We sat by the harbor on the patio of the open-air restaurant, taking in the warm breeze of the Auckland evening. The sun was taking forever to set, lazily throwing that gold dusk light in every direction. Stephen and I skipped conversation in favor of occasional bites of shrimp cocktail, sips of crisp white wine, and enjoying the live music. The band had a Caribbean flavor to it, kinda jazzy and slow, and they were doing all cover songs. I remember most that they sang U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For..." a soulful yet gentle voice over the steel drums singing, "I believe in kingdom come, then all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one..."
This one night in Christchurch we accidentally found our way into an Irish pub while looking for a dance club, and then we met these young Scottish businessmen traveling to promote the whiskey brand they work for... one was around our age with a mischievous sparkle in his eye, and told me more than once how I should stay in town til Saturday for the whiskey festival so we could hang out...the live Irish music played on and on, the musicians were not so much performing for any pub customers as they were having a jolly evening entertaining each other with their strokes of the fiddle...
"Hey, where are you from?" the guy behind me on the bus said in an American accent. It was the first time I'd heard such an accent besides our own in many days, and I think he'd heard mine when I spoke to the bus driver. We started chatting, he introduced his friend just getting onto the bus, and I introduced Stephen, then another young American sitting in front of me turned around to join the conversation. We were from California, Oregon, Texas and Hawaii, and all of us were happy to start the 8 hour journey with some cultural peers to chat with. By lunchtime, after hours of bus conversation we were fast friends. We bought some meat pies and salmon quiche and had a picnic looking out over the electric blue lake, so colored because of the minerals the glacier water picks up as it melts and flows its way this direction. After eating and before we had to get back on the bus, we ran toward the water and skipped some rocks just to see the ripples over the odd shade of blue. Hours and hours later once we'd all settled into our Queenstown hostel and showered off the day's journey we reconvened at a Thai food restaurant and drank a toast to what was to be one of the most memorable nights of travel for each of us.
The shoes had seen quite a bit of terrain by now, and felt quite soggy from walking across the wet grass of the rugby field. I took them off, and continued my short hike from the bus stop to this famed St. Claire's beach that was my morning destination for my full day in Dunedin. A grassy sand bank rose in front of me, and once I reached the top I saw stretched out before me in both directions a serene, almost empty, white sand beach... sand dunes steeply leading down to a flat stretch before meeting the waves. It looked just like the pictures, but better. I sunk my feet into the soft cold grains and then jumped down the dunes to the bottom. I set out my towel, but couldn't sit still. There are few things in nature I love more than a bank or dune of sand, and I wanted to play, jump, climb, and sink into them. I did it a few times... and then I sat down for a minute, overcome by the desire to be sharing the experience. Not with just anyone, but with a close friend or family member. I love to be alone, but I really wanted to have this memory with someone. "Remember when we jumped on and slid down the dunes in Dunedin? Wasn't that an amazing day? And then we climbed those rocks nearby, and then got an iced mocha while we watched the surfers?"
The cicadas could not have been humming more loudly. We tramped on and on along the side of the ravine, and I walked behind, following the two short blonde children leading the way. "See that tree? We cut that back to make the path when we moved here!" the boy called back to me. "That's a little bit of waterfall right there, but not a lot, we are going to the big waterfall. Just follow me, I won't fall on this path like I did when I was little," the tiny four year old girl turned to say to me. Once we reached the big waterfall, the one they'd led me through the forest for almost an hour to reach, we sat down on some logs. I laughed as the spray of the water hit my face and the kids pretended to fish for salmon and fry it and serve it to me. We ate their homemade fruit roll-up, split a banana, shared our water, and soaked up the remoteness and beauty of our location, far far away from the grown-ups.