The air was crisp and thick, the sunlight overwhelming and unrelenting. Night inside my head had become day everywhere else. The world felt unchanged, yet strangely different, like a parallel universe that had diverged from the former one only very recently. People were people and cars were cars, but the people acted sunny and the cars drove on the other side. The face in the moon was turned on its head, and the constellations were new and exotic. I felt, on every level, that down was up and up was down, and that the only way to proceed was to simply follow the rabbit hole, into the world down under.
We landed in Sydney in a blood-red, hazy twilight after 20 hours of airplane time, including the longest flight of my life of over 14 hours. Covering a distance of nearly 20000 kilometers in just a day doesn’t feel in any way natural, and the jetlag it incurs is crushing. I’ve always enjoyed bragging that jetlag doesn’t affect me, that I am somehow able to adjust my biorhythm to any time zone change. Well, I’m happy to report that I am very much like everyone else when it comes to literally flipping the day around. Luckily, Maria and I were staying at Bondi Beach, the world-famous surfer’s beach that encourages sleeping and lazing through the day.
Those first days were turbulent, as we also needed to arrange a place to live in Sydney in just 48h hours. We found a lovely top-floor apartment in a shared house just off the north shore beach of Manly and met Karen who received us incredibly kindly into her garden paradise that we’ll be lucky to call home from January onwards. It seems like I’ll need to get used to those pesky after-work surfing sessions…
The actual December destination however wasn’t Australia, but even further down and more under. New Zealand is a country whose mysterious appeal speaks to the imagination of many. It’s about as far as one can get away from Europe before getting closer again. Made famous by featuring in the best-regarded fantasy trilogy of the last century, it carries a rich history of indigenous population and Western settlement. I was surprised to learn that the earliest human inhabitants of the island nation arrived only 800 years ago, in the form of sea-faring Polynesian explorers on massive canoes capable of crossing the open ocean between places like Tahiti and Hawaii. The Maori natives established themselves all over the north and south islands of Aotearoa (NZ), only to be rediscovered 600 year later by Captain Cook, a British explorer who was actually looking for Terra Australis. Where have we heard that before…
vNew Zealand got its Western name through a pre-Cook Dutch expedition, relating it back to the southern Dutch province of Zeeland. Having lived next to the latter for most of my life and having only been in the former for little over a week, I can already say that Z and NZ have almost nothing in common except their name. Auckland on the north island may be the lushest modern city I have encountered, with massive trees, palms and wild flowers shooting out of the ground all around, heavily scented and encouraged to grow by the year-long mild climate. It’s an eclectic place, a mix-and-match between steely American high-rises, wooden colonial mansions, and everything in between. Spread out over multiple peninsulas and permeated by water all around, it’s a breezy, liberal and easy-going metropolis.
The degree of indigenous integration into society is noticeable by the bilingual (Maori/English) public signs and many other subtleties all around. It is said that NZ is one of the more successful stories of harmonious cohabitation between natives and settlers following Western Imperialism. However, learning about the first treaties between Maori chiefs and Western emissaries that decided on matters such as individual governance and sovereignty, it is almost comically clear that the superior might of the British Empire would tolerate no significant movements for true independence and statehood.
The birthplace of New Zealand, where both the Polynesians-Maori and Captain Cook first arrived, is called the Bay of Islands, and it’s where we headed next. About 200km north of Auckland, it’s… a bay with islands. But that’s where ordinary comparisons end. This northern archipelago is a sailor’s and swimmers paradise, with hundreds of beaches hidden away across dozens of large and small islands, reachable by boat, paddleboard or kayak. Like any northerner arriving to a tropical beach destination, getting the tan was high on the list of priorities. But tanning down under is different as well. The reduced thickness of the ozone layer means that the sun’s radiation is vastly more potent. You can almost feel the tingle of alpha radiation seeping into your skin while lying in the sand. To avoid the Chernobyl tan, factor 30 doesn’t cut it. Factors 50+ are commonplace, and 20 or below is not even sold. I realized that complaining about the sun being too powerful when coming from Denmark in winter is not going to be sympathized with very much, just saying, island life can be hard as well.
We spent nearly a week here, swimming, eating good food, taking an amazing trip on a sailboat called “She’s a Lady” with a fantastic skipper who showed us around the islands, spotting tropical fish and penguins along the way! We rented a twin kayak and paddled between tiny islands looking for secluded beaches. I had the brilliant plan to launch my drone from the kayak mid-sea and fly it while Maria was paddling in the rear, resulting in an almost instantaneous seagull attack on the drone and the boat. Lesson 3 in flying class: trying to land a 30cm drone in the palm of your hand, on open seas, while sitting in a bumpy kayak that has birds swarming around and snapping at your head and at the paddle Maria is using to defend us…. It was quite the achievement that we didn’t end up in the water, and a near miracle that the drone didn’t either.
So we’ve come out of the gate strong. Over the next few weeks it’s onward and downward across the north island, renting a car and driving it on the left (!), to explore some of the many treasures this Middle Earth has to offer.
December 13th, 2019