My first thought is New Zealand really love its birds. The second thought is New Zealand really loves Christmas carols. The third is: make the second thing stop.
Along the airport walls past arrivals stencilled native birds coo and chirp to the hum of Ariana Grande’s ‘All I want for Christmas’ through the speakers. Pre-dawn light shines on the tinsel-strewn ceiling.
It’s 5am or 3am Melbourne Eastern Standard Time, Christmas Eve and I am trying to sleep on the sickly blue-carpeted floors hiding behind a wall of luggage. Security can’t see my stretched out limbs, my makeshift bed.
Kira Ora! Mirry Christmas! Hippy New Yer!
Due to a rental car error Dan and I are stranded here until Te Waipounamu wakes up. That’s what you get for being cheap and getting the red eye.
Less than 24-hours earlier a Kiwi man probably named Murray with dog definitely named Rusty threw an orange Frisbee into the brown depths of the Yarra River. I had just met him and his eyes were all twinkling, all knowingly.
“That red eye to Christchurch,” he said slowly, “is a fucking killer.”
And now in the carpeted depths of despair I think: Damn. That bloody Kiwi was right.
The only good thing about red eyes may be the movie of the same name.
In Red Eye the bodacious Cillian Murphy stalks Rachael McAdams on an overnight flight. He’s creepy as hell and as such Rachael stabs him in the throat with a pen. There’s a great visual where the shard of plastic pokes out of his trachea and he’s rasping and desperate for breath.
“All I want for Christmas is you! You! You!” Ariana sings breathlessly.
I kind of want to stab someone.
Later on, out of limbo and into the daylight of a new country Dan and I have reached peak crankiness that we are finding everything hilarious.
Hah! Christchurch and its traffic lights!
What! A pie shop!
Another Murray Hewitt!
Neew Zaland, you’re killing us!
We still haven’t got our campervan yet, but the rainbow haired girl at Jucy with matching rainbow eyelids blinks apologetically and gives us a car to borrow for three hours.
We sleep at the Botanical Gardens, because if you’re going to be homeless you might as well do it in style. Dan sleeps in the car hugging a can of Pringles. Corker.
It’s Christmas Day and Linkin Park is playing on the radio and I’m thinking: what more can you want?
We arrive at Dan’s mum’s uncle’s wife’s daughter’s place in Timaru. Phyllis is half Maori and has red lips and pink cheeks. She’s 92 and didn’t tell her daughter we were coming, so at first, they ask us a good question: Are you lost?
But us Aussies manage to gatecrash the family gathering. We arrive with award-winning teeth-staining Pepperjack and drink only their Coronas.
A North Islander Maori, one of Dan’s mum’s uncle’s wife’s daughter’s husband’s lifts a beer to his mouth and demands we do the same.
“Have another drink, so I can hang shit on you Aussies!” He laughs; it comes from his belly, a real ‘haw,’ ‘haw’. It turns out he has a lot of shit to hang, mostly involving rugby and sheep.
But we successfully avoid getting into a fight about the origins of the Pavlova with its decadent fruit.
“How about Russell Crowe?” Dan’s mum’s uncle’s wife’s granddaughter offers.
“You can have him,” I say.
Going to a long drop is a spiritual experience. Hold your breath in the dark and hope for the best.
A favourite Aussie saying: You stick out like dog-balls.
Dan and I are used to being the dog balls.
In Vietnam earlier in the year Dan and I towered over the petite locals, white giants smeared in sunscreen sweating in the humidity.
In New Zealand it’s our purple and green Jucy campervan. Dog balls on wheels.
You’ve just got to learn to embrace these things.
My inner Robert Smith is attracted to this tiny corner at the Mt Cook/Aaroki information centre where a weird light shimmers down on four memorial books.
The books include hundreds of entries of people who have died from avalanches, storms, hypothermia, falling from the mountaintop. In one instance: a severe wind which blew the shelter and then the four people huddled there away.
Many haven’t been found. Outside the windows a heavy mist is settling in over the mountain.
