Max Tours the East Coast

Driving around New Zealand in a Honda CRV and calling it both your car and your home (as well as Max) is one person’s dream and another’s nightmare. If you need your home comforts (or have severe back issues), you might not think this is the best way to see a country. But if you’re looking for remoteness and unchartered territories, you need some wheels which can either be, or hold, your house.

For the last two weeks, Hayley and I have driven from the West Coast to the East, and then followed the coast down south for 350km. We had no place to be and no person to see; we just stopped whenever we found a spot we liked. It is maybe the freest you can feel, particularly when you end up sleeping beside a lake in the middle of rolling mountains, when that morning you didn’t even know such a place existed (Lake Tennyson, Hanmer Springs). It is also incredibly easy in many ways – a simple way of living. You have one pan; always the bare essentials – everything you own is inside one moving space.
For the most part, this road trip was a dream for both of us: we found beautiful towns and hills, swam with dolphins, climbed a mountain, jumped on a trampoline, made a prize-worthy cheese toastie in a pan…the list goes on. However, there are certain things about living in a car that make it difficult, including the fact that you do sometimes feel homeless. Most of these are fine short term, but breaking up a trip with a couple of nights in a hostel or B&B might do wonders. Hold out for the rainy days!

Number one: showering is limited. We stayed in holiday parks (also great but more expensive than some camp sites) when the nature washes in lakes weren’t doing the trick anymore. Washing clothes is also a challenge but again, most holiday parks have washing machines. Sometimes sacrificing a remote location for a few amenities is necessary. The plus side – you come out the other side with a great appreciation for showers!

Number two: when you don’t know camping etiquette. One of the free camping spots we stayed at in Kaikoura was really just a stony carpark next to the beach with a toilet. This night we walked 300 metres to brush our teeth because we weren’t sure whether we could spit our toothpaste on the ground, made worse by our clear visibility to the rest of the vans parked up. Washing up also becomes an issue when there’s no sink… The plus side – you only feel bad spitting because everywhere is so clean!

Number three: sleeping may cause more problems than it solves. This includes cramp, joint stiffness, and if you’re not careful, a lack of blood in your feet or head in the morning. Luckily for Hayley I made flat ground a serious priority when picking a spot for the night. Having a really comfy mattress and a larger space to sleep (like in a camper or caravan) would solve these issues. But campers are a lot more expensive and less prepared to tackle some of the unsealed roads in New Zealand. Cheap and cheerful (and crippled) was our motto. The plus side – restless nights are less of a problem when you have a 9pm bedtime anyway!

These are in no way enough to dampen the experience; in fact, sometimes they even add to the fun of it. They can just be a challenge at points. If you’re planning a few months on the road, a self-contained campervan might be the way to go. You don’t have to worry about water supply, and there are certain basic (and free) campsites which only allow self-contained vehicles. I can just say with certainty that for a full appreciation of New Zealand you need some wheels, and ones that aren’t afraid of a gravel track.


Catching a Summer Fish

He came in like rain.

That rain which surprises you with its wetness: even as a gentle drizzle it quickly soaks through to your skin. Then it grows in force until you’re blinded by watery drops – running, splashing, laughing, crying. The best kind of rain: making green; making life.

I like to think I was content before he arrived. Life in a small town can be a little boring; a little nosy. Not long ago I realised these were two ends of the same piece of string: monotony makes noses twitch; boredom breeds a particular kind of dog – perhaps a hypocritical poodle. But still, I liked my job and loved my family: sounds good.

I had started working in a small cafe as a barista: nice owner, nice coffee. I still like the word barista enough to risk sounding pretentious. Saying: ‘I work in a coffee shop’ would do, but ‘barista’ captures the flavours of the bean: exotic and unidentifiable. Try asking yourself what coffee tastes like: a world of bitter wonder. I still like that coffee makes a space for people, whether passing through, meeting friends, or reading alone. It offers an excuse to enjoy one’s own or other’s company.

