|Expect nothing, never be disappointed - I have frequently invoked that maxim to shield me from being let down. It is true that I had no expectations of Invercargill, so it should have been no surprise that I found it a depressingly dull place.
I had arrived after a whole day on a bus travelling down from Christchurch. We had driven steadily down through the Canterbury Plains stopping briefly at Ashburton, Timaru and Oamaru, admiring the coastal scenery along the way. We also passed the famous Moeraki boulders - natural spherical rock formations that litter the beach. I was partly doing some reconnaissance to see what was worth seeing in more detail when we took our trip in December. To be honest, nothing was really jumping out at me at this stage.
We continued through Dunedin, a city with a lot of Scottish influence, which looked like it might hold some interest with a longer stay, but it was hard to get a good impression from the confines of the bus station. From Balclutha we drove inland to Gore, where the landscape began to show more promise and then onto Invercargill, where that promise was sadly broken.
The bus driver dropped me off at my hostel quite close to the "city centre" at about 6pm. Once I'd unpacked I thought I'd take a walk around the town, see what it had to offer and then find somewhere to watch the rugby. I realise now that my expectations were too high.
OK, so it was a Sunday evening but it was like walking through a ghost town - there was more life in the cemetery I passed through. Dee Street is the main thoroughfare but everything was closed and there was no-one on the streets. The echoed beeping of the traffic lights made it feel like I was the sole survivor trapped in a submarine, rather than being in the last major centre of civilisation before the Antarctic. In fact there was probably more action there.
After a fruitless search of empty streets, occasionally punctuated by the odd souped-up Toyota filled with bored youths hurling abuse, I found the only bar in town that seemed to be open - an Irish Theme Pub, of course. Still, Waxy O'Shea's was pleasant enough on the inside. Apparently there's an Irish Comedian who jokes that the only reason that it is so hard to find your way around Ireland is that all the road signs have been nicked and put in Irish Bars around the world. Actually, there wasn't too much chintzy Irish tat, but there was a huge TV screen so I was in the right place to watch England beat South Africa and reflect on what the week had in store for me.
As far as I aware we were going to be cutting down "wilding pines" - self seeded trees that have invaded conservation areas. I was to meet everyone at the Department of Conservation tomorrow morning to be whisked off to an unknown place between Invercargill and Queenstown. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for but I had an open mind and was looking forward to an interesting week.