New Zealand post 24: BUMBLING IN THE NEW YEAR WITH A BANG!
It’s a slow getaway, what with the 3 of us all packing up and then hanging at breakfast over coffee after coffee after coffee…At 12h15 Steve suddenly comes to his senses and realizes the ferry departs at 13h00 and we still need to get tickets and buy groceries for the next 2 days! He and Kati head down to the waterfront and I make for the supermarket. I look at the wine. Normally we check in and then shop, so I have never carried a full bottle for far and I already have a ton of stuff. I unwisely decide to give it a miss, forgetting that it’s New Year’s Eve. In fact, I forget about drinks altogether, not quite realizing how remote we are going to be.
We say our fond farewells and Steve & I wheel our bikes onto the ferry while Kati reluctantly heads for the airport. She departs for Whales the day we return and we depart on a PE-CT tour the day she returns, so our paths will only cross again beginning of Feb. We make a firm date for a ride when we’re all in CT.
We are travelling on Lake Wakatipu, the 3rd largest lake in NZ @ 84km long. The ferry offers a great new perspective on the surrounding countryside. The lake is alive with water sports, the view back to Queenstown is breathtaking and she is putting her best face forward in perfect sunshine.
45 mins later we disembark at Mt Nicholas High Country Farm. We leave the hoards of sheep-shearing tourists behind and head up into the mountains on the Station to Station bike route ( farm to farm). Within 3km I am sweltering. I think about my sleeveless top that is buried way down deep below the larder. Seems like too much hassle, so I push on a little further. I can feel the sweat droplets running down my back and dripping through my fringe. Man, it’s boiling. This is the hottest we’ve been in NZ by far!
No use carrying it if I’m not gonna use it. I stop and begin to unpack loads of food – oats, raisins, rice, pasta, tuna, bread, butter, cheese, lentils, honey, marmite, fruit, veggies, olive oil, coffee, tea…Holy Hell, no wonder I’m so damned heavy! I retrieve my top and do the change. What a sweet relief to have armpits open to the air! It’s not long before the zip comes down as well and then the helmet off (it’s uphill and such a quiet road).
I look longingly at the river, but it’s too far down and we are heading for a big climb, so will be leaving it behinde soon. Just before we hit the climb proper though, I get my chance. It’s not very deep, but its accessible, so I pick my way in amongst the rocks and lie down. It’s Heaven and now I have the evaporation effect to look forward to on the climb-a double whammy! But sadly it doesn’t last long and I’m bone dry in no time.
We are heading for Mavora Lakes. It’s a National Park camping area, so you just put your $8 fee into an envelope and then choose your spot anywhere along the Lakes. I am imagining a peaceful, secluded scene. This will be our first “wild” camping experience in NZ. We have been warned by a number of people about the sand flies though, so I am a little apprehensive. A fellow cyclist has told us
” They’re so bad you won’t even be able to eat your dinner outside!”
We choose a little beach just off the road on the first of the 2 lakes. There are a couple of other tents within sight, but they far enough away for us not to feel like we are encroaching on one another.
I unhitch my panniers and am dismayed to discover that the lid has come off the honey and everything is a sticky mess. Damn! I usually pack it in it’s own protective bag, but was a bit distracted this morning. I empty the pannier and scrub out the inside. Luckily, most things are in bags, which are now full of honey, but the contents are largely unscathed. We designate the least messy of the honeyed bags as a garbage bin and the rest of the sticky bags all go into that.
It really is a blissful setting. We wash in the lake and at 19h00 it’s still warm enough for me to wear my sundress!
A good number of vehicles come past as well as a lot of scramblers. They rev their engines, drive up and down and throw up dust – so obnoxious in this natural setting! Seems they are all heading further down to lake #2. I imagine it’ll quieten down soon enough. It’s Getting late and surely anyone who’s going to camp here tonight should arrive before dark…
We set up our little kitchen on a grassy patch on the water’s edge and I commence cooking dinner. A glass of wine would be lovely right now. But no, all we have is the little water left in our bottles. When that runs out we will need to take from the lake and that will have to be well boiled. Poor Steve is dying for a Coke- what an oversight. I could kick myself!!
The sauce is done and I set it aside and prepare to cook the pasta. Oh no, one of the 3 little adapters that allow our bigger pot to stand firmly on the cooker has disappeared. How to balance the pot now? Mr McGyver wedges a small stone in it’s place and it seems stable enough. I leave the pasta bubbling away while I prepare my bed.
I return in a few minutes to give it a stir and hey presto, the pot is over and pasta strewn on the sand!
