New Zealand

I’m beginning to find that in this style of writing that relates mainly foreign cities and my opinions on them, all of the adventures, alright not adventures, but people I meet and events that occur outside of these cities, are lost. Forgotten already.

Save having to write a post for every small excursion or event, like “Blue Mountains” or “the time I ate some nice Salmon”; and also save retroactively writing a list of all the interesting things I can remember in one post, perhaps titled “let me piss a good time in your face”. No instead I’ll actively try to do more than simply “Wellington… Auckland… Longplacename” (genuine I promise you).
I’ll attempt a diarise (SHITE WORD) my time in New Zealand, a holiday from holidays, before I return to what promises to be a very hard month or two of work in South Australia.
My flight leaving on the 30th I shall begin on the 1st, because it’s neat. However I have already been in New Zealand one week, waiting for my card at the same address. So a little preamble is in order.

THE FIRST WEEK
After being released I faced an indeterminable wait for my card (at most 5 days no?) so as is good practice I arranged it to be sent to the bare cheapest hostel and stayed there. I’m still there now, on the last day of March, a week later. My card has arrived and the morning will take me somewhere new. Finally.
There is really not much of note in the first week aside from the fact that I walked to and from the library so often that I became firm friends with the Maori guys that wash cars at the traffic lights on the way. They tell me “yeah Bro, Dunedin good, student pussy lips”. I was also woken by a small tremor late afternoon of the 30th. Scary shit.
The hostel is mostly populated by East Germans, capitalising on the construction work much needed in this city. In typical German fashion their English isn’t great, but hey, neither is my Deutsch.
As the Germans refuse to speak English I’m friends with an Indian man and an Israeli… We insult Hollywood, the Germans and the hostel in turn, though it’s not such a bad place, just kooky.

The owners of the hostel, a perma-stoned kiwi couple in their 50s, are never here (physically and mentally) and when they do visit to demand payment they shift from dismissive and then to a strong dislike of everyone at the Hostel.
Everyday we’re informed of fresh problems with Irish thieves that don’t leave til police are called, the constant pile of dishes the Germans leave unwashed, bathroom vomit, neighbours apparently stapling threats to the fence, mixed (read shitty) reviews on hostel booker and the fact that nobody has paid in weeks and most leave without doing so.

They’re a lovely couple but despite 3am lectures on human unity and the failure of modern education they only ever taught me that running a hostel isn’t worth the hassle. Which is a real shame… Billingborough Backpackers was to be great.
My card arrived today and tomorrow I leave.
I present a month in New Zealand.

THE FIRST

I lied. My card didn’t arrive yesterday, it arrived at Christchurch yesterday. I believed the two to be synonymous.

After arriving in the city at 9 in the morning it would surely take an hour or two to reach the hostel; so I booked a bus leaving Christchurch for the second of this month. But it didn’t arrive yesterday. So I anxiously waited outside, eying the road and the postbox in equal turn, all day.

In anticipation of the coming courier I read some Frederick Forsyth and wait 5 hours, from 11 til 4. Mike the owner, who had my passport as collateral as I couldn’t pay, forgot who I was every hour or so and came out to enquire why I was on the porch, furiously staring at the mailbox. He asked everyday who I was and why I couldn’t pay and every day I reminded him I was waiting for my card. He also calls me Ben a lot.
The Forsyth book was finished, then Nicholas Nickelby, then Robinson Crusoe. At four I realised I was either going to have to miss my card or the early bus the next day and so I ran, fucking ran I tell you, desperately hoping the courier would t come in the 5 minutes I was absent, to purchase a SIM card so I could call UPS… The SIM card didn’t work with an English phone… No refund. I must’ve got a bit batshit as the spotty kid who worked at the phone shop let me use the landline… After the classic robo-bitch automated answer and the obligatory joy sapping hold Muzak, UPS tell me they gave the card to a 3rd party deliverer… They weren’t sure who, they couldn’t tell me anymore thankyouverymuchsirhaveaniceday…

I got pretty angry at this point and so ate some calm-down pasta (penne with cream). Upon returning to the hostel I asked Mike if the courier had came while I was out, clutching at straws.
“Nah mate… Still not come”
“FUCK”…… I replied
“… They did come yesterday though… Left a note for you…. You’re John right?”

Well fucking thanks a bunch Mike you dozy lemon… So they had come yesterday after all but instead of getting me from the garden Mike sends them away. He’d been waiting with me the whole damn day?! Fucking asking me if the my card had come in the post yet?!?! Without remembering?!?
Don’t do drugs kids, they eventually make you reeeeeel stoopid.

The note informs me the driver didn’t deem it safe to leave the card here, a fair shout. In the hostel where cold pasta, $300 cash, chairs, pillows and a car (true story) are fair game; a credit card with PIN number inside would probably last seconds. Whether he was put off by the fact the building is a legitimate wreck or the clouds of sweet smelling smoke that hang over it we shall never know. The note also said I had half an hour to get to the courier office before it closes. There was no time tomorrow as my bus is at 7am. The office is a good 40 minute drive away.

