I swear it really is greener

Posted by: James on: Saturday, 26th November, 2011

Before I arrived in NZ, I was only vaguely aware that it was comprised of two different islands. At the moment I’m wondering why I spent so much time on the wrong one.

Okay, let’s take off the rose-tinted specs for a second: we’re currently on holiday – a three-week road trip around the South Island from top to bottom, including rafting, cycling, wine-tasting, tramping, camping, caving and explorations various. What was I doing in the North? Well, working mostly, so fair enough – the South Island is going to come out on top, but there are a couple of other important differences that make this trip feel more like the real deal – what we really came for.

New Zealand is generally beautiful. That’s a good rule of thumb to follow, but there are areas that are more or less so. I think both Ash and I have been frustrated by Auckland, because what you see more than anything else is the human intervention in an otherwise incredible landscape.

Go on - beat this.

Go on - beat this.

Without getting into the minutiae of our preferred architectural styles, Auckland is criticisably sprawled with suburban-feel bungalows, shallow roofs and modern glass buildings: all sensible precautions for an earthquake-prone corner of the world, but it ain’t pretty. It wouldn’t even have a skyline without the post-phallic* skytower. That coupled with a motorway that bisects the city proper, creating an enormous anti-pedestrian precinct, Auckland will never be the “World’s Most Livable City” no matter how much Mayor Len wants it to be.

Down South, the building style hasn’t changed, but there’s far less of it. Far less people anywhere in fact. And with far less people, you can say hello to everyone you meet on the way. The further people are spread, the friendlier they can afford to be. London’s a fair example. There are few hours of the day that you could possibly greet everyone you met on the street and those are the hours it would be least advised.

So far we’ve had rather lovely conversations with most of the people we’ve met. We’ve heard two wonderful stories about people leaving jobs and setting up wineries in the Marlborough region, one couple’s stories about their 12-year yacht tour of the globe and countless conversations revolving around our travel plans and recommendations for what to see and do (these are the ones I’m actually getting tired of).

The long and short: having a wonderful time in the remoter areas of the South Island. As soon as you get to anything remotely town-like, the prices skyrocket and the buildings turn into grey cinder-block atrocities, but stay rural and it’s all good: unspoilt beaches, cheery people and all of that stuff you read about – in fact, you don’t need to hear it from me.

Best thing so far: staying overnight at the tiny town of Renwick, nestled snugly into the heart of wine country. We camped at a backpackers that also rented out bikes. Proceeded to do five wonderful wine-tastings on the trot with an average of four minutes’ wobbly cycle ride between them. All tastings were absolutely free bar one, which had a five dollar charge. Wünderbar!

Greatest peril: the sun. It’s strong enough to make you seriously consider taking a parasol wherever you go. I’ve had to throw away my wet-blanket European SPF15 and take up arms in the form of a Cancer Society endorsed SPF-godknowswhat. It still gets through.

*What’s post-phallic? Well, there’s a disc at the top, but it’s still a huge pillar of concrete erected by rich men.

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A fairly loose blog about the places I go and the things I think. May also include left-leaning social commentary derived in part from video games.

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