Te Anau: A Tranquil November Sunday

If you’re thinking I’ve got my months mixed up because it’s only April and I am talking about November then please bear with me, it will all make sense by the end of this… hopefully.

On the morning of 8th April as I approached the check-in desk with a passport in my hand and a flutter in my heart, I was told with a straight face what no traveller ever wants to hear – “You can’t board this plane.” It was my version of “You can’t sit with us.” only it hurt more because this meant half of my lifetime worth of savings had been flushed down the toilet with absolutely no second thoughts. So, that’s how my glamorous New Zealand vacation began – by watching my flight take-off without me on it. (Well, I didn’t quite watch it as much as I imagined it.)

But you know what they say – when you don’t get what you want, try harder (read- spend some extra money) and you will eventually get there. So I took the other half of my lifetime worth of savings and blew them all up in booking tickets for the evening flight out. If you’re thinking things are getting better now, you’re wrong. By the time I reached New Zealand, a day late, I had succumbed to the guilt of spending double the money that I had initially planned to and wondered if this journey was actually worth it. That’s the last thought I had before I finally fell asleep, on my first night in New Zealand.

The next morning wasn’t very different, sure everything was extraordinarily pretty but I was still feeling a cloud of gloom over my head, while trying to fight for my refund over e-mails. The afternoon didn’t change anything either.

I was in Te Anau by now, left alone by my brother and his friends who had to return to their normal work and life. But I didn’t have any of that, so I decided to take a walk. No maps (not that you need any in Te Anau), no phones – just my camera, a notebook and an umbrella (sort of a necessity around there). And if I say I am glad I did, it would be the biggest understatement that I’ve ever made.

I’ve taken walks before and I know this will sound excruciatingly cliché, but that evening walk… changed me. Te Anau is a place wrapped up like a cocoon of warmth and glassy serenity. It holds you to the ground but as you look across the lake at the mighty mountains, it also allows your imagination to run wild – a permission not many places give you. So with a coffee in my hand when I finally sat down in a world where no one knew me, for the first time in three days, I couldn’t think about my empty bank balance back home.

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With a population of 1,911 people (according to the 2013 census), located in the South Island of New Zealand – a 2 hour drive away from Queenstown – it was quite a change from the cities that I had grown up in. Here when I looked down the road, I mostly saw nothing and trust me when I say this, there is something so special about the blank canvas of a road merging with the sky.

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I spent the rest of my week staring at this and other canvases, writing my own stories – the ones that don’t have to be true to be real. I met a few locals, who liked dogs and went sailing on weekends and mostly, just laughed a lot. And every night when I went to sleep, I would wonder if life could actually be this candid. Were all those little tantrums I was trying to justify in life just plain unnecessary? The questions were scary but the answers were simple.

Although I can safely say Te Anau was my favourite place in New Zealand, I still don’t know how to explain it’s everyday beauty in my words. But there is this phrase I found in Haruki Murakami’s ‘Pinball, 1973’ that kind of suffices it for me, and also connects the dots between the beginning and end of this post –

“…(I) sat there in the autumn light, watching the rest of that Sunday pass by outside my window. A November Sunday so tranquil it seemed that everything would soon be crystal clear.”

For some odd reason, I found my tranquil November Sunday far away from home on an April weekday. But I found it, nevertheless.

Image Credits: LoiterToiter

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