This is a se­ries of posts about trav­el­ling to New Zealand from my old blog, col­lected here for pos­ter­ity.

Notes from my Moleskine from our hol­i­day to New Zealand. In mostly non-se­quen­tial or­der.

We awake too early, blearily—the kind of hour one only keeps to em­bark on an ex­pe­di­tion.

Dad picks us up, look­ing far too alert for this time of the morn­ing. On the way, we’re ner­vous, and ner­vously re­as­sure each other that any­thing we’ve for­got­ten we can buy there. Passport. Ticket. Each other. The im­por­tant things have not been left be­hind.

Dad drops us off and shakes my hand be­fore he leaves—an odd, rare ges­ture in the con­text of our fam­ily, but not en­tirely un­wel­come. We check our bags in, and find some cof­fee. It tastes like it’s been scraped from the wheels of a plane.

We pass a com­puter that pro­vides coin-op­er­ated in­ter­net ac­cess. Amusingly, it seems to be run­ning Ubuntu. Even more amus­ingly, it seems to have crashed en­tirely and ir­re­deemably.

In the book­stores, I touch the Moleskines for good luck. I al­ready have all the writ­ing equip­ment I need, all pro­vided from the gifts of oth­ers, a good sign I think. A lit­tle bit later, an­other good sign: the odd­est se­lec­tion for air­port gift­store mu­sic ever—Bat­tles—comes over the speak­ers, re­plac­ing some wafty sonic fluff.

We take our time get­ting through cus­toms then the Duty Free, where M. se­lects some per­fume, and I get a stor­age card for the cam­era that’s ap­prox­i­mately 200 times big­ger than the cur­rent one. We get to the gate for fi­nal call—some­thing that never hap­pens when we’re trav­el­ling with our par­ents.

Once we’re seated, I look out the win­dow, and try and ig­nore how much a cir­cum­fer­ence of peo­ple and cor­re­spond­ing lack of space can freak me out. An STA bus dri­ves along the run­way. A few sec­onds later, like a live ver­sion of a cap­tioned car­toon panel, a man in uni­form runs along the tar­mac in the same di­rec­tion.

A group of Indonesians in Scout uni­forms are the last to board, and they fill any re­main­ing space with uni­forms and skin of dif­fer­ent shades in olive.

Eventually the plane be­gins to taxi and mi­nor mir­a­cles hap­pen, every­day mir­a­cles that are all the more be­cause they are; the plane hurls/​hurts it­self for­ward, pant­ing like a dog out of deep wells of en­gines, then slowly rev­er­ently it tip­toes into the air, up an in­vis­i­ble stair­case. The ground drops be­low us; our per­spec­tive en­larges and shrinks. Finally, we break through a sweet layer of clouds that look like noth­ing but an un­bro­ken, vir­gin piece of pa­per.

Part 1.2

That’s why we did­n’t go to the Sanhedrin that one time.’

Er, you mean the Sandringham? The Sanhedrin is like the Jewish some­thing. It’s in the Bible.’

Yeah … is­n’t it also a shape? Like, you know, do­dec­a­he­dron … san … er, hedron?’

On the bus to Christchurch, the sec­ond most im­por­tant news story on the ra­dio, was how lo­cal boats were re­leas­ing waste into swim­ming ar­eas, which says it all re­ally.

Our dessert on the first night is so good, it’d be worth catch­ing a uni­corn for. It’s called the Chocolate Marquis. It tastes bet­ter than it sounds. It is, es­sen­tially, a Tia Maria-infused choco­late cake with a savour that rises and falls into your mouth like a sym­phony. Not to men­tion the sup­port­ing in­stru­men­ta­tion of crisp al­mond bis­cotti, cap­pu­cino ice cream, fresh lo­cal fruit, cream and meringue.

The Avon River threads through the cen­ter of Christchurch and is like the peo­ple: fresh-faced and pleas­ant. Christchurch is all flat roads and strik­ing, di­verse ar­chi­tec­ture, jolly ro­tund bus­drivers, and wait­resses with charm­ing noser­ings. The peo­ple are won­der­fully friendly and nice enough to keep it to them­selves un­til you ask.

Day 2

I awake to Mary’s prod­ding, be­fud­dled upon re­al­iz­ing just how good a sleep I have had, at least, that I had once I’d turned the elec­tric blan­ket down from when Mary had set it to Hellfire’.

We go down to a break­fast that has dri­ven or­di­nary mor­tals to in­san­ity, such was the mag­nif­i­cence and op­u­lence of its cre­ation.

Oh, I haven’t yet told you about our B&B so I’ll do that now. It’s beau­ti­ful: the ac­com­mo­da­tion M. picks usu­ally is, but this is a gem. It’s his­tor­i­cal, Victorian or some­thing, with wood pan­els and am­bi­tious stair­case and high ceil­ings and at­ten­tion to de­tail. The pic­turesque court­yard has a two-seater swing so we do.

The only thing big­ger than our morn­ing break­fast is the win­some col­lec­tion, maybe that should be in­va­sion, of teddy bears that over­flows two cab­i­nets and a few nearby arm­chairs and bas­kets. There is also a panda that snuck in when a lit­er­al­ist was­n’t look­ing.

