Meadows, mountains, glaciers, geysers, fiords, forests, volcanos and 15,000 km of stunning coastline. Beauty is served up raw in New Zealand. No part of this country is more than 128 km from the sea.
Once upon a time (many decades ago...sigh!), one of my girlfriends and I spent a good part of our university gap year here. As a result, New Zealand holds a special spot in my heart. While I was awed by the uncrowded, unspoiled landscapes back then, what I remember most fondly is the people. I’ve felt compelled to return ever since
About a week ago, I did just that - but this time with my husband. And I’m happy to report Kiwis are still the friendliest, funniest, most irreverent, down-to-earth bunch of humans I’ve ever met. “She’ll be ‘right, mate” neatly encapsulates their layback attitude. In essence, New Zealanders use this phrase to express their unfaltering belief that in time, everything will work itself out.
Our plans for the seven weeks we are here include hiking the iconic Milford Sound Track and cycling the wild West Coast of the South Island. We booked (non-refundable!) these excursions months ago. If you didn’t pick up on it, this is a bit of foreshadowing!
Four days before leaving Canada I twisted my ankle at CrossFit - my latest and greatest passion. It happened in the last ten seconds of a twenty-minute timed workout. Damn those evil box jumps!
According to my physio (bless her) who came into work for me on her day off, sprains are graded. She rated mine - optimistically - at 2.4-degrees, with 3.0 being the nastiest. Things could be worse. At least it isn’t broken like in Vietnam.
To make a long story short, I am now sporting black toes, a puffy, left cankle and an inflatable Robo boot. Thankfully, I’m visiting a nation that prides itself on its relaxed attitude towards uncertainty and, given my current gimpy’ness and our planned (and paid-for) activities - including a multi-day trek that begins in 2-days time - I am embracing that state of mind wholeheartedly!
On a positive note, this annoying apparatus on my foot has engendered preferred bordering and great seats wherever we go. Don is considering it as a permanent travel accessory.
Our point-to-point, no-way-out trek starts from Queenstown. I will carry...oops rephrase - Don will carry the robo boot in his backpack. If my foot swells on the trail and I can’t stuff it back into my hiking boot, I may need more accommodating footwear. Wish me luck and send some healing energy my way – I could use it. I may end up having the dubious honour of being the first to trek Milford in a robo boot!
At the moment, we’ve been slowly travelling along the east coast of South Island towards Queenstown – and I do mean slowly. This particular route is under heavy reconstruction after it slid into the sea in 2016 during a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, even larger than the 6.4 quake that smashed Christchurch to smithereens in 2011.
Apparently, New Zealand’s sits on a major geological fault where the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates slam together in a continual scrum. This shaky position accounts for New Zealand’s propensity to quake. I read that on average the country experiences about 15,000 of them a year. I suppose I should take comfort from the fact that only about 100 to 150 of those are large enough to feel.
On our little road trip, we’ve been staying in towns like Wellington, Nelson, Kaikoura and Lake Tekapo and passing through others so small, the locals call them “blinks”. The row-upon- continuous-row of vines in Marlborough country (around Nelson), gave me a strange sense of déja vu. This region, which produces close to three-quarters of the country’s wine, could be the Okanagan it's so startling similar. We’ve been sipping and savouring more than our fair share of its world acclaimed sauvignon blanc at bargain prices. Kim Crawford for only $12.99 (NZ dollars), we’re in viticulture ecstasy.
Driving on the opposite side of the road bewilders the brain. Down under, it’s not just the steering wheel that has swapped sides. Every time Don signals to make a turn, he flips on the windshield wipers. And coming off single lane bridges, oh my God...it’s disconcerting! Our natural auto-pilot tendency is to go right. Wrong! It’s even strange being a passenger. It feels like we’re driving too close to everything on the left. The road signs are most informative. One showed a divided highway, with “Live” written on the left side of the white line and “Die” on the right. We’re convinced though that long term this experience is benefitting our cognitive function, thus protecting our brains from future Alzheimer’s. That is, if we don’t become road kill in the meantime.
It’s late summer right now in the Southern Hemisphere. So far, we’ve been blessed with outstanding weather. I don’t mean to gloat (okay, maybe a little), but temperatures have been in the high twenties, unprecedented in New Zealand for this time of year. Even the air was calm in Windy Welli (Wellington), infamous for its gale-force winds, and our ferry ride from North to South Island was serene and smooth. The waters of Cook Strait are considered some of the most unpredictable in the world and crossing them can often be a white-knuckled experience. We’re praying to the Maori weather gods for this heat wave to hang on!
That’s all for now, folks...but stay tuned to hear whether she’ll be right (...or not) on our five-day “tramp” (that’s Kiwi lingo for “hike”).
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Epilogue to France: After returning home from France, we were overcome with a bout of repatriation fatigue. It was a bit of a challenge adjusting to being back in Canada after experiencing the “joie de vivre” for so long in France. I still have several stories I’d love to share with you from our year Away, eh! The spectacular eleven-day hike through the Alps on the Haute Route (from Mont Blanc, France to the Matterhorn in Switzerland) is just one example. So mes amis, stay tuned for those. They’re coming...I promise!