I was dropped outside of bulls and, with heavy heart, said my farewells to Team Spork. Tanja took my tramping boots back to Christchurch for me (bless her), and BJ promised to lovingly babysit my guitar on his journey around the South Island (bless them both). Within five minutes I had hitched a ride to Taupo. The guy who picked me up worked on a land-based drilling rig and was driving his new 4WD home. He had interesting stories to tell about the lifestyle of an oil rig worker and the dangers it involves. Respect. I camped up that night at the free camping space at Rieds Farm again and fell into company with a group of Bros, drinking beer and playing guitar.
I was walking to the road the next morning when a car pulled over and asked a ride if I wanted into town. “Sorry, I’m headed to Rotorua. But thanks.” I said and kept walking. The car did a U-turn and came back. “Ah, why not. I’ll go to Roters.” So this young share milker on his day off drove me all the way from Taupo to Rotorua just for the sake of having someone to talk to. I hope I did not disappoint him.
I met up with a good friend in Rotorua and was spontaneously hosted by an elderly couple of infinite energy and open heartedness. Fond memories include Jim driving us around all the tourist spots, collecting golf balls, swimming to the wall, scrabble & jigsaw puzzles, and good talks.
Uncle Peter and Auntie Joy picked me up the next day and took me back to their home in Rotoiti. Of my four cousins only David was there. David and I took the dog for walks, swam in the lake and played guitar together. I strained a finger jumping from a cliff and not quite catching a rope-swing. :) I went with the family to church on Sunday and set Peter up with Skype. Tamar, being still in Switzerland, loaned me her car. I had it warranted and was free to roam northwards! So awesome.
Dörfligers being Dörfligers, Redwoods being redwoods.
With an arm out the window and music on the stereo, I drove north. I involuntarily took the scenic route up Coromandel Peninsula, cutting through to Thames and back on to Auckland. I picked up two hitchhikers for a short stretch. My first impressions of Auckland matched my prejudices fairly accurately. At one point I was on a two-lane road, which became four, then six. Numbered exits began to appear and there was an increasingly pervasive fear that I was being swallowed by some sort of mythical monster disguised as a city. Not really knowing where to go, I took an arbitrary exit. It turned off onto a smaller highway which I also had to exit from. Eventually I was down to mere bumper-to-bumper two-lane traffic in an industrial zone somewhere. I did eventually find something remotely green and parkish but it was a strange experience getting there.
Roman’s apartment is smack in the middle of Auckland City where he lives with his partner and works as a radiologist (he gave me scrubs! Real ones!). As incredible coincidence should have it, Bev just happened to be in town on a business trip. As the only member of my close circle of Kiwi friends I hadn’t been able to catch up with, I was quite pleased with this arrangement. We stayed up and talked like back in the good old days. I picked their brains and procured a list of literary to-do's. If fantasy is your thing, listen up. Other genres are in there too but I hold their opinion in high enough esteem to say it's all good.
I stayed at their hotel on the spare bed and wandered the city with Bev’s workmate’s girlfriend (names are not my strong suit) for a day. The city boasts the country’s most expensive lift, the Sky Tower, which costs NZ$55 to ride. It is rumoured that people actually willingly part with real money for this service. Contrastingly, we were let into the Auckland museum for free. It was donation based in any case but I was impressed that they weren’t accepting money from Cantabrians. In fact when I think about it, the amount of national support for Christchurch is heart warming. I like being proud to be Kiwi.
|What do you mean there are no stairs?|
We went to a couchsurfing meetup in Auckland. My mission was to find people to go diving with up at Poor Knights near Whangarei. Sure enough, the next day my new Canadian friend Mary and I were on the road to Tutukaka.
Diving Poor Knights
We camped in Tutukaka and went to the dive shop in the morning. Our trip included a 50 min boat ride out to the Poor Knights Islands, gear hire, a refresher course, lunch and two guided dives. The dive site is in a marine reserve and the East Australian Current (EAC if you’ve seen Finding Nemo) runs right through it so the water is warm, visibility is awesome, and the fish are plentiful and varied. We did blow NZ$310 each for the trip, but it was totally worth it. More info here.
