Monday, December 31, 2012

Marlborough Sounds

I spent a week in December driving the 1,423km from Dunedin to Auckland with Chris, stopping in Wellington for this silly exam I had to sit. We did this very cheaply via a relocation rental - a lark I recommend to others who have lots of free, flexible time and not much money. 

I wanted to find a place to camp near Picton which was fairly isolated, free (or very cheap) and involving a short walk. I researched like a maniac, like I always do, and once I had acquainted myself with every campsite in and around the Marlborough Sounds region (and, incidentally, not written my master's thesis), I found Davies Bay campsite, a '1 hour walk'* from the car park in adorable Anakiwa. Pictured above is my kitchen, and below - the results - couscous with mushroom, asparagus and lemon juice.  

* Actually 25 minutes. Also, in Anakiwa there is a very nice coffee caravan, which looks like it must be amazing, but I am a townie at heart and only had electronic money (or 'imaginary tokens' as my dear friend Lemuel calls it). Bring cash! 

Davies Bay was unfortunately hosting both a high school group and an outdoor adventure group (I find the latter more terrifying, to be honest). I watched the outdoor adventure group stand in the carpark in Anakiwa in a perfect circle, wearing all their gear, and spend roughly 45 minutes prepping (for a 25 minute walk) and discussing how they need to "stick together!" and "be careful!", and remembered fondly why I prefer to go into the wilderness by myself. I said to Chris, at some point during a long and bitter rant, that I felt that outdoor classes at school taught me everything that could go wrong in the outdoors, but not everything that could go right - and why tramping/ camping are actually very accessible, life-enriching things to do with your time on earth. 

In any case, as groups tend to do they stuck together and we managed to find an area where we had only the mosquitos and two snooty Swans for company. NB: I have always felt that swans resemble, in appearance and temperament, old couples who detest the uncultured world around them, and 'love' each other forever - in the sense that they are each the only person the other can tolerate. 

Tent light and morning light in Davies Bay above. The drive back to Picton took us on the Queen Charlotte Drive, which is an extremely scenic wind through stupidly beautiful hills and bays. The morning was spent at Governor's Bay (below), where a very large Sting Ray (!) swam around Chris. He yelled, I was too slow to see it, and we spent the rest of the morning swimming around looking for it, feeling mildly nervous and making uncouth jokes about Steve Irwin. Also, Chris is Australian. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Macetown: Abandoned Town

Chris likes abandoned, haunted towns just as much as me, so we borrowed MOM's car and hooned to Arrowtown, from which one can walk three hours along the old gold-mining trail to the historic town of Macetown. Macetown is dramatically placed in what I consider to be classic arid Central Otago landscape, at the feet of a range of snow-capped mountains. The town itself has some buildings still in tact, and a ghost who walks around the longdrop when I'm in there alone at night drunk.

We camped at Macetown for two nights, and on the day between we went for a ramble up the valley to a dwelling aptly called "Derelict Hut", where we joined the dozens of people who had scratched their names into the ancient wooden walls for posterity. The valley is carved out by an alpine river, we had blazing sun all day and I attempted to face my fear of heights. Note me lying on the edge of that cliff thing below, pretending to smile. Chris, on the other hand, danced around like a mountain goat and I didn't watch (NB: We also saw a family of actual mountain goats, including a tiny baby, balancing on some rocky cliff faces. There are no photos, because we were hopping up and down with excitement and trying to convince those guys to be our friends). 

Above: a very old sign. 

These photos don't do Macetown justice, as most of the time Chris and I were too busy looking around in awe and harping on about how perfect it is (a la St Bathans). On the way back, we walked the alternative route via "Big Hill." Schlepping myself and my pack up Big Hill was one of the few times I have genuinely believed I might not physically be able to achieve something, and Chris joked, once we neared the summit, that it was probably named by someone similarly exhausted and as half-dead as us:
"What should we name this hill?" someone asks, and the unfit, gasping person replies "I don't care. Big Hill." 

Most people take a 4WD trip to Macetown and I hear in summer the place can be positively over-run with these day-trippers. The 4WDs cruised past us, wading through one of the 27 river crossings, and the tourists inside stared at us in horror. Then one of them used the long-drop and stole our toilet paper. Luckily, we had spares, but seriously!!! Who. Does. That. They would be back at their hotel in Arrowtown within the hour - meanwhile, we were out in Macetown for the next 48 hours or so. Anyway. Day-tripping fools. In any case, I recommend this trip in the off-season, which is when we did it; we had the town almost entirely to ourselves. I also do, after all, recommend the alternative route on the way back - coming over the ridge to alpine views stretching from Arrowtown to Queenstown was well worth the near-death experience. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Before I Went

On my trip driving from Dunedin to Auckland what struck me the most was how my idea of a place, built up from random images on the news, or stories, or god knows where, is often badly out of line with the reality I find there. Or I do find it, but it's only a small part. 

For example, I thought the North island would be boring farmland. Nonstop. Everywhere. Somehow from the images I'd seen and the way people always say, emphatically: "the South island is the pretty one", I just had this idea that the entire North island would be like that awful strip of farmland between Ashburton and Christchurch. I didn't think this consciously or rationally, because I *knew* there were national parks and beautiful things, but somehow in my heart I felt it. 

Anyway, this got me thinking: before I go to a place, any place, I have an imaginary version of that place in my head. I like this phenomenon and don't want to change. For example, Paris Before I Went was a real life version of the tall, dark, leaning houses in the animated work of  Sylvain Chomet (and it actually kind of is! in certain areas). Berlin Before I Went was stark, industrial and full of parties (same deal!). In real life, a place is too myriad, complex, alive, unpredictable and three-dimensional to fit into my little brain, so it is *always* better than how I imagine it, because real life is outside my control. 

So, I was just chatting to my dear friend Brook about my upcoming visit to his home-city Manchester and I described it to him as: 

"manchester is going to be so fun

such a grimy place
a smart place
in a recession"

He replied: "sure."

Brook is very under-stated, but what he probably meant was "Sure, and all these other things." He did add this:

"though officially it is up and coming. it experienced something of a Renaissance following the IRA bomb. plus a musical heritage you can shake an Australia at and still come out choking."

Did I say Brook is under-stated? I meant he is a crass, rambling maniac. In any case, he is from Manchester, he lives there currently and he will be my host come next February. He also runs a boutique Gin bar with over fifty varieties of Gin. It is like I have designed my life to be Just So.

ANYWAY (for the last time), what I wanted to say was this: I am going to attempt to draw and describe my visions of places before I go and compare the results. This is going to be hilarious, as I cannot draw, but you can hopefully use my words to fill in the blanks, as it were. I won't do this for the North Island, since it is no longer fresh, as I have now seen that it is a place which is wildly alive. That there are mighty rivers carving through valleys which are 'mossy with life' (as my love put it); places where Taniwha live under bridges and local children throw leaves over the edge to honour them.

Coming up: Manchester, Before I went there.