On Touring New Zealand

I wake on an alpaca farm twenty minutes out of Dunedin. It’s a homestay on the far south of New Zealand’s south island, an odd return to an unexplored part of my family history. Outside, a thin old growth forest grows stunted, pushing up against gravity’s interminable pull. The trees here grow at slant, aiming towards the sun, but the rolling hills and bleak cliffs are a poor place for trees, and the brusque winds gust off from the raging ocean and barrel down the hill towards the homestead.

Greg is short and smiley. His dad built the place and he was born here and has lived here ever since. At some point he bought a small herd of alpacas as a business investment (as you do), with the idea that he would breed pedigree alpacas. Now he just has a field with six alpacas in it, and an electric fence that has to be turned off before we wander around the field. We attempt to photograph each other petting the alpacas for Instagram. He tells us the alpacas are ‘just like cats, sometimes they like the attention and sometimes they don’t’, and suggests we crouch down and the alpacas might come close. So we crouch down for a bit as the alpacas munch through the mist and wee on the wet grass.

The local area is a smörgåsbord of introduced species and failed attempts to address the ensuing fall-out. Three people so far have told us of the possum plague that has engulfed the islands. Australia’s native brush-tailed possums were transplanted in the 1800s to fuel the world’s growing fur trade and promptly grew morbidly obese on the fat of the land, literally doubling in size and growing long luscious hair that was a boon to the fur traders. Little did they realise that two hundred years later there would be eighty million feral possums in a country of four million people, a much larger population than the second highest, sheep at thirty million.

A selection of deer were dropped here around the same time, and fled far and wide, multiplying in number until local hunters started to close in. Now the south island has a small thriving deer farming industry and an elusive supply of North American moose that were considered extinct in the 1930s but somehow still stoke up occasional tracks and hair samples. The national park of Fiordland is a wild and wonderful place, prone to hiding mysteries and bodies and vistas of astounding beauty.

It’s been ten days of wonder. First a flurried rush of days, burst from plane to airport to hire car to gig to bed to new town to gig to bed to new town. And then languid lazy days spent driving south, stopping at any sight that caught the eye. Owlcatraz, a pun worth stopping for, turned into a bird sanctuary, unfortunately closed today for a family event. A half hour down the road, a stream of sails setting forth across a parking lot turned into ‘Blo-karts’, literal go-karts powered by the wind. They roll silently in wide circles across some vaguely pre-determined route, while a kindly gentleman attempts to explain us the mechanism. ‘oh no, there’s no brakes, you just have to lean in to the wind to stop’. I’ve had vast experience with brakeless vehicles before (skateboards, childhood billy-karts, my first car), and these karts don’t appear to need a nearby fence to stop their forward motion.

On south to Queenstown, to find our fill of artifice. Ski-town dreams, built around tourist shops that stay open till ten pm, flogging an endless supply of overpriced t-shirts, precious stones and sheep puppets. We swear off consumerism, and swear on to veganism, but I buy a pair of possum merino socks anyway because they are truly silky, and local possums are a pest and besides I need a new pair of thick socks to fill these oversized boots.

We tour the local vineyards, and drink our fill of pinot noir. The first tasting is quiet and awkward, scattered couples sipping and spitting glasses while an Argentinean sommelier makes small talk, but by the second winery we are all friends and the third winery brings in-depth knowledge of each others lives, and a request for my CD on Spotify as background music, and suddenly I’m here, sitting in a tin-shed on the arse-end of the world, listening to myself on record while we down glasses of wine that frankly all taste the same and talk about the unhappiness that is life and how we should all move back to Britain because life was so much better then.

And I question myself, small dark questions that get bigger and bolder and build on the horizon in growing waves. You can see the swell building. You can feel that this question is going to be a big one, and maybe you should jump ship and dive down below before it engulfs you, but suddenly its here and you’re here and I’m here, and we have to think through our opinions and face the reality that at some point you have to start taking responsibility for who you are and what you’re doing.

It’s a wonderful space to be in. First you worry and weave all the worries together. Maybe I’m not enough. Maybe the way I express myself isn’t healthy. Or maybe what I’ve said is the true me and you won’t like it. But instead you grasp my responses and think through them, and respond in-kind. It’s like I’ve taken woven worries and willed them into a life raft, and we stand on this set of watery woven worries and float and float and float. And as much as you know everything might pull apart and you could get flung into the water below, its kind of ok, because this is life and you’re in it with someone you love and the heady enthusiasm of youth is enough to pull you through it.

Thanks for reading. If you got this far have a squizz at this? Unreleased music, consider it a reward for persisting through my ramblings!

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