Rawhiti Cave, South Island, New Zealand

Rawhiti Cave was the farthest from the beaten track we got during our trip to New Zealand. Near Golden Bay, at the end of a dirt road marked only with a handwritten sign, we had to un- and re- latch a gate keeping in grazing cattle on private land. We parked in a grass field and made our way to the trail, which snaked into a steep and dark valley. No one else was there. We really should have gotten an earlier start. After a 30 minute walk along a dried up river, the trail began to zig zag straight up the side of the mountain, and the mosquitos began to whine in my ears.

I thought the switchbacks would never end, blood was pounding in my ears and it kept getting darker. Finally we arrived at our destination, and as we rounded the corner it was all worth it–a massive 100′ wide and 50′ tall gouge in the side of the mountain, framed by a ceiling and floor of stalactites and -mites, thousands of drips echoing around. I carefully climbed down into the cave, everything was wet and slippery. It sloped down into inky blackness, but I only went as far as my courage could take me, and then climbed back out. The sun was setting as we emerged back at the farm. We left without running into another soul.

(Editor’s note: Look closer. That’s Sarah Landau standing in the very back of that cave).

By: Sarah Landau

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Awaroa Lodge in Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

The website for New Zealand’s Awaroa Lodge boasts, “Discerning travelers from all over the world appreciate the distinctive architecture and relaxed ambience of Awaroa Lodge. Discover a perfect balance of natural comfort and contemporary style, welcoming hospitality and creative & organic cuisine…The Awaroa Experience is an intrinsic New Zealand Experience.”

Which is true. Awaroa Lodge, located in Abel Tasman National Park more or less on the northernmost tip of the country’s South Island, is a beautiful, award-winningly eco-friendly collection of cabins situated around a serene wetlands preservation a mere two minute walk from the stunning Awaroa Bay. The main lodge offers delicious (albeit expensive) gourmet meals at the in-house restaurant as well as a lovely space for meetings or special-event receptions, and as the lodge is accessible only by air or by sea and pretty much devoid of cell phone service, your time spent at Awaroa is guaranteed to be a genuine New Zealand bush experience.

Living there, however…well, that’s a totally different ball game.

From January to March of 2006, I was a full-time housekeeper (ergo resident) of Awaroa Lodge’s hustling staff quarters. A good five-minute walk from the main lodge down a dirt trail, the staff quarters were pretty much like summer camp for 20-somethings; the living room had a TV, poker table, computer, and weed smoke; the kitchen was filled with loaves of bread and jars of peanut butter pilfered from the lodge by the 21-year-old sous-chef and usually contained about 20 half-empty bottles of Jameson’s, the shower stalls opened directly on to the outdoors and were perpetually either letting in giant cicadas or letting out boyfriend/girlfriend sexytime noises. It was madness.

But living among this madness afforded me the opportunity to learn all the secrets about Awaroa that make it one of the most amazing places on earth. For one, there are two different versions of Awaroa Bay; the high tide version, and the low tide version. At low tide, the crystal-clear, gold-speckled sea recedes to reveal an alien landscape of hidden, bolder-strewn beaches; sprawling plains of wave-patterned sand pockmarked with tiny crab hidey-holes; banks of rocks covered in New Zealand’s coveted green lip mussels. As Awaroa locals, us staff members would take advantage of low tide by walking across the exposed beaches to the cliff site that was once a Maori (New Zealand’s native people) war bunker, or by gathering up the mussels and having a group cookout, or just by strolling though the drained estuary and marveling at the Dali-esque landscape.

Living at the lodge I also learned that the best running trail in the world begins at the Awaroa staff quarters, climbs up the cliffs to a break in the trees revealing breathtaking panoramic views of Awaroa Bay and all its neighboring beaches, then slowly winds back down through the lush jungle-like woods, ending more or less back at the staff quarters. Let me tell you, after a long day of cleaning up strangers’ messes, jogging along the cliff just as the sun was beginning to set was a religious experience.

Really, while I could go on for ages about the amazing nuances of living in Abel Tasman (the nighttime swims through clouds of phosphorescent algae, sleeping in the airstrip under the stars, being accompanied by dolphins on my final boat ride from the lodge), it’s an experience you can’t understand unless you do it yourself. And while I one hundred percent recommend following my lead and taking up residence, being a guest at Awaroa Lodge is a worthy substitution, especially armed with my insider knowledge:) Happy trails!

By: Lyndsey Aho