Christchurch, the Tranz Alpine and other alien conspiracies

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Oceania » New Zealand » South Island » Fox Glacier
August 12th 2010
Published: August 12th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

I wonder if it’s possible that when I changed my plan and took such a large and radical right turn that I splintered a hole through the known Universe, slipped through the slit that appeared vagina-like in the ether and slid in-between into some sort of place just slightly out of sync with the rest of reality. I know this might strike you as slightly far-fetched, hardly the stuff of a plain old travel blog (although if you saw where I was currently sitting writing this, the surreal quality I’m asking for might be far simpler and more plausible for you to entertain) but ever since I’ve arrived in New Zealand I’ve had this same bizarre feeling, as if everything is going on one realm away from wherever I am, as if I’ve fallen into some sort of nether worldly alternate reality. I’m trapped in some sort of ghostly extra-dimension. Sunday night with my footsteps echoing on the empty streets of Auckland ( a giant city, don’t forget), the distant howls of drunk girls from far, far away early Sunday morning, it’s all starting to make a strange sort of sense. Take today for example: I went down stairs to get my breakfast this morning here at Fox Glacier on the West Coast Of New Zealand’s South Island (slip), fully expecting to be made invisible again by the giant tour group of Korean and Japanese tourists (who ‘disappeared’ me so thoroughly last night that even I began to wonder if I was there) but, to my surprise, the restaurant was empty. I partook of my gross, only slightly warmed plate of greasy goo. Not a soul appeared to interrupt the occasional clink from my cutlery. The place had been previously occupied, it was clear: desultory cooling steam still protruded lazily from coffee cups, half-eaten pieces of toast lay like wounded soldiers on eggy, porcelain battlefields; the whole place exuded a Marie Celeste haunted feeling that only grew as I piled on the pounds, knowing that I had paid a small fortune for the pleasure of this solitary buffet. It was as if some alien fiend had swept through the town only hunting for Koreans and had beamed up the entire tourist contents of Fox Glacier, leaving me behind to wander around the haunted wasteland like a midget Will Smith, (or a less craggy Charlton Heston, for older friends) contemplating being the last man alive in Tourist heaven.

A fly just rammed the hotel window full speed and flew away dazed.

I’m feeling a little dazed myself just like that fly.

I got the bus to the Auckland airport after buying the ticket from the sister hostel to my one just down the street. It’s 8:30am on a Monday morning. Next door to where I buy the bus ticket, a gaping dark maw leads into a bass-booming club offering house music and massage. A scummy looking chap who looks like an extra from a David Lynch movie invites me into this dark cavern with an utterly salacious proposition and a gap toothed grin. While I have nothing against blow-jobs from geriatric, toothless grannies, in principal, I consider this particular Monday morning to be more about finding greasy breakfast food and large cups of coffee, so I sadly decline the dark portal offer and return to my hotel for ‘checking out and catching a bus to the airport’ procedures. At this point I hadn’t yet realized that I had fallen into the other worldly dimension, despite the numerous hints - I’m a bit slow on the uptake sometimes.

At the airport, I fail dismally to be able to establish contact with American Airlines - at the time I blamed what I thought was their pathetic and feeble customer service facilities, rather than my suspension in an alternate reality. The free internet at the airport turns out to not be free from my laptop (slip). I board the plane and find myself seated in seat 1a, the very first seat on the plane, where I am claustrophobically sentenced to watch everyone else board, and to listen to our charming hostess read from her script (who knew they had a script) then desperately find a way to sit that did not reveal her gusset to the assembled front-row passengers. My neighbor is a chap named Colin who is visiting his sister in Christchurch. We have a decent though humor-free conversation throughout the flight. By the time we are skedaddling across the airport tarmac in Christchurch, I am quite pleased to be cutting free even if the air is distinctly more cold and cutting than our conversation - late November-ish conditions, I would say. Even though Colin was a nice enough chap, I was glad to be on my way hunching into the gale. There was something rather Stepford-like about his communications that made me feel slightly tense; something rather David Lynch. This is something that I have found on a few more occasions since Colin - it’s a couple of days later as I write - and now I have come to realize that there is a simple alternate-reality explanation for this: these are the creatures who inhabit this alternate reality. It all makes sense from this perspective. In this alternate ghost-world the creatures are all bleached out, starry eyed mutants with no humor and too-intense, hyper-real, staring eyes. They’re all like the other-mother from Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’!

I have a healthy and amusing chat with the taxi driver who is not allergic to wit - though by the time we are close to the center of Christchurch and the fabulous Hotel So, he has become sonambulatory, like the others.

The Hotel So was just a fantastic place. It’s the best Hotel of the trip - a futuristic vision of Hotel life that surely will catch on. It’s a brilliantly designed and branded place with a fabulous color scheme, an integrated design concept that goes through every aspect of the Hotel, from the tiny, but fantastic Fifth-Element style rooms, to the cop-like uniforms of the helpful, one-tier assistants who work the place. You felt that staying there you were part of something hip, futuristic, thought-through, detailed, artistic, intelligent: something truly of this century. It was also relatively inexpensive. Not cheap - because every element of this place has been carefully and brilliantly designed - nothing about it is cheap, except the price!

