Last Blast of New Zealand

Adam gave me a ride from the office to the edge of Queenstown, at last I was moving on from the unexpected turn in my New Zealand trip.

I walked along the side of the road, thumbing again for the first time in a month. I was especially happy when a car came slowing into the shoulder to welcome me back to movement.

It was a short ride to the next little town from a young snowboarder, excited to one day go to Colorado. Half an hour later I was under a tree gathering nuts into a bag, I'd been picked up by a couple guys on route to Invercargill, same as me, but taking it slow and keeping an eye out for apple trees and, in this case, unattended nuts.

The older of the two, the driver, told me how they would soon end up in Coromandel where there was a farm set up where everyone looked after each other, generated their own power and grew their own gardens. It sounded like a commune, although he didn't like when I compared it to that, as he associated that word with drugs which he said wasn't a part of what they were doing. "Light and love?", I suggested, that nailed it.

The other guy was younger, he made strange conversation whenever Colin, the older one, left to pick apples. Once he farted, "I farted because I had biscuits earlier", then he began to tell me about some cousin who let him drive his car on their farm whenever he wanted. There was no context or rhythm to it, just a dopey menacing grin that trailed every thought.

We got to Invercargill sometime after dark, stopping first at one of Collin's friend's house, afterwards he said he could drop me off where I was heading, to a couchsurfers place. The woman in the house made us tea, she talked to Collin while I sat on the couch with the dopey younger guy trading my attention between his dreams of going to Florida to see boats and the television blabbering about the thirty four million dollar jackpot.

We split out of there after half an hour or so and they dropped me off in front of the house I was aiming for. I knocked on the door a few times, no one answered so I headed towards town looking to get to a phone. One shop wouldn't let me use there's because it was to a mobile phone and the phone booth wanted a card I didn't want to buy. I headed back to the house figuring I'd hang around until someone came back, but when I got there a guy came out for a smoke, it was another couchsurfer.

There were a few couchsurfers there - one from spain and two from Nashville, them plus two people who lived there, neither of which the girl I'd got in touch with. They were all on their way out the door to go to the town pool, so I joined them. We soaked in the hot tub and splashed in the pool a bit, then headed back to he house.

Not much later four of us cruised back out, the girl who lived there was excited to go dumpster diving. We hit a bakery first, feeling sketchy and looking over our shoulders. She'd mentioned her friends getting $800 fines for being caught, which seemed ridiculous to me, getting fined for taking trash, but stuck in my head as we lurked in the shadows with loaves of dumpster bread and bags of rolls and shifty eyes.

Next we hit a grocery store where we got a real big haul. The guy who lived at the house was in the dumpster excitedly moving from bag to bag as one of the Nashville guys held the flashlight, keeping one eye on the street and ears on the sirens in the distance. At last we were out of there, jammed in the car with boxes and bags of food.

We dragged it all in the kitchen, spilling a couple liters of cream and a bag of nuts right away that oozed across the floor. All together there was 28 liters of cream, more than a dozen packs of dip, bags of nuts, chips, chocolate chips, deli sandwiches, potato salad and more. I hadn't eaten since an apple that Collin had picked, so I heated up a cup of chicken curry that didn't look too suspicious. I had thoughts that I'd be vomiting in the night, but nothing of the sort would happen.

In the morning the people who lived there were up early and cleaning, preparing for an inspection, from the landlord I assumed. Us couchsurfers arose at once and were out the door pretty quickly. I'd only met the girl I'd got in touch with briefly, I'm not sure we exchanged more than ten passing words or if she ever caught my name. I got the impression they had couchsurfers pretty constant and didn't pay them any more or less mind than a friendly face in a dorm.

I rode with the Nashville guys, we dropped the Spanish guy at the airport then popped through the McDonalds where I sent a message to another couchsurfer in Dunedin. That's where these two guys were heading directly, I rode with them just past the edge of town and a little more where I intended to head to the Catlins with the thought of camping a night before going to Dunedin myself.

I walked the country road for 10 minutes until a guy coming off work at the logging mill gave me a lift down some more country roads towards the Catlins, which generally confused him at first even though he claimed to have grown up in the area.

From where he dropped me off I walked a good two hours, only one car passed me going in my direction. I'd clearly got myself onto a very obscure road, but it was a nice road I thought, wide open farms on all sides and I didn't mind it.

It at last melded into a more traveled road and I got a ride after four or five cars from a local sheep farmer. Once I told him I was looking to camp for the night, he decided to go out of his way to take me to a place called Curio Bay. It was a beautiful spot, waves crashing in from a few directions. I took a short hike down to the water where the waves were particularly impressive, crashing massively and spraying up and around the ridges in fluid explosions. The signs said there were penguins lurking around with yellow eyes, but I didn't see any.

