Just to recap, so far the score is Head 1, Heart 0. The head had an up hill struggle in the battle over which van to buy, a hippee wagon or something that would work.
After I had taken a knock in the wallet in Wanaka, I was determined to try to save some cash. Unfortunately, the next stop along the road was Queenstown, which bills itself as the ‘Adventure capital of New Zealand.’ Hugging the shore of Lake Wakatipu, and under the stern gaze of the mountain range known as ‘The Remarkables,’ I had decided to save money in New Zealand’s equivalent of Las Vegas. Pah, I thought, their wily marketing ways and money spinning ideas will be wasted on me, I’m far to clever for that. Now if I could only find a bin for this empty packet of delicious ‘Remarkable’ Toffee, then I’ll start looking for a place to kip for the night. I drove from hostel to hostel, searching for one that would let me just park up on the driveway. None of them had driveways and when I asked them the price of a bed in a dorm, over NZ$22.00 in most places, I thought I had better look further afield. I had noticed earlier that a DoC campsite wasn’t to far out of town, so I began to head there.
The problem with a map sometimes is that they can give you the impression that a place is closer than you think, as is what happened in Wanaka. I thought the campsite was only three or four miles away, a fair hike back into town but nothing I hadn’t done before. When the trip computer told me I had done ten kilometres, I pulled up into a lay by on top of some cliffs over the lake and thought. I knew full well that I would be bored out of my mind at the campsite. My trusty Mac had only 5% power left as my mobile phone was charging on the inverter, I had finished my book and had drank all my pop and beer. Sitting in the dark in a field without a phone signal, no computer (charging the battery with the engine going and not moving seemed wasteful somehow) and no drinks didn’t sound fun at all. I know, I’ll stay in a hostel and just not go out, and I’ll be able to charge up the computer. Decision made and a U turn later, I was heading back into town.
I turned into the first one I saw on the way back into town, advertising beds for what looked to be the going rate around here at twenty-two dollars. Yes, it had a drive way but no, I couldn’t sleep there. I asked the receptionist if she knew anywhere that would let me do this and she said no, but asked if I was trying to save money, would I be prepared to do some leaf sweeping? Ten minutes later I had a yard brush in hand, music in my headphones and a car park full of leaves to clear. Two hours later I had a free bed for the night and could do all my laundry in the staff washing machines. That night on the way to the shop, one of the bars I came across had a sign outside offering up the best thing a bar can, free booze! The first one hundred people through the door got a free bottle of a new cider, and that’s the best sort of cider, FREE! Since no one was coming through the door, they were letting the punters have as many as they wanted. I got through five bottles before word got around and more people showed up. When they ran dry, I left and found an off licence then sat in front of the telly swinging beer and watching ‘I, Robot.’ I was joined later by two Americans, they were all hyped up by what they’d been doing that day, they couldn’t even sit still.
“Oh, man! That was awesome, that was the most amazing thing ever. I mean wow, that was way better than doing the bungee, dude I’m totally tripping here!” What had they been doing? I asked.
“We’ve been Skydiving Bro! It’s totally the best thing ever, I mean it. Have you ever done it?” I said no, but had been bungee jumping before.
“Oh bro, you’ve gotta try it, it’s totally sick. Just do it, man, it’s awesome!” And how much is it?
“Only Two hundred and sixty-nine bucks, incredible!” I felt my wallet in my pocket shaking with fear, trying to dig deeper into the fabric of my trouser lining and maybe escape into a place between the sofa cushions. They left the room high-fiving each other, leaving me resenting the bloody endless wads of cash all Yanks seem to flash about, I mean it’s no wonder their country’s nearly broke and they haven’t rebuilt New Orleans. I went on like that in my head for most of the rest of the night, but at the back of my brain a demon had awoken.
