Hate speech has no place in the world, even online

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New Zealand is a country often associated with postcard picturesque beauty, brimming with spectacular mountain ranges, mischievous parrots and locals with unfathomable accents. That temporarily changed this week after the abhorrent acts of a single coward, armed with a hoard of weapons and a brain infected with the virus of extreme right-wing ideology, perpetuated in part by online forum 8chan, a place where like-minded individuals come together and discuss which cross-sections of society should be slaughtered, for the betterment of our race.

A natural period of enquiry usually follows such a tragic event, in an effort to prevent similar occurrences, and given that it is exceptionally difficult to identify potential mass murderers, our attention turns to factors that we can control. Gun reform is already being discussed by the New Zealand cabinet, just four days after the attack occurred, testament to their progressive government and laudable prime minister Jacinda Ardern. The terrorist’s mental health is another consideration. In his rambling, racist manifesto he claims to be an ordinary white man, as though everyday, mentally-healthy people harbour urges of puncturing the organs of innocent people with bullets. As a native Australian, the shooter had access to discounted mental health programs via their Medicare system, providing him with a limited number of appointments with a mental health professional, though it’s unclear whether these were ever utilised, or how effective they would have been in steering him away from extreme ideology.

The third major consideration, and much murkier problem, is how to moderate hate-filled discussion boards on websites like 8chan. These are hotbeds of righteous discontent, loaded with reclusive figures whose pitiful anger can develop into violent, unbridled extremism, occasionally forming a character of such severity as the Christchurch shooter, so psychologically disturbed and miseducated that he considers his actions enough to prevent Muslims from migrating to predominantly white countries such as New Zealand.

The United States, UK, Australia, and many other countries fall under the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights treaty, which includes the prohibition of certain types of hate speech, such as inciting violence against an ethnic group. The problem is one of enforcement — given that there’s no such thing as an internet police force (thank god), is it possible to systematically and efficiently censor lunatics like the Christchurch shooter, so that their violence-inciting ideology is eliminated before it reaches more gullible and mentally-unhealthy minds?

The web is enormous — over 1.5 billion sites and growing. For this reason, websites are expected to moderate their own content in an effort to keep things in accordance with international law, often through the use of self-written codes of conduct. This method is useless for websites like 8chan, which was created as a place for people to share whatever content they wanted, regardless of its illegality. It even had chat boards dedicated to child rape. Though Google does have the power to remove illegal content from its directories (it removed 8chan after child porn was discovered), the company is understandably reluctant to ban websites that host content that isn’t categorically illegal, such as right-wing ideology. It’s up to the creators of discussion-based websites to moderate their content, including having the financial resources needed to overcome the potentially gargantuan challenges that accompany moderation. Diligent physical and algorithmic moderation of content along with constant refining of rules is needed to reduce illegal and hateful content on large websites, a mammoth, ongoing task that Facebook is gloomily familiar with. For 8chan — a website created with the purpose of allowing the most vile opinions to be shared and discussed freely — moderation is unimportant. 8chan’s owner Jim Watkins claimed that he doesn’t have a problem with white supremacists talking on his site, despite it encouraging mass murder in far-flung, usually peaceful cities such as Christchurch.

With the failure of self-moderation, one might expect the responsibility of regulating hateful content to fall to a government appointment regulatory board in the country where the website is hosted, which reviews the content of questionable sites such as 8chan, with the power to take them offline if necessary. 8chan is infamous for hosting illegal content, making it a prime target for such a regulatory board. Surely a government cannot stand by while a public, highly popular website that is hosted in their country openly discusses child rape, or advocates the destruction of the Muslim faith? While this kind of moderation will be challenging beyond belief, and probably require much free assistance from the general public, the alternative is allowing destructive, hateful ideas to perpetuate among the most depressed and disillusioned minds in the human race.

Freedom of speech is essential for a democratic, fair society in which ideas can be discussed without fear of consequence. The ICCPR tells us that the right to freedom of expression is not an absolute right. This means that platforms such as 8chan cannot have free reign to host disgusting, violence-promoting content. The ICCPR exists for this very reason.

The problem with freedom of speech is that it’s also freedom to be evil. It’s possible to protect freedom of speech and censor websites that repeatedly violate hate speech laws. The difficult part is working out how to do so. Figuring out how to regulate echo chambers of mentally-deranged hate such as 8chan is an absurdly challenging task, but also an incredibly important one, worthy of the extensive time and investment needed in order to remove the soapboxes of senseless, would-be terrorists.

