This post just contains the driving that I did with Mike Cronin to and from Takaka, New Zealand, and not the whole story of my stay there. See the other two posts in this series for the rest of the details – “Climbing at Paynes Ford” and “A few days at Hangdog”
The ride in – 26th of November
I’m leaving Christchurch! Not forever, or really for a long time at all, but its still one of those things… leaving the town that you’ve been in for a while. Mike and I had been on the fence as to what to do for a while, but we finally decided that renting a car and driving up to a town called Takaka was the best decision. The best analogy to Takaka in the states, that I know of, is New Paltz or Fayettesville– its a small hippy-ish town thats based very near an amazing climbing spot. In this case, Paynes Ford.
So, climbing gear in hand (partially ours, partially comandeered from the climbing club) we woke up on the 26th and ate some breakfast. It was deliciousness of toast and jam, which I’m starting to notice is kinda a thing here in New Zealand… possibly since it seems like a rather British dish, and they WERE recently founded by the Brits. But after eating and relaxing for a bit we jumped in Mike’s car and headed for the airport to pick up our rental. Now, normally I wouldn’t go for a rental in this situation, since we’re only going 7 hours away, but Petrol (hehe… I called it Petrol) is exceptionally expensive here, and Mike’s car gets super-crap gas milage. Thus: efficient rental cars actually save us a significant amount of money.
The trip to get the rental went simply, if not quickly, and soon enough we had headed back to the flat, packed the gear into the car, and were on the road through the countryside. New Zealand is pretty, but I never really understood how pretty it was until we started hitting the huge expanses of cattle and sheep farms. See, unlike the US midwest New Zealand is positively covered in small but steep hills, so the vistas are constantly changing instead of being one endless field of grain. And dotting these hills are small outcroppings of rock, picturesque little farmhouses, and lazy flocks of sheep or herds of cattle. I’m fairly certain that we passed at least four places that were used in filming The Lord of the Rings.
Another holdovers from the British settlement of New Zealand seems to be hedgerows, which were used to separate different fields and flocks… but in this case they just make the landscape look even more bucolic and perfect. We drove for hours through this kind of landscape, finally getting a good long chance to catch up on old times. We talked about nearly everything that had happened in the last few years – I got Mike caught up on NUHOC and Boston happenings, and Mike got me up to speed with the latest New Zealand gossip… a key thing since he’d be leaving for the states shortly and I’d need to be up on the group of people he was leaving me with.
We stopped off a few times for gas and coffee (Pro-tip: New Zealand coffee is amazing. Get chips [Fries] with them for an excellent driving snack) but generally kept ourselves moving at a fair pace or 110 kph. Which sounds fast, but in actuality its rather slow, about 60 or so mph. Makes sense when you think about it though, since the roads that lead throughout the country are rather small and windy. I figure that most of the shipping done in New Zealand must be via ship (thanks to the relatively small size of the islands) instead of truck like the US.
The last challenge of the drive into Takaka was navigating the innacurately named Takaka hill. See… the rest of the landscape that we traveled through was hills. Takaka hill is a mountain. And a pretty big one at that. Not your white-capped sky-scraper for sure, but definitely something that I’d feel good about ascending if I was hiking. And to drive across it? Well… that’s just fun, heh. We went through more switchbacks in twenty kilometers than I’ve driven through in all of the east coast, though I have to admit that driving through Alpine back in Arizona did come pretty close. I’ll admit that I had a bit of fun driving up and heading down the mountain pass, though I had to pull over a few times to let the crazy townies pass me as they tore through the turns like Nascar drivers. Crazies.
After the hill the ride went smoothly, and soon enough Mikewas telling me to slow down and prep for the turn into the Hangdog campground – A place he had been raving about since we left Christchurch. From what Mike said it was just like Rogers Rocky Top Retreat at the New River Gorge; a small place run primarily by climbers and patronized by crazy hippy climbers. You know… just like Mike and I.
The drive home – 30th of November
The drive home started out pretty much the same as the drive in – heading into Takaka to check for hitchhikers and pick up gas, then hit the open road back to the hill. Mike was driving, since I had taken the job most of the time during the week, so I laid back in the passengers side and read my book. After we got over Takaka hill though, we pulled over to the side of the road to pick up a hitchhiker that we saw thumbing his way down the main road.
See… hitchhiking in New Zealand is much different than in the USA. Its actually a quite acceptable way to get around the country, and nothing is expected in return aside from politeness and a bit of conversation if it comes to it. I guess it has something to do with the “small country” thing that NZ has going on, where people don’t really fear other people the same way that we’re terrified of strangers in the United States.
Either way, we picked Richard up and headed back onto the road. We chatted and told each other our basic stories; Richard was a farmer who lives up on Takaka hill with four kids, three step-kids, and a whole mess of hunting dogs. Yep… New Zealand has farmer/mountain-folks too it seems, but the difference between NZ folks and your standard-issue US redneck turned up when he started explaining the eco-friendly sort of farming that he was doing, and how he would go into the woods with his dogs to hunt boars for dinner. Definitely a cool guy, and we talked for a while about how he trains the dogs, turns the fields, and everything that goes into making a small farm actually work and be productive.
The drive from Takaka to Christchurch took us nearly seven hours, but I honestly barely even noticed it thanks to taking pictures and talking with Mike and Richard. The conversations went back and forth with eco-friendly research and geology to peoples mentality and sociology studies, and we even talked a bit about creation mythology for the last few miles into town. Richard headed off on his own way at the first bus stop that we hit once entering the city itself, and soon Mike and I were back at the flat. We unpacked the car, cleaned it up, and got everything ready to sent it back to its home with the dealer after an amazing trip.