New Zealand: Westshore

After work I fall out of the van across the road from the Westshore Holiday Park. I cross the road and walk back past the row of caravans on the powered sites. I am the only occupant of the unpowered sites towards the back of the park. On an early finish, when the sun is still up I have time to throw all the doors open. Let the air flow through. Hope for the remaining moisture to disperse. I sit in the side door, phone in hand, reading up on what has happened a day ago and half the world away. A few weeks of wasting time like this, I realise I could be spending it better. I put my phone down and pick up my Kindle. The sun drags down the sky. When I arrived in Napier, the sun rushed beyond the horizon. The days begin to stretch out. Blossom begins to appear on orchard trees. Maybe it’s too soon. It is still supposedly winter. I’m not complaining. The nights aren’t so cold. The condensation becomes a less frequent problem. I’m getting close to the end. I’ve almost made it. As light finally fades, I make ready to take a shower.

There are two ablution blocks on site. The small blue and pink building at the end of a row of permanent caravans. This one is closer to me. The hot water comes from a tank, the pressure is low. Sometimes there’s no hot water at all. I wouldn’t mind, but seeing as every four minutes of hot water costs me 50 cents. I do mind. Beyond the kitchen is a bigger less obviously gendered green and purple building. The hot water here is gas powered. The pressure is better. It takes me a few weeks of moving around to establish the first shower, closest to the door, is the best. The handful of other long term guests know this too, it’s always the one most likely to be engaged. The best time to arrive is after someone else has just finished in either shower. The hot water is already in the pipes. Ideally, the second shower is vacant so there’s no drop in pressure. A four minute shower isn’t quite long enough, 8 minutes is too long but better too much than not enough. I towel down, pull on my thermals and step in to the cold air of night.

Two of the long term old boys are sat beneath the shelter next to my van. There’s a broken fireplace, flames dancing, smoke rising. One does the talking. Often repeating his stock phrase “if you get what I mean.” The other does the listening. They’re out there most nights, until the pile of firewood runs out. Sometimes Neil might be alone, “working tomorrow?” is his invitation to sit and talk for a while. I pull my dinner bag together and head to the kitchen. More often that not I have the place to myself but not always. For a few nights a big group take up all of the tables. Someone might be using the I know it’s not mine stove. I have long wondered if I would run into someone I’d met along the way unplanned. Ranger Alex off of the Routeburn-Caples, who I spoke to only briefly while walking through his domain, appears one night in the kitchen. I don’t know him at first but he tells me his name, his occupation and my memory does the rest. We share a few evenings together before he moves on. My regime continues. Wash up the lunch box. Boil some eggs. Craft a couple of sandwiches. I knew when I made my one pot to last the week chilli it would not last the week. You can tell, by looking at it. The leftovers split four ways, not five. There were two options. Eating less isn’t one. The first, shop again in the week. The second, treat yo’ self; go to the pub. I’ve long accepted dining alone isn’t something I enjoy. Going to a new place for the first time alone terrifies me. I don’t know where the door is. I don’t know if the door is push or pull. I don’t know what’s on the other side. I don’t know if I can pick a table or have to wait to be seated. Is it table service or order at the bar? Why hasn’t the hospitality industry settled on one option? What if it’s full? What if I needed to make a reservation?

I spent the week going through all the possible scenarios until going to find out feels more like completing my research than some horrible, angst ridden adventure into the unknown. The door is at the front. A sign points to the bistro. A receptionist asks me if I have a reservation. I don’t, but I would like a table. How many? One. She gives me a menu and points me to a table. The menu tells me to order my food at the reception. Drinks at the bar. I buy and East Coast IPA from the local Hawkes Bay Brewery. I go back to reception and order a burger. I sit, I watch the moustachioed and mulleted men walk to and from the bar with pints of amber nectar between their hands. The food comes. I haven’t had to cook, I won’t have to wash up. This turns out to be a bigger treat than the burger itself but at least I’m here, doing something different. Challenging the fear. Ending the week I style. And why not?

