I’m on the ferry from Picton to Wellington, traveling from the South Island to the North Island of New Zealand. I drove my car onto this absolutely gigantic boat and parked it where they told me to, in stacked parking like at the Hollywood Bowl, before walking up quite a few flights of stairs to the observation deck on the very top. It’s like a cruise ship. Massive, complete with a café, a bar, and a restaurant—although I should mention that they all sell roughly the same thing, with just a few additional options each to make it slightly more interesting. They’re showing a movie on Level 7: American Hustle, for the curious. Although why you’d watch a movie when you could be looking at the scenery, I’ll never know.
We’ve passed through Queen Charlotte (Totaranui) Sound and we’re in open waters now. It’s calm, but I still took a seasickness pill just in case. There are Germans, English, and Chinese tourists next to me. I even heard some Israelis upstairs. I had a nice chat with a Swiss guy selling coffee from a shack in the area where you wait with your car before you drive on. He’s a chef. He said he’s lived in seven countries so far. I told him if I weren’t a writer, I’d be a pastry chef. He told me I should find someone to pay me to write a book about bread all over the world so I could travel, write, and eat. We agreed that would be a very, very wonderful job. The last thing he said to me as I walked back to my car was, “Send me your bread book.” He was serious.
When I look out the window, all I see is water and sky meeting at the horizon. It’s amazing to think this little ant farm brimming with life is traversing the sea. Not quite as amazing as thinking about my friends sailing from San Francisco to Brisbane, but I’m still charmed by the simple reality of it.
On the way to Picton from Nelson, my GPS took me on the most ridiculously twisty path it was almost too much to bear. It was just one loopy, twisting, cliff road for kilometer after kilometer. I got frustrated about two-thirds of the way there and yelled at the stupid (hardly) little machine, as if that would change anything. The string of expletives felt good flicking off my tongue. I realized in that moment that I haven’t been angry in almost three weeks. I knew it would all be okay. I purposely left early enough that I had time to make it there even if I got lost, but there’s a desperation that you feel when you’re relying on a machine to guide you somewhere utterly foreign and you know that your phone can’t rescue you and you can’t even rescue yourself without the kindness of strangers. It’s far worse when the only way out is forward. This is one of those moments when the metaphor and the reality are the same truth. I made it with enough spare time to invent brilliant new careers with Swiss expats. The machine was correct: The right way and the only way out was forward.
I can feel the gentle rocking motion of the boat as it meanders its way from one lush green dot to another. Having seen a huge green swath of the South Island, I can see why the Maori fought so hard to stand their ground* from the invading English. I’m glad it was an unfair fight between the six-foot-five-inch Maori and the twiggy, pasty English fops. There’s great pride in winning, particularly when it’s winning the right to keep living on the very ground under your feet. I would have fought hard for this land too. It’s just so beautiful.
The German couple I was sitting next to up on deck has found their way to this little set of tables where I’m sitting. They haven’t said a word to each other the entire time I’ve seen them. I wonder if they’re angry or just tired. Oh good. He just got up, touched her leg affectionately, and said something to her on his way to walk somewhere. She resisted at first, but they eventually laughed. She was mad. I think they’re okay now.
On one of the rare straightaways on my way up the West Coast of the South Island, just after cresting a hill, I drove past a cop. I was somewhere in between Franz Joseph, home of the glorious glacier, and Greymouth, a drive-through seaside town. As I began my decent and gathered speed I knew I was driving fast, but I didn’t know how fast. The second I drove past the cop I knew I was in trouble. Sure enough, he flipped a U-turn and pulled me over seconds later. It was pretty standard fare. Do you know the speed limit? Do you know how fast you were going? Once I realized that he didn’t have much of a sense of humor and wasn’t going to give me a break, I just let all the questions wash over me. My main concern was how much it was going to cost. Tickets at home can be upwards of $400. That’s a LOT of travel money. And New Zealand is way more expensive than home, so I was sure I was screwed. To my surprise, the ticket was only NZ$120. It’s still money I would have preferred to spend on traveling, but it felt like a deal compared to what I was expecting. Is it bad that I was relieved? When he handed me the ticket, he said, “Speeding is an expensive hobby in New Zealand,” to which I replied, “Indeed it is.” He smiled and walked back to his car and drove off in front of me. After a while he turned back around and headed off to fish for another NZ$120. As much as things change, so do they stay the same.
We’re heading into Fitzroy Bay now. I better go up and take a look. These are the things you don’t want to miss.
*THIS what stand your ground actually means, Florida. You dumb bunch of backwards, selfish, idiot monkey-assholes. Sorry anyone smart who lives there. I know you exist. I just wish I could hear your voice over the din of drooling dipshits shooting their guns at people for no reason.