Birds Eye View of New Zealand - Part 1

This is another great example of what's possible when hitchhiking, the most dynamic form of travel. This story starts off as it should, being dropped off in Queenstown by a couple who'd picked me up the day before while hitching.

I'd contacted a couple of couchsurfing hosts, one in a town about an hour back the road called Wanaka and another here in Queenstown. I wandered the streets a bit and was able to get myself online, but then found that they hadn't written me back quite yet.

While I was sitting there, looking at a map online to see where some good camping nearby may be, there was a tap on my shoulder. It was the Israeli guy I'd met the second night in the country near the beach, he'd been car camping where me and a couple who'd picked me up hitching were camping as well. I didn't recognize him right away, I knew that I knew him from somewhere in New Zealand along the way, but didn't put my finger on it until later. Either way, we just said hellos and he was off.

I made another stop into the DOC center to see some more detailed trail maps, I left there settled on an idea of where I could go hike in a ways and camp. I walked my way to the edge of town, my sleeping bag, still damp from the night before, was draped over my shoulders still drying out, although the sun was just an inch away from being hidden by the mountains.

I stuck out my thumb when I got past the bulk of town, in no time a car was pulling over for me. "Where you heading?", he asked.

"Towards Arthurs Pass", I told him.

"Arthurs Point", he corrected me.

"Right. It seemed like there was a hiking trail there where I could probably camp for the night", we were driving now, he looked exhausted, I think I sounded a bit the same.

"I live just up the road here and have a spare bedroom, now if you want to, you can come stay there for the night", he offered.

"That would be great actually, give me a chance to get my sleeping bag a bit dryer too", I thanked him and accepted the offer.

"The only thing is I'm tired. I run my own company and am just exhausted, so when we get home, don't talk to me. I just need my space, you're free to spend the night, relax, whatever".

"Fair enough", I assured him, "I know how it is". 

There was a break in the conversation.

"I don't mean don't talk to me in the car", he told me.

"Right", I said, then said one thing or another to fill the air and keep the words flowing. He asked what I did back home, I jumped back a few years and brought of audio engineering, this peeked his interest since he was a bit of a musician and had some gear back at his place. This put things at ease and I felt like it gave me some sort of credibility.

We drove up the long driveway going up the base of the mountainside to his house, a helicopter rested in front and a silver Porsche. He showed me the room I could stay in and pointed to the bathroom and washer/dryer.

"Listen, make yourself at home, don't be polite", he said, "If you see something you wanna eat, eat it, there's beer in the fridge", he looked at me as if to say, "need I go on? You get it, I'm in a rush", then he disappeared to his room and I soon heard music come on.

I got my clothes in the was straight away and then cooked up some noodles from my pack, grabbing a beer from the fridge and relaxed in the living room. The windows opened up to the valley and mountains, it was on sunset now and the view alone was worth anything. The living room flowed into the kitchen, a grand piano halfway between with a few microphones pointing out hooked up to a little rack with a multitrack recorder, I noticed his little drum machine too, the same model as my first drum machine.

He came out briefly, we talked audio for a few minutes, then he disappeared again. He used to be a street musician in California where he'd haul his piano on the street and do pretty well.

At one point he had to go out and meet a friend. "Nothing weird will happen if I leave you here alone?", his mind's eye looked directly behind him through the walls at his audio equipment and then scanned the rest of the house. "nope, you're good", I assured him, and he was assured. "ok, make yourself at home", he hurried out and drove off.

In the morning I got a shower in and got my now dry sleeping bag packed up. Adam was his name, he told me where a good hiking trail was where I could camp too, "This will blow your mind", he told me. He told me his company was about hiking, so he should know.

Just then his assistant came in. She introduced herself as Ellen, she was there for a meeting. I made myself scarce in the bedroom and heard a couple more people come in, soon they were having a meeting in the living room. I heard one more person come on Skype to join them. I was happy to be using the internet myself, so while they had their meeting I checked up on messages and maps and the like, once in a while overhearing things like "Facebook strategy" and "the new website".

The night before he'd mentioned I was free to stay more than just a night if I'd liked, and by the time his meeting was over I figured I might as well stay another and get an early start the next day. I spent the rest of the day catching up on writing and things like this, scarfing abandoned leftovers I found in the fridge.

The next morning I was set to go. Before I left I stood in the kitchen talking to Adam.

"So what's the deal with your company anyhow, what do you actually do?"

"We do guided trips", he told me, explaining the adventure trips they did for people visiting doing things like hiking, kayaking and so on.

"I overheard you guys yesterday talking about Facebook and the website, how's that all working out?", I asked him, he explained it to be more or less a mess, hence the reason for the "emergency marketing meeting". He sensed some spark of interest in me regarding the website element of it all and asked if I had any background in that, I mentioned I made some websites here and there. I mentioned how it would be pretty cool if there was a map of all the hiking trails in the country and asked if his company did anything like that, it didn't, "It's surprising", I told him, "looking online last night I couldn't find a cohesive map anywhere, it wouldn't be that difficult of a thing to build either", that was the comment that decided the rest of my trip.

"You reckon you could build something like that?", he asked me inquisitively.

"Probably wouldn't be too tough, depends what data is already available out there, but either way it would be a pretty straight forward thing. Strange no one's done it, or at least I can't find a good map anywhere".

"Would you consider working at all? That's something we could use, I'm not sure where we could fit it in, but we would. I imagine you'd do something like this for a lot less than someone else we'd hire. Maybe I'm totally wrong, I just assume... could you put a month aside to do this?"