After fend­ing off break­fast, we walk into town and trip past the Street of Funky Clothing, which M. has heard about within about 2 sec­onds of land­ing. She is mys­ti­cally at­tuned to these things and I am not privy to how.

Canoeing to­gether down the Avon River is idyl­lic. We float, and we pad­dle. We stop some­times to sim­ply drift, and to watch the fo­liage of the Botanic Gardens strut dis­creetly past on ei­ther side. We scat­ter ducks and nav­i­gate past chaotic oars­men in a dou­ble ca­noe, spin­ning like a fan. We laugh and drink the sun from our faces.

Dinner is Simo’s: a Moroccan restau­rant, de­spite the name. The meal is sump­tous. For en­tree, we eat olives and fresh bread and dukkah, lamb kof­tas and fresh falafel and prawns and shell­fish. Halfway through our just-as-de­li­cious mains, we call a sur­ren­der and get the rest as take­away.

The next day we walk past a seven year old girl sit­ting on the grass, a teenaged girl stands close by, the ap­prox­i­mate dis­tance and eye-rolling look that in­di­cates to the world that: yes, we might be linked some­how, but no, I’m in no way re­spon­si­ble for that. The seven year old said please be quiet.’ We looked around, and no one had said any­thing. Please be quiet.’ She said again, and then kept in­ton­ing. Please Be quiet. Please Be Quiet. Please Be QUiet. PLEASE Be QUIet.’ With each rep­e­ti­tion, she gets louder and louder, even as we keep walk­ing, and as no­body else says a thing.

The teenager ig­nores the child with an in­ten­sity that teenagers usu­ally re­serve for brood­ing. We keep walk­ing.

It’s like a mod­ern per­for­mance art piece.’ Mary re­marks a few mo­ments later.

It only needs a kick­drum and it could have been a nineties techno hit.’ I re­ply, once I re­cover from my laugh­ter.

New Zealand is im­pos­si­bly pic­turesque. Of course, of course, of course it is. At every turn, peo­ple have stopped their cars on the side of the road, and are set­ting up tripods or bal­anc­ing dig­i­tal cam­eras on their car doors.

The sky is as blue and deep as the sea. And the sea is as blue and deep as old songs.

The moun­tains are whales. They lie sleep­ing, and they dream of truth that dark­ens like ink into wa­ter. Trees burst from their skin in clam­ber­ing clumps, ebul­lient and clumsy.

New Zealand is a van­dal and a cow­ard. Liar. Slanderer. Thief.

Spider-like, it shrinks away at every turn. Like a myth­i­cal siren, it de­ceives and de­ceives.

Like the flirty girl in high school. She turns away from every photo. At the last mo­ment. Calculated. Flaunty and proud.

It shat­ters lenses and breathes dust into stor­age cards: the blues will not be as blue as in your mem­ory. The calm is not as calm.

It swal­lows up words like pic­turesque and gor­geous — their rep­e­ti­tions would fill one of New Zealand’s many pic­turesque and gor­geous val­leys. It plays a dark magic to your pen: no one will ever see what you see, no mat­ter the way of your telling.

One af­ter­noon, halfway through our lux­u­ri­ous soups (me: fresh seafood chow­der, M: tomato) we hear mu­sic com­ing from our left. We look around, but there’s only an old cou­ple there. It takes us both a lit­tle while, and then we look around again. The old lady is half-hum­ming, half-singing. It’s that Christmas hymn that goes … and man should live forever­more, be­cause Christ was born on Christmas day.’ She was ei­ther singing in Irish, or she’d for­got­ten the other words.

We stop at a look­out to see the seals. They are hi­lar­i­ous an­i­mals: cor­pu­lent and sloth­ful. Occasionally they gnaw on them­selves, but usu­ally that’s too much ef­fort, so they stretch and moan and oth­er­wise just lie there. M. says they’re the Guan of the an­i­mal king­dom.

A short walk away there’s a sign for a wa­ter­fall. We go down the path—halfway in, we see three bikini-clad girls com­ing back the other way. They’re shiv­er­ing like gui­tar strings, but they have serene, won­drous smiles.

Was it cold?’ M. asks.

They nod. Freezing. But you should def­i­nitely go in. It’s bril­liant.’ They smile once more and go.

We walk around the curve. It’s not as loud as I thought, like na­ture’s own feed­back loop. It’s idyl­lic, peace­ful though. The wa­ter is clear as hind­sight. Pools stretch around and down, and ferns stand guard around about us like for­get­ful old men. It’s green and blue and green again. The sun­light is strained through the canopy.

We look at one an­other. I shrug. We strip down to un­der­things and step in. M. first. As soon as she’s in M. gasps and takes one swoop un­der­wa­ter and then goes to come back out but by then I’m in and cripes and crim­iny it is cold like a Maori has socked me in the gut and ripped the heat from my body cold enough so that your in­di­vid­ual atoms put on scarves and gloves so I dip my head un­der and scam­per out. My teeth go chat­ter chat­ter chat­ter.

