Why does that remind of the lost Raj Kapoor song “Around the world in 8 dollars”? It all started with my young boy persuading to take a vacation during Diwali. “See, Karnataka day and Diwali, so I get 10 days off if I take 5 days leave”, Not sure of the math, but his persuasion skills worked. We debated from South Korea (who in their right mind takes a vacation in Korea), Japan (hmmm, maybe another time), Australia (spending Diwali in Summer, no) and New Zealand. New Zealand won (not the world cup). A month of planning and discussions and bookings. You guys should drive in NZ, traffic is non-existent and gives you flexibility. Again, the persuasion skill worked and we (I mean I) decided to drive through the country.
Since we are a family spread across the West, East and Southern regions, decided to meet at the capital to embark on the actual journey. Our first stop was the windy city, Auckland. November is supposed to be technically summer in the southern hemisphere but looks like nobody informed Auckland. A blast of cold air greeted us as we landed. Watering eyes, jackets and hoodies in place, we found an Indian Uber driver to drive us to our apartment. After a sumptuous lunch of puri and sabji (vegetarian Indians never travel without their puris and theplas?), wandered to the harbor side to take some pics. All well, except that the hair was in a constant mess, and standing to pose for photos was tough as the wind seemed determined to blow us off (I am thinking Marilyn Monroe for no apparent reason). Auckland proved a very lively city with a young vibrant crowd, beautiful parks and harbors and a nightlife lasting till wee hours.
Couple of days later, we had to pick up our car. Now, I was a trifle apprehensive, not having driven in another country for long many years. Here we are. Ok, now how does it start, where do I insert the key? Not finding a keyhole after a thorough search, realization dawned, it is a button start. Now that engine is purring, why isn’t it moving? You need to release the brake, you silly cow! A few minutes later, Oh hell, slow down, this aint your country, dear. Where the hell is the clutch? It is called automatic gears, idiot. My legs were already stressed out. Fit the GPS, how the hell do you look at the GPS, rear view mirror, and windshield, I can’t rotate my head so many degrees. Where is the nasty fellow who persuaded me? I panic when I encounter drivers following rules and not honking, you can’t believe how stressful peaceful driving can be!
Following traffic rules was not a big deal, I am one of the few morons who does that in India as well. Except that I was thoroughly confused at the roundabout. Who has the right of way? (what is right of way, by the way, and by which way?) By Indian standards, there was plenty of room and I entered the roundabout, cutting off an angry lady, who decided to teach me a lesson. She stopped and gave me a stern lecture on “how-to drive in NZ” “do you even know the rules”. Sorry sorry ma’m. Ears burning, I decided to let everyone else in the country takes precedence and was subject to quite a few honks when I went full-stop at every roundabout from irate people behind me.
Drove through live volcanic regions and waterfalls, empty windy beaches and desert, curvy and straight roads, the length of north island all the way down to Wellington. The beauty of the country can’t be described in words or captured in photos. You have to see with your own eyes. The cleanest country I have ever seen, (so clean, dustbins are rare too) sparsely populated and ever-changing landscape. Felt like Britain of the South, strong European influence, with Westminster and Windsor, even a Stonehenge.
Enjoyed staying on the beachfront at Wellington. Most people seemed very health conscious running the length of harbor in the middle of the day. Typical Airbnb apartments in the country are tiny, one bedroom and living area converted to three- four people living space and quite expensive in city centers. Some of them so crowded, you could hardly move without falling on the beanbags which seems to be a trend. Apartments, hotels, cafes, airports, you can find beanbags thrown around everywhere.
Flew to the heart of South Island- Queenstown. It was literally touch and go. The plane touched (almost) the runway thrice and went back twice. Landed in the third attempt. The gale was too strong and the runway too small. But man, what a view. Drastic change from North island, flying through southern Alps with snow peaked tops and glaciers was breathtaking. Queenstown is a tiny tourist town filled only with pubs and adventure sports. With a breathless husband struggling to trot uphill and rains all the time (and snowing a few kilometers away), we ziplined with soaking shoes through the massive trees and waited for the weather to clear to fly to Milford Sound. A cool cruise through the fjord surrounded by snow-capped mountains and waterfalls, watching dolphins and seals, (and listening to gujus chirping on the deck); flying to the location in our very own private plane was the highlight of the whole tour, with a pilot who looked every inch the twin of Owen Wilson.
Vacations don’t last forever. A day in Christchurch and its parks and it was time to fly back. Hold on. The story isn’t done yet.
I had to travel to San Diego in the US of A. Off-line to Off-site. Crossing the Pacific, and the date line. I was massively thrilled with the idea of living two complete Sundays, one while flying, and another in US, because I was going to land before I flew off. Crazy, isn’t it? I kept waiting for the time machine whrrr sound and the bump and motion that would indicate I had gone back in time. What I still have not figured out is whether getting two back to back Sundays made me a day older or stopped my ageing for a day.
Walking is the best way to absorb new places and take in its culture. Every day we walked almost 10-12 kilometers easily. But the airports felt I did not get enough exercise and made me run. Flight delays, fear of missing an international connection, run run, huffing and puffing, luggage and all. Happened towards US and from US. Lesson learnt, 2 hours transit time is never enough, not when I am on the flight.
San Diego, Del Coronado hotel, one of the oldest in the city, home to many celebrities across decades, supposedly haunted, with miles of beach and enough of Sun to recover from the cold damp weather of previous week. A week of Sun and beach (a little work) and visits to downtown was a perfect finale to the journey. Some minor hiccups when one night my air conditioning gave way (the nights were still cold) and I needed to wear my jacket and socks to sleep, and another day a belt mysteriously appeared in my room (maybe it was the ghost’s gift, or the housekeeping’s tryst).
Finally flew back to India, amidst flight delays and traffic jams to land back at home 20 days hence. Since I got two Sundays, should that be 21 days? With tired knees, swollen shins, confused stomach, gigabytes of media and unforgettable memories.