Last year we spent more than six months in New Zealand and in all that time we never made it to the South Island. Boat work, budget woes, the easy living in Whangarei all conspired to keep us from answering the call to explore the world of Peter Jackson.
This year we’ve decided to spend an extra year in Australia and despite some expensive boat maintenance and the wallet-draining high life of Sydney we said what the hell and booked a flight back to the Land of the Long White Cloud. We originally thought we’d hire a self-contained campervan which would allow us to park nearly anywhere and appreciate the big scenery away from holiday crowds, but when we passed the equinox and autumn moved in we agreed that chilly nights in an aluminum can, even a heated one, didn’t sound as inviting as a toasty motel room. We ran the numbers too, and the differential between a car+lodging vs. campervan+higher fuel costs led us to the conclusion that the campervan is a false economy. In warmer weather we might have done it. But this time it’ll be Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn in Two for the Road, minus the Givenchy and the MG-TD, much to Jack’s disappointment. We packed fleece and booked a Yaris.
The day before we left Jack was keen to watch the Chinese Grand Prix and worked it out with a local sports bar to commandeer one of the big screens for the race. Our friends Sherm and Mia and Bruce and Di joined us for drinks and pizza and we had a fun send off.
Di offered to dinghy us and our luggage ashore in the morning, but after one of the most perfect sunny days we’ve had in weeks, departure day dawned windy and choppy. We loaded up the dinghy with our luggage and our trash and got so wet slamming across the channel to pick up Di that we waved her off and told her we’d lock the dinghy at the dock and she could pick it up later when it calmed down. I’m pretty sure she looked relieved but it was hard to tell through the salt spray. We were soaked by the time we got ashore and so was our luggage. Then came an hour-long bus ride to town and a half-hour train ride to the airport. What a way to start a vacation!
We booked our flights with frequent traveler miles we’d been saving for years and that were about to expire, and our journey to Christchurch involved an overnight layover in Brisbane. Airlines have strange ways. I booked it at a time when we’d have an afternoon and evening to dip our toes in a new Aussie city and we were really looking forward to it but by the time we arrived at our hotel we were both spent. When we checked in we shared with the clerk, as we always do, that we live on a boat. He looked up from his monitor with raised eyebrows. “Really?” he said. “That’s so cool!”
“We sailed here from New York.”
“Are you kidding!?” We had his attention.
“It took five years.”
That was the coup de gras.
“Oh my god!” He clutched his chest. “You must have eaten a lot of fish!”
We love the reactions we get from non-sailors when we share what we’re doing. This young man was so affected that while he was checking us in he’d pause in mid-sentence, clutch his chest again and breathe, “Oh my god!” over and over. We kept adding details, like we have a full kitchen with a freezer, and that we once were at sea for 42 days straight. Each new piece made him more and more verklempt and he never fully regained his composure. It took a long time to complete the check in but he gave us a room on the top floor with a fantastic river view.
Our check-in was completed with stuttering directions to two areas where we could find options for dinner and a reminder to use the key card to operate the elevator and also to activate the electricity in the room. We definitely needed the refresher course in modern travel conveniences. Nevertheless we managed to navigate to the top floor and unlock our room without major mishap, kicked off our shoes and sunk into a pillow-topped king size bed with a big sigh. After a few minutes I suggested that since we had to get up at 5am to catch our flight to Christchurch, I’d almost prefer to find takeout food nearby and come back to this comfy room and watch TV, which we never get to do.
“I like the way you think,” Jack said and we walked around the corner for a kebab and a spinach and feta pie and spent the next three hours watching Househunters International and Island Hunters. Yes, we are pathetic.
We both slept fitfully for some reason, but all hope of a restful night went out the window when at 3am something unidentifiable started beeping. First it was the iPad, then before I could figure out what was happening the cell phone rang. It was our bank, calling to finalize a wire transfer to pay the rigger. The cool thing is for the first time I’d set up call forwarding from our Skype number to our local cell phone so the banker thought she was calling Annapolis but it transferred to our cell phone in Brisbane and it only cost us 4¢ a minute. Why didn’t I think to do this before?!
Five am had us up and packing and by 6 we were out on the street waiting for the van back to the airport. South Island, hide the silver. The Escapees are on the way.