My article on how to road trip New Zealand South Island is now up at WaveJourney.com–a woman’s travel magazine
Read the full article where it first appeared: Road Tripping New Zealand’s South Island – Christchurch to Queenstown | WAVEJourney.
Dress warmly. Start in Christchurch and drive south to Queenstown in a crappy car that has trouble getting into second gear.
Stop at the ethereal blue Lake Tekapo, and Aoraki Mount Cook — New Zealand’s highest mountain. Take frequent breaks in front of undulating meadows specked in yellowed sheep to smoke cigarettes in the low light. Remind yourself this is Lord of the Rings territory: Look for hobbits among the vast, green sweeping mountains and jagged crags. Observe ice-green glacial rivers incise a place along the bottom of formidable ravines. Sigh audibly and often.
Stop the car somewhere on the side of the road. Think: “No one in the world knows exactly where we are right now,” and feel the little flutter it gives you. Sit in the warm car reeking of cigarettes, and listen to dated rap with a hoodie pulled up snug over your head. Be without movement, just for a moment, and watch the daytime moon, grey and low, choking the peaks of stormy mountains. Enjoy the dramatic scenery with the intense light that breaks suddenly from haunting, ash-gray clouds. Be awed and silenced. Break out the Kiwi junk food like Bluebird Burger Rings, Chocolate Fish, Toffee Pops, Minties & Pineapple Lump candy, and Lemon & Paeroa soda. Refuel, and then get back on the road.
Tell stories to each other. If you’re alone, tell yourself stories. Let you mind wrap around the past like a fist. Squeeze out worth in circumstances where you once only found woe or shame. Make amends with someone — even if only in your head. Give someone you don’t particularly like a sincere compliment — even if it’s only in your head.
Seven hours later, find yourself in Queenstown. Look out onto Lake Wakatipu and think you’re the luckiest person in the world. And you are.
Bungy jump headfirst off Kawarau Bridge into the sea-green ravine. Be absolutely terrified. Smoke three cigarettes just to calm yourself enough to sit still in the car when it’s all over. Spend the rest of the day with your weight written in bright red marker on my hand to show you don’t care about stuff like that anymore. Wear it without shame, especially if you’re the kind of person who’d once run to the toilet to scrub it off. Know that this is progress.
Read the quote on the bungy place wall that says: “Be afraid. But jump anyway.” Revel in the feeling of conquering something. Learn that the bungee tradition evolved from the South Pacific islands where natives would jump with only vines tied their legs as tests of courage, rites of passage. Now that we don’t have natural sources of adrenaline like running from predators, we get our kicks jumping off bridges and out of planes. Think to you yourself: “Ah, the things we stupid humans do to feel alive!”
Snowboard through knee-deep powder on hardly groomed trail in the Remarkables ski field in Otago. Go on runs far out of your league. Feel the snow underneath your board; the locals describe it as “sticky:” though it looks like powder, it will feel strange. Understand what they mean.
Know you are doing so well to come this far, to this mountain-clustered, mini-city that you’ve been to the top of. Be suffused in the velvety pastel light on the ski slopes like a Turner painting, like a backdrop. Know that somehow you found something real, something that’s not a backdrop, and somehow you placed yourself against it and what a pretty picture it makes.
Get back in the car and drift in and out of sleep (only if you’re not driving). Drift in and out of reality, consciousness – whatever. Just let yourself go. Chase the raindrops streaking down your window with your finger until you can’t feel your fingertips because of the iciness. Listen to good, good music; stuff you haven’t heard in ages, and stuff you’ve never heard before so that when you hear it again you’ll think of this trip, like Bic Runga, the Maori artist.
Be gentle with whomever you’re with — even if you’re tired and grumpy.
Rent an ATV or dirt bike at Off Road Adventures. Get muddy. Get very, very dirty with — if available — a swaggering, blue-eyed Parisian with feminine eyelashes who’s living on the South Island to make money between stints of traveling around Cambodia and Vietnam. Have him teach you how to do fishtails and doughnuts on your ATV. Sit with him in your muddy clothes on a high overlook, and do not speak, but share a cigarette. Let your heart race uncontrollably. Blame it on adrenaline.
Get back in the car. Keep driving. Maybe back to Christchurch, or maybe further south. Forget you have a cell phone: you won’t get service anyway. Stop at gas stations frequently to fill up with diesel fuel and Kiwi junk food. Stop in the florescent-lit toilets where you’ll stare at your freckled face and find something intact there — even if you look like an absolute disaster.