Monthly Archives: December 2009

a christmas of logistics.

Christmas in New Zealand is less about snow and sleigh bells and more about sun, sand and barbecues in the backyard.” –

It was to be my first summer Christmas. That was about all I knew of how the day would look not even a week before “the show” or “the big dance,” as they call it in Elf. Christmas may be the biggest commercial holiday, even the biggest economic stimulus for many countries as Wikipedia says, but for me and this year in New Zealand, I wanted to let the day take on a shape of its own, instead of racing to fill it with my own plans. My cynical brother would most likely say this was due only to having no plans to begin with, but all I knew was I wanted to be wearing flip-flops (or jandals, in Kiwi-speak) when I sat down to Christmas dinner.

I’d made the decision to stay in New Zealand over the holidays sometime back in July, a decision which makes it pretty awkward to hear songs like “I’ll be home for Christmas” and even more difficult to “break the news” to your family. But after talking with several of my friends, it came down to the fact that at least once in your life, you need a summer Christmas – and in what better form than a Kiwi Christmas? Most of all, I was simply just curious – what does Christmas look like without the possibility of snow and the roaring log fires and the hot chocolate?

I didn’t know where I’d spend it, though – while in Christchurch, I thought I’d return there; in Queenstown, I told everyone I’d come back for a few weeks over the holidays. If you can’t notice a pattern, I was only slightly influenced by where I was at the current moment. But ultimately, I chose neither – some might say I chose the option that made the least amount of sense: starting over in a new city only four weeks before Christmas. It was such an area of concern for people, as well – “But what are you going to do for Christmas?” became the resounding question. In a way, though, it was a challenge. How fast could I build a life in Wellington and find myself a home for Christmas day?

It certainly hadn’t felt like Christmas in the weeks leading up to it. I didn’t have to take part in the mad rush of getting all my shopping done, having bought and wrapped all my presents back in October to avoid exorbitant express shipping rates. And because I was staying out of the shops, I was inadvertently dodging most of the barrage of commercialism that so often accompanies Christmas. I wasn’t forced to endure Christmas music, tacky decorations, and seasonal specials. My world stayed fairly balanced in its Technicolor spectrum, the frequency of reds and greens remaining at relatively normal levels.

Indeed, the chief reminder in my life that it was the Christmas season was the number of offices that chose to have their work Christmas parties at my restaurant. There, they’d swap Secret Santa gifts and break open their crackers, wearing the paper crowns for about ten minutes until the novelty wore off and they’d fall crumpled to the floor where they’d lay with all the other rubbish from the crackers until the group left and we could swoop in to deal with the aftermath.

Another sign Christmas was on its way was the row of pohutukawa trees in full bloom outside the restaurant. In all my ignorance, I hadn’t realized the full extent of the red bloom’s significance. All I knew was the flower could be seen on anything from shopping bags from the gift shop of Te Papa Museum of New Zealand to the posters that hung in the front windows of banks wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. It wasn’t until talking with a customer one day about if and when summer would arrive in Wellington that she said while pointing to the trees outside, “Well, the Maori say if the pohutukawa flower early, it’ll be a good summer.” Now I had a name for them, a name that led me to a story on a New Zealand history website that gave me the final piece of the puzzle – the pohutukawa is actually considered New Zealand’s Christmas tree. No wonder their importance!

It’s a connection that extends back to the 1800s, when early writers spoke of the crimson flowers as “antipodean holly” – antipodean meaning “to refer to the land on the opposite side of the world compared to the speaker” – which, when you think about it, couldn’t be more fitting of a word for the perspective I myself am writing from.

From the Pohutukawa trees, I went on to read of the history of Christmas in New Zealand itself, the first recorded Christmas dinner being that which Abel Tasman and his crew held on board their ships in 1642. In 1769, James Cook again celebrated from the decks of his ship, the Endeavor, with a “goose pye” prepared from gannets. But it wasn’t until 1814 that the first proper Christmas service was led (and by proper, I mean only one actually held on New Zealand soil) by Samuel Marsden at Oihi Bay in the Bay of Islands. Kiwi Christmas traditions have come a long way since then, but I found the more I read and researched, the more disconnected I felt from the day itself and how I’d hoped it would look.

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That was how much I’d estimated Christmas of 2009 to cost me. Shortly after I arrived in Wellington, the church I began attending with my flatmates offered those without a place to go for Christmas to spend it with one of their families. This seemed like a perfect option and I left that first Sunday happy to have finally gotten Christmas sorted. After beginning work at Vercelli’s and getting to know my English friend Aimee, we’d also talked about getting together later on in the day, perhaps heading to the beach – weather permitting, of course.

But a couple weeks before Christmas, I met an American at the restaurant, a man named Tim who, while originally from Chicago, had lived in New Zealand with his family for the past seven years. Tim said he and his wife Teri were having people over for a barbecue on Christmas Day – some English friends, some Kiwi friends – and he invited me to join his family. I liked the idea of it, the concept of an international mix, everyone coming together. I liked it so much, in fact, that I decided to take him up on his offer and forego other plans.

A few days later, I was serving yet another large group at Vercelli’s, this one in celebration of a young woman’s graduation from university. I’d gotten a good sort of banter going with the graduate’s father, a Sri Lankan man named Patrick, when he asked if he could get my number. He said he had a “lovely American couple” he wanted me to meet, so I didn’t see why not.

And so it seemed the day was set. As Tim and Teri were hosting a late lunch in the afternoon, I decided I’d spend Christmas morning Skyping home with family before a quick trip to the beach at Oriental Bay, a twenty-minute walk from my flat. That night, I hoped to meet up with Aimee or even Javier from work, homeless travelers sticking together. But two nights before Christmas, I had a voicemail waiting for me when I finished work. It was from Patrick and although it took me a few seconds to remember exactly who he was, it clicked just as I listened to an invitation to his house for Christmas brunch so I could meet this ever-acclaimed “lovely American couple.”

Turns out, it was going to be quite the Christmas of logistics. I spent Christmas Eve on the Metlink website, sorting out which bus and train lines I needed – and more importantly, just when exactly they would be running. To get to Patrick’s flat in Berhampore, I’d need two different buses, one costing me $3, the other $1.50. I’d then need another $3 to go from Patrick’s to the train station, from where I’d catch a train out to the Hutt Valley to Tim’s house. The train was $4.50 each way, so I estimated in total needing the aforementioned $16.50. I counted it out in small change from my restaurant tips, bought two bottles of champagne to give to each family, and fell asleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head.

I awoke Christmas morning to a blue sky and couldn’t have been happier. I was dead and determined to have as close to a summer Christmas as possible. In my jandals and sundress (okay, and sweater…), I waited at the bus stop…and waited…and waited, until finally a bus arrived. “Here, have a pen,” the driver says, handing me a red pen with a Santa bobble head attached to the end and “GOWELLINGTON” written on the side. I was glad to see someone in the Christmas spirit at least.

But because my first bus had arrived so late, I got to the second bus stop only to see I’d missed the one I needed and would have to wait a good twenty minutes, making me over half an hour late when I only had an hour to spend at Patrick’s in the first place. Although I debated whether or not it was worth the trip, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. A taxi drove by and I made a rash decision. “398 Sydney Street,” I said quickly before I could regret veering from my public-transport schedule.

Wouldn’t you know it, though, I was the first guest to arrive. I sat with two of Patrick’s sisters in their lounge as his brother, sister-in-law, and daughter walked into the room. Each time, Patrick would say, “You remember Candace, don’t you? She was our waitress at Vercelli’s for Laura’s graduation.” I loved watching their bemused faces as they racked their brains, trying to place me. I, on the other hand, felt almost like a Victorian servant allowed a chance to mingle with the family.

Finally, though, the American couple walked through the door, and I don’t think anyone could have missed their arrival. In true tacky-American style, Kathy had on wide-legged red pants, a green cardigan sweater, and – the pièce de résistance – a white turtleneck with a colorful pattern of Christmas trees, jingle bells and presents repeated all over it. Mein gott! was all I could think. “And check these out,” she says, pulling up her pants to show off the Santa design on her socks. “I’ve had this shirt for about twenty years, but it only comes out once a year.” Her clarifying comment at the end only mildly restored my faith in her fashion sense. Her husband Mike wasn’t dressed quite as loudly, but had a voice to make up for it. “I’m wearing these shorts in the vain hope it will get warm enough, but the merino sweater is more practical.”

Old friends of the family, Mike and Cathy were busy catching up with everyone in the room until Patrick came over and said to them, “Candace is the lonely American I invited over today. She’s the waitress I was telling you both about.” “Well why didn’t you say something earlier!” Cathy exclaims all of a sudden. “I hadn’t even made the connection. Well Patrick certainly fell in love with you,” she says and I let out a little nervous laughter. We were able to chat for a few minutes, as I learned they’ve lived in New Zealand for over fifteen years now, until it was time for lunch.

Growing up, Christmas lunch always looked a lot like Thanksgiving in my house – a turkey, potatoes, veggies, carrot cake, etc. And even though last year was spent in the French Alps on my snow trip with the Kiwis, the barbecue we had wasn’t anything too outside the unexpected. This year, however, certainly took a hard left turn at normal. The Sri Lankan meal featured spicy lamb curry and rice that had been baked in coconut milk. As if having a summer Christmas wasn’t different enough!