At this moment Mike’s wife pulls up and I jump into her car and offer her $20 to floor it.
Mike’s wife is a character, a character from GTA that you do side quests with, the last involving me handing out “legalise cannabis NZ” flyers for her political party at her behest. So in true video game fashion she repays the favour and we bomb it to the otherside of the city in her rusty little micra. The combination of Christchurch’s still quake fucked roads, peppered with pot craters, red zones and sudden drops, along with Cheech’s driving skills make today’s half an hour journey the most exciting moment of my week so far.
We’re 5 minutes late but the shutters aren’t down yet so I dash in… The man behind the counter shows me the parcel, damn near rubs it in my face before asking for I.D.

I’ve spent 8 days out of my 38 in NZ in a rough hostel, in a rough neighbourhood in a falling down city, anchored only by the fact I chose to send my finances here. I wanted mountains.

So I rip open the parcel, present the new card with my name on it as I.D; smart. Except for the fact that this is one of those new cards with no fucking name on them…. The man can tell I’m about to cry though so he asks me to leave, with my credit card. Finally. The chain holding me to Christchurch is broken, I can see New Zealand.

Driving back at a more sedate pace through Christchurch she draws my attention to the things I’ll miss. The gardens, the ingenious reinvention of the city; from shipping crate malls to tent pubs. We drive past a few of the houses in the suburbs that have actually been rebuilt and an explanation is finally given as to why not much else has, “12,000 aftershocks”. She describes the smell of the burning bodies trapped in one of the office blocks that came down near her house. The rest of the car ride is silent.

When I return we settle finances, my passport is returned (even though using a passport as collateral is illegal as it don’t belong to me but to Q Lizzy). I then buy some cider for all the Germans who have given me beers every night on hearing that my card still hadn’t arrived.

I need to rise at half 5 in the morning. My bag is packed and ready.

I just went to the toilet to brush my teeth and there was a Maori guy in there hogging the sink, delicately washing the roots of a healthy looking weed plant. I’ll miss this hostel.

P.S. a quick postscript
I do P.S. sometimes and as this diary debacle feels a little cheeky and informal I’ll include one or two.

P.P.S.

Rekorderlig seems to be the cider of New Zealand. They have special exclusive flavours, like elderflower for example. They also have a fair whack of advertising on the streets.
Now I know Rekorderlig tastes nice, it’s sweet, like candy. It’s also Swedish and therefore cool.

But it’s just not cider. This isn’t me being a snobby ass because I sometimes make cider. Rekorderlig and Koppaberg too are genuinely, literally not ciders. They have NO APPLES!!!!

This really pisses me off. Well… No. It doesn’t, nothing really pisses me off. But it’s not right.

The alcopop boom of the nineties never died, it just hired a marketing agent and was re-spun without your knowledge as the term “alcopop” became associated with children binge drinking in the park. It’s the same with many “ales” “blends” and “ginger beers”. They’re all sugar and water and flavourings, alcopops by definition rebranded by companies with roots dating back to 1999. In no way is Rekorderlig a cider.

Just to get that off my chest so I can sleep easier, for tomorrow is….

THE SECOND

It’s 2 in the morning, I won’t get to sleep til 4, I know this. I also know I have to wake at half 5. I’m not sure if I should fall asleep… Or?

Should I pack up my tent now, walk the half hour to the bus stop and fall asleep there?

It’s 3 in the morning, the best time to attack. The Israeli in the tent next to my is abusing himself. I can hear cats padding through the fallen autumn leaves, in search of the rats that plague this city… More breaking news after early morning pasta.

I eat my pasta while reading “The fist of god”!… Which is actually better than it sounds, so good in fact I look up and it’s light outside. 6 o’clock and I hadn’t slept at all. Not unusual but still not ideal for a travel day.
The tent is packed in 4 minutes, a new personal best. I grab everything in the fridge but sadly neglect the cupboards leaving my collection of cup a’soups to be enjoyed by Seamus o’thief; this isn’t racist, the thieves at the hostel were mostly Irish. Never mind.
The walk takes an hour and again I’m really cutting it fine here.

It’s worth a mention… I may sound like a haphazard traveller, missing things, losing credit cards, getting police looking for him. But I think as so far as travelling goes I’ve got it dialled. I’ve smashed job interviews, got several jobs, opened accounts, got apartments, arranged international travel, accommodation, transport. I lived in cities and commuted to work, I’ve camped in the wilderness for a month and learnt survival skills.
Just to say, it’s not all slipshod doofus Joe, bouncing from one disaster to the next, losing things, missing busses, getting in trouble. And even if that is the case it doesn’t bother me.

I make the bus in time, and jump aboard. To get around New Zealand I’ve purchased a bus pass as it was on special offer on the internet. It covers ten bus trips of any length, for one month and was a mere $200 which is only perhaps £90 and it included two trips on the inter-island ferry, priced at $50 each… That would’ve been $2400 with Kiwiexperience. Just saying.
The 4 hour trip is my 1st trip of 10… It is also the most beautiful bus journey I’ve ever been on.

For the first hour we ride in silence through fog, real fog, the foggy kind that let’s you see maybe 50 metres. Sheep are vaguely discernible. I should make clear that I am ignorant of the difference tween mist and fog, we were by the ocean… So I think it’s fog, but I don’t know why these are linked in my head.

After the second hour we can feel the bus slowly climbing, presumably up a mountain. I haven’t seen fog for 6 months having been in Australia but after an hour I realised fog isn’t all that great. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying it’s not interesting; landscapes obscured in mist are often lent an air of mystery. However I’d spent 8 days in Christchurch, suspense and excitement mixing and growing, is New Zealand really as sexy as the pictures make it?

