Crossing the ditch (or ten great reasons to love Wellington). 1. No humidity. 2. No humidity. 3. No humidity. 4…you get the idea. I was recently in Sydney, and found it a tad warm. Traveling between New Zealand and Australia, in either direction, is known to the locals as “crossing the ditch” – quite a charming expression, redolent of our rural connections, in both countries. Of course, the ditch is actually a fairly vast chunk of ocean about 2000 miles wide, but still, Australia is the closest big country to New Zealand, so we make the journey frequently.
Back to the heat…for those of you from colder climes, you know you’re in a humid place when you get that horribly annoying little bead of sweat that runs straight down your spine – it doesn’t pass GO, it doesn’t collect $200, it just heads south, like a dripping tap, and I’m not even going to contemplate where it ends up. (Clue – a place you mustn’t scratch in public). The other big clue that you might be in Sydney is that every local you meet has a whine about the weather…”I don’t mind the heat, it’s the humidity I can’t stand“. Ad nauseum. Which, by the way, is how the sticky heat is likely to make you feel, especially if you’ve been at a merry social gathering involving slabs of meat charred over a flame, outdoors, on a hot day, washed down with a bucket of wine. How I longed for a southerly – a refreshing breeze from the South Pole, possibly going 138 kph for good measure. I even recalled, from Wellington’s 2011 winter, the headline that read “Polar Blast coming our way” – happy days, happy days.
Part of the problem for Sydney locals and certain foreigners, is that Sydney isn’t supposed to be tropical, yet mimics tropicality far too often, as anyone who’s ever been in a Sydney summer storm will attest to. I went to Bali a while ago, and I knew what I was in for – it is supposed to be tropical, hovering around 30 very sticky degrees. Thankfully, a swanky villa with a private pool, air-conditioned bedrooms, air-conditioned van with chauffeur (see the air-conditioning theme recurring?) got me through it. That and the fact that I hadn’t been before, so was thrilled to be exploring a new country. To qualify that “exploring” casually chucked into the previous sentence, I should perhaps mention that the exploring was done from the afore-mentioned air-conditioned, chauffeur-driven van and involved rather a lot of dashes from air-conditioned van into air-conditioned shops and restaurants, plus lots of temples and a great local theatre production, complete with Gamelan orchestra. Then home to the pool.
Back to Sydney and the Crossing of the Ditch. They’ve made it awfully easy now – the powers that be must want us all whizzing backwards and forwards on a regular basis. There’s a clever gadget now called SmartGate, which bypasses the mile-long immigration queue…you stick your passport in the machine, and if you haven’t got any sort of naughty record then it gives you a ticket and your passport back, and you move forward to stand in front of a camera which I presume uses some sort of facial recognition programme to match you to your passport photo. You have to resist the temptation to pull faces at the camera, as this may result in being sent to the back of the immigration queue. Once your photo is matched, the gates part and you’re through to the ever-present Duty Free shops and on your merry way.
I had travelled to Sydney to see friends and family, so in spite of my outbursts along the lines of “IT’S SO HOT” every few minutes, I had a delightful time seeing my pals, which was the point of it all. You know they’re good friends when you can just pick up where you left off, as if you’d seen each other last week, instead of a year ago. They all made crossing the ditch totally worthwhile.
I should just mention one last Sydney adventure…being bitten by a bee, in Martin Place, on the day I left. I know Australia is full to the edges of animals that’ll try to kill you every chance they get, but I really didn’t expect to get attacked by a wild animal in Martin Place, in downtown Sydney. OK, perhaps a bee may not technically be a “wild animal”, but I think it was fairly cross when it stung me. It landed in my hair, and I thought it was a leaf (it was at the back so I couldn’t see it) and I put my hand up to pull it out and bam – hours of pain and a throbbing photo-taking index finger. However, I have lived to tell the tale.
PS: if you’re wondering about the relevance of the car photo, it belongs to a friend in Sydney and we were whizzing about in it the first afternoon I arrived… being very cool, in a hot car in a hot town.