The Search for the Mysterious
Of Medicine Men, Sheep, Water, and Wine
Have you ever noticed that no matter where you travel in the world, people are basically the same. Cultures and traditions may be different. Yet we are all inherently human beings with the same human nature—which is why if you study the stories of people who have had enlightenment type experience,they are amazingly similar across all religions, cultures, and countries. I find it amazing! In the last two years I have been in London, Paris, Rome, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ko Phi Phi Islands, Hawaii, and most recently New Zealand and the Cook Islands. I searched for the flavor of the Zen experience all over and how people experience it.
Just a few weeks ago, we were on journey to find the mysterious Kiwi Zen. So, we headed to Auckland, New Zealand. Once out of customs, we were greeted by our courteous driver—an elder woman with a great attitude—and she promptly drove us to the Langham hotel in downtown Auckland. We figured we needed a central place to start as we absolutely had no plans for three weeks and decided to just go with the flow and see where our Zen would take us…
I shared this trip with my wonderful life-partner and best friend, Lori, who shares a keen sense of life and emanates a certain happiness and kindness about her that is undeniable to anyone who meets her. While she was a little resistant to arriving in uncharted territories without a plan of travel, I swayed her to agree. She read both of my books, so I knew I could get her to trust me enough to allow whatever was to happen to simply happen!
We already had a good sense about these New Zealanders—or Kiwi’s as they are called. They are genuinely nice people and not as concerned about the type of life many of us get caught up in here in Los Angeles. They seemed fairly simple and happy folk, just going about doing their work and playtime without having the urge to keep up with the Joneses. Immediately upon arrival at our hotel, we felt quite comfortable and took the bus downtown to the Fish Market where we were told we could enjoy some real fish and chips—an old favorite. We found out that all the commercial fishing in New Zealand is regulated and only approved boats can bring fish into the Fish Market. I liked this place already!
We left the States with tentative plans to visit Australia for a week, but we were talked into the Cook Islands, the island of Rarotonga to be exact, by a local. This tropical paradise looked like what we both needed and was an easy 4-hour flight to the northeast back over the international dateline. Today, the Cook Islands use New Zealand currency and is populated by many local Kiwi’s, so we figured if we could find this Kiwi Zen anywhere, it would be here. So we booked it, and would leave in a few days.
During those few days, we explored a 40-mile stretch of unpaved back-roads on a New Zealand peninsula and found a 1,200-year-old tree that looked like something right out of the movie “Avatar.” We discovered local Green Lipped Mussels that were absolutely mouthwatering—and I don’t even eat Mussels. Finally we discovered Waiheke Island, where some of the most beautiful vineyards I have ever seen were built and produce award-winning wines.
Then, it was time to fly to Rarotonga for our six days and seven night adventure. We arrived at our hotel destination at 1 o’clock in the morning. We were kindly greeted by lei’s and drinks and then headed to the beach to find our room. Waking up the next morning and looking out to the sea, sun, and sky was glorious and we both knew we had arrived a step closer to finding this mysterious Kiwi Zen we heard about so much.
Everything we discovered and experienced was amazingly comforting, as if we had been here before. But nevertheless, it was awe-inspiring and we felt the Zen in many moments during this part of our journey.
Now, Lori had been studying the local tourist rags and set her eye on a hike across the island to what is known as the Needle—a vertical blade of rock that projects from the top of one of the highest mountains. The journey was led by an old medicine man called Paw in dreadlocks who wore only orange running shorts and a pair of Nikes. He quickly sized us all up, blessed us, gave us some chestnuts he found the day before in the rain forest and had roasted, and then guided us up the mountain to the Needle. While we both hike extensively and run almost daily, we were struggling to keep up with the 78-year-old Paw. We climbed up by the roots of trees, holding trunks so we wouldn’t slip in the rain-soaked mud, and crossed steams by jumping back and forth on rocks. Finally the effort paid off. We reached the Needle. We were in awe as we gazed onto an ancient mask that was carved into the side of the 6-story rock.
