Saturday, April 16, 2011

And then there was Wanaka

Jillian and I had been hitchhiking for over a month, so we felt we had it under our belt.  The only thing that bugged me about it was the fact that none of the camper vans ever picked us up.  When we thumbed from Franz we were immediately picked up by a skydive instructor who dropped us off at Fox Glacier, 15 minutes away.  It was in this area that we saw heaps of camper vans, most of which passed us, and some of which gave us the awkward hand signal or attempt at sign language (which I’m still uncertain about).  I really had given up all hope of ever getting picked up by a camper, so when it happened this time we were sure it was a mistake.  We get a lot of people who tend to pull up in front of us, but only to check a map or they get scared of what we look like (I guess?).  We were picked up by a very wealthy German family going right to Wanaka.  The only problem with this (and the only issue we’ve encountered whilst hitching) was that Wanaka was three hours away, which meant three hours of chatting and bullshitting.  Sigh.  You see, most people wouldn't really think of this as an issue, but what you may not realize is that telling your "story" repeatedly is very exhausting, especially with as many rides as we've gotten.  So we rode along and told our stories, got nicely interrogated, and asked questions of our own.  Jill was having a hell of a time, but me, I was having an awful time.  This wasn't because of our new German friends, it was because I get motion sickness.  Now, on all of our rides have been in reasonably small cars on very narrow, loopy roads.  Sometimes in those cars I'd get a little queasy, but that didn't even compare to this ride.  It was like being stuck in the bathroom out on a boat with 10 foot seas.  Didn't do much talking after that, but maintained perfect composure and tried to nestle my way into the front to look out the window (which helps).  When we finally arrived in Wanaka I was glad to be on steady ground.  I was happy for the ride, however, I don't think I'll be hitching in any campers any time soon.

Upon arrival we took a short walk in Wanaka to a backpackers to lay our stuff down and roam around.  Our bags had gotten pretty heavy by now since we brought some honey and chutney with us from Harihari.  We walked around the town in about 20 minutes and admired the Lake Wanaka.  The area is breathtaking, but pretty slow in summer.  It's winter that gets the busiest, since it's huge on snow sports.  We had heard this place was a pretty cool, laid back town, and easy to find employment.  The first thing we did was find work for accommodation, which I found easily at BASE, a three-story backpackers.  They only had one position open, so I decided to take it and Jill would figure out something at the backpackers in which we were staying the night.  It turns out that I'd be starting work the next day and Jill would be starting in two weeks.  It was then that we made a decision to part ways.  She would stay in Wanaka for a couple of days, then make her way down to Milford Sound.  Jill was on more of a time crunch than I was.  She has a plane ticket to fly out in May and I have no ticket to fly out.  Over the next couple of days we randomly ran into Glenn (whom we met in Springfield and drove us to Greymouth) in the grocery store and Maggie (who was WWOOFing with us in Harihari) who just happened to be in town.  I liked running into these people without an agenda.  It was either a sign I was in the right place or this island really is small (maybe both?).  

So Jill leaves and I'm already staying at BASE.  This place is really interesting.  I find it hilarious that I'm a housekeeper for this place that holds 300 people.  Of course, I'm not the only one.  I'm one of seven others that works for accommodation and gets to share one room.  I've found that most of them are just biding their time until they leave because they are bad at budgeting.  Most of them 22 or younger.  Interestingly enough, every night I was woken up by someone in the room yelling or screaming from night terrors.  It was absurd, really.  I guess one night was expected because I filled this Czech girl's head with ideas of an earthquake happening in our room.  That was a fun wake-up call with her shaking the bed and asking if we felt it.  Yeah, creepy.  I spent a week there and learned how to make bunk beds with efficiency (and poise, of course) while learning a few tricks.  After 1pm (when work ended) there wasn't much else to do except a few small hikes in the area and bullshit with the others.  I also looked for a job in this time, but I wasn't able to apply for one because I had one hang-up: my passport.  I'd left my bag long ago in Cambridge before the road trip.  I know, it's dumb that I didn't bring it with me, but when this planned road trip was only supposed to be a week, how could I have known things would go awry and I'd need it?  Positions were passed up because of a lack of passport, so I tried to get it sent to me, but there were issues with that, too.  They were eventually cleared up by Traci, the friend in Cambridge holding my backpack, and I was grateful for that.

