Riding in a Creeper Van on the Way to New Zealand, Visiting Akaroa, and Attempting to Eat White Bait

New Zealand is basically like Australia’s cooler younger brother. There’s no poisonous creatures lurking in the bushes determined to kill you, the beaches and coasts are just as gorgeous, and to be perfectly honest, the people are way more attractive.

Sorry, Australia. It’s just true.

In October, my kiwi boyfriend asked me to go visit his home with him after one of our trips together. I had to ask myself if I was Kelly Clarkson, ’cause I had already been saving my tax return for a moment like this.

A few months later, I traveled to LAX, but in like the least coolest way possible. Because I didn’t want to leave my car at the airport, I decided to take this shuttle van my friend at work told me about. I made a reservation online, but was horrified when the van actually showed up. This vehicle looked like belonged to an actual pedophile, except it was filled with grown adults.

Let me make this clear. When you fly out of LAX, there’s this feeling that you’re the hottest new D-list celebrity. Even though you aren’t important, you feel important. Experiencing getting dropped off at the coolest airport in America by a 1990s white van that looked like it had just visited a prison, reminded me of the time my dad grounded me from riding to school in his BMW.

Instead, he dropped me off in his crappy old truck nicknamed, “Old Crusty,” because it no longer had a paint job. It was just straight-up rust. And it was a low rider. The wheels were essentially bicycle tires.

Imagine being 14-years-old, finally gaining a bit of popularity, and then all the sudden, your dad makes you go to school in the shittiest car imaginable. Looking back, it was probably an extreme lesson in learning humility, but it kinda worked.

We all sat silent in the van. There was an elderly couple sitting in front of me, and a man with a metal leg brace the size of my entire body sitting to the left of me. The driver apparently felt the silence was awkward, so started to overcompensate by talking literally nonstop.

In the span of about 10 minutes, he ranged discussing topics with himself about how crazy he thought Trump was, why we should make guns illegal, and growing up in Asia. I’m all for talking liberal politics and learning more about Vietnam, just not when I’m in a van full of strangers. The tension was similar to when I was a TA in graduate school and the entire class didn’t do the reading.

I felt bad for him, so I responded to a few of his questions. Oddly enough, a couple from Costa Mesa, the town I currently live in, picked up on my thick-ass accent.

“Where are you from?” the elderly man asked me.

“Oh, I’m from this tiny town in Alabama. I doubt you’ve ever heard of it,” I said, which is usually my standard response.

Normally, I add the fact that it’s between Birmingham and Huntsville, so that people can sort of coordinate themselves. I decided to exclude that bit of information this time, though.

“That’s so funny. My daughter and her partner live in between Birmingham and Huntsville in this little town called Cullman,” he replied.

Was this a sign from God? Was I about to die in a plane crash?

I immediately started panicking.

The chances that I would meet someone going on the same plane as me, in a scary van, who had a daughter who lived in the same remote town that I’m from had to be one in 70 million.

Although I was completely freaking out, we kept chatting, and about an hour later, I became best friends with Tim and his wife, Gail.

With my personality, I’m immediately drawn to someone, or I’m just not. Tim was interesting and I knew he had a story up his sleeve. I asked him how he met Gail, and found out that she was his best friend’s girl.

Classic Rick Springfield.

Before the two got together, they met at (I CANNOT MAKE THIS UP), a racquetball tournament. Can you imagine meeting your future partner at a racquetball championship?

I quickly decided Tim was a living legend.

Tim told me the dramatic story about playing on the same team as his future wife’s husband. They were friends for decades, but eventually the two divorced their partners, and then got together. Tim said it was kind of awkward explaining to their kids, since their kids grew up together and were friends. We then talked about how to properly mesh families after a divorce, which is something I know little to nothing about.

God, I love old people.

Since I now knew basically everything about their lives, they cruised around airport security with me, and we found our gate to get on the plane together. Thereafter, I drank three glasses of wine to basically serve as a horse tranquilizer.

I’ll spare you the boring details of the actual flight itself, but let’s just say I sat beside a Chinese man who did blood circulation exercises for 12 hours. It was a lot of fist pumping, up-and-down stretches, massages, and other weird techniques that I tried to avoid eye-contact with.

I don’t know what I did in a past life to deserve the people I sit by on airplanes, but it had to be on par with burning down an orphanage.

I landed approximately two minutes after I finished Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. It was a great movie, but I didn’t have much time to reflect on it. I was hungry and needed to eat before my next flight. After getting a small breakfast in New Zealand for $4.7 million dollars (everything is insanely expensive there), I traveled through domestic flights, got on my next plane, and cruised down to Christchurch from Auckland.

