‘We’ve left it behind AGAIN’. 45 minutes out of Christchurch for our flight back to Melbourne, having come to the end of a magical six weeks of travel. We’d left the bloody camping table at the campsite we’d stayed in the night before, for the second time!! The first time we did it we were too far gone, so we had to buy a new one. Fifty dollars of precious beer money, gone. But this time, we had to go back. We’d been leaving it under the car at night, to create more space in our cosy rented car turned bedroom. Having both sworn after the first time we would triple check the car before leaving a campground again. So lucky that we had just about enough time to add a two hour turn around onto the journey, pick it up and all was well with the world again.
We had a pretty sweet deal of a rental to whizz around the South Island of New Zealand in for 18 days. A compact ‘Spaceship’ car, complete with living turn sleeping space, a fridge, hob-cooker and kitchen set. Absolutely perfect for stopping wherever you please, whenever you please, if you’re prepared to get a bit rough and ready. Turning the living space into the sleeping space and back again every morning and evening got a tad tedious but if that’s all you have to complain about on a three week road trip, you’re all good. We did splash out and go for the ‘luxury’ option, which they very kindly plastered all over the car, ‘YOUR LUXURY ESCAPE’. Frankly, it made us look uncool. The death stares from the more authentic and free willed road trippers – insinuating we were wimpy campers (which we were), how DARE we have a fridge and curtains! Ugh, it killed me inside. I had WANDERLUST, god damn it, I had thousands of amazing photos ready to post on Instagram at regular intervals to make everyone wish they were me. I was one of them, I just had cold beers!!
(Click on the images to enlarge them, if you so wish!)
Anyway….. boy were we glad of having some kind of four walls and a roof over our heads come day five of the trip. I’m a regular on weather apps and had seen the upcoming rain due. I figured, hey, we’re not in Australia anymore, it gets cold and rains here, grand. I’ll pull out the leggings. But at no point were we informed by any kind of means that there was an ex-cyclone on its way. We had just arrived in Punakiki on the west coast, having spent the three days previous in glorious sunshine in the Abel Tasman National Park up north. So it starts to rain – and it keeps raining and it does not stop. Then the wind set in, but not just normal wind, only what can be described as killer wind. We had happened to stop in an information centre to use the WIFI as I badly needed to send ‘my intentions’ to the Australian government, so they would let me back into their lovely country after New Zealand. Then the roads started closing, both north and south on route 6, the only road on the western coast….. we were stuck! At this point, many different types of folk start appearing in the centre, also stranded. A young English couple tell us that 100 metres down the road there are waves crashing up from the sea smashing around huge rocks and drowning out cars. It all got messy, very quickly. Cyclone Fahi was here in full force and he/she didn’t seem like an ex. It sounds dramatic, and it was.
Now, Punakiki has one thing going for it and not a lot else, the ‘pancake rocks’ out on a cliff edge about 50 metres from the information centre. I watched a small documentary on them on loop for about 5 hours while we waited for further news. Riveting stuff! Did we ever get to venture out to see them in real life? – no. They will haunt me forever more, what a sad day. Cutting a long story short (it’s not that long), we ended up taking a daring and adventurous risk with the young English couple and kept driving south on the road that was officially closed to try and reach our destination, the town of ‘Fox Glacier’. We had a tip off from a local that it wasn’t too bad along the road. We waited and gestured for the English couple to go first. I figured anything bad that could happen, would happen to them first and we might make some kind of narrow escape!!! I’m a horrible person. We made it three quarters of the way down and then were told we needed to stop. The poor glacier towns had been completely flooded, they had no power and approx three hundred tourists got stranded that night. A blessing in disguise I suppose, that we never made it!
