Our plane had dark wings. We had dark words.

Probably spoilers for Game of Thrones season six to follow. I haven’t decided yet.

Taking yesterday as a day of rest (rather than the traditional day of sex, being hump day and all), my girlfriend and I decided to unwind and watch a few Game of Thrones episodes. It’d been long enough since we’d last watched that we’d forgotten we were in season six, let alone which episode we were on. It was a fun world to dive back into and we quickly devoured three episodes before crashing out. We’re now five or so minutes away from having finished the fifth episode (laptop battery died on the plane flight at the climactic moment). While we were watching though, we’d both noticed a change in the air. I remembered that while the series diverged from the books a while back, this was the first season that didn’t have a corresponding book. The obvious outcome is that we were watching Game of Thrones that hadn’t been written (scenes or an overview at least) by George R.R. Martin. The difference was kind of noticeable. As always, one of my favourite things about watching a film or show with someone is unpacking and comparing thoughts and feelings. Sharing the experience has a somewhat vicarious feel to it, as it helps provide alternate views to your own which in turn expand your own perspective. Comparing season six to the previous ones, here were some things we noticed:

  • Gratuitous nudity down, gratuitous swearing up: “Tits and dragons” has scaled down both the tits and dragons. The language on the other hand is bluer than ever. I’m not complaining, it’s just different. Ser Davos, while a sailor at heart, never used to curse like one. Now it’s “fuck” and “cunt” as punctuation. I understand that Mr Seaworth has lost close friendships and family, but I’m not sure that it’d immediately change Mr Seaworth into Mr C-Word. He’s always been honest, humble and blunt, but rarely crude, as far as I remember. Unless my memory is the issue. It’s been a while since we last watched.
  • Characters becoming closer to caricatures: My girlfriend pointed out how many of the characters feel less dynamic than they did. As if they ran focus groups and discovered well this is what people liked about Daario, so let’s make him like that all the time. Characters being defined by specific features instead of being given depth. It’s kind of changed how the show feels. Less prestige, more pulpy. Ramsay Bolton, for instance, always had an exquisite sadism about him. He delighted in causing suffering. Now it feels like he’s cruel or violent for the sake of it. At the same time, there hasn’t been much telegraphing of him slowly unraveling, so it feels unearned. Tyrion’s trademark barbed wit needs sharpening and his ability to turn around a situation feels lacking. Self-interest was always one of his primary motivations (while essentially having a moral compass that’d get the better of him). His arc into selflessness feels too all-encompassing.
  • Fanservice at the behest of storytelling: My longstanding issue with Parks and Recreation (a show I really did adore) is that eventually it fell too deeply in love with its own characters. As a result, the show was loathe to let them really face strife and it became obvious that everything would work out okay. Game of Thrones is known for its abrupt twists and turns, throwing you off balance and not knowing what to expect. Now it feels like the fan favourite characters are gonna be alright no matter what happens. Of course Jon Snow is fine. Tyrion will be okay. Daenerys will come out on top time after time. Everything in its right place. Arya’s trials with blindness could’ve been far more of a depraved struggle, but instead were overcome with a tight little training montage (and this is coming from someone who loves training montages). The twists, when they do come, seem far more obvious than they did. Dialogue is predictable and runs on safe patterns. George R.R. Martin seemed to take pleasure in withholding what the audience wanted and the series felt stronger for it.

It’s not like the show is terrible now. Being basically the most popular show in the world, having so much time, money and talent pumped into it, obviously it’s great fun. Mid season six, however, doesn’t feel like its golden age. Valar morghulis, of course, but can’t it wait till the end?

Rebellying against the norm.

