In the early afternoon of the 30th December 2016, TS and I had touched down in Queenstown and met up with his mother. We weren’t able to stay the night in Queenstown because we had left it just a little too late to book a hotel room in time, instead we were heading over to Cromwell, an hour’s drive away for a couple of nights, then to a motel in Wanaka for 1 night and 2 hotels (1 fancy, 1 less so) in Wanaka for the following night; but that didn’t mean we couldn’t stop for a while at a favoured spot on Queenstown lake front for a coffee and a snack (I hadn’t eaten the entire journey from Hong Kong to Queenstown). We watched the water whilst we nibbled on cheese and bread, catching up with TS’ mother and talking about what we’d do in town. It wasn’t as hot as I remembered it being a couple of years before but, I reminded myself, that had been later in February and it was the end of December. We still managed to get a little sunburnt (the New Zealand sun will get you when you least expect it) and enjoyed some good walks around town.
The few days in Wanaka passed peacefully, with the only exception being a particularly nasty bout of food poisoning I had come down with on New Year’s Eve (luckily it lasted only 24hrs and then I was back on my feet; unluckily we had missed out on any fireworks but, as TS’ mother told us, “I have learned over the years that the new year will come whether or not I’m awake to greet it”). We were both a little shellshocked from the move without even realising it but were finding it hard to unwind, and the “holiday” was going to be over soon because TS was going to have to start working again, only now he was going to have to work at night.
We headed South. The weather got colder and the sky darker. I told myself again that it was only the beginning of January, summer had yet to really kick in. We arrived in Dunedin and as we did the skies opened and it began to rain.
Two years prior to this, the exact same thing had happened. As TS’ mother’s little white car trundled up the highway towards Dunedin the clouds had literally massed together into a great dark storm, as if some god had gathered the skies into a giant angry ball. The hills ahead had been obscured as sheets of rain had started to pour down, the wipers on the car working furiously but to little effect. It was incredible to see the difference from sunny Central Otago where I’d lounged with bare legs, soaking up the heat, to this Edinburgh of the South where I had to start layering tops and jackets, rubbing at the goosepimples that were popping up all over my arms and legs.
“This is crazy! Isn’t it weird how New Zealand experiences four seasons in a day?”
“Yes, there’s a very famous song about it.”
This year it was no different, with perhaps just a touch less drama. We hurried back to TS’ mother’s house via. the supermarket for provisions, then bundled ourselves in blankets, made hot drinks and drew all the curtains. When I finally went to bed I was sent off with a hot water bottle which I clutched under a mountain of sheets, like a reverse Princess and the Pea, shivering until I fell asleep. I woke in the middle of the night with a cold nose to the sound of a thousand furious pellets hitting the roof: it was hailing.
The next day we went to the outdoor shop and bought layers and layers of merino.
The plan had been to stay in Dunedin for a couple of weeks to get ourselves set up – we had to open bank accounts, submit visa paperwork, get me to a health appointment for a chest x-ray and blood tests, as well as catch up with all of the friends in town and spend some time with TS’ mother. As per usual, only a handful knew that we had moved back and there was much to discuss: babies had been born, other babies were on the way, friends had changed jobs, met partners, had birthday milestones, moved away, moved back – all of the usual parts of life. We were surprised one day to board a bus being driven by one of the younger brothers of one of the friends, hadn’t expected to see him in such a context and so hadn’t initially recognised him, even when he flipped his aviators down and peered at us, calling TS’ name.
“I didn’t know you moved back!”
“Yeah, we just arrived! So, wow, you’re a bus driver!”
“Yeah, also I have a baby and a step-son.”
“Oh wow, congrats man.”
“Plus with this company I get these cool shoulder tabs on my shirt so I look like a pilot… a pilot of the land!”
TS kept bumping into people he knew “back in the day” who would call out to him in the street, something I’d rarely ever experienced in London – maybe only a handful of times in my life? In Dunedin it happened that many times a day. TS was now establishing a routine of working from 9pm at night until 2 or 3am but was having to get up and do things during the day, like opening bank accounts. We opened a bank account each, a joint account and a savings account, and felt very grown up; then we went home and ate an entire packet of Toffee Pop biscuits whilst watching Steven Universe.
