By Rosemary Penwarden
I’m on my way to speak at climate guru and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben’s Fossil Fuel Acceleration Tour in Wellington – the slow way, since I’ve stopped flying. Not quite – I have saved one last flight for my mum. She’s 93. I live in the south, she in the north. I don’t know when but hope I can be by her side holding her hand when she dies.
Other than that, I won’t fly any more. I want to get re-acquainted with slow human-sized travel, make the journey as much the adventure as being there. Because if we really are going to stop dumping more CO2 into the atmosphere, if we really are going to keep this world survivable for our grandkids, not flying is going to have to be normal. I’m practicing.
I jump on the Intercity bus in Waitati, fold myself into a 2-seat sized cocoon and sleep most of the way to Oamaru. In Timaru we pick up a tiny baby wrapped in her young mum’s arms, then in Christchurch I swap to a double decker, choose the empty back row and drift between silently reciting my speech and dozing into dream.
Soon we’re crawling up the Hundalee Hills towards the post earthquake Kaikoura coast. It feels like a daredevil ride with scary special effects from up there. Why are we on such a lean? Waves crash onto pointy rocks below to my right, verticle craggy cliffs loom up to my left, we seem to swing about like a rubber duck in a bathtub. It’s a relief to reach Kaikoura, smell the salt, stretch my legs and feel solid grit at my feet.
It’s almost dark as we leave for Picton. The bus’s luxury ground level is empty now and the driver invites us to join him below. A Maori woman and overweight man in Intercity blue keep up a jolly banter between Blenheim and Picton. I learn about the life of these drivers. They don’t get enough time off. They don’t get to see their families much. They work hard. They care about each other.
Twelve hours after leaving home I arrive in Picton. In a plane I could have made it to Hong Kong. Now I step into Atlantis, an undersea-themed Picton backpackers, am greeted like a long lost friend back to the deep and ushered into the warm kitchen full of smiley young Germans to eat the last piece of home baked ginger crunch, Cerebos the Boston Terrier at my feet. I chat with three young Europeans about veganism, their impressions of New Zealand, their hopes for the future. They haven’t heard of Bill McKibben.
Now I’m on the ferry. I remember how much I love this journey between the North and South Islands. Jenny, a social worker from Germany and I watch Pelorous Sound slide away and Cook Straight open up. We talk about travel, what makes us happy. How lucky some of us are to travel, to see the most amazing things, but there’s a point where – yes, you feel happy, but there’s something more that you need. You need a purpose. For Jenny, it is to go home and help stop child trafficking. For me, I’m doing it. I want to tell you about it tomorrow evening 7pm, Sunday 6 May at the Fossil Free Acceleration Tour, Embassy Theatre, Wellington. Hope you can come.