May 09, 2017 | 6 Minute Read
With our trusty Camper Mate app, we found a relatively low-cost campground on the side of the road we needed to follow anyway. Just as we set out, though, heavy rain hit, and the sun set. So we spent an hour or more of driving through tight winding roads along a river between tall mountains, unable to see anything but the rain and a few meters of road ahead of us.
The road twisted around so much we really lost perspective of time and distance. We knew the camp would be “around the big corner” but every turn felt like a big corner. I kept the app out, and with my limited connectivity I watched our little dot on the map get periodically updated further along the road.
The campsite came up abruptly on the opposite side of the road. We pulled in and to our surprise, the place was already packed full of other campers. We drove around and found a spot near the toilets and parked. By now, we had a routine; Loïc got out and paid the fees and signed our registration, while I set up the bed and opened the back for us to make food.
It was pouring rain and pitch black at this point, so we both ran to and from the van in sprints and tried to work while keeping the van doors closed as much as possible. The rain and the cold and the dark put us both in a tired, frustrated mood. I forget what we ate exactly, but we probably just snacked on some crackers under the shelter provided by the back door of the van being open and then went to bed.
It was still raining when we woke up the next morning, but it seemed to be clearing up slowly. Once again we nibbled on some breakfast bars at the back of our van and got prepared to leave.
Everybody was staying in their vans, everybody but Koos from the Netherlands who had found shelter under the small covered area where I’m also heading so I don’t get soaking wet. Although he’s sitting, I can tell he is taller that me and, his long white hair and numerous wrinkles also tell me that he’s much older.
He’s heading to Franz Josef where we were yesterday and ask about the different walks. His wife is quite keen on hiking but he’s not too sure anymore since his hips operation.
The rain is stopping briefly and I’m getting hungry so I excuse myself and run back to the van to stuff my face with food.
I was sitting in the passenger seat reading a book on my phone when someone knocked on the door. I looked up and there were two young women in rain coats, so I opened the door and asked them what was up. They first asked what direction I was headed in, so I explained we were planning on Wanaka next. They then told me that they were headed that way too, but their vehicle was incredibly low on gas, and they were afraid they wouldn’t make it. They asked if we would be willing to go there, get some gas, and come back. They kept insisting that they would pay us for both the gas and the trouble. I felt really bad for them, but I wasn’t sure what we could do. I told them that my partner was using the toilets but when he came back I would chat with him and we’d see. So, when Loïc came back, I explained the situation. I think with our petrol experience back in Westport, we both agreed that if it was us, we’d hope someone would help us out. So, Loïc went to chat with them to see what we could do.
Loïc and the women were able to work out something else; They would drive in front of us, very slowly, and we would follow right behind. If they made it to a gas station, awesome! If not, we would then go on ahead, get gas, and come back. This way at least (in theory) we wouldn’t have to backtrack as far. We both agreed it would be a good idea, so we set off.
The women in front of us had a much larger, self-contained camping vehicle. It was clearly a rental. They were also clearly Germans on their infamous gap year; Nearly every other camper we’ve come across has been a 19-year-old German just finished with their studies now doing their gap year abroad. I mean, power to them. “Gap year” isn’t even a thing in the US; People just assume you’re unemployable and lazy.
As we followed them, the going was very slow. Any time we hit a passing lane, a whole line of vehicles would race past us. Still, we were patient, and followed along. To everyone’s delight, we finally arrived at a petrol station and they quickly pulled in to fill up. We all got out to say goodbye, but they insisted on giving us $20 for the trouble!
After we pulled away, we carried on–normal speed– towards Wanaka. The clouds were clearing away in bits and pieces, and through odd fits of rain and sunshine we followed along the lake and were treated with a brilliant display of rainbows and dramatic scenery. We pulled over countless times to capture the lighting, mountains, fall colors, waterfalls and more as we made our way along. The women we helped ended up doing the same, first behind us…then ahead…then behind us…as we played an unofficial game of leapfrog, stopping to take pictures then getting on the road again.