Slackpacking is section backpacking while sleeping in the same place each night
I’m a tourist right now, loosely “walking” the trail through Auckland on a bright sunny day. Back to the ferry building with the spectacular red lamps, popped into the DOC office to pick up my hut pass for the coming months, primarily in the south island.
I join a free walking tour and learn of a statue made in the 1960s to honor the Maori, and made by a woman – all sorts of impossible awarenesses converging. The sun burns, so I wear my hat and seek shade. At Queen and Customs, the signal stops all traffic and people casually pour into the street like a slow motion dance choreographed for some in choppy straight lines, others striding diagonally.
My destination is the art gallery but the air is heavenly and I stop at a tiny Turkish take-away for a giant gyro. Later, my hosts will serve a Kiwi Thanksgiving but I’m hungry now.
Krispy Kreme just opened here, disco blaring, free donuts for our line snaking out onto the square. Perfect sugar puff of fatty goodness as I catch up with the free walking tour. Lime scooters are really taking off here.
I wander into the library. I love libraries the world over; quiet, everyone earnestly bent over work or a book, a kind of hum of information that even walking down the stacks piques my curiosity. I give my phone another charge.
There are tourists, yes, but this city is built for its residents, I love its walkability. With a visa, I am considered a temporary resident and enter the museum for free. It’s art I have never seen, made in Aoteoroa New Zealand, Moana Oceania and by Maori artists.
Feminist artist Jan Nigro stops me in my tracks, as does Ralph Hotere’s mural originally for the airport called Godwit – named for the ‘can do and go anywhere’ bird I saw often on my long beach walking.
One hundred women build sand mounds and celebrate creation, regional artists see land as metaphor. Finally a long hallway of extraordinary Lindauer Maori portraits from the 1870s made not from life, but photographs.
The men have rangi pahuri, full face tattoos, that signify their mana or influence and some are in European dress with handlebar mustaches. I find the women powerful with marks around their mouths, on their lips and chin.
Next, up the hill to the wintergardens, humid, fragrant and hot under glass. Massive pitcher plants yawn obscenely yet invitingly to unsuspecting passersby. In the shade, the temperature is mild on the verge of chilly, I sip a green drink and rest my legs. I am actually on the Te Araroa now, but my pack is only carrying my phone charger.
I head into the museum and find an extraordinary exhibit of Maori artifacts including a 25 meter long war canoe made of one totara log. Large figures look on through abalone eyes, most with their tongues stuck out at me.
And then it’s ‘Hot Words, Bold Retorts,’ a celebration of 125 years of women’s suffrage – New Zealand being the first country in the world to give women the vote, but definitely not including equality by a long shot. These were tough broads, one portrait prominently displayed of a woman from my host’s family.
Whoa, a whole wing devoted to the women’s march. Kiwi chicks were pissed – as was I – because a man bragging about sexual assault was elected president.
Upstairs is natural history, giant wingless moa, giant ‘ponderous heavy diving’ penguins, giant fossils that stagger the imagination.
I skip the curiosities of the odd, dusty collections from around the world and head back into the sunshine where the bay greets me turquoise and glistening. Up Mt. Eden the wind dries my sweat. It’s crowded, everyone tippy- tapping on their phones. A blown out volcano, there’s a huge grassy pit in front of the summit marker.
And then I’m back at Susie and Mark’s house and it’s time for the Thanksgiving feast. This Kiwi potluck meal is not much different than home, though it’s sliced turkey and ham rather than an entire bird, plus salads and potatoes, heaps of deserts and wine.
We gather in the living room, standing in a circle, each taking a few kernels of corn to represent our blessings. As we speak the themes are similar – grateful for family, friends, and that we’ve felt buoyed by the spirit. I am welcomed into this circle, sharing the food, the conversation, the curiosity, the laughs.
It’s late now and my eyes are heavy. I plan to walk another portion of the trail tomorrow and save the Coast-to-Coast section for Sunday when new Kiwi friends will join me before I’m on my way again.
This has been a tremendously fulfilling day and one that has left me humbled by the incredible generosity and inclusiveness shown to me. I feel lucky, blessed, that the world is one full of abundance. And it’s made me see that I can choose to live with an attitude of abundance, that I have so much, I can give it all away, there will always be more for me.
On that note I say good night, until tomorrow’s walk.