A word of advice: Never land in New Zealand on a holiday weekend!  We just happened to hit the tarmac of Auckland Airport on the afternoon of Good Friday.  We caught the shuttle bus into town only to discover that everything was closed.  And I mean EVERYTHING!  The largest city in the country was like a ghost town.  Even the public library (ordinarily, the traveller’s home-away-from-home!) was closed, so we had no newspapers to search for cheap room ads, no one to talk to about the city, and worst of all, no washrooms!  And this was going to last for four DAYS?

Well, it got even worse.  All the food stores were closed.  (There were no supermarkets in New Zealand in 1974.)  We expected that, but also all the restaurants were closed, as well as all the corner shops.  We couldn’t even buy a bag of chips!  What were we going to do for food?

Finally, on a little side street, we found a Chinese restaurant that was open.  (Thank heaven for heathens!)  And as they say, every cloud has silver lining.  After four days of eating there, we all got pretty skilled at using chopsticks!

New Zealand North Island1012badly faded photograph of a lovely pohutukawa tree

 downtown Auckland – check out all the overhead lines for the electric buses

downtown Auckland – check out all the overhead lines for the electric buses

New Zealand - North Island 1120beautifully carved Maori door frame. The eyes are made from paua shells

Maori war canoe
Maori war canoe

I found a cheap room in Ravenhall, a rather dingy men’s rooming house.  All the other residents seemed about 50 years older than me.  The rooms were small and dark and narrow, but the price was right.  I was still living on my savings from my last Alaskan job, so had no need to work.  It wasn’t long before the days seemed a bit dreary.  I quickly got sick of Ravenhall, and sick of living in the city.

So, what do you do next?  Hit the road, Jack!

North Island was very lovely indeed, but felt a bit civilized after my time in the jungle and in South Sea island villages.  South Island is where the real mountains are, the open spaces, the wilderness.  They even have FOUR seasons down there!

So I planned to hitch down to Wellington and catch the ferry to South Island.  Well, glory glory, a friend found me a ride all the way to Wellington, about 400 miles.  The driver was a youth counsellor on his way to a workshop in a town called Otaki.  It was a long drive south, and it was dark by the time we got there.  Since we had nothing better to do, he invited us to attend.

Never say ‘no’, right?

The workshop begins in this school gymnasium, a big empty space with nothing in it but 70 or 80 people, all sympathetic types in their 20s.  First thing, to break the ice, to help us get connected with each other, Jim, the leader, says we’re going to do some exercises.  We cover the floor with tumbling mats, the entire gym floor.  Then Jim sits on a tall stool and explains the rules.

“Everybody get down on all fours and stay that way for this exercise.  The only way you can move is to crawl.  Close your eyes and keep them closed.  Ditto with your mouth.  No talking allowed.  Period.  If you want to communicate with someone, do it by touch.”

Then Jim started giving us vague directions.  We all just kind of moved around, somehow forming small groups, helpless as baby animals.  Not much you can do if you can’t talk or see.  But I found you can communicate pretty well by touch, even with a stranger.

But then Jim announced, “Someone’s outside the groups.  Someone is all alone.  Find this person and convince her to join you.  Remember, no talking.”

I was in the group that found her.  We touched her gently and urged her to join us.  She did.

Finally, after about a half hour of this, Jim said, “Open your eyes.  Relax.  You can talk now, but stay where you are.”

Happy to oblige.  We’re all in this large pile of bodies.

Well, what can I say?  It was the 70s, we were young, and this kind of event was apparently fairly common.  Anyway, it sure did break the ice!  I happened to be lying on top of this petite redhead named Jocelyn, and beside me was this lanky number named Murray.  I wound up staying with each of them in South Island some weeks later.  But that’s another story.