Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Road trippin'

Just as I saw Tasmania, I've seen New Zealand from behind the wheel. But I have not seen the same. I expected to. I was wrong.

I expected Kiwiland to be a "bigger, better, uncut" version of Tassie, with LOTR seasoning. I expected more nature, higher mountains, bigger lakes, wider rivers, higher waterfalls, greener landscapes, denser, thicker, lusher forests.

I kept comparing what I saw with what I was expecting to see, and everything kept looking so wrong and out of place. I finally had to surrender and accept the overwhelming visual evidence: Kiwiland is different.

Southland is mountainous, but mostly barren and dressed in yellow, ochre and khaki. Fiordland (the southwesternmost chunk) is the only part where mountain meets forest, and meets my expectations of "more". That is not to say Southland is not beautiful as well. When a new dawn dips the mountaintops in molten gold and soft waves wash the shores of a lake of pure aquamarine, no comparison can be had.

Northland is really beautiful in itself and closer to what I expected. And still, everything feels so... European-ish. Most forests I've been through, on both islands, were pine trees, and blackberries were easy to find. Roads are, just as in Tasmania, lined with roadkill, but it's still such a European sort. Rabbits, possums and the occasional bird or cat. No wallabies, no wombats, no pademelons in NZ. No marsupials at all, originally, until the introduction of the possum.

Most of the land I passed through was Cattle Country. On the golden hills, from behind fences on both sides of the road, paranoid sheep spring away and cows look at you with chewy apathy. Most of the northern part of Northland is Volcanic Country, which means that everywhere you go it smells like badly rotten eggs. There are a thousand "Volcanic Wonderland" parks along the road, where you can amble through the sulphuric fumes and take your pictures with the mud pools.

When you spend so long "on the road", you can't fail to have an opinion on the quality of the roads you travel. Kiwi roads are also narrow and frequently winding, with no sealed shoulders and less overtaking lanes than necessary. The speed limit is officially topped at an annoying 100km/h, but fortunately there are no speed cameras anywhere, so doing 140 is pretty common, when the slow trucks and sharp curves allow it.

The best thing about driving in Kiwi is that camping is such a big thing here. There are many free campgrounds in the most touristed areas, and on most stretches of main roads, "picnic" areas where you can stop to rest or to pass the night are plentiful, often every 10km or so. Sleeping in my car was so easy here.

This has been my longest road trip so far, incorporating the most nights in a row sleeping in a car. It was a good drive. But a long one as well. I've had enough for now. I'm tired.


maw said...

No wonder you're tired after all this rush. Time will come - very soon, you should agree - to slow down, take a deep breath and let things settle, sink in, yield fruit

MakurA said...

Mola leer estos posts imaginando que estuvieran en la Guía Michelín. Me imagino a un tipo con gafas y bigote leyendo en acento inglés y con cara de tener un palo metido por el culo y me resulta gracioso.

Serán las horas.

Serán las "znbzq" con tipografía tipo "Zoolander" (Te juro que las letras son las mismas!) xDDD