Archive for February, 2007

The Big Trip – Day 10

Mostly listening to: the streets – a grand don’t come for free (simply stunning album, the world needs more story book albums)
Sleeping on/in: bunk bed aboard the milford wanderer. anchored somewhere in milford sound.
Coffees: two good ones. One vile black instant coffee. And I only drank half of that.
KMs: 2100
Weather: pretty cloudy
Place name of the day: knobs flat
Company name of the day: dial a hubby – odd jobs and home maintenance.
Beard up date: like a weasel with radiation poisoning

Covered a lot of ground this morning. Drove from queenstown to milford sound. As the crow flies (though I suspect it has more sense) it’s less than 100km. By road, it’s over 4 hours, half in the opposite direction.

Good drive all the same.

The road to milford sound (a massive fiord/fjorf, seen on all postcards of NZ) is pretty flippin spectacular. I now have neck strain from looking up all the time. And I was driving.

It’s also full of sand flies. Everywhere. Even at sea, there’s clouds of the things. How the flip do they get there? I confess I don’t really understand the life cycle and hopes and ambitions of a sand fly. Though hovering above the sea and being swatted by me was surely not in their plan.

We’re on a cruise. Well it’s a mickey mouse cruise. All our own teeth and original hips so not a proper cruise. It takes us out onto milford sound and all the way out to the tasman sea, spectacular fjords all the way along. It’s a 60 birth boat, full of drunken, noisy, young travellers who are travelling as a group. I suppose that’s who we’re meant to be but i’m not sure we fit in. More on that later.

The boat carries kayaks, and a wee speed boat. Me and si abandoned ruth and kayaked for an hour or so round the place. Tick box checked for something we both wanted to do while in NZ.

We spent most of the time paddling really fast from one side of the sound to the other. Mostly to lose the sand flies. Though they knew they were onto a good thing with us.

The biggest cruise ship in the world sailed past us. The ‘sapphire princess’. It’s the biggest cruise ship in the world cause the captain of our boat told us and he’s a proper captain with a hat and knows these things. He’s even got a proper captain’s chair and all.

It stands 63m out of the water. It carries over 2000 people. The whole scale of the thing amazes me.

I worked with a doc who was a cruise ship doctor for a few years. Worked for over two years and not a single death and then got two on his last cruise. Amazing there’s not more. Cruise ships are full of octogenarians who take so many pills that if you shake them they rattle. And people who have terminal illnesses (though being an ocotgenarian – brief note, morsies thinks an octogenarian is someone who likes octogons – is almost a terminal illness, especially if i’m involved in your medical care) who have sold the house and are seeing the world before they leave this mortal coil.

I like the idea of being a cruise ship doctor. It’s one of my ambitions. Though I perhaps base it too much on TV’s ‘loveboat’. I think it’s the buffets that sell me on it. And bunk beds. I love bunk beds.

The cruise ship doctor fantasy is probably a bit out of character as it’s enforced, corporate happiness on a scale I would normally abhor. I think it’s the possibilty of getting to wear a hat of some kind and a shiny white uniform.

Currently we’re sitting in the lounge/galley of the boat trying to ignore all the (drunken mostly) revelry. There was a group renditon of weezer’s buddy holly a few minutes ago. We’re not revellers. Never have been, never will be. I’m the boring guy at the bar, reading an old novel while the others are dancing on the bar. Theoretcially. I have no intention of going to a pub where dancing is even a possibilty.

I read the paper. Si reads the jonny cash autoboigraphy, occasionally asking for help with the big words. Ruth’s answer to entertainment problems is ‘anyone for a puzzle?’ she’s been carrying one of these puzzler magazines with her. With a disturbed looking child with pig tails on the cover. The girl likes her sodoku.

Perhaps I missed out on the drunken, loud moments of my youth (like i’m not still young, 25 is still young? please say yes…), and I have no regrets about that. Being loud and obnoxious and overly cheery was never a trait I got round to. Being arrogant and snobbish and pseudo-intellectual was more my thing.