18 days into the holiday and it was finally time for a rest day. I know, asking for a quiet day was like asking for a cake on top of an already staked sundae. Thing is, the vacation thus far has been a combination of social time and frantic movement from one place to another. If we weren’t flying, we were driving or in transit towards a specific activity. Time out has been a rarity and reserving time and space for my girlfriend and I alone has been rarer still. We had a big lie in while the rest of our friends went off to explore or adventure. Plus the weather continued to be shithouse, there was little point paying $150 odd for an outdoor excursion in the mud. Eventually we meandered into town in search of coffee and lunch. When the most stressful moment of your day is deciding between a myriad of delicious meals, you’ve reached a relaxation benchmark. Usually I’m one to shun relaxation in favour of constant activity, but even I have a tipping point.

We tested culinary recommendations to great success. If you’re in Queenstown, New Zealand, Joe’s Garage made a pretty mean coffee. Moreover, there was a boisterous, fun, local atmosphere to the place that was utterly charming. Decked out with all manner of mechanic memorabilia, it was a low key, loud and happening environment. There were kids underfoot and the staff joked around with them and gave a little good natured ribbing. A local dog showed up, clearly known to the staff. People came in for takeaway coffee, or to dine in on a variety of well stacked hotdogs (topped with scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, bacon, etc). A rad spot that’s obviously become a mainstay for good reason.

The other tip we’d been given from multiple sources was Vudu Cafe & Larder. At 11.30am there was a line out the door that had dissipated slightly when we returned an hour later. A constant cycle of people coming and going. People would stand up only to have their seats taken 30 seconds later. Peering at the cabinets, it was obvious why. The food was gorgeous. A large variety of local baking; gluten free, vegan and far more meaty. There were huge sandwiches or monolithic stacks of cake. The coffee was excellent, some of the best I’ve tried since returning home (though Flight Coffee Hanger in Wellington may still be tops).

Spying a tasty looking bean salad, I flip flopped between a chicken burrito and chicken/ricotta/Parmesan/cream cheese sausage roll to go with it. I opted to finally tick sausage roll off my NZ food checklist and wasn’t disappointed. The roll was dense, and though it looked like it’d be dry, was anything but. Served with a rich tomato/raisin relish it was fucking dynamite. The salad had black beans, red and green capsicum, red onion, olives, corn and pineapple with an ultra light dressing. My girlfriend’s avocado smash came topped with perfectly poached eggs, halloumi, a large bulb of avocado mash and a kale pesto, garnished with sunflowers. It was a piece of art for the eyes and belly. What followed was a blissful reverie of food euphoria, floating around town like a soft white cloud (despite the rain pissing down everywhere).

Being away from the pressures and stress of everyday life for an extended period has done wonders for my mood. I feel more mentally flexible, unhindered by anxiety over time based deadlines and appointments. I feel present in the moment, because there’s been so little of import outside of that. I’ve stayed off social media since travelling and the change is profound. Being so much more cognisant of my own thoughts instead of getting trapped up in an endless wall of others’ feelings has felt pretty damn rewarding. I’d be so happy to drop Facebook entirely if it wasn’t the cornerstone of my entire social experience. Maybe returning to Toronto will bring with it a greater moderation of time spent online. If its absence has been this valuable, I’d be a fool to go back to mentally unhelpful patterns.

Then again, the best part of being on holiday is not having to think about anything else. Clearly that’s a decision for another time. For now, it’s beer o’clock. Deciding what to drink can be my stress for the day.

A wide berthday.

Well this is 30. It doesn’t feel ultimately different from 29. That’s always the expectation as a kid, that the annual shift will suddenly make itself known as another 365 days turn over to the next. Then as you’re an adult and the passage of time seems smoother, slower you realise it just ain’t like that. I already had the aches and pains that periodically make themselves known. It’s not like I suddenly reached the magical age of “old” and my limbs fell off. I’m also not the bastion of wisdom that comes with age. Still got years to collect it all. Dribs and drabs, drip by drip. Three decades in I’m surprised at how young I feel, but with the knowledge of how young I’m not. The ability to be as reckless as I was ten years ago, but the insight to know that’s unlikely to go well. Drip by drip.

