Some of you may remember back in May last year when Jim and I woke up on a (sunny?) Saturday morning and decided to zip down to STA Travel to buy our tickets to NZ and Australia. We bought them so far in advance that we managed to steal a good deal. We also bought them so far in advance that I could shove ‘going home’ to the back of my mind and not have to think about it for the best part of a year.
London is good for that… you’re so busy rushing around making money, running maniacally for public transport, meeting up with people and schlepping to Europe on easyjet flights that you may very easily avoid huge, significant, life-defining, identity-shaking returns to places where everyone knows the ‘real’ you (aaaaahhhhhhhh)! That is, until you’re on the plane from Sydney to Perth by yourself and you suddenly feel like opening the emergency escape hatch whilst vomiting on everyone in the extra-leg room row. Thought you’d got the good seats? Think again.
Jump back a couple of weeks and Jim and I were leaving London very early on a chilly winter’s morning, even earlier than necessary due to Jim’s Woody Allen-like neuroses about being late – “I’d rather get there an hour early than be 5 minutes late!” It was only when we arrived at the airport that his nervousness re: missing our flight morphed into excitement. In fact, I’d never seen him so excited! I thought it was very cute so I giddily joined in. I had big-upped Singapore Airways A380 so much that I was anxious for Jim to like it, he hasn’t had the best experiences on long-haul flights so we had invested a bit extra to ensure satisfaction. By the way he was bouncing around, demonstrating all the different ways he could fold his legs and saying “This is amazeballs!”, I needn’t have worried. I always feel that sleeping on Singapore Airways flights is a waste of precious time; there are too many films to watch, crisps to request and camparis to drink! I stayed awake for the entirety of our 15 hour leg to Singapore, the best film I watched being Beasts of The Southern Wild. A combination of pent-up emotion, beer, tiredness and terrific film-making resulted in me quietly sobbing in my seat. Too embarrassed to keep wiping my face, I decided to just let the tears flow freely down my chin and onto my chest. When I turned to face Jim in the closing credits, the look he gave me was a mixture of bewilderment, disgust and genuine concern. After 3 days spent hot and jetlagged in Singapore (apart from an amazing meal at Fat Cow and our awesome hotel it all seems like a blur), and a gruelling 12 hour layover in Sydney, we finally arrived in Christchurch on the South island of New Zealand. I knew I’d be back! We landed just after midnight and Jim’s sister whom he hadn’t seen for 4 years drove us back to her house, where we passed out for a solid night’s sleep before driving down to Timaru the next afternoon.
Jim’s family live in a gorgeous country-style house with Molly the dog and their two cats Kanga and Roo. Ten glorious days were spent in serene relaxation – pottering around in the sun amidst the flowers, walking Molly in the rocky rivers that are quintessentially Kiwi and just spending time getting to know each other. In the lead-up to Christmas more lovely family members arrived from around the islands, meaning there was always an air of festivity and somebody new to meet. A highlight of our first few days was watching the end of year school production at the boys’ boarding school that Jim’s mum works at. It was a musical take on Robin Hood, mysteriously opening with a performance of Footloose then unfolding as a 3-hour panto. The boys did an amazing job and were all so sweet, especially Maid Marian (played by a tall slender 12 year old boy with fantastic cheekbones). He completely outshone Robin whose only memorable moment was emitting a Napoleon Dynamite-esque ‘YES’ with fist-pump action upon receiving Marian’s hand in marriage. I totally get excited about kids achieving things, so I had a great time.
There were trips to quaint towns, fresh pasta making sessions, delicious lunches at The Shearer’s Quarters and Verde Cafe, drunken blister-inducing totem tennis matches, as well as a viewing of The Hobbit at a tiny independent cinema built in the 1920s. But the most exciting thing of all was Jim and I getting our Christmas present from his Mum and Dad early…the Air Safari Grand Traverse flight over Aoraki Mount Cook! We got it early because a) I was leaving for Perth before Christmas and b) we needed time to choose a perfectly clear day to fly. On our fifth day there, Jim and I got the all clear and jumped into the family car, reaching Lake Tekapo at 10am. We arrived just in time for me to use the loo (where I sneakily put on some mascara despite Jim hopping around in a rage brought on by nearly being late), board the light plane and take off into the amazingly blue sky. We were in the air for just over an hour, soaring over glaciers and rivers carving their way through mountains, finishing their journies in lakes tinged turqoise by glacial ‘flour’. We flew so close to the highest peaks in New Zealand we felt like we could just reach out and touch them. It was all so magical, I can’t put into words how awe-inspiring it was to see such massive mechanisms of nature at work. We heeded our pilot’s warning not to spend too much time looking through our viewfinders…making sure we were soaking in the experience firsthand. I was keeping a close eye-out for the huge mountain goats who apparently live up there, but instead caught glimpses of tiny huts on the barren, frozen mountainsides. Our pilot informed us that a few people live ‘off-the-grid’ in the Alps, far away from the bothersome presence of others. For someone now residing in one of the biggest metropolises on Earth, it was reassuring to see the wilderness in all its humbling power, as well as to know there are people still committed to stillness and solitude. On our way back we flew near a sheet of cloud cover where the coast meets the Alps, resulting in a dazzling strip of whiteness stretching as far as we could see. Aotearoa indeed.
My time in New Zealand was over far too quickly. As Jim’s Mum put it “I feel like I’ve been waiting so long for you to get here, and now that you’re here you’re leaving again!” I was sad to leave, but excited to get to Perth. I left Timaru with a bag of presents from Jim’s family, in a mini-van full of octogenerians bound for Christchurch airport. Something about NZ just makes the soul feel good.
Next time: the Perth leg (Gah!)