Author’s Note: Some of the pictures featured in this blog were taken by my friend, Carly Mann, who is a fantastic artist. Check out her blog here and her website here.
Well travelers, here we are! Finally (mostly) caught up to the present situation. After I left my WWOOFing host, I came back to Nelson, as you know from a previous blog. I had set up a couple meetings about working as a housekeeper in exchange for free accommodation at the hostel. One was at the YHA in Nelson, the place I stayed my first three night back in town. I decided about five minutes after being there that I wasn’t going to take the position if they offered it. The place was way too busy, and I didn’t want to have to deal with living with that many people for the next two and a half months.
The other place I’d checked out was smaller and quieter. The building was old and the facilities not as nice as other places I’d stayed. But the owner was nice and friendly, and I’m seasoned enough when it comes to hostels that I could adjust to a lower standard of living than what I’m used to. So I took the job. That’s where I’ve been for the last, gosh, almost two months. I wake up every morning, clean the hostel, and them I free to do what I like the rest of the day. Money is super tight, but I’m alright with that.
But just because I have little money and no real friends here doesn’t mean I haven’t had some fun. My mate Carly, who I’ve mentioned before, has been in and out of the Nelson area over the last several weeks. We’ve gone on a few fun adventures whenever our paths crossed. So prepare for another installment of Ren and Stimpy adventures!
The first adventure we had took place when I was still staying at the YHA. Carly was on, oh what am I saying, has been, still is, enjoying a cave obsession. There was one outside of Nelson she was interested in checking out so she invited me along. I had nothing better to do besides sit around at the hostel so I went.
We had planned to meet at the trailhead, but that turned out to be much more difficult than we had expected. I bounced along the narrow gravel road up the Maitai Valley until I came to a small dirt lot and a locked gate. There was no obvious entry to the trail, but the sign I had passed had ‘Maitai Cave’ written on it. I guessed the start of the trail was just a short walk up the road. I had arrived early, but after waiting for about a half an hour, I decided to drive back to where I had cell reception to try and get in touch with Carly.
Here’s where the fun begins! I was maybe halfway back to town when I saw a silver car appear behind me. I couldn’t entirely remember what Carly’s car looked like but I was pretty sure it was silver. I kept squinting at my rearview mirror, trying to make out the person in the driver seat. Then one time I looked up, I saw Carly hanging out the window and waving her arm at me. I pulled over at the next turn out and we both had a good laugh about our high-speed chase down the valley.
Now that we were together, we drove back up the valley road and parked in a lot near a white foot bridge over the river. Carly thought this was the footbridge mentioned in the DOC directions. When we got to the other side and found a small residential area, we both agreed this was not it, so I told her about the spot I had gotten to. We left my car where it was and Carly drove us back up the valley.
Pretty picture. Wrong footbridge.
As I’d thought, a short walk past the gate that barred our way brought us to the right footbridge across the river. We walked past a small pool fed by a damn that looked like it would be the funnest and most dangerous waterslide in the world, up a hill, and began to lose ourselves in the bush. Something I’ve learned about the Department of Conservation’s rating system for walks is that they seem to be decided by people who have vastly different standards than me. Things they think are easy don’t ever seem as easy as the descriptions make them out to be.
The first half of the hike was nice and relaxed. The path was well marked, there wasn’t much elevation gain. The description had warned us that at some point we would have to cross the river, but assured us we wouldn’t even have to get our feet wet. Well, either we went the wrong way or the river has changed a lot since that description was written. Carly and I had to wade through the icy river in bare feet to get to the other side. I mean, it added to the adventurous nature of our hike, but seriously, who wrote up that description?!
The second half of the tramp was much rougher. We relied on the tiny orange arrows nailed to the trees to make sure we kept to the right path. Then the ground began to climb. I had forgone my coat and jacket long ago, securing them around my waist, trying to minimize my sweating. At last, though, we heaved ourselves up over a particularly steep cropping of boulders and found ourselves at the entrance to the cave. My first cave experience was about to begin!
I had mild anxiety about going in because I’m a wee bit claustrophobic, but Carly assured me once you made it through the rocks the cave opened up wide. She slipped in ahead of me and I awkwardly followed, shuffling all my long limbs in through the opening as best I could. The first thing you notice in a cave is that it’s very dark. Not surprising. But it didn’t take long for Carly to declare this was by far the muddiest cave she had been in. And it was indeed muddy.
We found our way down from the entrance with the help of a rope secured in the rocks. I stopped trying to keep the mud off me after about a minute. There was nothing for it, I was going to get dirty. Carly had offered to bring along a second headlamp for me but forgot, so the two of us were sharing one light between us. Which was interesting to say the least. For a while the light from the entrance and the glow permeating from the headlamp ahead of me was enough to help me make out where to step. When we got to the far side is where the going slowed down a bit.
