The journey alone to New Zealand is its own long winding experience. A drive to the Orlando airport eventually gives way to a 12 hour layover in Los Angeles before the 13 hour flight to Auckland – plenty of time to travel the $1 Big Blue Bus line and wander the lengths of Santa Monica. Many of the streets are crowded with polished classist boutiques and restaurants, but the same walk includes a conversation with a woman canvassing for Green Peace, the echoing baritone of a man singing Harry Belafonte songs, and a savvy group of street dancers trying to sweet-talk police officers into letting them finish their show and collect donations from the crowd. The streets suddenly give way to public parks and steep eroding drop offs with a wicked view of blue green expanses of ocean. Palisades Park is full of animated little California Ground Squirrels peaking in and out of burrows under the waxy cuticles of aloe-like plants. The Santa Monica Pier is awash with noise from amusement park rides, street artists, and the brilliant tones emanating from a violinist on the docks. He is un-assuming, looking like any white-collar college student. But his face screws up into a look of love when he plays.
I find myself back at LAX, waiting to meet the students who will be joining me on this adventure. We are traveling as part of a service trip with International Student Volunteers, and I have signed on as a University Leader during the next two weeks. The long flight on Air New Zealand is managed by smartly-dressed flight attendants armed with a no-nonsense manner, punctuated by the glow of in-flight movies and the crying baby one row ahead as we all tuck in to sleep fitfully.
Once on the ground, we all pile into a white economy van with Steph, our project leader. Steph is a local Auckland-er who has worked in the region as a park ranger among other things, and seems amused to hear about our initial impressions of New Zealand. We also find that driving on the left side of the street will take almost the entire trip to not feel strange about. We leave the cityscape, and start to see elevation, rolling hills and vast stretches of emerald, dots of sheep and cattle on hillsides. As we get closer to Tawharanui, the regional park where we spend the next two weeks, the views become more affecting, with expanses of high cliffs cut out of the surrounding ocean.
Tawharanui’s name is not pronounced quite like it looks, and it is with slight tones of embarrassment that I tried to deliver the moniker while telling friends, family, and even customs where it was I’d actually be going. As our project leader Steph points out, the “wh” is more correctly pronounced as an “f”. So the name can be more accurately pronounced as Taw-fra-nui (Steph indicates that Taw-fara-nui might be the slightly more Maori way of saying it, but most people we know have simply shortened the whole thing to “Tawf”).
The Maori meaning of Tawharanui’s name alludes to plenty and abundance of resources. The variety of habitat in the park is truly amazing. Jones Bay incorporates a pebbly beach which yields discoveries of all kinds of marine treasures – sponges, chitins, cushion stars. Anchor Bay on the opposite side of the peninsula is home to a marine reserve with striking flats of rock, little caves that can be explored, and deep channels of tide pools all accessible at low water. A tidal lagoon near the entrance yields a bird blind and a walkway connected to steep wind-blown hills with panoramic views of the area. There are thick patches of coastal forests, and impressive stretches of sand dunes. In addition to supporting conservation and recreation, the park is also uniquely balancing farming and agriculture within its boundaries so sheep and cattle are never in short supply.
This my friends is an introduction to Tawharanui where I spent two weeks of my life this summer and discovered and learned and experienced. In the posts that follow I hope to share a glimpse of that with you…