Back on the road I caught a short ride from a few people traveling from Israel, we just went a couple kilometers to their hostel. From there I got a ride from the first person to see me, a german girl named Leena in her white camper van. 

"Do you know where you're going?", she asked me, a brilliant question that got her a response without an answer. We stopped at Niagra Falls, an obvious joke New Zealand had planted, a tiny brown rapid in the river that no one would look twice, or even once at if not for a sign pointing towards it.

We went on a hike to some bigger waterfalls afterwards, it was the same golden brown color that looked like beer splashing down.

Soon I'd decided on sticking with her for the day, she was going to camp at one of the DOC sites. We stopped a couple more times to see one view or another, then headed for a campsite mentioned on a pamphlet she'd picked up, a bridge was out so we found another. It seemed pretty remote, the main road even felt empty and this was a ways off that road, but as we turned the corner to the camp there was a half dozen other vans and tents.

It was a beautiful spot, a nice beach guarded on both sides by high cliffs, a little stream leading to the ocean flowing in both directions depending on the rush of the waves. We got to cooking, dark came on as we ate and swapped some stories. We both read for a while, then I gave into the night and headed for my sleeping bag outside where a light rain and begun.

The morning came with more blue sky than the gray day before, the rain hadn't lasted too long in the night and I was happy to be dry. I slid the zipper off my backpack again, so I wrestled with it a while before heating up some water for oatmeal and having an egg that Leena cooked up, then all at once I was ready to get moving.

I said goodbye to Leena, who said she'd pick me up on her way out if no one else had by the time she left. Just as I was leaving though, a french couple in a camper van were making there way out and gave me a lift.

They were a fun couple, all smiles coming off good times and ready for more. They said they could take me to the main road, but I ended up going with them to see a giant blow hole off a side road a ways, called Jacks Blow Hole. It was low tide, so not the ideal time to see it really going off, but just seeing the massive hole in the forest was impressive, watching the ocean somehow sneak through a tunnel far below with waves crashing away.

They took me a little ways to and down the main road until they took a turn to see some other attraction or dot on the map they'd spied. I hopped out and walked a while until a young local couple picked me up on their way to the next town for a soccer game. In that town I walked over the bridge and out of town, I confused a woman turning into a store parking lot for a woman stopping to give me a lift, we shared a brief glance of awkward confusion and then realization, I kept walking. Five minutes later the same woman rolled up alongside me and offered me a lift, "I felt guilty not giving you a ride, I'm heading to Dunedin", she told me.

We cruised all the way up, she was on her way to see a netball game, she'd had season tickets for fourteen years. Netball is a bit like basketball, except dulled down considerably and primarily played by women.

She dropped me off by the Cadbury factory downtown, I popped in and bought a creme egg, then headed for the Speights Brewery. I quickly drank down a pint of their porter in the huge empty place. Besides me, there was three bartenders and some people coming and going from the kitchen looking busy, although it didn't seem like anyone would be in there for hours.

I made my way to the library to check the couchsurfers address, I got it close enough before the slow internet died down when the library closed, I'd got there only minutes before this. I wandered through the streets, liking the vibe of the city and the people I was passing. A fish and chips sign caught my attention and I got some food there, it was probably the cheapest place I'd seen in the whole country and the food wasn't bad.

I got to the stretch of road that went up the hill with the sign "Ravensbourne

I made myself at home and relaxed, reading a while. Later on a couple came home who lived there as well, they were briefly surprised I was there, but not alarmed and very friendly. They were from Canada, in New Zealand working. They popped some beers and we talked a while into the night.

I was up earlier in he morning, towards the afternoon Scott woke up, his girlfriend had left early in the morning to head to the north island for some research. Later on Tanya woke up from her late night of work and I met her. She said some friends were keen on laser tag later on.

I walked down the hill back to town on my own, hungry for the fish and chips spot I'd discovered, it was called the Flying Squid, I got myself a different meal this time and enjoyed it just as much. I grabbed another egg at cadbury then headed to the restaurant and met up with Tanya, Scott and some others and we mobbed over to the laser tag place.

There were seven of us and we had the arena to ourselves, running around like giddy warriors shooting and startling each other popping around corners trigger happy and then running away. We played a few games of this.

I grabbed a few big beers and a bottle wine afterwards, knowing it would be my last proper night in New Zealand and it would require some local brews. Tanya and Scott biked back home and I hitched a ride up the hill a little ways behind them. I drank up the variety of beers and we talked through the night. I had to show them the brain wave reading device I'd be given after bringing it up, they got a kick out of that. 
Tanya also gave me a haircut and convinced me to shave. I'd been debating it anyway, the last time I'd shaved was in California just before I'd flown out of the country. The debate in my head was rather to strip the New Zealand beard or let it keep growing into Australia as a Southern Hemisbeard.

