It has been just over three weeks since I stepped bleary eyed from the Singapore to Christchurch aeroplane. The trip computer on the (so far) trusty van says I have covered just over 2000 km and looking at the map of the South Island, I think I’m about half way around. I thought I would give you a round up of events so far.
In the beginning, I made a decision to head north from Christchurch. This was prompted by the fact that the weather in the South was rubbish, and that usually the best weather is in the North. Added to this the intelligence from someone in the know that the children’s Christmas school holidays will be starting in a month or so, causing everyone to head north. Avoid the rush, I thought, get to the North and enjoy the good weather there and then head south when it too begins to heat up. So that was the plan and off I went, my first stop along the way was a small village on the outskirts of Christchurch called Rolleston. Here I met a girl called Nicola, whom I’d gotten in contact with over Backpackerboard. We had a trip to the Banks peninsular, and spent an hour or so daring each other to plunge into the sea on a freezing cold, windy and deserted Tumbledown Bay. I did pluck up the courage and by god, now I know why some trawler men don’t need to freeze their catches. I was only in for about ten seconds, too. Unfortunately, she didn’t start her travels until January, so we exchanged numbers and hopefully will be meeting up again in the new year. After a night making sure things worked in the van (lights, locks, curtains, seats etc) whilst I was near a city, I set off properly out into New Zealand for the first time. Disappointingly, it seems it is only Indiana Jones who trails a red line behind him when he is on his travels.
Kaikoura was the first port of call, the weather was still as bleak as a Dickensian novel. I put this down to the fact that it is still sort of the equivalent to a British May, and I looked forward to things warmer oop t‘north. After Kaikoura came Blenheim and Swampy’s, learning on the way that hitchhikers are not worth picking up if you want fuel money, but could possibly be a source of information. T’was here that the sun put in a tiny appearance, and I took full advantage of this by hiring yet another sit up and beg bicycle and going for a ride around the world renown vineyards of Marlborough. I’m sure there are few things stranger than seeing a man dressed in full Lycra and sports top riding a bike favoured by 1950’s school mistresses. With all the vineyards and greenery and the European flavour of the people I had met so far, I was surprised that I didn’t encounter a Frenchman wearing a black and white stripy top, a beret and a string of garlic and onions around his neck.
Feeling that I was burning through money faster than a Euro politician on expenses, I found cheaper pitching at a small cove near the Queen Charlotte Trail called Aussie Bay. That night whilst I wrote, a team of insect business men discovered my legs were the perfect location for their latest all you can eat fast food outlet ‘Bite ‘n’ Flight.’ I thanked my lucky stars I had chosen wisely with my mode of transport. Glass and steel make a far better barrier than a two man tent against the wind, which that night was described by the weather man as “almost record breaking for this time of year, John, when do you think summer is gonna turn up?” to which the reply was
“I don’t know, Stan, but if I were you I’d avoid the top of the South Island for the next couple of days.”
Following the adventures on the QCT, and with Minnie de Moocher in tow, the next stop was Paradiso Hostel, Nelson, were it’s always Saturday Night and a perfect place to put your liver through a good workout. Mr Bluesky was in residence and I managed, finally, to catch some rays. Being the sort of jammy git who can get a sun tan from the light in a refrigerator, I’m now just a shade or two lighter than a chocolate bourbon biscuit.
Ignoring the weather men, and after being ditched by Minnie in Kaiteriteri, (a quick top up on the tan there, too) I headed north to the very top of the South Island, and Golden Bay. I’m sure it would have been golden had it not been for the wind and rain, but at least I had the campsite to myself and managed to get a good fire going. It must have been a really good fire, because it took three buckets of water to put out when the wind became too gusty for comfort, and was still glowing the next day after the rain. When I did turn south again, I chose a site with full laundry and showering facilities to scrub the smell of woodsmoke from both myself and my clothes.
A quick stop again in Kaiteriteri, I had a chance to see were they were filming ‘The Hobbit’. I was assured by the guide that just the week before, whilst I was in Nelson, they had had a full film crew up on the moors of the Abel Tasman. I took photos of the spot, now I can honestly say I’ve been to Middle Earth. Another night at Paradiso (well, it was on the road back from the top of the island) and I started driving toward the West coast. The town of Westport had a sign proudly displaying it’s population, just over 4000. Parking up in what an American would call a ‘trailer park’, I went out to discover that all of the population had turned in for the night, it being just after five in the evening. It was the first time I have ever walked down the High Street of any town in daylight on a normal weekday and been the only one on the street, there wasn’t a soul to be seen. Fearing some sort of cataclysmic outbreak of a disease that turned everyone to vampiric night stalkers, I returned to base. My plans for the next day have found me in Greymouth, which is just recovering from the worst flooding of the river it has seen in many years. In Christchurch on the other side of the mountains, the weather is hot and sunny. My quest continues…
Mini Count :- 15
Follow Me! Google Earth Co-ordinates: 40 30’17.71″ S 172 42’45.91″ E The top of the South Island!