On the other side of the cave, Carly and I looked down into a gapping hole in the earth. It was filled with pure darkness and terror. There was rope in the rocks here, too, leading down into the depths, but there was no way I was going down there. And Carly, bless her, wasn’t going to either. It was certainly something looking down into that abyss though. I could’ve slipped down that muddy slope and disappeared forever.
With cold fingers and mud-splattered jeans, Carly and I emerged from the cave. It was touch and go for a bit after we’d made it down the hill. The trail was difficult to find and we had to retrace our steps once or twice in order to find the trusty orange trail markers. Soon we were back in the car and on our way out of the valley. We both cleaned ourselves up as best we could, Carly having a bit of tough time since she didn’t have a change of clothes. The day wasn’t over just yet for us. We got a quick bite to eat before heading to the cathedral for a choir performance.
A couple of the girls Carly worked with at the chicken farm were performing that night. She wanted to show her support and had invited me along to this as well. She kept telling me how she wasn’t sure what to expect, and afterwards she kept assuring me that it wasn’t her idea of a “night out.” It wasn’t really mine either, but I was in choir for many years growing up and I quite enjoy a good choral show. It was a relaxing way to end the evening.
Alright, fast forward a couple weeks to our next Ren and Stimpy adventure. The city of Nelson hosts an annual event called Light Nelson, or the Nelson Light Festival if you’d like. It takes place mid-winter, and, as you might have guessed, gives over 40 artists the chance to let their imaginations light up a little piece of the city with brilliant glowing creations.
While we waited for it to get nice and dark, Carly and I entertained ourselves with a different kind of art. The art of making cocktails. Okay, so they were only gin and tonics, with lemon instead of lime and no ice. Hey, you make due with what you’ve got. We had a good time chatting and drinking, and when it was finally late enough, we ventured out into the streets.
It was a bit chilly that night, but the gin in my veins and uncontainable energy it gave me kept me warm (you know, that and my jacket). I’ve been to many street festivals but never one at night. Black shapes moved across black pavement as we came closer and closer to Queens Garden. Carly and I wandered toward the large group of people gathered on the sidewalk. We arrived at the entrance to the park just in time for me to realize the mass had been a line and we just cut the whole thing. Two festival workers started waving the crowd inside.
The inside of the park had been transformed into a sort of Alice in Wonderland meets college rave situation. Any direction I looked held some brightly colored shape, some easy to make out, others just a piece of a much large structure hidden among the trees. Carly and I joined the stream of faceless people around us, shuffling along slowly, taking in the works of art while trying to stay out of the river beside us.
When we’d finished a circuit of the park, we turned up the street and found ourselves outside of The Free House. It’s a place I stumbled upon back in May. I was mostly taken in by the yurt just on the other side of the fence. But Carly had been before so we went inside to have a beer. We sat for a bit inside the church turned bar before stepping back outside to check out the yurt.
It was definitely a yurt, but it smelled like cabbage inside and, in addition to me and Carly, was occupied by a group of young hipsters. I couldn’t help but be unnecessarily critical of them, but it seemed to amuse Carly. We finished up our beers and then went back for one last glimpse of the light show. But not before I bought some roasted almonds. My festival food weakness.
Heading back the way we’d come, we found the entrance to the NMIT campus. It didn’t have the same feeling as inside the park, but there were still interesting things to see, and for some reason I found myself thinking of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas despite having never read or seen it. After a bit of time here, the energy was starting to decline, and we headed back to the hostel.
Another fast forward moment, travelers. After a bit of time apart, Carly and I met up again to seek out New Zealand’s deepest vertical shaft (not my words). By that I mean we would be hiking to the entrance of Harwoods Hole. Carly was WWOOFing at a place outside Motueka at the time, and Harwoods Hole was a short drive away near Takaka Hill. It appealed to Carly’s love of caves and my need to see as many LOTR set locations as possible. The walk to Harwoods Hole meanders through a forest of birch trees that served as Chetwood Forest in the films.
This doesn’t have anything to do with the story, I just wanted to show off some of the awesome paintings Carly did for her host.
I set out from Nelson on a Friday evening and drove up the coast to Carly’s current WWOOFing home. We’d be making the trip to Harwoods Hole the following morning. Tonight we would be enjoying some drinks (more gin) and playing bad board games stashed in the cottage Carly was staying in. We enjoyed a meal of tasty pumpkin soup, bread, and some kumura chips. And, of course, the gin. We decided to play a board game based on the book/film The Da Vinci Code, which actually turned out to be rather fun.
The night took an unexpected turn for the awesome when Carly dug out a melodica from a bin of toys in the living room. Whaa?! We sanitized the mouthpiece for our protection then took turns figuring out little tunes (most of them ocarina songs from Zelda) and playing along with the music playing in the background. When the gin was gone, and our compendium of Zelda tunes exhausted, we turned in.
