It was on the overnight bus that took me from Canberra to Sydney’s Airport that I felt the butterflies in the stomach and the thrill on the neck I know so well.
You might think that it was due to the obscene amount of Vietnamese food I had eaten just before, but it wasn’t.
I know that torrent of blocked words, ready to go out wild and whirling, as soon as I find a pen. Never write in that state, I luckily remembered it.
I left the city running through the bus window, while the night took me away, even further away, closer to the land of my dreams: New Zealand.
In that state of alienation I completely left this world to wander through my thoughts, where I found a lot of images that instead I haven’t been able to re-find in my camera. All the best things are locked in my mind, as always.
Almost two months and a 20.000 km flight have not been enough to put together thoughts on this page.
Time eradicates everything, space widens, paths get confused and borders are lost … and sometimes it’s all we need, as well as going to the end of the world to find what perhaps we are looking for.
I do not know exactly how the idea of New Zealand has come to my mind as a destination to reach sooner or later, but like all things, they always come to us for some reason.
I guess I found my reason there, in a moment of profound clarity and connection, even though I have been able to understand it only when I was already back home.
I’ve gone so far, till the southernmost tip of New Zealand, where the land ended and the vastness of Pacific Ocean began.
I sat on a beautiful smooth wooden trunk consumed by the water and I listened to the powerful noise of those huge waves. In that precise moment I knew that at home, on the other side of the world, I was losing someone who had been at my side for my whole life. I just knew that, even if no one had told me anything.
I just had to go there, in that exact moment and place of the Earth, to let go the fear of change and the sense of loss and abandonment that someone’s death may cause.
I simply let it go, together with the waves, withdrawing and dispersing into something immense and beautiful. It was the most intense moment of the trip.
I am writing these words without knowing where they’ll take me at the end, a bit like the feeling I had so often during my journey, when I woke up in the morning with no idea where I would be in the evening. I learned to stop worrying about planning everything, I gave room to a new extreme trust that everything would always be fine, and so it was.
I feel that a change has occurred inside of me, this travel and the person with whom I shared it have taught me many things and have led me to a new sense of self-awareness as well. The workshop in Australia and all the people I shared it with – (here you can read the post!) – have also been part of this process and adventure.
Only now it’s clear to me that this post will never be a travel guide, but I will try to tell and show you part of what I’ve seen.
Several times I had the feeling that the camera wasn’t enough: the beauty of the landscapes, the light (oh, the light!) and the colors have been the most vivid experience of my life.
Pictures cannot describe the authentic connection and reciprocal exchange that I experienced in some places, with the wilderness and the archaic and so tangible presence of some very ancient trees, mountains and lakes. It’s something to try: they tell a story but only to those who are willing to hear and those who have eyes to see.
Just before leaving, the beautiful Marta Greber’s blog gave me a heart attack.
After her recent trip to New Zeland with her daughter on a Wolkswagen van, she wrote a magnificent post sharing her travel itinerary (and amazing pictures as well!) that has been SO useful to plan our roadtrip.
“Do you realize..” we said looking at Marta’s photos “.. that in a short time we’ll be there?”. No, we just didn’t realize. Photos, as beautiful as they may be, were not enough to understand. Now, looking at those photos again, I can recognize the places, I can go beyond the edges of those frames to understand.
Like Marta, we also toured the Southern Island in a little van.
We found in Jucy, a very popular rent company in New Zealand, the best price for a self-contained minivan, a choice that we appreciated very much in several occasions and always made us feel independent of campsites.
In general, travelling by camper has been the best choice ever and indeed, it is not by chance that it’s the most traditional and common way, among travelers, to explore the country. 80% of transports circulating there were motorhomes!
Before leaving we had downloaded on our phones the official app Ranker – that I recommend soo much! – which tells you, also offline, where you can find free or normal campsites, the next petrol station or point of interest, always with ratings and opinions left by other travelers. It helped us so often, especially every time the petrol needle was alarmingly going down, in the middle of nowhere!
We landed in Christchurch and reached the rental place, but our van’s delivery had a couple of hours delay. So, in the meantime, together with their excuses, we got a substitute car, which we used to buy primary supplies and to practice driving on the “opposite” side.
Francesco had never driven on the left side of the road (neither had he driven an automatic car!) but he was comfortable straight away, despite the initial panic in doing the roundabouts the other way around.
But then everything was fine until the day when, seeing a car (the first one after almost 20 kilometers) that was arriving straight ahead of us, we realized that we had driven for all that distance on the wrong lane, that is, on the right-hand side of the road!
Anyway, when we received the van it was already nighttime, so we reached a DOC campsite (aka free camping) at Governators Bay.
Uphill hairpins and ravines, the carriageway on the opposite side of the road, the new automatic van, no lights and the darker night we have ever seen… it was the most stressful moment of the entire journey.
We had some troubles to find the free campsite: it didn’t show on signs, like most of the free campsites in New Zealand. The only way to find them is relying to gps signal on the app and to have sharp eyes to see other campers.
We finally got there – very tired – and we parked in complete darkness without precisely realizing where we were and what was there around us. The morning light revealed it.. and it was a surprise!
We had stopped in Reserve Allandale, a natural park in front of the bay, just a few steps from the water, a lovely landscape. We had not realized it at all!
We walked around and had the first glimpse of a wonderful Nature, full of plants I had never seen before.
We took the road very late and very relaxed, with Tekapo lake as our next destination. Blu Oyster cult as our soundtrack and an endless line of sheep-laden fields. Then the black cows substituted the sheep and finally it was the alpacas’ turn, so we would continously scream: “Stop, stop, stop!!!”.
Then the landscape became softer, we saw the first green hills… it’s Bilbo Beggins’ county!
At dusk the atmosphere became golden and then – slowly – light blue, while the landscape opened up towards the lake. The dark horizon was made of mountains and clouds. It was immense!
We walked along the lake in the last light of the day. The air was almost ice-cold. We found a small tree full of red apples, ready to be plucked. After biting them and discovering their sweet taste, we literally filled our pockets with them .
These apples became our favorite snack till the end of the journey, just to give you an idea of how many we plucked! They were so many that at the end we decided to cook them and eat them on some peanut butter sandwiches… delicious. Then we did something forbidden I should not even write about: we exported the seeds (hiding them in our clothes as if they were drugs) and now I hope a small tree will grow here in my garden, in Italy. It would be awesome.
It was very cold that night, so we decided to stop in the nearest campsite: Tekapo Holiday park. The roof of the camper boomed under the hail that night, but in the morning we woke up with a new, warm and magic light.
The lake didn’t look the same: its colors were completely different under the sun… and the trees – so full of light – showed all the autumn colors.
We started following the natural rhythms of day and night, like the other travelers we met: we woke up at dawn and went to bed very early, when the night swallows every color leaving only a starlit sky you will never see in Europe.
We moved forward to Pukaki Lake, stopping a thousand times at every lookout point. The time arrived when we stopped saying very beautiful, because we had said it so many times that it wasn’t enough anymore. We just stayed there watching silently.
Pukaki lake cannot be described in words, I can only let the photographs speak on my behalf. I will just say that the color of the water is exactly like this. We would have stayed for ever in that golden field, with the sun warming up our back, watching that hypnotic color. That’s where we did our first track, the Kettlehole track, which gently led us upwards to an amazing view of the whole lake and the valley around it. What a thrill! We returned to the camper at sunset, with many white-tailed bunnies jumping everywhere, and we stopped on the lake shore in a Doc free campsite, the Pukaki overnight camp, where we admired the sunset turning the lake water into pink.
[To be continued… Part.2 is coming!]