couple of vineyards, a proper wine-tasting, a televised rugby match, several shops and clothing stores, the Hawke’s Bay Museum, and a fancy, dress-up dinner at the Mission Estate Winery.  The weather was beautiful and the wine divine, and I enjoyed reminiscing over my three weeks spent picking strawberries in the area.  On Monday afternoon we drove leisurely along the coast to Gisborne (the first city to see the sun) and caught up with Sandy Richmond, another friend from my last trip.  She took us out tramping across the farm to feed the new puppies and the new piggies, fed us good country tucker (home-kill lamb), and helped us wake up at six this morning to catch the (cloudy) sunrise.  Yay Kiwi hospitality!  Kelli was the chauffeur this morning – she slipped behind the wheel on the right side of the car, and piloted the (skeptical but obliging) Doc on the left side of the road, all the way into Whakatane, a gorgeous beach town in the Bay of Plenty, where winter = hot and sunny.  We’re off to the beach…

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