We are finally out of Havelock and yes, we still have a bit of our souls left. So I will pick up right where Ariel left off last.
We rolled out of Havelock late afternoon and set course for Nelson, the closest town west of where we were. It took a little over an hour and a half and when we got there we parked and walked around for a few hours. We went into a School for Music and sat in on an orchestra rehearsal which made me nostalgic for my band days back in high school. The orchestra was missing a tuba player so I was secretly hoping to be asked to step in, but no luck. We stopped in an old cathedral which was really cool and still operational and played on the organ and just looked around for a solid hour. We were really hungry and went to look for food, but unbeknownst to us, Nelson closes down around 5pm and with it so did everything else. So we walked for what seemed like hours on empty stomachs, and Jeff had the idea to go to the hostel he stayed in a few weeks back and see if any of his food was still there. He entered the code to get in and we all stroll into the kitchen. About 3 minutes there, we hear over the PA system, "Security to reception!" I, immediately about face and walk out and heard one of the staff say, "Yeah, one just left." Ariel and Jeff lingered for some reason and eventually followed me out. We found a Thai place that was open and stopped in there to get some food. Then we saw that it was BYOB so we decided to grab a few beers and come back to eat in. Turns out the only thing you are allowed to bring is wine. So we got take out and went to eat in a parking lot nearby. We were all sitting down in a deserted parking lot just enjoying a beer with dinner when a car drives by...next thing I know i hear 2 things hit the ground around us and I immediately thought water balloons. Upon further investigation, we saw that the people that drove by threw 2 eggs at us and missed wide on either side (the ones who threw them were girls). The strange part was, not one of us even flinched when it happened. For some reason it took a minute to register what was going on and when we finally figured it out, we were just surprised that some people in a small town are that bored that they have to drive around and throw eggs at 3 guys trying to enjoy their dinner. Later that night, we went to a small bar that actually had free and open Jam Sessions, that the bar provides instruments for (drums, bass, guitars, pedals, mics, the works!). We walked in and there were 3 guys playing some songs who sounded alright. When they got off stage I immediately went to get a guitar and found a bass player there and a drummer. They didn't know a lot of songs that I knew but we played a few Green Day songs, a few Blink 182 songs, a couple rap/hip-hop songs, and one of my original songs. It was tons of fun and even though there were maybe 10 people in the bar, it was awesome being able to play guitar and have a musical outlet again after not having one for over a month. I got my rounds on bass and drums as well, and jammed with a few other people. Then Ariel and Jeff found the courage to come up and play too, and we had a blast! Slept in a parking lot that night.
Abel Tasman National Park
We headed north the next day for Abel Tasman National Park, and on the way picked up 2 hitch hikers that were sitting in the rain. Turns out they were dating and the guy was Japanese, and the girl was French. The only two other languages that I am somewhat proficient in. So it was great being able to practice with them. I'm sure that they were scared of us at first because Ariel and I were belting out show tunes in the front while Jeff entertained them for the first leg of the trip. We heard about a place called "Split Apple Rock," which is exactly what it sounds like, and decided to make a quick detour there. On the way there, we picked up one more guy who was going that way and had a total of 3 absolute strangers in the back of our van (poor Jeff). The rock was cool and reminded us of Secret Beach in Hawaii (for those of you that have been following since then). We had to walk through the woods a bit, then it just opened up to a beautiful secluded beach. We took a few pictures and enjoyed the scenery, but in the end we were just looking at one rock that happened to look like an apple split down the middle. The couple decided they would tag along with us to the national park and we made our way further north of the south island.
