I guess we got our answer! Back to sea…(farewell NZ)
Day 3,207 since October 10th 2013: 197 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
Farewell beautiful Kiwiland
It is true that we do not know what tomorrow holds. But we do know that tomorrow has bigger potential if we actively search for opportunities and keep our doors open.
Last week’s entry: Six more to go. Come on – we can do this! Aotearoa New Zealand
Welcome back. I ended last week’s entry with this sentence: “Let’s see if next week will be a seafaring voyage or a life on wheels.” What a prophecy. The answer turned out to land somewhere in between. This week I miraculously made it to Penrose in Auckland with a couple of buses. Two buses pulled “no-shows” and one did not stop all together although I signaled the driver? It will be a blessing for Auckland when they finally complete the metro ring they are currently working on. It is beyond my comprehension how the greatest city in such a great country could possibly have such a dysfunctional bus system? A few weeks ago, I gave up on catching a bus and walked for 90 minutes instead (which was probably good for my health in the end). Ups…I lost my way there (as do most of Auckland’s city buses). Anyway, I reached Penrose, I picked up the campervan I had hired for 11 days, and without much delay I drove the 47km (29mi) I took to get to Piha. Piha is on the west coast and offers some impressive views of sand beaches and rock formations. Besides, the ocean has always been good for the heart.
Piha Beach. Lion Rock in the background.
I am battling fatigue. Burnout, some would say. We have unlocked 197 doors within this never-ending project and “only” have 6 to go. They are unbelievably complex though. I know some of my well-travelled friends are in awe of how far we have made it within the Saga. Apparently reaching many of the Pacific Island nations can be hard enough when you fly. Without flying it is near impossible. Then throw in a pandemic and see how you fare. I’m uncomfortably dependent on support and this week it did not come through. Our friends at Neptune Pacific Direct Line (NPDL) unfortunately had to inform me: “Our Covid committee can’t see a way we can introduce a passenger, until regulations at destination country allows it, it simply introduces too much risk to our already disrupted schedules.” My friend Craig (in Brisbane, AUS) tried to help and introduced me to Armacup who also operate vessels within the Pacific. Unfortunately, it did not take long for them to reply: “We are unable to assist you with your endeavours due to the company’s current covid policy”. And when I asked if it was possible to reconsider, and informed how we have already traveled onboard four container ships this year, the reply was: “unfortunately risk to business is too great thus unable to reconsider”. On the upside both NPDL and Armacup added: “We’ll be happy to assist should there be a change in our policy in the future.”
1 liter of gas goes for NZD 3.00 (USD 1.87) in Kiwiland.
Proof! In Kiwiland people are just people too. Truck drivers blocking two lanes while overtaking each other as one is moving marginally slower than the other. Yes, it took forever.
Recently I have been trying to find a way to explain what makes all of this as hard as it evidently is. The best I have come up with is a strange house with 203 rooms lined up in a long line snaking across the horizon. Some doors have been unlocked and some rooms have been uncluttered and easy to walk across. Some doors have been welded shut and some rooms have been stuffed with furniture we have had to climb over and under. There are so many rooms behind me. So many rooms. The card house image is also on my mind. A card house constructed by 197 cards. My shaky hands are trying to place the last six cards. Maybe those are dumb examples. But few of you can imagine being in a new country every 16th day on average over the stretch of eight years and nine months. And furthermore, doing all the work to make the transition between them. Six to go!! Six!!! Why is the required help not available?!? Well, maybe it is (to some degree). Because a friend of mine told me that the beautiful Government of Samoa has accepted that I can enter their amazing country now, even before they open for tourism! Yes! A special permission has been granted!! (we still need a vessel though).
A fascinating fact: there are no snakes in Kiwiland.
Van life in Kiwiland is pretty good. After spending a few hours in Piha I decided to make my way to Waiuku 94km (59mi) away. I did not want to pay the NZD22 (USD14) parking fee in Piha for a single night (no electricity). Waiuku was offering a “freedom camping” spot, which is code for free overnight parking in Kiwiland. I figured it would be nice to wake up in a small village and have a look around. While on the road I listened to which ever radio channels I could find. It was charming listening to Kiwi accents speak of both problems and solutions. Tips and tricks. Songs I haven’t heard before and songs we all listen to. On and off I would stop to check messages, and all the marinas sang the same tune: “the boats we knew of have already left and so have most others. But you might get lucky”. Around June 30th, someone tipped me off about a ship in Tauranga which was preparing to leave for Fiji. I wrote the ship and was immediately replied to with: “Hey Thor, do you have any certificates?” I explained that I am fully vaccinated and have extensive experience as a passenger on container ships, and was then met with: “okay, I’ll have a chat with our team. We have limited spots which most are reserved for people with certifications but will pass this on”. Now, more than two weeks later, it was time to follow up on that lead again.
