Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Into a Land Far Far Away

The recent lack of posts stems not from laziness or lack of inspiration but from quite the opposite. Since arriving in New Zealand I have spent most of my waking hours gawking at the world around me, not quite comprehending the amount of natural beauty packed into one small country. And we're not talking isolated pretty spots here and there; we're talking full-on stunning pretty much anywhere the eye falls.

This has made hitchhiking a boundless joy, not only because I have met people ranging from weird to wonderful to both but also because wherever I have been dropped off I've been more than happy to just sit for a while and enjoy whatever new delight the countryside threw at me. But more on hitchhiking adventures in a little while...

I arrived into Christchurch, written off by many travellers (and Kiwis, for that matter) as not worth visiting because the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 left it in a state of devastation. Indeed, destruction is widespread - but being shown around by my most excellent couchsurfing host Mike, who'd grown up here and returned recently after living in Cairns for a while, I got to see the amazing, often brilliantly quirky, rebuilding and beautifying efforts of the hardy local population (only 10% of them left after an earthquake that destroyed most of the city's vitals!). This was not only apparent in the ongoing rescue of many old buildings and lots of pointy, pretty roofs lying on the ground after being hoisted down with cranes to prevent collapse, but also in the city's main shopping avenue. Most of the buildings lining it having collapsed, a new set of shops has opened up - all in stacks of containers. These aren't ugly building-site containers, though - these were beautifully and often artfully painted, cheery and generally very fun, filled as they were with young people having a good time. If I had the right camera with me as I write this, I would post photos of all this to convey a better image but for now, words will have to do.

The next day, Mike drove me and Kirk, a Texan couchsurfer who'd gotten stranded in ChCh after missing a bus, out to the Banks Peninsula. This is an area of scarce human habitation by European standards and consists mostly of low hills and a stunning bay with a narrow spit of land jutting out into it; this was our destination. What struck me most is the incredible intensity of the colours - in winter this area is lush and green but we found it drier and so golden colours prevailed and contrasted beautifully with the azure sea. Having someone to drive me around here who knew the place and was good company was brilliant as the place is rather too big to get around otherwise, and thankfully tourist buses don't yet seem to have this area as overrun as many others.

All that said, the famous adage that a picture says more than a thousand words rings particularly true here, so here's a few thousand words' worth...

On the drive out.
Banks Peninsula with Okawe jutting out into the bay, connected to the mainland by a very narrow strip of land.

En route onto Okawe. Crazy things going on with the colour of the water, probably sediment-related(?).

Kirk, myself and Mike on Okawe.
On the whole, Christchurch proved thoroughly enjoyable not least because having a knowledgeable host makes all the difference. Nevertheless, I headed off northwards in high spirits, about to embark on my first bit of hitchhiking. The day went well and I never had to wait more than about half an hour, despite taking four different rides. This included the coach of Canterbury (county) Cricket who ranted about his batsman(?) being injured, a Presbyterian church admin guy and one gentleman who seemed pretty seriously into his medieval re-enactment: he had a full suit of armour and a sword in the back of his van and talked excitedly about the jousting world championships. Had I only known earlier that such a thing existed...!

Anyway, each of these could only take me a short distance before our paths diverged, and it was my fourth ride who took me the remaining 200-ish miles to Nelson. This older (~70-80) gentleman drove a very shiny red muscle car with a 6-litre, 350-horsepower engine, and he drove it aggressively. He was very quiet at first but turned out to be a bit of an adventurer - he had worked in the Canadian oil fields and was a hobby pilot and touring car racer. Given this background and that he handled the car with supreme confidence even at high speeds (we hit >140mph/220kmh a few times, a nail-biting affair on New Zealand's winding roads...), I was comfortable enough despite the fact that he was missing a thumb for reasons he did not elaborate.

On the whole, I was very happy in his car until he started getting rather racist. And not that almost forgivable kind of old-people-racist which one tends to overlook because they are often so set in their ways, but really offensively racist; I kept my mouth shut because he was, after all, driving me all the way to Nelson and he did it fast, but it wasn't easy.

Nelson itself was very pleasant, a small coastal town on the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island and located near the Abel Tasman National Park, where I was going hiking for the next few days. Before, though, I had to procure a tent, sleeping bag and mat - cue a day's hectic running around between the town's various outdoors shops trying to find the cheapest items. In the evening, I found the time to nip up to the "Centre of New Zealand" on a nearby hill. This is not, as one might assume, the geographical centre of the country, but simply the point from which the first official survey of the country was carried out. Still, it was a pretty and serene spot and my ascent was accompanied by some pretty dramatic Tchaikovsky from a nearby open-air concert.

Looking inland from Nelson's Centre of New Zealand.
Early the next morning, I shouldered an uncomfortably heavy bag to set off for Abel Tasman National Park the next morning. The Abel Tasman Coast Track is one of New Zealand's nine Great Walks - in a country full of gorgeous hiking trails, that's saying something - and is dominated by lush temperate rainforests interspersed with outrageously golden beaches leading, as always, to perfect blue water.

Crossing the tidal flat which marks the beginning of the Coast Track - some tourists opted for horse rides instead, making for a Lord of the Rings-esque scene.
One of many stunning views from outcrops along the walk...can't see myself tiring of this!
The weight of my pack soon caught up with me, though, and I thoroughly regretted my decision to do the track in just 48 hours. Besides messing up my hipflexor with my backpack's waist strap, I also gave up the option of ambling along one of the many beautiful side tracks or just hanging around at a random beach for a quick break. The hipflexor, in fact, became painful enough by the end of day 2 - 44 of 54 km done - that I decided to call it a day and catch the bus home from there instead of risking more serious injury. After all, there is plenty more of New Zealand that I would like to explore on foot!

To finish off this one, just a few more from Abel Tasman - I figured I'd cover New Zealand in smallish chunks in the hope that my gushing about the beauty of the place will be less trying if it comes in several smaller episodes...

All of New Zealand's lakes and rivers are incredibly clear - kayaking almost feels like gliding on nothing. But more on that next time...
...and even the sea displays colours I've rarely seen before!

No comments:

Post a Comment