Lazy Luddite Log

27.2.07

The Wide Brown Land For Me

That line from the Dorothea Mackeller poem reminds us that the current parched conditions we are facing are nothing new and cannot be attributed to global climate change alone. Within two days of having returned from the insane greeness of New Zealand I was sitting in a car with friends traversing the yellowy-browness on the way from Melbourne to Echuca on the Murray River. It was a strangely refreshing contrast. All my life the land northward of home has been kind of dusty and dry and the experience was reassuringly familiar.

Friends Steve & Nieves were visiting from the UK and as is customary friends got together to do as much with them as we could while they were here. Hence the visit to Echuca. While there we stayed at a caravan park and dined at a local pub. The next day we decided to give the steam boat rides a miss (the others surprisingly took on my rule of thumb that if a ride costs more than a movie then it is too much). However Steve got talking to some strangers who it transpired were working on restoring another such steam boat and so we got a private tour round what looks like it will be an exquisite craft once completed (we later gave them a six pack of beer in thanks).

We also went to Glenrowan (site of the capture of Ned Kelly), the Milawa Cheese Factory, and former gold mining town Bendigo. Sometimes one can experience ones own home in a new way in the company of visitors and this was definitely a case of that. Back in Melbourne the following week we did other cool things that I tend to neglect in my hometown. We had pizza on Lygon Street. We played pool at the Red Triangle off Brunswick Street. We swam and played beach cricket in Sandringham. We played games like Pictonary. It was all fun and an excellent repatriation for me into local life.

Now I am back into the swing of things possibly I will also return to my practice of weekly blog posts. We shall see...

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19.2.07

Land of the Long White Cloud

It has been over a month since my last post. Of that time I only spent twelve days in New Zealand (14 January to 4 February) but somehow I feel my blogging tardiness can be attributed to that time (once travel preparation and its inverse are taken into account). Anyway here now is a short report on that holiday.

I went with Anne (we have been dating since Spring) who is a superb planner of holidays. We stayed some of the time with friends of hers who have recently moved to NZ. Also Anne somehow managed to convince some other friends to holiday there at the same time so we had plenty of familiar faces while overseas for much of the time.

In that time we experienced different forms of accommodation. We started crashing on the sofa-bed of friends in Auckland. Then we stayed at a youth hostel in Wellington. Then in an absolutely lovely relaxing historic B&B in the township of Picton. Then a traditional hotel (complete with the common dining room of hotels seen in so many old films) in Christchurch. And finally scout camp bunkrooms at a medieval festival in the Canterbury area. This was interesting to me as much of my past travel accommodation has been limited to just a few forms.

We also utilised different modes of transport which is always a part of the travelling experience. To start with there was plane to and from NZ. The three to four hour flight is the right duration to truly get a sense of moving a massive distance while still keeping relatively fresh. The two-hour time difference from home barely affected us sleep-wise. We had a fantastic overland train ride from Auckland to Wellington. Then there was a ferry ride from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the South Island. Then a hire car drive along the spectacular east coast to Christchurch. In between times there were also daylong tours by hire car or mini-bus. Every mode of transport is a different way of experiencing the scenery.

So far this entry is rather catalogue-like in its listing of things. I apologise for that but I lost a more flowing and personalised post in an incident of internet-freeze yesterday so this one will just have to do now. This will just have to be one of those cases in which the written description of something cannot hope to convey the fullness of the experience.

New Zealand has a population size similar to that of metropolitan Melbourne. Is that all? Somehow it seems like much more in that they manage to support a number of population centres that truly have the look and feel which warrants the designation of ‘city’. Auckland is big and bustling. Christchurch is serene and stately in comparison but still very much a city. Wellington I rather cruelly described as ‘Canberra by the Sea’ but in truth it is much nicer than that and has a history much longer than its elevation to the status of national capital. Visiting a new city – any new city – I always find exciting so this holiday was the trifecta for me.

In between (and even from within) these locales one discovers impressive landscape very different from that of continental Australia (I say continental Australia as there is a lot of similarity to the scenery in Tasmania and New Zealand). The coastline is excitingly complex in its sum of islands and inlets. The contours of the landscape challenge Australian-born notions of the distinction between ‘hill’ and ‘mountain’. Sometimes one can imagine one is seeing volcanic or tectonic action frozen in a moment. The presence of green grass and forest is commonplace from the semi-tropical lushness of the Bay of Islands (northern part of the North Island) to the temperate conditions in Canterbury on the South Island . The daytime sky is characterised by massive white fluffy north-south stretching clouds while the night time is filled with stars (and we got an excellent view of the Great Comet of 2007 on one nightly drive).

The human aspects of New Zealand however are much more similar to that of Australia. In this sense I think that there is nothing more like Australia than New Zealand. And because of that similarity one becomes all-the-more aware of the small differences (much in the same way one does in travelling interstate). I noticed all sorts of trivial differences like the fact that all pedestrian crossings there are zebra crossings (take that motorists!) or the practice of calling milkbars ‘superettes’ (another way of saying ‘mini-mart’ I suppose).

There are much more significant differences that that however. In particular the presence of a big Maori and Polynesian population is noteworthy. My quick examination of the history of Maori-Pakeha relations is far too basic for me to say anything on the topic here other than that it is much more complex than any notion of oppressed-and-oppressor will allow.

It is difficult to say what I enjoyed most in NZ. A wine-tasting tour of the renowned Malborough region was an excellent experience that expanded my paltry understanding of the lore of wine. However even just taking a walk at random in the backstreets of Ranui (a very ordinary suburb of Auckland) in the futile hope of finding my way onto a tree-covered hilltop I had seen from a distance (the hill was covered in private hobby farms and so my quest was thwarted) is something I remember fondly. I have definitely taken care of any wanderlust for the present time.

Addendum

I am writing this addendum at the start of April. This is a subject oriented blog rather than a personal journal. And yet at times personal matters cannot help but creep into things. So in writing a report on my visit to NZ I naturally named my partner in travel - Anne - who was also my romantic partner. Now however our relationship has ended. This we have done amicably as is customary among our friends. It was an amazing sixish months of my life. But now back to our regularly scheduled program...

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