The first snag in the visa paperwork came when we discovered that TS needed a UK police certificate as well as a New Zealand one. We had known I needed one, so I had applied back in London and it had been delivered a few days later, but we hadn’t read the fine print on TS’ support application – if he had resided in a different country for a period of more than 12 months, he would need an accompanying police certificate from that country. Unfortunately now to receive that police certificate whilst in New Zealand it was going to take a lot longer than a few days.
We were stuck in limbo. 1 week turned to 2, which turned to 3. TS was tired all the time, spending the days running errands and wandering, and the nights working. We spent a day filling out all of our shipping paperwork and sent it to the insurers and shipping company, I looked at houses and flights to Wellington. I had filled out my visa paperwork as best I could, traipsed all over town having medical tests, borrowed a printer from a friend and painstakingly went through our entire relationship, printing Facebook posts, photographs, messages we had sent each other, collecting all of our “evidence”, but because the police certificate hadn’t arrived, we were now stuck at a stalemate; I couldn’t do anything.
I started to get frustrated.
Going “home” to Dunedin was fine for TS because it was routine, it was “normal”, but living in another person’s home in more or less 1 room, with no transport, no shower only a bath tub (which slows things down in the morning considerably), no friends of my own and no idea how long it was going to last, was driving me insane. I was so grateful to TS’ mother for letting us stay, for even giving up her own bedroom for us, but I longed for a permanent base, not this transient state of living out of my backpack. I tried to keep myself busy by reading books, watching TV shows and putting together lists, but I couldn’t concentrate. TS’ mother’s living room turned into a make-shift study/living space, with paperwork mounting up on the table, sofa and floors and me in the midst of it all, a semi-permanent fixture. And worse, the weather was still lousy – it was either freezing cold, blusteringly windy, or raining steadily. The rain drops were heavy in this part of the world, each splat like a small meteor slamming into the roof.
It was week 3 and TS knew I was struggling. He suggested we maybe think about getting away. “Would you like to go back to Wanaka?” He asked. My heart soared. “Maybe by the time we get back the police certificate will have arrived and even if it hasn’t, we can look at getting up to Wellington.”
We had a new plan. We started looking at AirBnBs and flights, and before you knew it we had booked 5 nights away in Wanaka, 1 more day in Dunedin and a 1-way flight out to Wellington. Things were finally on the move again.
We took a bus from Dunedin to Wanaka, changing at Cromwell, and felt the weather start to lift almost instantly the further North we travelled. My mood lifted, too – by the time we arrived in Wanaka I felt happy and relaxed again. We had a cheerful dinner in town, grabbed some groceries and took a local cab out to our AirBnB in Albert Town, just outside of Wanaka. The AirBnB was perfect – it had more than enough space for the 2 of us, somewhere for TS to work quietly away from me, and a kitchen we could cook in. Plus, I had been told, there were a couple of friendly cats on the property who liked to say hello to guests – I had really been missing my cats.
The 5 nights we spent in Wanaka were perfect – we cooked, we watched a little TV together, we walked (boy, did we walk), we managed to completely ignore all of the paperwork stuff we had collected for 3 weeks and were able to just be together with no errands to run. It was bliss. Only 1 cat showed up to say hello and it didn’t really care very much about us, was more used to being able to come and go as it pleased (and it did), but it was still nice to lie in a patch of sun petting it for all of 5 minutes. When the not-quite-week was up, we packed up and headed back to Dunedin somewhat reluctantly, but also excited because we knew Wellington was just around the corner.
Dunedin had managed to be sunny for our last day in town so we did what anyone would in such circumstances: we stayed indoors and went to the planetarium.
By the time we left Dunedin, the police certificate still hadn’t arrived, but it was too late now – we had to leave. TS’ mother promised to send it to us as soon as it showed up and we headed to the airport in good time, only to discover our flight was delayed. No matter, a seat in a cafe, spot of lunch and couple of coffees tide us over for a few hours and when it was finally time to go we said our goodbyes to TS’ mother, promised to be back for a visit before too long, and headed into the terminal. We boarded the plane, confident that this next part was when we were going to be able to “start living” our lives. We would find a house to live in, our shipping would arrive from the UK, my visa would be approved (“we are the guidelines for the partnership visa, it’s going to work out fine”) and we could get on with the business of living.
“I can’t wait to get some proper summer sun,” I sighed to TS, closing my eyes and settling in for a nap.
Life, she is very beautiful, but if you think you’re getting things back on track and heading for blue skies, you will always be wrong.