Since arriving in Dunedin, I’ve been increasingly desperate to get out and see more of the countryside. This desire is borne out of justifiable curiosity but also because being close to nature calms my frustrations and makes me feel whole again and I badly needed that a week ago.
Since arriving I’ve been going through a period of adaptation, I always become frustrated with my inability to instantly adapt and resent the time it takes to acclimatise. Once out of it, I look back and am amazed at how little time it actually took, but when I’m in it, it so often feels like an eternity. I’ve learned that in this acclimatisation I go into a kind of mental shock, and that part of me that engages with the world and revels in having fun gets pushed deep down. This causes me frustration…as I ask myself, why can I not enjoy and engage fully as I know I am able to? How can I let this opportunity go to waste? Where is my sense of adventure? I have never been good with change, I’m too impatient with myself, but I’m learning as I go that, as with all things, time is all it needs. Time does the job but nature eases the passing.
NZ doesn’t have the population density to make public transport cost efficient to run, so without a car I soon realised I was going to struggle to see things a bit. The problem was that as I said, I haven’t been in a very adventurous mindset so the thought of heading out on my own in search of god knows what wasn’t too appealing. Luckily though I’ve met very generous people here and the NZ way is to show people as good a time as is possible. They are rightly proud to show off their country to visitors. Very kindly, the girl I’m staying with and a friend from work separately offered to take me out on two trips to see more of the surrounding country.
So last weekend, I wrapped up warm against the still wintry elements and we headed off to the peninsula that juts east into the Pacific ocean. Heading along Portobello road I was quickly struck by how winding the road was, how unnervingly close the 5 foot drop into the sea felt due to the lack of safety barrier and how the maximum speed limits for the corners here are, unlike in the UK, spot on. The scenery soon distracted me from any mental discomfort I had about going for an unscheduled swim, along with the competence of Simon driving and I happily alternated between snapping pictures out of the passenger window and taking it all in for myself. We headed out to Harington point at the end of the peninsula to see if we could catch a glimpse of any albatross…as it turned out NZ wildlife seemed to be in hiding that day so it was probably a good thing we didn’t part with the fee to go into the Albatross centre there. The wind was fierce and still icy, blowing directly from Antarctica and whilst it made talking difficult and exposed skin painful it was exhilarating in the way that strong winds are. The gulls seemed to revel in having an audience as they playfully displayed their prowess on the wing. We doubled back on ourselves and headed inland to cross the peninsula to the south side, Victory beach and Okia reserve to see the pyramids, where I was treated to the variety and drama of NZ landscapes. I find the NZ countryside so far is a pleasantly confusing mix of just like home and definitely not home. Repeatedly I fall into a nostalgic feeling of familiarity only to be rudely jolted out of it by some dissonant note. Here was no different: we went from green rolling hills grazed by sheep punctuated by huge volcanic rocks to Jurassic vegetation which gave way abruptly to windswept Pacific coastline all in the space of a short hike (or a tramp as the locals call it).
The signs also make it very apparent that I am not at home. In NZ it seems that signage is used in lieu of safety rails or other precautions. They give you the information and the recommendations and then it’s up to you to make your own decision and deal with the consequences. A conversation with lab mates earlier this week confirmed this to be the case as they told a story of a tourist who had playfully taken a picture in terrible weather next to a sign saying not to attempt a climb in inclement conditions, that was the last picture found on his camera. Signs here are intended to be taken seriously.
There is an air of personal responsibility and a feeling of being treated like a grown-up that I find quite confusing. This confusion I realise stems out of the fact that a) I’m not used to being treated like a responsible adult by my state and b) because of a) I’m not really sure how to interpret it, is it dangerous or not? Just tell me! The realisation is a little depressing. I catch myself and have a giggle at just how sanitised my life is, isn’t this the sort of adventure and control over my destiny that I’m heading towards and have been craving? I may as well get used to it! So, determined to embrace my new found freedom I take Simon’s (and the sign’s) suggestion and we climb the steep and narrow trail up the Little Pyramid, a small volcanic rock formation that juts unexpectedly out of the landscape. Halfway up I suddenly realise that descending the gravel ridden trail with its hairpin bends and hefty drop off may well be a dangerous thing to do…when I ask hopefully how we’ll get down Simon laughs and tells me we’ll catch the elevator. Hmm, gravel slope it is then, may as well get used it…maybe that should be my mantra… He seems content to stay behind me so I go at my own pace, dial the neurotic down to ensure just enough caution and let the adventurous side of me focus on enjoying the climb. It’s worth it for the view at the top and the feeling of elation that always comes with ‘being on top of the world’ and having mastered my fears.
We enjoy the victory for a moment and take a few pictures before scrambling back down. I realise on the way down that I have been down similar tracks on a bike before (OK, maybe minus the big drop to one side but it’s kind of similar) and the trick is just to trust the bike. So I trust my feet and let go a little. I’m down in no time and all up for doing it again. On we head to the beach though to see if we can spot sea lions. I head down the dunes, unintentionally bum first onto the beach and we walk along to investigate a sea lion shaped log. Alas, still no wildlife to be had and the tide is coming in so we scrabble back up the dunes and head back to the car. One more attempt to spot some sea life is foiled by a closed road due to lambing season and it’s beginning to rain so we finally give up and finish the afternoon off in the pub with a nice pint. The wildlife may have been in hiding but my senses have been given a feast by the NZ countryside and I wonder if this isn’t the precise and perfect weather it should be viewed in. Seeing the forces that it has to withstand day in day out somehow make me appreciate it a little more.
Later that week I’m treated to another peculiarity that reminds me I’m not at home, a tsunami warning. Read more here