I remember reading somewhere that if you wear socks every night you will dream. Sleeping in the confined spaces of the campervan has the same effect.
Every night I am dreaming of my family, of Albury, and the stress of needing to buy demin outfits for small teddy bears for a workmate.
Every day feels like a Sunday when you’re on holiday.
In Lindel’s Pass, the valley that looks like green lopsided bums. there is a bad accident. We see a fire truck, two ambulances, police and two helicopters. The traffic is banked up and we wait for an hour.
People are insensitive jerks; they stick their phones out of the car and take photos. They get out in their jandals with their gobsmacked faces and have a sticky beak.
We’re nothing like them. Instead, Dan and I grab a beer and Jim Beam from our car fridge and settle in. Which turns into a mistake when 20 minutes later we both need to pee and we haven’t moved.
A man in his 60’s (dubbed “Dad) is in a similar predicament but can’t stand the wait any longer.
Having emerged from his car Dad stumbles out to the lush pastures and attempts to crawl through a wire fence. Unfortunately, Dad has misjudged the height of the wire and his head is stuck through the upper half, not unlike a sheep.
It takes a good ten seconds for Dad to embrace his limbo-skills and master the fence. He shakes himself free and in his victory dashes into the paddocks to relive his bladder. Dan and I cheer from the car.
Not long after we move on and see the accident.
Three cars, two severely smashed including a crumpled up convertible now resembling something from a wreckyard.
Days later I read in the newspaper at a sleazy Queenstown pub about the accident: three injuries, one severe. Lucky to have no fatalities.
My make-up free skin is rebelling against the pure clean air by breaking out into bumps across my cheeks and erupting into swollen pimples on my chin. I thought the hot sunlight would crisp me Jennifer Hawkins brown and the organic calm of the mountains would nurture me Miranda Kerr smooth. Instead my epidermis is raging and violent like the inhabitable cliff-faces of the west coast.
I buy a hat in Queenstown. It’s $10, waterproof and you can button up the sides. It has a drawstring so when you pull it over your nose you can pretend to be an elephant. Dan finds it embarrassing.
If you’re 75 and over you can bungee jump for free at Kawarau Bridge.
In one of the beautiful places in the world I drink beer and eat ice cream before it melts all over my arm.
I watch the orange paragliders float onto the sports ground, people strapped to jet-packs emerge from the lake and listen to the screams as people plunge off a cliff before snapping back like rubber bands.
I’m pretty relaxed.
I remember now that I am allergic to the sun, hence the itchy bumps and lumps all over my feet and face that appears when I go camping or read a book outside for hours in summer.
One night, years ago, in Burleigh Heads my arms swollen with pimply sweat glands I finally went into a late night pharmacy for help.
“I’m allergic to the sun,” I said proudly (I was a bit drunk).
The pharmacist grimaced, “Nobody can be allergic to the sun.”
“I googled it,” I hiccupped, “And the symptoms match.”
Poor guy, his four-year degree and training meant nothing to any moron with an iPhone.
“It looks like a heat rash and you’re probably allergic to some of the grasses too,” He sighed.
He sold me some antihistamines and creams. I was happy because I was allergic to something, so it was a legit issue.
I’m seriously considering a tattoo, jumping from a plane or joining the hippies who are slack lining near the lake.
I’ve been in Queenstown too long.
Me: What do you worry about?
Dan: That Max is funnier than me, that I’ll lose my teeth, that when I need to get up really early in the morning my alarm won’t go off and I’ll sleep through.
Cael is a team leader at the restaurant at Walter Peak Country estate on Lake Wakatipu and he’s incredibly sexy in a Prince Harry way. He is so pale that you know every feeling won’t pass by without it appearing on his white outer shell. His cheeks blush and red blotches creep up along his neck when he directs the other staff to collect the plates.