From Patrick’s, I caught a bus back to the train station where I was pleased to learn all trains running on Christmas were free, more than making up for the eight dollars I’d spent on the taxi that morning. I settled into a seat on the train, pleased with my little Christmas adventure and happy to finally have the chance to see some of the suburbs surrounding Wellington. Lower and Upper Hutt are two well-known areas I’d heard of, but yet to visit. Tim was waiting for me as I walked out of the train station, sporting a teal-colored Hawaiian print shirt. Looks like Mike wasn’t the only one holding out for warm weather.

The afternoon was a quiet one. While Tim had made it sound like a large get-together, I myself made the total group count come to only nine people: Tim, his wife and two sons; Tim’s mother, visiting for the first time from Illinois; and two of Teri’s colleagues, Jill, from England, and Nikki, a Kiwi, and Nikki’s mother, Mary. Nikki, as one of the only Kiwis present, was officially put in charge of the barbecue, firing up chicken kebabs, sausages, and asparagus. Mary had equally done her Kiwi-part by preparing a delicious pavlova cake adorned with fresh strawberries. Finally, I was starting to see some of the advantages of Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. But as amazing as the pavlova was, nothing got me more excited to see Tim’s mother bring out a Tupperware filled with chocolate chip cookies baked like only Americans know how to bake.

When we weren’t eating, we filled the afternoon with round after round of ping pong and darts, a little friendly competition in the air. As I went to say goodbye to everyone in order to catch a train back into central Wellington, I thanked Tim and Teri again, probably for the fifth time that day, for having me over. “Of course,” Tim says, “No one should have to be alone on Christmas.” It wasn’t the first time he’d said that, and all I wanted to say was, I wasn’t going to be alone! But I figured you’ve got to pick your battles, and defending my honor (and social life) wasn’t one worth fighting over on such a holiday.

After I got home from the full day of running around, I got on Skype again with my brother. As I told him about my day and how I was feeling slightly off, just a little out of sorts, he asked what was on the agenda for the rest of the night. I mentioned potential plans with friends from the restaurant or if those didn’t pan out, a movie perhaps, and as we said goodbye, he said almost flippantly, “Finish strong, sis.” You gotta love him.

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That’s what I spent in the end on Christmas transport, a dollar less than I’d expected. I smiled as I thought about it, how well it represented my Christmas as a whole. I hadn’t gone into the day expecting a Christmas like home. It was, after all, not my first one away from my family. I’d survived last year, and I fully expected to make it through this day without too strong a dose of nostalgia. But then again, it wasn’t the summer Christmas I’d been hoping for either. Friends in warmer areas of the country talked of going to the beach, and I think that’s what I’d envisioned. Things didn’t quite add up like I’d expected. I was hoping for more synergy, whereby the whole would be greater than sum of its the parts, whereby I could piece together a Christmas that was as good as home, just different. As grateful as I was for the kindness of strangers to welcome me into their homes on such a personal day, I look forward to spending next year’s with my family…and maybe seeing who we can open our doors to. 

But in the end, I’m used to Christmas being quite the sedentary holiday, with extended family always coming to our house. Maybe the very effort of coordinating bus routes and train lines, travelling to new sections of the city and the suburbs, made this Christmas of logistics one to remember…


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playing with fire.


It was the end of a bad day at work. It doesn’t matter what got me to that point – a boss, a customer, the sales, or lack thereof. What matters is that I was upset and only slightly at the end of my patience and sanity.

The night, though, finally drew to a close and I began the walk home, following the waterfront and listening to the darkened waves as they lapped against the shore. To my left was Lambton Harbour, to my right was Frank Kitts Park, where during December the Telecom Tree stood seven stories high, lit by 37,000 lights with the possibility of 16 million different color combinations.

As I tried to let the layers of frustration fall away, something caught my eye – what seemed to be two orbs of fire spinning in the distance. With the tree disassembled, the park was yet again a dark, blank canvas against which the fire danced alone. My first thought was a juggler – the unicycling world championships are currently taking place in Wellington, so I had no idea what other circus-themed pursuits would cross my path – but as I ascended a set of stairs from water-level to street-level, I realized it was a fire twirler.

A woman stood in the middle of an empty expanse of grass, spinning a metal staff that was lit at both ends. She was talking to a man as she spun the staff in circles and figure eights, effortlessly exchanging hands. I quietly took a seat on a bench not far from them, not the first to do so. On a bench next to mine sat a boy of about four years old with whom I assumed to be his mother and grandmother. Although they were seated, the boy was perched on his mother’s shoulders, his arms around her neck.

The man the fire twirler was talking to then picked up a staff and asked if he could light his from hers. I had figured he was a beginner, there for a lesson, but soon he took up another staff. He walked a little ways off and stood with the two staffs crossed behind his back to form an X, the flames backlighting him like some adventure hero from a comic book.

“That looks really cool,” the woman says. He brings the staffs in front of him and I watch, mesmerized, as he twists them in impossible ways, impossibly fast. Never once do I hear a clink of metal from the staffs hitting each other. Occasionally, though, he does drop one, setting a small patch of grass on fire, but he quickly stamps it out with his foot. Once, he even sets fire to part of his sleeve, but that doesn’t seem to alarm him either as it’s quickly blown out. After a few seconds of the double-spinning, he then pauses, bringing the staffs above his head, forming yet another X. He places one foot in front of the other, arching his back and extending his arms into the night sky, the ends of the cross blazing. He’s no longer a cartoon superman but Vulcan, or perhaps Homer’s Hephaestus – minus the lameness, of course – an ancient god of fire, bending metal to his will.

“How does he do that?” The boys asks, as the man loops the staffs under his legs like an NBA pro with a basketball. I wonder the same.

At the same time, the woman has laid down her staff and picked up poi, a pair of chains with handles on one end and a wick on the other. She lights them and begins to create wide, fiery circles. I wish for my camera, to be able to leave the shutter open and watch how the long exposure allows designs to dance across the image. She swings the poi around her, over her head, so fast you can no longer distinguish between the two separate chains.

I think of the phrase “poetry in motion” and decide that this moment will forever come to mind when I hear those words again. A cop walks through the park and I send up a silent prayer that there isn’t some ordinance to prohibit this moment.

“Can we go have drinks now?” The little boy says. I remind myself I am theoretically eavesdropping and should thus refrain from laughing aloud with the two women.

“What kind of drink?” The grandmother says with a laugh.

“What would you like? A nice glass of sauvignon?” The mother asks.

“Yeah, for you! I’ll buy you a little bottle of wine.”

And then, like that, both fire dancers blow out their fire and walk towards their pile of bags and equipment. I sit for a few more moments, waiting to see if they’ll re-light their staffs and poi and resume their spinning, but they make no move to do so. I realize the magic has been extinguished with the fire, the moment barely lasting five minutes, and I am suddenly nothing more than an intruder, someone suspended in the middle of two conversations. I stand up and continue the walk home.

As I walked, I thought of an essay by Simon Winchester, titled “Ascension in the Moonlight.” Having just come from Antarctica, Winchester writes of an unexpected stay on Ascension Island, a volcanic island in the South Atlantic. Finding himself suddenly anxious to get home, he arranges to be dropped off on Ascension in order to catch an RAF flight back to London. For the short time he’s on the island, he’s hosted by the Anglican vicar, Paul Wilson, and his wife, Angela. That night, only a couple hours before Winchester is due to catch his flight, the Wilson’s take him to the beach to watch a host of Brazilian sea turtles lay their eggs – coincidentally witnessing a total lunar eclipse and a comet at the same time. Of this moment Winchester writes:

And it was in that instant I realized something: that in this astonishing grand conjunction – of new friendship, of tropical warmth, of strawberries and cream and cool white wine, of white sand and sea swimming, and of Brazilian turtles, an eclipse of the moon and the rising of a comet – was perhaps the greatest wealth of experience that any one individual could ever know in one moment. I was at that instant blessed beyond belief, beyond all understanding.”

And so on the shore of Lambton Harbour, I myself grew immensely grateful for my own conjunction of sorts, perhaps not as grand as Winchester’s but one poignant on a personal level nonetheless. For in this year of getting to know New Zealand, so much is planned – from the cities I live in to the places I visit, from the activities I take part in to the festivals I attend. I plot writing schedules in my planner, keeping track of which blog needs to be posted by when and setting monthly quotas for myself if only to feel like I’m writing with some sort of consistency. I see myself worrying about finding work, only to grow tired with my jobs a few weeks after starting, as if I’ve lost perspective, as if I’ve forgotten to fix my gaze on the bigger picture.

So to unexpectedly stumble across two fire twirlers in the darkness of a still summer night – in a city where wind and warmth rarely go hand in hand – took on its own depth of meaning for me. The walk home wasn’t too long after all.

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“It is enough to have to eat,” Marcello was saying late on Tuesday night. It was the end of a long day in a string of long days in the heart of the Christmas season. Being a higher-end Italian restaurant in the CBD (Central Business District) of Wellington with many of the tallest office buildings in walking distance, Vercelli’s often played host to group after group of work Christmas parties, even putting up with the chorus of pops that resound after everyone breaks their Christmas crackers, as if a dozen guns went off at once.

But on that particular Tuesday evening, Marcello and I were waiting on one final table to decide they were done for the evening. There always seems to be that one table, doesn’t there, who fail to note the entire restaurant emptied out half an hour ago and they are the only remaining souls standing between us and our beds. Having long ago finished our closing tasks, tables wiped and reset, cutlery replenished, floors swept, we stood around the till up front and talked – rather, I listened as Marcello talked, of what’s really important in life. Food.

