When I was camping in the van by Lake Roititi, on the South Island, I met two German girls who were driving one of the Wicked Camper vans. These camper vans are brightly coloured and decorated in all sorts of different designs, their camper van had a Road Runner picture spray painted on the side. We had brief conversation, the usual stuff about where you’re from, where you’ve been, where you’re going and would you like to play a couple of games of cards, oh it doesn’t matter that it’s raining we can all cram in the front of the van. That sort of thing. As I’ve been driving around I’ve seen a van with a picture of the Lord of the Rings film poster in several places, also a slighty older Nissan Serena in maroon with a big dent down the side had been parked next to me in several places. Everyone seems to be doing the same route, visiting the same places, because I met up with the German girls a couple of weeks later in Queenstown. I was just cleaning some dishes in the motor camp when a voice behind me says, “Hi Steven!” I turned to face her and could not for the life of me remember where I had met her before. When she described her van it all came flooding back.
After the success of Operation Auckland, I decided to book myself on to the Kiwi Experience tour bus to continue my journey. I’ve commented before on these when I’ve had the luxury of my own wheels, so it is only fitting that I now, after travelling on the bus for one trip so far, give you my opinion. I have not; so far, been surprised by anything. The other travellers are roughly ten years younger than me and the music playing at our first stop – Hot Water Beach – has I’m sure been the same three tracks played over and over again. The coach itself is also as expected, with leg room only provided for people who don’t have knees. It’s cramped and packed but thankfully so far I’ve not been sat next to anyone with hygiene problems, and the voices in my head suggesting I use the Emergency Hammer for murdering everyone to get a bit more space have been ignored. So far.
At every stop we are guaranteed a place in a dorm, which still needed to be paid for. If you like the place you have the option of ‘hopping off’ the bus and booking yourself in to stay longer, before ‘hopping on’ one of the buses following a couple of days later. The campsite at Hot Water Beach, belonging to the ‘Top Ten’ chain (on the South Island I avoided these like I’d avoid being hit by a train, because they were hugely expensive) had just built four dorms to specifically target and accommodate one Kiwi Experience coach. Our itinerary runs like this. We get to the place at about two in the afternoon, run down to the beach (more on that in a sec) have a couple of hours there before the tide returns, then its back to the campsite THAT DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A PUB. We are then left to our own devices until having to get back on the bus at seven thirty the next morning when we are shipped to the next place. You could do the whole island this way in nine days. I luckily have got a tent, and more time, so I hopped off and am staying for four nights in that. It’s still more expensive than the DoC campsites I’ve been used to, but needs must and all that. Hopefully as I get more savvy in the ways that the coach operates, I’ll maybe be able to find different campsites altogether and not have to pay the more excessive dorm fees. I’ve already begun to miss the van. The first night in the tent I was painfully aware that my things, computer, camera etc, were only a zip pull away from being half inched even if I did hide them under my air bed. Even more irritating is the feeling of a certain loss of freedom. Before embarking on this quest, I chose a beach in the middle of nowhere called ‘New Chums Beach’ to visit. Hot Water Beach is about the closest the Kiwi bus gets to New Chums, it’s about twenty-five miles or so away further up the Coromandel Bay. I’ve checked all the public transport options, looked into hiring a car and even considered hiring a bike, but I just won’t be able to get there in a convenient fashion. The buses only run once a day and drop you off six miles short, I’d have to hike the rest and make a night of it, that means taking my pack which weighs more than the nucleus of a black hole. Ho hum, can’t have it all.
So since I’m stuck at Hot Water Beach, it’s off to there I went, a five minute walk from the campsite. In the brochures and publicity material they show a picture of a couple relaxing in a pool of steaming water, all by themselves. “Just dig down near the rocky outcrops and soon you’ll have built yourself a relaxing thermal spa.” This photograph must have been taken in the middle of winter, because if you read the small print it says “…may be busy at peak times of the year.” They’re not joking either, there are more people here than in some towns and more shovels than on a Victorian canal building project. The best time to start digging is within an hour and a half either side of low tide. If you don’t have a shovel, you can hire one at the shop nearby or do what I did and just use your hands. At other beaches I’ve been to, everyone pitches their spot and protects it like a fortress, even to the extent of complaining to the people on the next towel that their parasol is blocking out the sun. Here though, everyone digs in. In the magical time during low tide vast amounts of sand is piled to form a complex series of interlinking pools and makeshift dams to hold back the ever present risk of waves washing it all away. Everyone knows the deeper you dig or the closer to the sea you are, the hotter the water is. It’s a very strange sensation and one that you can only get here in the entire world. If you stand by the waves and dig your feet downwards, water heated by nearby volcanos bubbles up. You know you’ve gone too deep when you scald yourself, which is very possible because the water is close to boiling point the closer to the sea you get. Its okay though because then a wave washes over and cools your toes. I don’t think you can get a big enough pool to be as good as a bathtub because to get the water hot enough you’d have to be next to the sea. It doesn’t stop people trying though and is great fun. After much digging and the odd hand blister, I decided to return to the campsite. I strolled through the surf, dodging the odd spade carried on shoulder by excited children and past many a sunburnt back, when I heard, “Oh, look! It’s Steven!”
I sometimes have a problem remembering faces, as you’ve probably guessed, but I didn’t have any problem whatsoever with the two faces that stood in front of me now. A description of their particular van was unnecessary, because I’d even put up it’s curtains. Of all the beaches in all of New Zealand and almost a week after I’d almost skipped away clutching their money, I was face to face with Lottie and Amwo (at least that is what his name looks like on the receipt we drew up). I tried to look surprised in a way that suggested I was pleased to see them, that this was a great coincidence. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, they wondered why I was still in New Zealand since I’d told them I was leaving soon. I said I was, but that I needed to contact the airline. The time came to ask the question I knew I had to ask even if I was being innocently polite. “How’re getting on with the van?” There was a split second glance between them, before he was chosen to answer. “Oh, we got sixty kilometres before it died on us. We couldn’t get it to start. We had to be towed to a garage and had to pay a thousand dollars to have it repaired.” I was shocked, or at least I hoped I looked shocked, I had to choose my next words carefully.
“Why, what happened? What was the problem?” was what I said but in my head was ‘Did they find out what was causing that?’ I wanted to know because two supposedly professional people had missed the problem, but I couldn’t let on that I knew what they were on about. He explained that someone had fixed something by taping it up many months ago (phew, I thought, they can’t pin that on me) and now the tape had worn out and was causing it not to work. Amwo had told the repairman that they’d only just bought it, and he said it was just unlucky that the tape gave way with them, because it could’ve happened ages ago. Amwo’s English wasn’t good when it came to engine parts, but I think he meant something in the Distributor Cap (something my Dad had said when I had explained the problem to him, well done him). It sounded like I was off the hook with them though, it was just their bad luck and all that. They had been told that the repair would last them for the remainder of their holiday, but the engine needed a complete overhaul. I asked how everything else was going, they said it was drinking petrol and low on power. I didn’t press for more details. Thankfully they were not staying at the same campsite as me, but they wished they had because last night they received a two hundred dollar fine for Freedom Camping in a nearby car park. I expressed my further sympathies and bid them good day.
What’re the chances of that happening again as we travel around, me on the bus and them in my old van? It’s a small world, isn’t it?
Mini Count :- 35
Follow Me! :- Sorry once more. I’ve ran out of time on the web uploading that one picture!