Though I lie. Maybe I do have regrets. Maybe i’m just bitter that i’m not much of a party animal. I’m barely a party protozoa, never mind an animal. Maybe I want to be loud and brash and young and drink too much and talk to lots of girls. Apparently that’s meant to be the point. ‘apparently’ has always had a big influence on me.

So maybe I just entered puberty at a social age of 45 with three kids. Feels like that anyhow. I worry far too much about who I think I am, or who I think I should be. I worry about who I might become, and who i’m in the process of becoming.

Somewhere a long the way I manage to get my head out of the sand and catch on that there’s life going on all round me and in the words of red from shawshank ‘get busy living or get busy dying’.

The Big Trip – Day 9

Mostly listening to: steve miller band (the joker), spin doctors
Sleeping on/in: poplar lodge hostle – arrowtown, near queenstown
Coffees: 2
KMs: 1870
Weather: oh so very hot
Company name of the day: a woman’s touch – cleaning services.

Wanaka is a nice wee place. Nice lake, nice lake front, nice scenery. Not too many people. Never a big fan of people.

Anyhow, time to move on.

Today was queenstown. Founded on the basis of a glod rush some 150 years ago. Some guy Hay turned up in search of farm land and converted an abandoned maori raft into a sail boat ans scouted the lake in mid-winter. Then proceded to walk the 230 KM back to dunedin to claim the property rights and found somebody else had beat him to it. Got to be gutted about that. Yes I do read the tourist info signs.

Gold rushes are a weird thing. I can understand the panning thing, or if you happen to find a seam of gold. But people just turned up here and started digging holes and crossed their fingers.

Queenstown is now the archetypal kiwi tourist, adrenaline capital. If you wanted to throw youself off of it, you can throw yourself off of it here. The first commercial bungy jump was here. There’s paragliding, handgliding, waterskiing, wakeboarding, river surfing, canyoning, jet boating and other pointless, silly, moneygrabbing activities that I don’t even understand. And there’s a lot of money in them.

I’m cynical, mostly cause i’m too scared to do any of them. I’ve been to the same bungy site in NZ twice now and have chickened out both times. Bungy jumping is probably one of the safest things you can do here (compared to say mountain biking or driving to work or stealing food or criticising the all blacks), but it’s just the concept of the voluntary jump off the thing. Seems all wrong. Plus, I object to the whole commercialised, advertisement driven push of the whole adrenaline culture. And that sounds like a much better excuse than being a scaerdy cat.

Simon is worse than me (in many ways of course…), watching the other people bungy jump was an adrenaline rush in itself. We then took a gondola up the hill overlooking queenstown and there was a further brown trouser moment. It’s mum’s fault really, she’s kind of scared of everything – heights, flying, enclosed spaces (she wants to be cremated cause she doesn’t like the idea of being in a box). Me and simon are convinced we can blame all the neuroses and insecurities on our parentage, but still claim all the good bits for ourselves. Though I doubt nature/nurture works that way.

And the beard off has come to an end. Simon’s beard (the beard police are tracking us down to prevent the devaluing of the word ‘beard’) has officially come off. To be honest it looked as if a hot meal and some TLC might induce it to crawl off of its own accord. Mine continues in hairy abundance, itchy and looking like a school boys attempt to get into a night club but i’m on holiday ain’t I?

The Big Trip – Day 8

Mostly listening to: jonny cash (in the restaraunt this time)
Sleeping on/in: same place as last night, fancy that
Coffees: 1
KMs: same as yesterday – unmoved
Eating: surf and turf
Weather: up to near 30 degrees or so. Toasty

Si got up an hour or so before the rest of us this morning. Proceded to go on about it all day. Tried to collapse my tent around me just to wake me up cause he was bored.