The next morning we enjoyed a breakfast of porridge before gathering our supplies, one of which was the melodica, and setting out for the deepest vertical shaft. We drove past blocks and blocks of vineyards, sliced through tiny towns and climbed up steep hills on winding roads. At last we turned off paved road and began bumping along a narrow dirt strip taking us further and further from civilization.
There were one or two moments where we wondered if we were actually on the right road, but eventually we did come to the start of the trail. A few other people started the walk shortly after we did. We let them pass us by while we were busy taking some photos of a nice pond, and after that the walk through the forest was quiet and tranquil. Occasionally I broke the silence with a melodica rendition of “Zelda’s Lullaby” or “Saria’s Song.”
We knew we had arrived when the land before us stopped being flat and instead became bouldery and was flanked by sheer cliffs on every side. I stored the melodica back in Carly’s pack and we began to climb over the rocks to the cave’s entrance. Obviously, we would not be going into this cave. It took a bit of exploring to find the best vantage point. I was a little surprised by how calm I felt crawling around at the edge of this massive drop. My heart does start pounding a bit when I think about looking over the edge though.
Can you spot the Renee?
Carly and I took some photos before taking a short snack break. The kumura chips we’d brought along were cold and a bit soggy but still tasted nice, and the mandarins had the perfect amount of tartness to them. As we made our way back, we took a small side trip to a viewing area. It was an interesting excursion. The rocks we had to climb over were rather sharp and created a labyrinth of fissures. Cool to look at but not as fun to traverse. The view was worth it though, even if we did lose the path for a moment.
Back at the car we both enjoyed a victory ginger beer before starting the drive back to Motueka. I left Carly to finish packing up her things. She’d be staying with me again at the backpackers for a night before setting off on her South Island adventure. We discovered that either I drive slow or Carly drives fast because we still managed to arrive at roughly the same time. It gave me the chance to knock on her car window and freak her out.
I’ve been craving good Mexican food for months now (it’s not the biggest thing in NZ) so after we’d dropped Carly’s things in the room, we walked the couple of blocks to a small Mexican place called Nicola’s Cantina. Admittedly, we were a bit underdressed for the place, and the food still didn’t satisfy my craving, but it was a nice meal and a good send off for, what we thought, was our last adventure together.
But the journey continues! A couple weeks ago now, Carly messaged me saying she’d be passing through Nelson on her way back to the North Island. So we had one last hurrah together before she boarded the ferry the next morning. We took this chance to check out a pub her WWOOFing host in Motueka had told us about. It’s an old english style pub called The Honest Lawyer.
I drove, which despite having a car has been a rarity for me lately. Carly had just driven up from somewhere around Christchurch I think, so me driving was good for both of us. The place was only a fifteen minute drive down the coast (boy, that’s a bit weird to write). It’s surrounded by a large gravel parking lot and is situated right by the water. I snapped a picture of the nicely penned and very loopy sign out front.
I can’t say that I’ve been in too many proper old English pubs (the one time I was actually in England I wasn’t old enough to drink) but I have been in lots of pubs that have attempted to recreate the old English feel, and this one did a pretty good job (I guess). The inside was all wood and brick. The bar was long and turned a corner at this massive tree trunk set right in the middle of the room. Cool, cool cool cool.
Carly and I enjoyed a glass of wine and a beer respectively and had some good conversation to boot. When we’d finished, I drove us back into the city centre. Not to make you think ill of Carly’s character, but she’s never shown up at my door without some booze, which personally I think is a lovely trait for a friend to have. She’d brought the last dribbles of some rum with her, and we bought another bottle when we popped down to Liquorland to get some mixer. We had a few drinks while she marked images from a story I’d written that she’d later turn into drawings.
Can’t tell if she’s thinking or doesn’t want me to take the picture.
A few rum and cokes in, we left the hostel to find another bar to grab a drink at, and I guess to, you know, mingle with the people or whatever. We ended up at a bar I think is called Rattle and Hum. It was one of a couple bars I’d been into in NZ that seemed to be emulating your average American bar. The divey ones, anyway. There were license plates from the States on the wall, signs for automotive companies big in the States, and I think some Harley Davidson junk too. They even had a mediocre cover band start playing shortly after we arrived.
We tolerated the music for a while. They did play a few songs and didn’t butcher them too badly. We kept ourselves amused by playing Marry, Fuck, Kill using our old Hobbiton cohorts and the Top 10 Turnoffs game, which was new to me. Our glasses grew steadily emptier and the music became less and less tolerable. At last we tossed back the rest of our drinks and called it a night.
That was the last time I saw Carly, or any one of my newly made Hobbiton friends. Soon, though, I’ll have the chance to see Luke and Hannah once more, as well as all those crazy kids back in Matamata. I’m hoping there may yet be one last chance to see Carly and, mostly likely, enjoy another gin and tonic together. For now, I’m spending my last few weeks in Nelson enjoying time to myself. I’m getting a bit restless for another adventure to be sure, but I feel sure once I get home and start digging into all the various things I have planned, I’ll think back to these lazy days and wish I had more of them.