Up early we headed off with some excitement to pick up our campervan from Wilderness Explorers. She is a little smaller and a little younger than Ripley so we have named her Newt (SciFi fans will totally get this).
Originally we were planning to head northwards, winding up the east coast of the South Island in the general direction of Nelson. But after taking some weather advice from Jess at Wilderness we made a course correction and instead steered south to check out Mount Cook and the Catlins region. And then play it from there. Our goal for this trip is to let whim and wander to be our compass.
Only a short way down the main highway we found ourselves continuously distracted by this snow-capped mountain range running off in a jagged arrhythmia to our right. Staying true to our goals, at the next junction we peeled off to go and have a closer look.
Immediately leaving the highway hustle, our chosen road offered up a slow roll of intense felt-green farmlands and hand piled stone walls and clumps of fat cows, many of which were orbited closely by their bouncy new calves. It also took us in a B-line to the mountains.
Methven is a small ski resort village located at the foot of the Mount Hutt ski fields.
Pulling in at the most promising coffee shop we soon struck up a conversation with a local named Ken. A retired motorcycle racer and circus performer who rode his bike on the The Wall of Death in a show that travelled throughout New Zealand and Australia for many years. Ken and two other riders would chase each other at a dizzying speed on the vertical wall of a large wooden cylinder. Held in place by no more than a little physics and a lot of nerve. Ken assured us that anyone with a little riding skill can get up on the wall of death….its getting off it that is the tricky bit.
“You’ve got to throttle back and let your back wheel drop off first” he advised. “Most people cant do it. And if you cant do it, you are going to have a nasty fall”.
In fact before Ken even rode the wall, his mother had performed an act where she would jump her own 250cc through a burning house.
From Methven it was but a short drive until Newt dipped down into the Rakia Gorge and our riverside campsite for the night.
With plenty of daylight left, we decided to fit in a short hike in the warm afternoon sun. The track wove along the steep edges of the gorge affording sweeping views out to the mountains and the swiftly flowing snowmelt running from them.
As we walked we discussed the total lack of deadly wildlife in New Zealand. How is it that only 3 hours by air from Australia (a country where in almost every nook and cranny there is some risk of envenomation or ingestion),there is a country where the highest risk of animal danger will come from an infected sandfly bite.
We walked on. Improbably fat bumble bees hummed in aerodynamic ignorance all about us. Below, a group of enthusiastic slackliners (which is sort of like trapeze walking except way more fun) bounced and flipped and fell and yahooed from a long line they had suspended across the river.
“What a place”, remarked Kelly. What a place.