Probably the best way to look at the trip is some general details and thoughts, and then an account of more specific daily stuff. Grandpa initially seemed to be much healthier than I expected - he seemed barely weakened when I arrived, and the lump I'd heard he had on his neck had been almost entirely obliterated by the first round of chemotherapy. However, the initial appearances were deceiving, or more to the point, he was trying to be strong and was fortunately at the peak of the chemo cycle when we arrived. By the end of my time with him, he had faded fast and even talking took up too much energy. The cancer is even worse than I thought. Had he not begun treatment, he would not have made September. I still can't begin to grasp this mentally. The man I saw was unhealthy, that's for sure, but approaching death? It's hard to comprehend. I'm not sure I am ready to fully acknowledge how grave this is, because it scares me too much. I find myself able to discuss his condition in a somewhat detached sense; it just does not compute that the end is really the end. Though it comes through sometimes. It was very hard to say goodbye on Friday. I hated that. When will I see him again? I don't know. He has the positive attitude, he thinks he will get better and come visit me here in Melbourne. My fear is that the next time I see him will be in a casket.
Speaking of fears, I was somewhat afraid of how much home had changed. Excluding a very brief trip in April 2006 for my father's 50th birthday, on which I barely saw much of anything, I hadn't been back home since Easter 2003. But it was funny just how ... familiar everything seemed. Despite all the change, I still know the place like the back of my hand. I remember when I visited Australia before I moved here and when I holidayed in the States: I can't quite describe the experience of how I saw things, but it has a specialness, a newness. Going home, however ... it felt very right, like I had never left. Driving up State Highway 1 is less a case of "holy crap it's been a long time" and more a case of "wait, I haven't done this in years? Bullshit! I was coming along here just yesterday!" Then I realise I'm 20 now. I left New Zealand a decade ago this October. At some point during next year, I will have spent half my life outside of New Zealand. I don't like that prospect.
So, what happened on the trip? Well ...
Day 1, Friday 29/06: I flew from Melbourne to Christchurch and then from Christchurch to Wellington, as there were simply no direct flights available that day. The trip across the Tasman was pretty boring and cloud obscured any view of the Southern Alps as we crossed the South Island, but the trip up to Wellington was much better as I had two very nice people beside me with whom I made conversation.
Day 2, Saturday 30/06: With my father, I flew to Nelson, where my grandparents live nowadays. I still haven't got used to the fact that, from the North Island, I have to fly or sail to see them instead of doing a 1.5-2 hour drive from the west coast over the Rimutaka Range to Masterton in the Wairarapa, a trip I did umpteen times as a small boy. It was really amazing to see Grandma and Grandpa. I hadn't seen them since they visited me in 2004. That evening, we went to my Uncle Richard's place, Richard being the U2 nut of the family along with me, and we watched the very disappointing New Zealand vs Australia rugby match. I suppose it was the jolt back to reality that the All Blacks needed before the World Cup, though.
Days 3-4: I actually don't remember anything in particular standing out here. We just spent a lot of really good quality time with Grandma and Grandpa.
Day 5, Tuesday 03/07: This was a really good day, and the only sunny one I had in the purportedly very sunny Nelson. The other days featured a lot of liquid sunshine. So Dad and I took advantage of the good weather and went for a drive up the western side of the bay that Nelson is on the eastern side of. We travelled through places like Mapua, Motueka, and Riwaka up to Kaiteriteri, nearly making it to Golden Bay. I was a bit disappointed we didn't make it into the Golden Bay area: I keep track of how much of New Zealand I've seen by the rugby provinces (both present and past), and those I've missed are Northland, Thames Valley, East Coast (which is the Ruatoria area), Poverty Bay (might have just made it into its southern reaches but I'm not sure), Southland ... and you guessed it, Golden Bay. Oh well.
In Motueka, I discovered where a former tramway/trolleyway ran, along the old wharf to some industries. The rail nerd in me was very excited. And my father and I found a rusting hulk just offshore there. It was a ship named the Janie Seddon, and it had the distinction of being the first ship to fire shots in World War II for the New Zealand division of the Royal Navy. But when it reached the end of its working life, it seems they just decided to run it aground by Motueka and leave it there to rust. It was kind of funny, really.
Then, after we returned from there and visited Grandma and Grandpa, we went around to Richard's and he and I rummaged through his huge collection of U2 memorabilia. We had a really good time, firing all kinds of random trivia and experiences at each other. Dad came in occasionally and just laughed.
Day 6-8, 04-06/07: These days were really pretty similar. We spent some time with Grandma and Grandpa, though not as much as earlier in the week as Grandpa was getting quite tired. It was around this time that I really began to realise that he's quite sick. It wasn't a nice feeling at all. But we had a lot of nice time together, and I also spent a fair bit of time with Richard when Grandpa was just too tired. Richard is a baker and his bread is absolutely fantastic. I wish I could have brought some back to Australia but the way he packs it isn't sufficiently sealed for Australian customs to let it pass through. On an unrelated note, on Friday before we left, we stopped at a walking track laid on the formation of the former Nelson railway line, just to satisfy the rail nerd in me. I thought that was pretty cool! After that, I said goodbye to Grandpa, which as I mentioned before isn't exactly racing onto my list of easy things to do, and we flew back to Wellington.
Day 9, 07/07: The best day of my trip, easily. I suppose because it was happy and fun rather than depressing. I went up to the Kapiti Coast, where my hometown of Raumati Beach is, and spent the day with my other grandfather. Grandad was quite happy to take me to all the places I remember from my childhood, and with a borrowed digital camera, I took roughly 250 photos, which is really strange for a person like me. I didn't really have many photos of the Kapiti Coast, though. There are plenty of me at home and in the back yard, but very little that I can pick up and say "hey, that's my hometown" and point out all the stuff I remember. So I kind of went nuts yesterday. And I got to look around old railway steam locomotives and carriages under restoration, and rode an old Wellington tram, and all kinds of other fun stuff, but I'll save the details for when I select the best photos and make a photo post.
And then today, I flew home at about the arse-crack of dawn. After staying up for the Australia vs South Africa rugby last night, it wasn't exactly easy to get up at 3:15am. Also, once I got into Melbourne, I was reminded of how much the Sunday train and tram timetables suck. I don't know why on earth Sunday has an even more reduced timetable than Saturday. You'd think this is still the 1920s and a considerable amount of people treat Sunday as a holy day more special than Saturday. Get with the times, Yarra Trams and Connex. Saturday and Sunday should be covered by one equal weekend timetable, like many other parts of the world do.
Anyway, that's more than enough for now. I'm going to sort through my pictures and do some posts with the best of them in the coming days. Have a good one, folks!