In line with my new blogging policy, here is what you missed at the tail end of my month in New Zealand:
Around East Cape
* I spent 5 days driving around New Zealand's East Cape in a camper van with a recovering paraplegic Finnish ex-pat named Henry. Henry was definitely a character-- opinionated, fiercely independent, mildly homophobic and anti-Semitic, but not the worst travel companion a girl could end up with for 5 days. And his camper van took me to some damn beautiful places!
-I couchsurfed in Gisborne (where the movie "Whalerider" was filmed) with a lovely mother-and-daughter duo in their beautiful half-finished farm house, enjoyed dinner outside in the vegetable patch and one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever had the privilege to see
-I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to wade out onto a coral reef and feed enormous wild stingrays. I swear, stingrays nudging your knees looking for food feel exactly like attention-seeking cats. One was so excited that when I stuck my hand in the water he sucked on my forearm and gave me a stingray hickey
The hickey perpetrator
-The next day we drove through some beautiful scenery-- Tolaga Bay, with its gorgeous white cliffs; a blighted, virtually abandoned town that was also the home of a gorgeous Maori church, every inch of the walls and ceiling completely carved, inlaid, and woven
The beautiful Maori church
-The day after that I woke early and climbed a small mountain to the East Cape lighthouse, the easternmost point on land (meaning: not counting Tonga) where I was one of the first 8 people in the entire world to witness February 29, 2009
More East Cape scenery-- Maori culture and beautiful views
*As a parting gift to finish my time in New Zealand, I decided to treat myself to a trail ride in Whakatane, a Maori-rich area on a turquoise bay. Half way through the ride, however, I was thrown from my horse and experienced temporary amnesia. I could remember who I was, that I was in New Zealand, but not much else. Not the name of the town, not where I was staying, not how I had gotten to the horse farm that morning. Slowly the facts came trickling back, although I still don't remember falling off the horse. I spent a distressing evening at the ER to make sure there was nothing more serious than a light concussion. But: it was all covered by New Zealand's lovely socialist accident insurance!
*I treated myself to a private hotel room in Auckland to rest, lay low, and nurse a very sore back. And after a few days I packed up my things and headed to the next stop: Taiwan!