The window in the dorm room looked out on to the lake and I was lucky enough to catch the early morning sun cleaning his brushes after painting the Remarkables a majestic shade of shadow red. I spent most of the day wandering around taking pictures, watching the street performers, generally thinking what to do next. Behind the town, the Skyline Gondola rose up into the trees and hoisted people to the chalet at the top. I knew from the guidebooks that from up there activities like Bungee Jumping, Street Luge and a Canyon Swing were available. Also, the pictures of the town from above would be impressive. Walking up to the bottom of the cable car, I glanced nervously at the prices. The bungee and the swing were over a gazillion dollars; since I’d already done a bungee jump before and the swing was similar, I ruled these out immediately. The luge though, at NZ$38.00 for two rides seemed comparatively reasonable. The demon that had been mumbling in the back of my mind spoke up. I’d saved almost that amount by sweeping those leaves yesterday, and with the free cider too, I can afford to go on the luge…
I was right, the ride up in the gondola and the height over the town did offer up a view that made Queenstown look like it had been fashioned in miniature. Looking through the screen of my camera, all the cars were toys and the steamship that gave tours of the lake looked like it was only big enough for a bathtub. In the queue for the luge I agreed to race two lads who were stood in front of me, a race with people being always better than a solo ride. Placing a comedy style helmet on my head and sitting down on a plastic tray with wheels and handle bars, it was 3, 2, 1 GO! Or rather, 3, 2, 1, then work out that you have to pull back the handle bars to release the brakes to make it go. Then, when gravity finally took notice of you, you were off. Until the first bend when you had to break, were upon you instantly seize up all the wheels and stopped, getting overtaken by a ten year old who wanted to be Jenson Button. I wanted to be Jenson Button! Getting going again and the next bend was coming up, this time I won’t break. Which meant I hit the barrier, lucky enough not to have injured anything. By the time I had worked out the basics of when to break and steer, I got to the end of the course. The two lads had finished way before me and were getting on the small chair lift back to the top for a second go. I followed, this time we were going on the advanced track. I knew what to do this time and a race was had, I overtook them, they overtook me. A collision meant first place was out of reach but I wasn’t going to be beaten into third again. On the last bend I overtook my opponent, grabbing second just in time for the camera which I gave a big cheesy smile to as it took my picture. They had paid for five goes but I had only bought two, and since both races had taken only about fifteen minutes I thought that that was about as much fun as I was going to get out of it. The tracks were just too short, and whilst it was fun it wasn’t something I could get my teeth into without having timed laps and a motor. After more pictures of toy town and a lift back down the gondola, it was time to ask once more, where to stay tonight?
I was back in the car, driving the same road I had driven the day before, back toward the same campsite out of town and away from more temptation. This time though a battle was brewing. I was in the heart of Lord of the Rings country and I was having my own Gollum and Smeegle moment with my reflection in the rear view mirror. I’m going to call my Gollum ‘Clarkson.’ I had again pulled over in the same lay by as I had before, only this time there was a second car there, empty.
“What are you doing, man? Go back into town!” yelled Clarkson from the mirror.
“But I’m spending too much, I’ve done the maths and I can’t last until March the way it’s going.”
“To hell with the maths, something will come up. You can save money later, spend longer in the countryside, don’t drive as much that sort of thing. Tonight you’ve got to go back!”
“But I’m trying to spend time in the country, that’s why I’m driving this way.” Clarkson rolled his eyes and took a breath.
“Yes, I know that, but you’ve picked the wrong night. It’s Saturday, you can’t miss Saturday! Lets go and have fun! See Queenstown at night, see the lights, the bars, the girls!”
“I had fun earlier, the luge was entertaining and I can do a pub crawl any night of the week, not just Saturday. If I spend tonight in the van I can write more, the battery is charged and there’s a bottle of pop and some sweets in the boot.”
“You’ve had more fun on your bike at home, that luge was for kids and you know it! What are people going to think when you go telling them that you went to the adventure capital of New Zealand and the only thing you did was spend ten minutes sliding down a hill on your arse?”