Fuckitydooda! “Sorry Babe, looks like dinner is tickets!” We briefly consider trying to gather it up and wash it off, but quickly dismiss the idea. “I could cook some basmati rice…?” Nah, would be awful with tomato sauce and will probably fall over as well. We laugh uproariously, then end up slicing the 1/2 loaf of ciabatta leftover from lunch and dunking it into the sauce. Bruschetta without the “brusch!” We are in stitches!! It’s quite delicious really. All that’s missing is a nice plastic cup of red wine! I glance enviously at the neighbours. They have a whole cooler box. There’s a bottle of red standing in the sand.
“Do you think I could bum a cup?” “For sure, go ask, come on…” Steve dares me. But I can’t bring myself to. I resolve instead that it’ll do me good to go without.
We need some dessert. I remember the 2 sachets of hot chocolate I squirrelled from the motel in Cromwell 4 nights ago. We scoop up water from the lake, boil it well in the jetboil, then add milk and let it boil some more. Then we add the chocolate powder, but it’s very weak, tasteless. We still have a 1/2 fruit & nut slab. I pick out the nuts and drop chunks of chocolate into the pot. I keep adding and stirring until it’s rich & thick – now THAT’S hot chocolate! We sip away happily and use our spoons to scoop up and munch the raisins. A memorable gourmet meal we tell ourselves:
Pain avec le sauce tomat et chocolat chaud aux raisin – magnifique!
Neither of us dare allude to it, but up until now we are mercifully midge-free. We really could not have asked for better weather, but by 21h30 they are starting to rear their annoying heads and by 22h30 we decide to head for the shelter of the tent. All the while more and more vehicles are flying by, throwing up dust. Where the hell are they coming from at this time of night? We can also hear the scramblers vrooming up and down in the distance. At around 23h00 we hear some loud bangs. Sounds like gunfire? No can’t be. Must be firecrackers. I settle in to write my blog and Steve snuggles into his bag.
The cars continue to stream in. Why would anyone come this far, this late, to celebrate New Year? We are mighty perplexed. Steve is snoring lightly, when I hear a distinct squeaking near the tent. “Babe, babe, wake up! There’s something sniffing around outside.” We’ve left the garbage bag and a pannier full of food just outside the tent.” We can’t leave them out there. They’ll be decimated”. He reluctantly unzips and brings them inside, then settles back down, grumbling.
I lie down and attempt to sleep, but each time a car comes by, the lights shine directly into the tent and it feels as of they’re driving through the middle of it. They are going so fast! What if they miss the corner and fly off the road? They’d land straight on us! No ways I can sleep.
Apart from which, my tummy is grumbling. I am still hungry. I know I have a banana here somewhere. I sit up and scratch around. “Whatchadoing?” mumbles Steve. “I’m hungry”, I reply locating and peeling my banana. He sits up, laughing his head off,
” me too, can I have some?” We share the banana then he says “should we have an apple?”. “Yes. Let’s have both” We sit together in our bags munching our apples and I glance at the time – 23h55. Seems we’ll see the New Year in after all. On the stroke of midnight there’s an almighty BANG! That’s definitely a gun shot! This is followed by a volley of shots, which reverberate across the lake. That’s what all those vehicles were – hunters on a New Year’s Midnight Kill! This is hardly the tranquill lakeside New Year that we envisaged! We smile ruefully and toast the arrival of 2020 by clinking apples. Then we lie down again and listen to the sounds of slaughter.
Things quieten down around 01h30 and I am just drifting off, when I hear a loud shuffling and tugging near the tent. “Steve! Steve, listen. What’s that? Did you leave anything else out? Is your bike on the ground?” Indeed, his bike is still lying on the sand and there is a giant possum attempting to break into his handlebar bag.
He bashes on the tent and chases it off with his torch, then once again, grumbling, climbs out to stand the bike up against a tree. I grab the chance to get out and pee. I’ve been bursting, but did not fancy getting out on my own with all the comings and goings.
We lie back down and sleep seems imminent, when suddenly the gentle lapping of the lake against the shore, becomes a loud crashing of waves. It’s quite out of the blue and very pronounced. “Steve, what’s happening with the water? Sounds like it’s rising? Is that possible?” I do remember seeing warning signs at Lake Wanaka: CAUTION, WATER LEVEL MAY RISE SUDDENLY, but I saw nothing of the like here and everyone else is camped on the water’s edge. We peer out and indeed, the water is rough, but judging by the grassy patch where we had our kitchen, it looks as if the level is about the same. Like virtually everything about this night, it’s very strange, but we judge it’s nothing to worry about.
To add insult to injury Steve’s brand new thermarest seems to have sprung a leak & he is effectively lying directly on the very hard sand ( I know exactly what that feels like). He is not at all a happy camper. ” We are not camping anymore!” he declares resolutely. I am giggling like a schoolgirl, but I can’t say I blame him. It really has been a memorable New Years, for all the wrong reasons!!