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Final New Zealand post, April 27th 2009

My Dad has requested a final post from New Zealand, so I will try to sum up the last 3-4 weeks.

I based myself out of Dunedin from the time I left Te Anau, roughly around April 7th, I think. I decided to forego Invercargill and Burt Munro’s Indian in favor of getting my board to someone to fix as soon as possible. I had read Dunedin was a big surfing spot on the South Island, making it a good spot to find a shaper. Quarry Surfboards was the spot listed in my surf guide, so I dropped it off there. Unfortunately it was the beginning of Easter weekend, when New Zealand goes into deep hibernation. After finding out it wouldn’t be worked on for at least week, I e-mailed a surfer’s accomodation spot in Port Chalmers asking if they knew of a shaper in town. He responded via e-mail that he was the best board repair guy in the area and could start on it straight away – so I picked up my board from the shop and dropped it off to him outside of R and R Sports in Dunedin.

When I drove by looking for parking I spotted an older guy with mad professor gray hair holding a board and chatting with a young surfer. Even if he didn’t have a board in his hand, I think I would’ve guessed he was the guy. He looked the part, and had a name worthy of an iconic surf character – Rod Rust. There was something I liked about him immediately – his presence seemed peaceful and the way he spoke to me was kind. I knew my board would be in good hands.

Fed up with the hostel scene I decided to camp in my car. I spent one peacefully quiet and warm, though slightly cramped, night in my car at Tairoa Head near the albatross colony. There were four other campervans parked there staying the night, so I had company. Immediately following this, people I met in town started to invite me to stay. I spent two nights with a woman who lived in a communal-type building. Her bedroom was upstairs and she had a studio room with kitchen downstairs. The first night I slept in my car in the secluded driveway, the second on a mat in the studio. When I met her, we had had an interesting talk in the coffeeshop about PTSD, which she suffers from following domestic trauma. Her anxiety level was clear – she was agitated and unwell, but we connected. I was especially interested in the subject of PTSD because my brother and a friend in New York both suffer from it as well. My transience on the road had made me fairly lonely and she seemed lonely as well, so it was nice to have someone to spend a day or two with. She was kind, though very difficult to be around for long.

The next night I stayed with Sam and Annie, a middle-aged couple in Halfway Bush, which is slightly outside of Dunedin. They have a day care in their home and also foster children and host foreign exchange students. Annie’s son Bob was living with them as well and works as a car mechanic. They invited me to “tea” (which is what they call supper) and to sleep in their extra room. Their place was modest and it seemed they didn’t have much, but they were quite wonderful with the children and had a loving and comfortable home. I sat around late watching murder mysteries with Annie, which made me feel right at home.

Having heard that my board was close to done, I went out to Port Chalmers. I was getting antsy to get on my way. Dunedin is a good city, but I definitely wanted to get farther up the east coast. I drove around Port Chalmers unable to find the road that Villa Rustica was on, so I decided to head out to look for a surf beach I had read about. On the way there, I came across Brailey’s Track. I was apprehensive to just drop in, and almost turned back, but knocked on the door anyways. Rod came out with his mask on, obviously from his shop. “Your board’s not ready…” Hard to read him without being able to see his face, I thought he might have been annoyed. But he took me back to the shop to look at it. It was shaping up nice. In the e-mail earlier I had asked about his accomodation, but it sounded like a pricier B and B situation. I told him I was more of a camper, and at some point he said he might have a place for me to stay if I needed it. It was later in the evening so I asked if I could stay the night. He said I could stay in the WWOOFers quarters or his son’s old room for $50/night. I would just have to clean it up and make the bed. That sounded great. I chose his son’s room which was separate from the main house, had a nicer window and just one bed.

No one else was staying there when I arrived and his partner, Natalie, was out of town. He lent me a board (9’4″ heavy beast) and took me surfing in St. Clair the next day. I was in heaven – it had been maybe a month since I had surfed. The waves were decent, not huge. I caught a few lefts heading back towards the pool on the boardwalk. I only had my unsealed 3/2 suit on with no booties though. And before long I was shivering. Once you start shivering, it’s very hard to stop. So I headed back in and grabbed the bottle of hot water from the back of Rod’s truck. A genius idea I will have to remember in the future. A plastic jug wrapped in bubble wrap filled with steaming water before we left, it was still hot enough to almost scald when I poured it down the front of my suit.

Rod was not particularly talkative, and I tend to be reserved with new people until I have warmed up to them, but the silence wasn’t stressful or uncomfortable. He was certainly well-known in town, most other surfers waving or stopping to chat with him. He has been in his place since 1977 (the year I was born) and described himself to me as a surfer who has done some other things.

Later that day, Rod lent me a thicker 4/3 suit, booties and a hat. I took the 9’4″ back into town and tried surfing at a different beach called Smails – St. Clair was really small and this looked better. No luck there as the waves were very tricky. Across from a little island there the rips were crazy, waves running into each other from different directions. I hung out in the water a while with two other surfers. One was catching waves occasionally, but me and another guy lamented to each other the difficultly of sussing out the waves. Fun anyways, I never regret getting in the water.

