10th January 2010
In my tender 27 years of experience, New Year’s Eve sucks. In fact, I hate it. However and wherever you choose to spend it, it is almost always characterised by a sense of desperate anti-climax, stomach-churning social awkwardness and an overdose of horrible alcoholic concoctions to which you’d give a planet-sized berth at any other time of the year.
This is all society’s fault, of course. We are programmed from an early age to “celebrate” the dawn of a new year, as if “having a good time” at the stroke of midnight on 31st December were some kind of condition for entry into civilised society. When someone asks you what you’re doing for New Year’s and you reply, “not much”, it is tantamount to admitting you’re a witless killjoy with no mates. But really, is there any real incentive for doing anything vaguely out of the ordinary on this apparently most sacrosanct of evenings? For a start, it’s all but impossible to gather a half-decent quota of friends together in one place as they’re either dispersed throughout the country with their respective families or, as is more likely, far more organised than you and have already made far more exciting plans. Then there’s the nightmare of actually trying to find a venue that isn’t a) closed for a private party, b) slapping on exorbitant New Year’s Eve premiums, or c) rubbish. There is always, of course, the budget option of staying in and having a few mates round for a dinner party but that inevitably means spending at least half the night being exposed to the background radiation of TV’s pitiful excuse for a New Year’s shindig. Cheesy to the point of nausea, such shows, which fester with the inane banter of half-pissed celebrity guests interspersed with roving reporters desperately attempting to stave off hypothermia whilst simultaneously trying to sound enthusiastic about the accompanying throng of people standing around doing not very much as they wait for the obligatory midnight fireworks display, are enough to make you wish you'd gone to bed at 7 o'clock when the going was still good.
As if all that weren’t bad enough, one is forced to somehow negotiate the stroke of midnight itself in a way that somehow preserves oneself a small modicum of dignity. In the context of a booze-fuelled evening stood next to a bunch of strangers in a pub or restaurant, this is all but impossible, especially when your fellow revellers start holding hands and drunkenly braying to the tune of that godawful drone Auld Lang Syne with its 85 choruses and 157 verses. If you’re stupid enough to choose the “stand around awkwardly in the middle of a freezing street to sample that ‘special’ new year’s atmosphere” option, you’ll most likely have frozen to death by the time midnight comes around anyway, but even if you haven’t you still have to overcome the inevitable fact that everyone’s watches will be slightly out of sync and thus endure a mind-melting cacophony of different countdowns before being subject to the customary piss poor Catherine wheel. Even if one decides to run with the low-key dinner party option, you are still not saved from the humiliation of having to go round the room wishing each person a happy new year and desperately trying to decide upon the most appropriate accompanying gesture from a menu containing, in no particular order, the one cheek kiss, the double cheek kiss, the triple cheek kiss, the hug, the cuddle, the hand shake, the back slap or some other indecorous bodily interaction.
Bearing all this in mind, it was to my great relief that my first New Year’s Eve in New Zealand offered up a far more enjoyable concluding chapter to 2010 than I thought possible. This was no doubt helped along by the fact that Holly had the great fortune of being born on 31st December and therefore provided a far better excuse for a proper knees-up than your average New Year’s Eve. We also had the bonus of being offered the chance to spend it up in the Coromandel peninsula, where the parents of Holly’s very good friend Julianne own a batch house within a stone’s throw of the beach at the resort town of Whangamata (pronounced, inexplicably, as Fongamatar by the locals). The batch provided an excellent base at which to gather a perfectly-sized group of friends to see in the new year without the need to splash out inordinate amounts of cash at a local bar or club. As with Christmas, the exemplary weather helped no end to facilitate a more dynamic programme of activities than I would have been able to experience back home and we were able to spend our final day of 2010 relaxing on the beach, stuffing our faces with greedy portions of fish ‘n’ chips on the batch’s terrace and playing outdoor drinking games into the wee hours of January 1st without the slightest call for a scarf or hat. And, thanks to Holly's serendipitous birth date, we were all able to gorge ourselves on great guilt-free servings of birthday cake throughout.
The generosity of Julianne’s parents Lyn and John in allowing us to stay with them for the rest of the weekend meant that our first days of the new year were not spent suffering from the customary post-Christmas depression but exploring some of New Zealand’s most beautiful coastal scenery. Though Wanagamata itself is something of a magnet for teenage party-goers desperate to indulge in all possible pleasures (legal or otherwise) while away from their parents, the multitude of beaches nearby offered a variety of opportunities for more civilised seaside fun. The gorgeous bay of Pokehino, for example, reachable only via a thirty minute trek through thick native bushland, provided a secluded tropical haven as yet undiscovered by even the most fastidious tourist guides. Its small white sand beach, flanked by New Zealand’s defining pohutukawa trees, was a perfect spot for a relaxing afternoon of reading and swimming, even if a sudden explosion of tiny jellyfish did their best to scupper our enjoyment of the latter.
Further up the coast, we made a visit to the more widely-known Hot Water Beach, where hundreds of eager bathers had congregated to dig pits and trenches which automatically fill up from the natural warm springs that flow underneath. More spectacular, and certainly more tranquil, was the beach around Cathedral Cove, a yawning hole carved straight through the rock which opens out onto another stunning tree-lined beach.
With reports from back home suggesting that the UK is seemingly on the brink of another ice age, my excitement at spending time in such a beautiful part of the country more than compensated for the sadness I felt at missing out on my own friends’ and family’s celebrations. But after experiencing first hand how much fun Christmas and New Year can be in the middle of the summer under crystal clear skies and brilliant sunshine, I think I’m more likely to be encouraging them to come out here for next year’s festivities rather than rushing to book a flight home myself…