1 month in South Island and a rapidly dwindling bank account aren't a good combination. Time to shamelessly try and get anything for nothing. Although not the cheapest option, I came up with 101 excuses as to why renting a car was definitely worth the money, and won the debate with myself. I've taken to doing this a lot, travelling alone, setting up debates in my head when trying to make decisions, sometimes they spill out of my mouth in the form of random words, I've given up caring who can overhear.
The guy at the car rental reception weaved a chewed biro between his 3 middle fingers as he searched for a deal for me. His free spirit stifled underneath a suit. Play to his weaknesses Sophie....
"You should go somewhere random on your next days off" I said, "looks like you could use a bit of spontaneity..."
He blinked at me and the pen fell out of his repetitive grasp. "God, I know! You are so right!"
He transferred his chewing from the biro to my ear for the next 45 mins, and I listened patiently, throwing in such good advice that I even surprised myself. I was rewarded with 2 free days rental and a free iPod jack for the tape player. Bingo. Told you I was going to have to be shameless.
I drove from Picton to Nelson and continued up along the coast towards the famous Abel Tasman park, planning to sleep in the car. I stole a shower in a campsite along the way (I refused to pay $15 for a dribble of cold water) and found my own little bit of deserted beach to park up on just outside of Kaitiritiri. I killed a few hours by trying to take pictures of my ninja shadow, then, sharing the sunset with a pair of noisy oyster catchers, scuttling to and fro with the ebbing of the tide, I sat in comfortable aloneness until the dark winds forced me back into my metal tent. It was a long, cold and uncomfortable night, and I was grateful when the sunrise crept under my eyelids, and the layers of jackets and jumpers, to warm my bones and announce a beautiful day.
I explored Abel Tasman by kayak the first day, coming within touching distance of a pod of dolphins, and nostril flaring distance of the resident seals. My eyes tried desperately to shake my brain into appreciating the crystal clear ocean and the white deserted beaches, but they failed. I came down with a highly inconvenient stomach bug that sucked most of the fun out of that first day. I slept on a katamaran that evening, crashing out at 4pm and sleeping through till 7am, which really annoyed me because I'd missed the chance to sunset jump off the top of the boat into baby blue waters with paradise as the background. Life is unfair sometimes.
Relieved to feel slightly better the next day, I began the 14km hike back to where my car was waiting. I did it in my good old Bata flipflops, and took immense pleasure in the looks I got from hardcore hiker nerds who'd just spent a small fortune on the latest Nimbus 2000's of the boot world. You can take the girl out of Kenya....
My next stop was the Pancake rocks at Punakaiki, which involved a stunning drive down the West Coast road. I did a couple of hours work at a hostel in exchange for a free bed (anything to avoid another arthritic night in the car) and found a Zimbabwean to come crawling round the rocks with me. One is seldom allowed to forget Mother Nature's epic concept of time in New Zealand, and what she has achieved over millions of years with all the elements still leaves unanswerable questions in breathtaking forms. The rocks really did look like pancakes, stacked on top of each other, and where holes had formed the force of the tide pushed water out through them like the blowholes of a dolphin. Flanking the pancakes where ancient stone pillars dotted all up the coast, for miles either side, standing like warriors against the incessant waves. That evening the Zimbabwean and I bought a bottle of wine and sat between the full moon and the full tide, swapping stories of a far away Africa.
On my way to The Glaciers, I stopped at a dairy farm and worked there for 3 days for a free bed. After the third morning in a row being woken up at 6am by two under 8 year olds bouncing on my bed I decided I'd rather be back sleeping in my car than put up with this. I was very impressed with my handling of the numerous grandkids that would come round to the farmhouse on the sheep station, but that was in small doses. These two lived on a more remote farm, and seemed desperate for attention from any other source that their parents. "Sorry they can be a bit intense at times" laughed their Mother... I grinned through gritted teeth as I tried to lug my rucksack into the boot of my car one child hanging off my shoulders and one clinging to my ankle. No need to push your limits this far for a free bed Sophie, get the hell out.
I arrived at Franz Joseph glacier township and had a second bout of illness, which I was convinced was brought on by the two spawn I'd been sharing my life with for the past few days. I've felt more alone on the South Island than any other place, perhaps because there's so few people here, and although most of the time I've liked it, there are few times when you want a familiar face around you more than when you're ill.
There is also a huge amount of joy in life when you have overcome being ill, and feel normal again. The tiniest of victories are of huge significance to me these days. So I celebrated by splashing out on a pair of hiking boots and I have set myself hiking challenges for every day I have left in New Zealand. Double points if I complete the challenge in under the time set by the NZ Department of Conservation on their informative signs at the start of each trail. I'm often so proud of my extra points that I let out a yelp of happiness when I make it over my imaginative finish line. Like I said... small victories to a girl on the brink of South Island madness....