I rushed through customs to be met by my boyfriend, who was holding a bouquet of flowers like the cutest person in the whole world.

We grabbed my bags, and headed on out to Akaroa, where his cousin was getting married. We stuffed my luggage into his dad’s 1980s convertible Porsche, and  jetted off like two escaped mental asylum patients.

There’s not many things I dislike about my boyfriend, which is probably why we are still together, but I HATE the way he drives. I’ve always been terrified that I will die in a car accident, and thanks to him, I always feel one step closer to Jesus when we are on the road. My imaginary brake pedal is constantly being floored when he’s spinning around a curve at 800 miles per hour.

Okay. Rant over. But seriously. I could kill him.

After a quick lunch filled with eavesdropping on a couple fighting about an abundance of weight loss, we finally made it to our cute little hotel.

The town we were hanging out in for the weekend was a picturesque old French settlement. It was here that I met Riley’s entire family, including his 9,000 aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and cousins twice removed.

It was the full-blown Gibson bash of the century.

Like my boyfriend, his entire family also appeared to be extremely extroverted. I have always been a bit reserved and quiet when I don’t really know people. I’m a great listener, though, so I enjoyed talking to them and hearing all their stories.

In all of this, I learned where Riley gets his talkative nature from. One of his uncles even told us about the time Colonel Sanders, yes, that Colonel Sanders, said he made the “best goddamn lemonade” he ever had.

It was a whirlwind of masterful storytelling, subject jumping, and good times. I got lost in about 99.9% of it, but I was happy to observe and drink wine.

Two of his uncles are Michelin star chefs, so it was a nice change to not see memaw and a gang of aunts scrambling around in the kitchen to prepare everything. Plus, I didn’t have to pretend to like any of the food, because it was actually good.

Except for one thing. And this is just a personal opinion based entirely on being American. 

For breakfast, Riley’s dad placed a hash brown in front of me. It looked good, until I realized that it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was. Something was peering back at me from within the “potatoes.”

As I investigated this hash brown more carefully, Riley’s dad confirmed my analysis by telling me exactly what this thing was. Turns out, it was something called “white bait,” which is considered a New Zealand delicacy. It consists of eggs and about 20-30 tiny sardine-like fish.

Basically, eating this thing was the equivalent to taking a sip of water, and then it turns out to be vodka.

I did try it, but experienced a significant amount of trauma from staring into each of the tiny fishes’ period dot-sized eyes.

To put it lightly: this wasn’t something on the Waffle House menu.

I tried to show my appreciation, and then quickly passed the plate down to Riley, who scarfed it down in a nanosecond.

Akaroa was a lot of fun, especially Riley’s cousin’s wedding. It was in a beautiful venue, on top of a huge hill/mountain that overlooked the ocean. For close to two hours, Riley cried during the ceremony and speeches. I remained steady, and drank 902 glasses of champagne. We all got pretty hammered, floated down to the cabin with the dance floor and food, and drunkenly mingled with one another.

I promised to include the wedding officiant in my blog, so shout out to her. She was super cool, very inclusive, and honestly made me reconsider ever having a wedding. I feel like most weddings are a waste of thousands of dollars (that my parents are certainly not going to pay for), and I find them to be a bit too old-fashioned for my taste, but I did like how this particular one was done.

After about a three-hour conversation with her, the last thing I remember is someone grabbing my head and trying to twist it off with their bare hands.

I woke up in complete agony from this move straight out of Derek Zoolander’s playbook.

After I no longer needed a neck brace, we went on a dolphin tour, where I got to get pretty up close and personal with some Hector’s dolphins. These baby cuties are the world’s rarest and smallest dolphin. They are only about three-feet long, and have light gray bodies with dark gray markings. I also saw three penguins, which melted my heart, and a couple of sunbathing seals.

I also saw two massive stingrays floating around in the ocean, which further compelled me to never get in the water.

RIP Steve Irwin.

Other notable activities in Akaroa included visiting two cemeteries, like the true creep I am, and discovering a parallel universe called The Giant’s House.

The Giant’s House is basically the inner workings of what an acid trip looks like. Think demented, yet beautiful scenery from The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. Ten-feet tall glass mosaic statues seemed to roam through this enchanting garden. Naturally, I loved it, and felt compelled to live on the property throughout my remaining years on Earth.

Akaroa was a blast and I know I’m leaving out a lot of people, events, and things that we did, but I just wanted to hit a few of the highlights before I moved on to my next blog about other places in New Zealand that I visited. I did a lot in the week and a half I was there, so I’ll continue writing it in small segments, so I don’t overwhelm anyone who actually wants to read this.

Actually, nevermind. At 2,000 words, this is overwhelming.