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Farewell to Eden

The end...and a new beginning

by Thor Iverson

Journey to the center of nothing

I’m having a very hard time grasping that this is our last day in New Zealand. It’s not just end-of-trip sadness (in any case, this isn’t actually the end of the trip), it’s more a sense of profound displacement…we’ve been here so long that “home” seems distant in both place and time. It feels like we live here, now, and as with a dimly-recalled but treasured memory from childhood, the outlines and images of our actual mailing address are mist-shrouded, while the memories of the last five weeks are clear. Vivid. Tactile. But now, we have just one more day to enjoy. How will we spend it?

Outside, of course, as we’ve enjoyed so many of our best days in this country. Though we don’t fully realize it until later, this trip has changed how we’ll travel. In the future, space will always be made for walking, for nature, for plants other than vines and creatures other than wine yeasts or cheese mites, for the earth’s homemade architecture in lieu of the grandest works of man. Though we’ll have those, too. New Zealand, so overwhelming tilted away from the influences of civilization, has brought a new balance for a country boy who thought he’d left that world behind, and a city girl who could never imagine herself outside one for long.

[rocks on poles]

Rock & pole


One last hike…this one to the geographically inaccurate “centre of New Zealand” (really just a marker some kilometers from the actual center, which is, I’m given to understand, underwater)…takes a brief portion of the morning, and the quick ascent – we’ve almost convinced ourselves we’re in shape – brings us to a pretty hilltop above Nelson. There’s a fine view across the water to Abel Tasman and along the beautiful Marlborough Sounds.

Descending, we take in Nelson’s modernistic and rather boring cathedral, then wander the shopping streets of the city (there aren’t many of them), including a wine shop for – it beggars imagination – a few bottles I need for dinners in Australia. It’s my fault. I’ve visited so many wineries, but if at any point I had purchased bottles to drink later in the trip, they’re now in boxes on their way to the States via secret and mysterious pathways best not revealed in public. And so, I have to buy more wine. I can’t even believe it myself. We also visit the storefront of the jeweler responsible for – here’s the never-ending meme for this trip – the various rings in Peter Jackson’s magnum opus, and while a personal replica edition of the One Ring or Vilya made by the jeweler who designed it (oddly, named neither Sauron nor Celebrimbor) doesn’t exactly entice us, the designs are cool to see up close…at least for this unrepentant Tolkien geek. Lunch, taken back at the villa, is some very rare smoked lamb from Mapua and other assorted leftovers. And then, we hit the beach.

Sandy melancholy

“Blobbing out,” as the locals say, on a flat expanse of sand is not something we’ve done much of on this trip. We’ve strolled a few…in Abel Tasman, on the Otago Peninsula, and along the rocky shores of Lake Wakatipu and Lake Wanaka…but the first, last, and only beach on which we’ve actually sat and done nothing other than wet our toes was right at the beginning of the trip: Onetangi Beach on Waiheke Island. Frankly, it’s not something we enjoy, except as a brief respite from the noise of daily life or chaotic weekends with the entire passel of in-laws, nieces, and nephews. But we could hardly be more relaxed or at peace, so what benefit the beach?

Nonetheless, we find ourselves on Tahurunui Beach, doing nothing more energetic than reminiscing about the journey we’ve just taken together. And, of course, planning the next one; perhaps the truest sign of any great vacation, as we think about all the things we’d do again, the changes we’d make, and the many vistas yet to be explored. Soon, we’ve got another six weeks in preliminary draft, with another month or so in reserve for the trip after that. As we sit, the warm sun settles closer to the water, cooling the air and lighting up the mountains in the distance, while the persistent waves lapping the sand gently retreat with the tide. It’s a fitting metaphor, I suppose, as we quietly retreat from a place we’ve come to love, in search of yet another adventure in yet another new place. We get up and stroll for a bit, the circling gulls calling with keening and yearning, beckoning us to some unexplored shore. I seem to recall that Galadriel warned Legolas about the gulls…

Sunset melancholy

…and now, it’s time to make an end. For real, this time. Back at the villa, the sun afire on the horizon, we finish up the last of our leftover food and wine., Many bottles are left over from our little party two evenings ago, and form sort of a viticultural reprise of our voyage, though there’s one new experience left:

Te Whare Ra 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Ripe green leaves, gooseberry, cooked peas, chile pepper…this sort of intense, herbal greenness is exactly what divides opinions on Marlborough sauvignon, though it’s preferable to the newer, sweet and canned tropical fruit style that dominates most mass-market bottlings. The wine is balanced, but there’s not much of additional interest or complexity (the latter isn’t usually sauvignon’s strong suit, anyway); it’s a good “Marlborough savvy,” as the locals say, but not a special one.

After dinner, we pack – the first “real” packing job we’ve had to do since our Auckland-Christchurch flight – and I stay awake for a while, contemplative and not willing to let go of any last, lingering moments.

This amazing, compelling country has touched us, deep at the core. We’ve even contemplated making it a more permanent part of our lives, despite its arduous distance from…well, pretty much everything and everywhere. But even if we never move here, we’ll be back, again and again. New Zealand isn’t the sort of place one forgets.


Sarcasm made manifest

[dirty car]

Wash me
Dirt-spattered, bug-encrusted, and yet a valued friend. That’s our much-abused rental car, returned with a mere 4341.2 kilometers more than it had when we acquired it, and it’s dirty because the end of our trip featured a decided lack of New Zealand’s legendarily relentless rain. Thankfully, there’s no drop-off inspection at the tiny Nelson airport, so no one can ask “where the hell did you drive this?” I don’t really want to explain about that whole Edoras thing…

And then, we’re aloft. The airborne views from Nelson to Auckland are less regularly spectacular than those along the length of the South Island, but the snow-capped peaks of Egmont/Taranaki and the three mighty volcanoes at the midsection are still pretty impressive. The airborne views from Auckland to Sydney, on the other hand, are…well, water, surrounded by water, with water on the horizon. Not very interesting. Nor is the flight exactly turbulence-free. Thankfully, the seats are comfortable, and there’s a six-wine selection in steerage. Such luxury!

Montana 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (Hawke’s Bay) – Mixed cherries and dark berries, with herbal notes throughout. Innocuous, but I’m not sure the intention is otherwise. It’s as good as any mass-produced wine at this level, I guess, and maybe just a wee bit better.

In customs, we’re greeted by our first sarcastic Aussie, something for which I’ve been gearing myself up after five weeks of New Zealand-esque pleasantry.

“Are you bringing any agricultural products into the country?”

“Just some wine.”

(looking up) “Oh, no. No, no. You can’t bring Kiwi wine into Australia.” (looking over his shoulder, yelling) “Jim, we’ve got two for the lockup here!”

And so it goes. There’s non-sarcastic concern about millimeter-sized bore holes in the wooden bowls we purchased in Nelson, however, and for a while it looks like they might not let them through. Eventually, they relent…after much peering and a few waves of some sort of magic electronic wand. We emerge into the baggage claim area at last, eager to get into the city and begin a new stage of our explorations.

So where’s our luggage?

Disclosure: Te Whare Ra provided for free by its American importer.

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Copyright © Thor Iverson.