Returning from the dive we docked at around 4pm and were on the road by 4:30pm. I dropped Mary off in Auckalnd and continued southwards through the night. Google reckons the stretch is 440km and takes 6 hours. Add in a dinner stop and a brief farewell and I pulled into Uncle Peter & Auntie Joy’s driveway sometime after 11pm.
I was actually able to see my cousin Jordan for around 20 mins the next morning before we each rushed off on our own endeavours. Joy and David dropped me off at the visitors centre in Rotorua. I caught the bus to Napier with 5 mins to spare, had me some shut-eye on the way over, and rolled into Napier with enough time to run to the hotel, book a room, throw my backpack inside and board the transport bus to Sean and Tanya’s wedding. Yes, it was a mission, and I knew it would be one, but hell it was worth it. And besides, I’d made it. Nothing quite like cheating the devil.
Many years ago, somewhere around 2002 when I was but a wide-eyed young student, full of curiosity and potential, I studied at Canterbury University and lived in a flat. Gondwana flat we called it, although the significance is now lost on me. Sean and Jay studied Computer Science while Tanya did Law, and I lived in the big room next to the lounge with my girlfriend Sophie. Sophie and I moved out at the end of the year leaving the Gondwana Tribe to fend for themselves. Years spun by, flatmates came and went, and they moved once, but the heart of the tribe remained: Jay, Sean and Tanya. So it came as little surprise to me a few years back to learn that after years of should-I-shouldn’t-I-ing, Sean and Tanya had finally made the logical step and were together. Fast forward several years more, and Sean and Tanya announce their wedding plans. A location is decided, a date it set, and invitations are sent. Incredibly enough, I receive one. Mission Estate Winery eh? The fools, they know not with what they dabble.
|Now say "I do"|
I extend my holiday out by two weeks. Fast forward to present day, stepping into a funky wedding bus after a driving marathon, a few hours sleep and bus trip. There are familiar Christchurch faces on the bus, as well as strange north island ones. Excluding me, people are dressed in suits, dresses, bow ties, dress shoes, high-heels, hats, and other things you’d expect to see at say, a wedding. Including me? Let’s see... I’m wearing my best jeans (which I’d carried around the north island for just this moment), my best white t-shirt (the hole burn in it from lighting fireworks on a rooftop in Colombo on New Year s Eve is barely visible), and my only pair of non-boot, non-jandal shoes — the white cross-trainers (no, those are not blood stains, well they might be but don’t ask). However I HAD showered. That morning to be precise. And then taken a three hour bus trip and run through Napier with a rucksack on a warm day. Yes I stood out like a kite in a thunderstorm (the vineyard staff said it was okay for me to wander through the dining area but to please be inconspicuous as it was a private function) but I was there and it was awesome.
Sean and Tanya said their vows and tied the knot in the traditional vow-saying, knot-tying way. Jay made the best best man’s speech I’ve ever heard. In rhyme. I’m a dream-boat apparently. Thanks Jay. Food followed by speeches, drinking, disco and merriment. Oh, and my great achievement of the evening? Getting Jay on the dance floor. You could almost hear the tiny screams as the little pieces of his dignity died horribly one by one, ballroom dancing to 80’s disco. I even found a nice big picture so that everyone can see.
|Yup, he's going to kill me in my sleep|
I actually made it to the barbecue the next day, despite not planning to. I was offered a ride to Wellington and had enough time. Mark and Maluz hosted me at their parents place in Wellington. I’d hosted them in Zürich and they were returning the favour. They fed me and dropped me off at the ferry the next morning too. It was great to see them again.
Max and Rowena met me in Picton. We ate sandwiches for lunch and drove back to Christchurch for my last few days. I spent some time visiting friends I’d missed, packing and planning. Brenda dropped me to the airport early one morning, and I was on my way.
Goodbye Christchurch (90% power restored), goodbye Southern Alps
Uncle Norman and Auntie Karyl picked me up from Melbourne airport and dropped me at Grandma’s. I slept, I fixed her computer, I shovelled some dirt, I messed about in the garden and I pruned the vine. We went to dinner each night somewhere new, chatted to Maureen over the fence and talked about how big the new fence was, checked on the Monarch cocoons, visited the same lovely Irish family we visited last time, and made an excursion out to the country to visit relatives. I had freshly pressed orange juice every morning with muesli and yoghurt. Grandma wouldn’t let me pay for anything. Uncle Ted drove all the way into town to have dinner with us one night. Honestly, after being on the go for so long it was a wonderful, much needed rest. And I got to see Grandma again.
