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Published: October 28th 2018
P1010181This is a tale of our swift journey around New Zealand's South Island in 2009, set to "Wagon Train" theme. It's a story of epic proportions, so kick back, relax with a drink and read on... Note: Squaw Jenny is the wife. Calamity Barb and O'l Dolly are the in-laws. Washer Woman is the wife's OCD friend & Herr Laurie is her Germanic ex-cop friend . DAY 1 - DEPARTURE.
Herr Laurie, Ca;amity Barb, Ol' Dolly, Squaw Jenny and Trailboss Tony
As the designated trail boss, I led the gallant explorers through the cattle crush to Jetstar check-in, where our saddlebags were tagged and taken. No problems encountered there, then we were off to tackle our next obstacle - the Duty Free Grog.
My diversionary tactics failed miserably, with SquawJenny wooed hypnotically by the sly Bundy Rum merchants. I left her to fight her own moral battles (Two for $65) while I attempted to negotiate the trail which was booby trapped with wallet-snakes everywhere. I nearly made it though unscathed, until the “Free Samples of Tequila” counter loomed into view.
"I might be interested in this one. Can I try this a few more times to be
Laurie, Barb & Dolly
sure? Mmm, that’s so good!" I was a goner.
The wallet-snakes bit hard, but they left a litre of smoooth venom in my carry-on. SquawJenny had also stocked up well on bourbon & rum antivenins for our perilous journey ahead.
Boarding of the big winged wagon was uneventful and Cattle Class lived up to it's nickname.
Halfway through the flight, a young girl (who we referred to as “Feral Feet”) decided to push her sweaty sandshoe-clad feet through onto SquawJenny's armrest beside the window.
I was told the offending articles were extremely overripe, so Squaw Jenny suggested to Feral Feet a better position for them to reside. She moved them...
As we approached The South Island, we gasped in amazement at the breathtaking landscape unfolding beneath us.
We traveled over a vast, snow-capped, mountainous wilderness that kept us captivated by it's visual magic. In a word, WOW!
We touched down smoothly at the wilderness outpost of Christchurch, where we found NZ Customs was fast & friendly. No bribery needed at all there.
We then linked up with Calamity Barb & Ol' Dolly who'd flown direct from Queensland and
Washer Woman (Steph)
were waiting for us at the airport.
We all hopped in a shuttle wagon and were amazed to find Feral Feet stinking out the back seat. She’d followed like a bad smell. Well no, she WAS a bad smell.
We made our way to the All Seasons Hotel on Papanui Road for our first night's stay. Very spacious rooms, but they were quite dated. It would have been in it's prime 20-30 years ago, but it was clean and reasonable value. It just reminded me of an old retirement home, complete with hall stands holding dust-covered, plastic floral arrangements.
We decided to walk down the road towards the village centre for a coffee & snack. A local pizza cafe' was open, so we sat down and checked out the menu. Any thoughts of a feed vaporized with the discovery of the menu. $29 for a personal pizza. Ouch, welcome to N.Z. We drank our coffees & bolted.
We grabbed a bottle of coke and some potato chips at the nearby servo, then retired to the All Seasons nursing home for a late afternoon cocktail session in our room with our Duty Free purchases.
The Wagon Train
The meal that night in the All Seasons restaurant was exceptional. It was plentiful, diverse, tasty and a very reasonable price.
Everyone enjoyed their meals with no complaints at all. DAY 2 - TRAIL TIME
It was finally time to hitch up the wagons & hit the trail west.
Us menfolk turned up at the "Britz" corral and joined the crowd. I remarked to the counter clerk “Busy day?” and he replied “We have 300 camper vans to despatch today”. “
Holy snappin’ duck shit!” I exclaimed and he just smiled.
After gaining out “wagon passes”, we received some basic instruction on lighting wagon-fires, bunking down & operating the night-soil "cassette".
What a cute name for such a revolting container.
I mounted up and the first thing I noticed was the smell. It was the smell of stale pee and disinfectant coming from the “cassette” room. "Oh this is going to be a fun vacation", I thought sarcastically.
Yee Hah! We were finally off and away. Hold on, the womenfolk were missing.
They’d found a trading post at
The spectacular montains
Merrivale open for business and we all know how the womenfolk love trading posts. We tracked them down & filled the wagons with provisions.
All essential food groups covered.
Smoked salmon, stinky cheese, mixed olives, insect repellant, fresh avocado, smoked mussels, cracker biscuits, insect repellant, beer, meat in several forms, milk, insect repellant, veggies, eggs, bread, insect repellant, coke, juice, soda water & insect repellant.
We whipped the VW horses into life & headed for "them thar hills" (Arthur's Pass).
We stopped a few times along the way to take in the dramatic landscape without a windshield in the way. I now understand why N.Z erects signs saying "Who's Watching the Road?". You really have to make a conscious effort to keep your eyes on the ROAD ahead.
We gave the noise-boxes (walkie talkies) a go that we had brought with us, but I found them relatively useless for relaying orders to our wagoneers who didn’t listen anyway.
Important information regarding "Ooh, isn't that nice" was bantered about regularly and immediately confirmed by all. Priorities, pfft...
We stopped at a lake for a breather and a sandwich (a camper
Castle Hill Peak!
plus), where I encountered my first NZ sand-fly.
I dispatched it to “Midgie Valhalla” with a shout of "Die Mother######, Die"!
Little was I to know that it’s dying calls were heard as far away as Klondike Corner by it’s tribe.
With a bellyful of grub, we hit the trail again. As we traversed the terrain, we were bemused by the tiny streams flowing in what seemed to be gigantic granite rock-strewn riverbeds.
We were to find out why later. The sun reflected down off the snow-capped mountains ahead, with all but a few random clouds to hide the painfully-blue sky behind us.
As we galloped over the one lane bridges, I was regularly greeted with new N.Z. sign language from the drivers of oncoming wagons.
Apparently a clenched fist or one raised finger means "Hello stranger" in Kiwi. I smiled and responded with similar digital communication, which left them greeting me with great enthusiasm. Nice 'n friendly these local folks, but we couldn't stop and chat. The hills beckoned us. We later became aware we’d been breaking “Bridge Etiquette”.
Those strange roadsigns on the bridge approaches apparently indicated
Klondyke Corner Hut
we were supposed to yield, allowing them to cross the bridge first. Oops, my bad.
Thank goodness for memory cards. We took dozens of photos just travelling the first section.
I have no idea of the names of the mountains we encountered as we pressed on for Arthur's Pass area. We knew them only as "fantastic", "amazing" & "bloody hell"!
We passed a couple of possible campsites and finally settled on Klondike Corner. Pure magic. Huge mountains towered behind us and a gigantic riverbed unfolded in front of us. The late afternoon sun reflected off the snow-covered granite mountains, coating them in shimmering gold. Such visual perfection.
There was plenty of level parking space, tap water, a pit toilet, a rotunda-type shelter near the entrance road and beautiful views of the Bealey River. We backed the campers up under the lush foliage & quickly set up camp for cocktail hour before the sun set behind the mountains.
Our tables & deck chairs came out, followed by horse doovers & drinkies for our “cocktail hour”.
There was even a plentiful supply of fresh ice (for chilling the venom glasses) laying on
the short grass under the ferns (a baited trap). Then they struck without warning.
Those final death cries of that one lone midgie I’d mercilessly slaughtered earlier had made it to their ears, so they'd lay in wait for us to become comfortable & complacent.
In a scene which should have featured in Hitchcock's "Birds", we were set upon by hordes of ravenous sand-flies.
No thought of ozone depletion, environmental contamination or global warming ever crossed my mind as I blasted frantically with “Raid” and “Off”, for it became a primeval fight for survival.
A few midgies kamikaze'd into my tequila glass hoping to mount an attack from the inside, but the joke was on them - I drink it neat and they don't.
I beat a hasty retreat to the wagon, moving it to the gravel area away from what was now referred to as "THE MIDGIERATOR".
I "locked and loaded", appearing in full battle dress resplendent with leather gloves and a long bike scarf wound several times around my head.
I went in with aerosols a-blazin' and tthat evil black plague which had threatened us with anaemia retreated.
Klondyke Cocktail Hour
Squaw jenny & Calamity Barb
SquawJenny was in fits of laughter and renamed me "Tallulah, her Bedouin Bride".
I glared at her through the eye-slit of my scarf-mask and retorted that she'd better not come a-cuddlin' later when she's covered in weeping sores and looking for me to scratch her itch.
As night settled in, we set about burning some processed animal flesh tubes. The midgies had retreated, but then we were assaulted from the air once more.