I take a long walk around the charming city of Christchurch and immediately realize that I need to buy more layers. Soon I have a nice cheap hat/scarf combo in my possession, a relatively tasteful black hoodie - all of which will double as souvenirs at the end of the trip, and an overlarge but inexpensive pair of thermal underwear that will not probably be added to the souvenir collection. I try out my collection of clothes as I continue my walk through the dashing city center, past art galleries, alongside rivers and wintery parks until a gorgeous sunset blossoms in the sky above and I waste a thousand photographs on my soon to be doomed camera failing dismally to capture the splendor, all from within my new and many-layered nest of winter wear. I’m confident that with all of this on at the same time I will be warm even when travelling into the substantially even colder climes of the deeper South of the island.

It’s a gorgeous walk to be honest, but for the first time I feel really disoriented by the season-thing: It’s one thing to watch the people of Brisbane and Townsville call what they’re experiencing winter and huddle up in coats and scarf while I and other tourists walk around in T-shirts and shorts, another thing altogether to walk around Christchurch with a chilly ambient temperature of 3 degrees - that’s 39 degrees in Yankspeak and an ominous sky threatening squalls! This definitely feels like winter. It also looks like winter with far more bare trees and a palpable sense in the air, that is vague and difficult to pin down, that spells ‘winter’ in the very core of your being. But it’s August, I keep saying. It’s August. I felt similarly disoriented by the twenty-four hour light in Iceland last year. I hasten to add that I like and enjoy this feeling of disorientation. It’s adding a mysterious quality to the mundane, everyday that is far less costly and less filled with unpleasant side-effects than other experiences one may choose to inflict upon oneself.

After the glorious sunset, I’m back at the fabulous Hotel So. So what? So then the whole evening is sown up so tightly that soon it is time for me to switch of the mood lighting option and tumble into futuristic dreams. The next day I am whisked off to the railway station by a friendly taxi chap, signed in, and I am suddenly aboard the train ready for the scenic route across the island from Christchurch to Greymouth, aboard one of the most scenic train rides in the WORLD! And so it proves to be.

The train pulls away and I plonk myself down with my new Stepford neighbors. I didn’t retain their names, so I shall call them ‘Frank and Jenny’. Frank had some kind of hideous skin disfigurement across his forehead that I desperately tried not to get caught looking at. He was a retired sheep farmer who had the irritating habit of finishing every sentence with the word ‘yes’, consequently negating all those little affirmatives that help make conversation flow. He also had no discernable sense of humor, although his disaffection with the environmental movement bordered on the amusing at times. His wife, who I shall now call ‘Fanny’, though I don’t know why, was a long suffering retired teacher who was a city girl who had given it all up for Larry, or Frank, or whatever his name was. Between the lines of the stuff he told me seethed all kinds of robotic knowledge: antipathy to his successful brother, unseemly attraction to certain furry quadrupeds (not true), and his seething dislike of the younger generation and their lazy green apathy. I exaggerate for comic effect. Their quiet son or Grandson who tried to snaffle my window seat turned out to be, neither grandson, or male. She was in fact a French girl named Charlotte who had been living here for a year and had cycled around North Island (jealous expression). Despite my unseemly early failure to identify Charlotte correctly by gender, family, or nationality, we end up spending much of the five-hour journey together. There is an open compartment on the train to which I gravitate as if drawn by giant magnets. It is icy cold there, as you might imagine, but the unrestricted views made the compartment spectacular. There were a number of tunnels including a fifteen minute long one. The open air carriage was closed for the long tunnel but open for all the others. Each tunnel arrived unexpectedly - one had to be careful to not be caught leaning over the rail for the perfect photo just when the wall of the tunnel unexpectedly popped into the frame threatening a pretty spectacular, if bloody, photo for fellow passengers.

It was during this frosty, windy photo-crazed episode that the camera died. That’s right: for the seventh year in a row my camera died at a vital moment. ‘Lens retract error’. Same shite that happened at the entrance to Kili National Park this time last year! This camera thing is starting to lead me towards a new conspiracy theory: The camera companies have upped their disposable camera franchise to include the $200-$300 bracket. After one year or so, the lens fail. It’s too expensive to repair, so you end up buying a replacement that will itself fail in a year - right when it is being used the most. It’s not that I’m an unlucky camera putz, it’s that I’m a victim of a giant world-wide camera conspiracy. It all makes so much sense now!

I arrive in Greymouth with ten minutes to run out and buy a new camera for the scenic bus ride along the coast to the town of Fox Glacier, which is perched not surprisingly perhaps at the end of the tongue of the Fox glacier. Soon I will walk upon its frozen skin. But before I can do that I must slide again into the invisibility zone, the alternate reality where Stepford people smile with humorless David Lynch expressions and pretend that I am not there while a strange flashing beacon spills green light that turns everyone into a Korean /Japanese tourist. Meanwhile, in some far off alternate Universe a spaceship rumbles to life and slides into hyper-drive searching the Universe for Koreans to kidnap…

See you on the flypaper.

Additional photos below
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12th August 2010

maybe your camera was overwhelmed with spectacular sights or frightened into oblivion by the eerie aura of your NZ adventure...and I'm old enough to be utterly creeped out by the reference to Charlton Heston...cheers, my friend!
12th August 2010

Cursed cameras! It's a vast conspiracy, I tell you. They're plotting something...if only I could figure out what...

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