“Maybe when I get to Auckland and sell the car I can do something…” Just then a man climbed out of the bushes on the other side of the crash barrier, soaking wet through, and went to the car in front of mine to get a towel. I looked but couldn’t see a track down to a beach or anything, and besides the lake was way down there. Clarkson had vanished from the mirror and curiosity got the better of me, I got out and asked him the way down to the beach. He said there wasn’t a beach here, but this was where people go cliff jumping into the lake…
He led me over the crash barrier and through a tiny gap in the bushes, the way was steep enough that if you lost your footing you’d fall forward and crash into the foliage ahead of you. Eventually it came out at a ledge over the lake, no bigger than a small bus shelter. Two of his friends were there towelling off, it was obvious they were just headed back. They said it was about eight meters, but to me it looked like the view I had from the top of the gondola earlier. They showed me a rope that had been fastened to one of the trees that led down into the lake, that was how you got back up. It seemed sturdy enough, the lake below was a deep green colour and I couldn’t see any rocks or even the bottom. I wasn’t going to do anything without someone else doing it first, though and these looked like they were just leaving.
“Oh it’s okay, I’ll show you, here hold this.” one of them said handing me his towel. Then he walked up to the edge, swung his arms back and lunged forward. He didn’t even pause to see what was below him, he just did it. There was a loud spladoosh as he hit the lake and vanished beneath a cloud of water. A second or two later he reappeared, swimming quickly back to the rope. When he got back to the top I handed him his towel. “See, it’s easy, we’ll stay if you want us to watch you, make sure your okay. Just hit the water feet first and you should be fine.” Well, that was good of him to offer.
So I stood there, on the edge of a drop I was trying to kid myself was closer to five meters, wearing my silly little swimming shorts with three total strangers watching me. My heart had been replaced by a drum and bass machine and it was party night, so my legs must have decided to go because they felt like they did usually after nine pints. Someone behind asked if I wanted a countdown, and I said no, then jumped. It was a lot bloody further than eight meters and oh my god what the bloody frigging hell was I thinking and Christ Almighty those cliffs are close and… Spladoosh! Down, down, down… then up up up and god this is deep and what was I thinking jumping into a glacial lake, this is sodding freezing, hence the word ‘Glacial.’ I broke the surface with a loud “Yeesssss!”, the drum and bass machine in my chest had been turned all the way to eleven and it was happy hour at the bar! I didn’t even notice the climb back up to the ledge, I cut my arm on a branch but couldn’t care less. Some other people had turned up and the three lads left, so I was the one to show them how it was done, and watch them stand in fear and sometimes bottle out of it. I did it three more times, each time as good as the last. When we returned to our cars we agreed to get back together in the pub in Queenstown later, and with an imaginary squeal of tyres and smoke I yelled “POWWWWERRRR!!!” and spun the car around in a one-eighty (probably just a perfect U turn, but you know what I mean) and headed back into town!
I was pumped up, I wanted more. I got washed and changed, hey, it’s Saturday Night in the Adventure Capital of New Zealand! For dinner I picked a divinely smelling rib place and sucked every last morsel of meat from the bone, thanking the Gods that I was a meat eater. Then it was on to the bars, the drinks, and there was a big boxing match on and by God it was good to be alive!
The next day I awoke with not just the mother, but the entire family tree of hangovers. I’d found a motor camp hidden away at the back of town, everyone lined up as if on parade. When I opened my curtains to unlock the doors, sounds daft I know but that’s how it works, I noticed a nicely folded sheet of paper on the dash board. Clarkson had reappeared in the mirror, smiling and wearing a leather flying helmet and brass goggles, he took a swig from a stainless steel hip flask,“Good Man!” he said. I picked up the paper, it was a ticket to go Sky Diving that very day…
Mini Count :- 17.
Follow Me! Google Earth Co-ordinates :- 45 01’58.18″S 168 39′ 28.71″E