Things seemed very bad for me when I had to abandon my trip to the USA when I had got as far as Auckland airport. Not only was I partially deaf, with my ears bleeding internally and painful, but I also was troubled for a few days with the feeling that I had let so many people down. It took a second visit to a doctor who confirmed that I could not fly at that time, to help me get through the “what ifs” that were sitting on my shoulder. I am so thankful to Ruth and Ralph, Alex, and Charlotte, plus two cats and two pet rabbits. This wonderful family rescued me from my airport hotel, and made me welcome in their home for almost 2 weeks. Ruth was a primary school friend of Laura's, and I just can't say “thank you” enough.
Anyway, as you will see from my previous posts, kindness brought with it sunshine! It turned out that I was stranded in Auckland at a good time as there were two pottery exhibitions to go to, and one of them, the Portage Ceramic awards, a National event.
A Little Geography
After nearly two weeks in Auckland I commenced my journey South. New Zealand is a long and narrow country that has two big islands, known as the North Island and the South Island*(1). There is also a very small and beautiful island to the south of the South Island called Stewart Island. To get from the North Island to the South Island involves crossing the Cook Straight, a notoriously windy and rough channel of water. Probably most people fly if they are traveling from Auckland (in the North Island) to Dunedin (in the South Island), but it is possible to travel by train, by ferry, and by bus. If you were exceedingly desperate and elected to travel non-stop, you could probably do it in two days, as long as you crossed the Cook Straight on a night time ferry sailing. It would be a very tiring trip however.
I elected to take things more gently. My itinerary was something like this:
Monday 11 October: a three and a half hour bus journey from Auckland to Te Kuiti.
Two nights in Te Kuiti with Laura's parents.
Wednesday 13: an almost nine hour train journey to Wellington.
Two nights in Wellington at the Downtown Backpackers.
Friday 15: a morning crossing the Cook Straight, then an afternoon trip from Picton to Christchurch on the bus. A night in Christchurch with friends, Doug and Kathleen.
Saturday 16: approximately 5 hours on the bus to Waikouaiti just North of Dunedin.
I did do a lot of writing when I was on my travels. I wrote in bed first thing in the morning, I wrote in cafés, I wrote in my motel room, and I wrote on the bus, and whilst waiting for the bus. The following is mostly from my journal.
Monday Auckland 11th
Waiting for the Intercity bus at Sky City Terminal. Cold, wet day today, with some heavy downpours in the night. No seats to wait on outside for the bus and there are silly curbs and steps to haul wheeled cases up. Anyway, I am leaning against a concrete wall waiting for something to happen. For a driver to appear and make life flow into the moribund bus that is neither waiting nor moving..., it is just occupying space beside the platform!
We've got to Manakau City Westfield Mall. It is 12.51, and we set off (on time) at 12.30. Not many on the bus. Back on the motorway heading south. For a while I thought we were going to wobble our way out to the airport, as we got quite close, but now the signs are pointing to Hamilton.
There is a grey quality to Auckland and its suburbs, and the sprawl of manufacturing warehouses, storage, and sheds that accumulate around cities. We are off the motorway now, driving down a tree lined and bungaloid anonymous suburb. It could be anywhere from Oamaru to Christchurch, but we are still in the greater Auckland area. I suspect that we are in Papakura, because I see a sign saying “Papakura Clothing”. There is an “Edmond Hillary Library”. Much as I admire Sir E.H., he is not exactly the first choice I would have made for a patron saint of books!... (or did he secretly carry the complete works of Shakespeare up Everest when he did his ascent in 1953?). There is a small building that I assume to be a public toilet that has a sign proclaiming “Papakura Art Gallery”, and maybe it is! Countdown Supermarket has coils of razor wire around the back of store loading area. On top of the wire is an oddly thoughtful “Beware Razor Wire” notice. Next to the supermarket is an alleyway in which two police vans are parked. A blue painted concrete building, with designer dips and waves to soften its boxy lines, is the Papakura Police Station. There is a shopping complex with Central Park Bakers, Vege Heaven, and Liquor Heaven, and for some reason I find the grouping of names funny!
Of course we all know that places change over time. I lived in Hamilton in 1976, and later in 1983. Most of what I think of as “Hamilton” is from then. Probably some or all of the Polytech Tutors that I knew from 1976 are dead now, and certainly the people that I boarded with that year are, unless they are over 100 years old. Maeroa Road, where I boarded, I see the end of it, but just about everything else has changed. Te Rapa straight has more Bigger, Brighter, shops, warehouses, sheds, and other tic-tac boxes. The colours are grey, blue, and orange. Huge towers with lights mark the position of a stadium or sports field. I do not see the sports ground, but I do see a large Elim Church that is a square warehouse shaped building amongst the other warehouses and factories. I find this commercially branded Christianity dispiriting for some reason. Even “down town” Hamilton, with endless asphalt roads and pavements, and painted concrete slab buildings, is a foreign place.
South of Hamilton the landscape is a rolling manuscript of green fields that is punctuated by clumps and gatherings of dark native trees, remnants of the former forest cover. Above, huge cloud masses mark a frontal system that is charged with cold southerly air. Cloud shadow fingers massage the land. There are blurrings of rain, silver-grey curtains, and the dark sleeping bulk of Mt Pirongia is brooding and dramatic.
We edge around a very serious two vehicle accident just north of Te Awamutu. One vehicle is so badly damaged that there is little room for anyone left in the twisted cube of metal that remains. Head on impact or nearly so. Someone is trying to wrench open a door. A paramedic is running from a parked ambulance, she is carrying an orange coloured piece of equipment. A bystander turns and looks pale and stunned. It is a sunny, beautiful day, with those dramatic clouds that I have mentioned before, and the accident seems obscene on such a day. I am reminded of the day of Van Gough's funeral, which was sunny..., “just the sort of day that he would have loved” was what someone said. I think it was his inconsolable brother Theo.
Te Kuiti 16.03
I arrive slightly early in Te Kuiti, but something is wrong, no one comes for me. I am sitting on a white chair, beside a round white table, outside the cafe where the bus stops. I have one large suit case, one small suit case, and a day pack. The sun is hot, the shade is cold, so I sit in the sun. After twenty five minutes or so I see a public phone box nearby. I manage to persuade the phone to take my phone card, and the dollars disappear rapidly as I talk to Laura's mother who is about a kilometer away... almost close enough to shout, or make smoke signals! It would seem that Laura's father met a bus and talked to a driver who had not heard of me. Wrong bus! I think that my in laws assumed that I had missed the bus somehow and would not arrive.
It has been a long day, but it is good to be with family again. I treasure this time as I have rarely been able to visit Laura's parents in Te Kuiti since we moved South more than 2 decades ago.
*(1) There are various alternative names for New Zealand's North and South islands. The Māori names Te Ika a Maui for the North Island and Te Wai Pounamu for the South Island appear on early official maps and documents, and other Māori names and traditions exist also.