New Zealand Trip – Part Seven – Te Anau to Christchurch

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We’d decided to check out the east-coast city of Dunedin on the second-to-last day of our trip, as it had some awesome nearby wildlife spots, but once again we were foiled by persistent, chunky raindrops, so we didn’t get to do much at all. The little ambling that we undertook revealed an old-fashioned, almost run-down city, which seemed in desperate need of some love. The most entertaining thing that happened was a seagull fight over an apparently invaluable black bag of rubbish, waged by a gang of normal-sized seagulls, and one gigantic specimen which looked like it spent all of its spare time pumping seagull iron. You can conclude which side won.

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We left the city the next day, disappointed at our luck. Our final destination was Christchurch, which we arrived at after another lengthy five-hour drive. As it was our final night we decided to dine somewhere a little classier, and I discovered a wondrous bottle of merlot by a winery called Pegasus Bay, a rouge plonk that delighted all of the senses. We had a quick toxic cocktail after dinner, and because we’re lightweights, went to bed early again.

Our flight home wasn’t until the afternoon, and the elusive sun had revealed itself to us again, so we spent our last few hours exploring the city. Christchurch is the biggest city on New Zealand’s south island, and suffered a series of massive earthquakes between 2010 and 2012, causing 1500 buildings to be demolished. The center of town still has large empty swathes of space where the buildings used to stand, lending an eerie, lifeless feel to those areas. Construction noise filled the air wherever you went, in the continued effort to rebuild what was lost.

Despite this, Christchurch is beautiful in its own way – a mixture of older grey stone and red-brick buildings, and modern stylish designs that seemed to fit well within the city. Anachronistic red and black trams circle the central part of the city, carrying smiling photo-happy tourists to the many sights on offer. We wandered past the severely damaged ChristChurch cathedral, which had a charming austerity despite its crippled state.

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An hour was spent in the natural history museum, with a “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” section housing some absolutely stunning photographs.

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Our time was finally up, and we Uber’d our way to the airport, ready to return to our daily routines. The flight home featured an enormous teenager seated in front of me, who spent most of the ride shifting and smashing his sizeable bulk into the gudgeoned seat. I turned to Em out of frustration and asked whether he was retarded or something, and like a skit from a comedy sketch, it turned out that he actually was. I felt the briefest pang of guilt before quickly moving on.

It’s difficult to describe the splendour of south New Zealand without swearing, and in fact I spent much of the holiday involuntarily muttering “fuck” under my breath from sheer disbelief at the environments that we found ourselves in. It’s as though every single gorgeous natural landscape that exists has been collected and deposited in a single place, and in a location so remote that it isn’t spoiled by over-tourism. If this country were in Europe, every improbably blue glacial lake might be festooned with mile-high hotels, and circled by four-lane highways. I’m extremely thankful that it isn’t.

Travelling from one spot to the next usually revealed something completely new, and equally as beautiful. The terrific diversity of the country makes it continually fascinating and endlessly surprising. From the distant, swooping mountain valleys of the south, to the sloping, fertile wine valleys of the north, every part of the island had something amazing to offer. We adored the numerous chunky brown birds that effortlessly bounced their way around, just as we loved the mischievous mountain-parrot Keas who stomped across the tops of convenience stores and yelled at tourists for food.

If you’ve yet to visit New Zealand, what are you waiting for? It’s a destination that is sure to leave you amazed.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed what we shared!

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New Zealand Trip – Part Six – Queenstown to Te Anau

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Gone are the days of our youth when litres of alcohol could be drunk with little consequence. These days, a hangover feels like having your stomach replaced with an over-jealous washing machine, and a head that’s being jabbed by a malicious leprechaun. Despite this, we were going out on the town, and we were going to get properly fucked.

We skipped out of the hotel entrance like a couple of excited children, ready to guzzle all of the booze available to us. We hopped from bar to bar, consuming red wine, golden beer, blackened Guinness and rainbow cocktails, with a good measure of cod and potato half way, for that extra fishy boost. At one bar, while Em was in the bathroom, a fellow drinker assumed that I was alone and was kind enough to ask me to join them, such is the friendly comradeship of Queenstown tourists. In another bar, the niceness was relinquished by a gaggle of petulant silver-haired Americans, who felt it necessary to state in no uncertain terms how terrible the service was in this very casual Irish pub. Personally, I’d rather an honest smile than a fake one.

