“‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time a man can be brave…’”

The penultimate event of our Christmas Day adventures was sand duning near 90-Mile Beach. If you are not familiar with this practice, it’s pretty simple: you carry a short body board up a sand dune and slide down the dune on the board face-first. We pulled up next to a massive sand dune where people were duning from a spot about midway up. Our guide, Aerial, declared, “We’re going to the top.” He really meant the top. So up we trudged. I think hiking the sand dune was much harder than the actual sand duning, but it’s a close thing. I’m terrified of heights, you see. So that whole trudge up the dune, I had all this lovely time to think. And thinking amplifies fear; it acts as oxygen to fear’s fire. There were several times during that trudge where I straight-up thought about just walking down the stupid dune and waiting on the bus.

One of many dunes where people were duning
This is our dune. See the people at the very top? That’s where we took off from.

Luckily for me, my pride outweighs my fear occasionally, so I kept trudging. I got to the top, threw my board down to the cheers of my many new friends and cursed my way down the dune at full volume. There were several very entertained witnesses, though I verified no small English-speaking children were within range before letting fly. I wasn’t the fastest one down the dune (you control your speed with your feet), but I did it, and I’m proud of that. My reward: sand in my ears. Aside: I don’t know what standard cardio looks like in Australia, but it is working. Several of my tour mates ran that dune two or even three times. Ran it! /aside.

Aerial brought his own selection of body boards

As I mentioned in my intro post to New Zealand, this is a place known for adventure activities. There are basically unlimited ways in which you can challenge your fears. Many people in our group went skydiving or bungee jumping – some did both! I was thrilled for all of them but did not participate myself for reasons that were surprisingly less related to fear than a basic appreciation for a perfectly fine airplane. However, I did the sand duning, black and white water rafting plus other assorted less-scary-to-me things.

View out to 90-Mile Beach

While in New Zealand, I also thought a great deal about courage and what it means to be brave. I love the Game of Thrones quote at the top of this post – it gives me hope. I don’t consider myself a particularly brave person and have never assumed I would be sorted into Gryffindor. Ravenclaw is much more likely or frankly even Hufflepuff (who wants to solve a riddle when you just want to use the loo?). But honestly, I think there are lots of forms of bravery in the world. Integrity takes courage as does showing up for the boring stuff that matters to someone else, not to mention standing up for someone who is less able to stand for him or herself. Don’t even get me started on the bravery of keeping your mouth shut, a type of courage I admittedly rarely explore. There are all kinds of “mundane” braveries in our everyday lives. In my time in New Zealand, I never did come to a definitive answer on translating the vacation bravery (jumping off high things or throwing oneself down giant sand dunes) into the everyday bravery. But I think there is a connection, and I mean to find it someday. Maybe I have to jump out of a perfectly fine airplane first.

Contiki Christmas 2015
Panorama of the beach

But back to the adventures… the final event of our Christmas Day wanderings was also the most surprising. After we stowed our boards and loaded up the bus, Aerial turned on the theme from Top Gun and proceeded to drive out to 90-Mile Beach at high speed, pulling donuts and just generally having a great time. It turns out our bus was made to handle these conditions, and so for the next few minutes, we were treated to a delightful ride worthy of any 4-wheeler (or Quad Bike, as they’re known in New Zealand).

A bus. On a beach. Our bus, in fact.
Tire tracks. On a beach.
Tire tracks. On a beach.

After the four-wheeling-by-bus and letting us out for a bit to see the Hole in the Rock, Aerial drove at highway speeds along the beach for probably 30 km. 90-Mile Beach is navigable by car, sort of. For experienced drivers like Aerial, it’s no problem as long as you don’t get too close to the incoming tide and know what you’re about. Unfortunately for one couple, this was not their reality that day. We watched in horror as the tides started to submerge their stuck vehicle, and the nearby truck was not able to pull them out in time. Considering it was probably a rental car, and this is probably not included in their insurance package, it was a pretty unhappy Christmas for them. So if you go to 90-Mile Beach, heed the warnings and stay well away from the water line.

Title quote: George R. R. Martin through Bran and Ned Stark, A Game of Thrones

Hole in the Rock out in the distance.
The SUV on the left is the one that’s stuck. For all time at this point.

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