Yes… My god yes. We push through the mist and emerge into a mountain pass, proper mountains, capped with snow. The sky is so blue and the hills and the forests just… It’s like a film. People on the coach genuinely gasp, the fog making the eventual reveal even more spectacular. We pass bubbling streams and wide flat rivers, sub tropical and temperate rainforests, we plunge back into the mist again and again and everytime we escape the vista is both more stunning and completely different from the last. Sheep are fully discernible. By the third hour we are skirting South New Zealand, riding along the ocean road and these are all roads, single lane and not very busy for being main thoroughfares for a country. I’m sitting on the right, the ocean side as opposed to the mountain side, this was a conscious decision and a wise one. The seals playing in the rock pools soon give way to pods of Dolphins surrounding Kaikoura, people on the bus start laughing and pointing. The bus driver says she has the best job on earth and says it with real passion. This is New Zealand. Endless fins cutting through the still ocean. The southern alps, jutting higher than anything I’ve seen in years. Instantly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been; I couldn’t even take a picture for the cheesy reason it wouldn’t capture what it was really like.

I should’ve slept on the coach though. When we reach the final destination after an hour of Marlborough vineyards, vines ranging as far as the eye can see along swollen flanks of green hills, I promptly walk to the nearest beach, dive in as I had not showered or changed clothes for a good while, play with a starfish and a jellyfish then promptly fall asleep on the sand.

I woke up an hour ago when my skin started burning. The numerous sandfly bites obviously didn’t hurt quite enough to rouse me, they do now I started scratching them, oh boy do they fucking hurt now.

Nice hostel DONT MISS DESSERT JOE.

THE THIRD

I fell asleep. For … 16 hours? Yeah, 16 hours. From 4 til 8. I feel not overtired, but not quite fully get up an go snap snap snap. I missed free desert and indeed any lunch or tea: damn shame. I should get out of bed, such a good bed though. There is a chest, like an old sea chest full of blankets and it appears I’ve availed myself to a good few of them. Time for breakfast, also free!

I’ve eaten my breakfast and check out of the surprisingly cheap Atlantis hostel, the best hostel I’ve stayed at in my travels (the pickled frog of Hobart being #2 (that’s hash not hashtag)). The free breakfast was bread but it came with syrup and the shower was slightly too forcefull, which is just as it should be. It was also only $20.

I’m currently in Picton library, booking my ferry to “Welly” as the Germans called it. The 2:00 is full and so it’s wait for another day or for the 7:00, by which time the beauty of the Marlborough sounds (15,000 kilometres of coastline, 1000s of secluded bays, beaches and coves, all bunched into a tiny area) will be dark.

I’ll stay another day and buy my third wide brimmed hat, 1 stolen 1 mouldy. The Scottish shopkeeper tells me he’s blessed to live here, 10 minutes to Jet ski, 1 hour to snow ski. 20 years ago he got the ferry times wrong, he’s been here ever since. Most golf courses per head on earth, tropical climate, big boat, small house. It does sound a pretty good deal.
All I need to do now is worry about what to do all day.

I think I’ll go swimming.

I went swimming; skinny dipping. At sunset, in the Marlborough sounds. The walk back to the hostel was longer than I remember and so I’m passing through forests in pitch black save for starlight.

I missed lunch and dessert (again) so treat my self to a six inch sandwich full of meatballs and beetroot from a sandwich chain on the way back to the hostel. Chatting to the happy young man behind the til makes me realise that there are far worse jobs than working at subway at 11 at night. I get a free cookie, though this would normally not be included in the diary Subway cookies cross into the realm of super cookie. Soft yet firm, sweet yet not overly. The perfect cookie. You can’t hold it by the edge lest it collapse, just right. Never understood tough cookies….

Just brushed my teeth… Unisex toilet, I can tell you without a trace of doubt, girls brush teeth just like boys brush teeth, they still wander around and spit at the end. Except the spit into the basin is maybe a little less “MEGA SPIT” and a little more “baby dribble”. I’m waffling to make up for the fact today has been a contemplative yet quiet day.

It’s… Exactly…. …. …. Twelve o’clock
It’s going fast.

THE FOURTH

The fourth was a strong day, I liked it.

I rise late and could well rush to catch the 12:00 ferry I’ve booked, but I’ve just stared talking to a B E A U tiful German girl about why we travel… I’ll pretend I thought I booked the 2:00 and get on that instead.

It works a treat. The ferry travel from Picton to Wellington, from South to North Island through the Marlborough Sounds and over the Cook Straight. A 20km stretch of windy ocean between the two islands populated by orca that refused to show themselves.

Fact of the day
The youngest swimmer to cross the Straight was 11, I think it took him 13 hours?

Second fact of the day
Though journeying from South to North Island you actually end up neither more Northerly or Southerly than where you set off.

It goes without saying the ferry journey is stunning. Really stunning.

The ferry is full of hundreds of kiwi soldiers in full D.P.M. The carousel in Wellington delivers Bergen after Bergen. Walking off the jetty with them I feel like I’m with them, part of a bigger action. It feels good.

