NB: I think those of you subscribed to my blog received a draft version of this entry some time ago when I input the wrong date by accident. Oops.
When I was nine, my family moved from the middle of England to the middle of Java. Twice a year, my sisters and I boarded a plane on our way to four-month terms of boarding school in Malaysia. On one of these journeys, I ripped a page of trivia out of the Malaysian Airlines inflight magazine and took it with me to our school in the jungle. Nearly twenty years later, though the sheet itself has crumpled out of existence, I can still quote many of those facts from memory. For example:
- Donald Duck’s middle name is Fauntleroy
- The plastic bits on the end of shoelaces are called aglets (great for derailing a game of I Spy, which is important, because I Spy is the worst game ever)
- A duck’s quack doesn’t echo (this isn’t actually true, but it still gets quoted all the damn time)
- The longest word in the English language is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (next time I’m late to see you, know that it’s because the spelling of this word takes up too much space in my brain)
There was another fact too: the longest place name in the world. My friend Peter (Hi Peter!) memorised the spelling and we tried to make our long-suffering teacher learn it too. The name in question is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, a Maori word that translates roughly as The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the slider, climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one. We just don’t make names like that in English! At 85 letters long, it boasts the longest sign in the world, but the location itself is just a nondescript hill close to the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. It takes an hour to drive there through hilly farmland from the nearest town, and once you’re there it’s just you and a really big word. But still, a worthy pilgrimage if it’s been part of your life since the age of nine.
My visit to Taumata (as it’s more commonly known) was part of a five-day road trip from Christchurch to Auckland that I made to relocate a car for a rental agency. In return for transporting the car back to Auckland for them, I had a free rental vehicle and a free ferry ride between the two islands (transfercar.co.nz if any other backpackers are interested in this amazing scheme).
I was able to spend a few days exploring parts of New Zealand I haven’t yet managed to reach, but actually the best part of the trip was dropping in on old friends and WWOOFing hosts. (The worst part was running over possums at night.) On the first day, I met up with Kit and Sheryl at the alpaca farm outside of Christchurch, before surprising my old manager Renee at her hostel in Kaikoura. That evening, I had a happy reunion in Blenheim with my good friend Mikaela, who thrashed me at mini-golf and made me garlic bread. The next day, I reached my ex-WWOOFing farm in Clive at 9.30pm and confused the hell out of Yannick, Jala, Krissi and Lisa by turning up unannounced. They kindly gave me a bed for the night, and the next day I was unexpectedly able to attend the farm’s harvest festival and catch up with my gardening mentor Yao.
Back in Auckland, I saw Kirsty for the first time since early November and we swapped stories of our adventures so far. Auckland felt different this time, a city caught between being a metropolis (all cosmopolitan bustle) and being part of the rest of New Zealand (all rural beauty and nothingness). As I walked across the panicky pedestrian crossings, tourists stopped in my way to take photos of the streets. I sighed at first, before realising that was exactly me six months ago.
And at this thought, I too found myself brought to a halt. Six months since I arrived in New Zealand. Half a year. Half my visa. Half my time already passed. I’m reminded of that famous quote from a great, great film (coincidentally released the year I was born): Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Half a year, and I’ve barely reached the level of 80s-high-school-movie philosophy, but really, there’s no better way to sum up this journey so far.
Snapshots of NZ