The Norwegian who enjoys ABC’s Revenge. The Kiwi who likes CBS’ How I Met Your Mother. American television is a hit around the world with the mates in our apartment building. It’s also how people from non-English speaking countries, except for in Asia, seem to be so much better at English than one would expect from them.
Police officers who carry guns. There’s also no local police forces. It’s just the nationwide NZ Police.
Lots of car crashes. Maybe it’s the left-side driving or the calm kiwis behind the wheel, but haven’t seen any fender-benders yet.
Barren hills. All that rainfall goes to good use, sprouting trees everywhere. The random palm trees imported from America, I guess, and the pine trees grown here to sell elsewhere stick out like sore thumbs.
Natives who don’t have a bit of a tan. The weak ozone layer at the bottom of the globe means solar radiation is exceptionally strong here.
A boring night sky. We camped at several dark, desolate beaches. That left unimaginable views of the Milky Way and what we learned were a couple of planets.
Fat locals. Everything here is a workout. Auckland is known as the City of Sails, though City of Hills could work too. That’s why it reminds me so much of San Francisco. Of the 12 days we’ve been here, I’m confident there’s only been two days that I haven’t been bruised, scraped, bitten by a bug or left sore.
Our restless first week in New Zealand was all about doing things I’ve never done before. Here are the highlights:
A brilliant entrepreneur came out to our hostel to teach us how to do one version of haka, the war dance of the indigenous Maori civilization. The cool fact: At the end of the dance, the warriors would stick out their tongues. The length of the tongue was believed to correspond to the length of the man’s penis, and thus his strength as a warrior. The traditional haka performed by the All Blacks celebrates the wife of a Maori tribal chief who protected the hiding spot of another chief. He was under attack, but his attackers were not allowed to touch the woman. That left him unscathed.
The basics of touch rugby are pretty straightforward. Two teams face each other trying to stop the other from touching the ball on the ground in their opponent’s end zone. A team gets six touches, or downs, before their drive ends and a turnover is forced. The strangest thing is keeping a five foot neutral zone at the beginning of each down. A defensive player can’t encroach on the neutral zone until the ballcarrier runs forward or passes the ball. All passes, of course, must be sideways or backwards.
I was not inclined to go zorbing because it seemed kind of dumb. After I was told the sport was invented in New Zealand, I decided I had to try it. Zorbing is pretty much like being in a human washing machine. In a ball filled with about a foot of water within another ball, you roll down a hill either zig-zagging or straight-down. I just sat criss-crossed on the ground and paddled the water. I’m not quite sure that did anything.
We white-water rafted off the tallest waterfall in the world that a private company takes groups over. The seven-meter fall almost saw me end up in the waterfall but our steward, who was on the back of the raft next to me, pressed down on my head so that I stayed in the vessel. I’m pretty sure I blacked out somewhere in there. I thought this was the most awesome thing I had done in my life, but then…
The next day we swam, crawled, waded, black-water tubed and squeezed through a cave. I’ve shifted through my share of fences on runs and such, but I had never been through as many tight squeezes as in this cave. To get in our inner tubes the first time required a backwards dive off the middle of a rock wall. My landing didn’t quite work out and I drank some water — further proof that me and water aren’t good friends. The few times we turned off our helmet lights were daunting. It’s so dark that you would think you were dead.
Watching a New Zealand movie that was described by one person as Wedding Crashers meets Hangover meant seeing shots of Auckland’s skyline were I would have been accustomed to seeing L.A.’s. The raunchy comedy moved a little slow, was unsurprising and generally lackluster. Another cool fact: The radio stations here don’t even bleep out the N-word, let alone curse words.