I arrive at Wellington at 5 and leave at 6. Not due to the city, it seems pleasant enough, I’m just in travel mode having spent far too long in Christchurch. I need a proper day of travel, not where you reach a destination and stop but rather where you keep on moving until you have to stop and then find somewhere convenient.

I buy a handful of pine nuts and some couscous then hit the train. Every rail journey is a striking reminder of how English trains are a fucking rip off, $9 so £4 for a three quarter hour journey north along the West coast to Paraparaumu.

It was revealed to me a few day ago I actually have family, distant, but still family, in New Zealand. They live in Paraparaumu and I want to meet them.

So I catch the train. Next to me sits a young woman, she’s watching Fry and Laurie on her iPhone and I want to tell her that not only am I English but I love Fry and Laurie! But it’s late at night on public transport.

This is no England though, consequentially she starts speaking to me and teaches me how to pronounce Paraparaumu and Kia Ora and Atorea (the r is rolled and the vowels are Italian). She works for radio New Zealand has interviewed flight of the conchords (chonchords konkords) and I get her number, she plays a bit of ukulele to me on the train and then says farewell.

Sometimes I hate people but usually I love them so much.

I make Paraparaumu and it being not only too late but also god awfully rude and presumptive to call on my grand… Uncle? My great… My 4th… My family. I whip out my campermate app, a decent offline map of NZ with tent sites and wifi marked. However the map represents the town as a blob of grey pixels when in fact it is quite the suburban sprawl. With many shadowed lanes and shady underpasses.

I wander round the dark unfamiliar streets for an hour before giving up and asking at the R.S.L.

R.S.L.s (retired service leagues) are community clubs, initially established for returning soldiers, they’re now fond haunts of bingo fans and ageing ale drinkers. One of my happiest memories in Australia is being taken to a quiz at an R.S.L in Young by Michael and Jane, getting tipsy and then me and Michael dominating the quiz and winning our table a selection of towels and hipflasks.

The chaps at the league love a visitor, they fight over who should give me directions before a Maori lady takes me out back and walks me to the right road.

At the end of the road lies an industrial park next to the railway, a collection of cheap motor inns and a camping ground. Walking in I check the site and the prices out on the app so I don’t get ripped off. There is the option to post comments about each individual campsite and the amenities and atmosphere within. There’s only one for Ventnor Drive Motor inn and I read it as I walk up to the manager’s house. Verbatim it reads “the owner wanted to hit us!!! Never go there!”

I look up, the owner, a fat red faced man, maybe 50 years of age, is standing right in front of me, staring at me, it looks just like he wants to hit me.

“We’re closed”

It’s 10 o’clock true, too late to check in but this is the only campsite in town and the motorway is too close to allow for safe freedom camping… I apologise to the man and walk away. He calls me back, stares into my face a little more and tells me he likes me.

“I like you”

I can see his wife watching silently from the window of the house, the owner is still staring at me. This genuinely just happened.

He showed me to a tent site right next to the house where it’s quite clear nobody has every camped. He asks me if I need to use the kitchen, I say no having had a crisp sandwich on the train. He asks me again, again I say no. The fourth time he asks me I say yes and he tells me the kitchen is closed. We go into his office and I pay for the site, $26 which is pricey for a campsite. He looks at me again and takes the price down to $24, then $20. “You’re a nice boy”.
I stop him before he starts paying me to stay here, I’m still scared he’s going to hit me.

THE FIFTH… and the sixth

I leave early and set off with no real idea of where to go. I know the name of the road my 4th cousins live on and it seems a small town. It was a small town; but also not the right town, Paraparaumu Beach is a fair old walk from Paraparaumu. But after questioning posties and hairdressers I find myself outside their door. I should’ve called… I tried.

So it’s with some surprise that I meet Ann, my grandad’s cousin (a tenuous claim to family on my part) and Malcolm, her husband. I was lucky they were home but luckier still they were the nicest people I could hope to meet. For the last two days I’ve been taken around the West Coast and introduced to various family members and friends.
Sometimes when I think about getting old, usually looking into the nursing home next door to my house, I promise myself a fiery car crash. But when I actually spend time with the generation our culture loves to ignore and shut away, I feel only happiness at the prospect of having 30 years or so to before I die when I live only for family and relaxation. Old people live the good life.

On the night of the seventh I was taken to see some local kiwi am-dram, a musical all about old cockney songs titled “London Pride”, it was hilarious and fantastic in equal measure. I was in a hall with 30 or so ex-pat “old wrinklies” (Ann’s words not mine) watching a group of 50 something’s dressed as beefeaters and pearly queens desperately trying to get us to sing along to knees up mother Brown.
I was half deafened as the amps were tuned for older ears and the ladies that came around with glasses if water every 5 minutes looked at me like I didn’t belong but it was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic, I sung and clapped along to dedicated follower of fashion and didn’t know many of the others but yeah… Not the standard backpacker experience.

I had meat and three veg for tea and fell asleep listening to the Iplayer. Sometimes after telling me about the time he saw the Beatles or the moon landing or the great smog Malcolm would play us some Lloyd Webber on the electric keyboard while Ann put down the jigsaw to show me pictures of my mum when she was 3; such lovely people. To take in the most distant of distant relations and treat them like a son.

