Now that the snow comes and goes, I’m getting even more perplexed Germans asking what the devil I’m doing back here when I could still be basking in the New Zealand sunshine.
Late last year, I found myself pondering similar thoughts on the eight-hour bus trip from my hometown (here’s the previous blog post, in case you missed it). Despite reservations about boarding the vomit comet, the trip down memory lane, A.K.A. State Highway 2, passed in a pleasant blur of familiar scenery.
As our driver wrangled us through rolling hills, pushed through the verdant, bush-clad depths of the Waoieka Gorge and still further under the flickering shade of coastal Pohutakawa trees, I thought how easy it would be for foreigners to judge this country just on beautiful face value.
The truth is, New Zealand, like any country, isn’t perfect. The clean, green image we like to portray is sadly over-exaggerated and the equality we Kiwis pride ourselves on is gradually being undermined (article satire alert).
On a similar note, Kiwi Author Eleanor Catton, winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize, was last week on the receiving end of abuse because of critical comments she made of New Zealand’s government while speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India.
There was a lot of discussion around her representation of New Zealand to the world and as an expat, it’s something I think about often when faced with the common perception of New Zealand as the far-away paradise islands, where all is hobbits and happiness.
However, it was hard to dwell on this too much, with a week and a half of island time telling me just to ‘chill out’ and enjoy the ride. The journey turned into quintessential Kiwi road trip as I was picked up by old university friends in Hamilton and we drove the final stretch to the tiny surfing mecca of Raglan.
The bach (NZ for ‘holiday home’) we had rented over new years slowly started filling up with old friends and new acquaintances, and soon, in shorts and jandals, we strolled down to the harbour to watch dusk laying an amethyst cloak over the retreating waters of Raglan Harbour.
In the morning, we took all of the 20 minutes necessary to explore ‘downtown’ Raglan, with its cute and compact, Nikau Palm-lined main street and requisite Kiwiana, including the fish & chip shop, 19th century villas, the Four Square Supermarket and multiple surf stores. A burgeoning restaurant, boutique and art scene also made its presence known, which is not surprising considering Raglan is an easy 45 minutes from Hamilton and only two hours drive for New Zealand’s most populous inhabitant – the Aucklander.
With newly-hired surfboards, we convoyed out of town to scope out the area’s famous surf breaks, the rugged coastline flashing in and out of view between farmland and native forest. We settled on Manu Bay, which features a hefty left-hand point break introduced to the world in 1966 by the classic movie ‘Endless Summer’.
The fairly small swell was in no way a disappointment considering many of us had not touched a surfboard for a long, long time. Even getting in the water was a challenge – clambering over rocks into whitewash… and more rocks. But once we were out in the open water, salt spray in the air and the sun beating down, it all came back and we were soon falling off riding waves like locals.
Who were no doubt laughing themselves out of their wetsuits.
In the way things transpire with NZ holidays, we settled into a loose routine of surfing, eating, board games, intermittently playing beach cricket or lying on black volcanic sand, and wandering idly down to the harbour.
New Year’s Eve kicked off with an unpublishable game of Cards Against Humanity (‘A Party Game for Horrible People’), before we wandered over to another bach where more friends were staying. As the clock turned midnight, we formed a circle around a guitar-wielding member of our party, arms crossed and hands joined, to sing the Scottish ballad of Auld Lang Syne. It’s one of the nicest, if under-celebrated, traditions New Zealand has inherited and that night, I imagine it would have sounded a lot like this.
With old acquaintance fondly celebrated, the remaining time in Raglan streaked by and soon, I was bound for Auckland and the two-hour flight which would take me back to where my European journey began. Next week, part III – Queenstown.