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After a few hours of wayward drinking and plodding, we reached our final destination – a club that promised good underground house music. Unfortunately, the excessive alcohol had broken my weary, aged limbs, and I could only dance for half an hour before whining incessantly about going home. No amount of red bull or thumping kick drums could rejuvenate me. We left and purchased some mightily delicious venison puff-pastry pies, gobbling them with glee as we swayed our way back to the hotel.

The hangover was every bit as disgusting as anticipated, so not much was achieved that day. We caught up with my old pal from Ibiza over dinner, who like everyone else my age except me, has settled down into a family life, complete with adorable smiley toddler.

The next morning we undertook our one and only thrill activity of the trip – the famous Shotover Jet. The driver of our boat was an unbelievably handsome bastard; if I’d have thought it possible to blindfold Em for the duration, I would have. He sped down the Shotover river like a bat out of hell, aiming the gunfire red boat as close as physically possible to the sharp canyon rocks without actually hitting them. He described the boat itself as a giant jetski, which sucks water and then savagely spits it out in order to create massive, fear-inducing amounts of thrust. The result was superb fun.

Our next destination was Te Anau, a town that exists purely for the spectacular nearby Milford Sound – the unofficial eighth wonder of the world, which is essentially a gigantic sea-filled fiord carved out by glaciers. It took a couple of hours to get there, with the blasted rain returning once more to spite us. Te Anau also sat on a beautiful far-reaching lake, and I was beginning to wonder whether that was a requirement for a New Zealand settlement. The town was fairly large and seemed to consist mostly of lodges, hostels and hotels. We stayed in a modest hostel because the prices were high due to the remoteness of the town, forking out $120AUD per night for what was basically a crappy, worn-out room. The shower curtain was the kind that wanted to get up close and personal whenever you turned the water on; it wrapped its slimy fabric around my calf more than a few times. The bed was comfortable, at least.

Our Milford Sound boat trip was the following day, a two-hour coach trip from Te Anau. The driver made a pleasing stop at a hidden lake along the way, which on sunnier days acts as a mirror, reflecting the impeccable surroundings. It was splendid regardless.

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The closer we got to our destination, the more the rain intensified, and as we descended into the fiord we could see nothing aside from blanket fog. No eighth wonder of the world for you today! Haha!

Thankfully, after the boat departed and bobbed closer to the mammoth mountains, they became much clearer. The colossal rock faces were blackened by the steady rain, which caused tens of individual waterfalls to cascade down them, of differing size and intensity. The tails of some smaller waterfalls were being blown in another direction entirely by the wind, creating a delicate fairy-dust mist that clung to our jackets when we braved the top deck.

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As we approached the exit of the fiord, the fog broke in the distance, revealing a delightful water-valley of sloping sierras. Milford Sound was undoubtedly impressive, despite the weather. The captain noted that this was a typical sodden day for them, with the area receiving a jaw-dropping nine metres of rain per year.

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We returned to our lifeless hostel a few hours later, and prepared ourselves for our final two days in New Zealand.

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New Zealand Trip – Part Five – Queenstown

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Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand – almost every pant-soiling activity created by man can be undertaken there, if that’s your thing. The town centre is littered with adventure shops whose staff openly declare that they’ll take pleasure in throwing you out of a moving plane. Their glossy, hungover eyes inspire little confidence.

The town itself is located on the country’s biggest lake – Wakatipu – and homes around 16,000 people. Many of the town’s residential buildings have made their way up the surrounding mountains, which after the sun falls, bathes them in sparkling light. Atop a few of the tallest mountains are patches of snow leftover from winter, with the ranges being prime ski locations during those colder months. Many of the buildings look like they’ve been lifted directly from a Swiss town, giving the entire place a cozy Alpine feel.

We arrived late morning to a town packed with people. The spell of non-rain that we’d been blessed with was continuing, so we decided to ride the town’s gondola before it was due to turn again the next day. It slowly limped and shuddered its way up the mountain, offering spectacular views from the top.

