“All right,” said Blake in an unconvincing tone. “We will go on the count of three.”
Blake was on my right side, shivering slightly as he thought of what we were about to do. I looked to my left at Kevin; his were eyes focused ahead. I followed Kevin’s gaze forward to find our target. Here we go, I thought. You’ve been waiting for this moment all trip…now is not the time to back out. Plus, there is a really beautiful woman watching. I turned back momentarily and caught the stranger’s eye. She was holding a dog while leaning her head on her mom’s shoulder. She gave an encouraging smile which temporarily filled my body with warmth…the last warmth I would feel for the next several minutes.
“One,” said Blake after a long pause. He delayed even longer before he said, “Two……………….THREE!”
All three of us stormed forward in a frenzy. I splashed into the water as ice flooded my veins, ripping any remaining warmth from my blood. The natural pool was filled with water so clear that I could see the bottom, which was disappearing fast. Before I knew it, the water became so deep that I was swimming…swimming forward as my body convulsed and contorted in sheer pain…swimming forward for a timeless memory…swimming forward, because going back was not an option…swimming forward to carry on.
The previous day, we took a boat ferry from Auckland to Waiheke Island. Waiheke seems like it should be more a part of Hawaii than New Zealand…just another example the vast the scenery this wonderous country. The ferry ride lasted for about 40 minutes and gave us some amazing views of the Auckland skyline. Once we arrived, we found an island with beautiful sandy beaches being encroached by aqua blue waves…paradise.
We quickly loaded onto a van with 11 other strangers and our tour guide, Graeme. Although we were getting a scenic tour of the island, the main purpose of our trip was the three stops along the way – local vineyards. The first stop on our list was a vineyard called Goldie. Goldie was small and had a very relaxed atmosphere. I really enjoyed the Pinot Gris. The second place we went to was called Wild on Wine, which was a winery and craft brewery combined. This vineyard was the most unusual as it offered several activities, such as archery, clay shooting, giant chess, and volleyball. It was while at Wild on Wine we began really getting to know the rest of our group; there were people from Scotland and Ireland, an Australian, a group of guys from Christchurch (The South Island), a few others from New Zealand, and then us Americans. It was quite the dynamic group and we had a blast together.
Each winery offered us a unique experience and delicious wine. It was not until the last winery, however, that I was hit with something besides a slight buzz. When we arrived at the vineyard called, The Bach, the view was absolutely stunning. It was one of the highest places on Waiheke Island – We could see beautiful beaches and even the Auckland skyline in the distance. We drank and laughed with the owner, Graeme and the rest of our group. As I was exploring the building, I found a the motto of the winery painted on the wall (pictured below).
I read the wall and re-read it again. Camaraderie, I thought to myself. I looked back to Kevin, Joe, and Blake who were all outside joking with the guys from Christchurch. I looked down at my Dad’s ashes, his basket protruded slightly from my bag. Camaraderie. After visiting Bach, we loaded onto the bus, then the ferry, and headed back towards Auckland. Blake, Kevin, and I ended up going with all of the people from the wine tour to a pub in downtown Auckland. Random strangers from different parts of the world partaking in the same memories and sharing the same laughs; that is camaraderie.
I swam hard and fast, forcing my body to fight through the pain. The only thing on my mind was making it to the bottom of the waterfall. Blake arrived first and I followed closely behind. As we waited a few seconds for Kevin to arrive, I let freezing water rain down on my head. Instead of numbing my body further, the cold waterfall had the opposite effect; my senses were heightened. My face shifted into a pearly grin as I felt the warmth of being alive…as I felt the greatness of sharing a wonderful memory with these friends and my stepfather. We all turned to Joe who was snapping photos from a rock while laughing at the misery of our cold.
After we swam beneath the massive waterfall on the Kite Kite trek (pronounced Kitty Kitty), Joe took us to the Tasman Lookout Hill. We sat atop this tall hill, just the four of us, and watched the sunset past Tasman Sea and over the horizon. We watched several surfers hundreds of feet below as orange and pink colors flooded the water. The beautiful sunset symbolized the end of a great three weeks in New Zealand; a time to carry on…a time of camaraderie.
I looked at him in his eyes as he squeezed my hand tightly. Although the rest of his body was weak and it took all of his strength to speak, his eyes were not; they were still strong, still the same eyes I knew as a child. They gave a distinct look of being firm and disciplined, yet wise and loving. These were the eyes of my stepfather…a solid rock in my life.
“Make memories,” he said to me as his eyes glistened with tears.