Today’s weather, on the other hand, has not gone drip by drip. We’re away on the Milford Sound tour in a cross between overcast and downpour. Asking our guide if this weather was standard, he cheerfully replied to my friend “oh no, this is the worst weather I’ve seen in years. It was 28 degrees and sunny last week.” Happy Birthday, I guess. Regardless of the wetness, it’s been a pretty rad way to spend the day. Away on an adventure with my girlfriend and best mates. It’s kind of tough to feel hard done by when any shit situation becomes fodder for more jokes. Misery alchemists, turning tragedy into comedy in record time. If my limbs did suddenly fall of at 30, I’ve no doubt they’d help me find the silver lining.

Despite anything nature could throw at us, the scenery has been unbelievable. I’m not sure I’ve used the word “incredible” sincerely quite so many times in one day before. Enormous mountains towing above the clouds. Streams becoming waterfalls. Huge green gorges, gushing rivers and crystal clear lakes. The tour guide has been offering helpful, interesting commentary along the way. Well versed in history about the area, he’s also delivered insight on both flora and fauna. Okay, so now I sound like I’ve aged another 30 years, but it’s bloody fascinating. Apparently the karearea falcon (on the NZ $20 note) can fly at speeds of up to 180km per hour. That’s insane.

We saw ducks that dove underwater to find food and keas posing for photos on top of a car. One also walked up to the bus door and started chewing on the insulation. The guide told us it’s pretty common for one kea to attract attention while several other keas, unnoticed, sow disorder. Mischievous little bastards. Dolphins are pretty rare around the Milford sounds, showing up around once every ten days, but we had a big pod jumping and splashing in front of the boat. The driver stopped and we gawked, passengers cooing accordingly. They were pretty damn rad. A cluster of sea lions adorned a large rock, sleeping despite the rugged terrain. Sea lions don’t give a fuck. We passed right by a huge waterfall and it was amazing just how powerful it felt. The gust at the bottom was almost enough to blow us back. We got pretty soaked, but it was worth it to be so cowed by the elements.

Maybe the waterfalls washed off on me, but it’s hard not to gush about how fortunate I feel. I’m 30, celebrating in the time zone of my birth, surrounded by a bunch of my favourite people in the world. I think I’m doing pretty damn well. I even still have all the limbs I was born with.

It was a chip off the ol’ road, that’s for sure.

Alas and a lack of mileage ahead, Roadchip has come to an end. The holiday hasn’t, but we’ve reached Queenstown, our final destination. We waved goodbye to Fox Glacier, with its frozen cove, fitnessy Eurobros and confused aspiring cyclists. We also drove past Mt Aspiring, as well as a multitude of majestic waterfalls, inlets, rocky shores, west coast surf and verdant mountains. We’ve escaped the clutches of price gouging food deserts to arrive in the bounteous lands of a price gouging tourist trap. All the love for our slightly more benevolent dictatorship. I also understand the irony in mocking tourists when that’s exactly what we’re doing. Self-awareness doesn’t afford us a different level of status.

Queenstown, pricey as it is, remains precisely as stunning as I remember. I’ve told people for years “panoramas as far as the eye can see.” Or “everywhere is a postcard.” I’m glad time didn’t make a liar out of me. We came in via Wanaka, which is one rolling hill after another. After taking a hot tip to stop off at the historic Cadrona Hotel, we found ourselves at a rustic old tavern, lovingly preserved. It was a novel pleasure to sit on my first wooden toilet seat in what felt like ten+ years. Grabbed a great pint of saison and ordered a chunky sounding bacon and venison burger. Big as my eyes and stomach were, I didn’t expect what seemed like a tourist trap to deliver a legitimately fantastic burger. A sumptuous, dense patty with crispy bacon, beetroot relish and assorted veges. So gamey, on a bet of crinkle fries. A truly excellent meal.

