(Day 26) Tuesday, September 27
Poor form from me. I should have learned from Franz Josef where I nearly missed out on the glacier hike by turning up in reception, shortly before it was due to depart, and finding it full. This time around, I am up at 8 and in reception trying to book on the half day tour of the beautiful Abel Tasman beaches and marine life by water taxi.
“Sorry, my friend. The last bus left at 7.45”
Coffee and back to bed it is then, where I lie in my bunk watching demons swooping low overhead, until they are chased away by the distraction of the Azuri boys getting up to begin their match day.
It’s festivaltastic in Nelson, but it is more village fete than Brazil carnival. And so, I decide to sidestep the jade and T-shirt sellers and sit in the sun by the quay, close to the port, where there isn’t another punter in sight. Miserable bugger.
Yeovil Floozy is, apparently, contemplating flashing her t#t# at tonight’s game and “posting the photos on Facebook”. I must confess that I am beginning to lose it with the Facebook generation. I use Facebook to try and drive traffic to this website but in many ways I wish I had never joined the bloody thing. It does my head in how people use it to show off about things and to try to cheat their partners. The number of stories I have heard of people I know of getting laid using it, and then getting caught and screwing it all up, must run to a dozen. Not only is Facebook a spying tool for governments all over the world but it is also a fantastic way for people to make a mess of their private lives with information and photos they really shouldn’t be sharing with Tom, Dick and Hans. Yes, I am writing very personal stuff and posting it here on More Than a Game, but the difference is that I have total control over content. There is no photo tagging – something that infuriates me – and if I regret writing something, as I have done on a couple of occasions recently, I can return to my blog and amend it accordingly.
There are more thoughts of ‘how did my life get to this point?’ as I stroll down the main street of Nelson to watch the USA v Italy at Trafalgar Park. The General Admissions is nothing more than a field behind the rugby posts where it can’t be much above five degrees, once the sun sets shortly before kick-off. What the hell are you doing here Justin? What set of circumstances and decisions in your life lead up to you being stood here, freezing your ##### off, watching the United States of America’s rugby(!) team play against Italy in New Zealand? Truthfully, and I haven’t admitted this before, I had never in my life paid to go and watch a professional rugby match before I came to New Zealand. Yes, I played and watched amateur rugby when I was at school, but England v Argentina was the first ‘proper’ rugby match I had attended in my life…and now, a couple of weeks on, I am watching a rugby team that is about the footballing equivalent of the Faroe Islands play against a bunch of overweight Italians.
I’m from Saudia Arabia, encourage the Italians
has to be the best supporter placard I’ve seen to date.
The US team puts in a decent first half performance and manages to level the match at 7-7 with a try of their own; the US number 1 doing a convincing impression of a human ox at times. 20-10 at half time, it is still game on, but the Italians grind out a solid defensive performance in the second half and shortly before the ref blows the final whistle at 27-10, I leg it for the warmth of the hostel.
While half of Nelson is out partying, I decide to have a quiet one at the hostel with my 6.30am start in mind. More good chat with some Argie lads staying in the room, I nip downstairs to finish off the remnants of my wine on the veranda. Just as I have my last swig, a young, face-painted American from Chicago stumbles back from town, off his head, and begins asking me all manner of inane questions:
“What is the unemployment like in new Zealand?”
“Why did the clocks change on Sunday?”
“Do you like peanut butter?”
I can sense some dorm-mented behaviour on the cards.
“What room are you staying in?”
“What room am I staying in?”
“Yessss” he slurs, stumbling forward towards me.
“I’m off to bed fella. If I was you, I would head back into town.”
“Yeah, I (burp) will. Good night” and with that he suddenly lurches towards me and tries to launch into a kiss.
Having hung out with a big selection of weirdoes these past few weeks I am fortunately prepared for any random piece of behaviour that might come my way from this lad and am on my toes ready to side step his advances. He could just as easily have swung a punch at me, thrown up over my jacket or suddenly decided to urinate close by. You just never know with the Dorm-mented Crew. FFS! Single for the first time in nearly seven years and the first person who tries to kiss me is a bloke. Talk about a low ebb.
No, I don’t decide to punch him. Instead, I dive for the back door of the hostel and lock it behind me before the Chicago Mincer gets the chance at another shot on goal.
Italy 27 USA 10
(Day 24) Sunday, September 25
Punikaiki – Nelson
Is there a more wonderful sound to hear upon waking, in those first few moments of consciousness in the morning, than that of the wild, untamed ocean crashing against the nearby shoreline? I guess if you have kids, then maybe the sound of their happy voices and laughter might beat it but, of all the myriad of sounds nature provides, this is surely one of the most special.
There are signs up in the showers and toilets reminding anyone staying here that in the early hours of this morning the clocks went forward one hour for daylight saving time. I thought my new-fangled phone would work that one out for me but, apparently not. It is therefore 11am, not 10am as I lazily get myself out of bed and make a pot of coffee to compliment the sea view on the veranda.
