Melbourne may be perceived as the windy, as the cold, as the sullen, morose and turbid capital of Australia, but, despite it being our final destination in ‘the land down under’, nothing prepared us for New Zealand’s climate.
Arriving in Christchurch (what a prodigious name to write about in the Jewish Telegraph) close to midnight, we were quickly scuttled into a shuttle bus and driven to our night’s accommodation. It was only in the morning, as we exited our hostel, bound to explore the city, that the acerbic wind stifled our anxious bodies and offered a foreboding warning of the palpable New Zealand weather. Every bellow and blow of the wind’s mighty gusto conjured up vivid memories of England’s spring milieu. Nevertheless, although the may sound murky and morbid, it complemented New Zealand’s rich egregious scenery and Victorian architecture aptly.
Christchurch itself seemed moribund; the building’s were decadent, monolithic and minute – their tallest structure is a renowned and prominent cathedral, located in the centre of the city. Our youth hostel – ‘Cokers’ – which was a tired, old and forlorn converted pub, epitomised the city pertinently. We are both still disputing whether ‘Cokers’ was an eponymous name as several of our fellow inmates effusively meandered through the hostel in an aloof malaise both day and night.
Essentially there were three demographics residing in the hostel though: Two bemused British backpackers, the aforementioned ‘Cokers’ and…the Israeli’s.
Maybe it is because of the war, or, because they wanted to relax following an incessantly arduous three years of army duty, but it was beguiling to see that every Israeli who was not back at home or making a speech at The King David High School was residing at ‘Cokers’.
One of these we befriended and quickly made a strong affinity with was ‘Yuval’ from “just outside Tel Aviv”. With Yuval we embarked on a couple of capricious expeditions, most eminently on our final night in Christchurch when we drove to the adjacent Port Hills with two South Korean girls to view the delicate, flickering lights of the city below us. The ethereal clouds which permeated the hills were a just symbol of Christchurch with their hazy yet potentially ominous draconian features that moved as ubiquitously as a stalkers shadow…
Following several days of resting, adapting to New Zealand and exploring Christchurch we finally departed from the city and boarded ‘The Kiwi Experience’; a backpackers bus. We will leave our incrimination’s pertaining the aforementioned dastardly service for another musing and focus solely on what we saw and…experienced!
Firstly, we visited Kaikoura where we saw a seal colony and walked around the coastal circumference for four hours before leaving for Nelson the next day.
Now, if anyone doubts or criticizes our commitment to frugal budgeting we will personally send you to Nelson – all expenses paid for – and force you to sleep in the dormitory we were subjected to, for three nights. ‘The Fridge’, was the consummate option for thrifty travellers; it was a twenty bed dorm, built out of wood, with dim sanguine lights, without heaters and it resembled a garden hut which used is solely used to store superfluous household items.
Pepe on the first night was shaking and trembling and shivering and quivering so impetuously, so unceasingly, that the genial girl sleeping the bunk below him, who herself obviously could not sleep either, offered her blanket to him THREE times out of sheer pity. Jakey on the other hand wore – and therefore insulated himself – with THREE layers of clothing! Furthermore there was pervasive yet silent speculation about whether death himself was sleeping amongst us, primarily because of the ninety year old tenant who was as fragile as a feather and as brittle as a glass bottle, who slept in the fridge every night, dressed in wellingtons and a trench coat!
The good news is that we persevered for the three nights and survived. Unfortunately we cannot clarify the status of the old man.
During our regressive stay in Nelson we visited the Abel Tasman National Park where we engaged on an arduous walk of a mountain whereby we were walking up a steep incline for several hours before having to quickly plummet back down to the bottom in order to catch our bus. The view from the pinnacle, of the voluptuous shimmering water crashing in a gentle cadence against the nearby islands was worth the initial travails however.
After Nelson we commuted through Westport (where was saw ‘the Pancake Rocks’ and blowholes), Greymouth and Lake Mahinapua before finally arriving in Franz Josef which situates the capacious, smooth and icy glacier of the same name. There we embarked on a day hike up the salient landscape which revealed a whole array of white, blue and azure colours. The hot showers back our hostel were undoubtedly hitherto one of the most resplendent gifts of the trip.
Then we continued to move down the South West coast of New Zealand’s south island, arriving in Queenstown via a nightly stop in Wanake where we ambled around the towns colossal lake and later toured ‘Puzzling World’.
We did not indulge in anything particularly memorable during our first visit to Queenstown bar our climb up to the top of one of the city’s contiguous mountains. But, after we travelled further south to Te Anu and Milford Sound, we returned to Queenstown, determined with a bullfighters thirst to jump off ‘The Nevis’ – a 134 metre high bungy jump.
The day finally arrived – fittingly on Pepe’s birthday – to complete our chosen task and, as our shuttle bus slowly climbed up the rocky mountain, an eerie solemn silence diffused the car.
To board the bungy platform itself (which was located in the middle of a gorge) we needed to take a short ride in a cable cart where out inhibitions awaited us.