A blood-curdling scream filled the night air and we bolted around to the front wagon wheel to see who or what was being attacked.
A bad attitude bird with a huge beak and no taste buds whatsoever was intent on eating the front tyre valve off my covered wagon.
A swift foot applied against it's tail feathers and it soon got the message to depart.
Ugly car = ugly bird name. Must be a Kia, err.. KEA.
A few hands of cards and a bellyful of duty free venom finished the eventful evening.
Being a bit chilly, it was a doona night in bed and SquawJenny had drunk a bit too much of the local
Klondyke Cocktail Hour
Trail Boss & O'l Dolly.
wine from the Le' Gopener vineyard.
In an act of stupi... er, gallantry, I offered her the roominess of the lower bed at the rear of the wagon whilst I climbed the “Stairway to Heaven” into the bedroom above the driver’s cab.
We had stored out suitcases up there because our cute VW Quattro Camper had no other storage area for hard suitcases. Tip: Bring soft bags only when renting campers, then you can store them under the seating area at the rear.
Although I had minimal space to sleep, I persevered and fell asleep quickly.
Shortly after, I awoke then began to sweat and then my heart raced madly.
A heart attack? No, a stress attack! I suffer from enclosed space phobia.
The ceiling was about 3cm off my nose (or so it seemed in the dark) and I had almost no room to move up there with the suitcases.
I opened the small side window in my “elevated bedroom” and stuck my head out.
I gulped air and began to relax but my stress relief was short-lived because those damn midgies mounted a
Golden sunset on the surrounding mountain range
counter-attack on my head.
Back inside, I clambered down from the first floor and said “Move over Missus”.
I was allowed about 40cm of bed, but at least the ceiling was unreachable from the bed.
I opened the cutlery drawer and placed my right arm in it, then opened the broom cupboard and placed my right foot in that.
Finally, some bed. Peace and sleep came immediately.
Midgies aside, we can certainly recommend the Klondike Corner DOC site.
Day 3 - CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN
It started with a 50/50 sky and a bit of a bite in the air - temperature, not midgies.
We enjoyed a wagon brekky of bacon 'n eggs (forgot the cowboy caviar - beans), then packed up and headed into Arthur's Pass Village.
It's a quaint little village and would be listed under the heading of "F###-all there".
The information building was, well, informative.
SquawJenny did her bit for animal conservation & bought some possum fur gloves. Possums are an introduced pest in N.Z.
It wasn't long before we
encountered a signpost to the Otira Viaduct viewing area.
We parked the wagons in the top carpark which was no mean feat of patience.
Smiling mini-car owners stopped, blocked our path and just sat there looking at us.
The lights were on but nobody was home in those heads.
I used my newly-acquired NZ greeting of a raised finger and fist.
It worked - they moved out of the way immediately.
We walked over to the lookout to check the view and what an outstanding view it was.
A huge raised road bridge spanning a watercourse, along with land slippage & boulders strewn throughout the ravine. Very impressive!
Not so impressive was a young mother using a small gap at the bottom of a giant boulder above the car-park to stuff a "ripe" disposable nappy in.
A loud "Hey, what the bloody hell are YOU doing?" changed her mind and she took off with a red face and the soiled nappy in her hand, the filthy bugger.
We left shortly after, then crossed the viaduct only to be greeted with another impressive engineering display
Otira Gorge rock shelter
just around the corner.
The road hugged the mountainside and then we entered a huge concrete "awning" that had been built over the road to deflect any land slippage over and across to the other side of the road.
This was accompanied with a huge water conduit directing water flow in a similar fashion to burst forth in a waterfall down the ravine.
It was all a massive dose of man-made WOW.
We forged on through valleys of lush ferns, meandered between huge snow-covered mountains, then finally emerged at Kumara Junction near the West Coast.
We headed south along the winding coast road towards Hokitika.
SquawJenny pointed to a large flock of ducks frolicking in some large man-made ponds beside the road.
When I explained they were padding in effluent treatment ponds, she struck duck off the restaurant menu options for the week.
It was Easter Sunday at Hokitika, so not much beside the Jade shop and the fish shop were open.
SquawJenny, CalamityBarb and WasherWoman exercised superhero strengths to abstain from emptying their purses on the exquisite jade jewellery on display.
I rewarded them by
Shanghai Road to
purchasing a big feed from the local fish 'n shop, then we took off south to find a nice spot to act like seagulls pecking at chips.
I saw a road sign for Lake Mahinapua which caught my interest, so we turned left at Shanghai Road about 6km south of Hokitika.
A pleasant tree fern shrouded dirt road led quickly to the shores of the beautiful Lake Mahinapua.
What a magic place to enjoy our great feed of endangered sea creatures & kumara (sweet potato) chips!
The weather was holding up well, with the sun warm & comforting as we all tucked in to the tasty feed.
This area would also make a great camper-van overnight spot.
I do suggest you make the effort to stop & check it out.
Refreshed, we headed on south and the weather quickly deteriorated.
We turned left well before Franz Josef at a signpost proclaiming “Scenic Helicopter Flights”.
We went down the dirt road for a few kms and ended up at a riverbank hut with a carpark and helipad.
I got out to investigate, but not before I doused
Lake Mahinapua DOC campsite waterfront
myself in a heavy layer of insect repellant.
I had a chat with the owner/pilot who proclaimed that he had the best and cheapest glacier viewing flights.
I heard little of his sales talk, because my eyes and attention were firmly affixed on the plague of midges which were gnawing and burrowing into his face.
There must have been a dozen at any one time and he didn't even flinch once!
Hmm... Was he used to them? Did he need a fare that much? Was he devoid of all sensory input?
I erred on the side of cowardice and decide to take my first chopper ride with someone more in touch with their surroundings.
A good call, because as I made my way back to the wagon, I spied several Kea birds gnawing away at the chopper's rotor blades!
While we were parked there, we meet a group of elderly motorcyclists from England that were touring NZ (and the world) on vintage Panther motorcycles - pre WWII.
It was raining, so we offered them some shelter and a hot cup of tea inside out wagon.
After a chinwag, they
Otto McDonalds DOC camping area beside Lake Mapourika
were back on the road and so were we.
We kept our eyes open for a DOC campsite as we drove to Franz Josef.
The commercial van park in the village itself looked way too busy, with cars & people everywhere - it just didn't “click”.
It was very muddy and disorganised, so we back-tracked about 12km north to the Otto/MacDonalds DOC campsite.
We picked an area at the side of the large car-park near the river and parked the wagons close together for wind protection, for there was an icy breeze coming off the alps.
Washer Woman strolled over and asked if she could use our shower, because her wagon had run out of water.
Washerwoman & Herr Laurie had used up all their water within 24 hours, so no hot showers for them that night.
They were banished downwind one camper width away.
Washerwoman hadn't worked out the bit about wetting - STOP - lather - rinse, she's stayed in her shower for 20 minutes the night before.
I pointed out that long showers were inversely proportional to covered wagon independence.
She tried bribery
Great spot at Otto/McDonalds DOC site
for the use of ours, but had nothing of value to offer.
That's a disadvantage of being a non-drinker, so she was sent on her way with just one jug of water for hot beverages.
This turned out to be another excellent and somewhat popular camper site.
Simple amenities and a nice view of Lake Mapourika.
We held cocktail "hour" #2 and this time the midgies weren't invited.
We only had a couple of winged gatecrashers and we partied well into the wee hours.
Sorry to the other campers if we partied too late, for most were tucked into beddy-byes by sundown. What a bunch of pussies!
Squaw Jenny was quite timid about using the DOC pit toilets, so she’d been using our covered wagon pooper and it was getting somewhat ripe.
I also think the previous occupants were into vindaloos and it didn't get rinsed out very well, because it stank like an "old folks home" from the first day.
Calamity Barb & Ol' Dolly announced that their pooper was okay because their s**t don't stink... PAUSE - Let me take
Waiho River near Franz Josef Glacier
a moment here to reflect. Have I told you I don't like camper-vans? No? Well, I hate camper-vans and caravans. I am neither a gypsy, nor a grey nomad and will remain that way. If I was meant to wander aimlessly, I wouldn't have things that resemble sprouting roots at the ends of my legs. Oh and I have never achieved my confined spaces authority. All is well until between 10.00pm and 9.00am. I hate sleeping (loose term) in them. I hate eating in them. I hate showering (what a joke) in them and I get stage-fright in the pooper in them. How anyone can attempt to sleep up top is beyond me. When I die I want a coffin bigger than that bed! I had the window open and sucked in the cold night air as if it was my last breath before drowning. Stressful. Downstairs is not much better. Waking with an arm in a cutlery drawer, a nose pushed onto the seat and a foot in a seatbelt doesn't do it for me. Late night pacing inside
Approaching Franz Josef Glacier carpark
& circling outside were the norm. I have as much chance of sleep as our nation's Treasurer has of saying r-r-r-re-re-rec.. er.. economic downturn.
