41. Fire

As the South Island came into view spectacular scenery surrounded us, made all the better by brilliant sun and cloudless skies. Erik (Chief) and I were on deck appreciating nature’s wonders and the stunning untouched beauty of New Zealand.

Below deck, Katie and Leanne were asleep, nature’s wonders clearly secondary to a midday nap. We arrived into Picton safely and went to meet our bus to take us through to our stop for the night, Kaiteriteri. I say safely – Katie and Leanne got lost somewhere between the ferry and the bus. Obviously.

We’d had 2 big Kiwi Experience buses take us to the ferry terminal in Wellington and were curious to see how we were all going to get on the one that met us on the South Island. As my immature imagination raced away with ideas of someone (hopefully me) getting to ride in the boot, a minibus of sorts pulled up.

I say ‘of sorts’, what I mean is ‘a veritable death trap driven by a lady who either only had experience of driving on arcade game simulators, or driving tests hadn’t actually been invented when she began driving’.

As we wound up large mountain hills in 6th gear, with miles of traffic behind us, and she almost stalled halfway up, we began to fear for our lives. When, after a sudden stop, we nearly went directly into the rear end of the very large Kiwi bus in front of us, I had resigned myself to a mountainy grave.

Somehow, we arrived, alive. I’d closed my eyes for most of the journey, only hearing the sound of our lovely driver trying to smash the van into gear and consistently failing. And screams, which were mostly mine. We checked into our hostel into a ‘budget room’, which turned out to be 3 bunk beds in a portakabin, and dashed off to the beach for an evenings sailing.

Our boat was a very cool little catamaran to see the Abel Tasman National Park from the sea, with a skipper who looked weathered by years at sea. Having signed up last minute our expectations were none, but the trip turned out to be fantastic, surpassing all those expectations. There were only 8 of us on the boat including the skipper, and we did some proper sailing with the wind along beautiful coastline.

We also saw and swam up to Split Apple Rock, which is a Rock in the ocean that looks a bit like a split apple (I just had to explain to be sure). I did the silly thing and jumped off the boat first, but I got an awesome photo so it was all fine:

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What not to do if you’ve recently dislocated your shoulder…

We then sailed along the national park, with Leanne at one point steering the boat. It’s a testament to how far she’s come on this trip that the boat stayed afloat. We headed back in with the sun setting and after a thank you and goodbye to our skipper and a quick photo, back to the hostel. Because we have to look after Leanne when we are with her, we cooked her tea and headed back to the room.

Our roommates were two girls from Devon, Alex and Naomi. Naomi had done a skydive that day and was clearly on an adrenaline comedown because she was crazily excited and chatty one minute and then sad and exhausted the next. It was hilarious anyway and we all had a very funny, if slightly weird, conversation which ended up in an accent-off between Naomi and me. I’m not sure there were any winners.

We had originally booked to do kayaking the next morning. However, we had then been told it was cancelled, before being told it wasn’t, then being told it was again. As a result we were unsure what we were going to do when we woke up the next morning. After a quick message to our fellow potential kayakers, we took the brave decision to stay in our warm comfortable beds and hope it was cancelled. We spent the morning instead on the beach, before jumping back on the bus to continue South.

Our next stop was Westport. None of us knew very much about Westport. As it turned out, this is because there isn’t very much to know about Westport. It is, to use a phrase, dying on its arse.

First, however, was a stop at Nelson Lakes – a picture perfect glacial lake with a pier that provided ideal conditions for a #classictravellerphoto. Cue a queue, but eventually we managed to get our shot so we were just as cringeworthy as everyone else:

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Also ducks:

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After this our next stop was Westport itself, and it was like a ghost town. We began with a feisty and pretty uncomfortable welcome from the bald chap who seemed to own the place, who thought he was very funny and actually wasn’t. This done, we went to the shop to find tea.

Katie and I have been travelling for a fairly long time now and as we wandered aimlessly round the supermarket, we quickly realised we were fed up of all the dishes we could cook whilst on the road. Limited to cheap, simple, non-oven based dishes was finally wearing. Then, from around the corner like two Swedish godsends came Adam and Celine. They asked us what we were eating and we truthfully said we had no idea. We must have looked distressed, because they took pity on us and asked if we wanted to join them for dinner. We accepted before they had chance to have a second thought.

As it turns out, Adam is a chef and Celine is a better cook than him, so they did all the cooking while we watched, applauded and brought them beer. We had a fantastic spaghetti carbonara, which set us up nicely for our nighttime activity – a bonfire on the beach.

After scrambling to get to the bus in time, we made it down to the beach, which looked grey and dreary in every way. It did, however, have the excellent quality of having a forest load of driftwood on the beach and we had a fire going in virtually no time:

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In the words of Zack (or Chief Mk II as he became known to us, due to him also being a Maori chief); “Sharkbait, Hoo Ha Ha!”. If you haven’t seen Finding Nemo then that wasn’t very funny, sorry.

Fire built, we all rewarded ourselves with beer and good conversation. Well, beer at least.

We returned to the hostel, put on Meet The Fockers on the TV and all fell asleep within 10 minutes. In the morning we were headed to Lake Mahinapua for fancy dress and, more excitingly, unlimited pulled pork dinner.

Salivating at the thought, we left Westport. Incidentally, leaving Westport is the number one activity I would recommend in Westport. The second is probably never arriving. If you do, build a big fire and get out, and maybe it will catch. And on that bombshell…

Alex Odlin would like to stress he doesn’t actually want to burn Westport down, and if the New Zealand version of MI5 are reading this they have no need to worry or refuse to let him back into the country. Please.

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