Above is the sunset sky over some barley fields next to the workstay we've been at since arriving in New Zealand at the end of January. We had a day long layover in Auckland before continuing on south - time enough to realize that we are well and truly out of Southeast Asia. The roads here are wider and don't carry a quarter of the motorbikes, street food relatively just doesn't exist, and there's a quiet stillness that I think we only found a few times in Asia*.
So what has a bit of time brought us in New Zealand so far? Aside from being one flight away from returning stateside, it has ushered us straight to the home of a family in a small community outside of the earthquake riddled construction zone that is Christchurch. We've been looking after some hens, refinishing some furniture, breathing life back into a garden by weeding the hell out of it, and hanging out with a couple of pint sized helpers who never seem to run out of entertaining thoughts. We've also met a few true Kiwi characters, three of which, deserve particular mention.
The first is 72 year old sheep farmer, Alistair. With about 600 sheep he figured it'd take him a week or more to finish shearing them all, each one following the same process we got to watch the day we visited: pull one sheep from the holding pen, sit it on hind quarters, cut all the wool in the same pattern each time creating one (mostly) coherent chunk which then gets rolled out on a table. Bad bits and dirty ends are pulled from the mass before the good majority gets but into a baler. Repeat. Alistair didn't say too much, but his smile and work induced hunch sort of told the story enough.
At the opposite end of the talking spectrum was Leon Havill, owner and founder of Havill's Meadery (the only meadery in a country bursting with wineries and craft brews) outside of Rangiora, NZ. We emailed ahead of time to set up a visit to the place, more out of curiosity in regards to the mead brewing process than anything else, and a couple days later ended up spending two and a half hours with this witty sir. He gave us a sample of his mead, perfected in the mid seventies after 850 recipe attempts spanning the first 13 years of the business, while sharing stories of people that have come through, mead's place in the world, origins of words, and more than a few stretched tales accompanied by a twinkle in his eyes. Not only was the mead the best either of us have ever had (granted, that's against a field that can be counted on one hand), but the experience we left with was one that felt like it might've come from StoryCorps or This American New Zealand Life.
And this is Sophie. After coming to the conclusion that buying a car really is equal to or more cost effective than car rental or using public transportation, a somewhat harried week-long search brought us to this 1974 Triumph. It arrived to us complete with a good condition red interior, manual seat belts, locks, windows and transmission (4 speed), and real wood dashboard. She's a character already, for all of the above reasons, and, as we pack up for a two week road trip with her starting tomorrow, it's easy to get the feeling that our time in New Zealand will be inextricably linked with this vintage ride. Did I also mention that this is the first car I've ever owned?
* Who am I kidding? I don't think we ever found that, though maybe we just weren't looking hard enough.