Phew. Made it from Masterton to Tauranga. Beginning with a major highway closure and a GPS preferring to take me in circles. The Saddle Road detour had me within metres of rotating wind turbines threatening to become human eating triffids waiting to impale me for dinner.
I’ve come to affectionately call my car a motorised shopping trolley. At times wind gusts had me gripping the steering wheel much like members of the white knuckle brigade gripped aircraft armrests when I was a flight attendant way back when they were called air hostesses. Whilst driving and being buffeted by the wind I imagined being abducted skyward by wind demons to become a dragon cloud and live my life forever changing from one animal form to another.
Then to speed alongside acres of sustainable pine tree plantations only to descend minutes later through wastelands of newly mined trees hacked at the base and hauled to factories to become furniture and paper.
Sky reaching mountains juxtapose the tussock and snow grass starkness of the Rangipoo Desert Road. A mass sterilisation of seeds occurred 20,000 years ago during violent earth eruptions and it’s easy to see how scenes in the Lord of the Rings films were shot in this land. The harsh alpine conditions were starkly contrasted when I began skirting the rim of Lake Taupo, one of New Zealand’s most popular attractions with its geothermal water currents, hot springs and geysers.
It wasn’t until journeying home the next day that I realised I was seeing with different eyes. The weird sense of driving through multiple movie realities in the unbelievably beautiful, almost too perfect, New Zealand landscape as the setting and backdrop. The jaw-dropping scenery changes every fifteen minutes or so is a feast for the eyes.
One minute I’m viewing a lone cloud in the distance as a thought bubble casting a nonverbal message of protection and blessing over a tiny town. And the next I’m feeling as if I’m about to drive into a Stephen King farmhouse horror story. Passing tall tree windbreaks perfectly groomed they seemingly manifest as cardboard cutouts on a movie set.
By day the rich green manicured grasses of mountains, knolls and hills are stunning. In my mind’s eye, I imagine a human giant wearing a miner’s lamp on her forehead grabbing industrial shears to do her work. She works through the night as if being a mythical night-time gardener of the earth is a job description to be envied. The country roads are superb with passing lanes in all the right places. Except when a multi-wheel road train in front of me begins discarding shredded tyre shrapnel before pulling onto the verge.
New Zealand is a land of opposites all moving in different directions. Travelling through cuttings, climbing escarpments, descending gorges and scaling sliced mountain sides is hair-raising and exciting. Combine this with landslides of rocks, stones and mud falling onto the road and roller coaster fear is easily engaged. Within a short distance, the earth is rising and erupting as hot mud pools. Volcanic rock is everywhere and ground level wound-like fissures expel steam into the air and steaming cliffs release clouds from within to join the clouds above.
Looking upward long thin snake clouds slither east to west and fat white clouds appear as sheep running across a sky paddock. The landscape looks as perfectly finished as a thousand stitch tapestry completed by a pro. Rows and rows of wind-driven pampas grass momentarily become sheep grazing by the roadside. I turn a corner and there again are lines of trees acting as protective windbreaks. With the wind blowing their feathery tops I’m reminded of the feathering of eyebrows creating a perfect arch to the horizon.
The evening sky with a setting sun pushing through clouds like a seven fingered hand is off to my right. Each finger appearing as a ‘may the force be with you’ laser beam cutting the atmosphere and blasting the earth with celestial light. Minutes later I’m driving through one of these fingers of light and feel as if the Dalai Lama is looking at me with such kindness and compassion that aeons of negative karma is burned away.
The last hour is the hardest from Woodville to Masterton. Night time driving with high beam flicked on between oncoming trucks and cars. Pelting rain, plant debris on the move. Every time I see a yellow diamond shape warning sign on the side of the road with a windsock on it, indicating strong winds, I would push myself into the seat in an effort to become heavier and grip the wheel holding on for my life. Talking out loud to myself, “just keep your eyes on the road, don’t worry about what’s behind you, you can do it” helped me feel in control.
The following day Desert Road was closed as an icy Antarctic blast hit the area leaving motorists stranded in the snow. I was reminded we are never in control even though we like to think we are. A few days previously I’d commented on a friend’s Facebook post and still hear the surprising words that escaped my mind … we all change, develop, grow and evolve only to skip out of our human skin when the body stops.
There were times on the road trip where fear catapulted me into thoughts of my demise. The adrenalin pushing through my body the night I arrived home led to almost no sleep and an overwhelming gratitude for being alive in this body, right here, right now, writing to you.
Special thanks to my friends for an amazing meal; Zuri Gschnetzles, a classic Swiss dish and their welcoming hospitality and generosity.
Photo credit: k.bell. Wellington April 2017 using Toolwiz filter