After waking up in charming Waiuku, I set the GPS for Tauranga (east coast) in hope that I could find the good ship YWAM Koha along with somebody who would grant me passage onboard. It was a 210km (130mi) drive on a mix of small curvy roads and some stretches of highway. The beauty of the landscape was undeniable. Fields, grassy hills, a few sheep, a lot of cows, some puzzling rock formations, small town life, truck stops, Kiwi radio, blue skies, grey skies, rain, sun, rain, sun… I have read J.R.R Tolkien’s books, Lord of the Rings, and I have been delighted by the movies. Every scene (apart from one) were shot in Kiwiland. There were several times I thought to myself that it would make perfect sense if a couple of Hobbits jumped out of a bush on the roadside. And then a road sign appeared: “Hobbitville 3km to the left”. That sounds like a fun idea for when I some day return to Kiwiland with ultra-wifey. Not long after that, I found myself in Tauranga and spotted YWAM Koha on my left side before heading across a bridge. That was easy?! I made a U-turn, came back across the bridge, and making a longer story a little shorter, I made my way onboard the ship. Onboard I met Sue, she introduced me to Hannah, who introduced me to Marty. And I was soon invited to have lunch with them. After a while, Marty ran the idea of having me onboard by Captain Mark, and another manager – after which, Marty sent me a longed-for hand sign: the thumbs-up! :)
Onboard YWAM Koha. Koha translates to gift or donation.
A new plan had formed. Return to Fiji – find a way to Vanuatu. Fiji is about 2,000km (1,200mi) from Kiwiland and Vanuatu is about 1,000km (600mi) from Fiji. Vanuatu opened its borders on July 1st. Once we reach Vanuatu, I have enough fingers on one hand to count the remaining countries. My head was spinning. I didn’t actually expect YWAM Ships Aotearoa would take me onboard. They are a serious organization which operates with volunteers that specialize in various ways. YWAM (Youth With A Mission) was founded in 1960, is an interdenominational Christian organization, and does various humanitarian work. YWAM Koha’s specific purpose is to bring dental hygiene to isolated islands in the South Pacific. Everyone I’ve met at YWAM have been really nice and in exchange for my passage I have promised to share a series of post of YWAM’s choice across Once Upon A Saga’s social media. Specifically, Facebook (62,000 followers) and Instagram (40,000 followers).
A quick smile for the camera before going back to frowning. Too much to do. Not enough time. The good ship is however a beauty!! Built in Germany back in 1968. Very cool!
With that in place I had to return the campervan after only two nights. There were hopes for the good ship to leave the very next day so I had to rush. I got back on the road and covered the 202km (126mi) to Auckland. With the vehicle in my possession, I had planned to visit my cousin and the Red Cross in Wellington. I was hoping to promote Ross.dk and GEOOP’s involvement in geothermal energy at the highly geothermal active region of Rotorua. And I had started to dream about getting to ski again after a now very long time. And what about all the people who were trying to help me find a way out of Kiwiland? I had a lot of people to contact. Therefore, while I was happy about getting permission to join YWAM to Fiji, I was in no mood for smiling. I was in execution mode.
Camping outside Tessa's home.
The following morning, I had another tv appearance on NZTV and had said yes to show up at 07:00am. The night before I decided to drive to Verandahs in hope that Campbell would allow me to use the facilities (shower, washing machine, high speed internet). No problem. I got everything done before driving out to Tessa’s (NZTV reporter) home address late at night, and fell asleep parked on the roadside, while the rain sounded against the roof. At 07:00am I met Tessa, and we headed to her backyard pool, which was the setup for a fun live report. Initially NZTV wanted to help me locate a vessel to Vanuatu/Fiji. But with that sorted we were just doing a short farewell and thanks to Kiwiland. Tessa had arranged for a rubber dinghy and during the interview (in the rain) she revealed the dinghy, which was for me, so that I could reach the final countries. Fun.
Aotearoa = "the land of the long white cloud". It should be: "the land of the tall green hedges". The amount of impossibly tall and dense hedges I have seen in the past few days?!?
I delivered the campervan back to Penrose, and soon after I was on a bus heading back to Tauranga, where I quickly met Selena’s lovely mum Leanne, before I joined the ship. Interestingly the ship wasn’t ready to leave yet. They surely wanted too, but YWAM had not yet secured a 1st officer. The remaining crew was complete. Quite impressive given that everyone onboard was/is volunteering and thus not paid. A 1st officer was all which was missing. Ideally a volunteer 1st officer will appear but while I write this YWAM might have to pay for one. The show must go on. The uncertainty continues. We might head up north to Opua today (Friday), which is Kiwiland’s northernmost customs/immigration post. We might also stay a little longer in Tauranga. I’m just happy to be onboard. The crossing is set to take about seven days so I expect to be back in Suva before August. Our first visit to Fiji was in December 2019 ahead of the virus outbreak in Wuhan (simpler times). Oh well, what did this week offer? “A seafaring voyage or a life on wheels?” A bit of both it would seem. Welcome to my world of uncertainty, opportunity, and possibility.
Soon to make transit in Fiji. Let's not get stuck for two years again.
I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Thank you Kiwi's!! I will return. That's guaranteed!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga