Monday, 7 December 2015

Akaroa: a small escapade

"Not all those who wander are lost" - J.R.R. Tolkien
Wanderlust. Most of us have felt it at one point in our lives, that indescribable longing to be more than just a fixed doll in a daily routine at a specific set of coordinates on earth. We need routine to create a sense of being in control of our own lives. There is something absurdly comforting about knowing what will happen next. This tightly-knitted schedule that will tell us exactly what to do. Wake up early on Mondays till Fridays. Eat lunch at a pre-ordered time of day. Be rebellious during the weekends by sleeping in. There's too much to think about throughout our lives, and planning is not a task enjoyed by many of us.

At one point, however, we seek more. We call it a break. We want to see beyond that tree at the corner of our street. Weren't our great-great-great-to-the-power-of-x-grandparents nomads? We want to go into the woods, feel adventurous, or imagine ourselves as a tropical addition to those postcard-like environments with sun-kissed skin and scorching-hot sand between our toes. Of course, no one really tells us that the sand will make your feet cry and that the ocean isn't always at room temperature, but who cares, we're not confined by those same four walls with silly posters from our teenage life anymore. It's an accomplishment.

This little buddy is there to take us on an adventure.

That sign ain't big enough to stop us from wandering! ;)

Just a small bush-walking distraction while we were on the road.

Akaroa is realistic but fancy enough to serve as an escape from concrete and skyscrapers. The road from Christchurch to this little town by the sea is hilly enough to consider it an adventure. I was lucky enough to have a driver, but otherwise I could've taken a shuttle bus throughout all of these 75 kilometres, and I'm sure I would have seen plenty sheep with this service as well. It's indeed true that New Zealand is full of sheep, or at least the parts I've gone through. I've seen a sheep each day, and one time I was lucky enough to spot an alpaca along the highway.



We drove from Christchurch, through the hill, to Little River, which is literally a town that consists of a souvenir shop and a few other shops. I had my historic moment of eating Hokey Pokey icecream there, which apparently is a kiwi thing (New Zealanders like to call themselves kiwis, not like the fruit, but the bird). It's basically vanilla ice cream with toffee bits mixed throughout it, but it's a good thing to try some of the local stuff. I never really understand people who travel abroad and eat Mc Donalds. But then again, that's me, wrinkling my nose at all of these international companies taking away authenticity from each country they encounter. It is convenient, I'll have to admit, especially if you're a local, but sometimes as a tourist I get kind of sick of seeing Mc Donalds and H&M everywhere.


Anyway. From Little River onwards we probably passed many more towns, but none at which we pulled over, as I was too busy spotting sheep and photographing mountains. Or hills (to me, everything that's a big belly of land is a mountain to me, simply because the Netherlands is so flat). I spoiled myself with more shutter-spamming than usual because I got my hands on this fancy, heavy-lensed Canon camera which I had no idea how to operate. I was just sticking my head out of the window like a dog and clicked till every scene seemed the same to me. On automatic, of course. That's the way (only to come back home and realise that most pictures turned out too dark, but that's why we have so many photo-editing tools nowadays).


Me being awkward when asked to pose and I've got no idea what to do.

But then there was water. A big pool of water, from which Akaroa would watch us. We spun around what was called Akaroa Harbour until we finally reached the foot of the hill, where we'd drive through the only trace of French settlement in New Zealand. A street wasn't simply a street, it was 'la rue [insert-something-French-here]'. The French language has cast this magical spell on many dreamers, it's almost a pity I didn't take full advantage of my 4-years of French class during secondary schoiol, as I mostly recall how to introduce myself. And oh, my favourite sentence: 'Vous n'avez pas un coeur'. You do not have a heart. Non, je ne regriette rien. Thank music to those two sentences, not French class.


Getting closer and closer to Akaroa...


And here it is, a town-y cuty.


But we're in New Zealand, not France. The houses in Akaroa are quite different from those in Christchurch, as they are mostly pastel or light-coloured, reminiscent of those in south-European countries. You'd probably see it all within a few hours since the city isn't that big. You'll encounter some souvenir shops with tea towels, New Zealand's beloved Paua Shell, or the more average stuff such as key chains that no one really uses. The main attraction of the city is probably its harbour, where nature cruises take off so that you may swim with dolphins or enjoy being sprayed by sea water as you speed through the sea.


Black Cat Cruises offered these things. 72 dollars for a 2-hour trip without being a mermaid. Converted back to Euros it is an okay price. I got to see all these things that makes a tourist squeal in excitement: the photogenic combination of rocks and water, dolphins and seals. Click click click. Another few hundred pictures saved on my borrowed camera. It's easy to fall in love with nature. Its grandeur, its colours, its serenity. It all just makes sense while dazzling us with amazement, whereas humans almost have to be dissected for people to realise their beauty if this is not apparent on the outside. It's sad to admit, but that's simply what nature is built on: beauty and order.


So, the boat. I might have gone a bit overboard this time as I usually don't pay money for these kind of things. Sydney always offers these cruises with promises of seeing whales but I never really bothered. Then again I didn't go on the cruise for the dolphins, I actually didn't even expect to see any. I just love the smell and sound of the sea. I still remember sitting on a rock at Bondi beach with nothing but the sound of crashing waves and the smell of seawater (subtly filtering out the sound of tourists). Nature just has this ability to calm us down, perhaps because it is such a huge contrast from the sights and sounds we face on a day-to-day basis. Of course I shouldn't glamorise things too much as there's always the far-too-strong wind and gust of salt as the boat speeds through the water. Then again, petty complaints. I am happy with my pictures. Water is simply magnificent. Recently I just realised it must be one out of a very few things that is probably indestructible, as it adjusts to the environment and takes different shapes.



Taking pictures of animals is a whole other story. Like I said, I didn't expect to see dolphins, so when they suddenly emerged from the water I tried with all my might to get a picture of a dolphin in mid-air, just like those pictures on postcards. I guess I am lucky enough to get a picture of a dolphin while it's not underwater. Since they're so smart and are able to communicate with each other, I sometimes wonder what they're thinking as they tease tourists. I wonder if they're aware that we're so desperate to get a glimpse of them. These dolphins were certainly playful:

This is what it's like trying to capture these mischievous dolphins.


But hey, if the dolphins aren't willing to cooperate, there are always enough other things to photograph, right? I am particularly happy of one shot I got of a pair of seagulls. The thing I love most about carrying an SLR camera is that I am able to zoom in and still get crisp images. The colours can still turn out a bit unpredictable, though. I've found many different shades of the waters in my pictures, and I am not quite sure which one reflected reality anymore. All I remember was that it was crisp and reflective, nothing like anything I'd ever see in the Netherlands.

HA! Gotcha.

Spot the seal. I swear it's there.

See the seal now? This one is less camouflaged.

All in all, I am glad I went to Akaroa, the blue shadeshave just marked their territory in my memory of New Zealand. The sea is everywhere, yet it takes so many different shades and has such a different temper where ever you go. I am not surprised that it has inspired so many poets and painters. All I can say is that I am in awe.

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