After dinner I head back to the van. Some nights are mild. Some nights I can already see my breath. On those nights I make an effort to fill the hot water bottle. Another way of treating myself. Toasty feet until I fall asleep. I spend an hour in the van enjoying lying down. I make the most of my short-term investment in Netflix. Working through years of T.V. in a a few weeks. Before closing my eyes, I run my fingers over the metal frame over the back door. Some nights my fingers come away dry. Others, they glide through the already developing droplets. Throughout the night the damp draws closer. The blanket around my face is moist. The hairs over my top lip are cold and wet. The thickening droplets fall. On a weekday I’m glad of the alarm, only so I can get out of here.

The weekends are different. I wake up in time for an alarm that isn’t set. I still scamper in the dark to the toilet block, before hurrying back to the warmth of bed. No place to be. A train rolls past close to 7am. This forms a decent lie in. I load my kitchen bag with eggs, salt better, bread, frying pan and spatula. With the butter and cottage cheese I have in the communal fridge I begin to dream of silky, creamy scrambled eggs on terrible bread toast. I pass between the cabins. I put my bag down on the counter next to the stove I’ve taken as my own. I open the fridge to find a void where I left my other bag. Gone, or maybe just moved? I check the other fridge. I check the freezer because you never know. Someone might have misplaced it. Nope. Definitely gone. Breakfast plans scrambled. The jump to someone has taken the bag is too easy. But who? There was a group of women in the kitchen last night with a lot of booze. Perhaps one of them carried it out by mistake. It might turn up again later. What can I do about it? Nothing. At least this happened before I went shopping. I only lost half a block of butter, the same in cheese, and a handful of olives. These things can be replaced. I could be more annoyed but what would that achieve? Someone has stolen my dairy products. This is hardly a personal attack. I am going to survive. How bad must their own circumstances be to have driven them to take someone else’s butter? For me, I have to go to the shop anyway. It’s not like I’ve lost my phone, my wallet, or my van. I’ve travelled a long way, for a long time without any real trouble. How many times have I left the van in a carpark on the edge of the wilderness and returned to find it still there? Losing some food is a small price for shared living.

After a few weeks of completing the journey from holiday park to supermarket I celebrate the success of no longer needing Google Maps. The drive isn’t difficult. There’s one junction where I have to remember to change lanes so I don’t peel off towards the coast. Sometimes I have to stop in at the hardware store to buy new gloves, or K-Mart to buy new socks or trousers depending on how much blackberry I’ve battled over the course of the week. I learn my way around the local Pak ‘n’ Save. I become efficient at getting in and out. The routine becomes normal. Life becomes ordinary. I return home to the holiday park, and after this long it feels like home. The longest I’ve spent anywhere in over 18 months. I drop in at reception, I tell Anthea about my week. She tells me I’ve been here for a while now. I pay my rent and get change for the showers and laundry. The cold wash does nothing for the mud, but at least my work clothes smell clean for Monday. If I’m lucky and the rain stays away for the weekend I get everything out on the line. And I mean everything. Clothes, bedding, bed. I empty as much as I can out of the van, wiping down the surfaces, allowing everything to dry out before we go again.

The alarm on my phone begins to chime. 4:15am. Too early. I hit the snooze, as if 5 minutes has ever made a difference. I hit it again, knowing once more means I’m on the edge of being ready on time. I get up, take a drink, pull on clothes, switch on my torch and stumble out in to the dark. After the first week I’ve been lucky. It hasn’t rained for a while. Instead I’m faced with the fog of my own breath. The temperature sitting in low single figures. Condensation glistens on the ceiling. The mornings become a system of routine. Toilet, back to the van, put breakfast ingredients in a bowl. Take coffee over to the kitchen. Add hot water to everything. Sit, eat. Wash dishes. What time is it? Time enough to clean my teeth, grab my bags, fill up with water. There are benefits to leaving this early. Three fewer hours of breathing warm air on to the cold metal and glass surfaces of the van. I see every sunrise from Monday to Friday. I head out to the roadside and wait for the van.

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