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Terra Australis Incognita

New Year's In New Zealand

NEW ZEALAND | Wednesday, 14 January 2009 | Views [876]

I had been intimidated about renting a car in Australia or New Zealand, because of the left side driving. But I really wish I had before, especially in Australia, because I got used to it faster than expected. Nevertheless, a car is always a liability, and within an hour of renting it the side view mirror fell off and I was pulled over by a cop. Someone had actually called them for my supposedly "reckless driving"! I had been eating something, and probably had one hand on the wheel. The kiwis have such a great country - maybe they should enjoy it instead of picking on harmless tourists!

I had to get back north in a hurry, so I couldn't take the scenic route, but my route was plenty scenic enough, with rivers winding through forested mountains, and even a snowcapped mountain or two. And it seemed all the better, because I was finally driving myself!

Since the morning of the festival was New Year's Eve, traffic was rush-hour crazy at 9am, even in the nearby country town where I had stayed the previous night. I had been here before, but now went west into the mountains instead of east to the coast. The final 11 kilometers was an horrible hardscrabble road composed of small rocks or large gravel, and definitely not meant for cars going two ways. But upon finally arriving, all of my beer was confiscated, so I had to go right back up that terrible road again and back to another town to get more.

I had been gone a long time trying to think of clever ways to hide my stash, though by that time in the day they didn't even bother to check my car. Fortunately, I didn't miss much of the festival - it had been raining, and continued to do so, until the clouds drmatically parted extremely rapidly, like they only can in New Zealand. And then it was party time - DJs spun like mad all night, which I kind of resented at first because I like live bands better, until I got into it. And then, to mark 2009 there was a ceremony with costumed goat-men on stilts walking around a suspended ball spouting red flame. But no countdown for some reason, so it was a little anticlimatic.

Music was everywhere, and even though this festival was thankful only a fraction of the size of the one I had been to back in Florida, stages with different kinds of music and themes popped up everywhere. One band even took over the smoothie stand and just started playing there! Most of it was electronic dance music with DJs, but there was a hardcore/metal band (Captain Killjoy) and rock/jam bands during the day. It was about 48 hours of straight, unending perfomances, which were still going on when I crashed at 4 on New Year's night, and continued as I woke up at 8.

The morning was beautiful, and I finally got a good look at the amazing location for this festival - high up on a plateau in the middle of a national park, and surrounded by mountains and forest. The camping grounds were just on the other side of a stand of trees from the stages and vendors, providing easy access either way. The music was great, the climate and setting were beautiful, and the atmosphere was phenomenal.

So, of course, that afternoon I left.

It was really, really stupid. I was strongly disappointed that I had not seen Mt. Cook, and desperately wanted to see similar mountains before I left the South Island.  I had been told that there were alpine, snowcapped mountains in the nearby Kahurangi National Park, and since the day was so perfect, I decided to skip the festival that afternoon, drive all the way down hell road again, and check them out. Getting in the park was slow going down a road barely fit for one car, and when I finally got out of the forest to a lookout point, I could see that they were not snowcapped and not all that dramatic, but most importantly, that I had wasted an inordinate amount of music time just getting there for what, at best, would have been a ten minute photo op. Adding insult to injury, I blew a tire on the way down. But hell if I was going to miss any more of the festival to go get a legit replacement, and I drove straight back after putting the spare on.

Things didn't improve that night, as I was falling asleep far too early, and getting extremely cold besides. I was slumping back to my tent, downtrodden, when I came across a bizarre "play" put on by the festival workers or volunteers. They held up signs signifying different actions and acting them out, which was often funny but always surreal, especially in my hazy state of mind. It went on and on,  with the same signs and actions cycled through for what seemed like hours, with bizarre confessional-like monologues by the different actors occurring in between. For some reason, watching these kids getting into this, while wearing far less than I was in the bitter, freezing nighttime cold, lifted my spirits, and I got back up and enjoyed the music until the sun rose.

The next day was a blurry headache as I mechanically went through one task to the next in a mad effort to pack up in the rain, return my rented things, and drive 3 and a half hours to the ferry, which I'd be catching at 5 the next morning. But I did still have enough brain juice to enjoy the drive through the mazelike Marlborough Sounds, a whole network of flooded valleys in the northeast corner of the South Island. I got to see them again on sea level when the ferry motored through them and beyond, back to Wellington and the North Island.



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