We traversed multiple winding deadly roads which eventually opened up to the ever so majestic Golden Bay. My words can only begin to describe what we saw there, but the combination of mountains, valleys, and the ocean made for an absolutely astounding view. We drove along and followed a map that was supposed to take us to a camp site in the national park, but we ended up driving down a gravel road for about 45 minutes before realizing that the camp was at the end of the gravel road (and we were looking for places to camp along the road, over the cliff, and in the hills). The camp was cool, very open, at the foot of a big mountain, with a big bay to look at. Apparently you are supposed to register and pay for the site, but the place was closed and we planned on leaving early in the morning anyway, so we just made camp without doing any of that stuff. We collected firewood, pitched the tent then started making a fire. Our hitch hiker friends were just on the other side of the lot and would come in and out for a little bit of conversation. For dinner, we had potatoes in foil with onions, herbs, and spices. The vegetarians had beans I had some pork and peppers on skewers (kabobs). Dinner was amazing and we all passed out around 10pm. I slept well that night because I was using a sleeping bag, but the other two were really cold apparently.
We got up at 5am the next morning to watch the sunrise from the beach because it was facing directly east. Silly us, didn't realize that were islands with mountains in front of us and as a result we couldn't really watch the sunrise. So we went back and packed up our tent and cleaned, said our good byes to our friends (Keita, the Japanese man, staying true to form, insisted we exchange information, so maybe we'll see them again).
We hit the road, heading north once again, stopping at a memorial overlooking the Golden Bay and a small town for breakfast. We stopped at Waikoropupu Springs, which is the 2nd clearest water in the world! Second only to glacier water in Antarctica. The water was definitely clear and we filled up some of our water bottles with the water and it was delicious. It was pure and amazing! Afterwards, we headed for the northern most part of the southern island "The Farewell Spit." The spit is the biggest natural sandbar in the world (35km) and is notorious for having lots of beached whales. On the way, we saw some of the MOST GLORIOUS RAINBOWS EVER!! There were thick ones, thin ones, long ones, short ones, and at one point we saw a complete rainbow, from start to finish. You could literally see where it went into the ground, and no there was no pot of gold. Myth BUSTED! When we got to the spit, we realized that in order to go on the spit you need to go with a tour which was more than we were willing to pay, so we sat in the visitors center (that was run by a rather grouchy old man) looking through the free binoculars, reading the bird books, and catching up on current events by looking through a TIME magazine that they had there.
We left the spit, and headed back south the way we came. I was in the back and taking a nap, and woke up to Jeff yelling at Ariel, "COP! COP! COP!" (because we pulled over to let Ariel relive himself). The cop turns around, pulls up behind us, and puts on his lights. Walks up to the drivers side and says, "Hello boys, where are you from?" Jeff says, "America." To which the cop proceeds to say, "well alright, you are all under arrest...for theft" I thought he was kidding. This cop was super nice and reminded me of the guy from Shawn of the Dead. Unfortunately, he was dead serious. He proceeds to ask us if we stole a TIME magazine and a bird book from the visitors center at the spit. Apparently, the guy who runs the center called the cops and reported us, so the cop found us and arrested us. He asks us if we took the book and the magazine and kept on insisting that it was better that we tell him if we had it than for him to search the car and find it. We didn't have it so he searched the car, all of our backpacks, under the blankets and pillows, rummaged through our garbage and finally patted us all down. He probably felt silly and apologized then let us carry on our way.
Once we were on our way, we made for Harwood's Hole. We had to drive another long gravel road but it was 100% worth it. We hiked about 30 minutes through the forest and then got to a pile of rocks. At the end of the pile, was an enormous hole. With towering cliffs above and this massive hole in front of us we realized why it was the biggest cave in the southern hemisphere. It was 70 meters wide and 180 meters deep, plus the cliffs above it. So it was a pretty big hole. Jeff and I climbed to the edge and Ariel enjoyed from a distance. When we were done there we found a path that led to the top of a mountain, overlooking the river and valley below. The wind was ridiculously strong and actually almost blew us over, but the view was worth it. It was so serene and peaceful we just sat there for a while looking out into the distance.