When I started work, I could pay my rent and save a little each month, living with two clean, non-smoking girls; apparently because they were also twenty-four with curly brown hair we were supposed to click. Unfortunately, a pressured environment speeds up the making of rice but not friends. We never had any problems, but I moved out when I could to my own small sanctuary just out of town – a little creek runs down the back.

What I was saving for I never asked myself, but it was something to do then – the goal being the act of saving in itself. Money saved is like an invisible bubble around you: the more you have, the bigger the bubble. It pushes you further away from other people; you fear its growing fragility in anticipation of the pop. I never noticed myself becoming stingy until I asked my housemate to repay me two dollars. And let me tell you, it’s hard to stop counting pennies in your sleep.

I thought back to when I first started dating Cody, my boyfriend at the time. I used to love buying him little gifts: a singlet; a bag of jet planes or humbugs. The initial excitement of a first boyfriend – it’s easier to say you fancy someone with material goods. This habit wore off pretty quickly and we’ve floated along ever since. He started buying his own jet planes on a Friday afternoon.

It’s hard to remember how you felt at a certain time. Once you’ve left a moment, it’s gone forever – a reality you can read as either desperately sad or intensely liberating, depending on your frame of mind on a certain day. You might know the word for what’s inside you, but it’s a translation of a feeling, mathematics not the only universal language. I’ve come to believe I was in a permanent, muted state of lonely. I wasn’t alone. I had a boyfriend and a few good friends – all you need. But I was missing something, where you only realise the hole is there when you start to fill it.

He arrived from across the sea into my town, like a small yellow plane making an unexpected journey. One morning from the café, he brought a large black coffee, and I invited him fishing. On the boat, I asked him to dinner, offering up the large trout flailing on the end of my line. That fish’s life hung on his next word; it didn’t end well for the trout.

It wasn’t love at first sight – not dramatic or particularly romantic. I liked when he slept in my bed, but didn’t ache when he left. He just made me feel calm and excited at the same time. It was different and sensual and easy. On my drive to work, I saw the mountains with brighter eyes; the sun felt a little clearer and the seawater a little softer. I never knew that a relationship, a tie, could make you feel freer, more able to run.

When we fell in love, he left. That was always the plan. Some days it seemed that we might continue living this timeless existence, like two fish in a tank. But then we would dive to eat from the bottom of our bowl, and realise those were fake stones: it wasn’t real life.

We taught each other a little something about life. And a little something about happiness. Some people you meet rub against your skin – a few of them cause an itch, others might gently tickle – but they will never wear through. Others dive into your eyes like they’re their own private pools, swim inside your veins, altering the tides of your body with every stroke. These are the ones that count.
Perhaps I am less content than I was before. But it is only because I feel more: lonelier, angrier, happier; more awake.

See – translations.


The Small Things

One of the hardest things about being away from home for a long stretch of time is the feeling that your family and friends can’t know your life like you want them to. No matter how many details you try to give about the things you are doing or people you meet, any description seems unsatisfactory. This is because it’s the small things which make up your day far more than the big ones – things that get forgotten but which make a moment. The people at home miss the changes in your mood, the times you think out-loud; they access your life only in a mediated way – you telling your week as a kind of story; everything becomes a translation of the reality.

These stories are better than nothing at all (thank you Whatsapp video call), but spoken words seem to lose some of their power when they travel 11,000 miles. It’s the ocean: it can only carry things you can see across the world, like little boats, but feelings get lost under the waves. This also may be one of the best reasons to travel with another person – someone else who knows the experience you’re having; who can appreciate it to the same extent. You can only share as much as you can with your family and friends, and tell them you’re having a great time. Hopefully when you get home, they’ll be able to see this time away in you as a person.

Below is a little poem written about the Abel Tasman – maybe best shows a feeling.

Mermaid Waters

Some pleasures in life are small
Peanut crunch on Vogel’s toast
Sun on face, smile
At silly joke shared.
Others are too big for words
They just make you cry:
It’s blue, sand, green
And sky but too much more
Don’t try to describe the peace
Of an undecided tide
Melting your soul into the moment
It asks nothing of you
But offers itself up – simple generosity
And tells you that some
Waters make you a mermaid
Find them