A golden sun beamed down from the bright blue sky, warming my face as I looked up smiling. It was Christmas day, and I was standing on a black sand beach basking in this delight, soaking in the fact that I was only in swim trunks and sunglasses.
Why? Because it was my first time celebrating the Holidays abroad, and it was a stark contrast to how Christmas is normally spent for me.
This year Christmas will be spent with friends and family in the U.S. for the first time in 3 years. Even though seeing their warm smiling faces is nice — damn do I wish I wasn’t in this bone-chilling/windy/rainy/gloomy east coast weather!
So we’re going to hop in the sleigh and do a little time travel. Off Dasher, off Dancer, off Prancer, stay Vixen (I wanted a travel vixen under the mistletoe…) and those others — to the Land of the Long White Cloud and a small beach-side town for a Christmas story about a travel noob and his first holiday abroad.
Flashback to December 22nd, 2011.
Ah, that is much better. The thought already makes me feel warmer.
An early Christmas present had literally landed before me in the form of a naked Frenchman. No, that wasn’t what I wanted for a present, but writing about that hostel horror story found its way to Nomads Hostels, and apparently they found my ordeal quite hilarious.
You’ll read about that someday…
After a few meetings, and a test article creating a personality for their camel mascot Clarence, I found myself on an all-inclusive Stray Bus adventure through New Zealand, and it just happened to be during Christmas and New Years!
What a bad-ass present right? I guess I wasn’t on the naughty list (yet).
The first few days of the trip held some bland activities like kayaking to Narnia and a BBQ on a beach. Just kidding, that was awesome, but we will save that for another time as well.
Back on topic: Christmas Day – December 25th, 2011
Our rickety “sleigh” or our bright orange Stray Bus aptly named Bertha snaked up a long fern sided driveway. As we crept along, hoping nobody else would be barreling down the blind turns for fear of a head on collision, our bus driver Nana chatted up the glow worms that line these hills and can be seen at night.
Who the hell needs Christmas lights when you have glow worms?!
We squeaked to a halt and rushed off the bus after a bum busting 5 hour-long drive. Peeking out from the shrubbery was a sun worn plank with “the lodge” painted on it, now faded and chipping.
Giant ferns, palm trees and vines climbed upward everywhere, with the hostel barely visible through the vegetation that had nearly swallowed it whole.
After scooping up our bags that were being hurled out of the bus, we shuffled into the small wooden hut labeled “office” in the same faded paint giving it quite the Gilligan’s Island feel.
It was what you would expect from a secluded beach lodge; cramped, musty, with an unhappy office attendant rolling her eyes because we stopped her from clipping her toenails with the task of checking in a bus load of eager backpackers.
Oh, and there was freshly laid eggs from the neighbors chicken for tomorrow breakfast too. That part gets a ★!
After figuring out the chess game like task of who is staying in what room (at this point you could see the clicks and hook-ups forming) we scurried up the overgrown paths that ran like a zigzagging labyrinth through the brush.
Up and up we went to the third floor. Once at the top we all dropped our bags because of this view! Completely inspiring a feeling like I was in the Swiss Family Robinson living in the tree tops.
The tin roof, balcony above the tree-tops, the graffiti art along the cinder-block main building, and that stunning view of the beach in the distance made it feel like I was in a jungle bungalow on an island paradise.
I was really digging this lodge besides the front desk encounter. It was lush, colorful, and quiet.
Though that serenity wouldn’t last forever.
Rest is for the dead, and we had only 4 hours to chillax on that beach in the distance, because Nana was only making one trip down and up and, “if you aren’t on the bus, your ass is left behind”.
All the backpackers scattered like ants trying to figure out where the hell the bathrooms were to get changed so we could enjoy what little time we had on the beach.
With the Nana blaring on the horn and calling up final warnings before he leaves, everyone rushed down and hopped on board.
You see, my camera had gone missing and there was no way I was leaving without it.
I was frantically searching for it with no luck. The other backpackers joined in to help me look, but it was nowhere to be found. Most started sneaking off so they could make it to the bus before it left, and I don’t blame them.
Finally, some of the others convinced me to look for it later, so I reluctantly tagged along.
And I’m so glad I did.
Raglan, like a diamond in the rough, was shimmering before us.
It is known as one of the best surf spots on the North Island, and it just so happened to be the first black sand beach I ever saw!
Miles of beach stretched out ahead, and with the bright sun shining down from a clear sky, it sparkled like stars in a night sky.
Backpackers dotted the beach here in there, relaxing under the sun. People frolicked about int the clear blue water.
Damn it was a near perfect beach.
And like bugs to a bug lamp, we ran straight at it. Oh we got BURNED!
Most people would think twice about running onto a sunny and potentially searing beach (especially black sand). But not us. We stormed that beach like Normandy, swinging our towels in the air and shouting. Then we were hit.
The sand was SCORCHING hot, and we suddenly found ourselves retreating, hopping about in pain, or full-out sprinting ahead toward the ocean.
But once we had paid for our stupidity, then the fun began.
Opting to leave the swimming for later, a group of us decided to talk a stroll down the beach.
Which turned into a LOT of photo posing.
Yeah. There’s more…
Who said white men can’t jump?
After a stressful and tiresome hour of posing by the gorgeous green sea cliffs, it was time to hit the water before heading back.
The thing that astounded me most was just how warm the ocean water was.
At home it is below freezing out right now, maybe I’ll pretend to be relaxing in a warm ocean with my rubber ducky in a bath tub…
But when I say warm like bath water, I mean it!
If it wasn’t for the gaping hole in the ozone layer above New Zealand threatening you with guaranteed skin cancer, you can be damn sure I would be in that water all day, every day!
Note to self: Look out for rogue waves when posing with babes. Though I don’t mind when I have to save one that is knocked over from it =)
To cap off a Christmas which was drastically different from any other before, all of us crammed into the kitchen and helped cook a feast to share.
And when I say feast, I mean standard backpacker fare: Pasta, chicken, vegetables, more pasta. And of course beer. Nothing compared to the massive turkeys, the waterfalls of gravy, and massive amounts of pie I normally consume.
Yet, I was fine with that. it wasn’t the warm weather or the beach that made it an awesome day for me. And I wasn’t missing the home cooked meals at all.
It was the fact that I was in another country, thousands of miles away from home, enjoying the company of amazing people who were living their dream too.
A year prior I would have never guessed I would be there.
With my new friends helping me celebrate my first Christmas abroad, I don’t know if I could have asked for a better first experience of celebrating Christmas abroad.
Have you celebrated the Holidays abroad or are you now? Be awesome and share your story below!