I ended up staying 6 nights there. On the second night Natalie returned. An English woman about my age, she had been in New Zealand for about three and a half years. She came to travel and stayed after meeting Rod.

On the third day, I heard that they were expecting a young WWOOFer named Eva to hitchhike into town (WWOOF = willing workers on organic farms, for the uninitiated. In New Zealand it is also used for situations where you can work for free accommodation, even when not exactly (or at all) on an organic farm). Coming back from surf, I decided to stop at the New World supermarket and pick up vegetables to cook dinner for everyone. Rod and Natalie are vegetarians. AND they are into really good coffee. AND surfing. AND they grow apples and walnuts (a staple of my diet is apple, walnut and honey with plain yogurt). I couldn’t have dreamt up a more perfect place.

Outside the market there was a young girl sitting alongside a large backpack. Evidently without transport. Port Chalmers is a small place, I wondered if this was Eva. I decided if she was still there when I came out to ask her if she needed a ride somewhere. In the supermarket I realized I forgot to bring in my shopping bag. Not wanting to commit the sin of getting plastic bags, I walked back out to the car. As I did, i saw Natalie walking down the street towards the young backpacker. She waved at me. Then walked up to the backpacker and shook hands. My hunch was right. Natalie had walked down from Villa Rustica so I offered them both a ride back up after I finished shopping.

I kept planning to leave, but just didn’t really want to go. Rod asked me if I wanted to stay and WWOOF a bit with Eva. Some of the work was easier with two people. I said yes without really thinking much about it. The plan had been to get all the way back up to Auckland. For two reasons. One, because I hadn’t surfed yet anywhere on the south island and figured going back to Raglan and Piha would be nice. Secondly, Gavin in Auckland was my backup plan for the car, should I not be able to sell it. As it became clear that surf was great in Dunedin, I had access to thicker wetsuit and booties and a comfy home-like place to stay, I became less inclined to do all the driving. I also asked Eva if she would want to take the car from me for the last month of her trip, sell it, then send me the money. She was enthusiastic about that plan.

Conditions weren’t great for surfing the first day, so we worked all day. Cutting away grass and overgrowth around the apple and peach trees down where the chickens ran. A couple of these chickens were almost like pets, they let you pick them up and pet them (begrudgingly holding still). They also really got in the way. The selection of rusty, unsharp cutting tools – sickles, sheers, handsaw – didn’t really put them in much danger though. We gathered juicing apples under one tree then larger storing and baking apples in the chicken pen. Also a few peaches that had fallen, and a basketfull of little pears picked from a tree for drying. Later in the day we washed and dried apples. Then cooked dinner.

Natalie was off at work at R and R, Rod directed us a bit but also was in and out of his shop working on the seemingly endless stream of boards that needed repair. There is only one other person in town who does repairs, but not as many, and not epoxy boards, so Rod gets most of the business.
He used to shape his own and had a couple of wooden long boards resting against the wall in the living room. Beautiful boards, one of pristine white balsa striped with multiple redwood stringers and another shorter one made of varying shades of brown Macracarpa.

The next day we spent surfing. Having lived and surfed in the area for 33 years, Rod was the best possible guide. There are a variety of breaks all around which work in different swell and wind directions. He keeps a close tab on weather using a variety of tools, old and new-fashioned. TV, internet and, of course, looking out the window or walking on to the verandah. The difference in temperature between a southerly and northerly wind is pretty dramatic. Northerlies are way warmer. And they way that Carey’s Bay is situated, they are sheltered from the colder southerlies. Villa Rustica is perched on the hill overlooking the bay.

There was such a nice harmony and flow to life there. Fruit and nut gathering and preparations interspersed with surfing and Rod’s board repairs. In the mornings, Rod would make sandwiches for Natalie to take to work. In the evenings, one of us would cook while Rod made a fire. Water was always on the verge of a boil for tea. Once (and occasionally twice) a day, someone who make espresso and foam soy milk for those that wanted “flat whites”. The endless stream of apples would be juiced with celery and carrot. Music might be played. Documentaries or rugby or Back to the Future watched at night. It felt almost like a home and it was nice to have a break from thinking and planning and searching for where I would spend the next night.

When Eva planned to leave to head to Fiordland on Monday, it seemed right for me to leave, too. I still wanted to get north to Kaikoura. And stop through Christchurch to post some flyers and see if I could get any interest in my car. I had tentative plans to return to Port Chalmers to give the car to Eva if I couldn’t sell it. She was enthusiastic, so it seemed like a good plan. Then I could just take a bus back up to Christchurch to catch the plane to Auckland, to catch the plane to Sydney.