It’d been a disheartening first couple of days in Wellington, at least when it came to the job search. I loved my new flat, I loved the city itself, I just wanted employment. When I arrived, I’d brought with me a couple of contacts (what I thought were hopeful) – my friend Adam in Christchurch had worked for radio stations in Wellington a few years back and told me he had the name of a woman who could give me some promo work. The temp agency I worked for in Christchurch has an office in the capital and I hoped I could get a name of someone to contact from the manager I knew. Even Braden in Queenstown told me the owner of Wattie’s knew of a bar in Wellington where I could most likely find work.

Then, the night before Elise and I boarded the ferry in Picton, I visited a well-known New Zealand backpacker’s website and while there wasn’t much listed under Wellington besides a call for dancers with a  “vibrant personality” at the Mermaid Gentlemen’s Club (no thank you!), I did see an advert for a housekeeper/general reception-help at a seemingly-charming guesthouse not far from my flat. I sent off an email, only to get a call from them a few hours later, asking me to come in and interview the next day. Talk about efficient.

Thus I arrived in Wellington on the hopeful side, arrived with my arsenal of contacts and my housekeeping interview. While the thought of essentially being a maid cracked me up, I also found it perfect in theory – I wanted to do something different for my last few months in New Zealand and I’d certainly found it. It all sounded too much like Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed not to get me excited about it.

But the interview was nowhere near a success in my mind. In person, the guesthouse itself seemed outdated, not charming. I would use the word ‘vintage’ only not to imply fashionably out of fashion, but just seriously in need of an update – the perfect candidate for a makeover show on TV. After the tour, I sat down with John, the owner, and instead of an interview, what I got was a two-part lecture. The first half focused on how he fills his days – buying Chinese porcelain on online auction websites. The second covered his opinions on American tourists, how they come to New Zealand thinking they’re better than everyone else, and how he proceeds to take advantage of their arrogant ignorance. Well, it may be needless to say, but I didn’t leave the guesthouse particularly excited by the possibility of working there. John said he’d call; I felt like saying, don’t bother.

So I made phone calls, sent out texts and emails, to “my people” on the South Island…and heard nothing. It was incredibly frustrating, because I knew I was just another CV in the pile for all the temp agencies I applied to – I knew I needed the edge of having a name. But, just as I learned with the weather and the lack of seasonal work in Nelson, you can’t change what’s out of your control. I would just have to move on and find something else.

So, like I said, I decided to go the temp agency route. Many of the office-oriented roles were advertised as paying $18-20 an hour – a near fortune compared to Queenstown standards. But I was quickly told I didn’t have enough experience, two years as a PA being the requirement. Apparently having a university degree and six months experience isn’t enough for them; apparently experience is just a number on paper. I suppose, though, that’s just the way they have to do things. And even when I wasn’t immediately rejected from more hospitality-oriented agencies, I was told I wouldn’t hear from them for a week or two. Yikes.

Finally, I looked through the list of restaurants and numbers I’d written down and saw one I hadn’t contacted yet – Vercelli’s. I’d found them on TradeMe, a popular New Zealand classifieds-website, but couldn’t remember why I’d decided not to call. So I did – and kicked myself for not doing it earlier. The process couldn’t have been easier – I called, I was asked to drop by with my CV, I showed up for my trial the next day, and by the second night, was working my first official shift. Just like that, I had a job…and without a single connection to help me out. I was pretty chuffed – it was the first job I’d gotten in New Zealand on my own.

The funny thing about Vercelli’s, though, is that they make you work split shifts. My Mexican restaurant in Christchurch was only open in the evening so it wasn’t something I had to deal with, but as a restaurant open for both lunch and dinner, Vercelli’s requires most servers to work both shifts. That means you start at either 10am or noon, work the lunch shift, have a break in the afternoon, start back at five or six, work the dinner shift, and finish up somewhere in the vicinity of ten or eleven at night. While not so weird of a concept, what it meant for me was that it eliminated the possibility of having a second job. After my time in Queenstown, having two jobs – and their paychecks – was something I had gotten used to. Would I be able to save enough from just one job?

But after talking to several temp agencies, it became clear I had secured the right job for the season in which I was working. One hospitality temp agent told me he could give me steady work for a couple weeks, but that after Christmas, it would slow down dramatically as work holiday functions were over. A temp agent I spoke with about reception work told me the same thing – that most offices would be shutting down until the end of January. While I had envisioned my primary job in Wellington being in an office – it is the capital, after all – it looked like that wasn’t going to be the case. But with both agents saying, “Don’t give up your job at Vercelli’s,” it gave me a little more peace about the work I had found. It paid well, it could give me fifty to sixty hours a week, and being in hospitality, it would keep me busy over the holiday season.

There wasn’t much I didn’t love about Vercelli’s at first. The location alone is worth showing up for every day – situated on Customhouse Quay, it is prime waterfront real estate, with the ceiling-to-floor, wall-to-wall glass windows looking out onto Lambton Harbor, right where the interislander ferries pull in from their journey across Cook Strait. On sunny days, we open up the three glass doors, so it’s as if we’re practically working outside. If I’m serving an outdoors table and the sun is particularly strong, I always joke with the customers, telling them to take especially long with their orders so I can maximize my time in the sun.

And the food – oh, the food. At Wattie’s, we could eat any of the pizzas that were leftover at the end of the night. But that was just it – they were leftover, often having sat under the pizza warmer for a good two hours. Not exactly, shall we say, fine dining. At my restaurant in Christchurch, there was a staff menu, but even a burrito still cost around six bucks – nowhere near cheap enough for me to make a habit of eating there every day. Which is a shame, really, because I never got to really know the menu. When customers would ask what my favorite dish was, they were largely given a made-up answer – I’d tell them, based off seeing and running the food out 24/7, my favorite dish would most likely be the fajitas or the chicken enchiladas. I have no doubt they could read right through my lack of genuine enthusiasm.

Never have I worked at a restaurant where the staff are fed…for free…and the food is nothing short of amazing. And it’s prepared by the same chefs who spend all day cooking for every customer. Chicken risotto, spaghetti carbonera, penne alla arrabiata, rigatoni portofino – and those are just the pasta dishes, the veritable tip of the iceberg, not including the pizzas. And we essentially have free rein of the menu. Initially, I’d sort of kept my choices simple, assuming that they’d want staff to pick easy, inexpensive dishes, and while we certainly aren’t given steaks, we are encouraged to experiment and explore. After my third time of asking for linguini lupara – an especially delicious dish featuring spicy Italian sausage – Marcello asked, “Why, Candy? Why you always choose lupara? I make you rigatoni amatrciana, it’s my favorite.” If you insist, Marcello…

And after our meal is finished, we can usually ask for a freshly made coffee from the bar – I’ve gotten pretty used to having a steaming moccachino every afternoon. Nothing like sitting down in the sun after a manic lunch shift with a gourmet Italian dish and coffee. It almost makes the crazy split-shift schedule worth it…almost. Because there’s definitely no way I’d be able to make anything remotely as appetizing to bring with me on my break. What I love most, though, about being fed on the job is that the chefs actually seem to want to cook for us. You’d think after cooking for an entire restaurant for about four hours straight, they’d have had enough, but without fail, right before we’re due to go on break, they come out of the kitchen and ask what we’d like. They take pride in what they make, as you can tell from the way their eyes go straight to your plate once you’ve finished and are carrying it back to the kitchen. They want to see an empty plate. It is, of course, not that hard to do my part – I make sure they always see what they’re looking for.

And what I’ve found is that by slowly sampling my way through our menu, I’ve actually gotten to know what we have to offer. When customers ask for recommendations, I’m able to give them – honestly, which is a welcome change. And on the other side of the coin, if someone orders the spaghetti bolognese, for instance, I know first-hand I’ve had better spag-bol and I usually try to lead them elsewhere. If someone asks if the pizzas are of a shareable size, I say, “If you’re hungry, you can definitely take on one by yourself – and I speak from personal experience.” It’s a nice change.

But, as fantastic as the free food has been, what intrigued me most at first was the management of Vercelli’s. The menu describes it as a “family-owned restaurant,” and they aren’t lying. The two main chefs are brothers, Marcello and Bruno. Their sister, Leila, helps out in the kitchen, and their wives, Teresa and Bianca, do a bit of everything on the floor – taking orders, running food, making coffees. Leila’s daughter, Adriana, works in the bar, and Marcello and Bruno’s cousin, Geovanni, is the pizza and dessert chef. But it doesn’t end there – Vercelli’s is actually a chain with about ten different restaurants all over the country. There are four in Auckland alone, and the first one was started there in 1980 by Marcello’s uncle. They all began working in the Auckland ones until coming to Wellington five months ago to open a new branch. It took me a while to realize just how connected they all were to each other – just when I thought I had it all figured out, I’d find myself exclaiming, “Wait – she’s your mother?!”

The whole family is originally from Macedonia, a country of about two million people directly north of Greece. I didn’t know much about this relatively new republic until starting at Vercelli’s, but Marcello filled me in on how the country came into existence as one of the successor states from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. While most of Marcello’s immediate family has permanently moved to New Zealand, I talked to Bruno’s wife, Bianca, one day about Macedonia. “Do you miss it?” I asked her. “Of course,” she said without a second’s hesitation, “It’s home.” And just like the entire Brazilian community at Premier Taste in Queenstown spoke in Portuguese, the Macedonian contingency at Vercelli’s speak only in Macedonian to each other, often leaving us wondering what’s being said. I haven’t picked up much, but I did learn “fallah” is thanks, and I love hearing them laugh every time I choose to use it.

