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November 15, 2004

Abel Tasman National Park, The Race to Auckland

I had been feeling some level of frustration since I arrived at the Northern end of the South Island. I was not pleased with the idea that my departure was so near. I considered changing my plane tickets at the last minute and failed to enjoy myself while my brain was preoccupied with such thoughts. Sometime during the Queen Charlotte Track, my brain swung 180 degrees to show the exit from NZ as an entry into a new adventure. During the next few days my excitement was enhanced by reading my Thailand guidebook, recently excavated from the depths of my pack, and by chatting to several travellers about the area. All talked about South East Asia with glowing eyes and large smiles sneaking in between words like "spectacular", "fantastic", you'll love it!"

The Abel Tasman was a let down for several reasons, not the least of which was my state of mind at the time. With limited time, I had to endure the frustrations of researching schedules and making bookings, the worse offender was trying to get on a Kayak trip: there are a half dozen operators each offering a half dozen trips, some of which leave on only on certain days while another subset did not allow solo paddlers. I ended up on a 2-day kayak in, walk out trip.

The weather was gloomy on the paddling day, leaving the golden beaches looking like they needed a good buffing. From the front seat of the kayak I was able to get a decent shot of a seal playing in the water, but I also did most of the work: my backseater had never been on the water like this and had a tendency to freeze up when the wind blew and the choppy water bumped us around.

The night was spent in my tent at a crowded campground complete with school kids and tour groups. I rose leisurely to clearing skies and set off for the return trip by foot. The sun brought the shine back to the beaches, the sea was deep blue, and the air perfectly clear thanks to the night's heavy rain. I took a number of pictures but I was mostly thinking of Asia as I strolled along. The scenery, after all, was not that different from the Queen Charlotte Track's.

Having returned to Marahau, my departure point, I walked to the end of town and caught a very pleasing ride to Motueka, then another chill ride to Nelson (the bus schedules were uncooperative for my departure out of the area so I decided to hichhike again). I had hoped to get on the ferry to the North Island that evening, but that turned out to be too ambitious. I slept in Nelson, and after further frustration from schedules and delays I boarded the ferry late Friday evening.

I enjoyed crossing the Cook Straight by boat. I was unemotional about leaving the South Island, my home for 7 weeks, although I knew that the adventures ahead would require some adjustment. Most importantly, I felt very content about this first segment of my journey. It wasn't anything like what I thought it was going to be, and that is precisely why I will look back so fondly on it.

My first impression of the North Island was favorable. Wellington is a lively, trendy city, and though I was only there for 14 hours I clearly felt a good vibe. I numbed my bottom on a 6 hour coach ride to Taupo, a lakeside town right in the middle of the North Island. The North Island scenery is nothing to complained about, though spoiled as I was, a 100 km/hour panning speed was just right. In Taupo I really felt that I had returned to the real world, or rather, I realized that the South Island is an isolated world in which it is possible to escape from the anonymous careless society that I am used to, without sacrificing comfort or surmounting langage barriers. Still, I had an enjoyable time, drinking Guinness and talking to an Englishman who had just arrived from my next destination.

After 24 hours in Taupo I decided to head straight to Auckland where I would have 2 full days to prepare for Thailand. I expected to arrive in a giant metropolis (it is the world's largest Polynesian city) but as my post-arrival studying revealed, it is really a smallish place. This served as a final reminder that NZ is a low population country: Auckland felt small, yet it is home to one quarter of the population of the whole country. Another quarter is spread throughout the South Island (actually a third of that portion is in Christchurch), and the last half shares the rest of the North Island. Putting Auckland and the South Island together in my head was a revealing excercise: it became quite obvious why I didn't feel like a rat in a cage for the last 7 weeks.

Preparations took all the time I allowed for them. The most significant action I took was to heave one my packs over a Post Office counter, full of my precious camping gear, and wished it "bon voyage" for its trip home to California. My tent was marginally useful here in NZ, I doubt I will miss it in SE Asia. Also, seeing as it is 90 degees or more in Thailand, I will not regret shipping my wool layers and gloves!

I had time for one entertaining activity today: I visited the Maritime Museum and particularly indulged in the exhibits on the America's Cup and other modern sailing races.

Posted by piegu on November 15, 2004 03:19 PM
Category: New Zealand
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