Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The Second part of my trip took me alone to New Zealand. I arrived in Christchurch on the afternoon of the 25th and picked up my campervan near the airport. It was a bit relaxed compared to places in the states. The van came with a sink, stove, cooler, table and bench/double bed. The front seat was also quite wide and could probably sit three people without too much hassle. But alas, I was alone!
So after getting some gas and eats, checking my maps, and making a couple wrong turns I was on my way out of Christchurch and into the mountains. The first day I just drove and drove as long as I could. The fact that the scenery was quite amazing, all highways were one lane affairs(2lanes, one each way), and I wasn’t yet comfortable driving the van meant that I was going a bit slower than I would end up doing on the way back. Also, bridges were one single lane! One! At first I was confused, but as it turns out many of the bridges in the region are like that. The reason I will explain later, but basically you come barreling up to this bridge at 100k and make a quick check to see if someone is coming the other way. If no one is coming you can go across, if someone is coming you have to wait on the other side of the bridge. This example should clearly illustrate just how few people there are in the country that one lane will suffice for a bridge.
I put the pedal down as much as I could and only stopped once for about 3 minutes that day. I made it through Arthur’s Pass and on to the west coast just as the sun was starting to get low. That wasn’t going to stop me however. I pushed on as far as I could and around 730 noticed with a bit of panic that my gas was very low. In New Zealand there aren’t that many people and hence not a whole lot of gas stations. As I made my way through a town called Hari Hari I spotted one and shot in determined to fill up and press on with the last precious few minutes of day light, Franz Josef was only about 50k away. The station was closed. So I turned back into town and went to the only place that I could make out as a business which turned out to be a bar/liquor store/ restaurant/ hotel/ camper park. So I paid for a parking spot and then went inside for a meal and a beer. No one was unfriendly to me, but there was a feeling that I was set apart. So I finished up quick and asked the bar tender what time the station opened before heading to my van, 8am. I thought, “No worries”. The station opens at 8, I have to be to Franz Josef at 845 and I was making an average of 90kph so I could make it.
The next morning I got up at 7, showered and waited for the gas station to open. The guy showed up at 805 and I was filled by 810. I jetted out of there and made it to Franz Josef at 850 being one of the last to show up for the scheduled tour. I got outfitted with boots, pants, and jacket and we were on our way to the glacier. The hike was quite beautiful as I will describe in another short post, but on the hike I felt like the smartest man alive, or at least the smartest one on the glacier. As we made our way up the glacier our guide would ask us various question like do you know why the ice is blue? (Compacted ice and light refraction) How far away is the glacier from where we are? (About 2k at the time) why are bridges in the region built with 1 lane? (Building costs, floods a lot which washes the bridges away) And the like and every question I answered I got right while no one else seemed to get one. After a quick tour of the glacier it was back down and I was back in the van all gassed up by 2pm, back on the road. This day I decided that I would try to make my way back to Arthur’s Pass where I had read about some decent half day hikes located near some camper parks. I arrived at my desired spot, Klondike, about 6pm and so had roughly 2 hours till sunset so I walked around the area and discovered two young guys camping a fair distance away, but by NZ terms pretty close. As dusk settled in I went back to my camper to get ready for bed. After hiking around I was feeling a little unsettled about the place so, when I heard a very strange noise very close to my camper while I was brushing my teeth, I decided to get the hell out of there. I zoomed up the road a bit and stopped where I saw a few other vans parked at a wayside. I thought, “ah, peace at last” but it was not so. I fell asleep just before 10, but at 130am was awoken. At first I didn’t know why I had woken up, but then I heard a sound; the sound of a plastic bag being moved. I suddenly realized that I had a plastic bag next to my feet in bed and something must have gotten in to get after it. As quickly as I could I sprang up and banged on the light to see who was there, but saw nothing. After staring for a few seconds I decided I was dreaming, but just in case grabbed my flashlight. Sure enough, a few minutes later I heard the noise again only a bit louder. I flashed on the light and caught what I thought was the tiniest bit of brown fur dipping off the edge of my bed before all was still again. This time I got up and put the food in the cooler in back of the van and searched the rest of the van to see if I could find the bugger. No luck. I thought perhaps now that the food was inaccessible the mouse would stop. I was wrong. He tried scratching into the cooler and failing that made his way to the front seat where I had a bag of garbage. I banged on the light again to see if I could catch him but this time he didn’t stop moving. He was IN the bag. So I just opened the door to the front, tied up the bag, walked about 50 paces from my van and tossed the bag into a trash bin. I thought that was that until 4am when the mouse returned! However, this time I was not quite as upset and just let him be. He woke me a few more times, but by the time I got up around 630 he was nowhere to be found. Little bugger ruined my sleep and left me a few little round presents on the front seat.
Morning in the mountains was great and by 730 I was on the Beally Spur trail. I hiked for about 5 hours then got back in the van and made for Christchurch. After returning my van I walked into town and booked into the Riccarton Inn and after talking to the desk clerk figured out that I had to leave pretty darn early to make my fight out. Since it took me about 1.5 hours to walk to the hotel from the rental place I figured it would take 2 to make it to the airport which meant if I walked I would have had to get up at 3am at the latest. Despite being low on cash I thought bollocks to that and paid for a cab at 4am, not like that was much better.
New Zealand was great! There are so few people there it is amazing. I can’t wait to go again, with Dan, and make it a real hiking trip.