The first sight as I stepped into the Auckland airport was a tan, bearded man in a PD shirt, bathing suit and shoeless feet. That's Andy, our instructor . He's a local here in New Zealand. Have we seen him wear shoes? Only once.

The next face we would meet is a small blonde running at us for a hug and calling us by name. Yes, we were a bit scared of this enthusiasm, but that's Laurel for you. Laurel is our other instructor from the States who has yet to let a smile fall from her face.

Next up we've got the six girls: myself from Boston, Katie from NJ, Ana from Guatemala (how cool is that?!), Liz from SC, Maria from NC, and Paige from CA. The sweetest group of girls you'll ever meet, and ones that seem to never stop laughing. The five brave guys that get to deal with us are: Earl from NJ, Jansen from GA, Reed from WI, Morgan from RI, and our Valentine's Day special, Valentin from Germany.

Yes we are loud, yes we eat like champions, and yes we are the best family you'll ever come across.

We became a family during the first week of the program. This 8,000 acre chunk of land, Mimiwhangata, became our home. With beautiful hills on one side of our tents and a sandy beach on the other, we were ecstatic. The sand on the beach went on forever in all directions, not a single stone in sight. The field outside our wool shed, which we used for cooking and hanging out, was perfect for group games and orientation sessions. However, our favorite orientation spot was on the beach in our swimsuits, taking group swim breaks probably too often.

That is how we started off orientation: Andy said 'all right guys, we're going in'. Without giving us a second to think, he had us all grab hands and run into the cool, blue water together. That's what this trip is about: "let's do it". Leaving our hesitation at home and fully submerging ourselves in our 'stretch zone'.

It's also about the people we encounter. Chris, his wife, and his boys help manage this beautiful stretch of land. They made this experience possible for us (and made it heaps of fun) with their tireless work on the farm. Ben, the energetic 12 year old boy, became a little brother to us all. When asked what he does everyday, he replied, "eat, sleep, surf, fish, swim... whatever I feel like really.” This gave us all a new perspective on life; society should not set the limits for what we can or should do in life. If we weren't taking advantage of the great waves in the afternoon, Ben would come around and give us a hit on the head with a boogie board. And if we weren't enough fun for him, he would chase us with the hose. We were lucky to have him with us on all of our week one adventures. Whether he was teaching one of us how to surf, or bringing us freshly caught fish before dinner, he taught us the Kiwi way of life. Nadine, the mother, took Ana, Katie, and Maria in as her own in her beautiful garden, while Chris and the oldest son Joe took the rest of us to do trail work. Sure, service is rewarding, but it's not always fun. Somehow, though, Chris made cutting down trees and chopping wood one of the best experiences we had. The work was full of laughs and Chris' many stories. We got to see the beauty of the land while realizing how much it does for us, especially for the people here in New Zealand. We lucked out with weather; each day the sun shone over the hills and had us running around in our bathing suits. Good thing too, cause our shower options for the week were a hose or the ocean!

What was most special to this group was our opportunity to join the Waitangi Day holiday at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This day recognizes the treaty signed between the Maori and the British empire, which declared British sovereignty over the islands. This was Andy's first time making it to the celebration, and many locals haven't even had the opportunity to go and take part in the festivities. The land was filled with vendors selling their own products, and lots of Kiwi food! There was a band, and Maori kapa haka dancers who mixed traditional dancing with modern moves. We even witnessed protests for a more peaceful New Zealand, fighting meth and other struggles the country faces. My favorite part of this day was speaking with two locals about this celebration and their lives here. Everyone is so genuine and open to talk if you try connecting with them.

Week one sums up what a PD experience is all about: a deep group connection, new and varied relationships with local people, giving back to the land, and having a lot of fun along the way.


1 Comment

  1. Vickie Turner

    Really enjoyed your word pictures, Claire! May these memories be etched forever for each of you.

    mama v (Maria's mom)

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Author Claire Coppola Posted