Day 4 - GLACIERS, RAIN & CASSETTES
We parked in the centre of Franz Josef, whilst Squaw Jenny & Ol' Dolly made a b-line for the public “voting booths”.
Those "constitutional cabinets" really had them bluffed at first. They sure are different Dunnys.
You push a button and the dunny door opens, then you enter, push another button and the door closes.
A recorded voice pronounces that the door will remain locked automatically for a maximum of 6 minutes (so don't bother reading a newspaper).
Then the music starts and "What The World Needs Now" oozes from the speakers, which really opens the sluice gates (no need for laxatives).
SquawJenny told us she needed to push a button for toilet paper dispensing.
Then there was PANIC - no paper - door was going to open soon - feverish hunting for paper napkins, tissues, anything in handbag.
She found tissues - immediate stress relief.
Nice trail to the lookout
Toilet didn't flush - PANIC again - passed hands under tap - toilet flushed and door opened, next please.
It left them both with a feeling of processed ablution. They didn't expect that one out in the Wild West!
Meanwhile, I'd walked up to the information board to find where the glacier was situated.
I looked at the board and noted it's position on the map. "It must be getting close now", I thought.
Then I glanced behind the board. There it was...
A big, white, snowy, icy thing-a-majig sitting as proud as punch in the mountains. That was sooo easy. Gee, I'm such a good guide!
We piled back into the wagons and forged on to survey the glacier.
About 2 minutes later, out we get and walk to the top of a lookout for a better view of this glacier thing.
It's a bit of an uphill walk, but not long and quite pretty as you make your way along the fern covered trail.
The platform gave us terrific views of the glacier & valley, complete with gushing waterfalls booming down.
Franz Josef Glacier
to rain, so Squaw Jenny and the others made their way back to the shelter of our wagons, but I decided to go further for a closer view.
I walked up as far as the big waterfall on the south side of the riverbed and watched some young American men showing off their bravado by stripping down to shorts and seeing who could stand under the icy waterfall the longest.
Apparently the winner's prize was hypothermia.
It was quite entertaining until I offered to hit them on the head with a rock to see who's the last conscious winner. I had no takers, the pussies.
Then I informed them of their sheer stupidity at standing under a waterfall with a base strewn with thousands of large polished rocks.
Luckily the penny dropped before the rocks did and they immediately took several paces back, thanking me for the health tip.
Lives saved, I made my way back to the wagon in pouring rain AND there were no midgies. Yeehah!!!
We drove away in our wagons with heavy rain falling, in search of our next glacial encounter.
You’ve gotta’ love
this place, the next glacier was only a quick knee-trembler away.
The Fox Glacier parking area was getting really muddy with all the rain as we entered from the dirt track. The rivers & waterfalls were now beginning to work hard.
Being colourblind, I usually miss many features in the landscape associated with minor colour changes (and traffic lights - my bad), but not in this place.
As we drove around a large pond at the entrance of the carpark, the surface fluoresced with brilliant blues and greens against the surrounding grey granite & white quartz.
As I think back, it was probably the toxic runoff from a camper's leaking diesel fuel line!
I tried to grab a photo of it, but then the damn camera battery went flat right at that very moment. Bugger.
There weren't many takers to get out to see the glacier, even though viewing of the glacier required much less walking here.
The rain was pelting down really hard. It was left up to Calamity Barb, OL' Dolly and myself to forge on by foot.
A we traversed the huge riverbed of granite
Waterfalls walking towards Glacier
in the rain, four rather chubby people passed by in the opposite direction.
They were wearing very tight, clear plastic raincoats and I couldn't resit a comment.
They were rather shocked when I told them they all looked like vacuum-packed chickens. Hey, ease up on me, they did look like that!
We reached a viewing area and made a mental note the glacier view (flat camera battery - remember?), then made a run for the shelter of the wagons.
Right there and then, one of Calamity Barb's baby seal lined Asian sneakers blew out a sole and did a great impression of a slapstick clown shoe.
We flap-flap-flapped back to the wagons in double-time with rain coming down in torrents.
Washer Woman spied her version of the ultimate camper in the glacier carpark just as we arrived back.
It was an old modified school bus with a full size top loader washing machine lashed to the back door!
"Please, just let me touch it" she cried in an OCD whimper, as we ran past as fast as possible, then jumped into our wagons and hit the road again.
Be careful. Those river rocks came down from up top.
The weather had closed in quite bad, so maximum concentration turned to the road conditions.
Squaw Jenny’s exclamations of "Wow, look at that!" and "Effing hell!" didn't assist me at all.
Those big riverbeds were now big raging rivers!
We briefly pulled into Haast for a quick nature stop and a stretch (osmosis filled the bladder), then “swam” on down the road.
The Haast Pass area loomed up ominously and we passed on by Roaring Billy Falls.
We didn't stop long due to the traffic congestion there, but managed a couple of minutes checking out the violent state of the water tearing through Haast Pass.
The energy was so impressive!
The river was absolutely blasting past in whitewater fury and the waterfall leapt violently from the mountain wall, before crashing loudly on the rocks beside the river.
We stopped further on to view Thunder Creek Falls, the dense canopy of trees above us giving shelter from the torrents of water from the sky.
Although the heavy rain was a little uncomfortable, we felt blessed that we were able to experience this area in all
it's liquid fury.
We took some happy snaps and jumped back in the wagons, thoroughly soaked.
Washerwoman had stayed with her wagon, explaining that she didn't need to see white water if there was no laundry detergent involved.
We weaved our way down the western side of the pass and the rain started to ease, then finally turning to sunshine as we approached Lake Wanaka.
The drive around the lake shores was stunningly beautiful and dangerous at the same time, due to the captivating scenery that distracts the driver.
We hit Wanaka village late in the afternoon, filled our wagons with fuel & headed off for a commercial campsite before dark.
We stayed at the Aspiring Campervan Park (the name has now changed) , about a kilometer or so past the township.
We enjoyed the sweeeet toilets and loooong hot showers, not to mention Washer Woman's intense affair with "Kleenmaid" in the laundry.
Another cocktail session and Don Jose' was dead 'n empty. Happy Jack was looking a bit second-hand as well.
This was quite a nice van park, with very friendly staff. The communal BBQ kitchen
Washer Woman's deam camper. Note the washing machine strapped to the rear and the stove chimney!
area was also a bonus.
We took the advantage to fill the wagons’ fresh water tanks and empty the grey water tanks.
Then it was time for the inevitable. Time to empty "THE CASSETTE
Did I tell you I don't like camper-vans? Oh well, no escape. This chore had to be done.
I obeyed the removal instructions religiously and accurately. It immediately slipped out of the side of the wagon and there I was hanging onto it by it’s handles.
I “hoped beyond hope” that the clear liquid pooled on top of the cassette was just shower water, as it began dripping off the outside!
With superhuman strength, I held that unholy grail with outstretched arms to get as far away from it as humanly possible.
I stretched those arms out so far, I expected to drag knuckles like a Sydney pub bouncer after this.
I gingerly walked the "Green Mile" (dead-smelling man walking) to the "Dump Station". What a pleasant name for an open sewage hole!
I carefully removed the dispensing cap and started pouring. Argh!!!
Hot bile burned the back of my throat like battery acid
as I shook out the last reluctant blind mullet from the cassette.
I then opened the "cassette" up and gave it a rinse with the hose, all the while gagging, hacking and coughing.
'Ol Dolly immediately beat a hasty retreat, pleading for me to retch more softly, or he'd be doing it next.
I reassembled and refitted the now sweeter smelling cassette back into the wagon and made a proclamation to all.
"Forthwith, nobody - BUT NOBODY - shall use our poop-chute for the duration of the expedition or they shall feel my wrath.
For I will never empty that evil receptacle again!".
I'd rather spend 24hrs in a Mexican hospital during a dysentery epidemic!