THE SEVENTH

Today. Today was quite cold; and wet. I’m in my tent, my cheap little tent, listening to it rain. I need to get up early tomorrow. I think there’s a mouse or something, hiding from the rain between the inner and the fly, I’ll leave him be unless he fucks with my couscous.

I left Malcolm and Ann this morning, packed lunch in hand, clothes washed, “don’t talk to strangers”.

From there on there’s only so much I can fluff, I spent most of today on a bus, in the rain. It is essentially like watching Lord of the Rings without any plot or characters, mountains after mountain, valleys and fast flowing streams. My 5 hours on a bus was spent solely staring the window, mesmerised by the view. The clouds turning from dramatic to just short of biblically terrifying, a storm’s coming.

Bus journeys don’t make good reading though.

I eventually alighted in Mordor, dark mountains bathed in watching cloud, active volcanoes smoking like hella chimney pots, long fields of gorse and broken stones as far as the eye can see, no trace of sunlight.

Tomorrow I climb Mount Doom…. Genuinely.
This is where they filmed Mordor, tomorrow I climb Mount Doom.

To ease myself into the hike I started with a 10k stretch from the bus stop to the campsite, made it perhaps 3 before a young lady stopped and picked me up. No outstretched arms of raised thumbs, just kiwi courtesy. I wanted to walk but it would’ve even impolite to say no, also impolite to not stay at the campsite she works at even if it was slightly more expensive than the one I was planning on $16 compared to free. But she was lovely and it was raining. I haven’t spoken to anyone my age in months.

I’m not writing this to boast that I get lifts from girls when I don’t want them, it’s just that if I don’t write it down or take a picture of it, it’ll be forgotten. This is the case with all my travels so far and it’s the only constant negative of my travels. I’ve forgotten half the people I’ve met and most of the things I’ve done. Even sometimes when I read things that I’ve done I don’t remember them.

Prince William and Katherine (Kay-T) have just landed in Wellington amid the fog and rain, I wonder if they feel slightly at home too…
I’d tell everybody here I was a emissary traveling with them if everyone wasn’t also English.

I’m rambling, time to brush my teeth and try and learn Spanish.

Adios.

THE EIGHTH

I climbed Mount Doom today. Against my better judgement and the advice of many; I’m beginning to worry that a diary blog is compelling me to be a little reckless in order to have something to write about, I would’ve climbed it anyway… Just, it’s nice to write about something.
I do my writing in my tent, usually between 12 and 1. A little earlier tonight since I’m exhausted, my shoes, socks, gloves and waterproof trousers had to be binned, my legs are on fire.
Couscous for tea again, with an accompaniment of pine nuts and sugar.

I woke at half five to catch the shuttle. Where there are free national parks, other means will have to be made as to depart the tourist from their monies. Shuttles, being Tongariro park’s raison d’extra. You can’t camp near the mountain, no bus will drop you next to it and the roads all funnel you away from the base. So each campground/lodge/hostel has a shuttle, some with the distinction of being the cheapest, or the quickest, or perhaps offering multiple pick up times throughout the day. It turns out my campground had the earliest shuttle. So at five in the morning, rays if starlight falling through patches in the cloud, a red stag in heat roaring across the heath; honestly, it was as nice as a 5:30 wake up can be.

We assemble outside and have a brief chat with the mountain man who runs the shuttles, and I’ll be dammed if he isn’t telling us we can’t climb the mountain. Or even do the 6 hour walk around the National park that takes to the mountain and out through a field of sulphur lakes, red craters and sharp ridges.
I didn’t have time to wait for 3 days til the weather cleared, this wasn’t Christchurch.

I didn’t think he could expressly forbid us from going, we paid, he should drive us, it’s 5:45am and the stag has kept me up most the night. The mountain man warns me of the gale force wind, sudden frosts, frequent rain and total cloud cover. I don’t have time to wait around though, and is it really Mt Doom if climbed in fair weather?
He can tell I won’t be dissuaded and so sneakily persuades everyone else on the shuttle not to go, then informs me I can’t start the trek on my own.
I have some courage noodles.
Then get a lift from another hostel.
I’m dropped off at half seven with explicit warning not to summit Ngarahoe due tithe wind and visibility, the driver can tell I want to and so gives us all until 4:30 before the shuttle leaves the pick up point, 19km away from the drop off, 19km of hell. This sneakily means I have no time to take the side trip up the mountain.
Challenge accepted.

Tongariro National Park is God’s way of showing us mortals the horrors of hell before we sin. The skies are grey, mountains invisible behind thick swirling cloud. In the far far distance you can make out the millions of acres of smashed and shattered tree stumps, victims of NZs logging trade. The ground around the base of the mountain turns from grassy to swathes of rubble, boulder fields as far as the eye can see, the rocks are red and yellow and black, volcanic. Igneous I think is the word, or metamorphic? Shit… Not sure.
As progress is made up the mountain the ground turns to shifting black sand, impossible to walk on and harder still to climb. After an hour or two of marching through Mordor I reach the base of the mountain, the cloud has taken the visibility right down to 10 metres, it’s not long before it turns to 5 metres, then 3. The wind whips the sand from your feet and throws rocks, turning the very air into a maelstrom of flying black rock. Iwhen I took of my balaclava I had a perfect outline of my eye and mouth holes on my face in black sand, glues by sweat and rain. I’ve just had to spend 1 hour washing the sand out of my ears, tummy button and other various little hiding places sand is so adept at finding. There are still little specks of black rock lodged in my scalp, it hurts when I claw them out.

