071 / Nice Zealand
071 / Nice Zealand
The first days in New Zealand, I had a feeling that I couldn’t quit explain. Everyday life feels very different here compared to Europe, but I couldn’t put my finger on the reason. I didn’t feel the 19.050 km between Paris and Christchurch when I visited a supermarket (H&S also has the biggest shelf space here…) or when I took a taxi (they feel too expensive everywhere, if you’re not on an expense note) and Ronald McDonald and Nespresso-Clooneys look the same everywhere.
But then it struck me. Most people living in Paris probably remember the day when they took the subway in an extremely good mood. You potentially made the mistake to smile and maybe say “hi” to somebody randomly. The only change you got was an annoyed “Are you crazy”-look. Now that’s exactly where you feel you’re on the other side of the world. Here, people would stop in opposite directions of the motorway to give a high(way) five. Everybody is nice and friendly, without exception. It’s almost worrying… Where are the trouble makers?
When I arrived in Auckland, the public bus made a small detour to drop me off at my hostel. And in my hostel, the owner traded two Lonely Planets because he reckoned they could of better use for me than for him when he heard of my plans. So far so good. Auckland is built on 40 volcanoes, and not all of them are extinct (take that Naples!). That’s probably the only spectacular fact about this city, because besides the harbor, and the surrounding islands, there is not too much to see here. I only stayed one day and took a ferry to Rangitoto Island (I support places with cool names).
The next day I took a flight to Christchurch (on the Southern island of NZ). I choose a hostel where I had the best shot of meeting some “bad guys”. I signed up for the Jailhouse, a hostel that used to be a jail until 1999, with a true prison atmosphere.
On my way there, I found two consecutive streets that gave me the impression they were calling my name. I’ve received mail in the past where the spelling was worse .;-)
When I discovered that everybody in the hostel was lovely again, I decided to rent a bike and go discover the city (it’s about 300K people, 2nd city in NZ). To my surprise, there was a huge free concert in the park. Of course it was a charity concert, where the people of Christchurch raised money to restore the city after last September’s earthquake (7.4 on Richter scale). And because New Zealand people are so generous, they don’t organize one concert when they raise funds, they organize two… Show offs.
Totally discouraged to find some dark side, I want to cycle home when I found a spark of hope. During the concert, somebody had stolen the saddle of my rented bike. Aha… a crime, in New Zealand.
When I clumsily drove home, I was considering my best negotiation option in order not to have to pay too much for the damage. I was ready for some confrontation. Back at the hostel, I showed the bike to the guy at the desk. He smiled in wonder, thinking out loud “who would do something like that”, and then he apologized with me, saying this was obviously not my responsibility, and that he hoped it didn’t cause to much inconvenience for me. I was blown away. These guys are genuinely good, I surrender.
The following day I planned a daytrip with a scenic train to Kaikura (love the name), where 3000m high, snow white mountains end dramatically into the sea. When the free (what else…) shuttle arrived a bit too late, I decided to start walking. All of a sudden there was a guy with a minibus passing by saying “Wouter, is that you? Hop in mate. Sorry for the couple of minutes we’re running late”. Can’t beat them… By the way, Kaikura was amazing.
Today, it was time to leave Christchurch, and take the train across the Southern Alps to the West coast on the most breathtaking train ride I ever had. When I arrived in Greymounth (not a cool name, so I don’t support ;-) I wanted to go to Punakaiki (now, that’s a name) to check out the famous pancake rocks but the options were rather expensive. A shuttle ride ($60), car rental ($100)… I said they were nice, never said that they were cheap! So I decided to finally use their niceness to my favor and to hitchhike. Final conclusion: I rest my case, they ARE nice. After only seconds people took me the 45 km, both ways, offering me candy, some good stories and some travel advice. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.