We drove south. Stopped in Nelson for dinner then hit the open road. We drove until about midnight that night and stopped in a small dinky town called Murchison. We drove around for a while looking for a place to park and sleep. We found a gravel road we thought looked promising but at the bottom of the hill got stuck in mud. Ariel was asleep in the back so Jeff and I tried for about 30 minutes to get us out. I pushed for a while, and we both tried to drive it out. We were just about to give up and just sleep at the bottom of the hill until we got moved along in the morning and get a tow, when on my last ditch effort, I got us out and we were able to move on to a parking lot where we hid ourselves in the back until morning.
Westport, Seals, Pancakes, and Blow Holes
We continued south and arrived in Westport around lunch time and stopped at an Indian restaurant to eat. Right after lunch we went to a local brewery and did a beer tasting of the local brews which were all very delicious. Westport is the last town on the road before you head true south along the coast. So when we left town it was the real deal. Our first stop was to a seal colony. We drove out to the coast and along the western coast, the waves are a lot bigger, and the sea a lot choppier. But the seals did not seem to mind. We saw a bunch of them just lying around on the rocks and a few of them fighting here and there and I thought it was funny how they don't even care that people are around them taking pictures while they just live their lives.
As we headed south, the scenery got more and more incredible. Cliffs and ocean on either side, and off in the distances the peaks of the Southern Alps were visible with their snow capped summits. It was so much to take in, we would have wanted to stop to take pictures but they just wouldn't do the place justice. Our next stop was Pancake Rocks and Blow Holes. It was another national park type of thing, and to be honest the rocks didn't really look like pancakes. More like layered rocks, or a bunch of flat rocks piled on top of each other. As we were walking through, there are lookout points where you can look down and see the ocean water smashing against the cliffs on the bottom and it was here that I finally understood how water can actually crush rocks after years and years of relentless attacks. It was cool to learn about how the rocks and the cliffs were formed over millenniums. At one point, we thought it would be a good idea to get a closer look, so we hopped the barrier and walked to the edge of the cliff, which was terrifying. Had one of us fallen in, the fall would not be the worst part, it would be getting thrown into the rocks with the entire force of the ocean that would do us in. But we were careful and ended up ok. The track carried on and we saw a lot of the same, rocks that fell because of the water, pancake rocks that rose up out of the ocean, etc. but every bit was amazing to see. It started to rain, so we piled back in the van and hit the road.
Greymouth and a Glacier
We stopped in Greymouth to get dinner, which consisted of crackers, cheese, nutella, and hummus. Very satisfying. After dinner, we made for Franz Josef, the base town for the Franz Josef Glacier (with a brief stop in a small town called Ross, where we saw a firework show. The whole town turned up, all 200 people for a 15 minute show). We got to Franz Josef after driving all night, once again through deadly winding roads, that were wet from the rain, and even better at one point snow! Once in town, we found a parking lot to sleep in and called it a night.
The next morning, we got up early and signed up for a tour up the glacier. It was $120 for a half day hike up the glacier. Our tour started at 12:30 and we had some time to kill, so we went to the tour place and asked to get our equipment early (equipment included boots, pants, socks, gloves, hat, and a raincoat) and go on a hike of our own. We only picked up the pants, socks, and boots then walked across town to a trail head that lead through the forest, up a small mountain, and into an old area where people used to dig for gold. At the end of the path was a tunnel that was dug years ago for the gold miners. It was flooded with about ankle deep water (that was no matter to us with our water proof boots and pants) and we dove right in. It was a fairly long tunnel, but we got to see glow worms and cool looking rocks, all while keeping an eye out for gold. We got to the end of the tunnel, turned around and came back. On the way back we went the entire length of the tunnel with no light, which was awesome.