We drip-dry and pray in the dap­pled sun­shine. And once and again, life is beau­ti­ful.

Out on the wa­ter taxi, the whales sing loud. Songs of sad­ness that cor­us­cate through your body. They come from every di­rec­tion the songs: ex­haust­ing and haunt­ing, un­til they vi­brate your reti­nas every time you close your eyes. Communion songs, they sing.

We ar­rive at Craglee Lodge, and wel­comed at the dock by Rosie. How do I be­gin to de­scribe Rosie?

She’s warm and gre­gar­i­ous with a sense of hu­mour too large for her body to fill. It’s an in­clu­sive sense of hu­mour too, and cheeky, every third one is about how old she feels, every sec­ond one is to test out your re­ac­tions, see if you’re in on the joke. When we ar­rive, our jolly young ferry drive leap­son the deck to tease her about the blond bangs that hang over her face, and she takes a play­ful swipe at him. Mind the grey bits.’ she yelps, then bursts into a low guf­faw.

We meet the rest of the lodgers, and M. re­marks that it feels like the cast of a mur­der mys­tery: John and Anne, a mid­dle-aged cou­ple out from England; their son, Phil, and his preg­nant bride Jess; Olivia, a Fulbright Scholarship win­ning lawyer from Sydney, half-Asian, who met Jade in New York, and now live in Sydney to­gether; and then there’s us. Whoever we are.

We hear this:

You know that it was a Russian mail or­der bride fill­ing out the visa ap­pli­ca­tion, when in the spot for hus­band’s name they’d filled in, Yours Sincerely’.”

Jade is a Puerto Rican, Brooklyn-born and raised, who throws her whole body, her tiny self, into reen­act­ing sto­ries. She is hy­per­ac­tive and para­noid. Everything is a dis­as­ter wait­ing to hap­pen; every­thing is her over­re­act­ing to dis­as­ters that don’t. She buries her hands into her school­boy hair­cut in mock an­guish; her brown eyes blaze with laugh­ter, how ridicu­lous she is. Words tum­ble out of her, like dice out of a cup. She swears with in­creas­ing vol­ume and fre­quency, trip­ping over her­self to try and con­vey her good-na­tured an­guish.

We wake eas­ily: the beds here are ex­u­ber­ant and com­fort­able.

We laze and eat and sleep our way into the mid-morn­ing, then we take a kayak out into the pure­ness of the wa­ter. The wa­ter is silken and calm. Mary steers at the back. I pad­dle at the front.

On the re­turn trip, we find our kayak sur­rounded by a fluther of jel­ly­fish — translu­cent and calmly weird. They flock to our red boat like ac­tors to praise. Their hemi­spheres wink at us lazily in the light. Half-invisible.

That night, we scurry out in robes to the out­door baths they’ve pre­pared for us. By the can­dle­light, we let our­selves down into steam­ing hot baths. We peer into the black­ness and the stars writ­ten within it; we give our­selves this lux­ury — we let our­selves feel small.

One shop in Nelson has a sign that reads, all in the same font and in all caps: POWER YOGA TAPAS.

Is it stages you go through? Or is it an in­cen­tive? One more sun salu­ta­tion and you get an olive …’

We meet Craglee’s two bud­gies, called Les and Bo. Their mat­ing cap­sule has not been used.

We break­fast with an in­tense young cou­ple who are in­tense Labor devo­tees - they met dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign. They are, of course, thrilled.

The drive over to Nelson is Janis Joplin.

Our ac­com­mo­da­tion here is the top floor of a stately manor near the beach. Everything in­side is well-pre­served and slightly past its prime, in­clud­ing the own­ers who live down­stairs.

Nelson it­self is mar­kets and sun-faded hip­pies, peo­ple who wear straw hats se­ri­ously and awkardly named Oriental restau­rants and bus tours and deep book­stores and arts and crafts mar­kets. In one cafe, M. has a mug of cof­fee so large that the barista gives us a ver­bal warn­ing be­fore serv­ing.

They’ve got the One Ring here. Well, one of the One Rings. Heh.’ Huh? What’s that from? Lord of the Rings or some­thing?’ …’ What?’ … Sometimes I think I have ac­com­plished noth­ing in this mar­riage.’

We do the Abel Tasman walk over a few hours. It rains on and off. It’s un­de­ni­ably beau­ti­ful - the wa­ter stretches so far out to the hori­zon that it loops back and stretches over you as well and the see­ing of so much blue is a kind of bap­tism, a kind of cleans­ing.

We stay in The Castle’, but it ends up be­ing a manor with a nick­name.

Because of the rain, we throw it in and go to see the Darjeeling Limited: a like­able, di­ag­o­nal film.

One of the best din­ners we have is fish and chips on the third-last night. The high­light is M.’s who, be­cause of her stom­ach, has­n’t eaten fast and/​or fried food in years. Oh man, is this why you get fried stuff all the time? This is amaz­ing!’ etc. Somewhat pre­dictably, later she is sick, and we walk down around the har­bour of Nelson to ease her stom­ach.

And then, by and by, we make our way across the wa­ter for home.