It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….
This week I learned the value (and danger) of having friends who are willing to make plans on the spur of the moment and follow through. Just get up and go. A group of five students decided to spend a Saturday exploring the Catlins. Two of the students rented a car (cheap when split five ways) from Rent-a-Dent (a name that carries an irony which I will later explain) and we were ready to go. The rugged Catlins is an area in the Southeast tip of the South Island (about an hour from Dunedin) that features an abundance of wildlife and natural beauty and is, according to its own website, a “hidden gem.” We visited some truly gorgeous places, including….
A roadside stop en route – I found a pair of floral sunglasses. But momma told me not to put found-on-the-ground foreign objects on my face (or something like that), so I gave them to someone else.
Penguin Beach – I forget if this is the actual name, but if you go this beach at an appropriate time (early morning or evening), you can see the penguins swimming in/out from the sea.
Nugget Point – I love the word “nugget.” It takes me back to the days when I was addressed as such by my British soccer coaches.
Speaking of lighthouses, The Lighthouse’s Tale is a magical and melancholy song….
And now brace yourself for an onslaught of photos of nuggets. They were so mesmerizing. I just kept taken photo after photo. Look for the cave in the big rock nugget. The craggy rock rising from the sea rather reminded me of How to Train Your Dragon. I can’t express how achingly I desire a pet dragon who could fly me around those glorious nuggets. If you need to send me any letters, please address them to “Hermit, The Cave, Nugget Point, NZ” because I’m moving there.
You won’t be able to see them in the photos, but down on the rocks are some ridiculous-sounding sea lions. Look for them if you find yourself at Nugget Point. They look like tiny, fat, black, blobs of mermaid.
Cathedral Caves – another place to visit. I’ve heard they’re beautiful, but I did not personally make it down to the caves. Also, make sure you don’t try to visit them at high tide. Tis impossible.
Now, as to why we failed to visit Cathedral Caves… well, we were driving along and — wait, I’ll start more at the beginning. And I’ll use code names to protect the identities of involved parties. So, I, Bonita, Fritz, Blondie, and GatorBoy all decide to go see the Catlins. We think, “Oh, that’d be a fun day trip.” Fritz says he’ll drive because he’s a Kiwi and so he knows how to drive here (the rest of us are Americans and think driving on the left side of the road is both wrong and unnatural). Fritz and Bonita rent a car. Fritz and Bonita decide to get the GPS, but pass on the insurance. The fellowship begins their journey. Today is GatorBoy’s birthday. The car has loose steering. Blondie asks Fritz to slow down because there is some drifting happening. I silently agree but neglect to speak up. I also learn the meaning of the words “loose steering” and “drifting.” I realize I know squat about cars. Fritz kinda doesn’t really slow down. Fritz, Bonita, Blondie, GatorBoy and I all have a lovely time frolicking at the beach, Nugget Point, and the falls. The fellowship heads toward the Caves. The fellowship drives down a winding gravel road. Fritz drives a little too quickly. Fritz skids. Fritz over-corrects. The fellowship proceedes careen into a ditch.
At the time of the skid, I was looking at some of the photos I’d taken during the day. The crashing of the car was very surreal. And we were all unbelievably lucky. Divine intervention status lucky. Blondie was a little bruised, but everyone was ok. We managed to crash into one of the only stretches of fencing on that whole hillside and, even so, the impact of the crash ripped up a good portion of the fence. Thank God (I did) that fence held because it saved from rolling down the hillside and from a very bad end to a good trip. I love fences. Have I ever told you how much I love sturdy fences?! And the wonderful farmer who built the fence… I owe him/her (no gender assumptions from me. I’m sure there are girl farmers who build awesome wood fences) my life.
There’s that “Oh crap.” moment as we all ponder what we’re going to do next. GatorBoy ask, “Well, who’re we gonna call?” And I’m all, “Ghostbusters.” He turns his head very slowly to look at me. “Wrong time, Lindsey.” Oh. Right.
We were all in a state of shock. We also decided that we were going through all five stages of grief at a rapid rate.
