Markets, mountains and moping.
Three words that sum up my first few days in New Zealand. My adventures in solitude. Named as such because A: The New Pornographers became an integral part to my NZ road trip soundtrack — being among the few thoughtfully downloaded to my phone beforehand, anticipating a lack of wifi — and B: because I was, well, adventuring in self-inflicted solitude.
I landed in Christchurch without my hearing.
I’ve always lucked out with comfortable travelling — I never get car sick, bus sick, air sick. Don’t get painful, popping ears. Generally manage to sit next to benign, or even pleasant people. But fifteen minutes into my first flight from Hobart to Melbourne the Travel Gods must have decided it was time I found out just how good I’d had it all these years and I experienced the most head-splitting, ear-stabbing, jaw-clenching sensation I’d ever had. Apparently common for many travellers but not for me, so I just sat there wide-eyed and wondering if I was about to have an embarrassing brain aneurysm in front of a full Airbus A320 worth of people.
Spoiler alert, I didn’t, but my ears were suddenly simultaneously stuffed with cotton wool and plunged underwater and this sensation lasted for the rest of the, admittedly short, flight to Melbourne. It hung around during my layover at Tullamarine, twelve hours spent nodding and smiling and hoping people weren’t asking me questions that couldn’t be answered by nodding and smiling. I managed to buy coffee and a ham and cheese croissant with no issues so I don’t think I did too badly.
The sensation decided to stick around as I boarded my flight to New Zealand, and I hoped maybe a second flight would work some kind of magic ear voodoo and unblock whatever the first flight had inflicted upon my poor, unsuspecting head. It didn’t, and I landed in Christchurch at 5:15am still unable to hear and resigned to a new life of muffled noises and dull, throbbing sensations.
This lasted two days.
I ended up quite used to it after a while. I got really good at lip-reading. I learned that as much as it felt like I was yelling, my words were actually coming out in a whisper and I needed to speak up when trying to communicate with people using my voice. I successfully hired a car and booked a backpackers this way. I made friends with some Canadians. I went to a pharmacy and I bought ear buds (they didn’t help, I don’t really know why I thought they might). I was smiled at by the pharmacist and told this sensation wouldn’t last long (I think that’s what he said). My first overseas trip alone was one of self-inflicted solitude, but my first two days were unexpectedly isolating.
It returned at Arthur’s Pass.
My hearing deigned to come home during a long and emotional drive, after a big walk and a bad coffee, as I pulled over for an incredible sunset over enormous, snow-capped mountains that have to be seen to be believed.
It arrived as suddenly as it left, slipping back nonchalantly as though it hadn’t left me abandoned for my first two days alone in a new — albeit familiar — country. I let it come without comment or fanfare (Oh, you left? I hadn’t even noticed. I’ve been too busy having fun and living my best life) but I think it could tell I had missed it.
1. Hooker Valley Track
Super easy, super stunning track that leads along the Hooker River, ending at a glacial lake. Picturesque icebergs, glaciers and majestic mountains.
2. Aoraki / Mount Cook
An alpine national park surrounded by the tallest mountains in New Zealand. Sky-scraping peaks, glaciers and permanent snow fields.
3. Arthur's Pass
The highest pass over the Southern Alps. Dramatic mountains, vast plains and wide, shingle-filled riverbeds.