Bellies fit to burst, we transformed and rolled out of there. Onwards to Queenstown! Through Arrowtown! Incredible vistas over every rise we passed. Pastoral farmland gave way to further mountains and an expansive, azure lake. We arrived at our Air BnB, a pretty, modern looking home. A cheerful face opened the door and showed us around. It may have been a holdover from our primitive accommodations thus far, but once we arrived inside the place was gorgeous. All the comforts of home and then some. A separate floor all to ourselves, shut away from the family who lives there. A comfortable lounge with a television, Sky TV, a cd and book collection and a big cozy couch. A massive bed covered in cushions. A bathroom with washer, dryer and a heated floor. Our hosts left us muesli and milk for breakfast, plus chocolate cookies, small Whittakers chocolates and a selection of teas. Such an amazing place to spend some quiet time together (a rarity on this trip).

My girlfriend went to explore town as I went on a hike with friends (who’ve been here for a few days). Steep, but with a couple of plateaus to rest/stretch. Tiny cairns littering the sides of the walking path gave a real Blair Witch feel. If the hike hadn’t been respiratorially punishing enough, I’d say that the views were breathtaking. It was bloody choice to get out and do a decent walk after so many days spent sitting passively in a car. Every time we thought we’d hit the peak, there was another peak to go. When we finally hit the top, our reward was a 360 degree view instead of a mere 270 degrees or so. Awesome in every sense of the word.

Tonight’s an early rest before spending my 30th birthday on an all-day trip out to Milford Sound. If all I wanted for my birthday was a six hour bus, two hour boat tour and four hour return bus, I couldn’t have asked for a better option (I sort of agreed to the trip expecting around four hours total). Who knows? It’s pretty popular, quite possibly for a reason.

So tonight, much like Roadchip, has come to an end. Goodnight Kiwis.

A positive vignette result.

Today was a day composed of odd little scenes. At times it seemed we were heading for an undesirable outcome, then circumstances turned and everything came up Milhouse. I guess I had this odd notion in my head that travel on the road would be more of an overarching adventure and less a cluster of vignettes.

Last night was a difficult one to sleep through. Thankfully the endless swarms of flies were trapped outside the inner sanctum of our tent. Instead they roamed the layer between our safe seclusion and the awning. Winds blustered, we could hear them blowing through the trees around us. A few beats later the sides of the tent would creak and bow, the walls bending in on us. A second later they’d snap back to normal, as if nothing had happened. None of us slept well, but still somehow we all woke up later than intended. We boned up, packed out and GTFO.

In our haste to escape, we forgot to grab breakfast. Spying a small cafe en route, we stopped in. I’d been dreaming of another small bakery, as I’d found in Matamata. Enormous filled rolls and slices for cheap as. Sadly, I’m still yet to find their like on this Roadchip. Settling for my overpriced chicken sandwich and totally fine mocha, I went to the bathroom. When I came back, the table was seemingly vacated. Drat, Roadchip over. Truly though, everyone had run outside for the appearance of a kea. Known as “the clown of the mountains”, they’re clever little birds who seem closer to canine than canary. We all marveled as it hopped around, keeping our food close. Some patrons had just sat down as it hopped over to them. They laughed and turned their heads, it seized opportunity. Darting in, it grabbed a butter sachet and flew across the road, hiding under a van. As the rest of the cafe collectively lost its shit, this little canary tore off the seal and dug into its prized butter, stains all over its beak.

We’d arrived at our Fox Glacier hostel with the intention of hiking up to see the glacier itself. Thing is, the weather was all kinds of shit. Bucketing down, we sat around glumly in our Ivory Tower (the literal name of the hostel) wondering what to do. There was a hot tub, a sauna, board games, etc. We could watch a movie, sit around and hang out. Or we could go hike to the glacier with minimal (or none in my case) wet weather gear. It was a nice little hike, but due to the rain, there were gushing streams impeding our progress. It became like a game, hopping over stones to clear the streams. We were human Froggers, heading towards a large icy shelf. As with the rest of the countryside, the natural formations were gorgeous. Waterfalls, a rushing river, smooth stones as far as the eye could see. We climbed to the top (even with the few “no stopping 400m” signs cracking the whip behind us), looked for a couple of minutes, took some photos and began our descent, pretty glad to have made the trek.

