01 March 2006

Transitory traumas (New Zealand, pt. 11)

[plane]It’s the most stunning flight ever.

I’ve flown over the towering spires of the Alps. I’ve flown over deep blue equatorial ocean flecked with glinting white. I’ve flown over the jagged russet shading of the Grand Canyon. They’ve got nothing on this series of views: isolated, snow-capped Mt. Ruapehu rearing above a few drifting clouds, the girdled regularity of Mt. Egmont and its endless downflowing rivers, flowing white-capped turbulence on Cook Strait, the delicate golden tracery of Farewell Spit, and then the towering, rust-colored Kaikoura Range in disordered majesty, bordered by the relentless oscillation of the Pacific Ocean.

Theresa encourages me to get the camera and take a few pictures through the plane’s tiny window. But no, I don’t think I will. Some pictures are beyond the lens.

In Christchurch, arriving later than we’d anticipated thanks to a delayed Auckland departure, we engage in the most unsecure of transfers – through a door, around a corner, and into an already-queued line of passengers, with nary a security camera or officer in sight – to our next flight. A thirty-three seat, double-propped needle in Air New Zealand blue and white sits on the tarmac, and Theresa immediately gets nervous; she doesn’t like small planes, she hates turbulence, and this flight promises an abundance of both. Amid the clatter and chaos of the care and feeding of an airplane, carts and hoses and identically-suited men swarming like workers ‘round a queen bee, we board the plane, passing our luggage – currently sunning itself atop an overstuffed baggage cart – along the way. We’ve paid $100 in “overweight” charges to get this already-irritating collection of clothing and wine onto the Waiheke Island ferry, onto an Airbus shuttle (as always, incredibly delayed and highly unreliable), and onto a small domestic jet. It’s amazing what the addition of a single case of wine can do to otherwise hassle-free travel, and my back still hurts from lugging the box across a busy Quay Street in Auckland.

The southward flight from Christchurch is bumpy and far less scenic than its predecessor, with the buffeting waves of the Pacific coastline petering out against low, rocky cliffs that only slightly elevate the farmland to their west. It seems we’ve barely ascended to a level cruising altitude when we make a slow, sweeping turn to the right and begin the seemingly endless westward descent to Dunedin’s remote airport, the enveloping hills turning green and lush and overrunning the last traces of farmland. A tiny, somewhat ill-designed terminal is packed with students returning from holiday (Dunedin is a major university town), and one by one they pull battered knapsacks and trunks from the conveyor belt and depart for re-acquaintance with friends (and, no doubt, re-acquaintance with hefty quantities of Speights). Eventually, we’re left with a dozen other forlorn-looking tourists and students, luggage-less.

(Continued here…)

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