Picton, New Zealand
Posted on January 15th, 2005
View from the top of the Tirohanga Track.
If you haven’t spent 25 hours reading this entire web site (and if not,
why exactly?) you may not be aware that I have been a juggler of varying levels
of dedication for over 22 years. Since I started traveling, my opportunities
to juggle have been limited to a few encounters with other jugglers on the road,
a couple meager, solo practice sessions and the precious few times I have been
home in Minneapolis and attended the Neverthriving Juggling Club on Monday nights.
In a nut, I am sorely out of shape. So it was with no small amount of eagerness
that I fell of the ferry in Picton and made the 15 minute grueling hike across
town to the Juggler’s Rest Hostel. I had read some great things about
this place in online hostel reviews, but equally there were some unsettling
things about the unpredictable hospitality of the hostel’s owners. I later
learned that the Juggler’s Rest is enjoying a new beginning, with new
management, a new coat of paint and a more consistent disposition in regards
The Juggler’s Rest (JR) is in “suburban Picton” (about 500
meters from “downtown Picton”). The walk from the harbor to the
hostel is a tad wearing at the end of a day of travel, particularly as you pass
a half dozen flashy, beckoning hostels on the way, but it’s entirely worth
the effort. I arrived to discover the friendliest group of hostel clerks I have
ever met, kicking back out in the lush, green, enclosed front courtyard of the
JR. Despite the palpable, cross-eyed air of idleness, one of the clerks was
on her feet in a heartbeat, welcoming me and quickly leading me to my bed. After
a swift, but comprehensive tour of the house and its faculties, I headed directly
back out to the inviting courtyard to admire the pleasing assortment of juggling
decorations and inspect the racks of juggling equipment hanging off the front
of the house. The community props had seen better days, but nevertheless, there
was a delectable assortment of beanbags, clubs, devil sticks, poi and flammable
versions of the bunch all sitting out, begging to be played with. I blew my
juggler cover immediately by warming up with five balls. I was a hit.
The staff at JR are the usual, young, easygoing, rotating bunch of young travelers
who are taking time out to rest, enjoy free accommodations and maybe earn some
money doing hostel work. The difference here is that, by virtue of the JR theme,
all of these people have some level of skill at juggling, poi swinging or what
have you. Even having each other as entertainment, in addition to the steady
rotation of juggle-minded people that blow through the hostel, I was clearly
one of the more technically gifted people to arrive since the hostel’s
reopening in November (2004), though actual physical proof of this was sketchy
with the level of rust that my limbs and muscles had acquired. When I wasn’t
cursing my non-responsive, out-of-practice hands I was wowing the staff and
residents with five and seven balls and my shaky three, four and five club work.
I ended up spending a fair amount of time trading tips with people, teaching,
learning and watching the nightly cabaret in the JR courtyard.
While socializing, practicing and general screwing around is the order of the
day in JR, in the evening, when the post-dinner beer, wine and Jose Cuervo come
out, so does the kerosene. Virtually every night, something is set ablaze, then
thrown, spun or whipped around for the benefit of the collected staff and guests.
It was great fun and, it almost goes without saying, this was by far the best
nightlife to be found in Picton.
Sadly, it wasn’t an all-juggling, alcohol-bathed visit for me. As per
usual, I was sorely behind in my journal, sweating over nagging personal projects
and fielding time-sucking, but high-paying new assignments. As if that weren’t
enough, in an early moment of JR giddiness I pitched a pro bono article to Juggle
Magazine about the Juggler’s Rest, a move that I regretted almost immediately
with my workload already weighing on me, but I was so completely enamored with
the JR that I was happy to do my part in getting the word out. So, with an assload
of work on my plate and the dampening effects of untold liters of cider on my
overall wit and genius slowing me down, I spent the better part of five days
behind the laptop, casting occasional longing glances out the window at the
people enjoying themselves out in the courtyard.
Heading up the Tirohanga Track.
I was drawn out each night for good company, drinking and juggling of course,
but I also managed to squeeze in some time for walks around beautiful Picton.
The town is surrounded by low mountains, thickly wallpapered in trees and greenery
with scattered hiking trails winding up and around them. I took the Tirohanga
Track that went practically straight up and straight down a narrow path that
had been transformed into a precarious mud slide from three days of rain. Being
almost completely enshrouded in foliage, there was little scenery to be had
during the hikes up and down, but the much appreciated bench at the top afforded
a stunning view of the entirely of Picton, the harbor and nearby bays. If the
mountains had been higher, I would have likened the surroundings to a Norwegian
fjord scene. I also made the run along the coastal path to the modestly named
Bob’s Bay (a name which, after a good snicker, was actually a joy in its
simplicity after trying to wrap my tongue around Maori language place names
all over the rest of NZ).
My last outing was an unexpectedly punishing, full-day sea kayaking tour with
Sounds Wild. Sounds Wild’s current
operators Jackie and Ant, an Aussie/Kiwi couple, cum business team, invited
me out with the intention of filling an open double kayak seat. I was very,
very excited about this. I had been sea kayaking once before in Seattle that
I thoroughly enjoyed and my top heavy, juggler physique made me something of
an instant kayaking prodigy. Additionally, New Zealand’s scenery had already
earned a top spot in my Favorite Picturesque Destinations of All Time list and
doing a little water-perspective touring, with the potential to see some funky
sea-life, was pure icing.
This upbeat attitude disappeared like a cat in a squirt gun testing lab when
I got a look at my kayak partner. A 4’-11”, 80 lb. Japanese woman,
with arms the thickness of chopsticks, who complained of being tired seven minutes
into the first leg of the tour. I more or less hauled that walking and talking
dead weight around all day. During the scant few instances when she was actually
giving a determined go at productive paddling, her poor form and paddle dexterity
resulted in her taking useless knife strokes through the water as often as effective
strokes. Her over-sized sunhat was a constant source of distraction, particularly
during the times when we were powering into a serious headwind, where I really
could have used her feeble assistance. To make matters worse, I had juggled
harder in the two pervious days than I had in a year and my hands and arms were
already feeling a bit kinky before we even pushed off. After a full day of motoring
a double kayak around with 80 pounds of chattering ballast in the front, my
hands were rigor mortised into permanent, painful claws and my arm muscles were
little more than a string of golf ball-dense knots. However, it could have been
much worse. As we were preparing to leave the boat launch in the morning, the
Japanese girl moved to take the rear seat, therefore putting herself in charge
of the steering pedals. Ant swooped in and gently suggested that she allow me
to take that spot. If not for his timely interference, we might still be out
there. My tiresome complaints aside, the day was beautiful, the scenery was
amazing, I chased an anti-social penguin that was out for a swim, we ogled various
native birds, stingray and I got to play with a jellyfish without having searing
pain accompany the experience.
As I alluded to earlier, while in Picton I received yet another semi-last minute
assignment from Global Traveler for their “Kicking Back” section.
I sold them on the idea of a piece on Kaikoura, my next destination. I did this
not only for the novelty of Kaikoura being the dolphin swimming/whale watching
capitol of New Zealand, but I was hoping to get a few nights of comped, upscale
accommodations out of the deal.
After an unprecedented 10 days at the Juggler’s Rest (the longest, uninterrupted
stay in any one place I have done in all my travels), I caught a Sunday afternoon
bus to nearby Kaikoura under the auspices of a GT assignment letter giving me
the perfect excuse to pursue the best dolphin swimming tour available.