I’m settling back into my cosy Berlin abode amidst threats of snow, the countless shades of grey outside a perfect foil to reflect on my four weeks of summer in New Zealand. It’s a good thing I actually like winter, as my first trip back home in 32 months coincided with one of those golden summers that seem only to exist in childhood memories. Who knows if I’d be back otherwise… *Flashback*
I arrived exhausted in my hometown after three days of travel and a weekend of catch-ups in Auckland. Thankfully, Gisborne is a chilled-out sort of place. Even nicer, I was staying with my Gizzy parents almost directly on the beach. The photo above is taken from the balcony and the sand is a 20-second scamper down wooden steps, under the waiting boughs of a crimson-blossomed Pohutakawa tree.
Gisborne’s one of those places you don’t go to by accident. I exaggerate not, it’s on the way to nowhere.
It’s a typical small NZ town in that you can’t walk down the main street without having a dozen conversations and it’s decidedly sleepy until the summer rolls around. Then…
Wayward sons and daughters come home for Christmas, lifeguards man the beaches, the spoils of the region’s vineyards are supped on BBQ-equipped decks and New Year’s Eve revellers party at the Rhythm & Vines festival until the world’s first sunrise of the new year.
As I caught up with more and more friends and family, it became clear that Gisborne was still more or less the same as when I left and despite such a long time since I’d seen so many of these people, it felt like it had been no time since we last met. The pleasure of seeing familiar faces, reliving times past and attempting to reclaim what’s left of my New Zealand accent alone made up for the price of my plane ticket.
If there was one thing thing that struck me about being home for the first time after long-term travel, it was something blindingly obvious; life doesn’t stop just because you’re not there.
Some friends now have kids, most have partners and I met my gorgeous, chubby nephew for the first time, handed over by my brother, who also now goes by the title of proud daddy. It was strange to think the little man will most likely be running around and talking the second time I meet him. People were older, some were wiser, some were sadly no longer with us.
I also realised how much I took the abundance of nature and open spaces for granted while growing up.
The day after I arrived, my childhood buddies and I took boogie-boards and an inflated truck inner-tube into the hills, to Rere Rockslide, a semi-submerged rock face in the middle of a river. There were only us and a few small groups of people present in the searing heat, serenaded by rasping choruses of cicadas .
Here’s Rere for beginners: Stand at the top, jump over and hold on tight to your board as you speed over the rock and (if reaching the bottom facing in the right direction) skim across the pool below. Alternatively (my specialty), flail around in panic and enter the water backwards in a (hopefully impressive) tangle of limbs. An hour’s drive later and we were drinking crisp cider at the beach.
And in continued delight of playing the tourist, I joined my brother and sister-in-law in hand-feeding stingrays.
No, this was not a foolish resolution brought on by drinking too much of the afore-mentioned cider. Under the reassuring watch of the Dive Tatapouri guides, we tentatively tip-toed out to the edge of the Tatapouri Reef in waist-high waders. Despite losing the first piece of bait I lowered into the water to a monstrous kingfish intent also on my finger, a velvet-black, short-tailed ray soon glided over my hand and gently hoovered the fish off my palm.
The rays are actually incredibly docile and you can safely stroke their silky-smooth forehead as they search for snacks with gummy mouths. The toxin-filled barb hidden in the base of their tails? Only there as self-defense against predators like killer whales. Not trusting myself to stay completely dry, I left my camera on land, but you can find photos here.
A week in Gisborne streaked by in a loose routine of eating, walking down to the beach, meeting, meeting and more eating, and observing the all-important Kiwi tradition of doing ‘nothing much’.
Too soon I stood, like many times before, saying my goodbyes at the i-Site intercity station. As I boarded the bus service I not-so-fondly remembered as “the vomit-comit”, my thoughts were divided.
“I wonder when I’ll be back… I really should have bought a sick bag…”