Dec 07

Journeys and destinations

by in Drawing & Writing

The Intercity Bus pulled in to Auckland at 7:35 AM, twenty minutes late. When he’d loaded the bags into the hatches, our cheerful, white-bearded bus driver jumped inside.

“Sorry I’m late, everyone. Made a few mistakes this morning. First one was waking up (wink wink).”

As the bus pulled out, the microphone crackled on. “OK guys ["OK gwoys"], hope you’re settled in. Now I’ve just turned us onto Hobbson street, and it’s named after [x] Hobbson, an Aussie who bought the land in 1841 and made Auckland the capital – at least till 1865. He named it Auckland after the captain of the first ship he ever sailed on.”

Antje squeezed my shoulder. “They do this on every bus trip!”

As the north island narrowed briefly into an isthmus, he told us about the first European to lay eyes on New Zealand, a Dutchman, and the first to recognize its commercial potential, Captain James Cook.

Further south, our bus became the British Army marching on the Maori.

“Hey guys, we’ll be crossing over a river in just a minute. When the troops came up this river with their gunships and crossed over to the other side, the united Maori took that as an attack on their sovereign territory, and the New Zealand wars began.”

It drifted from history to anecdote. “Hamilton here’s the fourth biggest city in New Zealand, 200,000 people. I’ve had my own share in that – four daughters to my name, God bless ‘em.” One of his daughters’ husbands had gotten a ticket for speeding, and he’d had more than his fair share. “Police officer says to me, ‘Jimmy, if you get one more of these you’re gonna lose your driving license. Then what?” An ice cream factory passed by. “Best ice cream in New Zealand. They’ve got one called the Hokie Pokie with caramel inside. If you don’t eat it before you leave New Zealand, guys, you don’t like ice cream.” The landscape turned into what he called “hobby farms.” “Tax write-off for the business owners in Auckland,” he said. He wasn’t a big fan. “Needed more fresh water up there in Auckland, but they didn’t want ours. Well, city ran some tests, came out cleaner than theirs. Guess who ate a piece of humble pie?” He honked the horn. “There’s me mate, Mikey, just went by. ” Rugby was next. “Any Aussies on board?” A few guys made some noises. “Oh, sorry about that, fellas. No, I’m just joking, I mean that, guys. You guys’re our big brothers, you really are. Probably more Kiwis in Australia than there are here, anyway. Just a joke, guys, it really was. Good people there, over the ditch.” Toward the end he pointed out a method of hay storage called “silage.” He and a friend had gone out drinking way back when, and when they’d tried to remove the fermented hay the next day, they puked.

Our destination, Waitomo Township, resembles the miles-long road before the entrance to Mt. Rainier. Or rather, it probably resembles many roads that lead up to national parks. In Waitomo there’s one hostel, a few cafes, one bar, a restaurant, and our place.

Any doubts about “Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park” – and who couldn’t have them with a name like that? – disappeared upon check-in. The room wasn’t quite ready, and at nearby cafe we both ordered French Toast with bananas, the sweetness of which disgusted Antje. It disgusted me, too, when I also ate her portion.

As the “Waitomo Walkway” had been heartily recommended by our receptionist, we embarked – and New Zealand, my god you’re a lucky land. The path follows a river most of the way, and when it doesn’t it crests grassy hills with single pairs of trees and layered rocks poking out everywhere. One of the hills was topped by the lightning-struck shell of a tree – Sauron! In a very different tree, a crow-sized bird with white feathers sticking out of its chest whistled, clucked and warbled over the heads of some masticatin’ cows. A few seconds later, its partner did the same from across the valley. It sounded fake, like R2D2. At one point there’s a wooden fence that has to be crossed, and an older Irish couple laughed when they saw us taking a picture of it afterwards. “We’ve never seen anything like it, either,” the man said. The boards are slotted into the post, and you don’t climb over them; you push them down on one side. The other (weighted) side pops up. Then you step over your (now lower) end. The way you learn this is by trying to climb over and almost falling.

It’s hard to notice what’s not there on a hike, but garbage and mosquitoes weren’t there.

The trip out was supposed to take 1 1/4 hours. It took 2. Also, it was warm, and that meant 2 more warm hours back home. Somewhere in there an underestimation had happened, but that was OK. It was the journey, and not the destination, that mattered – even if the journey had effectively ended the day. But the destination was also important.

The turnaround point was the exit of Waitomo caves. By chance, as we passed, a group of cave-goers emerged, blinking in the sunlight. Their helmets were askew, their neoprene suits dripping, and their happy cave-guide told them to hug anyone they could grab. We pranced away.

When they’d left, we got a bit closer to the cave. It was cold, and, just like in the movies, wisps of vapor curled out of the darkness.

Only god, a few dozen cave-guides, and hundreds of thousands of tourists knew what were in those depths.

The next morning, we would find out.

[scary music!]

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3 Responses to “Journeys and destinations”

  1. From Brooke/Mom:

    Loved it–it’s the first thing I check each morning when I wake up. Great drawing and story! Keep ‘em comin’!

    Posted on December 7, 2011 at 16:18 #
  2. From Esther:

    “the sweetness of which disgusted Antje. It disgusted me, too, when I also ate her portion.”

    love you :)

    ps: not all humans are able to solve simple math.

    Posted on December 9, 2011 at 18:52 #
    • From Antje:

      Conor likes sweets that goes beyond his math skills :)

      Posted on December 11, 2011 at 07:49 #