Had brekkie in a cafe by the lake. Good eggs. Wanaka has this cool wee path along the lake front that has a series of tiles along the whole strip. Each dedicated to a certain year in history, starting at AD 0. Pretty cool idea. Recent years have tiles packed full of NZ history. And then comes the 19th century and it’s all a bit sparse before then. Gaps filled with world history lossely attached to a certian year. 249 BC – christians persecuted. Good to see it only happened for a year then.

Me and si rented a tandem kayak and popped across the lake for a few hours and left ruth with some (emphasis on the some) money and a few shops for the morning.

We made it out to a wee island near the far side with its own jetty. Spent half an hour jumping off the pier like we were 12. Simon trying to teach me how to dive. I never learnt how to dive. Always a belly flopper from an early age. The difficulty comes just as my head goes below my feet and my brain kicks in – ‘hang on there, what’s happening’ and sends a leg or two out in front of me and it becomes an uncontrolled flop into the water. Limited progress today i must say.

Managed not to get too burnt.

Ruth one hand bag the wiser. Spent the afternoon dandering and reading. Simon struggles with this. Not with the actual reading (though he is a bit dim, if it’s not HTML), just the sitting still bit. I struggle too, but can throw the reading thing and silence the manic ‘must do something’ thing. Saving grace was just that it was too hot to do anything except expend all energy in staying perfectly still in the shade.

Took a walk about tea time just for the solitude. Not used to having people around me 24/7. Went and sat on the shore of the lake and tried to bend my head round the sheer beauty of the place. Struggled. Sang though ‘before the throne’ in my head and tried to bend my head round the impossible scale of that. Struggled even further. Gave up and lay down and watched the clouds form in the sky. Managed that.

Travelling like this fills me with all kinds of possibilites. Like i could move here and live and climb every hill in sight and marry a pretty scandanavian traveller (sorry, all these fantasies seem to have pretty scandanavians in them somewhere. Though i’m sure i’d settle for anyone who could find norway on a map. And even that might go in the ‘desired qualifications’ pile. End of digression.)

And so i sit on the shore and try to figure out what myriad of directions that my heart is currently trying to lead me. Trying to slow the thought processes down. Like frame advance on a video. Then holding all of that nonsense before reason, like a polarising filter to see if any of it gets through. Panoramas seem to make that easier. Or at least large bodies of water.

I was definitely better off with the clouds mind you…

The Big Trip – Day 7

Mostly listening to: ricky gervais podcast (finally finshed series 3 and morsies breathes a sigh of relief), van morrisson, iain archer

Sleeping on/in: campsite at lake wanaka.
Coffess: 3
KMs (kilometres): 1650
Eating: lamb sagwahla
Sand fly count: nil – yippee
Newspaper headline of the day: ‘idiot’ catches 1.3m shark with bare hands. (pg 4 of a sunday broadsheet)
Placename of the day: gout creek
Weather: 27 degrees. Sun.

Woke up with the sun. So did the sandflys. Spent the dawn hours killing them one by one with my finger from the secuity of my sleeping bag. Occasonal tactical losses in this battle. Gave up and got out of bed using the ‘burkah’ technique of mosquiot repellant – all layers plus hat.

Left camp and vowed to find motel tonight.

First stop at the glaciers. Franz-josef (or franz-ferdinand as morsies calls it), and fox glacier, (or fox’s glacier mint glacier). Spectacular stuff. Stood at the bottom of fox and marvelled at the sheer scale of the thing. Debated how to pronounce crevasse.

The glaciers just reminded me of a trip i did to the pyrenees mountains. Filled me with the hillwalking/mountaineering bug that has lain dormant in my system for a while now. It was the cold wind off the glacier that did it. I haven’t felt a chill wind since i left ireland. Made me kind of nostalgic for it.

Drove some more, crossing the crazy blue rivers on the one lane bridges – shared by two lanes of cars and occasionally trains.

Left the west coast and headed in land. Spectacular gorges and river valleys on the road toward lake wanaka. The rivers (and i do bang on about this) are spectactularly blue. Crystal clear and other-worldly blue. I think there must be a guy up river adding dye. Me and si sat on the shore and thre rocks at other rocks. I could do that morning to night, no worries.

