20.02.2009 8 °C
It is 10.00pm on Thursday February 19 and we are holed up in our Wicked camper, safe from the black sand flies who are swarming the lakeshore of Hawea , not far from Wakanapa. While the sun has long set behind the huge mountains surrounding this lake, the left over light is still plenty to see and walk, however when one stops, the flies know, and are out to get us.
After leaving Te Anau on Monday evening we have been traveling plan(e)less again. One of our Milford Track buddies called our mode of traveling this, and I never understood his wording correctly. It must mean our “flying by the seat of your pants”. That describes our New Zealand itinerary. While our hike dates were set for Milford, nothing else is except our departure from Christ Church to Australia on February 28. That gives us the freedom to start each day there where we feel called to go. Most often we depend on directions from friends and relatives who have been here before and shared their good places to be and now locals whom we meet along the way presenting their ideas, either way, we have not been steered wrong. We love the ability this country gives in pulling over there where the spot appears right for a night’s rest. On Monday night we landed on a very Southern Beach, next to small Monkey Island. While it was brutally cold and windy, there is an incessant wind by the shore, it was the right spot for observing and sharing a colorful sunset with many winged friends. In the morning the beach gave me endless miles to walk while slowly watching clouds peel away and showing an unexpected view of Fiordland from a different angle. From there we drove on to Bluff, the Southern Island’s last city and spent time at New Zealand’s land’s end, a couple of weeks after experiencing land’s end up North at Cape Reinga. It was in Bluff I saw the most remarkable toilet ever, fully electronic. Right on the most Southern point of New Zealand is a unisex toilet one can only enter when on the outside there is a green button to push. That allows the door to slide open and silently closing behind you, locking itself with a voice announcing that at any time you can unlock yourself by pushing a certain button and that the door will unlock spontaneously after 10 minutes, regardless of the job done. Men, do not bring your newspapers here. Unobtrusive music is played and when it is time for the flush you discover that this will happen automatically after your hands are fully washed and dried and not before. All parents should have this device in their bathrooms while teaching children the art of toilet hygiene. I was so amused by it all, such an isolated spot to have encountered this, I made Tom go! He was equally entertained.
While our intent was to ferry over to Steward island, the bitter wind changed our mind and we started traveling North again and inward a couple of hours until there where we found more warmth and a beautiful lake and stopped for that day. Tom is the one with the map, and with me sitting back enjoying a sun doing the same, he announces “ Remarkables”. I full heartedly agree but Tom goes on and informs me that the mountain range surrounding lake Wakatipu where we have landed is so called. The Remarkables mountains. What a name for that which is! Waking up the next day with a peek from our camper I see only a very isolated “Remarkables” spot lit up by a sun I cannot yet see and wonder from where the light today is thrown and again have an endless walk, this time by a lake’s shore.
From there we headed into Queens town which is indeed a town fit for a queen. There now is a struggle between Te Anau and Queens town for my new favorite places to be. In Queens town we go straight to a Holiday Camping park. Three days without a shower is my max and while I enjoy the warmth of shower water and the other luxuries one encounters at Caravan Parks, in trading up we trade in the freedom of stopping there where nature is the greatest. It is here in the Remarkables area that I notice the remarkable of camping out in freedom where when there is another free spirit sharing your space, connection and conversation will be made, while in the caravan parks, where one's space is only the width of your van and you are surrounded by herds of white campervans no talk is exchanged while paths constantly cross in crowded bathrooms and kitchen. Do we lose ourselves in the crowd?
What was absolutely great in Queenstown after walking for hours in a town which offers hills and a harbor was the ride up in the gondola with Tom, dressed up in a pair of jeans and eating an absolute feast above Queenstown’s sun setting lights. Remarkable, six course feast where we ate so much that the gondola groaned on the way back down. It was on this ride down that I saw for the first time the Stellar Southern Cross, a Southern constellation Tom has been trying to point out to me for days but one can get lost when only trying to see that which others want us to see, we should instead wait until it is our time to see the Southern Cross.
For the rest of the night, the Southern Cross in its kite like appearance shone through our moon roof.
Saturday here. It is raining, not cats and dogs but more like elephants and rhinos. We decided to head up more towards the Western Coast and spend a couple of days in Glacier country which is also a rainforest and we were due for a catch up on rain. Yesterday afternoon the downpour stopped briefly to give us the opportunity of hiking to Fox glacier. Amazing sight to see and to be able to walk up to this ancient wall of ice. Close up one can hear the sound of a dying glacier and huge chunks of ice break off and are carried away in a furious flowing, milky stream , disappearing forever down the valley it created so many years ago. We spent last night behind the dunes of Gillespie’s Beach on the Tasman Sea. The wind was ferocious and the beach walk was cut very short before we holed back up in the campervan, listening the rest of the night to a fierce Southern New Zealand storm. Thank goodness for the great readings we keep acquiring. When we left we carried two paperback books with us, one given by a good neighbor, the other picked up at Something Brewing, a Conway coffee Shop. Since then we have been trading out and up. In Maui I read the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and the Painted Alphabet, a great story on life in Bali. Thanks to our friend Maha, we acquired Kite strings of the Southern Cross by Laurie Gough and it is absolutely the right book to read while under the Southern sky. After each book read we leave it behind and pick up another. At camping parks, hostels and coffee stores throughout New Zealand free book exchange is found and with great international flavor. My next book is written in the Dutch language. TV has not been seen since leaving the USA and newspapers here limit themselves to news of the Southern Hemisphere and the only American news read was on Michelle Obama with whom New Zealand appears quite smitten. What I recently read in the paper was a remarkable article on a robbery which occurred in a local brothel. Yes, here they are licensed, law abiding and taxpaying. The article mentioned that the female receptionist who was robbed experienced quite an emotional distress but assured all that she was doing much better and the police was on the lookout for the perpetrator, a European male in his early 30’s. I thought that to be quite a broad description. Later that same day, while enjoying a picnic lunch by the lake, a man came sauntering by and struck up a conversation. The New Zealanders overall are the least reserved people I have ever encountered and I greatly enjoy the interaction while it gives me opportunity to ask who exactly the police is looking for when the only description given is… European. Simple he says… It means white. But you are white, I replied. Yes, he said. But I am a Kiwi. He then proceeded to tell me that there are only 4 kinds of people, Moeri’s , Kiwi’s, Aussies and all others are European. Remarkably simple and it is just as well that the crime rate here is very low.
Tonight we are in the township of Franz Josef in a nice, dry and warm backpacker hostel hoping for the rain to take a break again tomorrow and a chance to see more of the glaciers around.
Remarkable is what our trip is, day by day, sunset by sunrise.
Tom and Els