Before my week ended at BASE, I called up Bernie, a WWOOF host that Jill and I were supposed to stay with weeks ago after Harihari.  It never worked out, but I kept his number, as he was from Hawai'i and wanted to get together to chat anyway.  Bernie came and picked me up and we went to check out his place 7 km away at Mt. Barker.  His place was truly spectacular, overlooking Wanaka and the surrounding mountains.  His partner, Anne, is a microbiologist and paper-making artist.  Bernie woodturns art himself, and their house is strewn with a creative ambience.  I fell in love with the place with ease, as well as Bernie's generosity and unconventional style.  I was invited to stay for dinner, accompanying two WWOOFers who had been staying there for 2 weeks already.  After dinner we went to a neighbor's million dollar house for a dance party.  Although completely underdressed (sloppy jeans spotted with white paint and a wife beater...yeah, seriously) I went and had a blast.  Open martini bar and 70s retro dance was something out of a movie.  All we needed was Laura Bush and Jim Morrison to complete the well-roundedness of the group.  It was a good night and a full moon.  This was only the beginning of randomness associated with Bernie, and it wasn't until I was invited to stay at his house two days later that I realized that truth.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Franz Josef Glacier

While in Harihari our next move was to make our way to Wanaka to possibly find work. When we decided to stay longer, our plans changed. We hadn’t originally expected to visit Franz Josef, but after meeting one of Dan’s friend’s, John, who worked for DOC (Department of Conservation), we really hoped to take advantage of that. It all worked out in our favor and we didn’t even have to seek it out. Things tend to happen that way, and what I like to think is that if you will it, it will work itself out. So, we got back out on the road and thumbed it. A guy from Australia traveling alone picked us up and brought us right there. We met John for a drink that evening at the local bar (which we became regulars at the whole time in town). John is an interesting bloke. Bachelor, from England, hard worker, BIG drinker.

Every night we were coaxed into drinking.  It really did get old.  His ex-wife was Chinese, so I questioned whether I’d have some issues with him coming onto me, due to the Asian fetish (of course). I was right. The first night we got shit-faced and he went for a feelsky. Hell no. I’m a young thang and you’re an old man. Dream on, dude. Surprisingly it didn’t make it awkward after that first night. But our time there wasn’t over and I grew a bit wary.

The next day we were due to go up on the glacier. I didn’t know how things really worked on the glacier, but apparently you must have a guide. Most tours run $300+, but we were lucky enough to have John work out the kinks. He got us boots, crampons, and even took us up on the ice himself. We lucked out and spent the entire day on the ice. The only downside was the rain, but he had extra waterproof jackets (that actually were waterproof!), and what’s the rain when it comes to beauty? (Not counting when hitchhiking, then the rain just sucks) Anywho, the glacier was breathtaking. We spent nearly five hours on the ice; went through tunnels, made our own paths, drank pure glacial water (yummy). I even felt the urge to climb up a steep 20 ft shaft with a ice-axe. It was actually pretty dumb and I drew a little blood, but I didn’t fall and die, so that’s a plus (damn, what WAS I thinking?). After hours of gracefulness on teh ice we make our descent and what happens? I bust my ass. Hardcore busted up my knees. No one ever told me how hard ice was (haha). So hard that they left mean bruises for a couple weeks. Temporary battle wounds?

Our last day in Franz we spent chopping firewood. We were unaware that it would be a six hour day of full on chopping wood. After the first two hours we were over it, but the wood just kept appearing. Fuck me if I ever volunteer to chop firewood again. Don’t get me wrong, it was an awesome workout and my skills were a bit impressive (not to brag, lol), but that was unnecessary labor. Bah! We finished off the night with drinks upon drinks and then it happens. He gets the impression that I want him and he’s going to make a move on me (this was all said to Jill, who was being asked if he should "go for it"). He said I flirted with him, which may have been true, but I flirt with everyone, naturally. What makes him so special? After Jill gives him the low down on what the reality is, he takes off back home. Awkward. The next day we take off to Wanaka, completely justified to leave. Our time was well-spent in Franz Josef, but there was nothing more to do there. The glacier was great, but that’s all the area was good for (besides frisky older men, which aren’t my bag). As I like to say, onward and upward!