While we were eating dinner, a bounteous spread of cheeses and dips, plus salad, a commotion was going on outside. A bunch of European bros were working out, doing push ups, dips and whatnot on the picnic tables. No harm done, but some of the form was pretty dodgy. A few of them grabbed a table and flipped it upside down while the other one lay underneath. Bench presses with a literal bench and table. An elderly Asian man came over, took off his jacket, lay down and took a turn bench pressing. He then challenged a Eurobro to an arm wrestle, which he sadly lost despite our internal cheering. I liked his moxie,

In the background, another scene unfolded. A group of tourists were borrowing some bikes to take out, but it quickly became apparent that they possibly had never seen a bike before, let alone ridden one. They struggled to get on top of the seat and refused the help of the staff member woefully trailing them and obviously worrying about the condition of the bikes upon their return. One of the tourists had their helmet on backwards and was never corrected. All that was missing was the Benny Hill music. As if to justify our disbelief and hysterical laughter, one of them fell off as he started to bike away. He walked his bike out of our line of sight and we cackled uproariously. I snorted whiskey and ginger beer out of my nose.

Alternating between uneventful and overly eventful, it was at most times unexpected. Oh Kea, you didn’t just steal that butter, you stole our hearts.

This is what I get for listening to too much Lenny Kravitz

Wow, am I ever on edge. We’ve set up our camp right by the river side. It’s a beautiful, nay idyllic sight (like almost everything nature has thrown our way on this trip). The grass is soft and loamy. The trees alternate between lush canopies and lovely clearings. The area is also swarming with midge flies and I’m losing my mind. If there’s a German compound word for a combination of miserable and furious it’d be a perfect fit.

I wish I was exaggerating, but I’ve already experienced mild dissociation. We’ve arrived in this stunning location (albeit with the wind and rain setting in) and the only thought in my mind is of 16 hours time when we can leave. We’re safely nestled in our tent (thanks to fly screens and the rain shell), both my skin and clothes are smothered in bug spray, but I can’t stop thinking of the endless swarms waiting just outside. It’s ridiculous and more than a little petulant. I understand this logically, but emotionally I’m overwhelmed and incapable of succumbing to rational thought. I didn’t even know this was such a huge issue for me. Bruises and scrapes, physical exhaustion, etc I’d probably be fine with. I’m having difficulty thinking of anything else. I don’t want to move, I’m dreading having to leave the tent to go to the toilet or eat dinner. My body has even started creating phantom itches all over. Between my legs, on my scalp, the hand I’m typing with (where I can see no visible bites), my face, behind my ear. It’s insane. You’d think I was having a bad meth reaction.

By swiveling my head around the tent I can see at least 60 on the layer outside ours. Sitting there, waiting for us to make a move. As time has gone on they’ve increased in numbers. It feels like a zombie contagion, they’re all out there with a taste for blood, awaiting critical mass. If there’s one little hole they’ll be able to burst in and we’re fucked. Then the next week is a bust, an itchy waste. The rest of an otherwise amazing holiday tainted.

I’m also angry at myself for having this reaction, which doesn’t help anything. I don’t know what to do to salvage the situation. I assume that I’ll do the usual: hit breaking point, meltdown, let it out and let it go. I’d love to avoid the usual, but I’m not sure how. I know my girlfriend and friends would love to help, but right now I’ve got very little to access, let alone offer as suggestion. You know something’s up when my strategy is to want to sleep for 15 hours and basically skip a day. I’m not a big fan of sleep or anything that precludes you from doing stuff. Who knows, maaan? Maybe we’ll get attacked by zombies and I’ll be given something more pressing to worry about. Perspective is a gift. A guy can dream, can’t he?

I guess I can look on the bright side. After writing this there are only 15.5 hours left to go.

