Chasing Kiwis, written by Lily
This beautiful post was written by Lily, a student on our New Zealand Fiji Summer Program 2019.
Kiwis are flightless birds that are native to New Zealand. They are nocturnal birds and unfortunately on the verge of extinction, therefore to actually see a Kiwi bird in the wild is very rare. The Kiwi bird is the national icon of New Zealand.
Our goal was simple; we wanted to see a Kiwi. Just one. It didn’t feel like a lot to ask in a country whose citizens proudly proclaim themselves to be “Kiwis.” One little brown bird is all we wanted to see. We set out around 8pm, excited and confident in our kiwi spotting ability. We trampled through the forest, snickering and whispering, about as quiet as a stampede of elephants who have trumpets for feet. Several trails, two hours and a burnt-out headlamp later, we returned to our tents defeated. We hadn’t seen a single Kiwi. How could we? We were guests in this forest, but we stomped around like we owned it. We spent the hunt tangled up in our own lives, locked in our own worlds, far too interested in our own conversations to experience the magnitude of beauty around us.
But we learned. Maybe it was the Milky Way, brighter and bolder than any of us had ever seen before—so vivid it felt as if you could reach up and grab one. Or was it Jerry the Seal? We had stumbled upon him while sea kayaking and made fast friends. Could it have been planting trees and bonding with locals at Tawharunui Regional Park? The list is far too long for this blog, ranging from glow worms to sulfur pools. But somewhere in that list, we learned to step outside ourselves; leave the little bubble of our own lives and really experience the world around us. It’s so easy to hide behind walls today, whether they be technology, school or work. I could go on as there is always somewhere to avert your eyes, something to distract yourself with.
That isn’t the case on this trip—you are face to face with yourself and the world around you. That can be scary. There is comfort in our walls. We cherish them, build them higher and higher. Soon they are so high we can’t see over the top, can’t find grips to climb out. There we sit in the dark, isolated, forever adding more bricks to the wall. It’s safe behind walls, so we very rarely ventured out. I know I didn’t.
But I am tearing down my walls piece by piece—we all are. Sometimes it’s a sledgehammer, slamming through massive slabs of rock as I wander ancient caves, learning the legends of the Maori people. Sometimes it’s just a little icepick, slowly but persistently tapping away as we swim out into the ocean, pausing every few minutes to argue over who won the last beach game or to give someone a good scare by nabbing their ankle underwater.
We tried our Kiwi hunt again, this time with a new goal in mind; to step outside our walls and really experience, if not enjoy, the here and now. We walked, comfortable in the silence, listening to the quiet babbling of a nearby stream and the occasional crack of twigs beneath our feet. We stood, all lights off, in the dark woods, absorbing the world around us. Towards the end of our hike, we stumbled upon a couple of Kiwis. Watching them bob around, pecking in the grasses for a snack, I felt a surge of contentment and pride. What is our purpose if not to connect with others and the world around us? That is what New Zealand is teaching me to do, brick by brick, Kiwi by Kiwi.