Monday, Jan. 11, 1010. 3:49 PM
Queenstown, New Zealand
Happy Two Thousand Ten! Can I really have been here for a month already, and NO updates from me?! Sorry to slack-off, but I had no idea how off the grid I would be here. Funny how it’s actually a very westernized country, clean, a bit fancy, expensive. But how Country it is… once you’re out of the city (and there’s only a handful of them in the whole place), the cellphone goes No Service, and it’s just you and the Gargantuan Everything. (On the horizon from this hilltop is the “Sleeping Giant” :)
After leaving Auckland I had about 12 days to get myself to the South Island (by train & ferry), and shop around Christchurch to purchase a camper van, my first car, before my friend Telah would be arriving. I decided after some advice from experienced NZ travelers that this would be the best way to get around with a non-cycling travel partner. So I took a chance, found a cute German couple selling a charming ’93 Mazda Bongo with 274,000 Km on the odometer and a comfy bed in the back, complete with bins for supplies and a butane stove, and bought it on sight. This whole scenario marks a radical departure from my cycling and occasional bus-taking ways, mainly as I’m now a regular petrol-guzzler like the rest of ’em. Besides this one stipulation, I’m actually more off the grid and farther from the consumer trail than I’ve been so far, which I can attribute to the freedom of my home on wheels.
We prepare all our own meals, and I’m lucky to have a bona fide health-food chef as a sidekick. (We’re so healthy!) We camp anywhere we want, in the van or in my roomy 3-person tent, and it’s been a lovely process to learn how easy, accessible, and rewarding the options are. New Zealand is a natural wonder, and the tourism here is built upon mainly this. Therefore, they make it incredibly easy to camp, hike, swim, and so much more, virtually anywhere you want. For a wild place, it’s perfectly inhabitable, the grasses and bush soft to the touch, countless streams everywhere light blue and shallow enough to wade into, the bio-diversity and aesthetic appeal jaw-dropping, and the people and government that made it all possible really nice and welcoming. The best part is it’s all pretty much FREE, so our only expenses are for fuel and groceries. There are even spotless public toilets, tourist information offices, recycling stations, and places to fill-up on clean drinking water at most convenient places. Almost every day I wonder How is this so nice and easy, and Why am I used to everything being so darned difficult?
I’ve been roughing it in terms of my flash-packer ways, meaning my geeking has been minimal. I haven’t plugged-into an AC outlet in 3 weeks, until I found a restaurant which let me recharge my batteries which power my portable speakers and LED christmas lights. I also haven’t even turned on my computer until now, as I knew I’d only get a blog’s worth of battery before my Macbook would be left cold and dead without juice. I haven’t been online at all, except when we passed through Greymouth and stopped in the library for 20 min of free wifi (which I used to call my Mom after learning from my first email check in weeks that my Grandma Joan had passed away on New Year’s Eve). Besides this limited connectivity, I haven’t missed the Matrix at all.
Here’s our typical day lately: Waking-up in a beautiful place with nobody around, boiling water on the stove or camp fire to make coffee in the french press, washing-up in a stream, eating muesli topped with fruits and nuts, toasting some crumpets with jam and olive oil butter. AM rituals complete, we’ll drive for an hour or two, invariably stopping 3 or 4 times to marvel at ridiculous landscapes, to scramble up a soft and fuzzy hill, or pick up some more farm-fresh produce and to sample some local honey or wine at a vineyard. We’ll arrive at the National Park or Reserve, pop into the regional info center for some hike suggestions, and make some soup and sandwich for lunch before heading-off on an uphill scramble, a walk through the forest, to a waterfall or panoramic view. Head back for tea time, drive another hour and find camp. Crack open a bottle of the local Pinot and make dinner, do yoga, read the book, pet the horses, laugh at the cute sheep, and weather-permitting, star-gaze until bedtime.
It’s a perfect place for those of any attention span, as the landscape drastically changes on average every 30 minutes of driving. Desert hills, snow-capped mountains and glaciers, impossibly giant lakes of turquoise blue, pine or rain forest, Giant trees, tropical and sub- alpine mixed, and sunsets so dramatic that to look-away for a minute you won’t recognize it any more. The days are long… darkness finally falling around 10:30PM.
I was a bit worried that taking a road-trip for 6 weeks might spoil my desire to cycle after Telah sets-off back to New York. And I must say that after the first week in the van I had my doubts, noticing the overwhelming lack of shoulder-room on the two-lane highways. But since then I’ve fallen for the solitude of the nearly empty roads and their surrounding landscapes, and I look forward to finding B-routes between my destinations and discovering my own little camps to call home for a night. The weather is downright challenging: the sun is more intense than anywhere else, and it’s cold at night. Chances are I’ll have to contend with strong headwinds and getting “pissed on” almost daily (it rains a lot). It’s prohibitively expensive to eat out, and the food is nothing to write home about, so I’ll be packing a lot of supplies along. It’s going to be a trial. But I’m wowed enough to want it. And besides, after March it’ll be (very) cold again, so I must take advantage of the short time I have. I don’t see myself staying long into the winter, but I’ll head up to the North Island mid-February and see what I can see.
Telah’s back from her hike so I’m off to tea! Love and lightness, AP