Saturday, April 27, 2013

Marriage in a Campervan

So as you could probably imagine, driving through New Zealand for two weeks in a rented campervan was one part backpacker adventure, one part road trip of a lifetime, and one part marriage boot camp. 

Now, admittedly, I'm not one to study up on travel guides--it's too much information to take in all at once, so I usually get tired of reading and toss the guides aside to watch "Girls" on HBO instead. Nod is more patient at planning out the big picture of our trips, and had been reading the New Zealand lonely planet guide ferociously. Nod and I have travelled a lot together--nine countries so far in the four years we've been together--so I trusted his planning and his judgment, and figured I could join in planning the details as we went along.

By the time we arrived in Christchurch two weeks ago, however, I hadn't so much as opened a map yet. If someone had told me to pack my sunscreen for a trek across the New Zealand desert, I might have believed them. The towns, which often have Maori names, got jumbled together in my head--was it Tekapo or Kaikoura or Wanaka that was next on our itinerary? I knew that we would see sheep, but was otherwise fairly clueless about what was in store.

Unbeknownst to me, Nod had been carefully mapping out hikes and treks and climbs through three different mountain ranges in New Zealand's South Island, so happy to see snow-capped mountains after a summer in Sydney and even longer in the flatlands of Washington, DC. It wasn't until the fourth day of strapping on our hiking boots and massaging sore calf muscles that I thought to ask if we were going to be hiking every single day of our vacation. In fact, that was the plan. My blisters protested and the rain clouds intervened, however, so that we ended up spending half of our time atop majestic peaks or by turquoise alpine lakes, and half of the time squealing at adorable wildlife in the lowlands (most of the squealing by yours truly, but don't let Nod tell you otherwise--he loves baby lamb faces, too).

Queenstown, hike #3 of our Trip
Would-be hike #4 of our trip: Mt. Cook. Unfortunately, the weather was too bad to do this overnight climb, so we settled for a little jaunt to a mountain lake and back down again.
Roy's Peak by Lake Wanaka, hike #6 of our trip

Stretching tired muscles after hike #8 in two weeks - but what a beautiful country to be sore in! 

It is also the case that it has been a long held dream of mine to be a kayaker. This comes at the end of a long list of career aspirations. When I was young, I dreamt of being an archeologist of Native American artifacts, or perhaps a Subway Sandwich Artist. When I was a little older, I discovered that working at a Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop is, in fact, the greatest job ever, but I supposed that Secretary of State might also be a good job title. Today, I still dream of working as a sheep farmer or opening my own cafe/bed and breakfast/hair salon, but I'm still on track to be an historian of the modern Middle East. To this title, I hope to add: amateur kayaker and slam poet. I'm still working on reviving my slam poetry career, but New Zealand provided a real chance to make gains on the kayaking front. The only problem? I had never really kayaked before. But never mind. I have wanted it so clearly and for so long, I was sure I would take to it naturally. The kayak guide might even offer me a job before I was finished.

My big chance came at Milford Sound, where giant green peaks rise straight out of the ocean, reaching breathtaking heights. Forests cling to the rock face, creating an improbable forest inlet where waterfalls spring to life whenever it rains, cascading water into the sound with such force that it can uproot the precarious trees. Jade stone sparkles in the rocks. It's an incredible watery world, and, I hoped, it could be the start of my kayaking career. Nod agreed to go along, less out of any love of kayaking than for the reason that there weren't any alpine views to be had in the sound anyway--you have to see it on the water, whether by kayak or cruise boat.

Beautiful Milford Sound

The experience was saltier and more blustery than I had imagined, but no less magical. True, we did look a bit silly putting on the kayaking company's standard issue striped long johns, and there really is no good way to wear the splash skirts that strap around your chest to seal you into the kayak nice and dryly. 

Milford Sound is notorious for bad weather-- it rains more than 18 feet per year, and the winds can be so strong that tornados form on the water. We managed to paddle out on a day without rain, but the headwind was stiff and my arms felt sluggish after a few hours. It was not the athletic debut I had hoped for. But all was redeemed when we discovered that a fur seal was swimming alongside us! It rolled in the water and waved its fins, oblivious or indifferent that he was only a few feet away. Not to lose my cool in front of the other kayakers, I did my best to squeal under my breath. Hard to do, in retrospect.

LOVE. I think he feels it, too. (This is actually footage from an even more recent seal sighting just two days ago. TWO seal sightings in one week! How could a girl be so lucky?)
But so New Zealand was a magnificent trip all around: snow covered peaks, sheep-filled meadows, starry night skies, sparkling alpine lakes, and a new career launched as a wildlife sea kayaker.

Now we've packed our bags, turned in the keys of our stalwart campervan, shipped home our warm jackets, and headed to the airport. I secretly love the feeling of waiting at the airport-- possessions stripped down to what you can carry, and so many places to go. Tonight we'll head back to Australia for just one day in the artsy, seaside city of Melbourne. And from there- our adventure in SE Asia will begin!

Until then--!

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