In 2004 Thad signed up to attend a workshop for AP history teachers, as he was getting ready to tackle a new set of courses at Liberty Charter School in Nampa, Idaho. As a part of his new class load, he was going to get the opportunity to teach AP history to juniors and seniors, but part of the preparation for that was to get the proper certification from the Advanced Placement company. His class was held in North Carolina at Wake Forest. Since I was on summer break at the time, I decided to go along for a vacation while he was in class, but not wanting to be solo on my daily explorations, we invited my parents to go with us. After a week of him going to school all day and us roaming the surrounding areas, we headed out as a group for a few more days of travel. It was in those wanderings that I made a fateful $8 purchase: a National Parks passport. This small impulse buy would become the center of our US travels from them onwards.
Because of that little spiral-bound blue book, we’ve taken scenic detours to National Park sites that are well-off the beaten path. Sometimes these are planned adventures and sometimes they are because one of us spotted the tell-tale brown on a road sign that is the signal that a National Park area is nearby. Some of these places are close to main cities and attractions, but as often as not, they are down less-traveled roads and possibly through Children-of-the-Corn-esque fields.
Our recent road trip in New Zealand brought back the memories of these American countryside jaunts when Thad decided that we were going to find the place with the longest name. Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu (which translates roughly as “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the slider, climber of mountains, the land-swallower who traveled about, played his nose flute to his loved one”) is registered with the Guinness Book of World Records as such, with a moniker weighing in at eighty-five letters and it sounded like just our kind of adventure. (There are variations on the name and length, some reaching over 100 letters, but this is the most commonly seen/used of them.) After pulling out a couple of maps and not getting much in the way of directions and a GPS that had never heard of the location, we set off to see what we could find, just us, a book and a plan. As this place is not much more than a hill in the middle of nowhere, it wasn’t a surprise that little could be found about how to get there, but how hard could it be? New Zealand isn’t that big, right?
Luckily, our Lonely Planet had some vague directions, based mostly on turning right at a large field with a small road sign in front of it, so we set the GPS for what we thought was the closest town and then hoped for signs from there.
There were no signs.
After getting extremely lost and turned around multiple times, we literally came to the end of the road in New Zealand. We didn’t actually think much of it when our paved road turned to dirt, as that happened several times in the previous days as we crisscrossed the north and south islands. But, at one point, the road just ended. No pavement. No dirt. Just a field with no access.
Backtracking ensued and eventually we came to a fork in the road and a gut instinct that said to take that right turn, so right we went. Twenty more kilometers down the road (paved this time!) we would have passed it had we blinked! In the middle of the countryside stands a LONG skinny sign with the name of the hill. Behind it? An unassuming bump in the landscape.
It took an entire day to find, but it was an excursion well-worth the (slight) frustration and crazy twists and turns. Not many folks would have stuck with the search, but we were rewarded with five minutes of glory and the distinction of having set foot on the place certified to have the longest name in the world! Luckily, my years as a passenger in the quest for National Parks passport stamps have taught me that such journeys are often rewarded in the end, a lesson that came in handy as we made our way through the sheep-dotted countryside in the Land of the Kiwis.