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Also on top of the mountain was a winding luge track that was included with the gondola ride, which was basically a low sitting go-kart that used gravity instead of petrol. They moved surprisingly fast considering that you weren’t strapped in, adding to the Kiwi’s apparently nonchalant attitude towards health and safety; a refreshing change to the cotton-wool-wrapping societies of certain places. After we finished our run and were watching from above, a young bespectacled Asian gentleman with a penchant for speed hit a rubber barrier and sprang himself out of the cart like a kangaroo on amphetamine, ending up on a different track entirely.

We spent the next couple of hours exploring the town, finding ourselves in the picturesque Queenstown Gardens, which jutted out onto the lake opposite the town centre.

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Like the park in Blenheim, it was adorned with perfectly kept lawns and mirror-like lakes and rivers. Unlike Blenheim, there were lots of people, including an old chap calmly performing a Tai Chi routine in the middle of a public walkway. When we walked back past him later he was being accosted by a rowdy stag party, but was obviously too nice to deftly jab their drunken throats.

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We checked into our hotel and was greeted with a bottle of rose wine to celebrate our arrival, courtesy of an old friend who worked there. That night we went to an awesome place that had the cheapest and probably the tastiest food since we’d been away, called Muskets and Moonshine. In the men’s bathroom was a racing game above the urinal, the car for which could be controlled using your boozy discharge. I crashed multiple times and retired with wet hands.

After a little more wandering about town, we went to bed, ready for another day.

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It was due to rain again the next morning, so we decided to go for a drive to an old gold mining place called Arrowtown, which seemed an odd mixture of a one-street American town you see in the movies, and an English countryside. Every building was dedicated to selling food or souvenir tat to tourists, but it had a certain charm to it regardless. We bought some fudge from what had to be the busiest shop in the southern hemisphere, and quickly left before an accidental pregnancy occurred.

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Once back in Queenstown, we queued for a famous Fergburger for 45 minutes in the rain, only to discover that they were about as tasty as most Australian burgers. The Aussies are patty-spoiled it seems.

The next day we woke to gloriously sunny skies, so we hopped into the Mazda and made our way towards Glenorchy, another tourist town that also straddles Lake Wakatipu, to the north. The road followed the lake the entire way, and as usual, the views were stunning.

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There wasn’t a great deal to do in the town itself, so after a brief amble we drove back to Queenstown, and prepared ourselves for the first rip-roaringly drunken night of the holiday.

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New Zealand Trip – Part Four – Lake Wanaka and Isthmus Peak

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We arrived at Lake Wanaka in the afternoon, and drove to the water front to do a little exploring. The lakefront of Wanaka is a stretch of trendy restaurants and shops, permeated with party-prepared young people, sipping their first vessels of booze for the day. This seemed like a town in which you could satiate your festive tendencies, if you were so inclined. Stretching out into the distance is the navy-blue lake itself, again accosted by picturesque snow-capped mountains. At this point, we expected nothing less than sublimity with every new place we arrived at.

When arriving at our hotel, a young Irish girl who had a sing-song voice like Luna Lovegood checked us in, and assured us that next week’s trip to Milford Sound would be just as dazzling as everything else we’d seen in this fairytale country. Luna seemed a credible source of information.

After a tasty dinner at a lakefront bar, we retired to bed in preparation for the next day’s hike up Isthmus Peak, a merciless 1385-metre mountain about half an hour away.

The drive towards the hike’s starting point took us alongside Lake Hawea, which appeared as a patch of brilliant blue on the horizon, backed by mountain valleys, and flaring with a million glittering sparkles in the morning sun.

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Luck was clearly on our side with the weather, and we started the hike in excellent spirits. It started with gentle slopes through lushious green hillsides, with sheep, cow and deer fields surrounding us on each side. A small family of cows eyed us wearily as we scampered through the little verdant patch they called home.

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After about half an hour, the gradient gradually increased, with the track looping left and right up the daunting mountain. At certain points, it became so physically exhausting that we had to stop every couple of minutes in order to get some air into our wheezing, asthmatic-like lungs – this hike was breathtaking in more ways than one. I frequently challenged our apparent lack of fitness by declaring that we were making good time compared to the reviewers on Trip Advisor, but as a couple of Germans bounded their way past us halfway up, we cursed their efficient Aryan legs.

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As we gained altitude, the flora took on a more stark, yellow look, with spikey porcupine-like bushes scattered all over, and a great deal more bare, dark-grey rock.

