To be frank, there was no startling revelation that we had landed in another country, far less one at the end of the world. After being sniffed by a killer customs beagle - which discovered Ewan's Granola bar - the first thing we saw was a McDonald's. We felt nice and comfortable. Flying from Auckland to Wellington, though, the awesome newness hit. The landscape is dramatic. Massive mountains. Deep volcanoes. Gorgeous coves and secluded bays. And a gentle emptiness.
Then, wandering the streets of Wellington, there was something else. After being struck by the splendor of the harbor and the houses built on the hill – little Sydney and San Francisco, indeed – there was an eerie familiarity. This was Glasgow. It wasn't just that I passed Turnbull House and Kelvin Court or a shop called the Mews. It was the people. The donkey-jacketed, scrunched, head-down walk into the driving rain with that look of stoic acceptance. The red-faced hardness. The shuffle. The woolen sweaters and Wellington boots. The knitted woolen tams. The smell of vinegar from the fish and chip shops. The sound of the bus breaks and the splish of puddles as little cars drive through them.
But then there's the wind to grandly announce that you're in a wild and different land. They don't call it "Windy Welly" for nothing. It howls up the Cook Strait and through the streets, thinking nothing of doing a 100km an hour and making tumbleweeds of people. A southerly wind is bad news, for it has its roots in the Antarctic. A northerly only mildly better.
There's the great dry humor, too. The vending machine man who, while restocking his merchandise, said "There you go, sir. I can't guarantee a manual transaction every time." Or the car salesman who, in mid pitch and upon catching sight of Ewan in shorts, said, "It's winter here, young man," and carried on without missing a beat.
The Kiwis are wonderful. Courteous drivers. Polite service, but not of the commercial sort – there's no tipping here. Very kind and very funny.
The land itself is breathtaking. The air is crisp and fresh and clean.
The beauty is physically affecting. Mountains rise 4,000 feet out of the ocean and in your face. Wild, rolling barrenness. Gorse, the yellow plague of Scotland, everywhere. At night when I look out of my window, the lights climbing up the hills remind me of Lake Arenal. It's a glorious cross between Scotland and South Dakota, with a bit of Costa Rica thrown in. Heaven on earth, in other words.