But, even with the sea views and the Italian dishes and learning about yet another country, the honeymoon was soon over. One week in and we were right in the thick of the holiday season – when it wasn’t unusual to have several large groups in at once, parties of ten, fifteen, twenty, all at the same time, all the time. It also wasn’t unusual to spend a solid twelve hours without leaving the restaurant once. And while the idea of working with a family was one I enjoyed at first, I soon realized there was a difference between working with family and working with your family. In Queenstown, I had a family. Every night I walked into Wattie’s, Braden greeted me with a “Hey gorgeous” and a kiss on the cheek. I went to work feeling like I was a part of something. I was thanked every night for my hard work and made to feel like I was valued. Things weren’t that easy at Vercelli’s – working with a flesh-and-blood family opened up everything that comes with such – the frustrations, the emotions, the stress.

When Marcello and Teresa announced to everyone they were expecting a child, we were all thrilled for them, as you would be. When I congratulated Teresa myself, she smiled. “Marcello and me, we be married for three and a half year, and no baby yet.” This was obviously a big deal for them. None of the Macedonians could stop smiling, least of all sixteen-year old Adriana, who was quite literally beaming from the bar, an irrepressible smile on her face. But then, not even a month later, after a particularly hectic lunch service, Marcello left abruptly. I assumed it was normal sibling bickering between him and Bruno, until their sister Leila rushed by towards the toilets in tears, Adriana behind her, saying quietly, “No baby, no baby.” We never quite got the full story, but one can only assume a miscarriage. Being in such close contact with a family means me and the other servers often find ourselves with one foot through doors into private worlds; we’re privy to their personal lives in a way that often makes us feel uncomfortable and I think in such a situation, it becomes difficult to discern between what is personal and what is business.

The job also hasn’t opened up the social circle I was somewhat hoping for. A social life was just another perk of the job at Wattie’s – not only were all my colleagues young backpackers like myself, eager for a new friend, but everyone was always making plans for their nights off. There was no escaping their texts, as well, when plans were made – which, granted, could be frustrating when all you want is a night in, but at least there was always something going on. Vercelli’s has been a bit different – while I’ve gotten to know one English girl well, there isn’t an infinite possibility of social pursuits. And, as a friend from home pointed out, because we’re perceived to offer quite a fine dining experience, we usually miss the backpacker crowd. If anyone young does come, they’re usually with their parents or on a date – not the ideal situation to get to know someone. And definitely no cute boys – even the fact that every server is female aside, it’s not like a fancy Italian restaurant is really the venue of choice for a guys’ night out.

But while my horizon of romantic interests has diminished considerably since leaving Queenstown, a new, slightly more intriguing circle has opened up – the world of networking. If the fact that Vercelli’s is fine dining has lessened my chances of meeting my next date, who it has brought me into contact with are incredibly accomplished people. What’s more, as much as I enjoy talking with them, they seem to get a kick out of their young American waitress as well. My little black book of travel – typically used to store the numbers of potential landlords and employers – is growing fatter by the second from the number of business cards I’m given every day. CEOs, university professors, television announcers, rugby players, government officials, artists – I’m forever amazed at the caliber of people I’m fortunate enough to rub shoulders with every day. I love connecting with them, getting a little banter going, telling them how I’ll be getting my master’s next year and hearing about their lives and travels.

Moreover, I’m amazed by their kindness, by their willingness to hand over their card and telling me to stay in touch. So far, I’ve been invited to stay at homes in Australia, offered a caravan to borrow in northern Scotland, and asked to come work for a travel agency in Wellington. I told the last group they had no idea how much they were tempting me. With each new person I meet, with each new card I tuck away in my apron pocket, its like watching a web grow – watching the way in which I grow across the world and my connections grow with me. Vercelli’s is certainly a job of connections, and that’s something I didn’t expect.

As cool as meeting the owner of a fruit farm in Hawke’s Bay is, though, what I’ve been most grateful for at Vercelli’s is feeling like the job has given me my life back. No more 4am finishes, no more walking home as the morning paper is being delivered. I feel like myself again and what I love even more has been having time to read and write again. I never joined the library in Queenstown because they charged a $40 bond fee for anyone who had lived in town for less than six months (obviously a product of the number of tourists who pass through). But I was able to sign up in Wellington no questions asked and was soon back to reading a book or two a week, checking out well-known and respected travel writers whose work I aspire to emulate. And the writing schedule itself has regained some sense of normalcy, not just once a week on my one full day off. I’m able to get some done every day in Wellington; writing’s back to being a part of my routine, not a luxury, and I know that can only mean good things for this project.

So it’s those kinds of things I have to keep in mind on days when I’m growing restless with the job, feeling low, like I just can’t take it anymore. My English friend, Aimee, is a big help. So is Javier, the Argentinean dish boy who’s patient enough to let me practice my Spanish with him. He makes me laugh and laughter goes a long way when you’re stressed. I went back in the kitchen one night, my arms filled with dishes, and he just looks at me from his post at the sink. “This is one of the major moments of my life. In my dreams of Argentina, I dreamt of this,” he says to me in Spanish, spreading his arms out over the miniature skyline that’s been built from stack after stack of dirty dishes. His sarcasm – el sarcasmo – keeps me going. That, and a small piece of wisdom I got from a customer one day. When I brought a gentleman his steak, he hadn’t realized it came with a creamy brandy-pepper sauce. I apologized profusely – as I always do – and offered to bring him a new one. “No, no, no, don’t worry about it. N.A.F.P.” Slightly confused, I asked him to explain. “Not a flipping problem.”

Great attitude, eh? So from now on, when things are out of hand or out of my control, I find myself repeating it, often enunciating each letter slowly, like the anger management technique of taking a deep breath and counting to ten.

N.A.F.P. N.A.F.P.

N.   A.   F.   P.


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squanto, stuffing, and smuggler’s rum.

As with many holidays abroad, I was tempted to let this year’s Thanksgiving pass unnoticed, just another day of the week. I also thought about buying some sort of pre-roasted chicken from the supermarket, a box of stuffing mix, and cooking a faux-Thanksgiving dinner for my new flatmates in Wellington. I was, after all, new to the city come the last week in November, so it could have potentially been a good way to get to know the flat. But that was it precisely – I was new and I wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving, if I celebrated it at all, with people who at least knew who Squanto was.

So I went where I usually go when in search of, well, anything – Google. Every aspect of the summer I spent in Boston was determined by the world’s largest search engine (incidentally, did you know their annual revenue exceeds $22 billion?) – my internship, my apartment, my church, even daytrips outside the city. “How did you hear about/find us?” I was asked by a number of people. “Google,” I would promptly reply. This year, though, I remembered how the Thanksgiving service I attended in London had been put on by the American Expat Society. I figured there must be something similar here, some New Zealand equivalent to the organization that I could connect with.

Well…there was, amazingly enough, the American Women’s Network in New Zealand. They were hosting a Thanksgiving dinner with a menu that I just couldn’t pass up:

Turkey and gravy 

Mashed potatoes and stuffing

Creamed spinach with fried onions

Green bean casserole

Sweet potato casserole

White cheddar macaroni and cheese

Cranberry sauce

Tossed salad and bread rolls

Potluck dessert

Even my frugal self didn’t mind paying the non-member’s price of $35 for such a line-up of Thanksgiving dinner all-stars. It was exactly what I wanted – a taste of familiarity served in an adventure, spending my favorite holiday with strangers. Just what would the evening hold?

I didn’t want to be too on-time, certainly not early – nothing like a new girl showing up early to scream desperate. I left my flat at what I considered to be a little late – and as the stop I needed was at the end of the line, I figured I’d definitely be running behind schedule by the time I arrived. But wouldn’t you know it, the bus dropped me off at 5:29pm, the dinner scheduled for 5:30pm. So I took my time walking the three minutes from the bus stop to the Pines, a function hall set at the edge of a cliff with an incredible view of Houghton Bay. The sun was just beginning to dip a little, the dark blue waves dancing in the buttery, dusky light. It may have been different but it was definitely the most beautiful setting in which I’ve ever spent Thanksgiving.

I walked into the Pines center only to find myself one of about five people there, including the president of the group who was checking everyone in and, more importantly, taking their payment. I was directed to table #1, which I assumed would prove to be a prime spot come time to line up and go through the buffet. I wasn’t alone for long before a slightly overweight man with a Kiwi accent sat down. He was, of course, not who I was exactly expecting to meet first at an American Women’s Network function (being neither American nor female). I wasn’t sure if I was being rude or nosy or just stating the obvious when I asked him, “So, uh, what brings you here, Ross?” Apparently he knew Zelicia, the president, and she invited him along.

When the next two guys sat down, one of whom was saying, “This doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving at all. I’m wearing short sleeves and there’s no football on TV,” I was pleased to see this time they were mildly attractive and younger-looking Americans. I began to think that maybe the night wouldn’t be too bad after all. I hadn’t known what to expect, but I don’t think “fun” had really been on the list. The general sort of questions were asked, state of origin, length of time in New Zealand, job, etc. When I asked the two new guys what they did, they answered, “We work for Weta.” I, in all my inglorious ignorance, wasn’t sure if this was short for something, some kind of code, or just a mysterious government organization, but from the way another woman looked at me, I should’ve known instantly. “Lord of the Rings?” she says with an implied ‘duh.’ As it turns out, Weta is Weta Digital, the visual effects production company who can claim none other than Peter Jackson as one of its founders.