The walk was incredibly deceptive – we reached what looked like the peak of the mountain, only to be presented with another horrifying upwards stretch on the other side. This happened three times. At one point we passed a girl who was sat on the side of the path, looking like she was done with this torturous shit, and possibly also done with her boyfriend who was desperately trying to coax her onwards. After three hours of what was undoubtedly the toughest exercise we’d ever endured, we reached the peak’s summit, which offered 360 degree views of both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, surrounded by snowcapped mountains – a spectacular and rewarding sight.

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All was exposed to icy winds on the peak, and we hunkered down away from its nippy bite, indulging the views while refuelling with fruit and energy bars. We started to make our way back down, and the descent somehow seemed even steeper; we were amazed that we’d even managed to make it to the top of such a demanding mountain. Tramping downhill puts a lot more pressure on your knees, and by the time we reached the car two hours later it felt like they’d been worked on by a gang of vicious slick-haired Sicilians.

That night we ate at a delicious tapas-style restaurant in Wanaka called Kika, consuming the necessary excessive amount of lamb and duck-fat potatoes. Happy and full, we hobbled back to our toasty hotel room, ready for Queenstown.

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New Zealand Trip – Part Three – Arthur’s Pass to Lake Wanaka

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The vengeful rain continued to fall as we snaked our way towards the exit of Arthur’s Pass. The mountain tops were shrouded in blotchy grey clouds, lending a mysterious Jurassic Park like aura to the landscape. Sadly, Jeff Goldblum’s mischievous grin was nowhere to be seen.

 

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Our next stop was Lake Tekapo, and it took us about four hours to get there, the wet weather following us for every kilometre. Glaciers within the headwaters of Tekapo grind down rock and create a fine dust, which when mixed with the lake’s water, colour it a magnificent turquoise blue. Unfortunately for us, the grim sky dampened the effect considerably, and we left the lake cursing the weather.

We continued onto our next stop for the night, a small sugary-treat-sounding town called Twizel, which was originally built in the late 60’s to house construction workers for a local hydroelectric project. Today, as with many south island New Zealand towns, its survival relies on tourism, and it seemed incredibly quiet. Shops and restaurants were concentrated in a small central area, with wide curved roads winding their way around everything. We were checked into our hostel by a man that looked like an offended bulldog, but thankfully didn’t act in accordance with his appearance. The hostel was cheap and crappy, and the heater rattled like an old man with bronchitis. Our room number was 707, which when turned upside down appropriately spelt LOL.

In the morning, we checked out and made our way towards the biggest mountain in the country – Mount Cook – passing Lake Pukaki on the way. Like Tekapo, Pukaki is a glacial-fed lake, and it shimmered lucent blue in the early morning sun. The mountains in the distance looked as though somebody had very carefully ran a white-coated paintbrush along the top of them.

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We drove north along its west bank, the mountains to our left gradually getting taller. Eventually the colossal, 3724-metre Mount Cook appeared, a snow-laden giant in the distance.

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Things of such immensity often imbue me with a quiet humbleness, such is their unfathomable size and extensive existence. Every petty, tiny worry that might once have dulled my soul is vanquished in the face of such wondrous natural greatness. All falls away except for the spectacle before my eyes. It’s truly awe-inspiring; one of the most pleasurable emotions to experience.

As we drove deeper into the mountains, the landscape became even more dramatic, with whitewashed mountains soaring high into the cloudless sky. Our destination was a walking track that ended close to the foot of Mount Cook, and as we pulled into the car park, it was clearly a popular attraction. The track led us through Hooker Valley, walled by mountains and criss-crossed by a turquoise blue river, which was overcome by a handful of suspension bridges that could only hold twenty people and bounced as you went across them. Nervous laughter floated through the air as we tentatively trod its wooden planks.

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The temperature dropped steadily the further we walked, and by the time we reached the end of the track our ears were like strawberry ice-poles. Mount Cook was towering over another beautiful glacial-blue lake, like an eternal watchman.

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This is without doubt the most amazing place I’ve ever visited. Trying to describe its magnificence is impossible, and the pictures are equally mediocre compared to the real thing. It has a stark and unerring majesty; an unapologetic perfection, without a shred of ostentation (unlike my writing).

