It was an early start on Stewart Island as we had to check-in for the ferry crossing by 7:30am. The weather (as usual) was cold with very heavy passing showers and the accompanying wind was starting to rise. Ruth was consuming ginger in addiction threatening quantities (the spice is known for its ability to prevent motion sickness) and as she contemplated the voyage ahead her mood was increasingly glum. I had picked up an infection in my nose which was affecting my sinuses, hearing and sleeping. In our combined misery the rain-lashed seafront could well have been the ‘the last straw’. However, ‘when the going gets tough’…
The ferry crossing was not too bad, a little lumpy in parts and it brought back certain memories of our time on Agnes (not fond ones for Ruth). The bone chilling cold and icy rain lashing Bluff as we disembarked was where that comparison ended. By the time we reached the car I was having trouble holding the keys, my hands were so cold all feeling had gone from them and the keys kept dropping on the ground. It was only the vision of driving out of Bluff with the heater turned on high that spurred us on to find a way to control our limbs and get the keys into the ignition.
Our first stop was Invercargill, on our way to Papatotara, our base for the next few days. While organising petrol and groceries, the friendly people that we encountered in Invercargill asked us where we were heading. None had heard of Papatotara. Our description of; “it is west of Tuataupere”, only produced sympathetic looks. They probably looked at our dishevelled clothing, nervous twitching and the bikes on the car roof and decided that we had escaped from an institution.
As the car sped west, the temperature was hovering around 7c (it can only get better from here). We tried lifting our spirits by singing “we’re all going on a summer holiday’ but gave up as we realised that the white on the approaching mountains was not cloud but fresh snow.
The Airbnb was located on the South Coast, around 15km west of Tuataupere, at the edge of the Fiordland mountains and bush. In layman terms, on the edge of the end the earth. Check in was 1pm, it was not ready, “could we come back in an hour?” “Um, ok, we will go for a drive”. Well there was only one option for that, drive back to Tuataupere. We found a coffee shop and in the spirit of the day, when Ruth got back she indicated that she had parted with our life savings for a coffee, tea and a biscuit. We found a price list and in the end decided that a ‘misery tax’ had been added. Fortunately, Ruth was successful in getting the tax refunded.
In true traveller fashion, every story should have a happy ending. Despite the rather cynical ‘I love my garden’ sign on the wall of the weed infested back yard, the Airbnb had a fire roaring in the lounge which was throwing out the first warmth we have felt in the last 10 days, the bathroom a deep bath in which we had a consolation ‘swim’. We rationalised that we had a surplus of carbon credits and enjoyed our indoor-summer guilt free. In the morning Ruth went pine cone collecting to ensure that the fire could be resurrected each time our negligence let it splutter out.
I later read a news article online which explained that this summer was something of an anomaly, the usual weather patterns had gone AWOL and the south of both islands were locked in a perpetual winter come early spring. It did not make me feel any better.
The weather man came on TV and said in a rather unconvincing fashion that things were looking up for the far south. He looked like Donald Trump, in fact anyone trying to tell me that summer does not arrive until the last day of summer should be in his cabinet.
However, even in the darkest moments there is always hope. As I walked past my ‘bottoms’ packing cube I was sure that I could see my shorts edging their way towards the top of the clothing pile. Maybe they know something we don’t. I hope so.
Post script: We have found summer in the last three days and it is oh so good – nice to be able dig the summer gear out from the bottom of the luggage.