Made it back in time to catch our tour and before we knew it we were on a bus with 50 other people heading to the base of the Franz Josef glacier. We had to trek through the woods to get to the foot of the glacier, which was a massive expanse of open area with huge mountains and cliffs that had dozens of waterfalls coming out of the sides. The very ground we were standing on (which was covered in rocks) was where the glacier used to be. So we began our trek up the glacier. The tour split up into groups and we made sure we were in the fast moving group. We stayed at the front and the tour guide was nice enough, but at times just tried to hard to be funny and join our conversations, to a point where it was just annoying. He would make weird jokes and laugh too much when we would say anything, but i guess that was his job to make everyone feel good about what they were doing. On the ice, we fixed our crampons to the bottoms of our boots. Crampons are just spikes that help dig into the ice so you don't slip. We wove through crevices in the ice, under ice archways, and down an ice slide. Watched a member of our group almost fall through the ice to his death, but he caught himself. You don't even realize when you're walking just how deep down it goes. The glacier was kind of dirty, and not as blue as advertised, mainly because the ice is always melting and freezing again the dirt gets caught and frozen with it. But it was still beautiful despite the non-blue-ness. On the way down, we hung towards the back of the group which was way more fun than the front. We would just goof around and plant our feet on the ice walls and joke around throwing snow everywhere. When we got to the base, it started raining and since we had all the gear on but hardly even used it, we waded through the stream along the path and I stood under a waterfall just to say I used the gear at all. We got back to the tour center and returned all of our things, then went to dinner at another indian place in town. After dinner, we went to the spa which came complementary with our tour package. We got changed and went in to the giant hot tubs and relaxed. After about 15 minutes a big transgender woman(?), who was ominously staring at us (and everyone else in the pool for that matter) since we walked in approached us. I guess she(?) was supposed to be a chaperone of sorts and make sure nothing happened in the pools. So she tells us that we need to get out and put on bathing suits because apparently our boxers did not suffice. Even though there were girls and guys there with less on. Regardless, we went back in, showered for the first time since leaving Havelock then piled back into our van.
We hit the road around 9pm and headed out of town. Everything was going smoothly until we got to a hill and tried to accelerate up it. The van starts making strange noises and then completely shuts off. We thought we ran out of gas, because we only had a quarter tank left and figured the gauge might have been broken. So we sit in the middle of this road then have to push a K-turn to turn around, then roll back down this hill and try and make it back to town. When it levels out, we push it about 2-3km down and up this road, trying to start it here and there. But every time it started, it sounded like the engine was eating rocks instead of gas. A few cars pass, one or two stop and ask if we need help but there was really nothing they could do. We were struggling our way up a hill back to town when another car stops and asks if we need a tow, so we tell him we just need gas. Turns out the guy who stops is the mechanic in town, and the entire back of his car was filled with gasoline containers. We give him about 40 bucks and buy some gas off of him, but Vome still won't start. He takes the time to look at our engine, give us a jump, fiddle around with things, the works for about 30 minutes but still no luck. He says there isn't much he can do on the side of the road and tells us to come to his shop the next day. So he gives us a tow into town back in the parking lot and we called it a night, hoping for the best and thankful that of all the people to be driving the road at that point it was the mechanic.
The next day, Clive (the mechanic) tows us to his shop which is about 4 kms out of town. He spends an hour figuring out why the van stopped, and it turns out a bolt that was holding a belt on broke and made the van stop. He gives us a high ball estimate of 700 dollars to fix, and even if he does that he wasn't sure if it was going to work because there could be engine damage. Since we obviously didn't want to spend that much money we offered to work some of it off for him. So after much thought and consultation with his partner they decide that we can. This is great news for us. So they put us to work outside the shop cutting grass with hedge clippers and weeding while he worked on the car. After a few hours, he comes out and tells us that he has it all sorted out, and just needs to order the parts. He also recommended that we get new fan belts and some other belts because they were all about to break and were in bad shape. Once we were done for the day, we had to figure out where we were going to stay for the night while we waited for the parts to come in. We get a ride into town by his partner, who had to go in to get the mail anyway. We make our way to that indian food place for dinner again and enjoy a very good hot curry meal.
