#4// NEW ZEALAND = wowzers. 1st time hitch-hiking/sandflies suck
We arrive in Queenstown after a three hour flight from Melbourne and have a bit of an incident with our apples. Incredibly strict New Zealand customs + Nat's poor observational skills = us being quarantined. Once we're let out and snack-free we board the bus into Queenstown and all I can say is WOWZERS. Queenstown is SO BEAUTIFUL. We take frantic pictures through the bus window like odd paparazzi for the whole fifteen minute journey. We spend a couple of nights in Flaming Kiwi Hostel (11/10 would recommend, have already given them a glowing booking.com review) and chat to our very friendly roommate Alex (who, alas, is a snorer).
On our third day in New Zealand we begin hitch-hiking which is something neither of us have successfully done before (an attempted hitch-hike out of Surrey a couple of summers ago was a dismal failure, as you'd probably imagine). Kent, the nice owner of Flaming Kiwi Backpackers helps us make a sign and Nat allocates me the role of chief sign-holder while he sticks out his thumb. I'm a little shy about it to begin with - it's a bit soul-crushing having everyone zoom past avoiding eye contact, ESPECIALLY with Nat behind me constantly advising "smile wider Chania, hold the sign straighter Chania, don't be shy Chania, friendly posture Chania"
After about ten minutes we're picked up by Gustafan (Nat and I disagree on what his name actually is but I'm convinced this is what it sounded most like), a Turkish man on his way home after a night shift at his Turkish kebab shop. I spend most of the journey trying to simultaneously psycho-analyse him AND his car, berating myself for not memorising his number-plate, then getting sidetracked thinking about my poor memory retention - and because of this I miss most of the conversation carefree Nat is having in the front seat. I do, however, hear that Gustafan is part of the largest Turkish family in New Zealand. #celebrity
It turns out that he is genuinely nice, and he drops us off at a much better spot for hitch-hiking to Te Anau.
After about ten minutes of the same again ("Chania the angle of the sign isn't quite right" ETC) we're picked up by a Latvian couple, Maddy and Robert. I don't even attempt to look at the number-plate (I must start brain training exercises pronto) and anyway, Maddy is way too friendly to be a serial killer. For pretty much the whole of the two hour journey she is twisted round in her seat telling us about life in Latvia/everything under the sun until at one point I feel one of my eyes beginning to close (rats - always betrays me) (snoring hostel roommates really taking its toll). She tells me I can have a nap if I want (instant brownie points), but we arrive pretty soon after and they drop us off right in the car park of our accommodation!
The next day we begin the Kepler Track, a 60km walk normally hiked across three-four days, so of course Nat wants to do it in two. The first two hours are pretty killer (I devise a few strategies to help me reach the top - if you'd like to read my official guide on how to survive hills/climbing mountains, click here). Nat is incessantly happy and friendly for the entire walk and I am nicknamed Saruman after acquiring a knobbly stick, which probably tells you how friendly I was.
When we finally reach our campsite we are SWAMPED by sandflies (my new mortal enemy). If you stand still for three seconds you'll find about twenty on your arm (yes that number is just for singular limb count. If you were crazy enough to have all limbs out at the same time you'd be looking at around eighty, MAYBE MORE). Unfortunately for us, everyone else in the camp had remembered their insect repellent and we had not, which meant that to set up the tent without being eaten alive we had to run at the same time. [Disclaimer: I am writing this about two weeks later and I still have itchy bites EVERYWHERE. They didn't even have the courtesy to leave my nose and chin out of the fight (don't mosquitoes normally respect those boundaries?) and I have two new anklets of little pink scars (Scab-pickers Anonymous) ]
I leave Nat for a moment whilst he begins the cooking - he packed with him a little camping burner set he was given whilst in RAF squadron which comes with sixteen small firelighters (we are also unsure how he got through customs with this in his bag... we both forgot he had these and happily ticked the 'no' box on the declaration of highly flammable objects). Unfortunately, Nat can't remember how many firelighters he needs to use to get the stove hot enough to cook on. He sets himself up on a nice wooden bench, surrounded by lots of trees, and gets to work.
~It's a very basic camping cook-set as you can hopefully see on the picture to the left. You burn the firelighter directly on whatever the stove is sitting on (preferably not anything wooden, like a WOODEN bench) and sit the pan on the metal grate directly above it ~
Nat not being able to remember how many firelighters he needed turned out to be a LARGE issue. Ever heard the phrase "you can always add more"? Well Nat hasn't. He got off to a strong start by lighting three whole firelighters directly on the wooden bench (he later remembers you are only supposed to use half of one). Ironically, earlier that day we'd actually discussed whether we'd even be able to cook with an open fire as New Zealand and Australia often have total fire bans on hot days. In hindsight, these bans seem pretty sensible considering Nat single-handedly almost started a forest fire innocently trying to heat up his Jungle Thai curry.
So, I come back from the toilet, and am horrified to see Nat cooking by a HUGE OPEN FLAME. He was literally having to dodge the enormous licks of orange fire whilst trying to stir the curry; his brain had obviously prioritised under-cooked sauce over potential forest fire hazard. He looked quite happy sitting there, huge fire right in front of him. To make matters even worse/ more hilarious - the camp warden was standing just a few metres away with her back to Nat, chatting enthusiastically about camp availability to another couple. I am totally terrified the bench will catch fire and rush forward, reach for the water and put the whole thing out with a HUGE sizzle (which reveals a very charred bench). Forest fire averted. Unfortunately in all of the commotion Nat and I get an extra twenty sandfly bites. Each.
We finish the Kepler track the next day, have a chilled time in Te Anau and a day at Milford Sound and then hitch back to Queenstown for another night before heading to Wanaka, the land of lavender, acceptable lake-water temperatures and Glenn, the man behind our most exciting hitch hike ride yet...