Alex and Frank both work for Weta and I was immediately intrigued. Their specialty is lighting and they’d just finished up work on Avatar. When I asked what else they’d been involved in, the lists they both rattled off were the coolest resumes I’d ever heard. While mine lists nothing but your usual retail and hospitality posts, their work experiences come from the movies they’ve worked on. My CV says restaurant, supermarket, bar…Theirs says Madagascar, Harry Potter, and The Day After Tomorrow. You as jealous as I was?

As the conversation went on, though, we realized several tables had already started filing through the buffet line. So much for table #1 going first. “What if they don’t replenish the buffet?” Alex worries aloud, growing concerned. “We’re not in America, you know.” A woman at our table tells us Zelicia had to give the staff at the Pines most of the recipes as they’d never heard of many of the dishes. It became clear the quality of the food might be another area of concern. We obviously wouldn’t be having our momma’s cooking this year. And just when our stomachs were on the verge of collapse, our time in the line arrived – as if ordered according to some Biblical “first-shall-be-last” principle, table #1 was the last to go up. This wouldn’t have been an issue, save that there was no stuffing left by the time I went through. I tried not to let it ruin my day and stocked up instead on dark turkey meat and more cold macaroni and cheese.

Frank finished first and as we marveled at how fast his plate had disappeared, Alex says, “He’s loud, jolly, and he eats a lot – he’s the perfect American.” Zelicia finally sat down with us as well, everyone finally checked in and in place. She didn’t look too happy, though. “They’ve run out of turkey,” she says. She may be from Virginia, but she had the look and demeanor of a native New Yorker. “I told them 80 adults and there’s only 72 of us. I don’t get it.”

“Well…did you tell them we’re American?” Alex asks, my hero of the day, because it’s lines like his that make the night for me. It’s lines like his – making fun of the very things we love most about our collective homeland – that I think I knew subconsciously why I wanted to be around other Americans on Thanksgiving, not my Kiwi flatmates or any other randoms. It’s one thing to spend Christmas with friends from other places, but Thanksgiving – being such a culture-specific holiday – should be spent with Americans. That being said, my mother spent Thanksgiving this year in Bangkok with an American family we’re old friends with, who in turn invited twenty or so friends to dinner from all over the world. I suppose I myself was just in need of a good ‘ole dose of Americana – of playing up the stereotypes and putting away a serious amount of turkey.

After the dinner had finished, Alex and Frank invited me over to their place for a few drinks from where we picked up their South African housemate Brian, also a Weta nerd, and headed into town. We ended up in a place called Motel, one of those bars you have to know exists in order to go there. It’s tucked away on an alley that shoots off a side street off Courteney Place, the main street where bars are located. Only a small square sign reading “Motel” hangs above the doorway – not out of your league, just out of the way. We sat around a circular leather booth, sipping vodka martinis and smuggler’s rum concoctions, and munching on popcorn – yes, popcorn, which the bar serves free by the bowl-full – and I thought to myself, this is the last place I expected to end up on Thanksgiving, a reason enough alone to celebrate the day and give thanks for all the crazy new places this year has taken me.

Every Thanksgiving, I’m used to the typical post-gluttony location being passed out on the couch in front of the television, not some swanky downtown cocktail bar. But, I suppose, there’s a first time for everything….

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you can’t change the weather.

The day began as usual, with nothing too taxing on the schedule. Having kayaked the Abel Tasman the day before, what remained for Elise and I to see of the national park was the coast itself. We couldn’t devote the whole day to the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, but we wanted to see at least some of it. There were several options before us, one of which included taking a water taxi up the coast and walking the entire way back, but we decided just to do a return loop up from the park’s entrance up to Apple Tree Bay and back.

Most of the track was level ground, thankfully, following the beach and weaving up the coast. As we walked, I found it as if we had stepped through a mirror and were now on the reverse side of an image, looking out on the bays and coastline we’d already kayaked along. While from the kayak, we’d looked from the water towards the tree-lined shore, from the track, we looked out from the forest onto the bays and water. I found the vegetation along the path familiar New Zealand territory, most especially the ferns, with their leaves arching iconically and the new fronds curling into the famous Maori symbol, koru. It didn’t feel like new ground, somewhere I hadn’t been before, which in turn lessened my curiosity to see what awaited us around the next bend. 

When we reached Apple Tree Bay, there was a large group of sixty-somethings and their young guides sitting around having lunch. Before moving on, Elise and I sat on a few logs away from their general area and watched as two more couples in their group pulled up in kayaks. “Ahoy, mate!” they all yell out, every one of them holding up their fist in what looks like a “c” in sign language. I don’t quite get it, but one can never tell with large tour groups and the weird bonds they develop over their trip [I speak from experience.]

As we retraced our steps back towards the entrance, I looked out across a bay at what looked much like Tonga Island, well-known home to the seal colony we’d explored the day before. When we got back to the main building of the park, I checked the map only to find we’d seen Adele Island, Tonga being much more northern. In a way, though, it made sense to confuse the two – we found much of the park looked remarkably similar. The same forest, the same beaches and bays, the same minute orchids growing along the path. It affirmed our decision not to hike further. Not that it wasn’t beautiful, by any means – just that the sequence of scenery seemed to repeat itself and we couldn’t imagine there being anything too new or different in the parts we didn’t see. On to Nelson it was, where we planned to spend the night.

On the advice of Joe, our kayak guide-in-training, we took the Old Moutere Highway, a more inland route from Motueka to Nelson. Joe had said there would be farms and vineyards all along our path at which we could stop and enquire about seasonal work – undoubtedly our chief goal of the day. As much as I had been enjoying the week – the new little towns and the new experiences – I was also getting a little antsy, a little anxious, the way I always get when traveling before my next work experience. I’m not good at indefinite travel – I like my plans and our plan for the next week had always been seasonal work in the Marlborough area, which would give my savings account a much-needed, much anticipated boost.

About ten minutes down the highway, we came across an apple and kiwifruit stand run by Morrell Farms. As Elise pulled off the road, a woman walks around the stand with bags of fruit, restocking the baskets. This is looking promising, I tell myself. I get out of the car and ask her about a job. She tells me regretfully they’ve just filled all their positions last week – why does it always seem to work that way? And to worsen matters, she goes on to say she knows of no other farms in the area that are hiring. “Head back into town and go up Riwaka way,” she says, essentially pointing us back to where we’d just come from – can anyone say déjà vu?

I’m not feeling it by this point. Elise, however, seems to be a bit more resilient than I when it comes to setbacks and promptly turns the car around. We stop at a packhouse and are greeted by a ghost town of a factory and an empty office to boot. I go poking around a cherry farm – nothing but a phone number posted on a sign. More vacated offices. Granted, it was Saturday, but I’d hoped to find more activity. At the very heart of the search, I felt like a useless door-to-door salesman, purveyor of plastic tupperware or knives or religion, cold-calling these farms and getting nowhere.

The day before, the owner of our hostel in Marahau had told us to contact PickNZ, a government-sponsored organization that coordinates seasonal work. I called both the Blenheim and Nelson offices, only to hear the same pre-recorded message, “There are no jobs available in this region…please leave your contact details if you’d like to be placed on the waiting list for work beginning in February.” February! More dead-ends.

Elise and I didn’t know what to do…largely because there was nothing we could do. There was no work. It’s the weather, they say, the grapes haven’t grown fast enough, and as we all know, you can’t fight the weather. Slowly we accepted the change of plans and decided to head to Picton the next day, and from there, to Wellington – a week early. As discouraged as I was – not just about the missed financial bonus, but simply the missed experience itself – I told myself this was yet again just another lesson in the flexibility that is so crucial whilst traveling. I can plan all I want, but in the end, it’s how I deal with changes in those plans that really matters.

We decided to stay in Nelson for the night, rather than driving straight through to Picton, and figured the place we’d stayed before, Shortbread Cottage, would be as good as any. We returned to it, however, only to find a whiteboard sign propped against the door reading, “Very sorry, no vacancies.” Two guys kicking a rugby ball around in the street ask, “What are you girls up to?” While I myself was fully prepared to ignore them, Elise replies, “Looking for a hostel.” You gotta love her honesty. “We have a bed we could rent you for a couple bucks.” I bet you do, buddy. From Shortbread to the Green Monkey – where do they get these names?” – where a sign informs us one dorm bed is available. At the Bug Backpackers, again – no vacancies.

We’re on a serious losing streak and like an army losing battle after battle but still in the war, morale is taking a nose-dive. A man at the Bug offers to call other hostels for us but asks us to tell him which ones. “I’ve called around for people before and end up finding a hostel they don’t even want to stay at. You tell me.” I couldn’t find a more direct way to say it to him – by the time we met him, my standards were out the window. I wanted a bed and I wanted it now.

He made a series of phone calls to other hostels in the area – bad luck after bad luck – until some place called the Paradiso says they’ve got two beds, but in different rooms. I was skeptical about the name – surely, with this many hostels all booked-up, a place truly like paradise wouldn’t have vacancies – but I was beyond caring. “Taken,” I say before I can hardly ask Elise. I felt as desperate as Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve.

We arrived at Paradiso, however, only to discover a party hostel. It suddenly all makes sense. I remember a friend from my bar in Queenstown telling me, “If you want to party in Nelson, stay at the Paradiso.” How had I forgotten? The hostel itself was nice enough – an old converted villa, a big, well-equipped kitchen, lounge area, and even a sand volleyball court, hammocks and a pool. But the people – oh, the people – were everywhere. What should’ve been a large kitchen felt tiny with groups of people clustered all over. And this mass of bodies just happened to hail from several tour bus companies – which explains the inexplicable influx of people in the town and utter lack of vacancies.

