Our tour of the south island of New Zealand has wrapped up. Over the course of fourteen days in a minibus with seventeen other people, you tend to get a crash course in sociology. This trip was no different. For every socially awkward misfit, there was someone else with a heart of gold.
I’ve had the new Ben Folds Five song “Sky High” rolling around in my brain for most of the trip. I haven’t quite worked out what the song is about yet, but the tone of the music is wistful and a little bit lost in the clouds. Lyrics like “feeling newly baptised, thinking I don’t want this thing to end” have felt especially poignant to me the past few days.
Every time our bus pulled off the road at a hiking trailhead, it seemed like a beautiful new vista would greet us at the door. One day, it could be the majestic chain of snow-capped Southern Alps. The next day it might be the verdant valleys that criss-cross Queenstown, or the misty fjords of Milford Sound, or the Abel Tasman sea crashing in waves on the Pancake Rocks.
I eventually became accustomed to having my breath stolen by the shape-shifting scenery. What I wasn’t prepared for were the personal relationships that I would develop with some of my fellow adventurists. Fast friendships don’t come naturally to me, but the confines of our bus and our common thirst for the outdoors seemed to incubate and accelerate the process.
After one last morning of seal watching on the Kaikoura peninsula, we zipped back to Christchurch and disbanded shortly after lunch today. As I write this, my new friends are scattering across the globe like so many leaves on an autumn day. Bill and Cam are somewhere over the Pacific en route to Los Angeles and beyond. Colin and Sally stayed on in Christchurch to rest up for their long journey back to London. And by now, my compadre Cathy must be cooling her heels in an Aussie hotel room before tomorrow’s Pacific transit back to California.
And I miss them all terribly. After 14 days in and out of each other’s pockets, it suddenly feels like they’re half way around the world.
I flew north to Nelson tonight so that I can make a sailing and walking tour of Abel Tasman park tomorrow. After that, it’s on to Picton, Wellington, Auckland, Vancouver, Edmonton, then finally home to my own bed some time Wednesday evening. All this displacement should eventually serve as a welcome distraction from travelling alone. But on this particular night, after the conclusion of the whirlwind Rimu tour, each tick of the clock seems to be dragging on for an hour.