We took a breath, and looked around to feel this connection with the spirits of the past and the beauty of the natural landscape that unfolded before us, framed by the ocean in the distance. Paw stopped to offer another blessing and we thanked him for his generous spirit. After soaking it all in, we headed down the mountain, which was so steep that in some areas we were forced to walk down backwards—like walking down a ladder. At the end of this amazing journey, we were treated to a swim in a private, fresh water lagoon with a waterfall that poured into the pond. We dove in with shoes and all. It made no difference if everything got wet as we were covered with pure island mud.
The journey with Paw was one of the highlights of the Cook Islands, as were amazing beaches, warm water, tropical sunsets and coral reefs. We enjoyed the glow of the Milky Way at night and seriously wished upon a falling star. We felt blessed to be here and enjoy it all, yet we were still in search of the essence of the mysterious Kiwi Zen.
As our plane landed back in Auckland, we gathered our belonging and hopped in a rented van to head to the north end of New Zealand called the Bay of Islands. Here we found friendly people and small boutique vineyards where we were invited into the houses of the owners-winemakers. Not a typical L.A. custom, yet very Kiwi!
It was wonderful to be amongst the energy of the locals: good food, great wine, and beautiful countryside. We sat overlooking the water from a 100+ year-old watering hole in the original whaling town where New Zealand was founded. The town was filled with pirate lore and old whaling stories. I asked a local for a recommendation on a beautiful beach. He was a recent immigrant from Germany and told us Oke Bay was the most beautiful place he had visited so far.
Well, Lori had sailing plans for the next morning, but I had a feeling that we should cancel and go to Oke Bay. So we did! When we arrived after an hour drive along a twisting road, we found—after some searching—a long staircase to the other side of the peninsula. We parked and headed over the staircase and down the trail. Then we both literally gasped at the beauty of the small cove that lay in front of us. No one was there! It was completely private except one for a sailboat anchored for an overnight stay. After a wonderful picnic, swimming, shell hunting and just simply enjoying every moment that unfolded before us, we headed back to continue the search for the mysterious Kiwi Zen.
For the next 10 days, we traveled from Kerikeri in the north part of the North Island of New Zealand to Martinbourough at the south end. There were delightful adventures along the entire trip…every day holding out a new surprise as we never knew where we would stay or where we would end up.
Sheepherders crossing the road stopped us in the middle of a main highway. We got out and were mesmerized by the sheep dogs guiding the herd across the road, like a symphony in perfect harmony. It was a postcard shot cast in our minds forever.
Now Martinbourough in the south of the Island is just like Sonoma, California about 40 years ago. Amazing wine, beautiful vineyards, and award winning chefs awaited us. Our first night in Martinbourough—and almost last night in New Zealand—was spent in a small cottage that overlooked a Sheep farm. It was truly a great find. There, we finally enjoyed a home cooked breakfast I made for Lori’s birthday. I commandeered a candle from the restaurant the night before. Lori had tears in her eyes when she heard me ask the waitress as she thought I forgot all about it. And I surprised her as I sang her happy birthday and brought a breakfast tray to bed the next morning. She blew out the candle, wished upon the stars, and we called for a late check-out.
Our last day before taking off to go back home was a trip up to the top of Sky Tower, the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. And as the restaurant we sat in slowly spun around in a 360 degrees circle, we looked at each other and smiled, then started laughing with each other. We both began to talk at the same time, so I let Lori finish. “Paul, you know as well as I know that the mystery to this Kiwi Zen is no mystery at all. It was with us all the time. It was with us in every moment we shared on this trip. You know that Where’s My Zen? is nowhere to be found except in yourself.”
I looked at her with all the love in my heart and blessed my lucky stars to have her and then remembered a line from one of our favorite family movies with Harrison Ford called “Six Days Seven Nights.” Harrison Ford, playing Quinn, says to Anne Heche, playing Robin, while they are in the local island bar at the hotel, looking around at the tourists:
Quinn: “They come here looking for the magic, hoping to find romance, when they can`t find it anywhere else.”
Robin: “Maybe they will.”
Quinn: “It’s an island, babe. If you didn`t bring it here, you won`t find it here.”
And so Zen cannot be found anywhere except in yourself and it doesn’t matter where you are or in what part of the world you’re in. It is of no consequence, as the happiest moments are those when you truly feel the tranquility within. It could be anywhere…perhaps, right in your backyard!
Paul Harrison AIA
aka Master Nomi
Architect, Author, Creator of the Zen Advantage Program™ (ZAP)