New Zealand: Choose Your Own Catastrophe

In a world of uncertainty the anxious man is probably king. I’ve already considered the worst possible outcome. Thought about it for days. The end. I’d be worse off at home. Homeless and unemployed, at least here I have the van. When I left Edgar I wasn’t sure if I was making the right choice. In a time of global pandemic, is it responsible to be heading out on a road trip? I am on my own, the expectation is to stay that way now. Visitors seem unlikely. My risk points are food shopping, fuel, and communal areas in campsites. If I show symptoms I need to have enough quick, easy food and fluids to remain in the van and in one place for two weeks. I decided that I’m going against the traffic. Most travellers are moving towards airports. The sooner I can get beyond the sprawl of Auckland, the safer I’ll be.

The Van Bed

The campsite attendant realises as I’m already driving through the gate I’m not from around here. “Have you been in quarantine? Can I see your ticket?” I’ve been here for weeks, it’s fine. He seems pretty relaxed and points me to a spot. Night one is promising for a matter of hours. Pitch up, chair in the sun, book in hand. This is the life. News breaks that the Department of Conservation are closing campsites, huts and the Great Walks are cancelled until the end of the season. Those 9 journeys across areas of New Zealand had become my goal for this trip. Everything gets delayed. What next? What now, even? Word arrives from Europe. Hotels, Airbnbs and campsites have been ordered to close. How long until New Zealand follows suit? I figure out a Plan B, not even sure if I really had a Plan A. I have less idea of what I’m doing now than when I arrived.

Parked Up At Rays Rest

I wake to the pounding of raindrops on the roof. The sound so much harsher than from inside a tent. Wind gusting above and below. The van gently sways. I lay in the warmth of my bed until the need to get up becomes too strong. Putting off basic bodily functions along with decision making. I rise, eat, drive back to Edgar’s. They’ve closed, jobs have already been lost. I take a final cup of tea with the guys and decide to set off again with the foolish belief rising. Maybe I can make it work. It might just be alright. I drove to the first site I had planned for exploring the Coromandel peninsular. The weather was overcast. Black clouds lingered over the bay. I walked along the seashell beach. Fragments snapping under foot. This was bleak. Things didn’t improve. The government announced 48 hours to prepare for total lockdown. This was not the adventure I had in mind. I longed for the naive days when I told friends at home I’d be camping on beaches and hiking through the mountains. Instead I’m trying to figure out how to ride out this global shitstorm along with everyone else. I hit the road. A lot of roads. Heading south towards Wellington. If this was a three week holiday I felt about ready to go home. I don’t want to go home. I’ve just bought a van. I’m getting at least one more night in it.

Parked Up At Te Maire

The brown whipped to firm peaks rushed by. Forests drip into the valleys like icing on a cake. Cows and sheep chewed through everything. The hills reached up to cloud hugging mountains. The road meandered lazily through the valley. Common mynahs took off, strobe flashing wings. A flock of pigeons doesn’t seem like it will clear the roof of the van. I catch a blue and yellow flash that flies alongside me before I notice I’m not looking at the road. I watch the fuel gauge. Listen to the roar of the engine, so loud it could be in the passenger seat. Beneath it isn’t much further. I have no idea if any of these sounds are normal. What is the van supposed to feel like? I am learning. The almost 300km I drove today help me learn fast. Don’t ask me what I’ve learned, I don’t know. I’m not far from Tongariro. I’ve driven past names I recognise, names I want to be familiar with. Names of places I thought I’d arrive at after only a short drive. They disappear in the rearview. I stop in Taumarunui for fuel. I’m on the banks of the Whanganui river and follow its course. I cross a single lane bridge, crash off the road onto a gravel track and find my place for the night. Did I reverse into that sign? I think I must have, but I’m here. Rain doesn’t so much fall, but pours. The only different between being behind the windscreen and a waterfall is I’m dry. I question whether I can squeeze through the metal bars of the missing bulkhead to the back. I can’t. I will have to get out. The rain taps, hammers, beats down on the roof. I get soaked opening the door. I dance to the long drop toilet and back, hoping I won’t have to leave again.

Whanganui River Valley

Sun turns to rain and back again. Crosswinds lend assistance to corners to the left. I lean the steering wheel to the right to keep heading straight. There’s less traffic on the roads than I was expecting. I forget that domestic flights are popular ways to travel across New Zealand. I round mountains, cross rivers. Towns pass by in a blur of supermarkets, gas stations. I start to get used to the sounds of van. I still turn the windscreen wipers on when I mean to indicate. The light flashes, the alarm beeps, the doors lock. I haven’t figured out the central locking-immobilisation device. The distance between settlements grow smaller. The green carpeted peak of Kapiti Island appears on the horizon. I almost know where I am. I call Jason to let him know I’m nearly there. I leave the van on the lawn and reintroduce myself to the family I last met over five years ago. Andrea, Luke and Logan. Safe to say enough time has passed that nobody really remembers. They have a dog now, a mastiff mongrel called Sid. He’s going to learn to have me in his pack, and I’m going to learn about living with a dog. We go over the basics, where the food lives, how the shower works, where I’ll be sleeping. I’m tired, grateful and again feeling incredibly lucky. The last thing I remember as I drift off to sleep, Andrea asked me “have you ever been in an earthquake?”

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