While still strapped into the C-17 airplane bringing us to Christchurch, I changed out of the thick, white, rubber bunny boots that probably weigh about ten pounds and into my black Chaco sandals that are tiny in comparison. We were sitting three feet from a milvan that lived outside in Antarctica, and I could feel the cold slithering from it, reaching for my toes. When the door finally opened, the frigid fingers of the Antarctic recoiled back to the milvan, and my feet stepped out to the embrace of warm breeze and cool drizzle.
We had a little under two weeks in glorious New Zealand. Mostly in Kaikoura, but a rainy visit up to Arthur’s Pass as well. It was an exquisite break to spend time with my inspiring and generous parents, frolic in the ocean, eat fresh foods, and rest. It was a brief, glorious time of being suspended between the back-breaking manual labor of Antarctica, and the grueling go-go-go of traveling Asia.
In Kaikoura, my parents rented a house whose owners had decorated during the heyday of the 50s and 60s. We cooked using their antique kitchen utensils while listening to the record player. Our bed was surrounded by two walls of windows, which we could open at night to listen to the raspy sighs of the ocean’s waves or the pattering of rain on green leaves. In the morning we would walk along the beach, littered with high tide’s seaweed necklaces: leis, rosaries, mardi gras beads. I was constantly on kitty patrol, delighting when a cat would tip toe out of the bushes, bowing down and presenting its back haunches for scratches. We picked lemons and apples from trees in the yard, and ate fish and chips after walking downtown.
After 6.5 months in the Antarctic, autumn in New Zealand is a technicolor dream world. It’s the perfect place to recuperate and relax before shooting off into the frenetic chaos of travel. Laying here in the Christchurch airport, being bombarded by the sounds of two different songs being played at once, the news shouting from a television, and a baby screeching like a feral donkey, I long for the oceanside bed in Kaikoura, but can’t wait for the frenzy of Nepal, of India. Here we go!
Our C-17 landed just before 10pm. As we queued up as the flight crew opened the door, anticipation built as a refreshing breeze of long-awaited humidity flooded over us. I stepped out of the plane and onto the tarmac, encased in darkness and a gentle drizzle of rain – two things we’ve gone a long time without.
Coming back into the world from a long Antarctic summer is a glorious thing. It feels like being reawakened to your senses. The cycle of night and day, the moist air bringing with it a cacophony of smells, the supple taste of freshly picked fruits, and the soft warmth of puppy’s fur. After nearly seven months of desolation, the world of more temperate latitudes feels like an explosion of sensory stimulation.
We headed north from Christchurch to Kaikoura, an old whaling port on New Zealand’s east coast. Here we would wake early, enjoy poached eggs over avocado and toast, a plunger of fresh coffee, and then head out for the day’s hike. One trek we did took us around the peninsula that divides Kaikoura’s North and South Bays. The walk brought us along high bluffs, the seaside wind gently stirring high, golden grass. We walked along rocky shores, dodging cantankerous Southern Fur Seals and skittering Oyster Catchers. Another hike took us through near rain forest along the low slopes of Mt. Fyffe. The leaf covered path lead across crystal-clear streams and beneath cascading waterfalls. We walked along a riverbed through a limestone canyon to Sawcut Gorge, a 10-meter wide gash in the land. The curved, mossy walls of the gorge stretch 80 meters high, allowing only delicate amounts of sunlight to shine through to the rushing waters below. We walked the beach at sunset. Soft sand between our toes as we watched a pod of dolphins twist and twirl as they extended themselves out of the water and to the sky.
After our treks, we would retreat back to our temporary home and eat fresh, homemade feasts accompanied by a Best of Henry Mancini vinyl playing in the background. Bellies full and feet sore, bed was always a welcome retreat. Our bodies slept well, gently recovering from the strain of nearly seven months in the Antarctic.
After Kaikoura, we bid a sad farewell to Elizabeth’s parents, with whom we had been staying. We made our way up to Arthur’s Pass, a town of hostels and cottages tucked away in the Southern Alps. Here we climbed to the summit of the 1,833-meter Avalanche Peak. Leaving in darkness, we climbed through rain, wind and fog along steep drop-offs and ridgelines to an unfortunately socked-in summit. Here we sat for a moment, eating our well-deserved PB&Js and watching the fog briefly dissipate, revealing a tempting preview of sweeping valleys, cut with waterfalls and hanging glaciers.
Now, this period of recovery, preparation, and relaxation behind us, we set off for Nepal. Christchurch > Melbourne > Singapore > Bangkok > New Delhi > Kathmandu. Sitting here, in another airport, waiting for another flight, suddenly the static and reliable world of Antarctica fades away, and is replaced by the constantly shifting world of life on the road. Next stop, Mt. Everest.