So we were in Christchurch and looking to explore the country…
We booked our Nissan Bluebird for 13 days. The car looked liked something a Japanese middle-manager might drive in the mid-90s, a sultry grey colour with pointless gadgets like electronic wing-mirrors that whirred in and out whenever you turned the engine on or off. It would do this so slowly and loudly, everyone in the car park would turn expectantly, anxious to see who was putting the roof down on their Porsche, only to be confronted with the automotive equivalent of John Major re-arranging his specs. We called it Roddy.
Roddy was in for one hell of a journey. Five days into our road-trip round the South Island, we met up with my chum Ray in Wanaka, who suggested we visit Rob Roy glacier, “just a short dirt-track and a couple of fords away.” I forgot that Kiwis are pretty good at understatements. The couple of fords turned out to mean seven. Poor Roddy nearly drowned, the pristine glacial waters lapping at the windows as we ploughed nervously towards the other side. Mindful that we’d opted out of paying the insurance (an additional $15 a day you say? Never!) I did my best to avoid the pot-holes and the sheep, only to be greeted by a number of Renault Clios and other wee hatch-backs at the Rob-Roy glacier car-park. Suddenly Roddy’s exploits didn’t seem so special. I asked one of the eldery hikers coming off the track if they had any bug-spray as the sand-flies were out in force. “Bug spray!” She spat, “we’re Kiwis, we don’t need no bug spray!” They’re a hardy bunch too, Kiwis, but pretty rude when they want to be. I think Ray wanted to throttle her.
After the slight disappointments of Fox and Franz-Joseph Glaciers, that have receded to such a degree they’re almost out of sight, Rob Roy was a joy to behold. Looming over us threateningly, a great spout of waterfall shooting out its side while ice and snow shed from its face at irregular intervals, it was an epic reminder of New Zealand’s non-stop beauty.
Faith in glaciers restored we painted Wanaka red, watching through our fingers as women at a 40th birthday party attempted gymnastics on a coffee table and then saw Scotland scrape a win against mighty Samoa, still viewed through our fingers. It was after this momentous day, at 4am that we decided to forego the bank balances and extend our kiwi road trip by a princely 9 days.
We now had time to walk around Mount Cook! (It rained so hard we never completed the hike, both our ‘waterproofs’ resolutely proven wrong). We could spend a day hiking Abel Tasman! (Insanely pretty, despite it’s obvious lure for tourists it still felt untouched).
We could go for a bike tour of the vineyards in and around Blenheim! Actually that deserves more than brackets. Blenheim is a weird wee dump of a place, with a patio for a town square. The surrounding vineyards though were plentiful, beautiful and very generous indeed. At one tasting, we were treated to thirteen bottles! Only a nip from each of course, but they add up. By the seventh winery it was time for home, which required a 10 km cycle back along an almost completely straight, flat road. Catriona found it one of the most arduous cycles of her life. We made it back to exotic Blenheim and went for a curry. Not ones to cut a night short we dropped by the local hotspot for a beer (no more wine for a while) when the booze and Balti caught up with Catriona’s bowels and she had to make a mad dash for the ladies. I said I’d hold our table and wait for her to return. Suddenly, the doors to the pub were closed shut and I realised we had accidentally encroached on a private engagement party. Except now it was just me. The father of the bride got up and began an excruciating speech, where he began thanking everyone for coming. As the audience peered round to applaud the relevant parties, eyes began to fall on me, the rosy-cheeked Scot with korma-breath. The speech didn’t look like ending any time soon so I had to wait for one of the grandma’s to nip to the loo so I could seamlessly follow in her wake out the door. I met Catriona on the other side, looking very relieved, and we made haste for home.