If you’re ever staying in a foreign country for any extended period of time, let me just say that it really pays to purchase a car, rent a car, eagerly befriend a car owner, steal a car, become a stellar hitchhiker, accept a life from a tattooed motorcyclist (or do they like to call themselves bikers?), seduce a chauffeur and use him for his wheels…. Whatever floats your boat. I was never really into the whole car/driving thing – never felt compelled to possess the most souped-up ride, or go for a drive to blow off steam, or see a truck as a means of escape. However, since I’ve lived in New Zealand, I’ve begun to understand all the teenage drivers-license fervor and the full appeal of road movies: cars are not just gas-guzzling, possum-crushing hunks of metal – they are gateways to endless possibility and opportunity. They are the magic carpets that can whisk you away to a whole new world… the doorways to adventure and promise. They are Freedom!
At the very least, cars are a way to leave behind the clutches of a city like Dunedin, and to explore the multiple treasures that New Zealand has to offer. In the realm of vehicular accessibility, I consider myself quite lucky. As of yet, I haven’t needed to risk a ride with a bearded trucker named Buck, and I’ve still made it out of town every weekend in recent memory. One of my wonderful flatmates bought a used car when she first arrived, and we have mercilessly used and abused the low-riding (go slow over the bumps!) SwagWag for weekly – sometimes biweekly or triweekly – adventures.
This weekend’s gallivanting took us (“us” being me, my two flatmates, this girl named Tuna, our neighbor, and our neighbor’s friend/acquaintance. Girl Trip.) to Christchurch. On the way, we stopped at the Moeraki Boulders and Fleur’s Place, thus satisfying our road-tripper’s desire for unique views and delectable food.
In Christchurch, we shared a hostel room with two rather stinky men. Maybe it was natural odor, maybe it was an unfortunately concocted cologne, maybe it was raging pheromones… whatever the case, I would have been happier with a window and/or working fan (that particular ceiling appliance was a glorious carrot snatched away by faulty electronics and sub-par building upkeep). But I really couldn’t complain: I was in a new city with new friends and the sun was shining.
That night, we ventured to the seaside and walked along a multi-colored lit bridge in the darkness. I found a playground and decided to relive some childhood memories. Meanwhile, my flatmate found a dead (dying?) seagull on the beach and held a sad vigil. The next morning, we woke up early (too early. At an ungodly hour) and drove to the beach to watch the sunset. Either the sun decided to rise in the West that day or too much fog obscured our view, and we ended up just watching the sky lighten. To help us wake up after that ordeal, we breakfasted at the Red Verandah Café, an utterly delightful eatery with some out-of-this-world eggs benedict. We also frequented a lovely outdoor market and an obscure Thai stand by the road that supposedly has the best Thai food in the city.
In February 2011, Christchurch was racked by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake. 185 people were killed and the Christchurch was significantly damaged. The city is still in recovery. As part of our Christchurch tour, my friends as I went to a Re:START Shipping Container Mall constructed from, you guessed it, shipping containers. The shopping center set-up is innovative as well as architecturally intriguing and aesthetically pleasing. I enjoyed simply walking around and looking at the stores (a fun and free activity for someone whose pocketbook is just not ready to commit to those $200 shoes).
Having for the time being exhausted our exploration of the mall, my friends and I drove two hours up to the famous Hanmer Springs, an small-town oasis whose surroundings were dominated by high hills. Hanmer Springs: geothermal pools meet spa meet Florida waterpark. I have the sneaking suspicion that the town of Hanmer Springs is situated outside the sphere of temperamental New Zealand weather, and rests comfortably inside a bubble of eternal heat and sunshine. During the afternoon, we avoided the hot springs for fear that we’d cook like little pale lobsters (honestly, who really wants to relax in a HOT spring when it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside?). Instead, we became the maniacally laughing and competitive adults who flew down the waterslides with all the kids. On slide was a ridiculously fun tube ride. The rules sign read, “sit forward,” but hey I’m a rule-breaker so I took a running start and jumped onto the innertube on my belly. The lifegaurds at the bottom saw me and, in the way of chill New Zealand attitude, just smiled. One time I went backwards. My flatmate grabbed a two-person tube, laid on it, and had Tuna lay directly on top of her. I’m pretty sure they flipped. I think we’ve got the makings of hardcore criminals.
Tired of all my waterworks playtime, I retired to the waterside and lay in the hot sun reading a book. Pure contentment. Then, in the spirit of the moment, decided to get my first facial which was maybe possibly perhaps not the greatest thing for my sensitive skin. The people made me put on a robe and fluffy disposable sandals, and there was strange lady rubbing my face and I was thinking, “ah, this is a little weird; we hardly know each other… should I awkwardly be making conversation with you?….” and then she started massaging my head and laying hot towels on my face and I was all, “ok. Oh yeah. That feels nice.”
After a quick dinner across the road from the springs, we returned to the –pool park—to test out the sulfur hot springs in the darkening and cooling environment. Very relaxing. Very toasty. And mmm, you gotta love that natural rotten egg scent. The kind of scent that seeps into your pores and leaves you smelling like an old egg salad sandwich throughout the next day and encourages strangers to stay away. The whole smell-that-wards-off-strangers situation inspired my flatmate and me. We decided to start and market a perfume line for ladies who don’t want to get surprise grinded-up-on at clubs. If you want to be left alone, we’ve got the cologne for you. The line will be called “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things,” and will include scents such as “Whiskers On Kittens” (a musky, baby feline smell that says, “I clean myself with my tongue), “Bright Copper Kettles” (for those who want to smell of clean metal, steam, and unapproachability), “Warm Woolen Mittens” (an overwhelming waft of unwashed, sticky, damp, sweltering hand-warmers), and – my personal favorite – “Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String” (a unique flavor of “I’m boring until you try to touch me and then I’m whipping out my twine garrote.”).
All in all, a satisfying and productive trip.