The road runs by the side of lake wanaka, and it is simply breathtaking. I’m not so good with the superlatives but it was just one of those scenes that will just stick with me forever. Something that’ll get incorporated into all my dream sequences from now on. Moments like that are pretty cool.

Wanaka itself is an alpine ski resort in winter and adventure playground in summer. Pretty cool place really. So cool we may even stay here more than one night and try out that new fnagled concept called ‘the holiday’ that we’ve been hearing so much about.

The Big Trip – Day 6

Mostly listening to: the beatles, bloc party
Sleeping on/in: karry mat, okarita campsite. West coast.
Coffees: 3 and a bit (one was really big)
KMs: 1333
Eating: noodles, grapes
Place name of the day: cesspool gorge
Sand fly count: several million, the annoying wee…

Woke by a splash of water in the face. I’m in a closed tent so that comes as a bit of a surprise. It’s also not raining. But the inside of my tent is covered in water.

I remember watching ray mears survival programmes about if you were in the desert and needed to get water then you’d need to stick a sheet of plastic up overnight and collect the condensation. Turns out my tent is doing precisely that. It did only cost 12 quid. I didn’t expect much.

After towelling myself out, and a quick breakfast we headed to the pancake rocks. This is a wee collection of funny shaped rocks on the coast of NZ. Kind of like the giant’s causeway but not as good.

From there to greymouth. An unpleasant town with a twenty-four hour laundromat in a portacabin. The laundromat was the more pleasant of the two experiences.

Ended up near the glaciers half-way down the west coast. Nicely in the middle of nowhere. It’s a campsite with an honesty box as a pay system. There’s a tiny grassy run way for a tiny unstable plane, meters from our tent. There’s millions and millions of sandflys. What did they eat before we arrived? In order to stop the bites i’ve resorted to socks and sandals. I’ve plastered on oodles of this mossie repellant stuff, that makes your skin burn and would make an elephant’s eyes water at 50 paces.

I’m flapping my arms about like i’ve got a nervous tick, trying to kill the darn things. I think it’s (the tick and socks and sandals and the human being repellant cream) scared off the pretty blonde scandanavian girl in the caravan across the way. Ruining the movie-script romance between us that i was inventing in my head. I was even playing sad songs on the guitar earlier to paint the lonely, troubled soul image. Maybe i need a girlfriend. Or better insect repellant.

The Big Trip – Day 5

Mostly listening to: ray la montagne (not fussed i must say), feeder (buck rogers), morsie’s christian stuff (and me trying not to be arrogant and toff nosed snob – unsuccesful)

Sleeping on/in: carry mat and car mats. Lovely beach camp on the west coast
Coffees: two (one made myself, one proper fancy coffee)
Eating: sweet thai chilli noodles
KMs: 1210
Place name of the day: cape foulwind (way to draw the tourists in)
Weather: sunshine

No ducks this morning. Only germans. Didn’t try the morsies yawn test on them.
Tried to rent a few kayaks for the day but told that they were all booked out and seeing as we’d missed the morning run, we’d still have to pay full price even for a half day. Plus we’d have to go though some safety briefing nonsense about how to paddle a kayak. Not amused. All we wanted were a couple of kayaks.

Have the feeling that ruth may have bribed them into saying there were no kayaks as she’s scared of water (and they call me the dirty soapo?). That’s probably not true i confess. I also confess that i wasn’t nearly as gutted as si was that we couldn’t go. Partly becuase i know i’ll probably be back and will do three or four days of kayaking. Again reinforcing my usual self-centredness and inability to consider the view points of those around me.

Tonight si asked me would i rather be doing this trip by myself – as a joke. But it’s a fair point. I have the tendency, almost compulsion to push people away and seek my own ends above all else. I certainly give the impression that i’d rather be on my own. Whether it’s true or nor.