After dinner, we start walking around town, asking every hostel and motel if they do work exchange for a night only. Unfortunately, none of them had any openings, except one, but there was a week long commitment. We signed up at the Rainforest Retreat. We got our own self-contained cottage, a $20 voucher to the ajoining restaurant (sound familiar?) plus 2 free beers! Not to mention the fact that there are actually other people to interact with here. Talking to new people who were traveling for the first time in months was quite a relief. It reminded us that there is life out there. It was so weird to be interacting with other people again, we were almost, dare I say, shy. So even though we weren't hungry, we went and claimed our voucher anyway at the restaurant and had our beer and ordered desserts. Needless to say, when we were done, we all felt like absolute garbage. It was at a point where it literally hurt to breathe in too deep because we were so full of food. We couldn't help but laugh at our situation, and the pattern our lives were taking. We go from the lowest of lows, to the highest of highs. Living in a van, scraping by with whatever food we come across to a real bed and free food. Its laughable really. That night, we went to the restaurant/bar with some new friends and the bar was doing a game called "Killer Pool" where if you miss a shot you lose a life, three lives, last person with a life, type of game. We slept very soundly that night.
Have to get up at 9am to start working. We work from 9-2 doing cleaning, bed making, etc. Its really not too bad. The hours go quickly and there are always other people around who are also working exchanging so its nice to not be the only one. About midday, I go to reception and hear that a mechanic was looking for us. I call back Clive and he gives me the bad news. Vome is Dead. He got the parts and tried to fix it but the engine lacks compression, which is apparently important in diesel engines, and the only way he can fix it is if he takes the whole thing apart and puts it back together. That would cost about 2000 dollars. So we have no choice but to scrap it which is a real shame. We got a good run out of it and definitely had a good time with it. Unfortunately, it was old and had run its course. It was sad seeing Vome with the engine exposed and parts lying around. I would liken it to seeing your beloved pet on the vet's table. Feeling helpless because there is nothing you can do. Wanting your pet to feel better again at all costs. Yet knowing that the best thing for you to do would be to put it down and let it go. (We will be holding a memorial service for Vome very soon. So if you wish to have your prayers or experiences with Vome read, please list all comments below).
So right now, we are at a cross roads. We still have some things we want to do before we leave this country, the issue is now how do we go about doing it. We will likely try and take a bus to Queenstown where we will stay for maybe a week or so. Then figuring out how to get to Christchurch from there. Once in Christchurch, we will try to move out plane tickets to fly out from there, and if not, the next issue becomes how do we get back to Auckland to fly out to Australia?
New Zealand has certainly been a challenge for all of us. We have had our ups and downs and loved every minute of it (sort of) but we are all feeling like we just need to get a move on. We long for the sunny weather again and the promises of riches in the land of milk and honey (Australia). Our friends there tell us how hot it is and how they have so much money they don't know what to do with it all. So we are all ready to get a move on.
In conclusion, we are all in very good health and safe. The Rainforest Retreat is a good transition to getting back into the swing of things and being real people again. We have a lot of free time now that we end work at 2 and have nothing to do after that until 9 the next morning. Good news, the bar/restaurant has ESPN and I got to watch Monday Night Football on a Tuesday evening which was amazing! Not to mention the highlights from Sunday's action (Giants over the Pats?....uhhhh.. YUP!). It felt good to be able to watch again, my first real time football this season. So, we will do our best to keep everyone in the loop. Feel free to comment, respond, or repost this so you can share with the whole world.
Until Next Time,
Here are all the pics from the road trip. Sorry they aren't beautifully embedded within the text like they usually are, we are about to hit the road again as we met some people with a van with 3 spots available so my time is limited. We are currently on our way to Queenstown. Keep following. Love having everyone sharing with us.
Picture Gallery Courtesy of Jeff Foster: