January 29th – That Day

January 29th – That Day

I saw my best friend go
From cloud to yellow sun.
We bought lemons for life
For someone special now,
Planted the tree in the sun
And shade of a new home
Waiting to be filled with hearts
And empties, summers and winters
Waiting to record how
We laughed at insecurities
And cried at certainties that
Life is best savoured, life
Like a kiwi gold.


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


Saturday Sun on the West Coast

When we decided to take a job in Greymouth, countless people asked us why. We were told the West Coast was the place least worthy of our time in the South Island. The only thing stopping us changing our minds was our English nature – our desire to follow through with a commitment to the job, and fear of letting someone down.

Having spent two months on the West Coast, I can only say that it must be one of the world’s best kept secrets. Sure, if you pass through Greymouth for one day, you might be ready to leave in the morning (particularly if you hit it on a grey day): the town itself doesn’t have a huge amount to offer in its current state, having suffered a huge amount economically since the closure of the mines. But stick around for a few weeks with some wheels, and the place becomes a unique kind of paradise: uncharacteristically relaxed (even by New Zealand standards), wonderfully wild, and unimaginably beautiful. It doesn’t have the golden sand beaches and heat – that tropical beauty which sends you to sleep; it has the green, waves and mountains that make you feel awake and alive.

Perhaps it’s because the West Coast suits a particular kind of person. For someone who wants the excitement and buzz of a city, it might feel too remote, frustratingly quiet, and unwilling to embrace the modern world (some West Coasters are known for their resistance to change). If you don’t like the outdoors – swimming, fishing, hunting, hiking, the bush – this place might not be enough for you. But if you appreciate nature and the simple things, if you can enjoy the company of the people around you and make the most of where you are in the world, it could be the place in which you are your happiest.

Lake Brunner

Cook and Abel

December 25th 1769: Aboard ‘The Endeavour’, anchored just off Three Kings Islands.

James Cook stood to toast his crew this Christmas Day. The wooden boards of the decking groaned in protest: his foot landed in a short, sharp movement to the left, followed quickly by his right, as if his legs were attempting to perform an Irish jig without the rest of his body’s consent. A few men noticed this stumble and boomed laughs across the table: the sound was affectionate but lacked the standard of respect the captain had become accustomed to on The Endeavour; Cook took a moment to enjoy the camaraderie.
He thought back to their arrival in this land three months ago; how time plays with your mind, feeling fast and slow simultaneously. He could hear Young’s distant shouts of triumph above the noise at the table; the day a piece of earth was christened Young Nicks Head to mark the boy’s success – a promise fulfilled by the captain. The boy’s sharp eyes scanning the tapestry of sea locked on this bead of hope, like spotting the first fin in a family of cruising dolphins. Young’s excitement in his achievement was almost as gratifying as the sighting itself. But the landing brought troubles Cook had hoped to avoid, and in the last weeks, each course taken persistently reminded them they were in unchartered territories. The anchorage tonight was no different, off the northern-most tip of this distant land. Tonight, Cook hoped he and his men could find comfort in tradition and interior space.
The ship rolled in the swells of the sea, stiffly resisting the wind, unable to bend to absorb the shock. The storm (and the few drinks the captain had consumed with his men on this celebratory occasion) made standing feel as tough as sailing on these seas. Cook imagined the small pieces of land on their port side as anchored masses, plunging into dark waters to emerge again for the next wave; in his mind’s eye they mirrored the movement of his ship, and this perception, although fantastical, was a comfort to him. The lands permanency gave solidity to their own island of wood and sails.
The captain was brought back to the table by the clatter of a cup hitting the deck. It was not until it made contact with the floor that he realised he had watched its whole journey, rolling in a curve towards him, to spill flecks of red wine on his off-white trousers. The crew, unaware that Cook’s mind had temporarily wandered to the hazardous upper-deck, looked disappointed by his slowed reactions. Their expressions seemed apologetic more than conciliatory, as if they had failed to uphold their end of a mutual protective relationship.
Knowing the ease with which a joyous drink could turn sombre (or in fact clamorous), Cook enthusiastically seized the empty cup and held it aloft, offering a theatrical flailing of arms alongside a wide and rare grin:
“A toast!”
The crew cheered their festive support. Cook knew that his men respected him, even liked him, but he didn’t often feel included in the joke; a human compass. He thought that humour and affection must find balance by holding hands. Steadying himself and licking his reddened lips, he spoke:
“Firstly, thanks to Joseph, for providing our bird for this evening’s feast. Tonight, we will be dining on gannet pie!”
In their drunken state, this revelation became unbearably funny: uproar – of both the feigned-angry kind and belly-laughing kind – ensued, with some crew faking belches and others rubbing their stomachs enthusiastically. Joseph Banks contrived an expression of deep insult, digging his eyebrows into his tired sockets. About to stand to defend his invention, Cook stepped in: he recognised the need to move the toast along – a level of perception and intuition learned by a captain:
“No, it is not our traditional goose pie, but this is not a traditional Christmas”, he continued.
“You can say that again. The first bloody Christmas this place has seen”, one of the crew mates chimed in.
“Don’t forget the Dutch fella”, another responded. “Abel Tasman. He was here around this time too. Wonder if they found a goose…” (a chorus of appreciative chuckles and murmurs).

Cook knew Abel Tasman’s story well, the first man to find and name this spot on the edge of the world. He was about to reply that in fact they ate pork on New Zealand’s first Christmas Day… The captain had studied Tasman’s diaries, memorising descriptions of land; coordinates and sentiments. The words could only teach him so much, but he had hoped to avoid Tasman’s mistakes; to learn from history. He knew too well that unknown lands come with unknown peoples: Cook had become sufficient in pushing fears of the unfamiliar to the back part of his mind, but it goes against instinct; for those men who depend on predisposition, strangeness is pure threat; an unfamiliar fruit is always poison before it can become medicine.
Tasman anchored in a bay of golden sands, and minutes later departed from Murderer’s Bay. The beauty of the place had not changed, for the eyes cannot remember. But the mind cannot completely forget: for those who’ve heard about Tasman’s landing, this bay will always show red sands, even when they’re no longer conscious of why – feelings outliving memories. The explorer himself printed this name in these shallow waters, but Cook considered that the Maoris may well have inscribed the same in their own tongue to describe their first encounter with Europeans; there was death on both sides, without a universal language to speak of peace. He wondered how these syllables might sound to his ears.
Now the captain felt Tasman’s journey had become part of his own, imagining an affinity with this man as strong as blood. The same blood, shed and lost. Sometimes at night he heard the Dutch explorer perform a reading of his own encounter with the Maori people. And it was always that first, even though he’d had many since, and of the better kind. At the end Tasman would turn to Cook and simply shake his head, and Cook would slip away, calling that he came in peace. He woke feeling angry at himself and disappointed in mankind.

It was the quiet that shocked Cook back into the present, every face now turned on his, in expectation of direction. He imagined it was the sea that had made his mind so vulnerable to wandering; thoughts meandering like waves with no end, stopped only by some form of obstruction. Who would have thought quiet could become an obstruction? Thinking about his own thoughts… He rebuked his own inner melancholy.
He returned to the surface of his mind – that part which feels like it’s doing no thinking at all – and, as if in response to a request, he shouted: “Alright, alright. Let us remember this country’s first Christmas, before we eat and fall asleep in our chairs. A toast to those who came before us!” And he began to tell a story.


Tribute to Hayley

Sometimes in a novel, you read a moment whose unexpected truth makes you smile. A feeling you have been subconsciously trying to identify in your own life is suddenly brought before your eyes with perfect clarity. You realise this is exactly what you’ve been trying to say: a sentiment which feels so familiar though it has never been consciously thought – swimming in the deeper parts of your mind. The expression in words is clear, simple and poetic, to match the feeling.

“Solitude is a condition best enjoyed in company”

When I read this in Eleanor Catton’s ‘The Luminaries’, it seemed to answer an unspoken question about the last couple of months. Hayley and I have talked about the pros and cons of travelling alone, and have always agreed that we would much rather be with a friend (if it’s the right one…). We are both happy in our own company and have previously liked doing things by ourselves, like walking the dog, or going to see a film that no one else wants to see. And it isn’t necessarily the big experiences that are enhanced by the presence of a friend, the focus being your relationship with what you are doing. But it is the everyday parts of travelling which are made so much better: bus journeys, working days; moments of static, when you stop to take in a view.

There is a romanticism to the idea of solitude which forms a perfect accompaniment to travel; this sense that you can only “find yourself” when you are by yourself; that moments uninterrupted by someone else are somehow more whole and experienced. But there is an extraordinary level of mutual understanding and respect between Hayley and I (yes, this must be called a tribute to my wonderful friend) that makes moments of inner peace evermore peaceful; being alone with your thoughts is made better by the presence of someone thinking their own.


The Perks of Work

When you think about travelling a country, you think about all the things you might see – beautiful scenery, history, culture – and all the things you might do – swim with turtles, skydive, watch a sunrise. But when you think about working in a country, you think about all the people you might meet. Often, working is seen as a necessary slog to save some money for travel. And this is partly true – the main focus is earning money. But when you stop viewing it as merely a means to an end, the time spent working can take on a much greater value.

It’s easy to speak only to other travellers when you are moving around from day to day: staying in hostels and following tourist tracks. But when you stop and become part of the function of a town, you form relationships with people who actually live in the country you have made your temporary home. You might have more in common with other travellers, comparing notes on places been and things done. But they can only share about the country what you can experience for yourself.

A new friend told me that tourists – particularly younger – often actively avoid local people in social settings. It’s as if their status as “local” brands them strange. Of course, you aren’t going to like everyone you meet, just as at home. But from a different country doesn’t mean to be kept at arm’s length. Take the chance to see how people live, what they prioritise in life, how they feel about their home; and take the opportunity to be showed the very best of where you’re living by someone who knows. If you’re lucky, it’s a relationship which never has the chance to turn sour: you’ll feel sad to know you won’t see the person again, but glad you had the chance to meet them.

At the Paroa hotel, a huge part of our job has been making conversation with people sitting at the bar. This has sometimes felt like the biggest challenge: when your questions are responded to unenthusiastically, it’s surprisingly hard not to take it too personally. But it has also been by far the easiest and best part: talking to familiar faces and friendly people passing through can turn a regular work shift into a truly enjoyable seven hours. When conversation is made into a duty of the job, it immediately becomes forced and effortful. But frame it as a chance to talk to someone new, and suddenly it becomes much easier. One thing that has become apparent over the last six weeks is that you can never have too many conversations: no matter how random they might seem at the time, to someone, or in some way, they’re significant.


So Far from Anywhere

When you look at a map, you could view New Zealand as the runt in the litter of the world; it looks like the country fighting for attention amongst its bigger brothers and sisters. Placed in the bottom corner of a standard map, it is dwarfed by neighbouring Australia, as if uninvited to the colourful party of continents.

To others looking, New Zealand might spark a romantic longing for isolation. The two islands contain the prospect of space, despite their small size – a means of escaping crowds of people in crowded cities. The country exists as an edge-of-the-world mystery; a space in which to indulge nostalgic fantasies. The space it inhabits on the map becomes synonymous with our imagined experience.

Being in New Zealand, you can feel as remote as the country itself – small and untouchable. But its exterior remoteness is also palpable: there are attitudes and ways of living which appear to be a result of its location. And in both cases, there is this same sense of double-edge that we might feel looking at New Zealand on a map: the country’s remoteness is both its biggest advantage, and its greatest disadvantage.

It is beautiful, peaceful, wild and free; mainly small coastal towns and just a few cities (Auckland the only large and busy one). The small population allows you to stand on a beach, or venture into the bush, and feel like the only person in the world – momentary liberation. But this is a state most people only crave temporarily, and perhaps for some the country as a whole lacks hustle and bustle; a little too quiet. Then, in most places, it seems touristic to the perfect extent: welcoming but without altering its integrity – Kiwis have a pride in their country’s beauty which has not yet been overpowered by commercialism. But it is also, in lots of ways, a new country still playing catch up. There seems to be a clash between those resistant to a more modern way of living, and those frustrated by the financial and social limitations of living in a small and remote town.

As a visitor, it is easy to idealise a place – to experience a different style of living to your own, and see only the advantages. About many people on the South Island, there is a gratifying sense of contentment; an appreciation for their life and the beauty of where they live. But you can’t assume that they don’t feel the disadvantages also, or that there aren’t people who feel held back by the place they grew up in. New Zealand offers you so much and not so much, all at the same time. To many it is paradise, to some it is home, and to others it is a temporary stop to admire the view. I can only say that for now, it feels like the perfect place to be.


Try Living Like a Snail

Most people now recognise that the modern world is addicted to consumption. We are also aware that our finite planet cannot sustain our consumerist habits. But our economy relies on the making and selling of goods, and property has become our means of self-presentation and identification. To break consumerist habits means to live on the edge of society.

But when you’re living out of a backpack, buying becomes impossible. You’ve already stuffed your bag with your favourite and most space-efficient clothes, a book or two to be exchanged along the way, and if you’re Hayley, an over-sized monkey toy for sentimental reasons. A purchase becomes a carefully considered decision, rather than a fleeting nod to capitalism; it is a problem, as well as a means to solve a problem. And most significantly, when possessions are undesirable, they also become unimportant. When you can’t change your look from day to day, you realise that the clothes on your back don’t stand for the thoughts in your head.

In the Western world, we are characters in the liberal story – freedom in terms of individuals, the market, and communities. This means buying luxuries as well as necessities, and then seeing a cycle of wants becoming needs. But now people also see purchases as solutions to problems they cannot solve – in fact, those problems caused by the very nature of competitive individualism; the need to keep up with the latest trends and technologies. Phrases such as ‘retail therapy’ allude to this belief in the connection between buying and mental well-being. But spending unnecessary money is like eating a whole tub of Ben and Jerry’s after a break-up: we expect it to comfort us in some self-pitying way, but in fact it leaves us feeling lethargic and dissatisfied.

What feels liberating is to be unable to purchase. In the last 6 weeks, we have gained two possessions: a pair of walking boots and a fleece – both necessary for our time in Abel Tasman, even if only for comfort’s sake*. Our money is spent on food and experiences (our current boss would argue that these are one and the same – hi Alan). And in fact, most of our experiences, at least while living in Greymouth, have been free – walking in the bush or on the beach, hunting for greenstone (unsuccessfully), or watching an amazing sunset. It is lovely to fill your home with little treasures, or wear something nice for a special occasion. But let’s have things that will still be treasures in a year’s time.

*I’ve also bought a couple of books but they count as an experience… ‘Living as a Moon’ by Owen Marshall (short stories), and ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton. This novel is set in Hokitika (a West Coast town 30km down from Greymouth) during the gold rush. Both amazing but would recommend ‘The Luminaries’ in particular – soon to be made into a TV series (BBC)!