I spent some time at Uncle Norman’s and Auntie Karyl’s place – both at the old house and at the new house they built in Safety Bay. We went to a St. Patrick’s day celebration at the yacht club with a traditional Irish dance show. I watched the sun set. I caught up with some of my long lost cousins. I saw Bree briefly, spent an afternoon with Fiona and had coffee at Donavan’s new coffee shop.
|Melbourne from the Dandenongs|
I caught up with Jase and Rosey, some couchsurfers I’d wanted to host in Zürich but couldn’t because I was in hospital at the time. Jase was busy, but Rosey and I drove into the Dandenong ranges and walked around, visited her Grandma, visited a bird sanctuary, picked up some stuff at the supermarket and came home for a barbecue. We talked about heaps of stuff; heavy metal, music software, electronics, laser cooling, education, gaming. I crashed over at theirs spontaneously.
I went to a couchsurfing meet-up one evening and chatted with some interesting folk from around the globe. They sold Monteiths at the bar we were at. Very impressive. I shared a train ride home and a good conversation with a new friend. Then it was back to Grandma’s for a few hours sleep before my flight to Surfer’s Paradise.
A bird in the hand...
I was hosted at the last minute by a guy in a million dollar mansion. We saw a magic show, ate sushi, and went out on a Tuesday night. He was moving away and threw a farewell party, inviting a bunch of his friends, couchsurfers, and whoever else wanted to come.
I took the bus to Byron Bay to visit Thomas, Maik and Zoe. I stayed there only one night, but it was good to be back all together again. I already wonder when the next time will be. My suspicion is that it will be at Zoe’s bar in Wales. And Zoe will bake us cake. She promised. I went swimming, sat around and talked with the boys, drank the vilest swill ever to have been sold commercially (Coopers Stout), watched drunk people harassing a protesting environmentalist who’d climbed up a tree and wouldn’t come down, hung out with a group of new age Christian hippies drinking chai latte and twirling staves, walked along the beach and generally enjoyed myself. I like Byron Bay. It’s a little touristy but it’s clean and it’s beautiful.
|Coffee Culture, Lyttelton|
December 2010, back when it still exited.
New Year's Day 2011, the great beer and steak getaway.
|Byron Bay, Australia|
March 2011, reunited once more.
Back to Surfer’s Paradise for a bachelor party I’d been invited to via Bev and Sarika. Without going into too much detail, they’d rented a penthouse suit on the 54th floor. The party had all the things you’d expect, and we were liquored up and in town by 10pm.
View from the 54th floor, Surfers Paradise
Next day Bev and I went to see my cousin Lee who was working for a nearby circus. We caught the morning show, then earned our admission by helping them to take the circus down. It was a day’s heavy labour in the hot sun on a hangover, by the end of which I was covered in dust and properly spent. But I loved it. The whole circus is really a big family with everyone pitching in and doing everything. The clowns also sell coffee and do repairs, the acrobats sell tickets, and even the dogs perform. They fed us and drove us home. It was great to catch up again.
The city felt weird, actually. There were so many Asians it hardly felt like Autralia at all. Most of the restaurants are Asian restaurants. Even the pool halls play Asian music videos. Thomas and I met and hung out for a day. We played pool, drank beer and walked around. I played guitar with a guy on the roof and saw a girl vomiting outside an Irish pub. Spectacular.
Sydney to Hong Kong, to London Heathrow (terminal 5), and last stop in Zürich Flughafen. I caught my first earful of swiss-german in London Heathrow, and it suddenly dawned on me then that I was going home. I was oddly looking forward to it, back to my routines, to work, to Kung-Fu, couchsurfing and DnD. We arrived home on April Fool's Day. It was the first bit of fine weather they'd had, and it was spring. Flowers were out, birds were singing. We headed over to Andy's rooftop for a bbq, some beers, a guitar session and to watch the sun set. Pretty good homecoming methinks.
Isn’t it funny how life isn’t always what you expect it to be? It seems like change is in the works once again. I won’t spill all the beans now but there’s a surprise to be revealed. After all, life is a journey which ends in death is it not? (No, I’m not going to die – I'm just saying that the adventure doesn't necessarily stop here). To be continued...