But then i suppose we just suffer the usual group dynamics and arguments that all travellers do. Like where to stay or where to have lunch. The seemingly insignificant phrases and tones that provoke only contempt.

So. We drove instead. Heading inland and south west, towards the west coast and through the buller gorge. Spectacular scenery, windy roads. All the way down the buller gorge looking for a way to get a walk down to the river. Managed it in the end after hacking through some scrub and bouldering down a tributary. Still worth it.

The west coast is a spectacular place. Sparsely populated with some pretty rugged types. The whole north west section of the south island has something like 6000 people in it (and 5000 camper vans it seems).

I was here on my last trip 3 yrs ago. A 5 day trip in a camper van round the whole south island. A lot of driving. Just as you come down to the coast on the road from westport to greymouth, there’s this spectacular vista, of knife-edge mountains, bush and glorious beaches with rocks sticking out of the sea. A continuous stream of breakers heading in to shore.

I have a photo as the wallpaper on my computer from that beach. Just sand and sea and sun and horizon. And that’s what brought me back to NZ. Well that and lots of other things, including the air malaysia flight that brought me here. It’s a photo i just stare at and glory at the horizon. A western horizon with the sun setting always reminds me of that photo and of the voyage of the dawn treader (CS Lewis of course) and reepicheep making his speech before he paddles off in his corracle.
Dream material. Heaven material. When i think of eternity i think of that. It makes the hairs stand up on my head and my heart leap for joy. Hallelujah, what a saviour.

Joy. Funny old word, silly name for a girl. The only joy i knew growing up was a miserable wee something or other… Probably a bit of an old fashioned word. But it’s the whole flippin point of life. We muck around with all kinds of crap and miss out on real joy. We think we’ve found it in self-satisfaction and self-worship but we’re like kids playing in a muddy puddle with the glorious ocean in full sight.
And that beach, that photo, those memories, the joy reflected in that collection of neuronal impulses is something special. A reflection no doubt. But from a well cleaned mirror.

The Big Trip – Day 4

Mostly listening to: REM, lambchop

Sleeping on: carry mat

Coffees: 2

Eating: grilled snapper

KMs: 790

Shop name of the day: the undie drawer (launduret – i have no idea how to spell that, i figure that’s a good thing)

I slept well last night. The neill family struggled. Apparently there was jack johnston on continual repeat in the bar downstairs and some americans playing chess next door. I slept through it all.

Brekkie in one of the nicest cafes i’ve ever been in. One of those places with posters of old flims that i’ve never seen on the walls. Had eggs benedict. Whoever he was he’s a good lad in my book.

Glorious sunny day, the way NZ looks in the guidebooks. The skies bluer, the suns brighter.

Drove to abel tasman national park on thr north of south island. Tasman was a dutch explorer who was the first (european) to find the place on a trip to find australia (i mean it’s pretty big, surely couldn’t be difficult). He landed on an island off the coast and got attacked (though not eaten) bh some of the locals. He decided that no, it wasn’t the great southern continent that he was looking to discover and left. Cook turned up and got all the glory nearly a century later.

His national park rules. All tropical bush and coastline. Positvely carribean – at least it was today.

We took a water taxi (at high speed, way cool) up the coast and had a lovely 4 hr walk back with a stop for a swim on a golden beach along the way. Stop me if this sounds like an ad, i don’t mean it to.

Sat on the kayak (in the campsite) and read the paper in the setting sun. Quality moment. Tea in the restaraunt attached to the campsite. Further quality moment.
The stars are out tonight. Though if you gave me the north and southern hemispeheres i’d have trouble telling the difference. All very pretty.

Me and si have started a beard-off (morsies not wanting to play) today. The concept of the neill brothers having a beard off will make those who know us laugh. We have three weeks to grow as much facial hair as we can. We expect small furry mammals to move in and make their homes in the beard. Though i imagine most will move out complaining that it was too drafty…


February 2007