Swinging their bottles of beer and gin around, the party-busers were the antithesis of who I wanted to be around at that moment. Mentally tired from the day of no’s, I wanted quiet; what I got was pulsing music blaring from the speakers. The description of Paradiso in our New Zealand hostel brochure read that it offered free soup every night. As we checked in, the woman handed us each a pack of chicken-flavored instant noodles. I could only laugh and ask myself what I really expected. In the morning, Elise told me she walked into the TV lounge to read only to find people – all still fully dressed in their clothes from the night before – passed out on the couches and floor. I think it’s needless to say we didn’t stick around the next day.

Sometimes, like in Collingwood at the Innlet, you connect with a  hostel, actually feel at home, or at least yourself. But sometimes, a hostel is nothing more then a bed to sleep in for the night. And so you pack up in the morning and hold out hope for the next town.

It’s the backpacker’s way, really.

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adventure time to kill.

We woke up in Marahau holding our breath, just as we had before our whale watching and dolphin swimming trips – holding our breath for the sun. Would our long-awaited kayak trip, almost the peak activity planned for our trip around the northern areas of the South Island, get a green light and blue skies? Would the weather put it off? Or even if given the go-ahead, would we spend the day in the rain?

Such questions are vital when you’ve booked such activities in advance and, like us, don’t have an open-ended schedule, an endless amount of time to wait around until the sun comes back again. If a storm hadn’t allowed the whale-watching trip to proceed, we’d have been able to do nothing more than collect our 80% refund and move on, unlike some we’d spoken to who’d been waiting for a week in Kaikoura for good weather.

But – just like in Kaikoura – we had nothing to worry about. When we pulled back the curtains of our hostel dorm, sunlight flooded into the room. We hastened about, loading everything back into Elise’s car. Although we would be staying at the same hostel that night, we were changing rooms – from a twin share to a dorm room – so we essentially had to check out and in all over again that morning. Consequently, we were running a little late…although by late, I mean only too late in order to arrive early enough for Elise’s liking. In the car, Elise says, “I do not like delays.” Confused, I ask, “What’s delayed?” “We,” she says simply. Aah, I see. Despite the “delay,” however, we encountered no problems checking in at the head office of Abel Tasman Kayaks.

 We had booked a place on the company’s “Seals and Remote Coasts” daytrip. From the moment I decided to kayak the Abel Tasman – another Kiwi rite of passage for backpackers – I’d been torn over which trip would be the best. Not only are there several kayak companies operating out of Marahau, but each of them offers their own variety of tour options – single day, two or three day, group or freedom rentals, even decisions based on which part of the park you are most interested in exploring. At first I’d been set on a three-day tour, the longest option any company seemed to offer. I wanted the full experience – the kayaking, the hiking, the camping, the sleeping under the Southern Cross…you get it. But as I looked more and more into it, I just couldn’t bring myself to part with the truly exorbitant amount of money the companies asked for. In the end, I followed Elise down the economical route and went daytrip-style.

At the office, there were various groups assembling for the day. Some were larger, ten or twenty people gathered around a row of kayaks on the ground; others seemed to have almost a 1:1, guide-to-customer ratio.  A woman leads us to a picnic table with three guys sitting around it. One is our Kiwi guide, Darrell, or “Dazza” as he is affectionately known, whose long, sun-bleached blonde hair and sunscreen-covered white nose immediately stand out against his tanned skin, looking like nothing short of an Aussie beach bum surfer. He’s on the shorter side, but we’d later learn he has a personality to make up for it. He then introduced us to a Londoner named Joe, who was coming along for the ride, so to speak. As a guide-in-training, it was Joe’s last tour shadowing another guide before striking out on his own the following day. As if we’d bought a lotto scratchcard and won a free card, we’d be having a guide and a half for our group. And then there was Eric, the only other paying member in the group, a Dutchman with a voice like Andre the Giant from The Princess Bride and a girth of epic proportions. I grew only slightly concerned about the weight capacity vs. buoyancy of the kayaks. 

We were given oversized yellow waterproof windbreakers to wear on the water taxi ride, a yellow life vest, and a choice between a red or yellow fleece vest. I didn’t want to break the trend of buttery goodness, so I went with the latter, piling on golden layer after golden layer. “That’s a fetching color on you,” one group’s guide says from the back of the boat. “Brings out the color of your eyes.” As everyone gives a little forced laugh, he sighs, “Yeah, I’ve been in this job for too long.”

Unlike some tours which consisted of all-day kayaking, our trip began with a water taxi ride from Marahau to Onetahuti Bay, from where we would then launch our kayaks and paddle around the surrounding bays and islands for a few hours before catching a taxi back from Bark Bay. While waiting for our kayaks to arrive on a different water taxi, Darrell leads us on a small hike through the woods to a freshwater pool and waterfall. It’s then that we become fully acquainted with just how experienced a guide we were lucky to have. Not only has he led kayak tours for over twenty years, but before then, he led walking and nature tours, giving him an incredible knowledge base of the area’s flora and fauna. It felt very similar to what it must be like hiking with a Boy Scout – we couldn’t walk two feet without Darrell pointing something out to us – leaves, trees, ferns, flowers, including foxglove and some of the world’s smallest orchids.

Back on the beach, our kayaks finally arrived and though I couldn’t wait to get started, we had a few things to take care of – first of which was mastering the art of the spray skirt. I’d kayaked a few times before, but nothing serious – here it seemed I had begun to tread on more holy ground. I was handed a spraydeck to put on – a kind of waterproof skirt – which I did by pulling it on and hoisting the overall straps over my shoulders. You then sit down in the kayak itself and awkwardly wrestle with the contraption, trying to hook the outer elasticized hem of the skirt – the string is called a Rand – over a rim that runs around your cockpit, the idea of this obviously being to trap any water from coming into the actual kayak. I’m fighting a losing battle when Joe comes over and offers to help. “If there’s a hell and I’m going there, it will involve these,” he says, and I laugh in agreement.

We practice what to do in the event of a capsize, sitting in our kayak with our hands in the air. On Darrell’s count of three, we then close our eyes and finger our way around the rim of the kayak until we find and pull the strap of our spraydeck, allowing us to swim out to the surface. We look a bit like fish out of water, like rowers on a rowing machine in the gym, not in their element. Darrell also tells us to paddle in time with our kayak partner. “It’s more efficient and it just looks cooler,” which I can imagine, rather than looking like some unproductive windmill with flailing arms everywhere.

But with emergency plans in place, spraydecks secured, sunscreen applied, it soon was time and there couldn’t have been a better day for it. “It’s an oil painting sky,” Darrell says, also remarking that it’s unusual for there to be calm seas on a warm day. The kind of heat we were kayaking in normally meant more wind. Against a sky that seemed almost too perfect, like the backdrop in a theater or photography studio, Joe talks about a new cloud scientists have just named, “astro” being all that I catch at the time, but one I look up later: Altocumulus Undulatus Asperatus. Yikes. Say that one five times fast. These two guys seem like a fount of endless facts, as if they’ve spent their lives as sponges, absorbing everything there is to know about the natural world. I find it fascinating and never know what they’ll say next.

We weave in and out along the coast, always keeping in mind the tide, popping in and out of places with names like Mosquito Bay or Sandfly Bay. Names that didn’t sound like too promising of a destination, but Darrell quickly explains the namesake, “Sandfly Jack fell in love with a schoolteacher, she moved away, and no one ever saw him again.” Fact or fiction, it’s up to you. In our first lagoon, we pass another group, one much larger than ours with over twenty kayakers and only a couple guides.  “Hey mates” are exchanged as we float past. “How’s it going?” one guide asks. “Just another day in paradise,” Darrell replies. “It’s a tough life, but someone’s gotta live it.” Selfless guys, eh? We paddled away from the coast towards Tonga Island, where, according to brochures, we should have supposedly been able to view a seal colony. But – just like in Kaikoura – there was still no “colony” to be found, only a few seals sunbathing here or there. These seals were beginning to feel just as elusive as the penguins were on my trip around the southern half of the South Island.

I’d been disappointed at first to discover that we’d be using two-seater kayaks. I’d liked the idea of paddling on my own, like the great Paul Theroux himself, around the coast, but I soon became more than grateful for the extra pair of strong arms behind me. When deciding who would pair up with who, Darrell suggested “splitting up the testosterone,” so I went with Joe and Elise with Eric. Joe gave me a choice between front or back, but afraid of a freak brain lapse and pointing the rudder in the wrong direction at just the wrong time, I sat up front as navigator, which I found to be slightly less intimidating of a job description than One-In-Charge-Of-Rudder.

Although the lagoons and bays obviously presented no challenge and much of the sea seemed calm, the currents were tricky and strong, as were some sections where the bays fed back into the sea. The choppy waves seemed to have capsize written all over them. “Love the waves,” Joe tells me. Not the kind of explicit instruction I was looking for at the time, but it worked. On a whole, Joe and I worked well as a team. “Nice work, Navigator,” or “Good job, Cap’n,” he’d say, and I’d swell with pride just a little. Later in the morning, Joe asked me how my arms were doing. “Oh, they’re fine,” I lied, already feeling my upper arms burning. “Wow, you must be pretty fit, most people are already dying by this point,” he says. When I answer, “Ha, yeah, I can imagine,” there’s more reality than imagination going on.