- Denial – The boys are all, “We can get the car out! One of us will get behind the wheel and the rest can push!” The girls, ever more reasonable and wise, tell them, “Don’t you dare get back in that car.”
- Anger – Stupid car! Stupid gravel! I just wanted to go home! Fritz, dammit, YOLO is not a way to live your life! YODO, man!
- Bargaining – Maybe someone will come by with a tow truck. Or maybe a driver will agree to drive us back to Dunedin. Or to some other town.
- Depression – We’ll be stuck here forever. We’re not going to make it home. This car will never run again.
- Acceptance – Things will work out. And it’s sunny.
At this point I should probably mention that we were in the middle of nowhere without cell service. One wheel was off the ground, another looked completely flat, and an axle looked as if it had been broken. After ten minutes or so of head-scratching and me making wildly inappropriate pop culture references, we glimpsed a car driving towards us. The car stopped and inside was a French couple who were probably on vacation and loathe to deal with stranded travelers. They agreed to drive one of us (they had barely any room in their car) to the nearest town to call for help. Fritz, the driver, agreed to go. He said that he would call for help and then come back for the rest of us. He took the keys. GatorBoy crawls back into the car to grab people’s stuff in case the fence goes (we could hear unknown but probably important things snapping and wood creaking). At this point the girls are going “stupid stupid stupid.” But also “thank you thank you thank you” because we’re girls and we want our stuff. The car starts teetering so I grab the door and Bonita and I yell at GatorBoy to ditch the stuff and get the hell out of the car. GatorBoy manages to save everyone’s belongings, including the tequila that Bonita and Fritz had bequeathed to him (he was saving it for later- I swear there was no drinking and driving involved in this incident). We waited another 45 minutes before another car came along. In the van was the most wonderful and rather cliched New Zealand family, complete with outback-style-garbed father, Boho mother, and sprightly jumper-wearing daughter. The precocious little girl, Ella, takes one look at the car and declares, “That wheel’s stuffed.” She then proceeds to check out the hill and gleefully informs us that, if the fence had given way and we had rolled, “You’d ‘ave been dead!” Thank you for that astute observation. The outdoorsy father says he can probably have our car out in a jiffy. We are elated. He says this is a two car job, so we’ll have to start ours and he’ll grab the rope. Fritz has the keys. Crap. Well, thanks anyway. The helpful family leaves and we continue to wait for Fritz. Let me just say that a fair number of cars drove by, and everyone stopped to ask us if we needed help. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Kiwis are the most friendly and amazing people. One woman gave us a bottle of Coke. Bonita lamented the fact that tequila would not go well with that Coke (coke? Don’t know- I don’t drink pop. Or do people call it soda?). Her new goal was to find the nearest town and purchase a bottle of rum. We all have our dreams.
We waited. And started to get bored. I ask, “Hey guys- remember that time we were driving in the Catlins and got to see some pretty rocks?” We began to reminisce about the BC days (Before Crash). And we keep waiting. And two hours pass. By now we’re worried about Fritz – Why isn’t he back? I bet those French people were serial killers. Serial kidnappers. Oh no- Fritz is dead! Or worse, maybe he went back to Otago without us. – and I’m starting to go mad from all the little devil bugs attacking me. Insects target me. GatorBoy wasn’t bitten once. I now have conclusive proof that vampires don’t exist because 1) my blood is obviously delicious, 2) I used to vacation in La Push (before the plague of raving 15-year-old fangirls who I really don’t have anything against, but honestly, there is NOTHING in Forks besides trees and rain. Movies weren’t even filmed there. Go to Oregon), and 3) in light of points 1 and 2, if vampires were real I would be so dead and exsanguinated right now. Bugs, the long wait, and a fear that it would soon be dark prompted us to leave the car and seek cell reception. We reasoned that we would walk down the road until we either found reception, a building, or Fritz. We wouldn’t be able to miss Fritz because there was just one one-way road for as far as the eye could see. We started off our hike in high spirits. Oh, the wonder of LIFE!