Day 5 - ABC - APPLES, BUNGEE AND COCKTAILS
Duly refreshed by our stay at Wanaka, we headed off early towards Queenstown. The sun was out and the scenery was splendid. Only a few minutes out of Wanaka, we came to a fluffy halt. We were marooned in a veritable ocean of bleating sheep. Waltzin' Matilda crossed my mind, as we sat there mesmerized
by the enormous fleecy flow. We sat patiently for several minutes watching "Footrot" the dog running over the tops of their backs and barking orders to the flock as he went. Absolute fairy tale stuff, such a lovely sight.
Then visions of shanks, ribs & roasts floated through the air on a fluffy cloud of mash potato. Oops, sorry. As suddenly as they appeared, the sheep were gone. Was it an apparition? No, SquawJenny commented on how cute they looked, as she noticed me trying to hide that little bit of drool in the corner of my mouth. Mmm... Lamb...
In the next valley, there were vineyards and fruit orchards everywhere, so I decided to stop for some fruit. Without going into the fine detail, all that cheese 'n crackers we'd been eating had me bound up tighter than Madam Lash's boyfriend. We gave the big supermaket-looking barns a miss and hauled into a small roadside stall displaying apples. Apples! An apple a day, you know what they say. We bought some “Johnagold” apples as big as grapefruit. They were so juicy and they cracked like a whip when bitten. Their flavour was absolutely beautiful and they made
a terrific morning snack. if you’re ever passing that way, do yourself a big favour and stop to try some.
Our next stop was at a "gold camp", accessed by crossing a nice 'n bouncy suspension bridge spanning a deep river gorge. Squaw Jenny failed to see the humor of me walking with a spring in my stride as I accompanied her across the bridge. I pointed out it was man's destiny to irritate womenfolk. I was informed that if I didn't behave, I’d be locked in the wagon's cassette room. I behaved.
The “gold camp” was an interesting enough place for a toilet stop (that apple had kicked in), but my interest in the place disappeared the moment I dried my hands. Rock heaps and sheets of old tin just don't do it for me. It was probably fun for the original prospectors back 100yrs ago, but there was nothing to hold our interest so we retreated back over the suspension bridge and drove off.
We made another stop at a cheesemaker & vineyard a few klms before the "leap of faith" (bungee jump) site and bought some great cheeses, some venison sausage and some local
alcoholic fruit juice. They had a sign proclaiming wine cave tours, but I bet it's just an interrogation pit where they torture Aussie Novocastrians to try and get the secret of how to make good wine. I'll just duck for cover for a moment. Have they finished shooting? Here's a good tip for the cheesemakers shop. Move the septic tank transpiration area further away from the front door. I like my blue vein cheese to smell more like dirty socks, rather than dirty underpants. I suppose I'm just a sophisticated kinda bloke, aye!
A stop at the Bungee Jump cliff fort was mandatory. We winced, then cheered as the line of young men & women bravely proved themselves. Just wait 'till you get older, kiddies. Meet my friend. Don't be shy. Say hello to Arthritis. Ol' Dolly walked onto the bridge for a better look and I informed him he'd look more at home below the bridge, because he looks like a troll. He asked me if I'd need a push to bungee jump and I said he'd better be pushing me in the back with a loaded revolver! My heart was happy where it was and I didn't
need to taste it in the back of my throat. My chiropractor’d also warned me that if I bungeed, I'd get the front seat on the plane ride back home, but I'd probably find the wheelchair a bit inconvenient.
Rather than check out the bungee action, Washer Woman & Herr Laurie had decided to have a quick snooze in their wagon seats during the stop. I expect all the excitement of eating an apple was just little a bit too much for them.
After watching a dozen people screaming and fainting in the name of fun, we continued on towards Queenstown. A few minutes later, we arrived in the congested mayhem of the town centre. A bit of advice from experience here. Forget driving through the town centre in a covered wagon. We rattled up and down streets looking for parking. Yes! We spied a blue "P" sign, so we follow it up into the hills. Ha Ha, very funny. The parking entrance sign read "2.1m clearance" and the sticker on our windscreen read "3m clearance required". We gave it a miss and weren’t feeling the love in Queenstown. Did I tell you how much I like camper-vans?
We again drove through the middle of the village and Washer Woman began howling & bleating on the 2-way about shopping deprivation being inhumane and how it had been banned by the General Assembly of the United Nations . She commented that this was Queenstown, not Guantanamo and she was a tourist - not a terrorist. She’d caught sight of a "50% OFF SALE" flag being flown from a trading post and began shaking a finger uncontrollably in it's direction. I made a “trail boss tactical decision” and we stopped for lunch just out of town on the rising lakes-edge road, near a track sign that said "waterfall walk".
I decided to go for a walk down the steep downhill slide to the waterfront for the next joke - there's no waterfall. Obviously the same sign-writer did the parking lot sign. Not feeling the love in Queenstown. I gouged and clawed my way back up the track to the wagons where Squaw Jenny waited patiently at the hilltop with my lunch in hand and commented that I looked nice in purple - my face that is. Nobody's perfect...
We then decided to give the womenfolk a real
Aspiring Tourist Park.
No longer listed as such name.
treat by driving back through the town centre madness, then ejecting them out onto the road in the middle of the village to forage for finery. We men then forged on and found lodging in the camper-van park on the hill above Queenstown. It was quite empty and fairly priced, but were informed that we had to pay with coins for a hot shower. The dump-site was crude & messy, but I wasn't worried because had nothing to dump - Yes!
We walked down the hill back towards the village centre for a cold brew at the Rattlesnake bar (apt name) and were bitten for $8 per beer - and in a bottle. We decided to go save the womenfolk (and our bank accounts) from the possum-fur traders. Calamity Barb & Squaw Jenny were waiting patiently in the village centre, as Washer Woman darted frantically from shop to shop to make sure there were no bargain-wolves hiding in the clothes-bushes. A brave woman and she did a thorough job.
Squaw Jenny and I decided to have a light meal at a bar cafe in the mall to try the “Famous Bluff Oysters” that everyone raved about. 6 tempura
Tourist Park camp kitchen.
and 6 sashimi oysters chosen from the menu. Must’a been a Jap pub. Round-eye translation was 6 battered & 6 raw oysters. They stuck two oysters into each shell, so I'm guessing they’d substituted a few bottled ones in there to stick it to us tourists.
The oysters were nice enough, but not worth anywhere near the $45 charge. I noticed most supermarkets charge $25 for a dozen for bottled Bluff oysters, so I'll stick to our Aussie Coffin Bay and Nelson Bay oysters for $15 a dozen, opened in the shell or $10 for 18 bottled. However, I can say I tried Bluff oysters. It made $5 for a jar of NZ mussels look a bloody good bargain.
Ol' Dolly bumped Into a local character and had a chinwag with him. He called this place "the town of broken dreams", because of the ridiculously high rents and all the failed business ventures. He said the only winners in Queenstown were those he called "The Old Money". Australia’s uprising at the Eureka Stockade came to mind as he talked.
When we returned to the van park, there had been dozens and dozens of wagon arrivals. There were
campers and people everywhere. One feral wagoner even began draining his grey water onto the open ground only a couple of vans away from us. How gross! A quick word in his ear about him going for a face-first dive into the mess changed his mind.
We only had a short cocktail party that night, as the women were worn out from bartering at the trading posts and it was also getting a bit chilly outside. Herr Laurie told us that he'd heard a foreign woman's voice in the men's shower area and when he exited his shower cubicle in the bollocks, there was a european woman standing in the men's shower room, washing her teeth in a very short towel (she was in the in the towel, not her teeth). He asked her partner if she knew it was the men's room. "Oh, yes!" was his only reply and Herr Laurie just walked off puzzled by it all, none the wiser with that answer.
We self-administered a few bottles of local "neck oil" for medicinal purposes only, just to keep our sanity happening. We weren’t really liking the whole “Camper City” that had appeared around us, so
Toboggan slide near Gold Mining Centre
we said good night and tried for a wagon sleep session. I kicked back and listened to some Jimmy Buffet on the ipod - "Boat Drinks.. Just Shot Six Holes In My Freezer.. Must Be Gettin' Cabin Fever.. Boat Drinks". Now, where'd I put the Colt?
The time has come to make mention of the Norwegian travelers. We met them at Klondike Corner and it happened like this:
We had just endured the midgie assault, then positioned the wagons in an honourable fashion to give each couple some privacy and peace for the night ahead. Herr Laurie ( a 2m, placid, non-drinking, ex-copper) was having a nana-nap, as he suffers from a debilitating illness which saps his energy. A rogue wagon had already pulled in and tried parking between us, but then he saw our scowls and decided to beat a hasty retreat out of "Klondike". Hey, I don't look THAT bad, but it had the desired effect.