We slowly made our way back to the car, dodging hoards of Chinese tourists who seemed to have the spatial awareness skills of Ray Charles after a hit of brown sugar. Wanaka was our next stop, a bustling alpine town that ran along a southern section of yet another beautiful New Zealand lake.

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New Zealand Trip – Part Two – Blenheim to Arthur’s Pass

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The boundless rain clouds that had wetted Blenheim yesterday evening were gone by morning, and the town was bathed in glorious yellow sunshine. We aimed our vehicle westward through the valley, surrounded by vines and gently sloping mountains. Sports mode was activated for the Mazda 6, initiating a sudden lightness to its bulk, and a new sensitivity to the accelerator that made the car infinity more fun to drive. The excessively winding roads, the fortuitous lack of cars, and the spectacular landscape made it thoroughly enjoyable.

After about an hour of driving, we spotted a sign for a lake and decided to take a quick look. We were met with a huge, crystal-clear body of water enclosed by sky-reaching mountains, and families of ducks gently quacking their way to and fro. If you were a duck, you’d probably want to live here. There were only about ten people with us in total; it was mostly silent and peaceful.

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We reached the coastal community of Punakaiki after about four hours, the car quietly ticking in protest at the workout it had been put through. My imagination rarely does a good job of visualising how a place is going to look – it was less like a traditional, compact community and more like somebody had taken a bunch of buildings and placed them as far apart as possible while still being able to call them a collective. Punakaki is backed by looming limestone hills, which comprised the western edge of Paparoa National Park. The main attraction of Punakaiki is an assemblage of sea-jutting rocks that look like the biggest and most unappetising pancakes one could muster. At some points, they formed small coves which were filled by the Tasman sea, relentlessly swirling and smashing furiously against the edges. According to the educational signs, scientists still aren’t entirely sure how the pancake-like formations occurred.

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We stayed in a tiny Amazon village-like “retreat” that night, which like Punakaiki itself, was a collection of buildings spread out across a short distance. Our night was to be spent in the “Te Nikau” house, a wooden structure that had four bedrooms and a large communal area downstairs. Ambling around the area with a stick in its mouth was an old brown labrador-looking dog, who had the most spectacular eyebrows and moustache I’d ever seen on a canine. He snuffled happily as he approached us and I gave his chin a pleasing scratch. Sat on the porch of the Te Nikau house was the most Kiwi person we’d met so far, and when we got up to our room we were unintentionally regaled with meticulous grand plans for the building, in rough but entertaining fashion.

When the Earth span to such a degree that the sun was no more, we realised how eerily quiet it was compared to city-living. If a cricket chirped, you heard every stridulating decibel; when the wind blew, you could hear the dog’s facial hair rustling. My tinnitus was more apparent than it had ever been while in Punakaiki.

Despite the quiet, we woke early after having slept well, and jumped back in the car for our next destination – Arthur’s Pass. After about an hour’s worth of driving, snow-capped mountains appeared in the distance, but were mostly obscured by the ill-timed rainclouds that surrounded them. They looked magnificent regardless. We entered the huge sloping valley of Arthur’s Pass, gigantic mountains closing in upon us.

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We were headed for a hike trail called Bealey Spur, just past the township of Arthur’s Pass. Upon arriving, it became apparent that the rain wouldn’t relent. We trudged our way up the mountain regardless, reaching the top after two hours of sweating and cursing. It would have been a breathtaking walk had it not been for the expansive rainclouds; the best view was when returning to the starting point after four exhausting hours.

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Soggy and tired, we checked into our accommodation in the township of Arthur’s Pass, the owner chuckling at our sodden appearance. The heater in our room got an equally tough workout over the next 20 hours, after which we packed up the car and made our way south, to the famous inland lakes.

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New Zealand Trip – Part One – Christchurch to Blenheim

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The necessary airport milling that occurs while waiting to go on holiday is usually tackled with excessive, excitable drinking. The soulless, black and white marble bar that we found ourselves perched against was a picture of commotion, its occupants scrambling to drink as much alcohol as possible in order to ease the discomfort of their upcoming flight. A caramel-skinned Aboriginal lady with eyes like golden orbs was tending to her customers with great ease and effectiveness. About ten minutes in, a hoard of towering grey gentlemen descended upon the tiny area and displaced us with little effort, but with the utmost politeness. We didn’t mind at all; they seemed like lovely old folks. Classic eighties records exited the bar’s speakers and made their way into our receptive ears, which when merged with the effects of the booze, added to our already jovial mood. We were going to New Zealand!