While Joe was a good kayak partner, Darrell was everything a good guide should be. Informative and instructive, of course, but with a personality you’re not quick to forget. He was full of stories and forgivably tacky jokes. “What’s a pirate’s favorite letter?” he asks. Having a brother with a  remarkably similar sense of humor, I’m familiar with the joke. “Come on, Dazza, we all know the answer to that one.” He keeps pestering me to answer, until finally I relent. “Arrrrgh,” I say, with the same level of embarrassment you often feel in middle school around your parents. “No, it’s the seeeeeea.” I can only laugh. In a quiet lagoon, Elise has me take her picture, carefully handing her camera over to me when our kayaks near each other. Photo taken, I pretend to throw it back with a smiling “Catch!” “With jokes like that you’d make a good guide,” Darrell says. Elise doesn’t look so pleased.

From the kayak, Joe pointed out significant features of the landscape as we paddled past. “Golden beaches, turquoise waters” seems to be the refrain of websites and guidebooks describing the area, but Joe tells me more, going on about the thick cover of trees that hides much of the coast – Rimu, Kanuka, Manuka, and the pesky pine not native to the soil of the area. Darrell catches pieces of our conversation, joining in with more details on the park itself. At 22,530 hectares – about 55,000 acres – Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest of New Zealand’s fourteen national parks. It was founded in 1942, the 300-year anniversary of the arrival of Abel Tasman himself to Golden Bay in 1642, by a woman named Pérrine Moncrieff.


Mrs. Moncrieff, originally from Britain, immigrated across the world in 1921 with her husband and two sons. She became very active in the world of conservation in New Zealand, with the NZ History Online website describing her as “this country’s foremost female conservationist for nearly fifty years.” Not only did she write the first field guide to New Zealand birds – which itself ran to five editions – but she also gave lectures, wrote papers, and along the way, bought land along the shores of the Tasman Bay. This land would then become part of the Abel Tasman National Park she fought so hard to found, earnest in her desire to protect it from the timber industry. As I read later of Pérrine and her work in New Zealand, I am more and more amazed at the amount of people that go into shaping a country. People whose time in the limelight has ended, merely names now with brief biographies and encyclopedia entries, but whose work was crucial in their time. It’s funny once you start digging around in a country’s history, the people that seem to come crawling out of the woodwork, as the saying goes. Where have they gone? Why have we forgotten them?

At midday, we pull our kayaks onto a beach across from Tonga Island and explore the rocks and caves while Darrell and Joe prepare lunch. There’s chicken sandwiches, hummus and veggie wraps, apple juice, and a delicious peanut-butter-crumble-sort-of-creation for dessert. We sit around on logs or on the sand after we finish, letting our arms rest. Darrell gets up and draws maps in the sand of New Zealand and its collision of geological plates, in answer to a question Eric had asked. “You know, Darrell’s written a book as well,” Joe offers up. “What was it called again, Daz?” A Dollar and a Meat Sandwich, we’re told, named after all he had when he set out to hitchhike to the West Coast years ago. It took him three days but he made it. The book itself is an autobiography of sorts, “the kind of thing you write for your kids to read one day,” Darrell says. He self-published it, only a thousand copies or so, but said he sold ten at one time once after telling a tour group about it. After lunch, he washes the dishes in a stream running behind the beach near the woods and soon, we’re in the water again, off to Bark Bay to be picked up by our water taxi.

Back on the boat at the end of the day – proud at having made it through the day without a capsize – we pull into a shallow bay filled with tractors waiting for the taxis to return like a flock of mothers gathered at the bus stop. Each of the tractors is hooked to a trailer, onto which the boats are loaded and then transported back to the kayak companies’ offices in town for storage each night. As we unload and gather our things together, another guide asks Darrell what we were able to see during the day. He tells him about Mosquito Bay, Tonga Island, and the lagoons we’d paddled around. “There’s heaps of bays to explore if you have some adventure time to kill,” he says, throwing our life vests in a pile.

Adventure time to kill. I couldn’t think of a better way to describe not only the day, but my very life itself.

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north of the south.

Cape Cod. Cape Town. Cape Canaveral. There are many of these famous headlands around the world, surrounded by water on three sides, but none have attracted more of my attention than Cape Farewell at the very top left corner of the South Island. Reluctant as we were to leave our unexpected haven at the Innlet, Elise and I knew it was time to continue even further than Collingwood to as far as the road would take us. It was time to venture to the very north of the south.

Something I quickly learned about New Zealand is the deception of distance. On paper, two locations may appear to be only a few kilometers apart – Kaiteriteri and Split Apple Rock, for instance, which I just visited. But what the maps will leave out – or fail to fully convey – is the nature of the roads themselves and the never-ending way in which they twist and turn. I’ve never seen roads wind quite like in New Zealand. Elise herself, as any true German might, bemoaned the Kiwi highways and longed for days gone by back home, speeding along the Autobahn at 180 km/hour.

Similarly, when Elise and I pulled into the I-Site at Cape Farewell, we were shocked to discover the amount of time it would take us to walk around the very base of the Cape, right where Farewell Spit begins to extend into the sea. Inside the I-Site, a vacuum was running, one of the kinds with straps to wear like a backpack. I was surprised to see the woman wearing the bulky contraption, with her dreadlocks tied up in a bunch and chunky high heels. She looked more like someone you’d find in a fair-trade coffeeshop, not an information center in a far-flung location. I’d more or less come to expect retirees in such places, the white-haired men and women whose lives have undoubtedly slowed down considerably, freeing their schedules up for such pursuits.

She pulled out a large map of the Golden Bay area and drew a circle, no bigger than a pin-head perhaps, near the start of Farewell Spit. “This will take you about an hour and a half to walk around,” she said, setting her pencil down. You sure couldn’t tell just by looking at the map. Immediately I started to mentally reshuffle my schedule for the day. Although we’d read public access allows you to walk four kilometers out onto the spit, clearly we’d be there all day if we tried to cover all the ground we could.

Farewell Spit, reaching out thirty or kilometers or so in a hook, the Tasman Sea on one side, Golden Bay to the other, is New Zealand’s longest sand spit, expected to grow two kilometers more in the next five years alone. The Department of Conservation has licensed some companies to lead nature “eco-tours” on the spit, shuttling their customers around in Bedford RL lorry trucks to visit the spit’s lighthouse and the gannet colony even further out, but we had neither the time nor money for such a trip. Instead, we started out on the right side of the spit, following along the northern shores of Golden Bay.

Many of the beaches we’d seen so far on our journey north had been of considerable width. Not so much the ones in the Abel Tasman National Park or Kaiteriteri, but most definitely at Tahuna Beach Reserve and places like Rabbit Island. A wide expanse of silvery, tan sand, the beach we walked on in Nelson stretched further from sand to shore than the streets of Invercargill. Not so along Farewell Spit, however. And the narrowness of the beach was only highlighted by the incoming tide, which pushed us closer and closer to the thickly vegetated shores of the bay. The sand was covered in seaweed, driftwood, plants of all sorts, and Canadian geese floated by the flock-load not far from the shoreline.

We walked for a while along the western side of the spit, picking our way through the vegetation, when we came to a path on our left. From what we could see up ahead, it didn’t seem like the landscape would be changing dramatically enough to warrant additional investigating, so we decided to take the path and see where it spit us out. What lay at the other end was a completely different world. The farther we followed the track, the more we could hear the sound of the ocean growing, the waves of the Tasman Sea flowing into each other on the shore. When at last the cover of trees gave way to waves of sea grass and sand dunes, we found ourselves standing on a veritable sandscape, where the wind had shaped the sand into the kind of patterns and designs you so often see captured in photography collections or calendars. And it was immediately clear just where the Maori name for the spit, Onetahua, had been derived from: “heaped up sand.”

While the side bordering the bay had failed to leave much of an impression, with its narrow beach, cluttered vegetation, and gentle, lapping waters, the eastern shores of the spit were immensely, beautifully desolate. To the right, the sand stretched far into the distance, the lighthouse not in sight; to the left, the dunes rose and fell into cliffs that seemed ages away, impossibly out of reach. For a while, the only footprints on the beach belonged to Elise and myself until a family of four, two young children and their parents, appeared on the horizon. Although at first we’d not intended to complete the entire circular track, we asked the family how much further back to the start. “A while,” they said, and we answered the same when they asked how far to the path towards the bay. We finally turned off the beach and started the walk back, much of it plowing straight through farmland. We said hello to cows and sheep, nervous to be taken for trespassers, and paused to admire wild day lilies in the forest sunlight. To pass from field to field, there was a series of stairs, not so much turnstiles, but wooden steps leading up and over fences. As we approached the final field, literally – and I repeat, literally – filled with sheep, I began to think, “Surely not…” But oh, yes, we walked straight through, the sheep clearing out of our way like the Red Sea for the Israelites.

Having fulfilled our self-imposed walking quota for the day, we decided to skip out on the hour-long hike to Cape Farewell and drive there ourselves. Although a piece of stunning scenery in its own right, the real purpose behind the whole excursion was the cape’s status as the northernmost point of the South Island. I was a bit disappointed by the lack of any major signage – certainly none with the charm of the yellow signs I’d seen at Slope Point – the point instead being marked by your conventional Department of Conservation-sponsored, yellow-lettering-on-dark-green-background sign. However, as I would soon be boarding a ferry in Picton, crossing Cook Strait, and trading my southern life for one on the North Island, it was much more of a fitting moment than the sign, or lack thereof, gave onto. To have been from Slope Point to Cape Farewell, from the very south to the very north, had a kind of symmetry about it, as if I’d come full circle and was truly ready to leave the South Island behind. Although there are places that remain to be seen – Mount Cook and Westport being two I most wish I’d been able to visit – one should always have something to come back to, right?

