Dan in Milford Sound

Rā whānau hari

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There are certainly worse places to celebrate your birthday.

We’re two weeks into our 3-week sojourn around the south island of New Zealand. And today I turned 38.

Going to New Zealand was on my bucket list of places to visit (along with Canada). I don’t know why, exactly. I guess I always imagined it would be like England but with better weather.

But New Zealand is better than that. It’s just… amazing.

The aren’t really any words to describe how breathtaking the scenery is. How unspoilt the land is. How every day presents something new, and around every corner is another stunning canvas. Pictures like this say it better:

Looking down into Queenstown, New Zealand

Our journey has taken us from Christchurch (in Canterbury!), north to Kaikoura, and then anti-clockwise around the country, stopping at a new place every few days. I’m sure Suewan will post more detail about what we’ve encountered, but it has been everything I hoped for.

Cindy Lauper

I always live by the mantra that you should be able to enjoy the fine things in life alongside the rough stuff with the same degree. So if you’re dining in the best restaurant one day, appreciate it. But if you’re eating leftover pizza the next day, still be thankful.

But one of my biggest flaws is also that I really struggle when stuff isn’t perfect. It makes me grumpy (I’m bit of an idiot, let’s be honest). For example yesterday, we’d booked to go to Milford Sound – one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We got up early and drove down to Te Anau to be picked up by a driver who would take us to this really remote place.

The whole journey there I was in a huff because we’d paid all this money for a probably once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it was really cloudy and overcast the whole way there. I was sad that my pictures weren’t going to be as perfect as they should be. I grumbled, making Suewan annoyed too. I had to bite my tongue to stop myself constantly complaining.

And yet, we descended through a huge tunnel in a mountain and emerged into… beautiful sunshine! Thank God! So it was perfect after all. But wait, that’s not the moral of the story. The moral is you should appreciate it even if it’s not perfect, OK?

Dan in Milford Sound

The contented face of a man who delights in perfection.

Remember, remember 21st of November

And so to my birthday.

Last year my birthday occurred while I was in Hong Kong. I took us all out (including Suewan’s parents) for an amazing buffet meal. Fantastic food, with a view across the harbour in the evening – what more could you want?

This year’s birthday has been… different.Me with my birthday presents

We awoke early in Te Anau (needing to check out by 10am). Roobs presented me with birthday gifts, which was cute (she’s pretty much worked out her theme when it comes to buying presents for dad).

I had a quick video call with my parents and my sister and that was all very nice.

We set off in glorious sunshine for a drive down to our next stop on the south coast, via a stop-off in Invercargill to break up the journey. But not before a pretty decent breakfast in Bailiez Cafe, and a quick go on the zip-lines in the park outside.

We did stop in Invercargill, which, to be frank, was a bit of a dump. It redeemed itself partly because we had a quite nice lunch in the Seriously Good Chocolate Company, and also because a kind lady gave us her ticket for parking which still had an hour left on it.

Having driven for about 2 hours, we still had another hour and a half to go from Invercargill to our Airbnb in Papatowai. We wanted to take the coastal route but local signage told us some of the key roads were closed. Bit of a shame but no big deal as all roads in New Zealand offer lush views – we just had rolling hills and sheep to look at instead of the sea.

It took us a while but we eventually found ourselves in Papatowai. It really is the back end of beyond! I mean, most things in New Zealand seem remote, but this really is remote. We are staying in a converted shed in our host’s back garden. Hey – it’s not luxury, but it’s nice enough (and necessary when you’re on a budget).

At this point it was 5.30pm and I pretty much laid on the bed and dozed off. Suewan has come down with a cold (on MY BIRTHDAY?!?!?) and so I had to do most of the driving. I woke up about half an hour later and Suewan was in a bit of a tizz. Apparently there is only one shop in Papatowai and that closed at 6pm! And the only cafe/restaurant closed even earlier than that! Oh dear. We had very little food with us and I think Suewan wanted me to have a nice meal on my birthday (after a day spent mainly on the road).

We found out that there is a supermarket that stays open until 7pm – a mere 26 kilometres away! So, back in the car and down the windy road to the next village (Owaka) to see what we can rustle up. Who knows, there might even be a nice local restaurant we could dine in for my birthday instead?

So we arrived in Owaka with about 20 minutes to spare before the small supermarket shut, got some essentials and had a quick look around to see if there were any restaurants. There were a couple of ok-looking cafes but they were closed. It seemed there was only one establishment still open. We lingered outside, uncertainly. I did a quick check on Google and it turns out our suspicions about the place were probably correct. One review says: “the manager screamed in our face”. Hmm.

We drove back home (stopping off to buy some eggs out of a box by the side of the road. Don’t ask). At least we had a few beers, some leftover pizza and some crackers to dine on. We had also bought fresh pasta, but that was ruined after the electric hob failed and it sat in tepid water for too long, doh!). Not the best meal I’ve ever had, but certainly one I’ll remember.

And for that I’m very grateful.

My birthday meal

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