The Jetstar flight was awful beyond measure, due to the inevitable hangover that ensued. There was little chance of beverage service to stave it off, with the neon-clad attendants taking a full hour to make their way down the small plane. A tiny, disturbed nap made things immeasurably worse; my head felt like it was being squeezed by something extraordinary. Croaks for water fell on deaf ears, and every passing minute felt like an hour.

When we arrived at Christchurch Airport, I was fully prepared to fight anyone who got in my way. But only if they weren’t Maori, because those fuckers are huge. The cab driver fitted this description and my dire state was temporarily forced into submission; I did swear at him for charging us $50 for a ten-minute ride, but only when he was out of earshot.

After a decent sleep at our temporary hotel, we picked up our gleaming-black Mazda 6 from the car rental company, and after the fifteen minutes of confusion that usually occurs at such places, we started making our way towards our first stop – Kaikoura. The sky was painted vibrant blue, and a crispness permeated the air; it seemed a perfect day for driving. I was prepared to receive the visual feast that had been promised to me, and after passing the boundaries of the city, was not disappointed. The first part of the drive north was filled with luscious verdant hills, splattered with swathes of blinding yellow flowers, which towered over the road like beautiful, watchful sentinels.

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As we made our way into Kaikoura – a tiny coastal town famous for its rotund seals and whales – we were met with long, level stretches of gleaming-white serrated rock, as though something gigantic had decided to run its comb through it. This stretched on around the u-shaped peninsula of Kaikoura for miles, including thirty-metre high cliff faces topped by gorgeous, bare-faced greenery. This town was one of the hardest hit by the monstrous earthquake in 2016, with many tourists having to be rescued via helicopter and boat. The coastal roads are still peppered with roadwork traffic stops, with the Kiwi construction workers showing unending politeness by smiling and waving when you they finally allow to continue.

Next stop was Bleheim, in the heart of Marlborough wine country. This region is famed for its Savignon Blanc wines, for which the cold nights are best suited. We wound our way down into the sumptuous valley, abounded with perfectly straight vine rows as far as the eye could see. Every hill glowed with a healthy vibrancy, brilliant hues of green against a perfectly blue sky. This place was absolutely gorgeous.

Our accommodation was a house that had been split into separate guest rooms, and was run by an excitable, fair-haired older lady who enjoyed talking about cyclones and how the weather people just couldn’t seem to predict them. Her large husband stood behind and quietly agreed. He had a red-face and a beaming smile. We liked them both a lot. While checking in a scruffy white-haired pooch pushed his nose through a gap in the wall and identified us with quick, sharp sniffs. It disappeared before we could offer a scratch.

The next day we wandered around Pollard Park, which had the same level of dazzling vividness as everything else in this region. There were tiny bridges arching over cute rivers, and small, long-tailed black birds that ran away in a manner that suggested they’d just stolen something.

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We reluctantly left the park to wander into the city centre. Blenheim is a hushed town with only 30,000 inhabitants, and has a similar feel to all small towns. Its streets are sleepy and quaint; the center of town is lined with coin-operated parking meters, installed in the 80’s and then forgotten about. The most eye-catching thing in Blenheim is the white-stone war memorial clock tower, the guard of Seymour Park.

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Later that day we did a wine tour, and when the bus turned up we were greeted by a handful of smiley wrinkly faces – what did we expect? Everyone had a friendliness that usually accompanies older people who like to travel, and it made them a pleasure to spend time with. After a short spell of driving, it became apparent just how beautiful this region was. The wineries themselves were a gorgeously-designed mesh of stone, wood and glass, with a good amount of symmetry thrown in. They looked spectacular against the backdrop of the rolling green landscape. We enjoyed the buildings just as much as the wines themselves.

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One of the winery hosts was an older English chap who reminded me of a quieter version of Michael Palin. His accent was still perfectly English apart from when he answered a question with the typical Kiwi “Yis”. Our guide for the tour itself was an older Maori lady who was nice enough, but had a glint in her eye which suggested that she might quietly murder you if you put a foot wrong. Needless to say, we were all well-behaved.

Tomorrow, we’ll be cutting West across the top of the island, to Punakaiki.

Forward to part two >

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