Some minutes later, in comes (let's call them) Bjorn & Inga. They backed in so close to Herr Laurie's wagon, that Bjorn's door nearly hit Laurie's wagon as he disembarked. I had no idea
why, because there was acres of room elsewhere in the camp site. As the womenfolk looked over and cackled on about "how cheeky", I too it upon myself to remedy the situation.
Bjorn & Inga walked to the gravel road near my wagon to take photos of the sunset on the mountains. I greet them and suggested that they seriously rethink the parking plan because there was a mountainous, half-drunk, foul-tempered biker type in the van beside them. I added that if they woke him up, he’d burst out his wagon and kick the s**t out of their wagon, then they’d be next. I told them I'm no pipsqueak, but I was parked way over here because he'd already warned me off before he passed out drunk. I added that I knew my match.
Bjorn thanked me, sneaked back to his wagon, then quietly moved it as far across the parking area as possible from Herr Laurie. Problem solved. He returned to Inga and initiated a pleasant conversation with us about their travels and homeland, all the time glancing in the direction of Herr Laurie's wagon. Then I found out why they parked so close. Apparently, they'd been
Suspension Bridge to the Gold Mining Centre
told not to stay alone in campgrounds for safety purposes. There had been a reported armed assault and rape of a tourist couple staying in a campground on the North island and the perpetrators hadn't been caught yet. Whilst sensible, I pointed out that actually camping on TOP of people was probably not needed. Nice enough couple, just not thinking. We left them none the wiser to Herr Laurie's real character that night and they were gone before we woke the next morning.
Later that day, we met up with them near Franz Josef, where they met Herr Laurie in person and Washer Woman let them off the hook. Poor Herr Laurie assured them that the panels on their wagon were safe, but they still had an apprehensive look in their eyes behind those wide smiles. When I waked up to say hello, Bjorn smiled and exclaimed “Oh you got me good with that joke, you sneaky Aussie”. I decided to keep an eye on him and my tyre valves just in case. We crossed paths again in Queenstown. They might have been gullible, but they still chuckled about the biker episode. Day 6 - BOATS,
Gold mining centre
LUGE & GONDOLAS
Up early and off to the Shotover Jet Boats. We had a thrilling and very wet ride. So much for their “advice” of sitting at the back to avoid the wash. "Just put this long waterproof coat under your life-jacket to keep you dry". The other big lie is "the cheque's in the mail". Haha, the waterproof coat would’ve been long enough if I was only as tall as the busload of Asians sitting in front of me! I felt very second-hand after the ride (motion sickness, thanks mom) and the crazy lady driver of the red racing bus trip back to town topped it off. We bought the Jetboat video & picture pack for Calamity Barb's birthday present, so she could re-live the fear forever.
Then it was off for a gondola ride to the top of them thar’ hills. What a great view from on cable gondola ride to the top where we finally found the source of all the screaming coming from the mountain last night. Another bungee site off the side of the mountain at Queenstown, overlooking our campsite. Those people that jump off the side of the cliff must have
Gold mining centre
“cajones” the size of rugby balls, but it wouldn't be a good look for a young lady. That is unless you're a Thai girlie-boy.
We had brunch at the cafe' up top which was good value and tasty. Nice maggot bags (pies). Quite a pleasant surprise for such a touristy spot. We also had a couple of runs on the luge ride. I was bemused, because I was looking for the Lazyboy recliner. I thought it said lounge ride. It sure makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck when you're launching into the corners and the brakes won't work, because you're so tall that the control bars hit your legs. I had that oversized skateboard standing on it's nose at every second corner and I still didn't get a dose of road rash! The best fun you can have with your pants on! The gondola ride down was also a bit of a thrill as you exit into space.
We then regrouped and set off to Te Arnu. Along the way we saw heaps of deer farms and I started drooling again. We stopped at a village proclaiming that it was the “Venison Capital
Kawarau River Bungee Centre
of the World”. We checked the shops and you guessed it - no venison. I drove off with visions of Bambi-burgers floating in the air around me. Mmm... Bambi...
Te Arnu was only a short journey and we stopped into the local supermarket for some supplies, then we checked the “Glowworm Cave” tour times and had a quick scout around. I loved the street sign proclaiming "Wong Way" and the aptly-named "Sand-fly Cafe'". Herr Laurie must have decided that the supermarket fence was too close to the carpark, because he gave it a gentle shove with the back of the wagon. The landholder in the yard on the other side of the fence voiced his thanks loudly. Apparently the bloke didn't really want it moved and was happy with it in it's original position. He had a marvelous grasp of simple, short words containing four letters to impart this information to us.
Rain was beginning to fall and rather than stay in town, we pushed on to find a suitable DOC site further out of town. We decided that this would make our assault on Milford Sound easier the next day.
The area between Te Arnu and
Milford Sound has a very good selection of DOC sites and we chose the Walker Creek campsite, about 50km out of Te Arnu. It had a large, dense & robust tree which afforded us good protection from the rain for the evening "cocktail party" and a fair-smelling dunny with a skylight panel. A flaash one aye!
NZ DOC sites don't seem to be big on the campfire/bbq bit and this area was no exception. A campsite a bit further on did have some rudimentary fireboxes, but we would’ve needed a drum of hi-octane "woof-wood" to get it lit in that climate.
Our campsite was fine. A dry tree canopy & a dunny in sight. What more could we want? Maybe foxtel, plasma TV, recliner, ice cream, a big bed! Er.. sorry. At least the midgies had the night off. The womenfolk did a mighty fine job of whipping up a hearty meal, then we rugged up and did battle with our old friend Jack Daniels. Our impromptu cocktail hour closed a bit before official time due to excessive nocturnal head-wetting and strong wind (atmospheric type). As I lay in bed I pondered the chances of the tree above
Gibbston Hwy bridge
our heads flattening our wagons. Did I tell you how much I like camper-vans? I found my trigger-finger twitching involuntarily for the non-existent foxtel remote, as I drifted into fitful sleep. Day 7 - WATERFALLS, BOATS AND GLOW WORMS
It fair pelted down all night and it was still turning it on as we woke. We had a basic brekky, then hit the road-river early. Not long into the drive, we encountered a sign proclaiming "Mirror Lakes". Well, we guessed we'd better stop for that! We were the only ones there. A pretty spot, but forget the “mirror” bit if it's raining.
We forged on and were absolutely astounded at the volume of water launching off the mountains from every angle into a thousand waterfalls. It's a sight I'll remember all my sober days! Due to heavy cloud cover, we gave some of the signposted lookouts a miss, because we know what clouds look like and we wouldn't have seen anything else.
The river beside the road was a a raging torrent, leaping high into the air with every boulder it encountered. Spectacular! We turned right onto a gravel road and traveled about 800m
Karawau Gorge Suspension Bridge
to an access spot for a pedestrian suspension bridge over the raging river. It was great fun & I got some good photos there. Squaw Jenny decided against the bridge, leaving Ol' Dolly & I to wobble on across. Bouncy little bugger! Drenched through, we hopped back in the wagons and continued towards Milford Sound.
A couple of more happy-snap stops and we were at "The Tunnel". In true pioneering spirit I shot straight in, guns a-blazin'. There was some sort of sign saying something about some lights or something, but not seeing any red light, I shot in like “Flynn”. What a long tunnel it was. I thought it'd be flat and straight. Most tunnels are flat and straight. Fairly steep for a tunnel too. Can't see the end yet. Hmm, nobody's behind me. Hope the others didn't break down. Oh well, I'll wait for them on the other side. Nobody around, so I'll just do about 40k. Must be one-way. No hurry. Bloody long tunnel this. Ah, here's the exit ahead. Hey get the camera ready, this'll make a great photo - a little like being born, only the tunnel's bigger & older. Wow, what a view!!
Bungee jump retrieval raft
Hey, that guy's parked over our way a bit at the front of the tunnel. I'd better give him some room...
BANG! The covered wagon lurched and shuddered with the impact as we exited the tunnel. "What was that?" yelled Squaw Jenny. "We just hit the tunnel." I said in the calmest voice I could muster. "S**T!” yelled Squaw Jenny. Not in our cassette, I thought as I pulled off the road at the first parking spot. "Have a look and see if the bed & fridge are back there on the road." I muttered in half-mirth, half-expectation. "I cant see any damage" said Squaw Jenny. "Have a look UP" I added. "Oh S**T! Oh S**T! screamed Squaw Jenny.