When the wind does really gunn it the clouds of creamy sulphur smoke that hang over the belching craters also hits you in the face, so much worse than rotten eggs.

I climb for two hours on my hands and knees, lying down whenever the big gusts curl around the side of the mountain and try and pull me off. It’s not fun at all, not one minute of it. In fact I’d go as far as saying it was really shit.
The rain from the clouds I’m climbing through begins to freeze on my jacket and balaclava, the air gets thin. I can’t stand up because of the incline an I crawl at a metre every ten seconds, rain bouncing off my back.

If I don’t make it to the summit I won’t allow myself to eat milk bottles for lunch anymore or let myself buy merch related to Lord of the Rings while I’m here. I question my choice to incentivise what could be really quite foolish, I then tell the cowardly part of my mind to please leave because I’ve made it this far.

I reach the summit after being knocked to the floor by the wind, something that’s never happened to me before, the clouds get darker.
I do crawl up to the very summit, singing and shouting and swearing to myself, I can’t see anything aside from my feet. I try and take a picture but while taking my hand out of glove to use a touchscreen I realise…

1. My hand is the wrong colour and getting wronger fast

2. A break in the clouds will not come for a few days

3. My hand now hurts really quite a lot

4. I spent so long getting up here I will nearly definitely miss the shuttle and this will turn into a “isn’t Joe thick” story

5. When I shake the water from my glove the droplets turn to ice before try hit the ground with a tinkle

So I go down the mountain on my arse, trying to steer with my feet and flipping over as if I’m doing a pressup while still falling so big rocks can pass underneath me. I’m practically falling 80 degrees down the side of a mountain covered in sand and rock. At one stage my controlled descent becomes just a descent and I roll down shielding my head with my arms. I come to a stop at the base, wedged knee deep in sand (right up my jogging bottoms), shoes finally killed from friction and waterproof trousers ripped in two. It took 2 hours 20 minutes to get up and 15 minutes to get down. Still not fun. But it’s milk bottles for lunch and a trip to Matamata to see Hobbiton!

I walk the remaining 15k with a limp and bits of cold hard lava in my ass crack. I limp pass active volcanoes that last erupted in 2012 “in case of pyroclastic flow seek shelter on the ridges not in the valleys“. I limp past yellow pools of sulphur, billowing foul smoke, I limp past the Swedish school group and they all laugh at my ripped trousers. By not stopping and doing the shoulder propelling thing I make it to the shuttle stop at exactly half four, looking like I’ve died twice and then tried to mate with a Stag.

The driver seems happy, he knows I haven’t had a great time on the walk, mainly because I fucked up and then rushed it. I didn’t enjoy it. At the time or looking back as I lie on my roll mat, legs still spasming, still black dust behind my ear. I didn’t enjoy it.

At what point does achievement overrule enjoyment? I climbed Mount Doom but I’d of been better off not ticking boxes and simply walking and taking in sights.

Fact of the day: Sean Bean is afraid of flying, for all mountain scenes he would climb up the mountain in full costume while the others flew past on a helicopter. This wasn’t Doom, Boromir having been skewered long before that, but still an interesting fact. I like Sean Bean.

My legs. My legs hurt.

THE NINTH

Shit, what did I do yesterday?

Not much I guess…

I got a bus from Tongariro National Park to Matamata with changes at Turangi, Rotorua and Hamilton, where I had a two hour wait for delays.
That is pretty much it.
I re-read Robinson Kreutznater again, drank three litres of water and just daydreamed for 6 hours. It goes without saying the passing scenery was spectacular. From grim Mordor to the Sulphur drenched neon streets of Rotorua AKA rottenrua AKA rotovegas there is always something to catch your eye whilst travelling through New Zealand.

I arrived at Matamata at 11 at night, not knowing where I was staying I determined to freedom camp in some copse or secluded domain. The lightning storm had other ideas, and so defeated and soaked to the skin I trudged into the cheapest pub and sought accommodation and some bread. I got some bread (gratis) and a $45 room with a double bed and an en-suite to myself, though a gap year is self indulgent by definition it’s more than nice to forgo the rollmat for four pillows once every two months.

I fell asleep and dreamt I was walking along North Road in Bourne.

THE TENTH

Matamata is Hobbitton. Well, pretty much. It’s actually what the kiwis call an agricultural service town, supplying machinery, parts, agriculture stuff to the dairy farmers and racehorse breeders around the area. There’s also some limited horticultural industry newly arrived since Aukland, the big city slightly north, expanded; pushing the onion and lettuce exporters out of the area…. Guess who got a guided tour today… Correct. It was me. Well guessed.

It’s a lovely town, affluent, leafy and much better appreciated after a storm. However being farming country my chances of free camping were slim shady. Thin hedgerows and a surplus of private property well protected by men with buckshot do not well lend themselves to camping on the sly. To go on… Which I will as I haven’t spoken to anyone all day and this kind of resembles dialogue if a little one sided… To go on, my bus pass takes me to cities and towns, the bus doesn’t stop outside them nor can I make it. So I’m pretty stuffed when it comes to camping. In Tasmania with the bike it was as simple as ride to a beach, go to sleep. Even walking around Bruny Island there were so many empty holiday homes I had the choice of which Ocean-view garden to lodge in.
But try and find an inner-city camp site, or one within walking distance of a town… It’s impossible.
I’m going to have to spend a fair few nights in free department of conservation campsites to absorb the cost of that night in a pub… And the cost of my journey to Hobbitton.

