New Zealand: Bright as a Starfish Lighting the Way

H&D at Waitakare Ranges

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This is the final post – Part 9 – of the Community-Driven Tour 2010 to New Zealand.  (To read these posts from the beginning, head here.)

It’s hard to imagine all we have done and accomplished and seen in just a month. Virtually every day included work of some sort, whether that work was engaging a group of 300 conference attendees, phone sessions with coaching clients, writing, thinking.

And here it was, Saturday afternoon, the day before our flight back to the U.S. After our exhilarating time in Dunedin, we were pleased when Aly offered her home as our resting place for Saturday night. We anticipated a quiet dinner, an early night to bed, followed by a quiet day of packing and preparing to leave on Sunday.

Silly silly us.

Aly picked us up at the airport following our flight from the South Island, excited to tell us that Garth was in town to teach a course and would be joining us for dinner.

We had just enough time for a walk before dinner. And so we headed east from Aly’s townhome, through the tall trees and steep sloping paths of Western Park, down towards the harbor. On that very last full day before headinghome, we ended up in the exact spot where we had spent our first morning, watching our first New Zealand sunrise. The perfect circle.

Dinner with Aly and Garth was another perfect circle – a long night laughing and sharing stories with the two people whose relentless efforts had brought us to the land we now loved and couldn’t wait to return to.

Sunday morning. Aly had offered to use our few remaining hours to show us “her” Auckland. “You’ve spent a lot of time in East Auckland. Let me show you West Auckland.” How could we say no?

Green of the Rainforest

After a quick stop for coffee and pastries, Aly drove us into the rainforest of the Waitakare Ranges, barely ½ hour outside the modern metropolis that is Auckland. It is hard to imagine the city abutting so close to the dense green we are suddenly surrounded by.

The Arataki Visitor’s Centre is the perfect spot for us newbies – an interpretive museum to teach us about the rainforest, and all sorts of treetop decks to observe it from. Again we learn about the hazards of the possum; by now it has sunk in.

There are Maori totems everywhere in the Visitor’s Centre. Aly tells us that some fundamentalist religious groups have attempted to have the bold maleness of those totems covered up or otherwise “removed.” We sigh that fundamentalism everywhere is sadly the same.

Surfer, surf & cliffs

We would love to stay, but Aly insists that we must get to our next stop during low tide. Another ½ hour’s drive and we are at Piha Beach, where the waves are huge and hazardous – the perfect draw for surfers. The tide is out, and I immediately roll up my pants legs to wade into the water, to explore.

Aly’s plans are about more than just wading, though. She leads the way towards the rocks, where we will climb to see what she keeps calling a “blow hole.” The rocks are covered with mussels of all sizes, from tiny babies to fully mature, ready-to-eat green lip morsels. Walking over that combination will definitely require shoes.

Unfortunately, I’m wearing my “toe shoes” – the Vibram 5 Finger shoes that cling to your feet and feel like you are walking barefoot (heavenly, by the way). Having taken off those shoes to go wading, I know I will never get my wet feet back into them. And so I tell Aly and Dimitri to go along without me. I’ll just hang out in the tide – not a bad consolation prize, I am sure.

The water is pure delight. I am smiling like a kid, thinking, “Tonight I will be on a plane heading home, and this afternoon I am…”

I don’t get to finish the thought. The tide came in with one wave, moving up from toes to knees to thighs in a matter of seconds. I turn sideways, letting the wave wash past me, intent that I will not be knocked down. I would like to say my resolve to stay standing was motivated by my desire to stay dry prior to our flight that evening. But in truth my only thought was, “Save the camera. Save the camera.”

Starfish & Mussels

The water recedes. I look at the mussel-covered rocks beside me, and there it is – a starfish. Not just a starfish, but a HUGE starfish. It has 12 arms. It is purplish orange, if there can be such a color.

Before I can say aloud, “Oh my God, a starfish!” I see another. And another. They are everywhere.

The starfish has great meaning around the Community-Driven Institute. Based around the work of Brafman and Beckstrom, we have strived to build the Institute’s work around the “starfish” model of leaderless leadership. I have no words to describe what it felt like to encounter the living emblem of that work.

Collage - starfish shots

Aly and Dimitri return from seeing the blow hole. Dimitri is all smiles, telling me it is magnificent and hoping his photos came out to show me. But all I can do is stare and point and smile. We are surrounded by starfish. Even Aly had never seen anything like it.

"Blow Hole" in the Rocks

We shoot for as long as time will permit, and then we are back in the car, heading to the third and final stop of the tour. Aly winds the car up one mountain road and down the next. I nap in the back seat until the car stops again.

We are at Muriwai – a rookery for Australian Gannets. Being from North America, neither Dimitri nor I had heard of these birds whose heads are shaped for diving into the water at speeds as fast as 140km per hour ( approx. 90 mph). Their flight is more like soaring than flying. It is majestic to watch.

However this is more than a place to watch these amazing birds fly. It is a nesting area. We stand above the ledge where babies await their parents’ feasts. Grey babies calling, “Feed me feed me feed me” and mamas doing just that. Not just one or two, but scores of babies and scores of parents. We stand in the wind, mesmerized. None of us wants to leave.

Gannett Soaring

We make a quick stop along the way back to Aly’s – a roadside stall that sells ice cream and hot dogs and toasted cheese sandwiches. This will be our last Hokey Pokey Ice Cream for a long time.

Then it’s back to Aly’s for another quick snack – one I am still dreaming about. Olives the size of my thumb. Luscious bread with seeds running through it – bread I am still hoping to encounter at some bakery somewhere, here in the States.

And then we are at the airport, exchanging money, going through customs, buying a shot-glass for Nick (who gets a shot glass from everywhere we travel.) This “last day of relaxing and getting ready to leave” has turned into one of the most breathtaking days of the whole trip, thanks entirely to Aly.

Mama Gannet feeding Baby

After this full month of glorious adventures, sitting in the Auckland airport as we prepared to head home, Dimitri and I asked each other, “What was the best part of this time for you?”

With all we had seen and done, the answer came to me immediately. It is something we can always count on to be grand – the one piece of New Zealand that lingers delightfully in my mind, making me smile deep inside each time I think of it.

“Just spending time with friends, new and old,” I told my partner.

Yes, New Zealand was wonderful beyond anything we had imagined. But the memories that will linger are of the people who made this month so special. The hospitality for which New Zealand is renowned feels like a beautiful bow, gift wrapping friendships with people we look forward to seeing again. We are already talking about doing another “Community-Driven New Zealand Tour” in 2011 – hoping to do another consultants class, and to spend more time doing workshops in communities across the South Island.

The road leading to this point has been so life-giving, it is hard to imagine what’s next. One thing is certain, though. The road ahead is illuminated by thousands of starfish, born of the brilliant pieces of other starfish, multiplying and making this work their own, and shedding their own light on the future we are all creating together.


Photos: Hildy and Dimitri

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