Getting Wild in Harihari

The day we began hitching to Harihari it was drizzling. I gave up on using Jillian’s holey poncho long ago and was happy to have Heidi give me an old poncho of hers. Not long after I was in the rain with this poncho did I wonder why I was still getting wet. Turns out it was so old the waterproofing was nonexistent. So I continued to get wet whilst the material stuck to my skin. Anyway…thumbs out, smiles wide (but no too wide otherwise we’d look crazy) and hopes of getting a ride quickly. A fellow named John picks us up in a van full of crap. He owns a secondhand shop in Hokitika. We ride with him there. Before he drops us, he shows us the quaint town and where his shop is. Not long after we are dropped off does Jill realize she’s left her entire purse in his car. She sprints across the bridge and returns 20 minutes later, purse in hand. It was a good thing he showed us where he worked. The next person who picked us up was a woman named Mary who was driving a half hour out of town. She’s a kayak instructor in Greymouth, and had Ethan (Heidi’s son) as a student. This is just another example of how small NZ really is. We get dropped in a random spot, not the best for getting picked up. The rain comes down harder and the wind starts up. Super awesome. We stand there for over an hour and no one stops. We ponder a pint we passed a mile back. Guess our guilt-tripping stares weren’t working. Freezing and close to losing hope, FINALLY a tiny car pulls up. In it is Doris the saint (and an elementary teacher)! She lives and works in Ross, about 45 minutes from Harihari. She owns a farm and has a bunch of cats. Lives alone. Has a nervous, unique laugh. The kind that you use when you don’t know what to say and can’t stop rambling. But it really didn’t matter because she saved our freezing asses. To top off her saintliness, she drove us completely out of her way to Harihari. That’s some good karma.

We arrive at Wildside Backpackers, entirely off the beaten path. It wasn’t really a backpackers, but used to be. Danny and Kathy are our hosts. Dan looks like a blonde, long-haired hippy with a loooong red beard. Kathy looks a few years older and a little rough around the edges. They have two kids, Shea and Dylan, 3 and 1. Dan shows us around the property, which is two properties in one. The entire place covered in green, they have a very large garden which constantly produces veggies, and they spin and extract honey.

The whole property has old parts and bicycles laying around, useable bathtubs outside, and everything else is a step back in time. There are already two other WWOOFers there, guys from New Jersey. Jill and I jump right into jarring honey, which tastes absolutely delicious. Our entire time there we never used a drop of sugar for our tea or coffee, just honey, of course. So dinner rolls around and it’s white-tail deer stew. I guess this first meal was just an indoctrination into the type of things we’d be eating there.Game, or more generally, things caught by hand. That evening we take a hike to a secluded hot spring, and thus begins our epic time at Wildside. The naked hot spring soaking was a beautiful and memorable point in time I will never forget. Digging out a hole in this huge sandy pool with shovels, naked, and then laying in it for four hours staring at the ridiculously clear night sky. No one around, just good people along with good conversation.

What was originally 3 days turned into 6, and we found ourselves wrapped up in the extraordinary lifestyle of hunting and gathering. Every day seemed to be interesting and something new. One day we went fishing, in which seemed like a simple ride, however turned out to be a whitewater drive through the river. We were to get to the most secluded spot, I’m sure, and when we were arrived it was unreal. We rode to where the river met the ocean and no one was around. At one point while walking along the beach, mussels on the ocean rocks were spotted, this signaled the stripping of clothes to gather them off of the rocks. Without question everyone took off their clothes and got continually slammed by waves to get the most large and succulent emerald mussels. The clothes could’ve been optional, but that means we’d be walking back in wet, cold attire. I only wish I had a cameraman to tape it, because it was absolutely a hilarious, epic scene. The fishing ensued and a beautiful trout was caught. We watched the sunset and eventually made our way back to steam up our fresh mussels, and, believe it or not, I ate a lot of them (which is unheard of, if you know how I hate mussels). When in Rome? Er, when in New Zealand, rather.