I decided it may need my opinion. "Ooh", "Ouch" and "Could'a been worse" were SOME words I used. A few more words also appeared, but shall remain nameless to protect the innocent. The top LHS front corner of the van had suffered a fair wallop which had distorted the fiberglass sufficiently to dislodge the seal between the panels. This left a gap of about 50mm opening up at the overlap of the panels. The damage was better than I
Bungee jump platform off side of bridge
expected, being no more than 300-400mm long. The impact had been hard enough to also distort the interior lining in the top bunk area. In an impressive show of male bravado and reasoning, I announced “I didn't like sleeping up there anyway”. SquawJenny announced “It's now official. You do have Tunnel Vision". She added that everyone would be so jealous of our wagon, because it now had a brand new sunroof!
The other Wagoners arrived moments later, mentioning that they had stopped to photograph the tunnel entrance. They surveyed the damage with "Oh dear" and "Tsk Tsk" noises. We then mounted up and pushed on to Milford Sound, all the while amazed at the magnificent scenery unfolding around us.
We parked our wagons, then headed for the booking office for the “Redboats” tours. We opted for the longer "Nature" voyage. and boarded the shuttle bus. We met some people from San Francisco. I asked if they were gay, but they said no. Strange. Never saw any when we were there last year either. Must just be a rumor.
20mins later we pulled out on the "Little Red Boat". We’d chosen that particular tour boat because it had
Lakeside drive approaching Queenstown centre
a botanist on board to comment on the actual living structure of the area. The clouds were still with us, but the rain was abating.
It had been mentioned to me that many people forgo or are disappointed with Milford Sound if it’s raining. They have the image in their mind that they need to be floating on a pristine mirrored surface of dark water. How far from the truth! This is a RAINFOREST. It’s one of the wettest areas on Earth and it literally jumps to life when the heavens unload in fury. We were actuall so fortunate to experience the majety of such an event.
The waterfalls were all over Milford Sound and everywhere around us. It was just mind-numbing in beauty. I'm glad we took the longer, more involved tour. The commentary was good and we were getting "up and close" to the walls of Milford Sound. The skipper placed the boat under a few of the waterfalls for added thrills.
On one such venture. he asked 2 passengers to don raincoats and hold glasses in wire cages out to catch the water as he nosed the boat into the falls.. Judging from the
Lunch stop before tacking Queenstown parking madness again.
faces of the crew, I'd say it's a local joke, as the volunteers were absolutely saturated. Everyone had good fun, though.
All was well until we hit the sea swells. I'm no a seafarer & I started to turn a nice fern-green color immediately. Lucky for me, it was only a taste and we quickly returned to the smoothness of the Sound. We passed by a small colony of seals who showed less interest in us than us them. The clouds broke and we noticed that a substantial amount of the waterfalls immediately disappeared, leaving only a select few to continue the torrents. We were rewarded with photography of rainbows, backed by enormous granite mountains breaking through white clouds. Words nor photographs could do it the justice it deserved.
The trip ended all too soon, but we were somewhat weary from our early morning start. So, we took the opportunity to enjoy a quiet snack in the wagons before heading back to Te Arnu. A busted wagon eyebrow aside, it had been a great day.
We arrived in Te Arnu mid-afternoon and the womenfolk hit the stores for another forage in their trading posts.
a quick beer at the local hotel near the ferry terminal, then we took the wagons up to the van park at the other end of main street. We checked in and found the place was okay. Nice sites & reasonable facilities, but not as good as the Aspiring in Wanaka.
SquawJenny and I decided to do the 7pm Glow-worn Tour, the others just wanting to have a relaxing night. we went back to the nearby hotel to have dinner before the ferry ride to the Glow Worm Caves . We both wanted chowder so I went up to get drinks and order dinner at the same time. The chowder was delivered to the table as I was walking back with our drinks. Wow, what a meal it was. For mains she had a great risotto & I had THE BEST venison steaks I've ever had. So tender, I could’ve carved them with a spoon and cooked to meduim-rare perfection. It was all reasonably priced as well.
At 6.45pm, we lined up for the boat trip to the caves. After a relaxing boat ride across the lake, we were there. The cave experience was great and the female
Queenstown Van Park.
guide very knowledgeable. We’d never seeing glowworms before and I found the evening quite fascinating. It was over quickly and we had no trouble enjoying a bit of a snooze on the boat ride home. We got back to the van park about 9.15pm and Squaw Jenny decided we’d better visit Calamity Barb & Ol' Dolly for drinkies.
I was a bit worn out from the drive & boat trip, so after an hour I said good night and went back to my wagon to go to bed. O'l Dolly didn’t last much longer than me, I was told later. The womenfolk decided to make a night of it, which turned out to be a poor call. SquawJenny woke me up in the wee hours entering the wagon, giggling like a schoolgirl and telling me a story of rocking Washer Woman's wagon until they yelled complaint. As we settled down to sleep, there was a loud “BANG” from Calamity Barb's wagon. When she asked, I assured Squaw Jenny they'd probably dropped the empty bottle on the floor, so we went back off to sleep. Day 8 - BLACK EYES & BBQ'S
Shotover Jet Boat
morning, Calamity Barb emerged from her wagon to reaffirm her given nickname. She was sporting a huge red bump on her forehead above her eye. That “BANG” during the night was her passing out whilst in a cross-legged position sitting on the bed, then performing a "Leaning Jowler" into the floor! Ouch. It appears the night of drinking had been a bit excessive, because she didn't even remember doing it. That empty vessel hitting the floor in the middle of the night was actually her head. The bump on her forehead was a really angry-looking one too, the type you can see a pulse in. What a start to the day!
When everyone (the women) had recovered enough to travel, we decided to push on for Dunedin.
Along the way, Herr Laurie queried about detouring to Invercargill to view the bike featured in the film "World's Fastest Indian". Good on ya Laurie! What a role player. Indians! Ol' Dolly & I weren't too keen because of the time frame involved, but Herr Laurie was enthusiastic, so he and Washer Woman bade us farewell and they were gone.
The road was good enough and we were making ok
Shotover Jet Boat
time, but we did find the area a bit boring after the dramatic landscape of the last few days. We stopped along the way a couple of hours later for a nice feed of fish 'n chips from a roadside cafe. The road to Dunedin was somewhat tiring and we got there mid-afternoon. We didn't find the town all that interesting or inviting and we didn't have an extra day to explore the peninsula, so we stopped at the Harley dealer, purchased a t-shirt (been there, done that, etc..), then we took off to find a suitable a campsite further north.
Well, the GPS navigator had other ideas and had us running around all over town like nutters for 30mins. That's why they use women's voices in them, so you won't punch them. I was certain we had to hang a left over the bridge, but I listened to “her” and off we went. The black box sent us up a hill beside a servo, which was barely wide enough for the covered wagons, then decided we needed to do a u-turn, all because it’d made a mistake.
I was left hanging on the side of a sheer
Shotover Jet Boat
mountain with my foot on the brake and the blood draining back from my foot to my head. As my head began glowing a fine crimson colour, the evil witch in the black box told me to detour down back lanes that'd remodel my wagon even more. I had a one-sided argument with her (pulled the plug out) then we made our escape from “Navman Peak”, taking the trail north in peak-hour afternoon traffic to find a campsite for the night.
We soon encountered a couple of possibilities near the beach, but they weren't very inviting with the cool onshore wind howling & overcast skies about to dump on us. They offered little protection from the elements, so we consulted the “DOC bible” and decided to check out a site called Trotters Gorge.
It was about 4.5km inland off the beach road. As we approached the track at the entrance to the gorge campsite. we noticed a sign hanging on an adjacent fence proclaiming "Please Stop Shooting our Pet Pig". Hmm. Apparently a few enthusiastic hunters had mistaken it for a wild pig and the poor thing had taken a few rounds over the years. My mind drifted
Shotover Jet Boat
back to the sign hanging in the sports store a few days ago. "Spend over $100 & go into the draw for a free 12 gauge shotgun!" Dinga-Ding Ding Ding. Did I hear a banjo? Where's Burt Reynolds?
We finally arrived at Trotters Gorge with plenty of light to spare and what a terrific place it was! We were a bit apprehensive as we approached a causeway under a fairly tight canopy of trees (I nudged the trees), but it opened out immediately on the far side of the causeway to a beautiful grassy campground, surrounded by birch trees with a bubbling stream curling around it. Magical. There was even a dunny on the hillside - and it flushed. What luxury!
