December 28, 2012
Because Christof’s sick of oatmeal, we stop at the café by the campground entrance, for a flat white – New Zealand’s version of cappuccino – and some sausage rolls and peach scones. The landscape is similar to yesterday’s, huge barren areas stripped of growth and gaping ugliness in the wake of large-scale tree harvesting.
Manukas, native trees, transform the hillsides untouched by the forest industry, into a mass of delicate white blossoms. The small developing plants, reminiscent of overgrown heathers, have the flakey bark and an appearance similar to cedar, when full grown. Manuka honey is said to have antibiotic qualities and is used as a wound cream on minor cuts and scrapes to prevent infection. We buy a jar and are disappointed by its medicinal, stringent taste which is neither sweet nor honey-like.
The roads jammed with holiday traffic, camper vans and cars pulling oversized trailers loaded with popular recreational toys, jangle our nerves passing unnecessarily close to us as we struggle up two, long steep hills, that leave us panting and inhaling the exhaust fumes deeply.
The weather is capricious, and frequent clothes-changing-stops are necessary to accommodate the differences between long hot ascents and bone-chilling descents. The sun, when it appears, has an uncomfortable needle-like sharpness. Its rays hit the earth only lightly filtered by the thin ozone layer over the South Pole and causing sunburn in a matter of minutes. Regardless of the weather, we slather ourselves with a 70 sunblock every morning.
In Nelson, trying to decide where to eat, we run into Hans Peter, the retired German businessman, we met at Tangeriro National Park. He joins us for a beer, and we catch up with each other.
It starts pouring the moment we enter the iSITE, where we go to find accommodation for the evening. Outside as people scurry for cover Christof says:
– This would be the perfect moment for Hans Peter to rescue us with his camper van.
– We’re fine, I say proud of our independence, we’ve got a roof overhead, and can stay here until the rain stops.
This morning, as we were riding off, Christof discovered that his front tire was loosing air, but didn’t want to waste time changing it. Now is the perfect time for repairs. I stay inside while he changes the tire he’s been pumping up all day.
A moment later Hans Peter busts into the iSITE,
– I can’t leave you here in the storm, he says breathless from running through the rain, we’ll drive you wherever you want to go.
It’s uncanny, how quickly and unfailingly every wish we’ve expressed, or sometimes even thought on this journey, has been fulfilled!
– We want to check out a hostel on the edge of town, I answer gratefully.
– There’s enough space in the camper for your bike, we’ll drive you there, and then come back for Christof, Hans Peter announces.
We drive through a torrential downpour to the Custom House, a run down hostel, where in an unlit lounge filled with random, musty furniture, an assortment of exhausted looking people doze in front of the TV. It’s fully booked so the owner calls another hostel, but they are too are full. There’s little chance of finding an inexpensive bed or a tent site anywhere in Nelson tonight, Friday evening on the busiest week of the year. I don’t want Hans Peter and Philip to spend the evening ferrying me about,
– I’d like to go to the campground you’re staying at, I announce.
They drop me off, and because it’s still raining when they return with Christof almost an hour later, we have coffee together at a make shift café near the entrance gate. An announcement coming through the loudspeakers and ricocheting through the campgrounds, invites guests to a Rockabilly concert on the stage. We don’t need to attend it to hear the up-beat Elvis Presley style music which blares through the campground for the next hour and a half. When the rain finally thins, we wander through a tent city, so enormous streets and avenue are named for orientation, until we find our spot. The grass has been trampled away and a muddy unappealing mess left in its place. When Hans Peter comes by and sees the state of our site, he suggests we move next to them, because they have more than enough space for an extra tent. We’ve just finished setting up and Christof doesn’t like the idea of the effort involved in moving, but when we look at their site, it’s so much better. Grassy, with a unimpeded view of a fence, it’s infinitely less claustrophobic than being wedged in between gigantic house-sized tents.
Hans Peter and Christof pick up the tent carry it through the campground until we reach our new home. Hans Peter and his son Philip have been traveling together for the past six weeks and take turns cooking, inviting us into the camper for the evening meal. Philip serves beef filet with mashed potatoes, spinach and a tomato, pepper and olive salad.
Both Hans Peter’s three and our four children went to Waldorf schools. We compare notes discussing its pros and cons, although Philip, a practical, relaxed and communicative person, is a wonderful example of a broad minded, well balanced individual and could be used as an advertisement for Waldorf Education.
Philip shares his experiences as a work-and-travel backpacker in Australia explaining how crucial this group has become to the economies of New Zealand and Australia. The farmers of both countries are dependent on the help of the young work-and-travelers for harvesting and getting their produce to market. The idea of giving these kids a year-long visa, (they are only eligible from 18-30), is an ideal way of getting, what has become unpopular, work done by foreigners, without any of the problems that often accompany migrant workers. At the end of each year, one group leaves and the next one comes, sparing the governments the difficulties of permanently integrating foreigners into their countries.
The money is good, $20 an hour, but the work is so hard that during Philip’s first two weeks of lettuce harvesting, all he could do at the end of each day, was to fall into a deep, coma-like sleep. Which we do tonight, much later than usual.