The West Coast

Man, I’m good at titles.

I was up early the next morning. Reception was still closed when I dropped off my key and loaded up my car in the dim glow of the first morning light. My ferry to Picton left at 9:30, and I had an hour drive to get there. This was going to be a wholly new experience for me. I’d been on ferries before, and specifically this ferry back in 2012. All those times before I was just a passenger, but now I was a passenger with a car.

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I mean, okay, it’s not that interesting of an experience. Instead of walking onto the boat, you drive your car on, park it, and then walk up to the passenger deck. Big whoop. But dammit! This is a trip full of me doing new things so it’s a big deal if I say it is! That being said, it totally wasn’t a big deal and was super easy to do and my biggest complaint is that it was expensive. Moving on.

I passed the three hour ferry ride talking to my Mom, reading, and listening to music. When we arrived, I first went to the wrong car deck as I made to exit the ferry, but one more flight of stairs and I was back in my car and driving onto the roads of Picton. If I didn’t have such angst about parking and driving around new places when I had no direction, I would’ve stopped and gotten a proper meal. All I’d had that day was a few slices of bread while I waited to board the ferry.

Instead, I soldiered on, stomach grumbling, off to Nelson. I was making a short stop over here so I could catch up with another chum from Hobbiton before meeting back up with Hannah and Luke. She was WWOOFing at a chicken farm up in Motueka, about 45 minutes outside the city centre. I wouldn’t be seeing her until the next day, though.

So my first night back in Nelson I was flying solo (for the most part). I got into town and found my way to The Bug Backpackers, which Carly had recommended to me. It was a tiny place, only 15 minutes walk out of town. I parked across the street and went to check in. This was my first stay in the last few weeks where I actually had roommates. The three other beds in my dorm were occupied by three young Asian women, roughly my age (I guess).

I immediately felt claustrophobic and restless, so once my stuff was put away in the room, I left. I have to break the narrative a bit here, travelers, because I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember what I did once I left the hostel. But honest to goodness I have no flipping idea. So let’s just jump ahead to when I stopped into Sprig and Fern for a beer.

Now I’ve grown accustomed to doing things alone while traveling, so grabbing a beer by my lonesome was not a new thing. I had my book with me so I was entertained. But sometimes, you just want some company dammit, and it can move you to make some not-so-wise decisions. Mine was inviting Hannah (different Hannah) out to join me for a drink.

Hannah was another former Hobbiton co-worker. We got on well enough but were never super close. But like I said, I had a weak moment and took whatever company was available. Things started off pretty well. We chatted and drank and ordered a pizza. But then the conversation took a turn onto a topic I should, with certain people, never discuss while drunk. So at an appropriate moment, drunk Renee deployed her go-to move when she’d had enough of a shitty situation.

I got up and left.

So the first night was kind of a bust. But I did have a couple of tasty beers, so it wasn’t totally lost. The next day was better, even though again, can’t really remember what I did. There was laundry done at one point, and some grocery shopping. I undoubtedly stopped into the bookstore at least once, or at least walked by and stared longingly at the long line of book-filled shelves. Once evening rolled around, I headed to East Street to meet Carly for dinner.

I was the first to arrive, so I took a seat at the table and began to peruse the menu while I waited. Carly arrived just a few minutes later. There was a quick hug before she sat down and both of us began to deliberate about what to order. At last we both decided, and when the food was brought out, we were both very happy with our choices. The conversation was sustained through the whole meal. It was good to catch up and hear about what one another had been up to, as well as what future plans were in store.

When we’d finished at East Street, we walked down the street to Sprig and Fern. That night’s drinking experience was much better than the last. We took our drinks from the bar to a table just across the room. The room was dimly lit. The surrounding tables were occupied by groups of people talking and laughing. A single candle flicked on our table. Carly and I chatted more while we sipped our drinks, and before the night was finished we took the first of several pictures that would mark our Ren and Stimpy adventures.

