That time I ended up in New Zealand

“We drive up the WHAT?”

“…The Volcanic Desert Road.”

Only a New Zealander could casually mention a journey through some Volcanic Desert without glimpse of horror or excitement. “Volcanic? Desert?!” – None of these adjectives or nouns was enticing. Images of camels chasing us through lava as we battled North molested my imagination. Getting stuck behind a French lorry on the M25 is about as exotic as my driving gets so I can perhaps be forgiven for the abandonment of my wiles.

“… Well… It’s more like the surface of the moon, really.” As a Brit, nothing coming out of Kiwi Friend’s mouth was comforting. It was all destruction and etherealism and the promise of sore eyes from staring. Besides, why would ANYONE want to leave Wellington? It’s hard to discuss New Zealand’s capital without shouting a list of superlatives; positive, adoring ones, not the type you have to yell out your window while venturing through Slough.

image

Wellington makes my beloved Wales look flat and ugly. It sits prettily and nonchalantly on the hillsides like a Kardashian straddling a sports team, all comfortable and curvaceous, with lots of manicured orifices it demands you explore. Even its famous wind (which rips the skin off your face) is charming and apologetic… Though I’m devastated I didn’t get one of those bare-bottom-native welcomes that I’ve heard so much about. Next time Wellington, next time!

And yet I’d been told that central North Island was even lovelier – So, we’d borrowed a car: A champagne Toyota Fun Cargo – the sort that loudly announces to all other motorists that nobody will ever want sex with you ever again, and which couldn’t break the 100km speed restriction even if it had a rocket strapped to the back. Not that we needed to rush anywhere… driving in New Zealand is the sort of laid-back that sees dudes REVERSING ONTO THE MOTORWAY. It’s all very affable and leisurely, all doffing hats like the Henley Regatta, so far from an unpleasant experience! Yet adventure arrived in the form of me having never actually driven an automatic car before, especially not one with a ‘foot-brake’ rather than a hand-brake.

imageI’d liken the ordeal to commandeering a large go-kart after semi-paralysis, as my left arm kept unconsciously and clumsily flailing at a gear-stick which simply wasn’t there, and my left-foot constantly brought the beast to a grinding halt as it searched for a clutch that didn’t exist and met the bonus of a parking-brake instead,(like some sad and poignant metaphor for my life).

This journey along State Highway 1 from Wellington to Taupo is a dangerous quest, though mostly because your gaze can barely stand to remain on the road in front of you, and eagerly rushes towards the nonpareils of Mt Doom (Ngauruhoe) and its friends jostling for attention on the horizon, or the handsome monstrosity of the Tararuas exposing themselves in the sunshine like craggy oldies at the nudist beach. My eyes had never been so ready to burst.image

Every corner of the NZ highway unleashes a new volcano or mud pit, or caldera, and makes you wish you’d paid more attention to geography or just about anything at school…

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