Last week was spent driving, sleeping, reading, cooking, eating, and not showering in our Nissan Serena van, who we have aptly named Serena Williams. Serena Williams has provided us with adventure that we didn’t even know we were going to have, and would not have had if we were backpacking or staying in hostels. We have to park her at a campground (many grocery store parking lots have No Van signs), so each day inevitably ends at a campground. And from what I have seen thus far, New Zealand doesn’t have KOA campgrounds just off I-95, wedged between the truck stop and the dump. Each one has been tucked away in a gorgeous spot, not listed in our Fodor’s guide.
The speed limit on the road to Coromandel Town was 100km/hr, but we never went more than 60 km/hr. We frequently pulled over for locals to pass us, as the road curved sharply, in and out, with each bay and peninsula that defined the rocky coastline. The sun began to set as we turned inland onto a gravel road that wound back and forth through brilliant green sheep pastures, climbing the mountains of the Coromandel range. At each turn, the road on the map became narrower and narrower and after we lost the sunlight, we were just kind of following a map through the darkness. What started as a windy, but exciting gravel road up the mountain, became a terrifying, dirt path descending through the pitch black bush in toward Stony Bay. And then it started raining. We drove the last 30 minutes in first gear, trying to avoid mud puddles and not thinking about old kidnapper men that might be lurking in the jungle. That’s when I started to wonder if we would make it through the mud, and if we did, if we would be able to get back out.
We ate our bread and carrots, set up the bed in the back of the van and read on our respective e readers until we fell asleep. I just started The Art of Fielding, which had my attention at page one, so I was up longer than anticipated.
It was rainy, dark and muddy when we closed the curtains the night before. When we opened them, this is what we found:
I have been nursing a variety of foot injuries* and Zach was itching to go climb a mountain, so we decided to split up. After importing our pictures, Lightroom organized them by the timestamp on the file. It’s pretty fun to see that while I was diddling around on the beach, Zach was in a sheep pasture, or while I was basking in the sunlight at the look out, Zach was barefoot, crossing a freezing stream.
While I was at the lookout, I met a local, Keith, who was baiting traps for weasels, stotes and possum. “I suppose that was your partner I saw a bit ago,” he mentioned. Beard? Yup. Ponytail? Yup. Orange backpack? (Go CUSE!) Yup. Well then, it sounds like you did. I sent him on a different route; the one where he was headed was quite boring. See that green patch in the saddle between the two peaks? He pointed at where the mountains meet the sky. You get 360 degree views from up there. That’s where he is. You all should have mirrors so you can send signals with the sun.
He sat down to roll a cigarette and I sat because that was the plan for the afternoon. We talked for about an hour while he smoked cigarettes and I ate my PB & J. The weasels, stotes and possum are predators of the ground dwelling Kiwi bird. They snatch up their eggs. The Kiwi was on the verge of extinction with less than 1,000 in all of New Zealand about 12 years ago when conservation efforts really started. Stony Bay is one of the first Kiwi preserves that began with 13 birds and is now up to 138 birds, with most of it’s population approaching breeding age. (Go Kiwis!) Somewhere in our conversation about living in the bush, mountains, and backpacking, we got onto the topic of how food tastes better when you go without something for awhile. I mentioned that we were planning to eat pb & js for dinner because we had yet to procure a pot, to which he quickly offered one of his. I didn’t have to tell him where Serena Williams was parked. He and the other park workers saw us come in last night and were laughing at us, creeping through the rain.
We made mashed Kumara (NZ sweet potatoes) with garlic, onions and a fried egg on top. By dinner time it was freezing cold. I finished cooking in my full on winter gear and we scuttled inside to eat at our dining room table/fold up bed. Never before has a HEAP of hot potatoes out of the back of a van tasted so good. So that is kind of how living out of our van goes. You do without some stuff and everything else gets that much better.