Jakey was the first to jump. The demented look of determination remained on his face throughout the whole ordeal as his legs thrust him into the air. Due to his severe inability to enforce simply instructions he failed to pull a strap which would have propped him up perpendicularly as he was dangling at the bottom of the gorge. Subsequently he was pulled back up to the platform like a hopeless puppet, flailing his arms and looking downwards.
Then, as the penultimate jumper, it was Pepe’s turn. Rationality overwhelmed his discordant sense as he prepared to jump, resulting in him half falling off the platform before being pulled back by the operators because he was too close to the edge of the platform. Delirious following this he hurled himself headlong off the platform like a declining airplane. Pepe, of course, managed to pull the strap.
The ecstatic euphoria generated by our lingering adrenaline was perfect for a night of convival birthday celebrations. Pepe first drank at a bar permanently maintained at -5 degrees before meeting up with Jakey and several friends from Te Anu and Christchurch. As a frivolous and motley entourage we then went bar hopping.
A few days later following compulsory stop-offs in Christchurch and Kaikoura again, we boarded the ferry at Picton and soon arrived in the country’s capital, Wellington, on the north island.
Wellington’s industrial buildings resembled Christchurch’s except without the latters archaic charm. Even the city centre looked more like an illicit and debauched favella than a bustling vivacious capital. Auspiciously however, when we were dropped off on the wrong side of the city by the Kiwi Experience bus (we told you that we will leave our discrepancies for another rant), the woman who gave us directions was coincidentally Jewish and she subsequently invited us to join her synagogue for a shabbat meal on the following night. In the ensuing day and hours before our engagement we visited ‘Te Papa’ – New Zealand’s primary museum -, the New Parliament House and ambled through the city.
Friday night dinner was a welcome digression from our habitual pasta & noodles and the community was welcoming, affable and humble. After the service ended we were invited back to a girls house to drink, chat and eat chalah! Melanie was a gracious host and when both finally left at 3:00 am we had to walk through the aforementioned glum and degenerated streets. Fortunately we returned to the hostel an hour later without an altercations.
So, first there was the glacier hike, then the 134 metre bungy jump, and finally, to complete our triathlon of extreme activities, at our next destination, Taupo, we went skydiving. The sensation differed from bungy jumping because, when you are 15,000 feet in the air, fear eludes you due to a conglomeration of the planes deep rumbling engine, the vociferous wind and friction perennially blowing against your face and, finally, the immense scenery surrounding you. The glide down to earth was almost romantic as we drifted through the sky like a despondent raindrop. Our dive-site had all the natural elements of a scenic panorama; fertile fields, protruding mountains and the glistening effervescent lake Taupo.
The end of our voyage around New Zealand was by now dawning upon us. Soon we arrived in Auckland – our final departure point for Fiji – after we briefly visited Rotorua, Waitomo and the Bay of Islands. There is little to say about Auckland: It houses over half of New Zealands 4 million population, it is the country’s commercial capital, the southern hemispheres tallest building is located in the city centre and it is known as the “city of sails” even though we only saw a few scores of boats.
Our flight to Fiji was just over two hours long. Upon arrival we were greeted with what was the first of many ‘Bula songs’.
Primarily, in Fiji, we relaxed. Pepe spent most of his days reading whereas Jakey basked himself under the sun. During our short stay there we visited six islands (Nadi, Nanuya Lailai, Tavewa, Naviti, Kuata and Bounty), but only three are worth mentioning:
In Nanuya Lailai we resided at ‘Kims Place’ which was a small and compact ‘resort’ which we shared with four other people. To call it a resort is somewhat spurious however as it was comprised solely of a few huts, three of four tables and a dozen of intermittently dispersed chairs. The appeal alluding ‘Kims Place’ was the proprietor himself, who, in his colossal and overbearing frame, resembled Bolton Wanderers ‘Jaidi’.
In Kuata we did not do much. Contrasting to what would be perceived as the quintessential Fijian Experience, shortly after we arrived on the island, a morbid, surly grey cloud floated over us and unleashed a fearsomely ferocious storm. The rain did not recede all night.
That was inconvenient.
The fact that the rain leaked into our abode and on to our bed was a travesty however, and, complete with the sporadic roars of thunder that sounded as if God was ready to flood the world again AND the mosquitoes that were perpetually biting at our rancid feet, it was nothing short of a nightmare.
There was a consolation however: On our final night/day in Fiji we resided at the ‘Bounty Island Resort’ which was where ‘Celebrity Love Island’ was filmed (yippee!).
Do not allow this to deceive you though – the island was quaint and beautiful. Moreover the clouds had propitiously dispersed and the sun emerged, thus augmenting the pervasive beauty.
Now, we have been travelling for seven months. Leaving Fiji at 22:00 on the 20th April, we arrived in LA for our connecting flight to Vancouver at 13:00…on the same day. Consequently we are severely jet-lagged.
We have finally reached that distant yet palpable milestone of Canada and it is quite perturbing pondering how this is the beginning of the end…