Washer Woman & Herr Laurie arrived about an hour later. They must have been fair galloping along to get there so quick from Invercargill. The wagons were formed into a rough circle to ward off sobriety attacks and then we set about assembling a veritable banquet for our last night in the wilderness. We invited the neighbors (who’d arrived in a small hatchback car), to join us all for cocktails, but they made lame excuses, then quickly
Shotover Jet Boat
jumped into their pup tent and zipped it up tight. Maybe they noticed the squaw was already wearing her anti-rapes (fleecy PJs). We didn't look THAT bad, did we?. Maybe our “flanno’s and beanies” were a bit too fashionable for them and they were embarrassed about their own evening apparel.
Well, Ol' Dolly had a special surprise for the whole wagon train. He'd purchased a "Disposable BBQ" along the way. Hey, now we're cookin'! He’d been stressing out to BBQ since we started the journey. It comprised of a disposable baking dish containing 5 heat beads, a fire-starter, some dry wood shavings and topped with some steel gauze. It was a real flaash one, aye...
We sat it on the ground and lit 'er up!
Scene shot: 3 blokes standing around a smoldering dish on the ground, with 3 womenfolk rolling around laughing. Not funny! This was a basic male fire-bonding & the sincerity of the ritual had to be upheld no matter what the utensil. Herr Laurie lamented that he was craving for a nice feed of fish 'n chips. No way, baby. We were to feast on seared meat like pioneers!
The kerosine flames
Queenstown & Lake Wakatipu
eventually subsided, so on went the snags (well, it was sort of meat). "That'll get 'er going" announced Ol' Dolly to the masses, through a haze of black chemical smoke that eroded our nostrils. "I never met a hydrocarbon I didn't like" I added, as the smoke stung my eyes. We waited for the fire to slowly rise when the fat from the snags would burst forth and fuel the fading heat beads. Nope. The snags just sat there helplessly and sooted over with kerosine smoke. Extreme measures were called for, so we added the couple of steaks as well, then poured a good glug of cooking oil over the lot to create a fiery baste. Jeez I’m an ideas man!
Well, the flames shot up about half a metre above the BBQ and things got cookin' a hell of a lot faster than we’d anticipated.
Actually, it became hard to differentiate between the food & the fuel. The womenfolk engaged in a sexist derogatory session of laughter and took photographic evidence of our solemn ritual. Those damn non-believers. After a short period of cremation time, we attempted a meat rescue of sorts. You could tell they were
done by the “clanking” sound they made landing on the plate.
The official coronial inquiry came up with a verdict that they were almost edible. I disputed the verdict handed down, because it was made after cutting off about 5mm of chemical-encrusted carbon and I must add that we all know carbon is good for your teeth.
Ol' Dolly & I toasted (with bourbon, not the BBQ) ourselves on our success, but the womenfolk had morphed into laughing vegans for the night. The Philistines. They wouldn't know gourmet drinking snacks if it bit 'em on the bum. All that was needed was a good amount of duty-free venom and you'd eat the wagon tyres if they were put on a plate in front to you. Just ask any Kea... Ya' cant beat a set of bourbon goggles at a barbie for improving the taste of suspect meat.
After a lengthy amount of time rolling about in drunken laughter, we began bunking down for the night. I decided to sneak behind the wagon for a pee, just down along a small track to the stream bank. My plans came unstuck when I walked straight into a huge spider's
Paddle Steamer on Lake Wakatipu
web and I felt the monster slap my face. It felt as big as a bloody mangrove crab! Peter Garrett (of Midnight Oil fame) had nothing on the writhing dance I did out of the track, as I tried to extract myself from the sticky mess and avoid the Arthropod from the Paleozoic Era.
I took shelter in the covered wagon and decided it was time to fill up "the cassette" instead, for the DOC rangers apparently had 8 furry legs around there. With the Ipod filling my head with the sounds of Phil Collins "In The Air Tonight", I folded up in my bed in a fetal position and went to my "happy place" in the back of my pickled mind. I sincerely hoped that the "land crab" was bigger than the hole I’d made in the wagon's roof, because I'm sure it was running around up there trying to catch a Kea. Did I tell you how much I like camper-vans? Day 9 - HOME RUN, BIRTHDAY & SEX PILLS.
The day broke all too early and I emerged from the wagon with sobered trepidation. A little voice in my head kept repeating
Gondola ride to the top
"You must go... You must go...", so I wobbled up the hilly track to the “best seat in the house”. As I sat there with the door wide open (for ventilation), I thought to myself “The Trotters Gorge camp was even more beautiful in the morning light”. I can certainly recommend this spot for a Covered Wagon overnight retreat.
As I stood in the centre of the clearing contemplating shaving the hair off my tongue, It dawned on me that this was the last bush camp of the wagon trek. Today we forge on to Christchuch, then depart this wild land tomorrow. I turned my head and saw last night's leftover snags sitting heavily on a plate and SquawJenny asked if I wanted them warmed up for brekky. No bloody way! In the light of day, they resembled the BBQ heat beads we’d used. Urgh! I'd need a bowl of bourbon bubbles for brekky before I could deal with those.
We bade farewell to our Canadian camp neighbors with a friendly jump-start for their car. Serves them right for refusing our drunken hospitality. See? That bloody Karma will get you every time.
Then were headed for Christchurch.
A short gallop later, we came across a sign spruiking on about some rocks o a beach, so we turned in to investigate. A weird little spot. A cafe' and a gift shop sat across a staircase track to Moeraki Boulders, but there was a sign requesting a gold coin donation for the use their track they’d built to the beach. Ok, It had to be worth it so in went the coin.
A short walk down the hill and we weren't really at the boulders. Stitched up. After another short walk, we came to the famous Moeraki Boulders. They're ok for a quick look, I suppose. They’re a bit like over-sized thunder eggs. As we walk back to the steps up, Squaw Jenny comments that they remind her of the film "Cocoon". The one where the aliens grew in giant rocks in a swimming pool and really old people visited them to experience youth. With that thought, we look up and a tour group of retirees stumble and waddle down the hill in an avalanche of wigs, walking frames, dentures & padded incontinence pants. She must be right, we said!
We stood patiently on the beach waiting
Herr Laurie luge
for the wave of dementia to flow down off the stairs like molten lava. The threat of sand in their spangled sandals was too much for several and they stood midway on the stairs, fully blocking the exit. I loudly announced to the deaf masses that the view was much better down on the sand. "Is it really?" croaked an old Wrinklie with teeth that could eat corn through a picket fence. "Not really, I just want you to get out of our way!" I retorted. They shuffled a small opening for us to pass and I reminded Squaw Jenny to put a pillow over my face when I'm asleep when I get that bad. "I do every night, but you only try to eat it." she mutters. They smelled like our on-board "cassette" room, mixed with potpourri talcum powder.
A fast look through the gift shop and we were on our way. We would have spent up if they didn't charge to walk down their steps. They said that it was to cover stairs upkeep, or there was the rough DOC trail to use instead. Get over it shopkeepers. You get customers right to your door. Everyone has
operating costs in business. I don’t charge people $1 to use my workshop driveway.
Next stop was Oamaru. A nice little harbor town with a sign announcing "Penguins". Everyone loves penguins, so we turned in to see the penguins. Guess what? No penguins. They're nocturnal. We look at the seawall where a sign proclaims penguins might congregate later, then we leave. I must admit, Oamaru has some quaint old buildings that look inviting for a peek, but we scarper off anyway.
We pulled up in a town just north in order to satisfy Herr Laurie's hunger for fish 'n chips. While we were waiting for our cholesterol dose to bubble in the vat, we noticed that there was a constant dribble of motorcyclists on the road. We asked the shopkeeper and they told us there was a "Show 'n Shine" event at "The Shed", so we went to investigate after lunch. It was an ok little event, with 20 or so custom bikes on show. The gold coin donation was better value than the previous boulder steps. "The Shed" was a large barn-type bar behind a local hotel. Not a bad watering hole. Had a light beer and
a squiz at the rides and pushed off again.
The drive to Christchurch passed quickly. A bit of an anti-climax though, after our exciting trek to the west. We hit civilization and pulled up in a "Golden Arches" car park, the only place with parking suitable for the covered wagons. It was across the road from a huge trading post and all the womenfolk took on a look of zombies hunting brains. Us menfolk conferred that we'd best let them free to hunt & satiate their need for finery, else the womenfolk might end up wearing our cajones’ for earrings.
Washer Woman led the charge across the busy road, oblivious to all the traffic madly swerving around her. Squaw Jenny renamed her, acknowledging her royalty bloodline. Henceforth, she was to be known as "Stephanie, Queen of Shops". Us menfolk departed in the covered wagons to find safe lodgings for the night.
