14 Days in New Zealand


I’d told the driver of the Skybus at Auckland airport I’d like to get off in Mt Eden, but when 40 minutes into the trip we zoomed past a cluster of shop awnings bearing that very name I knew something was up.

“Sorry bro, I always forget that one! Ya shoulda said something,” the driver apologised brightly.  I shoulder my belongings, curse them three times, and shuffle back down the street a few kilometers. Only a little while ago I was back-patting myself for smuggling 20kgs of old Blues/Folk LPs on the International flight from America as cabin baggage. There’s a practiced art of making a great weight seem like a mere newspaper under your arm as you walk past the gate check.

Today my touring companion for the next couple of weeks Anthonie Tonnon has arranged for me to drop these superfluous belongings at his friend’s bookshop. I’d already seen him in person for a coffee at 8am this morning when I got off the long-haul  flight. While I waited for him in the fluro green ‘Sumo Salad’ lounge in the Domestic terminal a stranger sitting next to me offered a piece of his sushi. It occurred to me that sushi is not something I’d ever accepted from a stranger, nor ever should I. It seems to have a potential for danger. But as I’d followed my rule of not eating aeroplane food for the last 12 hours I am famished, and so accept gratefully. The gifted sushi for this man is a trap; a gateway snack. A gateway into banal conversation about what I am doing here, where I am going.

Thankfully Anthonie turned up, looking as fresh and sharp as ever, before I have to expend too much non-existent mental energy. It was great to see him! We hug hello. I make a vow that I’ll learn something about grooming and deportment off Anthonie over the next few weeks. The stranger offers him free sushi as well and Anthonie accepts without a second thought. “I’ll try the salmon please.” Kiwis are certainly very friendly and less suspicious than most other people I’ve met.

Anthonie left me to go board his flight to Christchurch where he’ll pick up the car, he’ll drive to meet me later in Dunedin. Our sushi benefactor vanished too, they’re both on the same flight, leaving me with the half full tray of raw fish to pick at.

So right now, Time Out Books in Mt Eden: Anthonie’s friend Jenna is at the counter and directs me up a narrow staircase and I stash my things under a table for safe keeping.  I have all morning to kill. I want to buy a classic NZ novel for the trip. I spot Man Alone by John Mulgan, someone had recommended it to me before. “A very important moment in NZ literature!” they’d said. I buy it and head over across the road to a barber she recommends.

In the chair with the neck crepe paper. Do the usual spiel: the same, but shorter, not squared off at the back like a Lego-man, try not to make my face look rounder than it actually is. He’s Jordanian, and is very fast with the scissors, and in his spare time plays the ‘oud.’  It’s possibly the best cut I’ve had in a while, though all of them since Primary School a variation on the same theme.

Jetlag always feels like a fresh beginning, and so too does a new haircut. I strut up the street of Mt Eden with a renewed sense of well-being and an unusually lucid brain for 9am, a neater looking head and a vaguely itchy neck. So much optimism in fact I decide to climb the extinct volcano that looms over the suburb. A narrow slippery path climbs the grassy green slopes. Cicadas thrum loudly past me, lumbering from tree to tree like buses of the insect world.

Soon enough I’m at the peak taking in an expansive 360 view of Auckland: buildings and water, other green volcanic mounds in the distance. The gaping crater of the one I’m standing on is all grassed over, looking soft and begging for a sheet of cardboard and a gentle push. An old lady reads a plaque like it’s a children’s book to her husband who nods along. I’m in New Zealand!

Back at the airport waiting at the gate lounge I feel a wave of exhaustion wash over me and I set the alarm on my phone for a 15 minute power nap and set it down beside me, noting how the blue case is perfectly camouflaged with the carpet, and fall instantly into a deep sleep.

NZ Anthonie Nelson
NZ Nadia B and W
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