Friday, 3 April 2015

Jesse and I took a weekend in the South Island. We wanted to see Grant, who was finishing an Aoraki Bound course, before embarking of his long held dream of messing around New Zealand on a bicycle. It was our last chance to see him, maybe for a couple of years.

It was also our last chance to see the South Island, for a couple of years, so we booked tickets and researched campsites to offset the expense.

On the morning of our flight I silenced the caw of the alarm, and went to open the door of the bathroom. It didn't budge. I tried again, then called to Jesse quietly.
"What do you mean the door won't open?"
"What do you think I mean by that?"

He tried, and shifted the door a hands-breath, wide enough to reach in an arm, the claws of hammer, but couldn't reach the mop, which had toppled from behind the washing machine and jammed the door.
"I'll have to force it," said Jesse.
"We're having door troubles," I apologised to our flatmate's girlfriend, who had emerged to see what the fuss was. A moment later, the flatmate appeared. I imagined them whispering incredulously in the half dark. "What do you mean, door troubles?"

Jesse put his shoulder to the door and forced himself through the reluctant gap. I banished the mop to the deck. All weekend we retold the story: remember the bathroom door?

At the airport, the taxi driver apologised for his driving as he hefted our bags from the boot. I hadn't noticed.
"It's been a long night," said the driver.

We had been in the air for ten minutes before I remembered I'm afraid of flying, except maybe I'm not anymore. I spent the rest of the journey smiling smugly to myself.

Christchurch was cold, cold like I'd forgotten existed over this long summer. "It's seven degrees!" I cried, then instagramed a picture of myself wrapped up snug.

"Imagine," I said, "living somewhere where you had to wear a hat."

We breakfasted in a pirate themed cafe, and were on the road before ten. I did most of the driving, watching the land unfurl from pastures to plowed fields, to tussock. Jesse checked the map:
"We're not even on the scenic route yet," he said as we passed over another bridge. The sky was clear and impossibly blue, but the rivers and mountains and lakes were bluer. The roads were very straight and flat. We went a hundred kilometres without seeing a passing lane, but didn't need one, as there was almost no other traffic around.

In Geraldine, I marvelled at the World's Largest Jumper, and patted all the local yarns.
"I'm going to buy them all," I said.
"Sure," said Jesse, but when I turned for the door, he looked up from his phone and said, "what about your yarn?"
"I can't, remember? We're going."

At Lake Tekapo, I found a flying fox, and whizzed down it twice. We parked at Peter's Lookout ("Look out, Peter!" I said) and pushed through the brush to the lake shore.

Then we were driving again, threading our way between the mountains. At the vistor's centre at Aoraki, we turned the pages of the four thick memorial books, looking at the faces of the ones who had gone before us, and not come back.

Jesse picked a campsite with a view of the mountains, and we set up his little yellow tent. Mt Cook village is nestled into the base of the mountains, a flat, wide valley covered with yellow tussock. The mountains rise straight up on three sides, giving the peculiar impression you are in the bottom of a bowl.

We cooked our dinner in the Public Shelter, a hall with high ceilings and metal sinks across one wall. There was no electricity, but there was running water. A group of travellers was slicing onions and mushrooms, beating eggs, and selecting spices from a large tupperware box. I had bought a packet of pre-cooked rice, and a heat-in-the-bag curry. 
"It's nice," said Jesse. 
"Mmm, it is, but it looks like cat sick," I said. 

We shared a picnic table with two travelling couples, who after a quick nod to us, went back to their conversation. "I want to travel for at least three years," said the woman of the younger pair. 
"I've been travelling since I was 20," said the woman of the older couple, "and I think I'm ready to settle down, maybe have a family. A pet. And the jobs you get when travelling - I'm sick of picking fruit and cleaning other people's houses. I think I'm ready to live in one place, you know?"
"I think it's a shame how people don't travel," said the first woman, "It wasn't until I went overseas that I realised I've never seen my own home. There are amazing places an hour away from where I grew up, and I've never seen them."
"That's always the way," said the younger man, "do you know how many New Zealanders haven't seen the South Island?"

It was still early, so we climbed the crag and watched the sun begin to set behind the hills. 

The airbed I'd bought didn't quite fit inside the tent. We shoved it in anyway. It filled the entire floorspace, and , and the next morning both woke up sneezing from the flurry of feathers which had leaked from his sleeping bag. 

I was snuffling and wiping my nose at the picnic table outside the tent when Chris appeared. 
"Hey Chris!" said Jesse.
"Chris!" I said. "Would you like a water? Juice? Coffee? Or maybe a cider?" I added hopefully. It was 10am. Chris wanted a coffee and we set up the little stove top pot and poured espresso into bright melamine cups. It was a beautiful day, but windy. Chris had already been for a walk. I put hot cross buns, dried mango and scroggin in front of him. "Eat," I urged. 

In the car park we met Grant's parents before being gently herded to where the pōwhiri was to take place. A tall man told us what to expect, translating every word we may not have known, lending his speech a strangely doubled quality. "When we hear the karanga, welcome song, the wāhine - woman - lead the way and sit at the back, and then the tāne - men - follow and sit at the front. The women lead the waiata, song.

After the pōwhiri and formal speeches, we ate a feast from plastic plates - chicken and steak and sausages and mussels and thick slices of sourdough bread, salad and fresh fruit and lemon cake. The participants each shared what they had gotten out of the experience. One said, "I can't believe I ran a half marathon this morning!" He talked about running towards Aoraki, an ancestor, and what an honour it was to run to his feet. "But Aoraki didn't think we'd been tested enough and blew his breath in our faces the whole time!" he laughed. 

Another spoke of how close the group had grown in such a short time, and that he believed, He hono tangata e kore e motu; ka pa he taura waka e motu: unlike a canoe rope, a human bond cannot be severed.

Another talked about pounamu. Pounamu is at once something you walk upon when it lies in the rivers, something you take with you as a pendant, and something you carry inside you, a lesson, or a personal truth or treasure which is with you always. 

Later we ate dinner with Grant and his parents and Chris. Grant was amazed - "I can't believe this. Being indoors is so - you know." He told us stories about getting up before the sun rose, and sailing a cutter, and spending 24 hours alone in the bush, and Doug the poop spade.

We had planned a long walk the next morning, but we woke up to a mizzling wet and took a short one instead, over two suspension bridges, and through rocks and brush. 

We played Pooh-sticks off the second bridge. They dropped down for long seconds before disappearing into the churn and struggling through the rapids down the river. My stick won.

Back at camp, Chris reappeared just as we were talking about taking down the tent. "Coffee?" I said hopefully, but Jesse overruled me and we took down the tent in the rain, stuffing it angrily in the hire car. After a shower at the backpackers where Grant was staying with his parents, I felt much more human. "There's nothing like washing your hair, taking a bath, or going for a walk to make you feel better," said Grant's mum. 
"I've done two of the three today," I laughed. 

We brunched and lingered over surprisingly good coffees, before we had to say goodbye and drive back to Christchurch and head to home. "That's the first goodbye," I thought, watching the landscape slip away from mountains and tussock, to fields, to pasture, before it was hidden by houses again. 


  1. These photos are gorgeous!! I want to see more of the South Island.

    1. Do it! The South Island is so lovely. FWIW I didn't edit any of these photos at all - it really was THAT blue!