Another Californian, Jennie, was apparently staying here overnight, and she had also expected modern technology to automatically take an hour from her life at 2am. We are both consequently an hour late checking out but this isn’t the kind of hostel where they are going to get anal with you about such inconsequential details.
And so, winter in New Zealand turns to spring and, for me, three weeks on from England, summer (with a quick splash of winter in NZ) becomes spring. My body clock and hormones can’t know what has hit them. It will be rather depressing, I’d imagine, to return to Europe at the end of all this when it will be approaching mid-winter, in the same way as I never really adjusted to the depressingly grey winter of Argentina and Chile after leaving the almost white nights of northern Europe behind in late June.
I stick on some New Orleans old time jazz and enjoy this most chilled out of Sunday morning vibes. If I can change my bus ticket and postpone my journey to Nelson until tomorrow, I will do it. Sadly though I soon discover I can only alter my journey more than 24 hours in advance, and a new ticket will set me back around 60 dollars. Budgets dictate.
With time short, I stroll down the absolutely deserted black and grey sand beach to the narrow mouth of a river tributary, where a large sea stack is only twenty metres or so away from the shoreline, being pounded by surf. I love this place. The setting is a little like that in ‘The Beach’, except this is gritty, wild and ‘real’.
The half dozen or so houses that dot the sea shore have been swallowed up by the sheer limestone cliffs, rainforest and boundless ocean as I look back the kilometre or so I have strolled. You can hardly make them out at all. Nobody on earth can hear me here and I am not sure there is anybody who can see me either. The reason I say this is because I am suddenly taken by the idea of singing; of trying to make up a song. Sounds like I’ve really lost the plot this time, doesn’t it? But, this moment; place, is so inspiring and solitary that I genuinely feel inspired to try and create a tune and some words from absolutely nothing. It is not something I have ever done before or felt particularly inclined to. Almost instantly I find a tune and the words just fly out like they were always there, waiting. In fact, I am so taken by my little ditty that I am a little upset to lose those first initial lines and chorus to the crashing ocean. And so, I take out my digital camera, point it in the direction of the white-crested waves, and begin to sing again. Of course, now that I am in my own roofless recording studio, the tune and words don’t come nearly as easily to me. But, I do remember the original chorus, discovered ten minutes earlier. And, I will, at some point, try and put it all together and actually finish this song one day in the future, maybe on an equally deserted beach in the Pacific in October. The inspiration for this tune comes from my recent tumultuous life experiences, a song I recently heard for the first time by Avalanche City, and part of a stoned conversation I had with Californian Matt last night. It is called ‘Unconditional love’, and it will be released some time never.
Dare I say it, but I feel strangely emotional leaving the Beach Hostel, Californian Matt and Punakaiki behind. This kind of genuine peace is so hard to find in my personal world of 2011.
There is just time to explore the Punakaiki pancake rocks and sea stacks before the bus leaves. The full force of nature hits here with blowholes violently blasting the sea water high above the black cliffs into the heavens. It is kind of like Northern Ireland’s Giants’ Causeway gone vertical, instead of horizontal, and with thousands of wild flax and palm trees encroaching on the scene.
The coach departs the pancake rocks and passes the beachside community where I spent a happy 24 hours. Give it five years and this will either be a full-on hippie community or a regular stop on the Gap-year tour around New Zealand. Punakaiki is just too bloody special to be left alone and not spoiled eventually by the money-making potential of mass tourism.
One hour of stunning wild coast line and three additional hours of mountain roads and valleys later and we reach Nelson. I am going to base myself here for three nights so that I can watch the Italy v USA match on Tuesday evening, and to explore the Abel Tasman coastline, before catching the ferry to the North Island on Wednesday. After the serenity of the past few days, Nelson feels more like a huge city than the small town it actually is. In saying that though, its centre, where we get dropped off, feels like a ghost town; I’m almost expecting tumble weeds to put in an appearance as I search for an overnight backpackers with 20 year-old Sarah from England and young Jim from Galway, who were both working in Queenstown for several months and are now headed home via south east Asia.
‘Accents on the Park’ must be one of the world’s poshest backpackers. It is more like a decent hotel. My new friends, truthfully young enough to be my kids (!), very kindly sort me out with some spare beers and I go off in search of a local pub to watch Scotland v Argentina. ‘329’ is absurdly expensive, so I settle instead for the cosy ale house, just around the corner called ‘The Vic’. The quality of the rugby isn’t exactly top notch at times, but Scotland v Argentina is definitely the most exciting match of the tournament to date for the neutral. Scotland appear to have the five points in the bag until Gonzalez zig zags his way through their defence to score the try-of-the-tournament eight minutes from the end. It is hearts in the mouth stuff as Contepomi puts over the conversion and Argentina edge Scotland by one point. This sets it up very nicely for England v Scotland in Auckland next weekend.
I bump into my new Irish/English friends in the street on my way home, where it is blowing an icy gale. They are just on their way out at 11pm after drinking in the dorm to save cash before their trip to Indonesia next week, although I reckon they are on a hiding to nothing for their night out as Nelson seems absolutely dead.
Ireland 62 Russia 12
Argentina 13 Scotland 12
Fiji 7 Samoa 27