He’s trying to be more assertive, he’s a team leader after all, so he’s started telling half-truths and using his skin condition to connect with others. It seems to be working. They trust him, because who wouldn’t trust a slightly balding twenty-something who dreams of perfecting the right mix of vinegar and water to shine the cutlery without streaks.
He’s so beautifully innocent in his approach and trying so hard, but it’s often unnoticed by the tourists with their thousands of pixels who are too busy, too captivated by the sheep, the rare duck nesting on the bank, the almost neon bright flowers.
Before going through Homer Tunnel on your way to Milford Sounds you need to take another breath. The mountains are made by giants and humans with their toy cars, go-pros and insecurities have nothing on the ice-capped peaks.
It’s summer but the snowy peaks are still drip dropping down the rock crevices creating waterfalls that leave tear-stained marks down its cheeks.
When Dan gets mad he goes quiet and seems to curl up within himself. His eyebrows knot together like brown caterpillars and he starts exhaling loudly, like his mouth is too hot.
There have been a few things that have got his nerves of late.
· A long-wait for his hangi-styled $18 array of meats
· A dodgy car fridge that won’t cool down our kiwi beers
· The car de-mister not freaking working (we’ve been cruising at a 100 k’s per hour down a windy valley and all we can see is sweet fog all).
Dan will usually stay silent until the anger erupts from his lips in swear words, or he will murmur passive aggressive insults, “You’re real great, thanks Jucy,” or stare long and hard at the hangi food van that has wronged him.
That will show ‘em.
We camp illegally overnight at Milford Sounds in the tourist car park. In our defence, the customer service girl from the Sunshine Coast told us too. It’s scarier than being out bush. All night I think I hear someone tapping on the window.
“What could a Murray do anyway?” Dan says.
I imagine a Kiwi law enforcer would shake their head and sigh, “We’re not mad. Just very disappointed.”
We save all our creepy TV shows and movies for camping and travel. The more twisted and disembodied, the more moths that fly out of someone’s mouth, the more unfortunate pig scenes; the better.
I don’t know why we do it to ourselves.
I guess being isolated in some free camp surrounded by weirdos in paddocks while watching a psychopath scream is just kind of fun.
Spotted in the town of Haast. Population: 240
- 1 Confederate flag in the window of a weatherboard house
- Community noticeboard offering a free washing machine, dryer and 10 pillows.
- A waiter with a mullet and yellow teeth.
- 180g of tuna $5 NZD, 6 pack of craft beer $15 NZD.
- A manwich, $6.50 NZD.
But the thing about sticking out like dog balls is that you’re not alone. As a Jucy camper we’re part of the camaraderie. The green and purple crew which stings your eyeballs.
We wave at each passing Jucy like an old friend. Often they wave back frantically as if to say, “YEAH! HOLIDAY!”
But there are few drivers who just can’t be bothered to lift a finger.
The rejection we feel is like being stood up for a date. It really cuts us deep.
We know we’re being needy, but why don’t they love us?
At Franz Glacier Campervan Park in the car drinking a bottle of Emerson’s Pale Ale eating potato chips on New Years Eve. It’s been raining all day and this moment is a definite highlight.
The showers and loos are pop-ups and smell wet and dank. It reminds me of living briefly in Cape Tribulation in Far North Queensland, where the luscious rainforest eats everything, roots growing through cement structures, flash flooding closing roads and crocs floating free. And most devastatingly: after only a week my bag was consumed by mould.
Humans are not supposed to live there.
On our quest to the pub on New Year’s we meet an American who’s wearing a visor, pink singlet and long socks. He’s dressed for the Back to the Future/80’s party at the Monsoon bar. He’s travelling with another couple in a bus.
“Do you two hate each other yet?” He asks in the way you know that he can’t stand spending another minute with his travel partners. His eyes are almost screaming.
“We’ve been together eight years, we already hate each other.” Dan replies.
I am really starting to get annoyed with how nice and helpful Dan is.
He’s always saying, “Hi” and “How you going mate?” to everyone. He gets out of the car and helps people with directions, he helps them manoeuvre their campervans so they don’t smash into ours.
