With our new campervan came new opportunity. Economically, it meant no more £20 hits each night to stay in a hostel dorm (you can read of my love for these here) and no more costly public transport. More importantly however, it meant independence. We could travel where we wanted, when we wanted and sleep in the back when we were done. So with our lives packed into a 20 year old people carrier and the sun shining, we did as most English would do and made a beeline for the seaside. Ignoring the more direct and main road to Okains Bay, our first stop for the night about 80km away, we took the ‘scenic route’ and the rubble strewn streets of Christchurch soon made way for gut wrenching bends overlooking glistening coastline. As the road turned from tarmac to gravel and then to mud, the grazing sheep began to look more and more surprised to see human life, and the ‘scenic route’ was starting to become the ‘will we ever be seen again?’ route. Inching our way perilously over the summit view (and what a view) road, the sparkling blue of Okains Bay finally came into sight and with nerves shredded, we arrived at last. The scene was now set; parked up in dappled forest sunshine and the beach within yards, everything was in place for a perfect first night in our exciting lives in a campervan.
And then the boot fell off.
The boot door is a pretty important part of a campervan. It’s akin to the front door on your house. It keeps out the cold, it stops local villains pinching your stuff, prevents local rodents clambering inside and it secures all your worldly possessions from falling out onto the road as you tootle along from A to B. Like I said, it’s quite vital. As we’d closed the boot for the first time since leaving Christchurch, one of the hinges had snapped clean in half, swinging the boot door onto a lopsided slant and simultaneously gouged a chunk out of the roof, backlights hanging like a wonky eyed drunkard. As the car we’d bought no more than 5 hours before continued to make noises like a ship breaking free of its moorings, darkness fell and a clear night sky above us promised frostbite at best. Our $20 duvet just wasn’t going to cut it in this scenario. Now in situations such as this I’d love to be able to whittle some kind of hinge from a nearby park bench, pull out my trusty blowtorch and have the whole thing back in action before the kettle had boiled. You know, the stuff a real man would do. Unfortunately though, I’m useless. I know nothing about cars and I hate them, they’re an absolute shower of bastards. Luckily for us however, the campground owner was a bit more clued up. Despite being severely alarmed by the state of our car and even more amused at the fact we’d just spent a third of our travel budget on it, he managed to get it semi presentable with the help of a few ropes, meaning we could at least sleep in it overnight without freezing to death and/or being molested by some rogue possums. The Kiwis are an accommodating bunch, thank god.
Day two of our exciting lives in a campervan saw us trundle cautiously back to Christchurch, the flat way this time, and back to the used car dealer, who’s mechanic had yesterday promised us it was fit for purpose. The purpose being to use as scrap metal, clearly. After doing that painfully sharp intake of air through his teeth upon surveying the damage, he kindly informed us that he was busy today, but we could kip here overnight so he could take a look tomorrow. So on the second night of our exciting lives in a campervan we slept in the backyard of a used car dealers, amongst around 30 other assorted heaps of rust, with the sound of sirens to send us to sleep. Bliss.
With a newly attached boot, a new hole in our bank balance and a newly acquired sense of pessimism, we departed Christchurch again and this time headed West to Mount Cook national park. As Australasia’s highest peak at 3,754 metres, Mount Cook dominates the Southern Alps that form the backbone of the South Island; we’d seen it before from afar but were now itching to get up close. Isolated at the end of a one way road up the side of Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook village encompasses a tiny permanent community servicing a tourist population of around 250’000 a year. The numbers speak for themselves. Surrounded by soaring slopes of snow and ice, glaciers creep into view around each corner with mighty melt lakes beneath – it’s a gaspingly pretty place. Having located ourselves at the DOC campsite we proceeded to attempt to cover as much ground as possible. Two shorter walks took in some peak filled views, a distant avalanche as we lunched and then half a busload of teenage schoolboys jumping naked into a near frozen glacial lake (and I thought our Geography field trip to Aberystwyth was extreme), before we took on Mount Cook itself. Well I say took on, we didn’t exactly climb it – you must be kidding me, people die up there – but we took on the Hooker Valley track, a sharp climb up through scree sloped foothills to the base of the mountain. Slightly disappointed by the lack of actual hookers along the way; the mirrored lake, scattered icebergs and the sight of Mount Cook looming over us at the top was compensation enough.
Worn out but elated, we retreated to cook our dinner by the van where dusk soon brought darkness. We’d heard that due to the isolation from city lights up here, some of New Zealand’s clearest night skies could be found here. So we donned hats, gloves and scarves, lay back on the picnic bench and we stayed a while, and gazed in wonder beneath the mountains and an infinity of stars.