It took me a while to get anywhere close to Christchurch. The usual Beth driving story. Lots of stopping. I ended up driving almost all the way out to Akaroa, which Rick and Kerry had suggested as a nice quiet place. I camped in my car at a quiet campsite with very clean and empty kitchen facilities. Didn’t spend long in Akaroa the next day, as I really wanted to get up to Kaikoura soon. Swinging through Christchurch I got some coffee first. My priorities are clear. Then I printed out a flyer at an internet place and got 20 copies made at the post office along with a little packet of thumbtacks. Then I parked the car and spent some time walking Christchurch posting flyers on the notice boards of hostels. Christchurch was actually nicer and more interesting than I had been expecting. The Avon is a beautiful sleepy little river. There are interesting buildings and some trees whose leaves are changing, a rarity here it seems. I didn’t leave Christchurch until late in the afternoon.

Somewhere in the dark along the way I found a very basic camp site and spent another night in the car. I woke to ocean sounds and the camp manager knocking on my window asking for the camp fee. He was an older guy and very nice, almost embarassed to have woken me. He kept calling me mate and let me know there were hot showers in the toilet house. I skipped it and got back on the road.

Kaikoura is spectacular. Snow-capped mountains almost touching the sea. Rod said the peaks are as high as 7000 feet. I was back down to my 3/2 with no booties, but I paddled out at Mangamaunu anyways. There is a fun point break there, wrapping around to the right. I caught a few and lasted out in the water longer than I expected. Chatted with a few people in the water, and paddled out after about an hour when I started to shiver ever so slightly.

The next day there was almost no swell at Mangamaunu and farther down the beach looked far too steep and shallow for me. So I set into town to go on a whale-watching tour. I thought I might skip that, but then realized I was crazy. I don’t know what other time I might have the opportunity to see whales up close. Plus I love being out on the water in boats. The lack of swell meant the conditions for going out were ideal. Smooth sailing. After mechanical difficulties had us turn back around and board another boat, we were on our way with a whole new crew. The interesting thing about Kairkoura that makes for the abundant marine life is the fact that a shallow shelf drops off to an incredibly deep canyon underwater very near the shoreline. The shelf is about 150 meters down, than the deeper part is anywhere from 600 to 1500 meters. We were on the lookout for a sperm whale. They spend about 45-60 minutes diving down to feed, then come up to breathe awhile then dive again. So patience is key. We were lucky enough to come upon this one whale just as he was at the surface. You see very little of them from a boat, since only about a third of their body length, from the blow hole to the sort of back fin actually comes above water. Then as they dive down they kick their tail up out of the water. They are the fourth largest whale, but since we were a little distance from him it was hard to get a real sense of his size. Still a pretty memorable experience. He dove down giving us the perfect tail view, then we waited around for almost an hour for him to resurface. Another whale-watching boat caught up to us, as well as a coast guard boat. The captain kept dipping a listening device underwater to locate him by his clicking noises. Apparently when they begin to resurface they become quiet again. A mostly clear sunny day. we also got great views of the mountains from out on the water.

Back at the drop-off point, they refunded us 20 percent of the cost for the delays. Sweet deal.

I need to shorten this up, as its getting late and I have to get up early to catch my shuttle to the airport. Short story is I returend to Port Chalmers for a few more days. Having not heard from Eva I gave my car to Sam and Annie to sell, asking that they just send me some money if they sell it. If they can’t sell it for much to not worry about it. The weather had warmed up considerably and I got one very summery day out in the surf. Incredibly difficult to paddle out, but when I did I got some really fun rides. I had come down through Christchurch and left my board and bag in the hostel I was going to stay in so that my return bus ride wouldn’t be so complicated. So Rod lent me the 9’4″ beast again. I had a terrible time trying to paddle out with strong rips and lots of crashing whitewater inside. But once I finally did, it was well worth the effort.

I was very happy to get a couple more days at Villa Rustica. Certainly one of my favorite places in New Zealand. And now I am off on the next leg of the journey. Things will be a little more complicated and hassled traveling with my eight food board and no car. Rod grew up in Sydney so he gave me a couple ideas of where to go that I could stay within walking distance of surf beaches. I am booked at a hostel tomorrow night near the center of the city. Hopefully everything will go smoothely. I have a layover in Auckland from 11am to 6pm. Gavin may come out to say hello and goodbye if he can get a break from work.

I am sad about leaving New Zealand, but also looking forward to getting back to my own bed. I think I will really make an effort to get a garden going in my concrete backyard. Some sort of fence would be a good start, to give us a little privacy from the constantly barking pit bull to one side and the splashing pool to the other. Who knows. I may just return to my itinerant bike ways. I have such a hard time hanging out at my own home.

It’s a very balmy, slightly rainy evening in Christchurch and I am sitting outside Charlie B’s backpackers using up the last bits of my internet. Just by accident I bought one month’s worth of internet access on IAC wifi spots EXACTLY one month ago. So it runs out tomorrow as I get on a plane for Australia. I like it when things work out like that. A lot of this trip has been just like that, it seems. But that just might be a matter of perspective.

1 comment

  1. Dear Beth, I have really missed your posts. Thanks for this terrific update. Sounds as if visiting New Zealand was just about the most excellent idea you have ever had. May the rest of your trip be just as wonderful. Love ya, Mom

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