There And Back Again: A Trip To Middle Earth (Part 1)

Posted: March 14, 2009 in Uncategorized

The traveling bug has definitely bitten, and that bite rapidly became infectious. Despite all my recent trips, from long weekends to weeks overseas, leaving for New Zealand couldn’t come soon enough. The prospect of spending days away from everything familiar is not only undaunting, it’s an incredible draw, and I find my home bed feeling more and more like a hotel room, just some place I stay between journeys.

The Tuesday before I leave, I woke up with a feeling of mild alarm, as the back of my throat has started to take on a scratchiness that is a well-known hallmark to me of an impending cold. Determined to not be dragging myself around New Zealand feeling like dead weight, I began an all-out war on any threat to my health, downing green tea and herbal supplements with the dedication of a hippie trying to cure cancer. By the end of the week, I appear to have crushed the germ rebellion, and I leave work, bags in hand, straight for that now-familiar train station, Sydney International.

Landing in Christchurch at nearly one in the morning, the weather is about as expected, with a light drizzle firmly established over the city. Mads is waiting for me outside the baggage carousels, and we excitedly tick off our respective inventories of alcohol claimed at the duty-free shops before grabbing a cab and heading into the city. Since I arranged the campervan for the week, Mads has arranged our hotel room for the night, however she’s refusing to give me any details, insisting I have to simply see it for myself.

Given we’re driving into the heart of downtown Christchurch at 1:30AM on a Friday night, the streets are naturally overflowing with drunken crowds, spilling from rows of bars that are vying for audio supremacy of the street. As it happens, our hotel is almost dead center in this scene, though Mads and I quickly establish that we’re a) in no mood to shoulder through drunken backpackers, and b) a pretty decent portable bar in our own right. Instead, we check into our room for the night and settle in for a while with shots of Baileys.

The hotel itself is quite the spectacle, and with Mads being a graphic designer, I can see why she picked it. The SO Hotel as it’s called is something both the MoMA and a do-it-yourself guide would be proud of. The style on entering the lobby is very swanky, but with simple materials and very little finish. The room itself is startlingly tiny and completely windowless, however I don’t really notice this right away, since my attention is immediately drawn to the large frosted glass semicircle taking up one corner of the room, which turns out to be the small, moodlit, and far from private bathroom. As we finish our Baileys, we entertain ourselves with reading the first full-blown manual we’ve ever encountered for a hotel room and toying with the lighting and alarm system. Finally we try and catch some sleep, passing out to the blue glow from under the bed that we can’t turn off, making it feel like we’re sleeping on a teenager’s modified Honda Acura.

The following morning we have a 10AM checkout, so after waking expectantly to the incredibly complex hotel alarm of lights, music, and a photo slideshow, we take our last showers for the next few days, wander down the street for breakfast, then grab our bags and follow the somewhat misguided directions from the hotel clerk to the Spaceship rental garage. The garage is not hard to find, as it’s the same garishly bright orange and white as the vehicles themselves. The Spaceship campervans are amazingly complete for being just a modified Toyota minivan; along with a roomy bed that extends into a tent under the back tailgate, it has a dual-burner gas stove, a DVD player, a rotatable back seat, water storage, a second battery for all the utilities, and even a tiny fridge. The attendant seems disproportionately pleased with the new fridge, which he claims is far bigger than the old ones, a confusing observation given this fridge looks barely large enough to hold more than a couple sticks of butter. Finishing our paperwork and loading up the van, Mads and I settle into the front seats and head off. Our excitement is even barely swayed by the fact that I immediately turn the wrong way down the one-way street outside the garage at the insistence of my new GPS.

Stopping briefly for groceries, we break free of Christchurch almost immediately, cutting away from the main highway to the scenic inland highway to make our way towards Mt. Cook. With the clouds still weighing down on the landscape, we eventually give up on catching glimpses of the Southern Alps to our right, instead marveling a the unnecessary size and precision of the endless hedgerows marking the borders of various sheep-dotted pastures. Traffic is almost non-existent on this highway, so we cruise along comfortably, stuttering in our pace only for the numerous one-lane bridges and road works areas, which are optimistically and unanimously left unattended, the transportation department of New Zealand apparently very trusting in the ability of drivers to not fight over right of way. Surprisingly, this trust appears well-placed, since not once on the entire trip do we ever see this system fail.

Reaching Lake Tekapo, we pull off into the small town that does little more than separate the highway from the lake and sell wool clothing to stretch our legs. Checking with the activities desk, we confirm our suspicion that a scenic flight, Mads’ main ambition for the trip, will be out of the question for the next day or two, as the clouds and rain make for nothing to see. Rather than push on the extra hour to Mt. Cook, Mads suggests we find a campsite along Lake Tekapo, which I’m happy enough to do, since we have no set schedule to speak of. Luckily Mads and I are of the same mind when it comes to avoiding official campsites, which tend in New Zealand to more closely resemble RV parks, and instead we go about finding our site using my favorite method of following a backroad in a scenic-looking direction. This method pays off once again, and several kilometers later, we’re parked at a site about thirty meters from the lake on a gradual embankment populated by a rather large family of rabbits. After setting up the the bed extension, we celebrate our first day by pulling out the bar and making what will be the first of our ritual nightly drinks, a gin, cranberry, and lime for Mads, and an OP rum and Coke for me. After dinner of a can of Irish stew and bread rolls, we get a bit over-ambitious with the drink mixing, and spend the rest of the night nearly asphyxiating from laughter at a DVD Mads has brought of Irish stand-up comedian Dylan Moran. The rain outside pelts away at the ground pockmarked with rabbit holes, but we’re unphased; the trip has started off extremely well.

  1. tokori says:

    “The prospect of spending days away from everything familiar is not only undaunting, it’s an incredible draw, and I find my home bed feeling more and more like a hotel room, just some place I stay between journeys.”
    yeap you got the bug and it gets expensive to try and treat it 🙂

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