There was one place we knew couldn’t leave without visiting – Wharariki Beach. Dalia, manager of the Innlet, told us we couldn’t miss it: the magic of low tide, the way in which the water pulled back, uncovering caves and rocks to explore, and the tide pools that were created where young seal pups would play. All of which, of course, we did miss due to timing and the tides. The low tide of the day fell late in the afternoon, when we would unfortunately need to be back on the road towards the Abel Tasman. The beach was about a twenty-minute walk from the carpark, a path that once again wove across hilly green farmland, cows and sheep only just out of reach. In the words of AA, New Zealand’s version of AAA (makes sense, I suppose), Wharariki Beach “isn’t your traditional beach visit…it is a discoverer’s dream.” Just like on the spit, the beach was a succession of sand dunes, but what was most striking was the wind and the way it whipped the sand against you. The tide was only beginning to recede when we arrived, but it didn’t keep us from traversing the dunes, taking in the extraordinary view – steep cliffs, rock islands, and a coastline that extended in either direction far beyond what the eye could see.

Wind-battered and sand-stung, we drove away from Farewell Spit filled with that small sense of accomplishment of having gone the extra mile, of again having gone as far as the road would lead. As we passed through Collingwood a second time, I managed to drag Elise into the Collingwood Museum, a sign on the door welcoming us to “our tiny museum,” and trust me – they weren’t kidding. The museum was comprised of a single hall, perhaps twenty feet long, with windowed display cases on either side. A simple browse up one side and down the other took just minutes. Behind the windows lay an entire township’s Show-and-Tell, a collection of items and knick-knacks, many from the early 1900s and wartime eras. They’d been grouped together to represent areas such as technology and education, with a fair share of household objects and even a first-aid book for “horses, dogs, birds and cattle.” The display cards had almost all been written by hand, giving you the image of a devoted group of volunteers working on them with painstaking care.

Next door was the Aorere Centre, a cultural learning center only slightly larger in size but one that I found to be an excellent complement to the museum. While the museum had been a collection of objects, the center seemed to focus on ideas and broader themes – just the kind of balance I find crucial to learning about a place. You need to both show and tell, right? Apparently Nelson wasn’t the only city in New Zealand whose namesake was a well-known fighting Brit. As an exhibit read, “Collingwood’s name is symbolic of the sea’s importance to early European settlers and their descendents. Admiral Lord Collingwood was second-in-command at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). After Admiral Lord Nelson was killed, Collingwood completed the British victory over Napoleon’s French/Spanish fleet. When gold fueled the growth of the little settlement of Gibbstown in the 1850s, and grandiose plans for a town were drawn up in London, the proposed town was to be named after Cuthbert Collingwood and the streets for ships, admirals, or nautical terms.” And so it seems that in New Zealand town-planning as in real-life battles, “Collingwood in Golden Bay was to stand alongside Nelson in Tasman Bay.”

With our tour d’ force of the museum and cultural center complete, there was only one spot left to see in Collingwood: the Rosy Glow Chocolate Shop. This landmark location had first been brought to our attention by Dalia as well, who drew an arrow on a map to it as if it was as prominent a feature as the Farewell Spit lighthouse. “And here we have Rosy Glow’s…” Because of the absurdity of her pointing it out to us, I was naturally drawn to visit. I was intrigued as to why such a well-known shop was on a back street, rather than the main “drag” of Collingwood. But Elise and I decided not to drive, as the weather was perfect and we’d been told it was only a five-minute walk. Five turned into ten, though, until it finally came into sight.

In true form, the house was pink, framed by a white picket fence and the to-be-expected large number of rose bushes. The shop, however, was surprisingly small, located on the side of the house, as if they’d run out of ideas for what to do with a spare bedroom. Office? No. Craft room? No. Chocolate shop/tourist trap? Yes. I like it, let’s do it. There wasn’t much to the shop, only two glass cases displaying its wares on lace doilies and a bell to “kindly ring for service.” I’d pictured a white-haired, aproned old woman perhaps wearing wire-rimmed glasses to appear – but the one who did was young, perhaps mid-30s and decidedly not nearly as sugary-sweet as her chocolate. I suppose I would have appreciated a bit more appreciation on her part, having made the effort to visit her shop. As we began the long walk back to town, eating our rapidly-melting goods – me a chocolate caramel bar, Elise a lime sour – a woman passes us and says, “Good chocolate, eh?” and I wonder just how many have been duped into paying for overpriced chocolate they didn’t really want in the first place.

With Collingwood behind, all that lay before us was the trip to Marahau, where we’d be departing from the next day for our kayak trip. On the way there, though, we pulled off the road to see Te Waikoropupu Springs, affectionately known as Pupu Springs. We weren’t the only ones there for Australiasa’s largest spring, sharing the carpark with several campervans. Although sixty other larger springs exist elsewhere, Pupu Springs is the world’s clearest freshwater spring – only the water under the subantarctic shelf is clearer. I’d never seen any kind of springs, though, so I was quite enthralled with watching the bubbles on the surface on the surface. But just when all you really want to do is don a mask and snorkel and go for a swim, signs pop up all along the path prohibiting anyone from entering the water. They always have to spoil your fun, don’t they?

To replenish our collection of mostly non-perishable food items with something a little more palatable for dinner, we stopped off in Takaka, population 1,200, en route to Marahau. It didn’t take long to realize there wasn’t much going on in the town. “There’s more shops than inhabitants,” Elise says in a having-landed-on-Mars kind of awe. I’d read in my guidebook about a café with a community notice board that is often helpful for finding seasonal vineyard or fruitpicking work, something Elise and I were both keen to do for a week or two after touring around. We’d figured the work would be easy to come by, but found just the opposite as soon as we arrived. Many of the hostels in Blenheim which claim to help in finding work had nothing to give us. The seasonal work offices we called greeted us with pre-recorded messages saying, “There is no available work,” or something similarly cheery. Throughout the saga, I thought of a guy named Ryan I’d met in Queenstown back in September who’d mentioned that he was moving up north to work on a friend’s vineyard. He gave me his details and told me to call once I was headed that way myself and he’d help me out with a job. I lost the details, of course, and the harder it became to find work, the more I lamented my mistake.

In Takaka, we passed the Telegraph Hotel, a name that I thought sounded familiar from the guide book, so we popped in to check. Just as I walked into the café/bar area, I turned around only to see Ryan walking in behind me and felt the world – or New Zealand, at least – shrink a few more meters. “Ryan?” I say, not believing the coincidence. “Heeey,” he says slowly, and for a second I’m not sure he remembers. I was his bartender, after all, so who knows how well he would recognize me sober. “Queenstown, right?” After a few minutes of catching up, he tells me he “never did go work on that vineyard after all.” Well, that’s that, it seems. Vineyard connection or not, I’m still amazed at the size of this country and the infinite number of random, “it’s-a-small-world” moments that seem possible here.

And then we were back on the road for the last time of the day. Elise settled into driving, me into my role of DJ/navigator. On a particularly curvy section of the road, drawing close to our day’s destination and just a few minutes outside Marahau, we rounded a bend only to see a girl in her 20s running towards us on the road, waving her arms frantically, yelling, “Stop! Stop! There’s been an accident.” In an instant, my mind was transported from the idyllic end of a Disney family movie to the seat of a horror film. The look of pure terror on her face jolted my stomach – I expected a multiple car collision up ahead; I expected blood; I expected us suddenly transporting people to the hospital; I don’t even know exactly what I expected, but it was definitely the worst. We stopped the car and I grabbed my cell phone, not knowing what else to do. She walked towards a ledge and peered down at the forest below – a flipped car perhaps? Someone thrown from the window? A black helmet appeared – at least driver can move, I told myself. But then he’s standing there, assuring us he’s fine and okay, but that’d he’d like to know where his motorcycle is. It was the most anticlimactic of moments, my heart still racing with no outlet for the adrenaline. Grateful, of course, that I was for the lack of a real tragedy, the scene shook me out of the stupor of our day’s travels.

That night in the kitchen of our hostel, we talked with a Frenchman named Cedric, who shared that he’s traveling with two of his friends after a year’s working holiday in Australia. I’d seen them earlier, a couple, walking out of the bathrooms, the woman rubbing her stomach. I hadn’t been sure if she was pregnant or not, but when we asked about their plans for the next day, Cedric said, “We go to Nelson tomorrow, my friend thinks she’s lost her baby.” Maybe it was the accent, maybe it was like in a TV show when everything all of a sudden makes sense and the character replays flashback after flashback, wondering how they’d missed it before. Of course the couple wasn’t hanging out in the hostel’s common area, of course there was a look of something’s-not-right about the woman as her hand had passed over her stomach. It was one of those moments where the right words to say just don’t come.

These moments of tragic reality are what keep you grounded – an almost encounter with a horrific accident, the potential loss of a child – these are the things that keep your perspective in check. Missed timing with tides, annoyances with shop clerks  – it all seems so trivial, so frivolous. The only thing that becomes vital is your heartbeat itself. The fact that you are where you are at all. There is the potential in travel to become increasingly disconnected from reality, especially on an extended trip where every minute of internet usage costs money and is thus avoided, or when time spent in remote places eliminates the ability to keep up with the outside world. I am the first to extol the many wonderful qualities of a traveling life, but I know equally well the danger of becoming increasingly self-centered, solipsistic, with no real finger on the pulse of the world around you. As grateful as I was for the chance to complete my circuit of the South Island, to have circled around the very north of the south, I went to bed that night a little heavy of heart.


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