I just can’t compete with that Pollyanna behaviour.
Sometimes the landscape is so beautiful that you don’t know what to say. The beauty stings your eyelids, your throat feels lumpy. What can you do with this emotion?
Instead you turn up Chumbumba’s “Tubthumping’ and learn the lyrics.
Camping in a national park by the creek inland from Hotikita where you can sieve for gold is beautiful. Being attacked by mosquitos not so much. There are about a hundred mozzies in the car: on the windscreen, perching on the Lonely Planet, buzzing in our ears.
The day’s entertainment includes driving and killing as many of the winged blood-sucking devils while singing Cannibal Corpse’s ‘Let the bodies hit the floor.’
We kill so many we leave smeared grey marks and squashed wings everywhere.
Listening to 105.3 Radio Live outside of Nelson.
“Glitterboob” story: A topless women at the Rhythm and Vine festival uploaded a video of her getting groped by a male.
Caller #1: She shouldn’t get them out in the first place unless she’s willing to face the consequences.
Caller #2: Uploading the video is a form of attention-seeking.
Caller #3: I like getting nude at the beach.
Who would you invite round for tea?
Fighting in the supermarket #1
Me: “NO DAN I DON’T WANT SAUSAGES AGAIN FOR DINNER. BLOODY HELL!”
Fighting after the supermarket #2
Dan: What did you get for dinner?
Dan: What meat did you get?
Me: I didn’t get any. I got tofu.
Dan: Are you joking?!
Me: No, I’m sick of eating meat …
Dan: So you just decided for the both of us? You’re so selfish!
Me: I think you’ll survive one night without.
Dan: I don’t think I will.
Tense silence where nobody sings along to Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’
Dan: Is it at least chicken flavoured?
Aqua puppas outside of Kaikoura! We can see them from the car, lazing on the rocks, lolling the sea, running with big flapping paws.
We’re in fresh earthquake country. Last year a quake hit these parts, a 7.8-er and the road has only just been reopened and they’re still filling in the crevices and the damage left behind.
We camp at the beach and the waves are only metres from the car. Overnight it rains and the wind roars and I wonder if we will be swept away, if an earthquake will swallow us.
For 15 minutes I join a band at Jam night in Kaikoura.
A shell near the crook of an elbow
Lines that looks like tyre tracks on a DJ’s tan arms
Yogic symbols on the cusp of a neck
A kraken with one eye spread across the back of a thigh
ZOMBIE written across a lower back
A Maori tribal design in place of a wedding ring
Signs at a caravan park:
Keep calm and clean up!
Keep calm and label your food!
Last one out? Keep calm and turn the lights off!
(I wonder if the manager has anger issues.)
I want to be a waitress in a kiwi coastal town in a quirky café that has Friday night jam nights with Maori saxophone players and teens with bare brown knees and all curly Afro that sings Hendrix, Clapton and Pink Floyd.
I’ll wear a knit beanie and homemade earrings of shells I’ve found sea combing the beaches that has more fat seals than fat tourists and serve local craft beer and sugar-lad chocolate brownies and pretend I’m heading places like a German backpacker with an outstretched thumb but really when I get drunk I’ll tell you that this here is just fine and I like the porcelain cups and the pots of mint tea, the comfort of passing travellers and I’m not scared of dying here in an earthquake as long as when the tectonic plates shift the boy with the curls is playing Cat Stevens on his fender.
There are so many more hitchhikers in New Zealand compared to Australia.
Why is that?
I want to pick them up but we have no room. So we drive on by like dog balls on wheels feeling sad for them with their heavy heaving backpacks.
I wave and smile kindly, as if to say: I hope you find someone nice soon and not a serial killer!
It all comes to an end too soon. It always does and you’ve got to return to your lives and remember what day it is and what you do again and shower and wear a bra and it’s all too depressing.
Flying above Melbourne, big bright city. It’s like thousands of Christmas lights strung high which haven’t been taken down yet.