It wasn't until the next day that we dressed up the fish and smoked it in Dan's rigged smoker (made from found objects). It was the best fish ever! That day we also dug up the spud bed (for 2 days), which was enough to feed the family for the entire year. I found the most amusing thing about this place was how there is a constancy of friends coming over to hang out everyday. This is where I’d met some good connections; one friend who let me choose a green stone (jade) of my choice, and another friend who offered a tour around Franz Josef Glacier (which I took a week later). The rest of our time there was spent making cucumber chutney (a damn good one), harvesting veggies, and just having a good ol time. The only downside of this place was the fact that Kathy did all of the work while Dan went off and played. It was hard to watch her in the conventional woman’s role, which is the reason why we didn’t stay longer. We could’ve easily stayed there for weeks, but it was too painful to watch that abuse. I will still say this place was completely amazing and that whomever comes by there MUST SEE IT. It may change your life.

A couple more things about this place. With beehives everywhere I managed not to use my Epi-Pen, STILL, and did learn a thing or two about honey spinning and extracting. They also made home brews, in which we drank most nights and consisted of the many fruits on the property.

Final notes: This place is called Wildside for a reason. It is, in every way, wild. It brings out the wild in any person that stays there and brings them closer to the earth. I appreciate that and am glad to have experienced it.

Greymouth and beyond

When getting rides to Greymouth we’d heard bad things about the town. Not many people were too fond of it and we couldn’t figure out why. I guess because there was nothing to do? Glenn (aka Gimli) was driving south and offered us a ride. He drove us right to the house. This was going to be a different experience, seeing that we were staying with complete strangers that were opening up their house to us. Heidi, the head of the house (and whom we made the most contact) was a wonderful, tranquil spirit. I instantaneously felt comfortable with her. She made us feel right at home and we pitched our tent in the backyard the first night.

That night was also very wet and cold. The days after we stayed in the house in one of her son’s rooms. We fell into a nice routine at the Pace home, roaming around during the day and making dinner at night, everyone eating together. It’s wasn’t as abnormal as one would assume with complete strangers being in their home. I did some gardening for Heidi and Jonathan (the husband) and at night we all played Scrabble. It was like being with the hippy version of the Brady Bunch.

Heidi had two sons, Ethan and David. Ethan was a kayak guide in Abel Tasman and David was home from school since the Christchurch quake (which is where his school resided). They were both so different, Ethan outgoing and David introverted, yet both very respectful and fun. They never seemed to be weirded out by two random girls crashing at their house. We spent some quality time with them, but mostly with David, who was a natural, bleached cutie. One night we went over to a friend of David's house, Morgana, for drinks and games. She lived off of the coastal road in an old sailor's house that overlooked the ocean. That is where we met other fellow travelers Matt and Jamie, the latter of which we had briefly met in Abel Tasman a week prior. A sign we were in the right place or was this island just that small?

We had a hell of a time at the Pace residence and they made us feel as welcome as their own kin. Heidi was truly a comforting woman and the most gorgeous of beings. She exuded light. By this time I realized how lucky we’d been in our travels thus far. The rain had began and we had dry shelter.

One day on a side trip we decided to go to Punakaiki to see the Pancake Rocks. It wasn't too far from Greymouth to hitch, so we went for it. Our first ride was by a cosmetician whom may have been on cocaine or meth. She was a bit nervous and shakey, eventually dropping us in the worst possible spot. It began to rain and a middle-aged man took pity on our pathetic faces and picked us up, noshing on a pink pastry. He was a bellhop at the resort next to our destination. Gold. We had a nice drive there and made our way on a short tramp near the rocks. It was cool and rainy, but we still enjoyed ourselves. Getting a ride back was easier, as three gorgeous Argentines scooped us up and dropped us at our door, yet again. Couldn't complain about the scenery.

When figuring out where we were heading next, we remembered the words of Sonya (the Maui girl in Marlborough). She had previously told us that if we were ever to go near Harhari, on the west coast, we “Must stop there.” We figured we’d see if they were taking WWOOFers. We knew absolutely nothing about this place except that they were into honey and were hunter-gatherers. They didn’t even have a website, just by “word of mouth.” This was intriguing, and when they said “Come on down” we jumped at the chance and left the next day from Greymouth. This was going to be interesting. Greymouth was interesting and very homey, but it was time to move on. I’m glad to have found a family environment in this trip. I will always have a soft spot for the Pace family.