“Hey, that accent sounds familiar, are you South African, bru?” “Right on, you guessed it man,” I tell the shop owner in Dunedin. I was just looking for a surf magazine but ended up spending an hour talking to the guy about biltong, Jbay, the new Mandela money and the reason why some South Africans chose to leave New Zealand for Australia. “ They just couldn’t handle the cold weather bru”, says the shop owner. Either this guy is originally from South Africa or his accent has changed completely, but the fact that he calls me bru and knows how much we love the sun is once again enough proof that there are plenty South Africans living out here, in one of the most beautiful most isolated places on Earth. When I tell him we are leaving for the Fiordland in a few hours he warns me about a bumpy trip ahead. “ There is huge swell on the way, I surfed this beachie earlier and it only works when it’s out of control on the north side of the bay, so brace yourselves, its going to be a rough night, bru.”
Cathedral in Dunedin
He was spot on. It was one of the roughest bumpiest nights we have experienced out at sea, with drawers opening and closing randomly and bottles flying off the shelves, creaking sounds coming from places it has not come from before.
With a slight exception for the Maoris, New Zealanders are super friendly people. Maybe it’s the size of some of the Maoris, perhaps it’s the Moko I see on some of their faces, but I would think twice to just start up a conversation with these intimidating islanders from now on, without having a good reason to. I asked this big Maori busking on his guitar on Queen Street in Auckland for change when I placed a $10 note in his guitar case. Not to compare the two, but I figured that most car guards back home will give you R5 back if you ask. I only asked for change because I needed coins to buy postcards from a lady who didn’t have change. Sure I could have gone into another shop to buy some postcards, but I thought it could be a great way to test the temperament of a Maori. I thought he was smiling at first, but I guess showing teeth in this case meant the guy was not impressed. Needless to say, I lost $10.
Moko, a tradition dating back thousands of years.
There is something special about meeting up with friends in parts of the world other than home, especially when it can only be for a few hours. We have been very lucky to meet up with our good friend Kirsty in our travels around New Zealand. Twice. The chances of that happening are very slim; taking into account the very strict itineraries we follow. There is just something inexplicably awesome about having lunch with good mates halfway around the world where things are different, yet kind of the same. On this trip I have also managed to meet up with three other people I worked with in China, and even though it has been five years since we said adios, we picked it up where we left it. I reckon good friends are like a good cup of coffee; you can have them around anytime of day and even if only in small doses, their lingering aura after saying goodbye is similar to the fresh aroma of a good java filling the room, long after it has been had.
In the land of the silver fern you are guaranteed to have a good time, whether you are an adventure enthusiast, seeker of natural beauty or sampler of magnificent beer. You can also experience all of it at the same time if you wish. I saw a surfer guy, in beautiful coastal town Tauranga, riding his bicycle pulling a trailer with his belongings while drinking a local brew. If you feel like having really fine wine then head down to Napier, or if you are into Possum fur jerseys then check out Akaroa.
We were very lucky to have made it into the Fiordland this time around, in spite of the nasty weather. It is all about timing and a bit of luck, as our captain explained to us that the three ships before us wanting to go in, couldn’t and the two ships behind us wouldn’t make it in either. In knowing how lucky we are to spend the day cruising up and down the Fiords, only sharing it with the occasional Cray fisherman boats, we spent the entire day out on the decks. The scenery had my imagination working overtime, envisioning mythical creatures flying around through the towering gorges. I could almost hear Gollum talking to Precious from within one of the many caves. There are many beautiful waterfalls cascading through the beech tree forest and I am sure if this incredibly fresh air could be bottled it would sell for millions in Beijing. There is snow on some of the peaks, which makes it almost impossible to believe that I surfed only in my boardies just a few days ago.
Bumble bees in Akaroa, almost as many around as the possums
I drink a toasty, chocolaty Tuatara Porter while looking at the map of the two islands of New Zealand. We have gone all the way from sunny Auckland pass the picturesque Bay of Plenty, pulling in for a surf at Tauranga, We docked along the white cliffs of Napier for some wine. We sailed through the Cook Strait into windy Wellington, docking in the beautiful waters of Akaroa to buy a possum tail on the way to student city Dunedin to reach our final destination of majestic Fiordland. I could do it again and again. I am fascinated with this place. The uniqueness of the scenery and the warmth of the Kiwis, even the ones with tattoos on their faces, has me thinking about planning a roadtrip in a hippy van, not only to retrace places of interest, but also to go about making new friends in a place where the folk is as gentle as the feel of a Marino woolen jumper is on the skin.
Fiordland Mountains and waterfalls