I hesitated for a second, I figured I could build a map like this pretty easy in far less than a month, but I was in New Zealand for the first time in my life, the thought of staring at a computer screen, albeit for a cool project, wasn't instantly my idea. I half agreed, "Yea... that sounds pretty good. Only thing is I wanna be doing some hikes too, not just mapping them."

"We could chuck you on one of our trips", he showed me their website and pointed me to the trip he had in mind. "I've got to run to the office, give it some thought and we can get you in today to see if it would work", he hurried out the door then.

I looked at the trip itinerary, it lapped around the south island for two weeks going on hikes, kayaks, bike rides, seal swimming - sounded like a good time. I started looking at how I'd put the map together, in an hour or so Adam's assistant came and picked me up and gave me a ride to the office. There I talked with Adam, the marketing girl and one of the tech guys. Adam told them the idea and I told them I could do it, they all agreed it was cool and gave the thumbs up.

Adam took me to his office afterwards where the agreement felt a bit more official, he would have assistant set me up on which trip I'd be sent on and said he'd throw me $100 a week for food, they asked me what else I needed, I said I'd be good to go and it was agreed I'd stay at Adam's for the time being while I got it all together. They also agreed to pay the fee for me to push my flight back so I'd be able to stay in the country an extra few weeks.

I got started right away, pecking at the computer and staring out at the mountains. Adam took me up in his helicopter, over Queenstown and buzzing the mountains. He left for a weekend where I stayed up into the nights watching the sunrise before going to sleep. He came back days later, at nights he'd get fish and chips or make up burgers or some such.

It had been just less than a week and I made the trip with him into the office to show the marketing team my progress so far. They all crowded into the room around the computer while I ran them through it. Later when we left Adam told me, "That's the best laugh I've had in a while, they were blown away. It was silent in there", he reckoned they didn't expect me to have done as much as I did in such little time. I was happy they were all impressed, Adam included. I knew what would happen though, everyone saw the potential and wanted more, "oh, could you add this too?", the features would start piling up, but I was game for it.

The next day I put together a 3D fly through for each trail using Google Earth. I showed Adam and he really loved it.

We had some dinner and he told me about a big plane crash he'd been in while flying. Him and another guy hit the water and busted themselves up really good, nearly drowning, but luckily were rescued by some nearby people. He said his foot was hanging off his leg by a thread. He seemed well together now considering all he told me, but apparently still had bad back problems. To help with this he'd kept up his biking, he told me about some pretty big trips he'd done, including one meant to be halfway across America that got postponed halfway because of a sickness he'd caught in the midst.

The next day I came to the office again to show off the 3D virtual hike and some other things, they seemed to like that a lot too. A group of them were heading to the bar afterwards, I told them I'd follow them. I would have, but Adam came out of his office saying, "You feel like flying?".

We rolled up to his airstrip down the road from his house in the rugged little jeep filled with tanks of fuel, which we poured into the wings of his two seater plane. He described it as "high performance" and gave me a full rundown before hand. He'd only brought one headset, so we went through some hand signals to use. 

We took off and started cruising towards the mountains, I was loving it right away. He held up one finger and looked at me, he'd said before there was three levels of "extreme" we could go to, and I should tap him if it was too much. We started shifting around, then doing rolls upside down and darting all around. He looked back to make sure I'd handled it ok, I was all smiles. I hadn't eaten nearly a thing that day, I could feel that in my stomach now, but all the same I wasn't gonna let that stop the ride from kicking on.

He held up two fingers, I nodded again. We were well over the mountains now, spiking up way in the distance and behind us. The next move he did flew straight up and upside down in a full spin where we were "catching G's" as he later put it. I got a huge head rush and could feel myself blacking out from the force and empty stomach light headedness, I used my smile and every ounce of mental thought to hold the light and push through without going to black. Completely awesome.

Afterwards he shook the joystick which made the one in back shake, he'd said he'd do this when I could take over the controls and fly, "There's no way you can crash this plane, so just have fun with it", is what he'd said. I started flying us, getting a feel of left and right and forth. He made a motion to me to hold the joystick right, I hammered it over and we did a barrel roll, after that I knew I could do no wrong and just kick it however I wanted. I jammed us around and did some double rolls and swerved every which way.

Eventually he took over the controls again and we came around to a big lake it the mountains, tricking above it for a bit. The clouds were coming in and we spun around for a minute, hi jiggled the joystick again and I took over. A minute later he passed me a note, "air's getting to rough, fly us back", so I began navigating back. He took over once again and soon we landed on the field where his hangar was.

It was an incredible flight, I'd never been in a plane going upside down and so much before.

The next day Adam took off to head up north for a week. I stayed at the house with his dog pecking away at the computer, watching a movie every now and again.I borrowed his Porsche and grabbed some food and a good stout - he'd already stocked the fridge with beer, but I felt like I needed one really good one for the right moment.

The week went on, plugging away at the map. The days got repetitive and routine - in the morning it was hot water kettle on, toast in toaster, rinse french press, coffee grounds in, orange juice in glass, toast up, butter/honey/nutella, kettle pops, pour in french press and off to the computer. Ten minutes later, pump down, pour coffee in mug, minutes later, sip sip, back to the computer. His dog acted wild at times, barking and whimpering up a storm when someone would come to walk her. At night she laid by the door itching to get out, but I was told not to let her out on her own. Once she had a stare down with a brave possum who came right up to the window - this is why she wanted out so bad, to hunt the possum and bunnies running around and any New Zealander would bless her for it.

By the end of the week I was getting near stir crazy, itching for the road again. Luckily my reward of an adventure trip was next to come.