When I wrote the following, I was feeling pretty low. This has obviously happened before, such as when I had to wait around for ages in Melbourne for my car to be ready, or when I had to drop Queensland from my plans because I'd miscalculated the amount of time I had left on my visa. Both of those times I had good reason to be annoyed – delay and disappointment, respectively – but this time I had no good reason at all: I just felt really miserable and I simply didn't want to be on the road.
Needless to say my mood lifted eventually, as it's hard to remain miserable when you're surrounded by the endlessly interesting world of travel, but for most of the first week after I left Auckland, I was a bit of a miserable sod. Yes, I had a nasty cold, and ill health can really spoil things, but these mood swings happen to all long-term travellers at some point, so I feel I need to document it. But please read the following section with a huge pinch of salt, and I apologise in advance, because when I whinge, I whinge. At least that part of me is still English.
The Three Month Blues
Even cats don't fall on their feet this well, and they're genetically programmed to land right side up. Then why do I still feel a nagging doubt about this whole New Zealand thing? The last time I sat down to write, I edited my original transcript to remove all these little whinges about my current travels, as I put my grumpiness down to continuing flu; but even though my health is much better, there's something not quite firing on all cylinders here in New Zealand.
To be honest, I think I'm just suffering from a bout of cynicism. Yes, the countryside's beautiful and yes, the travelling's easy, but I keep finding myself thinking, 'Not another bloody mountain,' and I haven't even reached the real McCoy yet. The people have been quite superb – of that there can be no doubt – but I think I must be suffering from what most travellers call the 'three month blues', except I've taken thirteen months to reach it, and it needed ill health to set it off. By all accounts the three month blues hit you when you're beginning to get used to the travelling life, when you cease to be amazed by everything just because it's new, and you begin to change from being a tourist to being a traveller; at that stage you get a little homesick, and just wish everything was back to 'normal'. This doesn't exactly fit what I'm feeling, but I can't find any other reason for my current desire to jack it all in and come home. It's not a strong enough feeling to actually make me book a flight to London, and a quick waltz around the nearest sunny bay brings me back to the happy reality of my situation, but I do need to address this, because there's no point in obstinately travelling for ages just because I said I would.
I wonder if it could be that I'm simply not as impressed by what I've seen as I thought I would be; I just can't make my mind up about New Zealand. One theory I've got is that because the human environment here is quite English – the physical environment is too mountainous to be English, but it's still more English than the Australian outback, that's for sure – I keep seeing a watered down version of home. This version has a very short modern history, an emerging culture in terms of music and art (though it's a very strong emerging culture), and – to me – a lack of cultural identity. I'm sure a lot of Kiwis would disagree with me on this, but this does sometimes feel like a country of people from other countries, rather than a definite place with a definite identity. Any country where the sports presenters start talking about Arsenal beating Newcastle United, without once mentioning that they're talking about the English football league, is going to struggle to feel exotic to a visiting Englishman.
It doesn't help that a lot of the towns and villages I've seen so far are pretty uninspiring; they're mostly modern and they all tend to look the same. The map might be smothered in little dots, but this isn't Europe, and most of the actual towns are rather boring; the North Island might have some beautiful landscapes, but when settlements aren't in those beautiful areas, they can be rather depressing.
The scale of the country is also a bit of a shock after Australia. For example, I drove from Auckland to Wellington in two easy days, and I could have done it in less time if I'd been in a hurry, but gone are the days of being able to drive and drive and drive, and still get nowhere. The weather is another big shock; after the dry climate of Australia, it's really rather odd to be rained on constantly, especially when you're living in the back of a car and notice every drop. And the west coast of the South Island, home to some stunning scenery, is the wettest area of all, so I'll just have to get used to it (though I guess it's an unavoidable trade-off to have such a green and pleasant land).
And yet I know that I haven't even tried to scratch the surface, and that there's so much potential in them there hills. I think that I might be suffering from a simple case of overload; I've seen so many amazing views, done so amazing walks, lounged on so many amazing beaches and explored so many amazing cities in the last year, that one more picture-postcard view is enough to drive me over the edge. The desire to have exhaust fumes blown in my face as another London bus chugs around a near-stationary Piccadilly Circus is worryingly strong...
But never mind; I am convinced that this melancholy will pass, if only because it feels more like a chemical imbalance than a genuine attitude problem. As soon as I manage to shake the feeling of grogginess and aching limbs by doing a bit of healthy exercise, I'm sure the same person that fell in love with exploring Australia will emerge. Besides, I've been living with unexplained bouts of grumpiness for as long as I can remember; it's just that they've been considerably less common since I hit the trail. I get the feeling that this is the silver lining that will finally banish these clouds; I just hope it gets on with it.