Here I am, back on home territory, feeling like a fish out of water and finding it hard to readjust. The initial diversion of fixing things that had broken in my absence has now diminished, and boredom is rapidly setting in. My life before me now is a blank sheet, a total contrast to the well-planned previous 4 months. I need a project.
As with my Rockies trip, all the researching and planning prior to my trek had been handsomely rewarded. I had built the right amount of slack into my itinerary to enhance my journey through extra sights and activities along the way.
The main objective of the trip was the exploration of New Zealand, but my trip was enriched through stopovers on the long-haul journeys. It was good to see Marcia, my Californian artist friend, during the initial 5 days in San Francisco. It was an enjoyable cultural experience touring around the art galleries getting an artist's viewpoint, quite stimulating, and an excellent way to swing into the holiday mood. I still get a buzz out of this splendid city, even though I had spent considerable time here in 2010. Maybe it was the company.
Later on I spent a week in Sydney, a lively vibrant city with a fascinating history, and possessing a detectable air of brashness rendering it not quite as friendly as New Zealand. Unfortunately a bug laid me low for a while in this dynamic city, leaving me hankering to see the rest of what it and its environs have to offer.
Hong Kong was electrifying, a city of contrasts. Here, crowded, poverty ridden districts sat cheek by jowl with modern up-market developments. Integration between seemingly disparate social groups was seamless. The city buzzed with vibrant vitality, and it never seemed to sleep, it was like a drug on the senses. Anyone visiting Hong Kong should visit the rich cultural centres both inside the city, and also outside in the New Territories and outlying islands. Once again my stay was enriched by sharing it with Dan, who is always good company. Although we had a lovely time in this magnificent city, I must confess to not totally understanding the Chinese way of life. I imagine it would take a while to crack that aspect; the language barrier proving a real obstacle. I could quite happily spend more time in Hong Kong; soaking up its atmosphere and culture, and learning about its people.
The bulk of the trip, indeed the whole purpose, was to explore and experience New Zealand. The sheer beauty of the varied landscapes and coastlines, the diverse geology, and the pristine wildernesses exceeded my expectations. It was all crammed into an area little larger than Britain, and remained clean and unspoiled. Cities and towns were scaled down versions of their European counterparts.
Most of the nation is sparsely populated, boosted during the summer season through legions of tourists. Tourism is a mainstay of the economy, and New Zealand has done well to provide accessibility to the natural wonders and adrenalin fuelled activity centres. I was most impressed with the campsites in this country, cheap with splendid facilities, possessing amply kitted out communal kitchens which served as excellent meeting points with like-minded travellers.
Despite heavily pushing its tourist attractions, the nation sadly does not put much credence into preserving its heritage. Available funding is diverted into large cultural centres, at the expense of less provincial areas; the Forgotten World Highway and Oamaru being but two examples. Even though the country is relatively young, I did find its history fascinating, be it the exploration, settling, whaling or mining phases. Its struggle in having to come to terms with its colonisation of a land, once the home of Polynesian settlers, was intriguing and still on-going.
For me, my fondest memories of this land were not of the multiple natural wonders, but of its people. This was a country full of down-to-earth, unpretentious, genuine, easy-going folk gifted with a mischievous sense of humour; a land full of friendly, sociable and helpful people who all have time for each other. When I talked with people from Christchurch, I also discovered a core of humility and resilience; not one of them whinged about their lot, they just rolled up their sleeves and got on with life.
Outside the nation there is a conception that New Zealand is 20 years behind the rest of the world. My experience is that on the whole, this is strictly a misconception, apart from one factor. The race emulates a Britain I knew of earlier times, when people had time for each other and were courteous towards one another. I have many fond memories of the Kiwis I have met along the way and their warmth.
In terms of travelling on my own through this wonderful land, did I ever feel lonely? It has been an interesting exercise to make comparisons with my Rockies trip. In New Zealand, I did not find myself in places of extreme isolation as I did in the Rockies, it was almost impossible not to cross paths with like-minded hikers and travellers in New Zealand. But being out of contact with humanity doesn't really bother me, it doesn't engender loneliness in me. Despite having more contact with humanity, I occasionally felt loneliness more acutely than in the Rockies. I have had time to ponder on this matter, and have come up with my own theory which I may share sometime.
Yet having analysed that part of my life, I still am no closer to answering the vexing question of whether I want to spend the rest of my days living in my own space.
My thoughts on New Zealand in a nutshell: I loved every minute of it, and it is one of the few places on earth I could call "home".
Once again, I have been privileged to make such a journey, to share it with others I have met on the way, and to share it with those who have read my scribblings. My life becomes richer as I tick things off my "bucket list". I hope my jottings have enriched you, and motivated you to go and follow your dreams. Perhaps our paths will cross on our adventures.