Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cloudy with a chance of anti-Semitism.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to spend the night in Siberia Hut. It’s a lovely little place just north of Mt Aspiring, looking out over a stunning glacial valley. However, the downside to its loveliness is it’s often a bit overcrowded.

This night was one of those occasions. The twenty-four-bunk hut was bulging at the seams with about thirty-five people. The dining room was like a war zone – flames shot from badly primed stoves, while pocket knives and hot plates flashed centimetres away from soft flesh as people blithely conversed in mutually unintelligible languages – predominantly German, and Hebrew from a large Israeli contingent.

It seems odd, but Israelis and Germans are two of New Zealand’s bigger tourist markets, sending about seventy thousand visitors our way each year. Most of these guys are young backpackers out here for an adventure, here to see the views, crawl the pubs and chase the skirts – racial tension and historical political conflicts are the last thing on their minds. But below the surface you can sense there’s a whole lot of latent animosity between the two groups. It’s just hard to gauge how much of a trigger it’d need to flare up.

In the end the two incompatible tounges co-existed perfectly harmoniosly, at least as far as I could tell. It was the Queen's English that was the troublemaker.

As the evening wore on, I found myself chatting with Dove, the hut warden. A Kiwi lad once Buddhist, now converted to Judaism, Dove was the essence of chilled out spirituality – any more laid back and he’d be horizontal - surely a safe conversational option in this slightly tense atmosphere. At least you'd think so.

Making small talk I raised the prospect of sleeping under the stars, “Looks like the weather’s going to hold, do you reckon it’s worth sleeping outside tonight?”

“Yeah, probably not a bad idea," He replied, "I reckon a few of these guys look like snorers.”

“Good call," I said, eyeing the room for likely members of the nostril orchestra, "but I hear the dews around here can be a real pain in the arse.”

Next thing I knew the conversation screeched to a halt, and I was faced with thirty people looking at me, sporks paused in mid-mouthful, jaws dropped with ‘oh my god did he just say what I thought he said’ looks.

Ahh, bless the English language. When even native speakers can confuse condensation with a religion and hence blindly wander into a half-century-old political conflict, it’s easy to see how wars begin.

Needless to say… I slept outside.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

D'Urville Island in reality.

As a kayaker, the map of D'Urville Island is a little off putting. Names like Skull Bay, Massacre Beach, The Bishop's Cauldron and Hell's Gate almost glow on the paper like a red warning light.

The island's geographical location, jutting into the Cook Strait, doesn't improve matters much. It's a piece of water known for funneling massive tides, and screaming gales between New Zealand's north and south islands. When these forces come together badly it creates seas that have sunk 9,000 tonne passenger ferries.

However, maps and reputations can only tell you so much. Sometimes the reality can be very different. Here's a few photos of the island in its mellow mode from a circumnavigation last week. Stay tuned for the accompanying story.