It has been a long while since I have put pen to paper but travel, if anything is what will shake the muse loose. I usually observe something like this after a long break from writing and settling into an aircraft seat. This time I am pre-empting that moment. Sydney is oppressively humid and the sweat clings to my jeans and pulls my shirt to my back, even before I move. Sitting at my desk is a liquid business. But I want to start my diary before we head out. We have accumulated our clothes and equipment to our packs after collecting them from assorted bins and boxes – I have not really sorted my gear properly from Ama Dablam, Afghanistan and a couple of house moves. And here we are on the plane, with little writing done. There is an assortment of gear in the hold below this seat and yet more that has to be sorted when we get to Tekapo where we join the climbing company. I figure we can just throw everything at the pack and then sort the gear then. I am looking forward to doing this trek/climb with Kavitha. Too often these trips are done on my own and it’s a real privilege to have a companion – who is of course much more than that – to embark on this adventure too. She is taking quite a leap in such a mad caper but I am confident she will enjoy herself. The relaxed instructors will help with that too.
We are at the hotel, a poorly located pile on Bealey Street, at least from the punt of view of street noise and carousing neighbours. I feel like reminding the latter that this is Christchurch at one o’clock in the morning, not Darlinghurst. But here we are on our little adventure and am I looking forward to it.
The morning is bright. And silent. All the clattering beer bottles and boorish shouting of last night has been washed away by a bright sun and cool air. We muddle on out into the city through avenues of oak and alongside the Avon, courted all along by childhood memories and visions which pull and tug and stir feelings for which I have no response. The rest of the day was marked by the same evocations. We pull into Timaru much later than planned, a trip marked by conversation about the distant Southern Alps, agriculture, rivers, irrigation, old family holidays, trees and produce in the fields. It is very good to see Steve walk across the lawn towards me as we arrive at his place. He is in shorts and boots (essential NZ uniform) and we embrace in an uncharacteristically Canterbury fashion. But given he has survived a heart attack or two and a stroke which left him dangerously close to departure this is no place or time for politely shaking hands.
One of the most valuable pieces of information gleaned from Steve is that the fish and chip shop in Hamden serves up superior paua patties so on our way south we pull in. It’s a fish and chip shop straight out of the movie ‘Boy’. There are a couple of noisy kids in the place but they give a sense of family as we attempt to enquire about the paua. In response to our questions a pattie the size of a large saucer is held up – we agree we only need one and order that along with some blue cod and chips. Followed by a mad little scamper to find some cash to pay for it all since their EFTPOS serves NZ cards only. We are rescued by the local bottle shop although the chip shop proprietor assured us he would have given us the food regardless. “People eventually pay” he laughed. “Had a couple of hunters come through recently. They paid for food they had taken two years earlier”. He is one of life’s characters who assure you there is good in the world. We take our booty and sit in the car park at Moeraki Boulders eating in a leisurely fashion, right up to the arrival of a busload of Chinese tourists. Carpark? Chinese tourists? A lot has changed since I was here as a kid.
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