Our plan for the night was simple. Simple and a little bit crazy.
My friend, M, and I were going to drive from Wellington to Raglan overnight. Well, I couldn’t drive so it would entail 10 or so hours of driving for her. I promised to stay up as navigator and snack provider. We had only decided to do this road trip two days ago as we both had the same days off work for that week.
One hour into the drive and we were still in Wellington. M insisted she started off every road trip with McDonald’s. Then we needed petrol. Then the car started making a funny noise so we stopped to check it. Then I put her coke on the dashboard. Then I got out of the car to throw away some rubbish as M checked the car’s lights. Then M started to drive without realising the aforementioned coke’s location. Then, of course, the coke went everywhere.
So that’s how yours truly ended up spending the first few hours of a spontaneous road trip sat on numerous paper towels, with a slight syrupy smell in the car. Lana Del Ray was playing and it felt like some strange indie music video.
Eventually, we were on our way with the night and the road stretching out in front of us. I find time tends to take on a special quality past one in the morning – the night seems thicker and the lights glow more as a result, the hazy red of car lights and the soft yellow from street lamps of the small towns we drove through.
Sober conversations held at this hour seemed richer, heavier, daring to break the silence when most of the country is fast asleep. Our talk quickly outgrew small and we shared our lives and our thoughts with one another. There were times when our words were not enough to outweigh the denseness of the night and we spent stretches of time in silence. It was a comfortable silence though, with both of us content to be in each other’s company and absorb the atmosphere of the early morning.
It was just us and the winding New Zealand country roads, we hadn’t seen another car for hours and I tried to spot stars from outside the car window.
“It’s like this country is ours,” M said vehemently.
We were still stuck in that special quality of time and it was a wonderfully weird mixture of exhilarating and exhausting.
We had planned to watch the sunrise in Raglan but instead ended up falling asleep outside a petrol station a few hours away from the town. I suppose it was only to be expected. As much as I loved being on the road through the night, it does have its consequences.
After a nearly running out of petrol scare and worrying whether we’d get stuck in the middle of literally nowhere, we made it to Raglan. We had picked up a blonde, French, hitchhiker just outside of town because M said he was hot. He seemed nice enough. We drove alongside the ocean, with the water being surprisingly blue against the grey clouds.
Raglan is a small town on the North Island of New Zealand, a world famous surfing spot and well-known for its beaches. Within half an hour of arriving at our hostel we started our surf lesson. Both of us somewhat delirious with how little sleep we’d had. M asked our Irish instructor out within 10 minutes of the lesson starting. Though I like to think she would have done this regardless of how much sleep she’d had. The surf lesson was held in a barn and it felt somewhat ridiculous lying on a board pretending to paddle with wooden rafters above you, but it was fun.
Soon it was time to head off to Ngarunui beach and the next two hours quickly washed away in the waves. I’d had one other surf lesson in my life, at Byron Bay, and was not surprised to discover I was still absolutely terrible at it. I can see how fun it would be once you found your feet and could actually ride the waves. Meanwhile, I was happy to wade through the waves and attempt to match their rhythm, most of the time barely making it on to my board.
M and I both worked in a restaurant so we decided to treat ourselves and go for a meal that evening. It was pretty lovely being the customers for once and later on we were joined by a French couple who had been at our surf lesson. Of course, the topic of travelling swiftly came up.
“We’ve learnt how to work, and now we’re learning how to live,” L said. It was the kind of thing I wouldn’t dare say to my friends back home, for fear of sounding ridiculous, but out here it was completely fine. It struck such a chord with me I even made a note of it in my phone.
On our drive back to the hostel, we pulled over on the side of the road to admire the size of the moon. (Again, something I probably do with friends back home.) The horizon was inky black and right in the middle of it was such a large, bright, white moon. The ocean surprisingly still. Once again we found ourselves stuck in this happy silence, surrounded by the night.
Finally, it was time to sleep.
* * *
The next day we were ready to explore more of Raglan, undeterred by the clouds, and drove along the bays.
With my not so expert navigation, we managed to get ourselves to a scenic lookout point but it was so ridiculously and hilariously cloudy all I could was laugh and take a picture of the fog. My mind tried to picture what it might look like on a sunny day and struggled.
There were blue flowers everywhere and they made everything look so lovely. They also reminded of my Wellington home, as we had some growing outside our little blue wooden house.
Once back in the town centre, M and I wandered through the shops, with each one carrying its own charm. Raglan was such a hippy place and being a fan of the 60s era, I felt right at home there. It was so relaxed and quaint, I couldn’t see how anyone could not immediately fall a little bit in love with the place.
Settling quickly into the relaxed vibe of the town, I decided to try out yoga at my hostel. My inflexible, wombling self was taken aback at how much I enjoyed it. I felt my mood completely mellow out, matching up perfectly with the vibe of Raglan. Our last night was spent on the waterfront outside the hostel, with cider and Thai food, watching the sunset and spending the evening laughing with newfound, albeit temporary, friends.
It wasn’t the perfect road trip: the spilt coke, getting lost and the pretty crappy weather, but just like in a surfing lesson, if you got knocked down you just pushed yourself up and got on with it. We rode through the waves, met some great people and tried to make the most out of each and every moment. The country was not ours, but these memories were and I wouldn’t change them for the world.