The scenery was so picturesque. I appreciate that I was able to view it slowly and in its entirety – something that I would have been unable to do in a fast moving vehicle. We were all quite optimistic. Maybe a little slap-happy. Our glass-is-half-full comments led us to conclude that we were the opposite of Grumpy Cat – and what is the opposite of a grumpy cat? Hence the Happy Dog meme was born. Here are some examples of things we actually said under the influence of Happy Dog….
We hiked for a few hours (tip: When going on a day trip. Take a pair of tennis shoes. Just in case. Not just flip flops) until we finally came to a “town” called Papatowai. “Town” gets quotations marks because I feel like you need to have at least four buildings before you can be considered a town. We still hadn’t found Fritz, and it had been hours since we’d last seen a car. We saw a house and were going to ask to borrow a phone, but then we saw the name of the house and we figured a little more fresh air would do us good and we should continue on to another house….
Yes, you read that correctly (or not, if you’re illiterate or blind). Who names their house “Rotten Row”?! Rotten people, that’s who. We skipped that house. The house we came upon looked deserted and had an old creepy trailer in the back (probably where they chop up the bodies of lost travelers). We skipped that house too. You’d think we’d be a little bit more desperate, but the idyllic walk was starting to feel more and more like the beginning of a traditional horror film. Granted, I would of course be the plucky heroine and thus final survivor, but I didn’t feel like seeing my friends die that day. We finally reached a sign that read “Accommodation B&B.” I was getting a good vibe from this place, so we headed up the trail. To a deserted house. I was scared half to death by a three-legged cat that leaped at me from the shadows. Then we heard the sound of chopping from out back. Behind the sheep pasture. Horror movie Act II Scene I. The others call for help while I pet the not quite whole feline. A large, red-bearded man appears from behind the shed. Scene III. We tell him our tale of woe, he lifts his hand, and he… calls his mother? PLOT TWIST! It’s not actually a horror film, but a bildungsroman drama! Carol, a new protagonist, makes a narrative entrance. This slight, sweet, older woman makes Gandhi look like Genghis Khan. She practically runs Papatowai and makes some calls to see if she can discover what became of Fritz. After she rings up her store (the only store/gas station in town), she informs us that Fritz has gone with a towing car to rescue our rental. We must have JUST missed Fritz and the car when we went up the trail to the B&B. Carol asks us about our lives and offers us tea (which the others, feeling guilty for imposing on this family’s hospitality, refuse. I was all for accepting, but I didn’t want to develop some terrible tea-monger reputation). I’m feeling an intense kinship with a quote from A Streetcar Named Desire – “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Carol disappears for a bit – we figure she’s doing some chores, something that she would’ve done had not scraggly American showed up on her doorstep – and then she comes out with a piece of cake. With a candle in it. Singing Happy Birthday. She’d heard that it was GatorBoy’s birthday. And now she’s apologizing that this was all she “could whip in 20 minutes.” Then she brought out cake for the rest of us. Oh. My. God. I’ve never seen GatorBoy that close to tears and I’ve never before met such a kind, altruistic, and generous soul.
If you ever want to see the countryside or relax in small New Zealand village or even if you find yourself stranded in the wilderness – look for Carol. Tell her “hi” for me.
Carol drove us to her store to meet up with Fritz and the now-fixed and using-a-spare-wheel car. We were going home.
On the way back, we saw a cattery (I didn’t realize that being a, uh, catter was a viable job option), and I was gripping my handle tightly. I felt as if we were driving too fast. Again. Earlier, I’d learned a lesson: If you feel uncomfortable in a situation- say something. Don’t let your anxieties go unsaid. I hadn’t been vocal last time about how I felt about the speed of the car. And we’d gotten in an accident. This time, I asked Fritz to slow down. And he did. And I was able to relax. Somewhat.
We arrived safely in Dunedin and were incredibly hungry after our adventure. Right next to the rental drop off (Oh, Fritz had fun explaining that one) was a pizza place – Hell Pizza. They have this specialty pizza – Roulette Pizza. Hidden in one slice, lying in wait, is dangerously hot sauce instead of the normal marinara. Naturally, we ordered the Roulette Pizza. And, naturally, I lost on the first bite.
Final outcome of the story: My faith in humanity – if not my faith in humanity’s driving skills – has been restored.