Friday, March 07, 2008

My New Zealand

It is usually blazingly sunny & warm in New Zealand when I redeploy in February, but this time we had some "weather" courtesy of some Antarctic storming (I thought that sharp cold wind felt familiar!). I was so happy to be in Christchurch I spent 5 days there running around, doing tours, eating Indian food, walking, enjoying my own company - then it was time to head to the West Coast, and a special town that is my soul's home in NZ. All the guide books say to skip it - that it's gritty, boring, and too much of a "working town." I overheard some English tourists on my beloved quay, where I watch the sun go down every night, complaining that the tour bus had brought them to this "ugly" place for an overnight. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves (the building is the backpackers I stayed at-big single room, 16 ft ceilings, ocean views, $40/night). I'd rather slink anonymously amongst the weathered fisherman tending their creaking boats and wander aimlessly on the deserted grey beaches of this unnamed town that oozes soul than mingle with the loudmouthed teenaged masses I saw everywhere in the highly touted Akaroa. There isn't much to do in this offbeat working class town (that also happens to have the coolest coffee shop on South Island), but that's one of its gifts - the obnoxious tourists stay away & it's character remains unchanged. How lucky was I to have my beloved dark clouds, so comforting to me, who experiences what others refer to as "gloomy" as something that fills me with extreme glee & for some reason the promise of excitement to come. And I experienced the "barber" early one morning (another reason the guide books say to stay away): a frigid fog rolling in off the river and enveloping the hills - fog is just majestic to me! Even though I wasn't too keen on Akaroa, I had my best experience there of the whole trip: swimming with the Hector dolphins. The little guys are so adorable & playful, it was worth getting borderline hypothermia for. I also did some challenging cave rafting, an ATV mud drive, hot springs soak, and saw a Maori performance. I missed my travel buddy Will, but because of having logged many miles with him, I travelled much better on my own this time. I didn't cheat myself of doing stuff by being cheap, I just did what I wanted and had one of the best trips ever. I had to get out of my comfort zone of not spending money, and it was really freeing: nice B&B in Chrischurch-$500 for 6 days, 2 hour ATV thrill drive-$140, Tandoori Palace "palace platter" - $16.50 (three nights in a row), having around 20 tiny, almost extinct dolphins encircle you and be close enough to gaze into their tiny black eyes - priceless.