I’m temporarily posting travel blog entries on Saturday as well as Wednesday to clear a backlog! At the moment, most of the entries are posting at least two weeks late…
In the deep south of New Zealand, drivers wave as their car passes yours on the road and shop attendants leave their counter to help you check your tyre pressure, while liquor store clerks ask you to wait so they can write down advice for the next leg of your journey. The weather can be equally warm, or smothered in freezing winds. Beyond the south coast, the ocean stretches all the way down to Antarctica, although surprisingly, New Zealand is almost exactly half-way between the equator and the South Pole.
Much of Southland lies beyond the State Highways, down teasing unsealed roads that promise spectacular scenery if you have the patience to navigate endless stretches of gravel at 20km/h. A large swathe of the south coast is known as The Catlins, a relatively unheralded (though it sneaks into the final pages of Lonely Planet) expanse of hidden waterfalls and wild shorelines. The track down to Nugget Point feels as if it was constructed primarily out of holes, with bits of road put in as an afterthought, but the headland offers a sweeping vista of jagged rocks beneath a watchful lighthouse. At a campsite down on Curio Bay, we lie on grassy cliffs with tangled clouds above, while in the evening we sip hot tea from our mugs as penguins preen in the rocky cove below. After Molly finds our first sealion, I sprint the length of the campsite to ensure I see it too.
The first tragedy of our camping trip occurs in The Catlins when Molly’s phone makes a bid for freedom as we’re climbing a waterfall. The battery and protective casing (ha, irony) bounces safe, but the rest of it dives headlong into the rapids and presumably is now living out its own mini-version of Cast Away on a rock surrounded by seals. A couple of days later, my Nook commits its own technological suicide by turning all my eBooks into gibberish as I’m half-way through Philip K Dick’s seminal The Man in the High Castle. Somehow neither of these losses are surprising, as if it’s an obvious primal function of these deep lands, that they would strip from you all the modernity you hold dear and cast you back into the wilderness to build things with twigs and string.
West of The Catlins, Invercargill sprawls confusingly across flat farmland. New Zealand’s most southern city only has a population of around 100,000 but they’ve been spread like butter over the terrain, as if someone took a regular-shaped town and squashed it into the ground. Invercargill has some pretty parks, and (apparently) the largest pyramid structure in the Southern Hemisphere, in the form of a combined museum-art gallery-information centre that pays tribute to (amongst other things) the city’s local legend and world-record-breaking motorbike speedster Burt Munro, who was immortalised by Anthony Hopkins in The World’s Fastest Indian. Invercargill also has such a problem with alcoholism that off-licences are forced to close at 10pm and supermarkets don’t stock alcohol at all, which I discover to my horror at roughly 10.03pm.
Below Invercargill, the outpost of Bluff marks the end of State Highway 1, which runs the length of New Zealand. It’s not the end of the journey though. You can always catch a ferry further south to Stewart Island. And of course, no-one flies home from Bluff. You turn around and keep going, which sounds like a profound paradox, but isn’t.
P.S. The title of this entry refers to Richard Kelly’s sophomore feature film. Most famous for his debut, Donnie Darko, Kelly’s second film is a chaotic mess that left Cannes agog and virtually destroyed the director’s fledgling career. Absolutely batshit insane, it’s thoroughly mesmerising and definitely worth a watch.
Snapshots of NZ