I looked strange in the mirror, beardless, shorter hair, a different person, younger and cockier, a shifty slick character you'd expect to see at the local bar in some midwest town shooting pool, talking to everybody trying to find out what the score was, what the next move was. I started on the wine bottle and eased up.

The three of us talked a little longer until Tanya was tired out and went to bed, Scott followed quickly. I stayed up a bit longer doing much of nothing, then fell out.

I got packed and sorted in the morning. I parted with my fishing rod, a couple tanks of gas I'd been given for cooking and the hat I'd been given my second day by a fisherman worried about my getting sunburned, I'd since gotten another hat and needed  it no longer, I knew this lot or their future couchsurfers would get some use out of this stuff.

I left the house and headed down the hill, catching a ride from a quiet man with a small dog, then walked towards the Flying Squid for one last meal, but it hadn't opened yet, so I continued on towards the main road heading to Christchurch. My flight to Sydney was leaving at 7am the next morning, so I figured I'd head for the airport straight away rather than attempt to sleep somewhere only to wake up early and muck around getting there in the morning.

Getting to the main road, which started on a big hill, I saw two figured towards the top with big backpacks heading up too, I figured they had to be hitchhikers as well. I rested for a second waiting for them to get further ahead hoping they'd get a ride quickly. I began walking again and a truck pulled to the side, "You need a lift?", I hopped in. He said he wasn't sure if I was hitchhiking or not, but it seemed that way and that's why he stopped, worked for me.

He was a friendly guy, heading a few towns up where we pulled into some one's yard and unloaded a bunch of firewood, this was his job. He took me through the neighborhood and to the beach where he turned off the engine so we could listen to the sound of the town - quiet, some birds, some waves, peace.

He dropped me back at the main road and turned back for Dunedin. I walked a ways until a couple picked me up, a low talking guy with a genuine smile and an excited red headed woman with a black and purple dress. She was happy to hear that I'd loved my time in New Zealand saying that now I'd need to come back some day.

They took me about 15 minutes up the road to where they were headed and let me out, I was quickly picked up by a guy originally from Australia, but fifteen years now spent in Australia. He told me all about his business of installing modern home vacuum systems, he told me his system was installed in the Sydney Opera house, which was always a great selling point for new customers. We took the scenic route along the coast, partly because it was scenic, and partly because there were some new homes going up and he wanted to eyeball them before sending them information on why they should install pipes that would allow for the future installation of his vacuum system.

He dropped me off on the north end of Omarou where I began walking out of town, showing my thumb to any car or truck that passed. I realized I'd yet to get a ride from a big rig in my three months of cruising the country. As if that had become my decision, one stopped and I climbed up and in, meeting Steven, a trucker hauling coal to Christchurch in his daily to-and-from between there and his home in Dunedin.

Steven talked to me about his trucking along back and forth. I found myself drifting, tired, even though he was as friendly as they come and a talker at that. I kept with it as we cruised and cruised. Just south of Christchurch we got to the spot where he unloaded the coal in one of the many sheds. Afterwards he sprayed out the truck with a hose, it had turned to dark now and he couldn't see if it was clean or not, so just stopped cleaning when he'd had it.

Up the road a little ways more he dropped me at a junction in Hornby, about 6 or 7 kilometers south of the airport. It was coming on 7 oclock, giving me twelve hours until my flight, plenty of time. I found some internet at a McDonalds just up the road and was happy to see a message from a girl in Sydney with her address, I took note of it and moved on. At the Pack n Save grocery store I was amused by spending two dollars ninety on donuts, which was exactly how much New Zealand coin I had left, so had to spend to get any use out of.

I carried on up to the airport, half heartedly sticking my thumb out from time to time in the dark. It wouldn't matter if I caught a ride or not, walking or riding I'd be arriving at the airport with plenty of hours to wait for the flight.

The terminal was peppered with bodies, slouched against walls looking bored or looking at computer screens or books, more bodies wrapped in sheets or sleeping bags laying out, pretty girls giggling together in tired delirium wrapped in blankets. I felt eased with this, I wouldn't be alone in this push through the night towards the morning flight.

The hours neared close to my fly time, I checked in and happily found $15 on the ground as I walked towards security. Once through security I wandered around near the gate, pondering a bottle of duty free rum that I never ended up buying.

At last I was on the plane. We took off, I watched out the window as we crossed New Zealand quickly, jagged mountains stretching on down to the south. We crossed the coast line and it seemed I could see the whole island, all the way down to Milford Sound, the glaciers further north, the whole land I'd been hitching around, adventuring touring around and getting kicks all over. Soon it disappeared from view, leaving nothing but massive ocean out the window. My trip to New Zealand was over and when I was to get out of the plane next I'd be in Sydney with the whole of Australia waiting, good times tucked away, surely, I was eager to get to it.