Flying to New Zealand is an experience in itself. The kind of experience where you test your patience but also the strength of your stomach. With over 40 hours of commute, 3 long-haul flights, endless customs waiting and indigestible meal trays, I let out a sigh of relief when I was finally able to land on the airport floor from Christchurch.
It was in the night of December 23-24 and I was still far from imagining how much the next 24 hours would be so tasty. Back on my incredible Christmas without fir tree but with a lot of love to 19,000 km from home. I am standing in front of the baggage counter. The record is clear. I'm more than 7 hours late and no one has any idea where is my damn bag.
The only suitcases I carry are under my eyes, a glorious symbol of a 42-hour journey. But all this is ultimately of little importance. I am so happy to finally arrive at destination that I quickly forget the inconvenience of the trip. And then, after all, I had narrowly avoided the worst possible scenario that could happen to me, namely to find myself stuck at the Shanghai airport during Christmas Eve. This victory deserved a small moonwalk in the queue at the customs.
I do not literally fit anymore. But I am really there, like a big gift at the foot of the tree! Or maybe it's already the first symptoms of jet lag? I walk. I am dizzy. In the space of 10 small seconds, I catch myself humming the song All I Want For Christmas is You. It was necessary to drug me on the plane, I do not see other explanations.
Arriving at the car park, the driver introduces me to the super white van which will take us around the South Island during these three weeks. It's perfect, especially as a result of the special holiday makeover that it experienced before my arrival. There are white light garlands at the back and red flashing garlands at the front! Our Christmas van is ready.
We only have to spend our first night together. Well, that was what I thought! Contrary to what I knew ten minutes earlier, it is obviously not in a campsite that I will go but rather in a nice little charming hotel. With a king size bed covered with rose petals and an incredible jacuzzi surrounded by candles, this room is a real gift from heaven that should get me back on track faster than agreed.
What a pleasure to be able to feel it all against me again after a month away. What a joy to be able to again put my (little) frozen feet on the warm water. I smile, thinking back to the misadventures of the last 48 hours. All's well that ends well!
After finding my absent toiletry bag in the morning, we set out for the airport, hoping to get my luggage. Numerous phone calls and rants later, an employee tumbles into the main lobby pulling my trolley. Cries of joy, fingers in heart, dance of victory. There was everything! I finally get my hiking shoes, my windbreaker, my bag and all the Christmas presents I had packed with love.
Let's take a ride, baby! At only 10 o'clock on Christmas Eve, the much-feared moment of shopping has arrived. Each time, it's the same refrain. I do not have any idea of the food to buy. We ventured then in the rays of supermarkets with no specific goal which, in the end, makes us lose a lot of time and, as a result, a lot of patience.
I rush into the pasta department, take jars of sauce with a bunch of cheese, not without pride, at the top of the basket, like a cherry on a cake. The jetlag catches up with me gradually, but I still insist on completing our basket with vegetables and chicken. After all, tomorrow is Christmas, right? I even go so far as to go in search of dairy products for breakfast with a smile. Our menu has finally something and we can go to the checkout.
The frigobox well filled, we take the road towards the lake Pukaki. The 200 kilometers that separate us from our camp are spinning at full speed. The landscapes are incredibly beautiful. On one side, wide yellow plains extend to the mountains whose peaks are always snow-covered and, on the other, hundreds of herds of sheep graze the grass of the hills.
There are no humans on the horizon. When I learn that the archipelago has 40 million sheep for only 4 million human beings, I find it incredible. The breeding conditions are so exceptional that I would like to reincarnate as sheep to roam merrily in these green valleys.
Ten minutes later, we see a few cars parked on the side of the road, the kind of visual clue that suggests that "something" is happening nearby. As we get closer, we discover a large field of wild lupines. There are thousands of them, springing from all sides, straight like an i and in a shades of mauve and bright pink. I cannot believe it!
Neither one nor two, we get off the van, determined to improvise a photo shoot among the flowers. I prepare my drone, and we dive head first in this delicious purple bath. We have fun like children. I run to lose breath through the flowers while the drone catches me and fly over me. To better savor this first moment of freedom, I remove my shoes to run barefoot.
This moment is of rare poetry. Some people will call it cliche but no matter, I feel good in this purple cloud. My romantic outfit fits perfectly with the scene unfolding before my eyes and I think back, with a smile on my lips. I look at my watch. It's already been over an hour since we stopped here. It's high time we hit the road again if we want to watch the sunset on Lake Pukaki!
We arrive at the camp at the end of the day. We are not the only ones to have had the idea to spend the eve facing the lake. There are a dozen vehicles parked nearby. I climbed onto the roof of the van to watch the sunset, seizing the moment with my camera. The turquoise waters of the lake are peaceful. For little, we would forget that they come straight from a glacier and it is better not to dip. In the distance, we can see Mount Cook and its white hat. So that's what our party decor looks like and, really, it's worth every Christmas tree in the world.
We finish to build our camp at dusk. We are ready to celebrate. We turn on the christmas songs. I climb on the bench to blow the champagne cork. Let the party begin! Euphoric, we start sending snaps to all our family and friends. At 19,000 kilometers from us and across the equator, they barely finish lunch but no matter, they are bombarded with selfies and good wishes.
We forget to watch our meal simmering on the gas stove. When it comes to cooking in the middle of the mountains, I have a kind of weird reaction that Freud would call denial. I perceive hunger. My belly gurgles. I could actually drool but I refuse to think that it is by lighting a stove that I can satisfy myself. In my defense, I must admit that it is a real headache to cook in the wild in nature.
You have to continually be ingenious. For example, how to rinse the fingers that stink onion when you know that the water flowing from the can is as bad? And then the question of utensils. It is misery. You have to settle for a reduced cookware to the maximum. I confess that cooking all the food in one and only one liter of a liter and a half is worthy of a test.
Let's add to this pleasant culinary experience the fact that at the slightest gust of wind, the stove goes out. Well, I'm probably exaggerating because the stove finally turned on again. After the meal, family tradition requires, I find an old piece of paper on which I start to write my wish list. Since I can write, it does not happen a Christmas without me repeating this good-natured ritual.
With the years, I see that the list is reduced and it makes me smile. My wishes are fortunately more concise and sensible than during my childhood. I fold my list and I hasten to put it under a big pebble so that it is bathed by the Christmas night. I accomplished my evening mission, so I can go about my business, that is to say, lift my cup and toast.
3...2...1... Merry Christmas!
A year ago, I never imagined celebrating Christmas in the arms of the nature I love, the one who capsized my heart and in whom I have absolute confidence. She made me a safer young man, caring, loving and balanced. She revealed the adventurer who was buried in me, gave me confidence in love and turned each of my weaknesses into incredible strength.
So even if tonight I did not wear a neat dress, that our menu included only one course and that there was neither log and Christmas tree, I can assure you that the magic was more present than ever because we were together and without artifice. This first day in kiwi country is a good omen for the rest of our adventures. If there was only one wish on my list, I would like it to live every moment of the rest of my life with such intensity.