Hobbitton. I’ve just realised I’ve made the journey all backwards, from Mt Doom then to the Shire. Oh well, they ruined the majority of the film at Hobbitton anyway. In a good way, kinda. Explaining about 80% and 60% hobbit holes. These being two different size of houses, one for Gandalf to stand next to and one for Hobbits. This and other perspective trickeries were revealed to us as we were led around the set.

Hobbitton consists of 30 or so “hobbit holes”, small houses in hills with smoking chimney stacks. There’s a lake, a pub, a water mill and a very lazy tabby cat. The setting is perfect, just as I imagined it before seeing the films, the holes are just right, the atmosphere just so.

I should mention that I love the Hobbit (the book). I really love it. It was the first book my dad properly read to me and one of my oldest memories, it sparked my love of reading and it is both mine and Tony Blair’s favourite book. True story.

I have some issues with the films but Peter Jackson’s reverence of the source material and attention to detail must be commended. NZ sheep looked wrong and even though Hobbiton is on a sheep farm he imported sheep from Sussex for the film. The book mentioned a plum tree but the plum tree they grew made the hobbits look far too big and so he used an apple tree and wired big plums onto it. It was somebody’s job to walk from the door of the Hobbit holes to the washing line each day to make a path on the grass, as if they were lived in. Each individual hole has it’s own personality; in one there lives a potter, a gardener in another and the tools of their trade are in the front garden for you to see, the gardens, and vegetables within are all real and tended differently. The level of realism in an unused film set is just staggering and allows for the fantasy to become more tangible. Bag End is just as it should be.

Though the guides were a little OTT (they seemed to believe the hobbits were genuinely hiding) the whole experience was top banana, and it doesn’t get better than that. Though the gift shoppe didn’t stock my present to myself for climbing a mountain I’ll find it in the studios at Wellington. I hope.

Hobbitton. Being finally able to stroll among my childhood imaginations… 10 out of eleventy ten.

After returning to Matamata I hunt down the nearest campsite on my little camping app and take the two hour walk along a street lined with golden brown chestnut and acorn trees, both already littering the road as winter approaches. I meet a group of friendly cows, I also meet a man who drives me the last 30 metres to the campsite; I’m not sure why.

Thermal pools are the selling point of this particular campsite, 39 degree geothermal ponds of steam and pleasure. I was enjoying myself until a couple started enjoying themselves “enjoying” and so I jumped out. “Dep of health warns against placing head under mineral water”.

Underwater. That’s a strange term. The water is not merely the top layer, are we naming only what we can see or do we just feel uncomfortable saying underair?

I have to wake at five tomorrow and then walk to Matamata to catch a bus that reaches it’s destination (Wellington) 12 hours later. I’ve been to a book shop and stocked up on proof copies, always free if you ask, I’m going to get some sweets now from the surprisingly well stocked campoffice and then I’m ready for sleep.

I’ve changed my mind, I won’t get sweets. I eat too many sweets.

Goodnight.

I dream that I work in a checkout in a supermarket and fall in love with a till girl and them a man sets himself on fire. It’s raining outside.

THE ELEVENTH

It’s still raining at 4 in the morning, at 5 I pack my bag inside the tent, run out, de-peg said tent and drag it under cover to pack it up. I’m not sure why, the next two hours are spent walking in the rain anyway and a pack cover can only do so much.

I spend the rest of the day on the bus, 10 hours. 10 hours.

Too much, much too much.

I’m just about to fall asleep. It’s Friday night. “Feeling hot hot hot” is pumping through my open window, I’m slightly tipsy, but a ten hour bus journey made my brain desire New Zealand cider. The karaoke is mingling with girls laughter perfectly. It’s the perfect sleep song.

Ten minutes later the singing starts to grate, I have my headphones and Andrew Marvell to aid me.

I miss my family and my fat little cat.

I can’t stand cities, I need to sort out multi-day walks, this I will do on…

THE TWELTH

Turning this blog into a to-do list is actually quite effective. My ferry ticket from Wellington back to Picton is booked, it’s from tomorrow that my adventure shall begin, because I didn’t really want to visit the north island, but felt I should. I’m glad I did, it’s just the South Island appeals to me more, so with the North island completed to my satisfaction I can spend the next.. Two weeks or so, walking, camping, reading by firelight and generally having what I consider a damn good time.

To-do for tomorrow: book one great walk and identify any other muti-day tramps I won’t have to book or pay for…

My day… It may be clear or becoming clear that I haven’t spoken to anybody today, this doesn’t bother me, it never has, but it makes me write more… Probably with less content or style but definitely more words.
Though that’s actually a lie. I spoke to two homeless people, one crazy man who may also have been homeless “ever drink that ol’ Chinese tea?!”. I spoke to everyone behind a counter I met today, in supermarkets, bookshops and museums. This is because I was a bit of an asshole last night to the guy at reception, I’d been ten hours on the bus and I don’t like the fact I have to stay at hostels, especially overpriced hostels. Being behind a desk makes people talk to you like a child or a pot plant so I’ve been “and how’re you”ing all day and have met some lovely Wellingburians. I also spoke to a fisherman to congratulate on him on his catch, but aside from that no real human contact today!

