I’m glad I took the pictures, that the iPhone worked, that I can flip through the elephants and lions and zebras. The beauty of the cliffs on Australia’s Great Ocean Road, the small-town bakeries, the magnificent lemon bars. The overheard chit-chat. Sydney’s neighborhoods and the iconic Harbor Bridge and the Opera House. New Zealand’s steaming lakes and springs, breathtaking panoramas, and fresh-today seafood from the roadside stand.
And here’s where I should be saying something like “but it was the people.” And it was. They were wonderful. Welcoming, friendly, and willing to repeat phrases for my Yank ears. But actually, it was the sights—the great outdoors unrolling as I drove; the art, the music, the theatre, the museums—and the fact that they were challenging and spectacular in equal measure.
For me it was a challenge to try to not turn things into the familiar. Yes, there are eucalyptus trees in northern California where I grew up; and yes, I had to keep reminding myself while seeing lines of eucalyptus against hills of golden grasses not to say “Oh, that looks just like California.” I needed to stay with the immediate presence of Australia as it was presenting itself to me. Why this need, I reminded myself, to negate a little discomfort with my current condition by immediately bringing up something comfortable from my past?
The spectacular was another matter. Several times while driving in New Zealand, I was confronted with a sudden vista of sea and sky, mountains and valleys that shook me so deeply I had to pull off the road and blink away tears. I felt I was privileged to view a portion of our earth that was what all the earth was meant to be. And when close to a steaming lake surrounded by giant ferns, framed with silica terraces in white and blue and ochre, the same onrush of emotion held me breathless in gratitude.
Australia and New Zealand provided this 77-year-old road-trip-junkie-with-a-new-knee with four weeks of road trips that shook me up, tested my boundaries, gave me insight into who I now am, or am becoming, and what I might expect in the future. Can’t ask for too much more than that from any single travel experience.
Getting back to New Zealand is definitely on my agenda. I only had time for the North Island, and everyone says the South Island is the more spectacular. February 2019 sounds like a definite possibility.