Squirty Maradonna Happy Wanaka

Squirty Maradonna

Happy Wanaka

Sun Shines, Ice Melts in Aotearoa

Why did Kiwis invent all the world's most suicidal sports?

Auckland to Franz Josef, New Zealand
17th December, 2001

Today, the sun has cast a brilliant blue freshness over South Island, while the southern alps, young and strong, rise to the challenge of the sky with impossibly bright snowcaps in summertime, and vibrant green virgin forests riot in vitality. It is a good day to be on the west coast.

Yesterday we climbed for six hours up the Franz Josef glacier, exploring ice tunnels and dizzying crevasses using ice picks and crampons. It was high adventure, as we took turns to dig our ice picks into ice high above our heads and swing over gulfs that disappeared into the ice mountain far below. The danger and thrill was intoxicating, and our self confidence rose to new heights as we navigated one risk after another. Suddenly I understood what had driven Shackleton and Scott to risk everything for the Antartic. We were no longer tourists, up for a quick jaunt and back for our cup-a-soups that evening, we were hardened ice-heros. (And very careful to pose for several pictures with our axes to prove it later.)

Something is Like Something

The people of New Zealand are straightforward and pleasant. They have one speech habit, though, that I always stick on: The Truncated Simile. They never complete their comparisons, leaving you to figure out the ending of each sentence. For example, if something is good, it is "Sweet as!" And your mind goes "... sweet as... What?" And you start trying to guess, while they, oblivious, move on in their conversation:
They: "Yeah, man, it's great, check it out, it's sweet as!"
Me: (thinks) "Custard?"
They: "Oh, he was rilly stupid, eh? Dumb as!"
Me: (thinks) "Custard?"

South Island is raw and brittle almost to breaking point. While we clambered around the shifting glacier, one of only four in the world that ends close to sea level we were interrupted by the ominous rumble of nearby rockfalls, as tons after ton of schist fall from the uplift mountains as they slowly rise at a rate of ten millimetres a year. It is little wonder that South Island is become middle earth - you can feel the power of a youthful world here.

In fourteen days in New Zealand we have had ten of rain. Not the on-again off-again Irish raspberry blow that adds poetry to squelchy highlands, but full-on, continuous night-and-day downpours that sap the spirit from the bravest hearts. After the first week of grey misery my various travelling companions had a dull, leaden cast to their faces and were barely able to raise conversation as we huddled in the inevitable pub after another day of frustration.

My written journal reflects the general mood of these times "...Wed. Damp, miserable, lost in mists, am et by sandflies, black little whores that suck yr blood just like gddam N. Zealand..." At bitter times like this you can't help but think, little wonder Kiwis have invented all the most suicidal pursuits in the world. As well as the bungy jump, the rolling down the big hill in a giant ball, the swinging from ropes, they now have a rocket on a string. Attached to a helicopter. You get in, make it go round and round, and wonder whether death in better than another wet day in Wellington.

Great Warriors are not Afraid of a Little Rain

One of the highlights of my time here with the Magic Bus will be our visit to a Maori Huangi, or feast, near Rotorua. We formed into an iwi, or tribe, and approached a traditional village. Maori warriors challenged us before inviting us in to demonstrations of warlike haka and women's songs of welcome. I have often seen haka performed on TV before an All-Blacks game, but the power of these chants up close is unbelievable. It was all I could do to restrain myself from joining in, to demonstrate my warlike manliness. But not wishing my warlike manliness to be speared and clubbed by outraged performers, I held back.

Determined not to be put off by a little weather, myself and a high spirited English girl called Jo decided to undertake the famous Tongarairo Crossing, a sixteen kilometer/thousand meter climb through the North Island's most dramatic scenery. Hoping for a reasonable lift in the clouds, and relying on our good equipment and experience, I did not expect many problems. Two hours later I was inching my way down a ridge fully exposed to mountain gales, helping Jo along, afraid that she would be literally be blown off into the waiting precipices, while all the time the freezing sleet raked horizontally into our faces. We lived to laugh about it all, but I was shocked later to see pictures of the volcano that we had actually traversed. In six hours of painful hiking we had seen nothing but the path in front of us and the cloud that surrounded us at every step.

Beauty Shines

When the clouds do part the change is staggering. The pleasant and relaxed town of Nelson lies beside the Abel Tasman National Park, a paradise of forested inlets, islands and perfect semi-tropical beaches. We spent a simple, happy day wandering among the primeval tree ferns and across tidal inlets.

That was a fortunate day. From time to time my own mood tends to collapse to a dangerous point of morbidity and resentment born from the endless loneliness and instability of constant travel. Every time I am most at threat from this condition, I have been provided with a good new friend to turn me right around. By nature and an Irish upbringing I tend to view conversation as a game, where directness and honesty can be replaced by cleverness and wit at all turns, with the frequent result that I can cheerfully engage with another soul and not learn a damn thing about them, and wonder later why I feel so empty.

Cecilia, from Sweden, sat beside me at random on the bus returning from Abel Tasman. A beautiful, unusual woman, her approach was direct and simple. She assumed everyone she met was unique, and dealt with them on that basis. All my cleverness dropped away like a forgotten shroud, and for once communicated with complete honesty. From that beginning of course, you could only end up feeling happy and content, reminded that there was kindness and courage in the world after all. Is there any quality better than kindness. In all my cleverness I can't think of one. Thank you for that , Cecilia.

So, New Zealand. Wonderful place when the sun shines, home to lovely people and hobbits, when it rains there's nothing to do but drink and think up ways to kill yourself for a laugh. I don't intend jumping out of, or onto anything particularly high, but I do want to do some diving here. Although I have been warned, "don't do it on a bad day, because, bro', it's murky as!"

(Thinks) Custard?







Tongarairo Crossing


New Zealand Route


Hat & Spoon




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The Facts

Where I stayed
Auckland:Albert Park. Backpackers' hostel. Busy, boisterous but not so mad as some others in Auckland.
Rotorua: The Wall. Backpackers' hostel. Party place. Large bar. Has own climbing wall.
Turangi: Club Habitat. Hostel set in large grounds with lots of facilities including bar and jacuzzi. Very helpful local advice.
Wellington: YHA. Another big place with a bar/restaurant taking up an entire floor.
Nelson: Paradiso. Pleasant, homely backpackers' hostel. Garden, volleyball court, outdoor swimming pool. very helpful, good base for Abel Tasman.
Greymouth: YHA. Standard hostel.
Franz Josef: Chateau Franz. Backpackers' hostel. Quite small, laid back, with garden and swinging seats.

How I got around:
The Magic Bus. Good value hop-on/hop-off service that goes all over the two islands, arranging accomodation and activities for you. There are so many backpackers in New Zealand, it can be overwhelming at times.