Today I realised I’m halfway through my year abroad, I should buy some socks. I ended up buying socks, shoes and a t-shirt or two, I’ve been wearing the same six pairs of everything for half a year, time for a change, because I stink. The shoes the Irish men stole for me also made my feet bleed, so they got binned.

Being my last day (oh Rhian your phone is really breaking under my fingers, I think this post is too long for it’s little processor though it’s been slowing for awhile now)
Being my last day I decided to get to know New Zealand’s fair Capitol, the easiest way to do this, trust me, is get a bus ticket to a random suburb miles away and then walk back to the centre getting lost and found along the way. I chose Mirimar; mainly because it sounded like a superhero or Greek restaurant. On the way back to El’ CBD I chanced across:

The WETA cave, a small house where for no cost you can wander through all Peter Jackson’s props he couldn’t sell. Halo weapons from Blomkamp’s web shorts being the best though the district 9 guns were also sweet as.

The WELLYWOOD sign. Yeah, like you imagine, big wooden letters, white against a green hill.

A collection of wind influenced sculptures, making good use of the breezes (gales) that seem to constantly squeeze through the city streets. It is apparently the Windy City to Christchurch’s garden.

Planes landing on the runway, 15 metres above the water then 10 above my head, swaying and bending from the winds before finally touching down.

A beautiful 1930s tunnel underneath a mountain, of which I had to pass through to get back to the city. I love tunnels. Tip of the day, don’t eat a tomato purée sandwich in a tunnel unless you’re hungry for diesel bread with petrol fume filling.

A crazy old man who loved, I mean really loved, Chinese tea.

After my walk concluded and I returned to the hostel I set my sights on preparation. Ferry ticket: booked. Secondhand books: purchased. First hand books: stolen. Smelly socks: binned. Just plain non smelling socks: purchased. Tuna: eaten.

All these things and more besides and still time in the day to visit the National Museum and then Gallery.

If you ever visit Wellington, visit the museum. I don’t want to say it was better than the National history or science in London… But it was.

If I hadn’t been told it was closing time I would still be there now, hell I’d of probably missed my plane let alone the ferry and still not reached the fifth floor!

I’m writing too much. Wellington has me in it’s draughty pocket though, not seduced quite to the extent I was with Hobart but Wellington has some of the same magic, moody skies and young couples sitting by the bay, the interplay of mountain and water, the fact they are both really just big towns.

I haven’t smoked a cigarette for four months, I made friends with a man on the street handing out flyers covered with vivid cartoons of children with 666 burned on their foreheads. I’m going to church tomorrow morning to see him again, because I’m curious, and it’s amusing, and I grow restless so easily.

I eventually found my present to myself, for climbing the mountain. It wasn’t quite what I wanted but was under $40 and a start at least. After my old one being smashed in transit I have a pipe. To enjoy as I read or walk, before bed once a day while I work and exercise. Add to that my now prodigiously heavy collection of paperbacks, 7 new pairs of pants and my resupplied couscous/porridge oats hiking f-f-f-funtime taste sensation mix… And I’m ready for the Southern Alps.

 

THE REST

 

The diary thing failed. I reached the Southern Island and then the alps and after it all really deteriorated into a mess of distant avalanches, not so distant cyclones, powercuts and snow. It was perfect. I met a girl who let my drive her 2.4 litre turbowagon through the mountain roads, azure lakes on either side, the best drive of my life. I camped in backcountry huts most nights and stayed a week at a hostel without paying. I had an easter meal with ten good friends eating apple cake, bacon, hot cross buns and some very bastardised freddos. I climbed another mountain, walked underneath a glacier and fell in love with the west coast, like I’ve never fallen in love before. It was better than Tasmania and to be quite honest I’m wishing that I spent 9 months in New Zealand and 1 in Australia.

The cyclone did nearly kill me though, as in very nearly. It blew the tobacco out of my pipe then the pipe out of my hand, brought me to my knees (literally) and then knocked down half the trees in the forest. It was without doubt the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life. A week in a hostel without power though was magical. With no facebook or television I bonded with people by candlelight in a way that must’ve been so much easier 30 or 40 years ago. We cooked by gas and the meat at the supermarket was at first cheap and then free as the freezer slowly failed.

I’m afraid of naming that the highlight of my travels thus far… But certainly in the top 5 experiences, those last 14 days or so travelling slowly down the west coast. Nelson, Hokitika, Franz Joseph, Brewster, Johnstown, Mout Cook, Twizel then finally crumblin’ Christchurch. I write this alone, in a dusty PC in a school library in the middle of a desert in the Outback. There are two flies crawling around on my face; they’ve been there all day. This is completely normal and there’s nothing I can do to stop them. I miss New Zealand. I pine for it.

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One thought on “New Zealand

  1. I’m in the library eating pitta bread and hummus and read your blog as the perfect accompaniment. You are becoming Gandalf! just need to work on the beard. Best of luck to you (and my phone) but you are more important, i’m not expecting it to make the trip home, and it would only get jealous of my shiny new one anyway! x x x x x x x x x

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