We forged ahead to the Riccarton Holiday Park, having a good revue It sounded in the AA bible. Also was getting late and this was the closest one. What do they say about not believing everything you read? The wagon sites were very cheap and we
found out why. Although clean, the van park was very basic and very old, mainly populated by those less fortunate than most. 50 years ago, it would have been a big hit, what with flushing toilets and running water.
We parked our wagons, then showered and relaxed in the TV room to wait for the womenfolk. A resident joined us for a chinwag. Wrap-around sunnies in the dark, tattoos, face jewelry, braided hair, hoodie, designer jeans & runners. This big bloke was really happening. "Where ya’s from Bro?" he asked of Ol' Dolly. "I'm from Queensland." replies Ol' Dolly. "Ah. I've got a cuz in Brizzy." announces this 2Pac Twin. "Yo want to visit him." says Ol' Dolly. "Nah, can't Bro. I’ve been bad and your government won't let me in, Bro." growls 2Pac Twin. Silent pause. "Hey, who's winning in the V8 race?" Ol' Dolly turns and asks Herr Laurie.
The womenfolk arrive back in Prius Taxi comfort, jumping out and growling at the suntanned, golly-gosh driver. "He was deaf as a board, pig ignorant and he didn't know where he was going!" they exclaim. My opinion of cab DRIVERS remains unchanged. There’s some good 'uns but
I wouldn't feed the majority with a slingshot.
Mary, Queen of Shops beamed radiantly as she made her way to her wagon, tightly clutching the most valued possessions in her kingdom, “Shopping Bags”!! We sniffed out our freshest socks & finest flannies for a night out in the big city.
Suitably resplendent, we waited for a Maxi-taxi at the front gate for a ride into town. A shiny doof-doof wagon passed by and the occupants screamed a peculiar greeting to us. They were most likely members of a local tribe which have a genetic vision handicap, because they screamed "N!&&ERS" at the top of their lungs. I waved and replied "Yo Bro!" loudly, as our group began laughing uncontrollably. The womenfolk then examined their make-up, thinking they might have overdone their rouge a bit. The ride into town was uneventful and we disembarked in the centre, surrounded by eateries and clubs.
After a quick scout of available chew-n-spews, we settled for an "Olde English Pub". The meal was excellent and fairly priced. We did find most establishments were priced well, which was a far cry from our $29 pizza shock on our first encounter with Christchurch. After
dinner and a drink or two, we strolled around to check out the area. We passed a small shop with a collection of Rock and Punk miscellanea for sale. A sign out the front proclaimed "WE SELL PARTY PILLS".
Well, him being the "organic chemical enthusiast" of the expedition, it was all too much for Ol Dolly's curiosity and in he went to find out about these concoctions. He asked "What are these pills you sell?. "We sell lots of types of pills. What are you after?" came the reply. "What are these Party Pills? he asked. "Oh, they're SEX pills" she explained. "And what do I use these SIX pills for?" he asked. "They're SEX pills." she explained louder. "Ok, I now know there's SIX of them - but what do you do with them?". "SEX! SEX! They're for SEX! You Aussies are so funny! I worked over there for a while in a pub and the patrons continually asked me to say Fush 'n Chups!" she laughed. "Oh. Now I get it." blushed Ol Dolly, with a grin on his face. "And what do they actually do for sex?". "They are full of caffeine and keep you
awake." she explained. "Thanks, but I'll just have a big cup of coffee." Ol' Dolly replies, as he beats an embarrassed retreat.
We grabbed a quick beer in an "Irish Pub" across the road as we waited for the Maxi-taxi to reappear and then we headed home. The driver engaged in pleasant conversation and switched off the meter without announcement. We arrived back at the van park and he asked for the fare - $10 more than the outward journey. "I'm not that bloody drunk!" I growled at him and he immediately apologized and settled for the previous fare.
We made our way to a picnic table near the dunnys and had a quiet drink to end the night's celebration of Calamity Barb's half-century achievement. She thanked us for wishing her good fortune for the next half, as her forehead & black eye radiated in the pale moonlight. We retired to the covered wagons, double-checking all was locked & secure. We didn't need any nocturnal visits from the 2PAC Twin or his Cuz's in the night. I slept fitfully, dreaming of comfortable beds and modern conveniences that I didn't have to empty with a gas mask on...
IMG_2256 Day 10 - DEPARTURE
Te Anau waterfront where the glow worm cruise boat docks.
Our last day in UnZud. We transferred all remaining supplies to Calamity Barb and Ol' Dolly's wagon, as they were staying on for another 3 days. They were going to make their way up to Nelson and then Hanmer Springs. Pity we couldn't do it with them, but the salt mine requested me home. Herr Laurie and I did the "Dump Station" exercise, then went and filled the wagons with fuel. Hugs & kisses flowed around and we sadly set off for the giant wagon shed.
Upon arrival, I made my way to the returns desk where I had to fill out the accident report on the damage to the wagon's forehead. The evidence is here for all to see. The returns staff took photos and asked what I'd hit. "Milford Tunnel" I replied. They told me that it'd been done a few times before and it'd happen again. They informed me that there had been seven previous accident reports before me that day and it was only 10.30am. I felt a little better and thanked Squaw Jenny's sensibility on taking full insurance cover with no excess. Here's the keys and I'm
Beside Lake Te Anau bound for a DOC campsite
outa here! A fast free shuttle around the corner to the airport and we were the first to check-in for the homeward flight.
We were re-bitten by duty-free wallet-snakes again on the way out. This was to restock cabinet supplies at home that our son had announced he'd consumed during parties at our place in our absence. Hmm...
I settled down to a lunchtime snack before boarding Jetstar cattle class. Another pleasant surprise. The airport cafe' offerings were tasty & economical! I had a pie and SquawJenny had a huge piece of pizza. Both were delicious. The return flight was smooth and uneventful - just the way you want air travel to be. My mind just drifted away with the warm, syrupy voice of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole flowing from the headphones of my ipod
(And I think to myself what a wonderful world). A drop of moisture forms in the corner of my eye and I ponder whether it is attributed to the loss of such a great man to the world, or to my own disappointment at leaving such a magnificent land.
Back in Oz and off to customs. We'd declared "food", because SquawJenny had a
Walker Creek DOC campsite
packet of chocolates. The customs guy sighed and waved us through as quick as a flash. Works a treat every time, especially if you don't look like a sweaty, stressed-out drug mule. Outside, I call the son to meet us with the wagon in the parking lot. As I walk by the empty bus and taxi area, I observe 2 guys pushing their backpacks quickly into a Subaru whilst the driver kept the wagon running. Then a huge, ugly, female, parking Nazi rushed over to the otherwise-empty section of the pickup area and shouted at them to remove their bags from the car and meet the driver in the car park 30 metres over. This meant the driver had to exit the pickup area, drive around the block to the car park entrance, drive across the car park to pick up the two passengers, then drive out the exit to pay a parking fee of about $7. As I walked past the guys with my bag trolley rattling, I said "I see you've met our parking Nazis. Welcome to Australia". "What a hostess she was." he retorted with an English accent. "Have a nice day and don't judge us by
Walker Creek DOC campsite
that creep." I replied. He smiled and waved, as we packed up and left for home, riding off into the sunset (in reality a huge and violent electrical storm). In summary:
We loved our time New Zealand. We did find the farmland areas a bit boring, as we come from a similar area. Beaches? We've got bucket-loads of great beaches around us. The more mountainous regions were our love. They were so VERTICAL. Mountains in Oz rise gradually, but in NZ. It's SMACK! - there's the mountain. They make your very soul tingle with their magnificence. I must say that it's one of the few places that you could enjoy no matter what the weather. Seriously, the camper-van was heaps of fun and we thoroughly enjoyed the evenings with the vans circled up so we could enjoy pleasant "cocktail parties", which is a signature of the way we travel with friends. I wasn't all that taken with the bedding bit. I do suffer from tight spaces anxiety a little and I'm not a small person, so sleeping over a week in a camper was pushing the friendship. If I did it again, I'd probably spend every
Walker creek DOC campsite
4th night in a motel for a decent sleep.
Generally, we found the locals to be warm & friendly, with most travelers the same (so busy enjoying themselves). I take the opportunity to deeply thank all those that entertained and assisted us before, during and after our brief (but wonderful) time in New Zealand. I especially thank all you who have spurred me on to complete this epic chronicle of stupidity. May you all live long, happy and prosperous lives.
TIKA HOKI. KA KITE ANO. I think I said "Thank you & see you again". I hope it wasn't something like "Your mum's a hooker"!
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