We end up finding one of very few free camp spaces that night and made some instant noodles and caught up on Narcos on the laptop, the weather had calmed somewhat, we thought it was all over. Come 8am, we are JOLTED awake by a siren going off, echoing around the tiny town of Ross that we had ended up in. This had never happened to me before, it was gut wrenching. Was it an earthquake warning? …… or even worse a tsunami warning? Did we need to run to higher ground? How far away was it? We pulled back our lovely curtains, I grabbed my laptop AND my fit bit (because these are obviously what I consider necessities in life or death situations) and nearly fall out of the van. There’s a few other stranded campers peeking out of tents and hanging outside looking at each other. At this point I have tears streaming down my face from pure panic. Nobody is running or clutching to their laptops in extreme fear. People stood around for awhile and then just went back about their morning. I was astounded. Of course we took to Google to find out what the hell that was all about, turns out sirens are used to alert volunteers in rural NZ towns when something has gone wrong. We never did find out what had gone wrong. Call me strange but surely there’s got to be a different way of alerting volunteers. Surely. We never did make it back to the glacier towns either, but I’m okay with that. (Little did I know I would see Dundrum glacier upon returning to Ireland)
The next day called for a massive eight hour de-tour, ughhhhh who signs up for that on a bloody road trip!!! It eventually brought us further south. A stunning drive in itself, I don’t think an ‘un-stunning’ drive exists in the country … we hit up Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, Lake Pukaki and finally made it to Wanaka for a two day stop. Going even further south to Queenstown (yes I had a Fergburger, yes I went on the Gondela, no they were not the highlights of my trip. Tourist central!) then to Te Anau, Milford Sound, Invercargill and Dunedin. We read in a guide book that Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones had called Invercargill ‘the arsehole of the earth’ on a tour there back in the ‘80’s. Unfortunately, we kind of agreed! It just all got a bit boring after the cyclone. “Oh look James, some more amazing mountain ranges and unholy turquoise blue lakes”. I jest, each of these places brought jaw dropping and inspiring views. They will keep me going for a lifetime – here is a taste below.
This amazing road trip wasn’t even the beginning of our travels. We had spent a few weeks previous to this in Western Australia. A trip that had been coming for a long time given that it was the place of birth of my gorgeous boyfriend James. Since we had stepped foot in Australia, he had been dying to go there and show me around. For months and months the weather had been boasted about by various people! We were living in Melbourne and for people that have never been to Melbourne, the weather is more unpredictable than Dublin. There is no relying on sun in that Aussie city, especially during winter. You start to realise very quickly just how close you are to Antarctica! And they don’t have RADIATORS! This shocked me to my core. So anyway, the first day of the tour around Perth city and there was torrential rain for over 24 hours. I laughed a lot, James did not. Genuine freak weather for that time of year, apparently. It stopped, the sun came out and then the sun wouldn’t go away. Oh my god!
We leisurely made our way to Margaret River for a week. Just casually popping to whichever stunning beach took our fancy each morning and then on to one of the hundreds of wineries for the afternoon. What a nightmare! Untouched, red, outback views of kangaroos and emus hanging out at dusk. After a year of living down under and it was one of few places that made me actually feel like I was in Australia. It was beautiful, peaceful, relaxed and calm. Calm being the buzz word of 2018, it would seem. I was able to disconnect, think all the thinks and feel all the feels. James was able to show me all of the things that he loves. One of the highlights being that you are able to go to the beaches in Perth (Trigg was my favourite) and basically have a spot to yourself, even on the weekend! I can only imagine what having a beach like that in Ireland would be like on a summers day. Actually, I don’t have to imagine, I’ve been to Brittas Bay mid-summer. Carnage! I also felt like there was definitely less of the ‘Instagram brigade’ out here than there was on some of the east coast beaches. It seems on the west coast people just go to the beach and enjoy themselves without all the other shit, its part of daily life and that’s nice! Feast your eyes on these views!
Although poor Victoria seems to get left out of the beach talk. When put in comparison with other states, it doesn’t really have a leg to stand on unless you’re willing to venture outside of Melbourne, which we did for a brief 24 hour spin. Wilson’s Promontory gets a 10/10 from me. A total highlight of the last year for me! Unspoiled and protected national park, walking, hiking, beaches, hidden coves, wildlife. We made it there on a 30degree day. (Bonus) I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Okay, I’m finished! I do consider myself very lucky to have been able to take the time out to go and wander for a while. It was lovely, it was more than lovely. We did work our butts off for the year to allow ourselves the time to do it the way we wanted to and it was most certainly worth it!
Leaving Ireland (again!) in general was a big decision for me but what the last year has done (I think), is allow me to totally step back from what I called ‘life’ and lay it all out on the table and ask myself which parts I liked and which I didn’t. It’s not to say my whole world has changed now, it most certainly hasn’t and it’s not to say that going wandering is the only way to see things clearer but I feel like in small ways I understand myself ever so slightly better now and having a ‘time-out’ worked for me.
I’m back in Dublin. Lets see what happens next!
Happy International Women’s Day. To all the women out there doing their thing and doing it well. You go girl!