The weather improved as we left Napier, sun forcing its way through thick white clouds while we meandered through the vineyards south of the city. It was an idyllic scene, manicured vines stretching out over the plains to the horizon in one direction, as far as the rolling green hills in the other.
Lauren leaned over, a huge smile on her face. "Dave", she beamed. "I’m really excited."
So, to be fair, was I.
It has been a little over two years since an earthquake destroyed many parts of my home city. I hadn’t been back since it happened. Too much damage, too much destruction, too much pain. I was one of the lucky ones – I was able to make a choice about my involvement – and my choice was to watch and give money from afar.
A few weeks ago I finally returned. The Christchurch earthquake has long since fallen from the global headlines. There’s always a new war, a new dictator, a new catastrophe to report on. Out of sight, out of mind, and all that. When I spoke to them, most people outside New Zealand assumed that everything was back to normal in that little corner of the country.
It’s not. Roads are still buckled and broken. Entire suburbs lie dark and empty at night, condemned as too unsafe to ever live in and just waiting for the wrecking ball to descend. Several blocks of the inner city still remain cordoned off, the only way to access them via a bus tour that warns of the potential of injury or death before you get on board.
I used to regularly walk along the street where this photo was taken, browsing through the shop windows. It’s almost unrecognisable now, tangled piles of concrete and steel taking the place of storefronts and pedestrians.
The clean-up continues in Christchurch. It’s going to for a very long time.
Finally the day had come.
We were preparing to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 20-odd kilometre trek in the central North Island that winds through alpine valleys, up steep volcanic mountains and along exposed ridgelines. On a good day, it is often called the best one-day hike in New Zealand. On a bad day, driving wind, rain and snow pose a serious risk of hypothermia or worse. The difference between a good day and a bad day?
Sometimes, about half an hour.
You just can’t visit New Zealand without spending some time on a jetboat. I’m not sure if it’s a legal requirement but if not, it should be. I mean, the things were invented specifically to deal with the shallow, fast-moving rivers that you find all over the country, so it makes sense that they are a bit of a national obsession. And, well, they’re just a whole lot of fun.
I must have driven past that road sign a hundred times without stopping. A few kilometres north of Murchison, the turn-off to Lake Rotoroa had long beckoned but I’d always been in too much of a hurry. This time, though? Well, we were only going as far as Hanmer Springs, and really, what was the rush? I hit the indicator, stomped on the brakes and wheeled the car left over the bridge.
The road ended 11 kilometres later at a small carpark. It seemed like a popular camping spot, although the swarm of sandflies that greeted us as we opened the doors made me wonder why. We didn’t stay long – just a few minutes of wandering along the shoreline snapping photos and disturbing a small family of ducks.
It was a completely unnecessary detour – which of course, made it all the more enjoyable. There are so many places like this in New Zealand – just follow a random sign and see where it leads. It’s rare indeed to end up disappointed.