I had been stressing myself out over scheduling Kelly’s time here because her stay would be so short. Of the two weeks that was her trip, 4 days of it would be spent in airports or on planes. When in transit for that long, if you don’t actually spend much time at your destination, its likely you’ll end up feeling like your suitcases were barely unpacked before you’re back in the customs line again, waiting to board the return flight home.

I didn’t want Kelly to feel that way. I wanted her to feel like the $1,500 she paid for the plane ticket and the 98 hours of tiring transit was worth it. I meticulously planned as much as possible, but since New Zealand’s charm lies in her great outdoors, nearly everything depended on the weather. After Kelly arrived we spent the rest of the Saturday slogging through our exhaustion, hers from jet-lag and mine on account of the early rousing required to meet her 3:45AM arrival. (Needless to say, she didn’t actually walk through the gate until 6:40, but I’m not pointing any fingers, cough, Customs.) Both of us battled to keep from nodding off before 7 o’clock that night.

After our caving adventure on Sunday, rain kept our plans at bay for a few afternoons. When Wednesday rolled around, the sun beckoned us to explore the country. Lunches packed in the chilly bin, we drove to the town of Rotorua — the wondrous geo-thermal spectacle that reeked of rotten eggs and dripped of tourists. It was a Rough Guide: New Zealand ‘Top 25’, so we had to. Personally, I’d like to think that on the social ladder I’m a few notches above the ‘tourist’ rung because I have a student visa and am enrolled at the local university. But, when I pay NZ$25 to see brightly colored mineral deposits because Lonely Planet rates it a 3-star ‘Highly Recommended!’ attraction, I can’t deny my place in local culture: standing in line to pay for postcards at the gift shop counter.

If I were a geologist, I would not have thought the park was overrated. Kelly and I were in agreement, however, that if someone were to hand us free tickets to Wai-O-Tapu, we would most certainly have to deny ourselves the pleasure of seeing it again.

The Polynesian Spa was another story. Soaking in the steaming shallow mineral pools with views to Lake Rotorua would have been nearly perfect less the time’s-almost-up! cloud hanging over my head, reminding me I had to be in class at 4PM. I made a mental note: Bring parents here, smuggle a cold one in for dad.

Thursday brought a surfing excursion offer from Pete, my classmate from Video Production 3. Off to Raglan we went, the rain sneaking up and catching us like sitting ducks as we pulled into the parking lot.

“Well?” I ominously inquired.
“We’re gonna get wet anyways,” replied Kelly.
“Now, that’s the spirit!”

It was both Kelly and my first exploits into surfing. We didn’t go out very far and only really attempted to catch the waves after their crests broke, but that didn’t stop us from feeling the force of the ocean. Floating out there on a little piece of fancy styrofoam, just tiny wet-suit clad specs in the vast sea, you can’t help but feel intimidated. In the vast expanse of foaming, thrashing, roaring sheer power, Mother Nature demands respect. There are no ropes dividing the shallow end from the deep end, the tame waves from the rogues; there’s no life vest that would do any good if a rip tide grabbed you. Only your head to tell you to stay smart and not do anything stupid. Of course, no matter how sensible you are, surfing is still dangerous, and Mom made sure to remind us of that on the phone before we left for the beach.

Neither Kelly or I achieved any technical form that would qualify as surfing, both of us more or less clung to our boards with all fours. Even so, the whole experience was just exhilarating! There’s something hyper-natural about frolicking with the Ocean. Letting a rolling wave whisk me across the top of the deep indigo water, I felt utterly free.