A Rocky Start

Dear New Zealand,

we had a bit of a rough time to start with. Despite the ups and downs I am ready to love you like the day I arrived. Just next time before you take me on the extra shaker adventure, would you mind asking before? I appreciate your hospitality of full catering and luxury accommodation in 60 bed dorms and student villages respectively. Plus the camp vibes in a town cut off from the world; the sense of community second to none while the majestic snow-capped peaks sparkle as bright as ever. Honestly, this was much more than I could ever have hoped for when arriving here. Most of all, it’s another lesson of Why Plannning is A Waste Of Time. And why catastrophes can still end up as beautiful days.

Before.

Finally here, in the land that has fuelled my fantasy, that has called me across the globe. Christchurch as a city may not be the most beautiful – still scattered with ruins from the 2011 earthquake, yet a centre of hope with all these rebuilt streets. What carried me away from the first moment was the New Zealand coffee and food culture (contrasting Australia!). And the chocolate… Nothing else than surfing could have reconfirmed stronger that this is my place to be. A beautiful day out with gorgeous waves, rainbows and coffee. Another day strolling through the city, finding another free museum by accident, and it’s about time to get into the countryside.

In Akaroa I first encounter the 100% Pure New Zealand. On the hilly volcanic Banks Peninsula its French vibes reflect the first settlers some 150 years ago. I was glad to stay for three nights – a homely hostel and an abundance of amazing trails. The Skyline Circuit lived up to its name, a 800m climb over 15km to Stony Peak. What a view, and a feeling of achievement. Like Edmund Hillary on Everest for sure! Also, I couldn’t miss out on the nature cruise through the fjord. Stunning cliffs, tiny penguins and Hector Dolphins up close proved it well worth the time.

When I decided to head up the coast to Kaikoura I would have hardly imagined how things would work out. For once, this incredible vista of turquoise water and snow-capped mountains. After a coffee I enjoyed my home-to-be for three weeks on a bike ride along the endless black pebble beach. Dolphins close to shore welcomed me, and I felt home in the quirky hostel right away.
The next days let me doubt my decision – rain day in day out. Which meant, in return, spending lots of time with the hostel guests and crew playing weird and fun games, and having hot chocolate.

The Day.

After what seemed an eternity the rain stopped, to make way for a beautiful Sunday. An early morning trip surfing the renowned break of Mangamaunu was followed by pancakes, the daily cleaning routine and a gorgeous day just hanging out with new friends. How could we tell that at midnight things would never be the same again. I was just washing dishes in the kitchen when the power went out, and the earth began to shake. Let me tell you, magnitude 7.5 ain’t a children’s carousel. For an eternity the world seemed to crash down, until a short pause that let me run out. We gathered and headed uphill, some in boxers and barefoot. Still not sure what had just happened and turned things upside down, we settled outside to await the sunrise. The longest night, while the aftershocks kept coming.

After.

Morning came with the certainty that we wouldn’t just go back to normal. The first news confirmed total annihilation of the highways, and with a tsunami warning things looked bleak. This was the time when heroes started standing out. Taking care of hundreds of stranded tourists and homeless locals, the Red Cross, Civil Defense and spontaneous volunteers did an incredible job. We owe them never-ending gratitude for sheer superhuman efforts, probably not getting any sleep that week but keeping us well-fed and warm.

What would you expect of that situation you never even considered to happen, let alone be in the epicentre? Probably not a ukulele jamming session while media were broadcasting the biggest natural disaster of the year just next by. However, our hostel crew of about 15, from all over the world, created an incredible vibe. True, the shrinking supplies of drinking water weren’t comfortable, but this community was priceless. Welcome to the Kaikoura Festival and the Albatross family.

Never Walk Alone.

Evacuations started right away and the sound of military helicopters would never be missed. While some of us were camping or staying in the Maori community hall, like me, nobody felt comfortable returning to the hostel. We did a bit of cleaning up, mostly removing the chaos from the kitchen and taking all foods and our stuff.

Most astonishing for everyone were the feast meals that volunteers put up every day. Local crayfish and abalone shellfish for free – not even I could miss out on that. When it became clear that there was nothing for us to do, or help with, half of our crew decided to sign up for evacuation by military ship. Another day of waiting to embark, until the Steel Box aka HMNZS Canterbury took us back to Christchurch, during another sleepless night. As sad as we all felt about leaving Kaikoura and our folks, the excitement about running water, a shower and single rooms was endless.

Back to Solid Ground

An earthquake sure does a great deal of bonding folks! Back to the city, we enjoyed free meals, had way too much lasagne, cake, coffee and pancakes and I realized NZ university life is just so much better than in Germany. Especially with this crew (despite missing the other half).
Another trip to surf in Sumner, cheerful nights playing pool and a trip to the local Irish pub dancing the night away, and that was it for our free adventure tour. Time to part ways, and never it was more painful. The last epic day was our road trip over Arthurs Pass, heading to the West Coast.

No matter the hardships, the sunburn and thirst, the anxiety and endless times waiting, the aftershocks – for meeting this crew and spending such wonderful times I wouldn’t change things in the world. Travel is the most pure form of life, the ups higher and downs lower. Most of all, it’s just movements. Not a moment of standing still.

Next: West Coast

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