He's been in New Zealand for over a month. Quite the adventure travelling to the other end of the world, just about. He was excited about the prospect of his visit, but slightly bemoaned the carbon footprint he'd be leaving through air transit. The alternative is to sit about and twiddle thumbs; he just isn't the type. Purpose of the trip was to attend a stream ecology conference in Christchurch. Since he was going all that long way from Canada he decided he would take advantage of the opportunity and stick around awhile. Much as he did a year earlier attending a conference in Sweden then taking more than a month to travel that country and Italy as well.
He made reservations at a great-looking hostel in Christchurch. Hostels in New Zealand bear little resemblance to those in North America; they're by no means bare-bones operations and evidently they're called 'backpackers' with at least two or three present in every little town. At the stop-over in Fiji on the way there his luggage somehow got mislaid and he had to wait five days before it was restored to him. But the conference was a great success, and he met up with colleagues from around Canada, some he had met at a conference in Alaska last year, those he had met previously in Sweden, and many from New Zealand whose studies echo his own.
They did some socializing, some scientific cross-fertilization, some exploration at the conference through the local environment. Once the conference concluded he bought a car. There are listings on bulletin boards at the backpackers' hostels as well as a "backpackers car market". Travellers to New Zealand planning on spending some time hauling their bods and possession a round the geography purchase used cars then put them up for sale again pre-departure. The cars are relatively inexpensive: used-car imports from Japan. The Japanese government has a tidy agreement with its car manufacturers through legislation demanding frequent stringent inspections the results of which are that the population finds it convenient to continually buy new car models and the country has a thriving export industry of used vehicles as a result.
So the vehicle he bought was a sedan in fairly good shape, a 1992 Nissan with 174,000 kms. Before he bought it he took it to a local garage for a mechanical inspection. Its shocks leave something to be desired but mechanically it's in fine shape. For $1600 he figured he got a good enough deal, and it gets about 7.5-l per 100km. The washboarded gravel roads leading to trailheads account for the condition of its shocks.
First trip was to the north end of the South Island to a town called Nelson, a jumping-off spot for a four-day backpacking trip along a coastal trail (Abel-Tasman). A scenic, fairly flat trail next to the ocean, shared by a lot of determined hikers. Huts are spaced out along the trail for crashing. He carried a 30-lb pack. Anyone wanting to cut their trek short can take a water taxi out; they traverse the routes regularly to all portions of the trail to pick up and drop off day hikers. The ocean tends to be fairly rough so the boats appear to be airborne half the time. A thrill in itself. On that trail he came across one of his friends from Sweden, with his wife doing some sight-seeing of their own. He also experienced some fairly crushing heat, along with of all nuisances, blackflies.
Trip over he stayed in Nelson with a friend from New Zealand who had attended the conference, then went out for dinner with four kiwi biologists also at the conference. From there he headed out to the west coast from a place called Westport, staying at one of those great little hostels. He did a day hike on another coastal trail; very few people there, with a native palm tree forest fringing the coastline. It was sub-tropical, very warm, although it's fall in New Zealand now.
From there he proceeded south-central through a place called Arthurs Pass in the Southern Alps, the mountain range running the length of the South Island like a spine, and did a day-hike in the pass, and another at Mount Cook (tallest mountain in Australasia) National Park further south. Another day-hike took him to Mt.Aspiring National Park, near a town called Wanaka, where he stayed over at a hostel. That hike he found similar to being in the Rockies, with a lower treeline full of New Zealand beech; gnarled old hardwoods with tiny blueberry-like leaves. That trail come up to a glacier with spectacular waterfalls off the rockface from glacial meltwater streams. Sheep were quietly grazing on the valley bottom.
Hostel stay-overs provided the opportunity of meeting all kinds of interesting people; characters from just about everywhere. Both home-grown and huge volumes of tourists all eager to share in the wonder of the landscape. Then he left the South Island and made his way via a long drive and a ferry ride through to the North Island. There he found quite a few changes; the roads are more frequent and in better shape because there are far more people living on the North Island. North Islanders have a habit of making the South Island their recreational destination, although there's plenty to see on the North Island as well.
The pace of life is generally more bucolic, he found, people not rushed, more than willing to stand around and socialize; talking as a form of social-emotional recreation. People are far less canted toward material acquisition. Far more satisfied to live a more modest lifestyle, valuing life itself, not the accoutrements which we in North America construe as having meaning in their ownership as indicative of the quality of our lives. At one town he read an advertisement in one of the hostels and signed himself up for a workshop. There he learned the intricacies of fashioning rough steel to forge your own handmade knives.
He listened, observed and produced, with the painstaking direction and assistance of the instructor how to harden steel in a forge, using a low-grade steel which would absorb carbon from the hardening process itself. Another process he plans to study now on his own and to perfect for his own satisfaction, much as he creates pieces of furniture with hand tools, eschewing the use of nails, using old tried-and-true methods of cabinetry at a time when it was an honourable and honoured profession. He had produced his own moulding planes in the past, but this instruction took him beyond the crude hardening process he had himself devised.
He has now another week left to spend in New Zealand. And then a week in Australia, before he returns home to Vancouver. Another trip under his belt, another venue to appreciate the diversity of geographical landscapes, human settlements and their social fabrics, along with the flora and fauna of their environments.
Labels: Family, Peregrinations