I had decided to walk back to the airport, which was where the Stray bus was departing from. According to Miki, my host, the walk was about 20 minutes. However, it seemed he forgot to factor in the fact that I was carrying what may as well have been an obese baby elephant on my back. It took me a little longer than expected, but I eventually reached the pick up point with time to spare.
Now all I had to do was wait. And it was quite a nerve-wracking wait. Usually the wait for a bus consists of thinking ‘where is this bloody bus?’. But this was more of an existential crisis wait. What was the protocol? Who would be on the bus? Where would I sit? Should I put on a grinning holiday face, or a standard commuter face?
If anything, the feeling reminded me of the moments before entering my first year university accommodation. You’re about to be stuffed into an enclosed space for a prolonged period of time with strangers you don’t know at all. You don’t know what it looks like on the inside. And someone has already stolen your cheese. Well, in the case of travelling, someone has stolen your cheese, but you have no idea who because the hostel is so big. (To confirm, I have never had my cheese stolen, that I know of anyway).
The bright orange bus finally rolled up, and I edged closer like a raccoon sneaking towards a family picnic. A gaggle of people stumbled off, so I made a half-hearted attempt to integrate into the crowd. In a cool twist of fate, I found myself next to an Austrian girl who would eventually become one of my friends for the duration of my time in New Zealand, and to this day. Veronika and myself were the only new people getting on the bus at this pick-up point, whereas everyone else had been on it for weeks at the most and a couple of days at the least, so naturally cliques had already formed.
Having already made a friend, I stepped aboard with heightened confidence, only to find that the bus was rather packed. I managed to find an aisle seat next to a Swiss guy called Florian. I soon realised that whilst amiable enough, Florian was not in the mood for talking, and to be honest, I was happy with that for the moment. It was time to take in what was happening and enjoy the view.
And what a view it was. As we drove up the coast towards Kaikoura, on the eastern side of the South Island, I saw vast mountain ranges emerge to meet the sea road along which we travelled. My first impression of New Zealand’s landscape was that it was Wales 2.0. A Wales on steroids. Everything reminded me of Wales, but much bigger and better. To complement these views, I was able to stare thoughtfully out the window to the mellow sounds of Ben Howard, thanks to Lolly’s (the bus driver) excellent taste in music.
Just before reaching Kaikoura, a huge pod of dolphins came to the surface in the bay, not far from the road itself. The icing on the cake.
Upon arrival, we were assigned our rooms at the hostel, which was called ‘The Lazy Shag’. This cheeky and subtly pure filth double entendre was fortunately depicted on a sign as a bird chilling in a deckchair, and not the other version of a lazy shag. I was placed into a mixed room of 8 and managed to snare a bottom bunk for easy bag access. Soon after, I got chatting with Sine, a 19 year old girl from Germany, and Laura, a 20 year old French girl who was the very the definition of French. She had a fantastic accent not unlike that of Thierry Henry. We decided to head into the town and check it out. I was getting quite tired of people, but at the same time I really wanted to explore, and it was with this thirst for adventure that I managed to put on my fake extrovert face for a bit.
Walking towards the main drag in Kaikoura, I couldn’t help but feel I was in the middle of a bad joke. A German, a Frenchwoman, and an Englishman walk into a bar. You get the idea. Kaikoura is a small town, with a couple of shops, bars, and a number of fishing establishments. We decided to eat at a fish and chip shop that had been recommended to us by Lolly, and soon enough we were gorging ourselves on some half decent chippy delights. I lectured Sine and Laura on the finer points of British fish and chip culture, such as the traditional method of newspaper wrapping. Looking back, they must have wondered what they had done in a past life to be stuck with an Englishman moaning about the lack of Daily Mail as a chip receptacle. Incidentally, that’s all the Daily Mail is good for.
Once back at the hostel, some people opted to go on the activity for the evening, which was a ‘fishing trip’. I say ‘fishing trip’ because the main appeal was not really the fishing, but instead the appeal of virtually unlimited wine at the fisherman’s residence for $10 or so. As good a deal as this was, I didn’t feel up to being around people any more. It had been a socially exhausting day indeed. However, I realised that I had no obligations to spend time with these new people. I could do whatever I wanted when not on the bus. Introvert or not, sometimes social obligations aren’t really obligations. To quote Peter Parker in Spiderman 3: ‘Whatever comes our way, whatever battle we have raging inside us, we always have a choice.’
Instead, I went for a stroll along the pebble beach, and found a spot to take it all in. I pulled out my journal and wrote the notes which make up this writing today. The sun began to set, and I sat alone on the beach, with not a soul in sight. At that moment, that was my perfection.
Track of Day 10 – Keep Your Head Up // Ben Howard