I’ve been pretty antsy on takeoff for the previous flights this trip, but as we angle upwards away from Melbourne I’m calm and relaxed. I guess now that more than half of the trip is over I’ve got less to lose if something goes wrong. A few mountains poke lazily through the flat clouds as we head southeast to the Tasman Sea, and then Australia is gone.
New Zealand is split into two main islands, the North Island with its tropical weather and geothermal attractions, and the South Island with its rugged beauty and equally rugged climate. As much as we’d like to see all of the country, Melanie and I only have time for the South Island this trip; we’re all geared up for the rain, fog, and cold winds we expect to encounter in the mountains (and everywhere else, we figure). After a few smooth hours we reach the western edge of the island and cruise above the Southern Alps, the young, sharp mountain range that forms the backbone of the South Island. The peaks are rocky and forbidding, a hundred shades of gray beneath the broken clouds. It’s a fairly narrow island; soon the slopes fall quickly to a wide flat patchwork of fields stretching all the way to the eastern coast and Christchurch, our first stop.
Another long line at customs greets us on the ground at Christchurch. Somehow Eric and Cindy maneuver far ahead of us. Looking at the declaration card I think back to our side trip to the wildlife preserve at Mt. Gambier and check Yes next to the question that asks if I’ve visited a farm in the last three weeks. Melanie and I are shuttled into a line where we wait for ten minutes behind a couple who have apparently just been caught carrying something forbidden. Eric and Cindy sweep through the x-ray station as we wait for our guy to get fresh paperwork.
- Don’t be a shmuck. A wildlife preserve is not a farm. On your way.
Christchurch has been good to us, but it’s time to move on. The Southern Alps are beckoning, and we race cabs through the politely busy morning rush hour to the train station where the Tranzalpine waits, pointing westward.