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We parted ways after that, with the promise of reuniting when I returned to Nelson later that month. She went off to her car to make the drive back to Motueka, and I began my walk back to the hostel. I took my time getting up the next morning. I was meeting Hannah and Luke at a retreat just outside of the town of Punakaiki. They had stayed at the retreat before, and Hannah assured me I would love it. I was sure I would too, but I had no idea what to expect.

The west coast of New Zealand is an amazing drive. I felt like I was on King Kong’s island (in the Peter Jackson version), and when I told Hannah about my feelings later on she compared it to Jurassic Park. The road is a winding ribbon that hugs the coastline. On one side of you is the ever churning and frothing sea, beating against rough cliffside. The other side is high hills covered in thick bush. There are barely any buildings to speak of, and just as few cars sharing the road.

I found the place, called Te Nikau Retreat, easy enough. It was certainly unlike any other backpackers I’d ever stayed at. Te Nikau is nestled right in the bush off the highway. A few cabins sit right near the reception building, but others are only reached by walking down a dirt path through the trees and ferns. The retreat was completely isolated, and the cabins of the retreat isolated from each other. Hannah was right. I did love it.

I was the first to arrive (again). I checked in and carried my stuff into the bush and found our cabin. We were in a dorm situation, and there was one guy who had already checked in. It was a little awkward. He didn’t say hi or anything when I arrived, just went back to his own thing. I picked a bed and ignored him back, pulling out my book to pass the time until Luke and Hannah arrived. I napped for a little while, and when I checked the clock, a couple hours had passed since I arrived. I was starting to get anxious.

For a little while I went into worry mode, wondering if something had happened to them on the drive down. I went to buy some wifi so I could try to get in touch and make sure everything was okay. It was. I was just being overly cautious, like I usually am. They had stopped to pick up some groceries on the way down. Soon the two were pulling into the parking lot in their newly acquired Subaru.

They checked in and I showed them the way to our cabin. We stayed long enough to claim a couple more beds and drop of their luggage before they were leading the way to the beach. It was about a ten minute walk through the trees. We were just in time to catch the last bit of the sunset. The clouds hung too low to really see the sun slip below the horizon. But the scene was still dominated by an orange glow and an increasingly inky sky above.

The three of us followed the steps of the path down to an alcove. The waves crashing up onto the beach were massive. At the base of the stairs was a wide, gently slanting slab of stone. We all pulled ourselves up onto the crest of the rock and got comfortable to enjoy the setting sun and the waves.

When nearly all the light had faded, he walked back up the path to the cabin to make some dinner. We were sharing the kitchen with our stoic, and presumably German, roommate. Hannah cooked up lentils while Luke heated up something from a can, and I prepared my sweet potato. That night I introduced Luke and Hannah to the awesomeness that is a sweet potato served with maple syrup, butter and sugar. It wouldn’t be the last time we prepared it on our travels together.

It was a spread that couldn’t rival the ones we’d made in National Park, but it was just right that night. Back upstairs, as we prepared to get into bed, we did some minor rearranging so we could all be up in the loft. Before lights out, the three of us spent a bit of time reading. Which, if I’m honest, really made me happy. Obviously reading is a very solo activity, but there was something really nice about sharing a reading moment with friends.

Anyway, the next morning, we had some breakfast and enjoyed the wifi before setting off to the Pancake Rocks. For a moment, I wasn’t sure I saw going to be able to pull out of the parking lot with out taking out part of the building behind me or hitting the car next to me. After executing a seven-point turn though, I made it out. The Pancake Rocks were all of 10 minutes away. I’d seen them before on my last visit, but it was only a short stop during our much longer bus drive.

We parked and crossed the road. It was a rather dreary day out. There was no sun to speak of, and there was a steady drizzle of rain. Not the nicest for walking around in, but it did make everything feel more moody and dramatic. The only people about left as we walked down the path. We sought out the blow holes, and stood mesmerized by great waves filing and draining from a great stone pit.

Lucky for us, we finished our walk around the rocks just before a tour group was dropped off. We found our walk back up the path and crossed the street back to our cars. From here we would make the trip down to Hokitika, where we’d stay for another night during our trip down the west coast.

~Ren

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