Edit: Sex. Sex helped.

Oh what a site.

Friday the 13th? The spoopiest of days to explore post earthquake Christchurch. Still, I’ve woken up early so *pulls a chair around and sits down with the back part facing the front* let me rap with you kids. Waking up in Blenheim was a pretty quick and efficient matter. We showered, we ate, we shat. Eat your heart out, Alexander. In our haste (and perhaps negligence), we forgot one of our party’s bottles of pinot noir, purchased during the wine tour. Thing is, we each did a final sweep of the place and all missed it. I hope we’re not challenged to a Where’s Wally by a monstrous sphinx who stakes our lives upon our observation skills. Roadchip took its first victim. So it goes. A brief stop at the warewhare garnered us cheap pillows and we were off, chased out of the carpark by a renegade trolley, animated by some vengeful spirit.

Once we got out of Blenheim, things took a downturn. Or downpour, to be more accurate. A storm front rolled through and an area known for its annual hours of sun faced rain coming down in sheets. Disappointed but undeterred, we slowed our pace and found ourselves trapped behind truck after truck. Knowing that we were on our initial night of camping, visions of setting up our tent for the first time held a nightmarish hue. We laughed our fears away and kept the music playing. My unstoppable lust for bakeries and the group’s collective bladders had us stopping at a little tea room as we chilled out and took stock of the afternoon. We had a lot of driving to do in order to get to the outskirts of Chchch before nightfall (admittedly, nightfall in summer is closer to 10pm. We had a lot of time). The tea room was packed. Food was a little expensive and service was slow, but everything tasted pretty damn good. The teenage boy behind the counter was clearly pretty frazzled and it was putting strain on their operation. We got out into the storm and drove off into further rain.

Magically 10-15 minutes later it cleared up. Suddenly the scenery went from pleasant to majestic as fuck. Massive misty mountainsides blanketed with forestry. Waterfalls and burbling creeks, rushing water and sandy shores. We drove through steep cliffs (I looked down) with tight corners, crammed alongside large trucks. Sheep dotted the countryside in varying states of sheared-ocity. The wind whipped through their lush grassy meadows, causing the grass to ripple in a watery manner. Other tussocky paddocks held a long white crop, some alternative form of sheep feed. It billowed as clouds descended to the loamy floor. Quite the sight. I’m still not sure if the South Island is a different planet altogether.

We took an hour’s sojourn in Hanmer Springs, famed for its natural thermal pools. It was way too hot for hot pools so we ate instead. I followed a local’s suggestion to yet another disappointing bakery (Matamata, how you ruined me), then followed it up with a colossal two scoop ice cream cone (my tears over their lack of goody goody gumdrops flavour mitigated by sheer mass of dairy). My girlfriend managed to find gluten free fish and chips and some confusing sauce dispensers. If New Zealand was to innovate anything, it’d be tomato sauce technology. Farewell Hanmer Springs, your bakery was shit, but you compensated with ice cream.

We rolled into our beach holiday park camping ground just after 6pm. The woman behind the counter, oddly assuming we were Americans, Canadians, Australians or some combination of the above (Aucklanders aren’t well liked outside of Auckland. Same idea as Torontonians or New Yorkers. Non city folk aren’t the biggest fans of city folk. We prefer not to mention that we’re Aucklanders unless unduly pressed). This was mostly lovely and especially hilarious (her being Arkansas born and raised) when she told us all about how New Zealand downsized its coin sizes in the mid 2000s. We played along and marveled at the massive former 20c piece. In any case, she was a gem and basically let us choose where we wanted to be, suggesting us a spot handy to amenities, power (even through we hadn’t paid for a powered site) and most importantly, away from children.

We set up our tent (in the evening sun, not wretched rain), took a stroll along the beach then enjoyed an extensive tapas and wine before crashing out. Oh, we fancy campers here.

Happy Friday the 13th erryone, post quake Chchch update tomorrow.