World Trip Home Post Fourteen

Post Fourteen - Russell and Northland

The Treehouse Backpackers HostelThe Treehouse Backpackers Hostel

This spot in Northland was another favorite place. We found this secluded haven just when I needed it. At this point in the trip, I was tired - of always sleeping in a different bed, of eating in restaurants, of the new and the unfamiliar, of being away from my family and friends.

Travel is a feast, and you have to pace yourself to make sure you enjoy each course. On the road, you live in a constant state of heightened awareness and stimulation. You are bombarded with the delicious, exotic stew of the sights, sounds, and smells of other places. Every interaction is an challenge when you don't know the language and sometimes even the alphabet, let alone the city streets you are walking. Often, you have to surrender control, putting faith in the good will of others while maintaining a vigilance that allows you some sense of safety. It is exhilarating, yet it can be exhausting.

It was wise planning to end the trip in the culturally familiar countries of Australia and New Zealand. Frankly, I don't think I would have been able to fully enjoy the adventure of countries with a different language, alphabet, currency, culture, etc. After 18 months of sampling the world's delights, I was ready to push back from the table, sip my digestive, and then call it a night. -- Karen


One morning outside our beautiful cabin at the Tree House Backpackers in Northland I decided to take some photos of the lush greenery around our porch. Like a fractal, the closer I looked the more beauty I saw, until finally I was shooting macros of drops of dew on a blade of grass. Still there was infinitely more beauty in just that drop than I could hope to capture. On mornings like that, I am glad I have unlimited digital film and a laptop to dump it off to. -- Scott

Mask PlantMask Plant

Years ago in Seattle, our friend Lynne asked us to watch over one of her plants when she moved. It was a bizarre-looking thing called a mask plant, and unfortunately we immediately killed it back to a single stalk. It slowly recovered, and when we finally gave it back it was vigorous and healthy looking again.

An entire grove of giant mask plants stood outside our cabin. I took a bunch of photos of them as I was lying on the ground and shooting up from underneath. -- Scott

My Shell CollectionMy Shell Collection

After the Treehouse, we headed to the east coast of Northland, for a night at the North Wind Backpackers. A hike down to the beach found us walking on acres and acres of intact shells. As I troved through the calcareous treasure for gems, I thought of my mother-in-law, who loves to walk the beach in search of shells. Today, this exact collection sits on my coffee table in a clear, glass bowl. When I pick the shells and feel their soft surfaces, I can almost smell the seaweed and feel the spray on briny air. -- Karen


Russell, a little town in the heart of the Bay of Islands, is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. We stopped here to visit our friends Ken and Eileen, who spend Northern Hemisphere springs down here. -- Karen

Eileen and KenEileen and Ken

Eileen and Ken are friends from many years back, and also happen to be the parents of our friend Scott in Seattle. Their lives have been an inspiration for Karen and me over the years. Among other things, they've lived on a sailboat with their children in the Caribbean, traveled the U.S. in a homemade camper, and ultimately, have set up homes in Washington, Hawaii, and now New Zealand. It was a treat to have them show us around Russell. Once called the hell-hole of the Pacific, it's now perhaps the most beautiful town in New Zealand. -- Scott

Russell AgainRussell Again

This little road runs along the beach in downtown Russell. We stayed in a hotel down here in a room that looked out onto the bay.

Russell was special and, I think, haunted in a benign sort of way. I could feel the past hanging in the very air, as if former residents were walking down the street next to me, unable to see me just as I could not see them, but perhaps sensing me, just a bit. I wondered about the spirits of sailors killed in drunken brawls, children who died of consumption in the humid, cold winters, and the ladies of the town who passed on peacefully in their sleep, simply giving in to old age, laid out in formal dressing gowns and knitted lace caps on their deathbeds.

Why do ghosts inhabit in a place? Maybe Russell is one of those safe, special places that people don't want to leave even after they're gone, even if their life there was difficult. Strolling by the neatly painted homes with white picket fences, I wondered if I would come upon little boys in knickers and girls in Gibson girl dresses, ribbons in their hair, playing tag in the street. -- Karen

A Maori FarewellA Maori Farewell

I love to travel but that doesn't mean I enjoy being away from my friends and family. In all my travels over the years, two of the best days of every trip are when I depart and when I return. When you leave, you are filled with the possibilities and unknown adventure you are heading into. You come back changed, with a newfound knowledge of the world that you are eager to share. New Zealand was fascinating, but the United States were calling me back. After more then a year abroad, it was finally time to go home. On May 2 in Auckland Harbor, I boarded my last ship and began the long voyage to California. -- Scott

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Copyright 2002
Scott & Karen Semyan